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Sarah Winnemucca’s Transnational Authority in "Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims" (1883)

John Carlos Rowe

Pages 57 - 79



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In her role as “the Piute Princess,” both onstage and in local and national political
theaters, Sarah Winnemucca would present herself as the first feminine leader of
the diverse bands of the Northern Paiutes. Sarah Winnemucca’s self-fashioning as
a Paiute leader, language translator, military negotiator, political mediator,
stage performer, literary author, and educator is well known, and yet she is
rarely acknowledged for the extraordinary diversity of her different roles.
"Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims" (1883) is
far more than simply an appeal for political recognition of and economic aid to
the Northern Paiutes; the book legitimates Sarah Winnemucca’s authority to speak
both for her tribal community and to U.S. federal leaders. Yet in fabricating a
“nation” from the scattered bands of the Northern Paiutes and in her own role as
their hereditary leader, Sarah Winnemucca exemplifies a central problem of
transnationalism and its study in the national period. By constituting her own
community as a nation, which might negotiate with the U.S. government and
military, she helps legitimate national values, including legal and property
rights that would have devastating consequences for Indigenous people under the
provisions of the Dawes Act (1887).

Key Words: Indigenous studies; nineteenth-century U.S. literature; Northern Paiutes, Sarah Winnemucca, "Life among the Piutes"

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