Reviews for Our Fire Survives the Storm

"Justice writes well, and I recall someone's observing once that Sigmund Freud became influential not only for his theories but for the passionate, compelling prose with which he delivered them. Justice's passages about Nanye'hi (Nancy Ward) and Tsiyu Gansini (Dragging Canoe) are good examples of this. In terms of Justices articulating the dichotomy between the Chicamaugua (War Chief) tradition and the Beloved Path (Peace Chief) tradition, the portraits of Tsiyu and Nanye'hi are crucial. The stories of these two important Cherokee historical figures are compelling, and Justice's prose brings the story to life. Our Fire Survives the Storm is a good book, valuable for both libraries and classrooms."
Great Plains Quarterly

"This book is a good resource for students, educators, writers and those interested in Cherokee culture."
News From Indian Country

"With Daniel Heath Justice's approach in hand, college-level students of Native American literature have a fine method of analyzing stories for strengths, purpose, and direction."
California Bookwatch

"Justice makes an important, striking contribution to the growing body of tribal-centered criticism."

"The defense of his pedagogy is both provocative and profound."
The American Indian Quarterly


E3W Review of Books, Vol. 6, Spring 2006
Reviewed by Katy Young

Over the last fifteen years, scholars in American Indian studies have moved toward a tribally-specific understanding of indigenous cultural production, encouraging readers and critics to read indigenous texts as the productions of complex historical contexts and active Indian nations. This shift requires critics to abandon the often simplistic and denigrating views of Native peoples that pervaded Euro-American-dominated Native American studies since its inception and to privilege the histories, knowledges, and interpretations of those closest to the production of Native writing—Native authors and critics.

Daniel Heath Justice's Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History marks the next significant step in this shift, providing an important contribution to Native American studies that will impact a generation of scholars in this rapidly growing field. Justice explicitly places his work in the lineage of scholars who advocate for the privileging of Native voices and contexts in indigenous literary studies, citing Robert Allen Warrior's notion of "intellectual sovereignty" in Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions (1995) and Jace Weaver's ethic of "communitism" as detailed in That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community (1997) as foundations for Our Fire Survives the Storm. Justice's work shares with these studies an emphasis on the continuation and survival of Indian peoples in North America and the importance of community-based artistic, scholarly, and activist projects as inherently valuable to the formation of a nation.

Justice views literary analysis as a site of community regeneration and takes seriously his responsibility to the Cherokee community he studies and from which he comes. He recognizes that academic research grounded in a tribally-specific worldview will not only benefit greatly from the richly textured specificity, but will also contribute to the "continuance and growth of Native communities." Justice's commitment to Cherokee intellectual sovereignty results in a methodology drawn from Cherokee history, tradi­tions, spirituality, and social customs and centered on readings of the comple­ment­ary spheres of the "Beloved Path" and the "Chickamauga con­sciousness" that ordered the Cherokee Nation into peace/white towns and war/red towns up through the early nineteenth century. Beloved Men and Beloved Women, usually the older members of the tribe, were appointed by the tribe to walk the Beloved Path of peace, to attempt to maintain and restore harmony, justice, and equilibrium to the community. In contrast, the Chicka­mauga con­sciousness, exemplified most often by younger warriors, was tied to forceful, often violent, resistance, at whatever cost. In tandem, the peace/white and war/red socio-political spheres of influence provided the balance necessary for the continuation of the People.

Underscoring the importance of the relational perspectives of the Beloved and Chickamauga spheres for Cherokee survival, Justice reads the same complementary impulses in Cherokee literature. The central model is the eighteenth century relationship of Nanye'hi (Nancy Ward), the Beloved Woman of Chota, with her cousin Tsiyu Gansini (Dragging Canoe), the war-leader of the Chickamaugas. Although Nanye'hi has often been perceived as an ally of the colonizers, Justice reformulates our understanding of her actions by placing them within the historical and political context of the Cherokee Nation two hundred and fifty years ago. Viewed from a Cherokee-centric perspective, Nanye'hi "was not betraying her people, but serving the functions of her office as Beloved Woman." She was using the strategies available to her in her role as peacekeeper to ensure that her community remained whole. In contrast, Tsiyu Gansini opposed the forces of colonialism with the tools available to him as a war leader from a red town, specifically "armed resistance, whether rhetorical or physical." He led numerous attacks against non-Native settlers encroaching on Cherokee land and repeatedly refused to capitulate to the treaty demands of the fledgling U.S. govern­ment. In their own ways, Nanye'hi and Tsiyu Gan­sini exemplify resistance to colonial extermination. Justice argues that this relational model helps to read these authors with a clearer understanding of how they serve the continuation of Cherokee nationhood:

Tsiyu Gansini and Nanye'hi are the cultural forebears of the contemporary discourses of Cherokee nationhood. Together they are the clearest examples of the ancient manifestations of the red and white spheres of Cherokee political consciousness...In returning the missing half of the story, the other half changes as a result of this reinterpretation, and both are understood through their relationship with one another and the People.

Tracing the Beloved and Chickamauga impul­ses in Cherokee authors through history is the central action of Our Fire Survives the Storm: the nineteenth century red texts of John Ross are positioned in relation to the white texts of John Rollin Ridge, the early twentieth century Beloved Path texts of Lynn Riggs with the Beloved Path writings of John Oskison and next to the fierce Chickamauga words of Will Rogers, and the late twentieth century Beloved Path writings of Marilou Awiakta, Thomas King, and Diane Glancy along­side the Chicka­mauga writings of Wilma Mankiller, Geary Hobson, and Robert J. Conley. In this way, Justice's work refuses the oversimplified Manichean dualities of European metaphysics, explicating instead how relationships and the interplay of values within a community serve as a foundation to a complex Cherokee nationhood, a nation­hood which has changed and evolved over time but still remains a vital presence.

Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History is as much a history of the major events in Chero­kee history in the last three hundred years as it is a study of Cherokee authors or a manifesto for the future of American Indian literary studies. But because Justice undertakes this task with the lyricism of a fiction writer (his first novel, Kynship: The Way of Thorn and Thunder, Book One, was published in 2006), the compassion and clarity of an accomplished teacher, and the nuance and rigor of a scholar at the heart of the current conver­sations in American Indian literary studies, this book is poised to have an immediate and lasting effect on the field.


H-AmIndian H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online), review by Phillip Round