- Being Lakota: Identity and Tradition on Pine Ridge Reservation
The body of American Indian life stories continues to grow. These texts have been referred to as autobiographies, first-person narratives, as-told-to narratives, and self-written narratives (Brumble 1998, 17); or as "Indian autobiographies," resulting from "the principle of original, bicultural composite composition" versus those autobiographies "by Indians," that is, "individually composed texts" (Krupat 1994, 3); or even as "bi-autobiographies," a result of the "collaborative venture" that has brought them forth and is characteristically marked by an introduction which in varying degrees credits, explains, and acknowledges the roles of all involved (Theisz 1981, 67).
Focusing on the Lakota, in this case, if we arbitrarily take Black Elk Speaks (1932) as a starting point and sift through some of the major Lakota autobiographies, such as those of White Bull, Lame Deer (John Fire), Madonna Swan, Frank Fools Crow, Wallace Black Elk, Severt Young Bear, Mary Brave Bird, Pete Catches, Russell Means, Delphine Red Shirt, and Floyd Hand, to name the most widely known, we begin to see the evolution of the Lakota autobiography in its various permutations. If we can posit a pattern along the way, it seems to me that three strains of scholarship have led to an increasingly reflective and critical evaluation of autobiographies. The first strain is that of postcolonial theory of the likes of Said, Bhaba, and Spivak, which has foregrounded the issues of appropriation, the ethics of colonialism, the imbalance of power, the deconstructing imperialist ideology, the commodification of indigenous expression, the reduction of identity, and the like. The second of these strains may be followed with the Lakota/Nakota/Dakota studies scholarship provided by the likes of Vine Deloria Jr., Patricia Albers, Raymond Bucko, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Raymond DeMallie, William Powers, Beatrice Medicine, Julien Rice, and others. The third strain provides a special focus on bicultural collaborative research and expression by the likes of Larry Evers, Barre Toelken, Dell Hymes, Dennis Tedlock, Arnold Krupat, H. David Brumble III, Luke Eric Lassiter, Duane Champagne, and others. In the interaction among these three, we begin to see the shift from emphasis on the cultural content provided [End Page 192] as this is filtered by the frame of reference of the cultural insider—in this area of the Lakota/Nakota/Dakota, the spiritual orientation of the holy man, the deeds of the warrior, the role of the traditional feminine, the dimensions of tribal/federal politics, and the like—to an increasing attention to the manner of production of the resultant texts. In this regard, specifically, the collaborative strategies in the bicultural undertakings featuring a Native narrator or performer and non-Native editor or investigator have received increasing scrutiny and interpretation. Two of the more well-known concerns surround the editorial production of Black Elk Speaks raised by Sally McClusky and William Powers, and the problems concerning the authentic voice in Lame Deer Seeker of Visions, as discovered by Julian Rice. To her credit, Petrillo cites these three strains of influential scholarship in her alternating chapters as she seeks to illuminate the Trejos' narratives. On the other hand, at times, her commentary is not warranted by the Trejo narratives.
Against this background, then, Being Lakota: Identity and Tradition on Pine Ridge Reservation offers yet another model of representation. In her commitment to ethical transparency, the primary "author," Larissa Petrillo, introduces her exploration into "contemporary Lakota identity and tradition, as informed by the life story narratives of Melda and Lupe Trejo" (xi). It is clear that Petrillo has shared a warm and ongoing relationship with members of the Trejo family. In keeping with her introductory announcement, the cover lists Petrillo as the author but adds "in collaboration with Melda and Lupe Trejo." Perhaps all should have been listed as coauthors in the egalitarian collaborative spirit that does not grant primary authority to the outside academic or investigator. She then proceeds to share her goal: "In this book I provide an interpretive framework, supported...