Published In

The Global South

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2020


This article examines Pioneer Girl as a critical juxtaposition of the contradictions of settler imperialism. Settler imperialism denotes how the logic and operations of settler colonialism rationalize modes of conquest that are not reducible to the acquisition of territory but are central to the consolidation of settler state security and power. The novel’s use of Little House on the Prairie to explore the Lien family’s exile and displacement as a result of US imperial violence in Southeast Asia juxtaposes the histories of settler colonialism with imperialism, illuminating how the narratives that justify western expansion are not strictly territorial imperatives. The western frontier as the crucial space in which one “becomes American” relies on subduing nature, converting the hostile recalcitrance ascribed to “Indian Country” into a “Garden of the World.” In contrast, popular cultural references to Vietnam as “Indian Country” reiterate the demands of conversion and cultivation of docile liberal democratic subjects by destroying the Vietnamese landscape and robbing it of regenerative possibilities.

Attending to the different registers of cultivation central to the mythology of white homesteading in “Indian Country” illuminates settler imperialism’s structuring logic and its environmental impact. Cultivating the environment is not simply a description of agrarian enterprise or a function of western expansion. Rather, cultivation is a mode by which the violence of settler imperialism is rationalized and naturalized and heteropatriarchal settler subjectivity is inculcated.


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