"Whereas speaking, itself, is defiance": Embodiment and Resistance in WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier

Authors: Liandra Skenandore*,
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Women
Keywords: poetry, embodiment, resistance, sovereignty, language
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Layli Long Soldier’s debut book of poetry WHEREAS is an illuminating collection of personal and political histories, exploring landscapes of memories and grass, senses of relation and distance, as well as legacies of violence and resistance between Native Nations and the United States. Long Soldier, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, navigates these spaces and moments through careful consideration of language and its use. For Long Soldier, language is not simply an exchange of words, but also an exchange of gestures, an embodied experience. The body and language are intimately connected in the production and expression of meaning. For example, when receiving words of sorry, Long Soldier explains: “I read each muscle, I ask the strength of the gesture to move like a poem." Later, Long Soldier asks “Where in the body do I begin” when confronting the linguistic politics of the 2009 Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans. In this section of the book, Long Soldier interrogates the linguistic obscurity of Native Nations in American political and historical language, revealing how these uses of language contribute to the erasure of Indigenous bodies and presence in the national consciousness. Through poetry, however, Long Soldier resists such settler colonial “logics of elimination” and asserts her tribal voice, body, and presence, manifesting in an embodied sovereignty, as she re-tells and re-imagines the histories of Native America using a language of shape, sense, and awareness.

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