Since the earliest published American narratives, writers and subsequent Western clinicians alike have often mislabeled Indigenous behaviors, especially the behaviors of Indigenous women, as insanity. And yet, as Pemina Yellow Bird (Three Affiliated Tribes) explains, "Native peoples generally do not have a notion of "insane" or "mentally ill." (4). Instead, Indigenous peoples often discuss mental health in their communities through storytelling. As but one example of the ways that cultural narratives work to reclaim Indigenous understandings of mental health, this paper analyzes how the writings of Chickasaw author Linda Hogan challenge non-Indigenous understandings of mental health as a gendered phenomenon within tribal communities. Hogan does this in ways that destigmatize behaviors including hallucinations or prophetic dreams that Western medicine considers abnormal, and reintroduces community-specific understandings of these behaviors as either a supernatural phenomenon or a gift of foreknowledge. Hogan's novel Solar Storms (1995), in particular, reframes stereotypical images of tribal women as insane with images of Indigenous women as cultural, political, and spiritual leaders in their communities. While she addresses community-specific understandings of actual mental illness, Hogan also characterizes what many might mistake for mental illness as the essential foresight of Indigenous women and thereby offers a healing corrective to the prevailing narrative of Indigenous women's presumed insanity. A central discussion in this paper is how Hogan defines knowledge-making and Indigenous women's rights and responsibilities in Solar Storms. The term "rights and responsibilities" refers to a sense of stewardship Indigenous women in the novel experience to protect land and community: this charge may include giving life through childbirth, communicating with animals and the dead, dreaming of medicinal plants, intuitively remembering traditional song and dance, "seeing" creatures without one's eyesight, and healing abilities, among others. Female knowledge-making, then, refers to insights about oneself, community, and the material and immaterial world in enacting these behaviors. By expressing the possibilities of Indigenous women's relationship with the natural and supernatural world instead of either exoticizing or dismissing them, Solar Storms works to legitimize Indigenous modes of female knowledge-making in the face of ongoing colonial assumptions about Indigenous insanity.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
DeTavis, Hannah Dian, "Rewriting "Plumb Crazy Indian Women": Reframing Mental Illness as Cultural Power in Linda Hogan's Solar Storms" (2020). Theses and Dissertations. 8930.
Linda Hogan, Solar Storms, mental illness, Indigenous women