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T o u r in g In d ia n C o u n t r y : A R e v ie w o f N a t iv e F ic t io n f r o m 1999 a n d 2 0 0 0 G w e n G r i f f i n With the growing demand for classes that focus on the works of Native writers, the driving discussion turns to which works should be included. There are always the “Fab Four” of N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Louise Erdrich, and Leslie Marmon Silko, but the tide is shifting as more and more Native writers make their voices heard through fiction. In the past two years, a significant body of literature has been published that will make selecting works even more difficult and more rewarding than ever. Native writers who write about Native life con­ tribute to the survival of cultural traditions and expression in a way that cannot be duplicated by outsiders. In Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism, Craig Womack (Creek/Cherokee) highlights the need for for­ mal discussion about the important role of Native literature and Native writers: “The ongoing expression of a tribal voice, through imagination, language, and literature, contributes to keeping sovereignty alive in the Shonto Begay. MY STORY ROCK. 1991. Acrylic on canvas. 43" x 72". Courtesy of the artist. This painting depicts a rock on the Shonto Plateau of the Navajo Reservation that holds special meaning for Begay. 292 WAL 36.3 FALL 2001 citizens of a nation and gives sovereignty a meaning that is defined within the tribe rather than by external sources” (14). With sovereignty comes the primacy of Native worldviews and political realities, both of which cannot be separated from a discussion of important issues prevalent in Native literature. As tribal peoples, we need to tell our own stories and create dialogues about the broadness and complexities of these works. In Tribal Secrets: RecoveringAmerican Indian Intellectual Traditions, Robert Allen Warrior (Osage) calls this effort a “pro-Indian awareness of our own strength” (123). That strength results in literature that violates expectations and stereotypes associated with Native people, and it emphasizes Native views and interpretations. Consequently, the eleven new works reviewed here give credence to Womack’s contention that Native writers now attempt “to find Native literature’s place in Indian country, rather than Native literature’s place in the canon,” a journey that follows deer paths instead of highways and will take most readers to some surprising places (11). This country’s fascination with and hatred of American Indians were exacerbated by the Wild West shows that gained popularity and acclaim at the turn of the twentieth century. Marauding warriors in loincloths and warpaint frightened and entertained audiences from San Francisco, Chicago, and New York to London, Paris, and Rome. Similar images would be immortalized later on American movie screens where unsuspecting settlers or ranchers were attacked by Indians who wore the eagle feather headdresses and buckskin of the Sioux and Cheyenne, whether they were supposed to be Apaches, Iroquois, or Seminoles. In The HeartsongofChargingElk, James Welch (Blackfoot/Gros Ventre) uses the Wild West show as a backdrop to tell the tale of an Oglala Lakota man who is recruited to tour through Europe with Buffalo Bill. Based on a historical incident, Welch’s story follows Charging Elk as he struggles to reclaim a life and an identity too often controlled by out­ siders ranging from the United States Federal Government to Buffalo Bill to the French press. Forced to leave behind his life-long friend Strikes Plenty, who did not fit the show bosses’ vision of “what an Indian should look like,” Charging Elk takes the iron road out of Paha Sapa into the unknown (38). Welch masterfully weaves together the rich language and cultural details of the northern Plains life of South Dakota and of the bustling city streets of France as Charging Elk travels the vast geographical and cultural distance from the Black Hills to Marseille. When Charging Elk and the other stars in the Wild West show “walked down a street in their blue wool leggings and fancy shirts...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 291-303
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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