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Norval Morrisseau. THE STORYTELLER. 1981. Acrylic on canvas. 50 1/2" x 37 1/2". “As the years went by, I understood the truth of the words of my grandfather Potan. So I listened to his many stories and to our legends and ancestral beliefs as they were told to me by the wise men of the Ojibwa. I wrote some of them down on paper, and I drew and painted them as best I could for the Ojibwa and for all the children of our white brothers to see” (from Norval Morrisseau: Travels to the House of Invention 102). Games o f C hance: G am bling a n d L an d T e n u re in Tr a c k s, L o v e Me d ic in e , a n d Th e B in g o P a l a c e K r i s t a n S a r v e - G o r h a m Historically, games of chance have flourished in numerous Am erican Indian societies. N ot only do gamblers frequently figure in native myths, but gaming practices occur in both ceremonial and secular contexts (Culin 32-34). In contemporary Am erica, however, the Am erican Indian approach to gambling, as well as the stakes, have changed, profoundly affecting Indian nations as debates over the role of gambling have divided tribes and communities. Along with Am erican Indian writers such as Leslie M armon Silko, Louis Owens, and Gerald Vizenor, Louise Erdrich incorporates motifs of gambling drawn from oral tradition in her fiction. More so than her colleagues, Erdrich addresses recent historical developments associated with gaming, even revising one published novel to accommodate a more complex vision of the role of gambling in her core tetralogy— The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), Love Medicine (1984, rev. 1993), and The Bingo Palace (1994)— which fol­ lows extended families in a reservation community from 1912 into the 1990s. Prior to Erdrich’s revision of Love Medicine, gambling, introduced early in Tracks as a means of retaining land, culminates in Lipsha Morrissey’s successful quest for family in the final chapter of Love Medicine. Her additions toward the end of Love Medicine, as well as her subsequent novel, The Bingo Palace, refocus attention on gambling as a response to colonial aggression as games of chance, augmented by Fleur Pillager’s supernatural powers, become the means of holding, reclaiming, and expanding the reservation land base symbolized by the Pillager tracts around Lake Matchimanito. Paul Pasquaretta observes that in contemporary Am erican Indian fic­ tion “traditional gambling stories and their attendant practices pro­ vide a ritual site where the forces of assimilation are contested” (21). In Tracks and The Bingo Palace, Erdrich specifically associates these contests with land. She restages the frontier confrontation between Indians and whites at the gaming tables in the Argus butcher shop and Nanapush’s yard and in the casino that Lyman Lamartine envi­ 2 7 8 W AL 3 4 .3 F a l l 1999 sions. Although Frederick Jackson Turner proclaimed the Am erican frontier closed two decades before Tracks opens in 1912, Erdrich shows that the frontier is an ongoing and evolving phenomenon kept alive by contemporary controversies over reservation gaming. In her M atchim anito tetralogy, Erdrich establishes a dynasty of shamans, the Pillagers, who are closely associated with land, with the manitou M isshepeshu who inhabits the lake, and with gambling. In Tracks, Erdrich sets up gambling as an inheritable family talent closely allied with supernatural power: “Power travels in the bloodlines , handed out before birth. It comes down through the hands, which in the Pillagers are . . . good at dealing cards” (T 3 1).1 As Tracks opens in the wake of an epidemic, the death of the formida­ ble tribal shaman Old M an Pillager leaves only two Pillagers: his daughter Fleur and her cousin Moses, both of whom practice the arts of the Midewewin, the Anishinabe medicine society.2 Nanapush, one of the few surviving elders who, like the Pillagers, has powers of his own and is “known as a clever gambler,” allies him self with Fleur and Moses in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 276-300
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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