Whereas non-Native American fictional fearsome figures tend to produce anxiety from their resistance to categorization, their unpredictable movement, and their Otherness, many contemporary Native American writers re-imagine fearsome figures and monstrous systems as modeled after, and emergent from settler-colonial transgressions against Indigenous values and relationships: these behaviors spread to tribal people/s through incorporation or assimilation into the “body” of the fearsome figure. Such violations can be represented by, and better understood, through an exploration of the behavioral traits of the Algonquian figure of the Windigo, or wétiko, even when the text in question would not be classified as horror. In the Indigenous works of fiction that this dissertation explores, villainy is depicted as behavior that destroys balance, and disrupts the ability for life to reproduce itself without human mediation or technological intervention.
In this dissertation, I develop and apply “Windigo Theory”: an Indigenous literary approach to reading Indigenous fiction, especially intended to aid recognition and comprehension of cultural critiques represented by the fearsome figures. I draw especially from four quarters: Jack D. Forbes’ concept of colonialism as a manifestation of wétiko psychosis; ethnographical works that feature fearsome figures from the stories of North American tribal peoples; Indigenous philosophical worldviews; and the figures in contemporary Native American novels that also serve as the objects of analysis. To show how fearsome figures disrupt Indigenous values and relationships, there is emphasis on what the fearsome figures do, as opposed to what fearsome figures are. In other words, this approach is geared to follow motion and relationships, rather than to define or circumscribe. As part of this work, I also explore the radical reinscription of generic conventions by Native authors, and discuss how some features of contemporary Indigenous fiction are extensions of “traditional” pre-contact narratives.