Monday, April 24, 2017

Native Americans Then And Now

I really like Sherman Alexie's 'Blasphemy' (2012). Thirty-one beautiful stories of Native American life in the Pacific Northwest. (Reviews herehere and here.)

There're apparently 16 classics and 15 new stories. But I'm a first-time reader of the author, so these stories are all new to me. The Native American author grew up in the Spokane Indian Reservation. Fictional or otherwise, his stories are raw, honest, scathing, and very real.

These 31 stories don't qualify as light reading. I took two afternoons to finish it because I wanted to read all the stories and its nuances thoroughly. In our context, there isn't any basis of comparison between our colonial past and the Native Americans'. I don't even know which state deems it politically incorrect for people to refer to a Native American as an Indian, although the tribes use it among themselves. I wasn't sure how to write this post without sounding overly politically correct, sheltered or as though I'm appropriating someone else's culture. I've no idea what is construed as culturally sensitive or inappropriate nowadays. These stories are witty, satirical and critical of the white men's exploitation and mistreatment of Native Americans.

The last story in the collection 'What You Pawn I Will Redeem' talks about a homeless Spokane Indian man Jackson, who saw his grandmother's long-lost old powwow-dance regalia in a pawnshop window, but had to come up with nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars to buy it back. The story follows how he tried to come up with that amount by lunch-time the next day.

I've been homeless for six years. If there's such a thing as being an effective homeless man, I suppose I'm effective. Being homeless is probably the only thing I've ever been good at. I know were to get the best free food. I've made friends with restaurant and convenience-store managers who let me use their bathrooms. I don't mean the public bathrooms, either. I mean the employees' bathrooms, the clean ones hidden in the back of the kitchen or the pantry or the cooler. I know it sounds strange to be proud of, but it means a lot to me, being trustworthy enough to piss in somebody else's clean bathroom. Maybe you don't understand the value of a clean bathroom, but I do. 
Probably none of this interests you. I probably don't interest you much. Homeless Indians are everywhere in Seattle. We're common and boring, and you walk right on by us, with maybe a look of anger or disgust or even sadness at the terrible fate of the noble savage. But we have dreams and families. I'm friends with a homeless Plains Indian man whose son is the editor of a big-time newspaper back east. That's his story, but we Indians are great storytellers and liars and myth makers, so maybe that Plains Indian hobo is a plain old everyday Indian. I'm kind of suspicious of him, because he describes himself only as Plains Indian, a generic term, and not by a specific tribe. 

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