By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
After reading your account of SuAnne’s life, I thought, “This is the kind of story Hollywood really goes after.”
It is something Indians know about but other people haven’t paid much attention to, and I couldn’t figure out why. [SuAnne’s story] was in a book by Nathan Aaseng, who wrote a series on Indian heroes. I thought it was just remarkable that these people had this great hero Crazy Horse in the 1870s, and now, 100 years later, they have another hero, and that this culture produced heroes. Also it shows the survival of the culture despite the change in circumstances from buffalo-hunting days when Crazy Horse was alive to reservation days now.
Native American poet and author Sherman Alexie really tookOn the Rez to task in his review in the Los Angeles Times. To paraphrase the review, he decried your identification with Indian culture, and he felt you were just another white writer presenting an untrue chronicle of observed Indian life.
I don’t think [his criticisms] were enforceable. The idea that you have to be a certain person to write about a certain thing is just — madness lies in that direction. The reverse of it is that it makes books too easy to dismiss. You can look at a book and say, “Oh, that’s an Indian book, for Indians, by Indians.” Or “How can I read that? I don’t have the knowledge. I don’t have the background. I’m not an Indian. I don’t know enough about the subject.” The point isn’t what you know, it’s your curiosity. And following [Alexie’s] logic, “You have no right to be interested in this.” Well, how can you not have a right to be interested? [The review] also seems to suggest, “Please know what a bad thing this guy’s doing,” that I can do harm by being interested. And that to me is extremely patronizing. The Indians have survived a lot worse than a writer taking a look at them. The people I write about are incredibly tough and resilient people, and I would never presume to treat them with kid gloves.
Alexie even hated the title.
He said I should call it On Their Reservation. I don’t know, it was kind of strange. I’m actually kind of glad to have pointed out that this taboo, which I think is a silly one, has been imposed. If you are a white man, you can’t write about white women. If you’re a white woman, you can’t write about white men. My point is, I see this exclusionist view of who the writer can be on a certain subject as a way for some writers to make sure that they don’t have to take any real hard criticism.
If there were an overriding sentiment you wanted a reader to take away fromOn the Rez, what would it be?
I would like it if people finished the book and said, “This is a great place, and it’s of much more significance to America than I thought.” But people have read it in many different ways. People said I was too sympathetic to Indians, I was not sympathetic enough, I was too romantic, I was too unsparing in depicting the drinking and suffering. I’m glad that people take different things from it.
Very early in the book, you say, “Capitalism destroyed communism and now it’s destroying democracy,” but you observe that Pine Ridge stands apart. It existed before, and it will exist afterward.
Right. So if you want to find a way to get through it all, maybe you go back to this common denominator that we had way back in the past. It kind of answers the question you sometimes hear of “Why don’t Indians get with the program?” What program?ON THE REZ | By IAN FRAZIER |Farrar, Straus & Giroux | 311 pages $25 hardcover
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