Archive for the ‘reservations’ Tag

Many Types of Tribes   2 comments

When I worked as a writing tutor at the local community college, I saw enough rhetorical and critical analyses on Sherman Alexis’s “Superman and Me” to fill a classroom – floor to ceiling. I knew his essay inside and out. Until now I was unfamiliar with his other writings. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a fictional account (complete with cartoon illustrations by Ellen Forney) of Arnold Spirit Jr., aka Junior, aka Arnold.

Certainly, similarities exist to Alexis’s life growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation in eastern Washington, but the diary entries are fiction. They follow Junior/Arnold in his freshman year of high school. Plenty of back story is provided, beginning with Arnold/Junior’s birth defects that physically, socially and intellectually isolate him from most others on the reservation. He’s suspended on the first day of school and decides to transfer to the “white” school 22 miles away. On the reservation he’s known as Junior; at the new school he’s Arnold.

He changes schools in hopes of opening new doors while learning to accept that old ones are slammed in the process. His life is a dichotomy. He’s always struggled to fit in and expects to endure the same at the new school. It’s clear from the onset that Junior/Arnold is an underdog, so the outcome is predictable. The transformation of other characters is what’s most heartening; it shows that tribes can be of our own creation. This is evident through the diary reflecting its author’s humor, perception and emotion.

Four Bookmarks
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Little, Brown & Co., 2007
230 pages

Strength in Numbers   2 comments


I’ve read a few books by Louise Erdrich, but none has captivated me as much as The Round House. I was hooked from the opening sentence, which in retrospect isn’t much: “Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation.” Yet, this simple statement reveals much about the narrator whose life is shaken at its roots by a violent crime against his family.

Thirteen-year-old Joe Coutts lives on a reservation in North Dakota. On an ordinary Sunday afternoon, his life is changed forever after his mother is brutally assaulted and refuses to reveal the identity of her attacker. Joe, his friends, and several family members do what they can to help each other heal, but at the core of that process is naming the man responsible.

Erdrich writes with a sense of determination, there is a need for this story to be told. The crime is complicated by the fact the location of the crime determines which law enforcement jurisdiction oversees the investigation: tribal police, state patrol or local police – entities not known for working together.

The story is full of wonderful characters, each richly developed, particularly Joe and his pals. Within the parameters of the novel are several sub-stories, Indian lore and personal histories, that strengthen those portrayed.

In her afterword, Erdrich notes, “1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime (and that figure is certainly higher as Native women often do not report rape).” This sobering statistic adds another dimension to an exceptionally well-crafted story.

The Round House

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Harper, 2012
321 pages