Our Democracy: Laura Cornelius Kellogg’s Decolonial-Democracy

Our Democracy: Laura Cornelius Kellogg’s Decolonial-Democracy

By David Myer Temin, University of Michigan

In recent years, a growing body of political science scholarship has shown how territorial expansion and Indigenous dispossession profoundly shaped American democratic ideas and institutions. However, scant attention has been paid to Indigenous thinkers and activists who have reshaped the colonial and imperial facets of democracy. I reconstruct the writings of the Oneida thinker and activist Laura Cornelius Kellogg (1880–1947). I contend that Kellogg offers a political theory of “decolonial-democracy,” which challenged settler-imperial domination by bringing together a project of Indigenous self-determination with reimagined democratic narratives, values, and institutions. The first and second sections place Kellogg in pan-Indigenous debates within the Society of American Indians and among non-Indigenous Progressive reformers, in order to show how she brings together a pan-Indigenous and social-democratic critique of American democracy. The third section interprets her landmark 1920 pamphlet Our Democracy and the American Indian as a counter-narrative of the American founding read through the disavowed influence of the Haudenosaunee confederacy, a return to which she casts as a basis for democratic and Indigenous renewal. The final section outlines her vision of Indigenous self-government as “Indian communism” in the form of her “Lolomi Plan.” In sum, I trace a counter-politics envisioning a form of relational self-determination within a confederated, multinational political order, as well as the difficulty of bringing decolonization together with democracy in practice.