Native American (American Indian) GoodReads Members discussion

White Guys Writing About Native Americans

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Stew | 15 comments Several newspapers ran this Letter to the Editor I wrote about six months ago. And I posted it to my blog as well. I received a little feedback back then. But I would be curious to know what this group thinks.

Dear Editor,
“Oh hum another one … This is another in a very long line of White people who visit somewhere in Indian country and then write a book in order to establish their literary credits and/or make money off our poverty,” Russell Means wrote in your newspaper upon the publication of Steve Hendricks The Unquiet Grave.
Being a white male writer who will soon publish a book on the long, often anguished relationship between the Oglala Lakotas and the Nebraskans of Sheridan County, the comment has stuck in my craw. But it has also caused a little soul searching.
In 2003, I interviewed Means on the telephone while researching my book, The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder. At the end of the conversation, he said, “thanks for your interest.”
I didn’t have a chance to ask him what exactly he meant, but I took it to mean “no one pays much attention to what is going on in Indian country, and anyone who can bring some light to what is going on here is helpful.” Maybe that’s not what he meant, but that’s how I took it. He was the only person to say that to me. And at the time, living off of spaghetti, ramen noodles and canned soup while living in Gordon, I appreciated hearing it.
If by his latest comments, he meant that Hendricks has no credibility because he is not of Indian blood, then I take exception to that notion. If someone declines to read my book because I’m not Native American, then there’s not much I can do about it. (Although I would tell them that the work is as much about Nebraskans as it is about the Oglalas.)
Nevertheless, let’s take a glance at the some of the so-called “white people of privilege” (as Means often calls his Caucasian opponents) who have written books about the Lakotas.
One of the first was Sheridan County resident Mari Sandoz. This white woman who grew up in poverty in the depths of the Sand Hills with a notoriously tyrannical and abusive father. She escaped to Lincoln where in the worst of the Great Depression she produced her first book, Old Jules, which chronicled her father’s relationship to the Oglalas and his observations of the Wounded Knee Massacre. She went on to write Crazy Horse, These Were the Sioux and other works of Oglala history.
A white male from Omaha, George Hyde, was deaf and legally blind. His handicap was so bad he only completed the eighth grade. And yet he painstakingly devoted his life to writing three classic histories, Red Cloud’s Folk, Spotted Tail’s Folk and a Sioux Chronicle. They have not been matched since.
Dee Brown, a white librarian and professor from Arkansas is the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which has been listed as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century. The work topped the New York Time best seller lists and opened the eyes of Americans who traditionally believed Indians to be the bad guys in cowboy and Indian movies. (Can anyone imagine such a book reaching number one today?) It’s still in print, and an HBO movie based on the work came out last year.
I leaned on all these writers for The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder. I thank them as I thank Oglala writers such as Delphine Red Shirt (Bead on an Anthill) Severt Young Bear (Standing in the Light) and Mark Monroe (An Indian in White America), who helped me understand Lakota life and history better.
Anyone who has researched a book of scope and depth knows the long hours it takes and with no promise of monetary reward. Only someone who gives a damn takes on such a project. Will I “get rich” off this book published by a small university press? Doubt it.
So am I “white male of privilege?” I do feel privileged to have been born in a country with a First Amendment that allows me the freedom to write what I please. And I feel fortunate to have attended excellent public schools in Omaha where teachers inspired me to pursue the journalism trade. And I feel lucky to have received grants and loans to help me pursue higher education. (I received much of this aid because my single mother lived below the poverty line. So if “privileged” means that was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, that’s not me).
Did I write this book to “establish my literary credits?” I had several motivations, and that was one of them. So I’ll cop to that.
If anyone on Pine Ridge is worried about me “getting rich,” I’ll be donating copies to local libraries. “Readers” are more important to me than “buyers.” So check out a copy when it comes out in September. I won’t receive a dime.

Stew Magnuson

message 2: by Molly (last edited Dec 31, 2008 10:40AM) (new)

Molly (MollyHell) | 28 comments Mod
Well all you have to know about why Russell Means said what he did is on this web page:

It's one thing to be deeply caring about a subject and write about it, another to use people as a diving board for success.

Also as far as privilege goes, there are very few white people as poor as the average Native American. Not even the US government disputes that.

You wrote:
Only someone who gives a damn takes on such a project.

That's unfortunately not true. I am glad to see, though, it is true FOR YOU. Thank you, Stew!

Trish (tkla29) | 1 comments I feel that as long as you know that you wrote this book not to "get rich" then try not to care so much about what other people say or think. Even coming from Russell Means. I know its hard, but you have to try and remember the hardships Natives have had, and know that no matter what we will always have our gaurd up. Its just somthing that will always be. Try not to take it personal. :) Can't wait to read the book!

Stew | 15 comments Trish,
Thanks for the feedback. There were some people with their guard up when I was trying to get interviews on Pine Ridge. But I would say there were more examples of that in the Nebraska border towns.
I was sort of an outsider in both communities.

Pamela | 10 comments Hey Stew...I know just what you are talking about when you describe the resistance from the people at Pine Ridge and on the Nebraska border. I am VERY familiar with this area and have spent time there and know the people. I am sure you know how vulnerable they feel after being exploited so often and misquoted and......BROKEN by their history. I am sure you noticed how impoverished they are and perhaps had a sense of the social issues they face with alcoholism and drug abuse.

I empathize with them. One person told much as they want people to come and look at the monument that was erected for the Battle at Wounded Knee, they want more for the truth to be told. After awhile they begin to feel like a "zoo." Look at the monkeys, look at the giraffes, look at the Indians! More often than not there is someone nearby with handcrafted dreamcatchers and jewelry and...more often then not, the people who come won't buy anything. And the people who come are usually tourists on the way to the Black Hills or coming home from there and have money to spend. They'll spend it on mass-produced crap in Wall Drug or souvenir shops at Mount Rushmore than buy it from a "real"Indian....who is intimidating in their minds and will only spend it on alcohol. I've seen the looks on white people's faces when they drive up and then are approached by a local Indian.

I LOVE these people. The Indians at Pine Ridge are a beautiful, rich culture desperately holding on to their traditions, spirituality and identity. They live in third-world conditions and are plagued by drugs, alcohol and diabetes. All they want is the truth to be told.

I commend you on your efforts and am excited to read your book. Honestly, and I can only speak for myself and the few people I have talked to about this while I was on the reservation...I have no problem with a "white guy" writing and researching about our history. As long as it is done with sensitivity, and empathy and a strong desire for the truth to be told.

Heck...remember when the Sacagawea dollar came out? I remember how excited we Native ladies were to find out that they imprinted her with her baby on her back. It just seemed to be a piece of her that people didn't know about or didn't care to know about......that she gave birth and carried a new infant on her journey with Louis and Clark. (chuckle...!) Even we can be surprised sometimes!

Stew | 15 comments Pamela,
Thanks for your thoughts.
I'm thinking about writing a longer op-ed/blog piece about the role of the media in Indian Country (just as soon as things settle down at my day job).
Basically, what it will say is that the mainstream media's coverage of Native American issues was not great in the best of times. Now that newspapers are hurting, it will only worsen.
Yes, reporters do sometimes misquote people, or leave out pertinent facts. And that's irritating. Or they can be culturally insensitive.
But I would say anytime an outsider, (a newspaper, TV reporter, author, magazine writer) arrives on a reservation to shed some light on some of the issues you bring up -- poverty, drugs, etc -- or to write a feature on something positive, they should be welcomed with open arms. Because as we all know, what happens on some of these remote reservations is very much an "out of sight, out of mind" situation for most Americans.
And as newsrooms shrink as well as travel budgets, spotting a New York Times or Washington Post reporter in Indian Country will be a rare occurrence.
Some day, I may go through my stack of rejection letters from agents and publishers for "The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder" and share with you some of the "books about Indians don't sell" comments I received.
It was discouraging for me, but there was a happy ending. I did find a publisher who cared. Books, for the most part, are not mass media, though.

Pamela | 10 comments are so right about that Stew. I totally agree. And especially about the issues on the reservation being brought to light. Another author, Chris Batchelder who wrote Bear v. Shark, a satire and who was a friend of my husband's when we lived in Colorado Springs, CO once asked me....."What is a solution? How can the poverty, the drugs and alcohol on the reservations be alleviated?....IS THERE A SOLUTION???" We tossed the subject around. Of course there is a solution.....but the question it attainable? Lots of factors enter into that. The negatives far outweigh the positives. Are we dealing with a culture lost? As I've mentioned in some of my previous posts, Native America has experienced the worst genocide in recorded history of the world. Time has passed, dilution, politics, disease and poverty have been eating away at the remainder of the culture, spirituality and actual EXISTENCE of tribes. We are a culture beyond repair. And there is no Tecumseh to band what remains together in an attempt to salvage what is left. Solution? Holy cow....we need bigger than Ghandi...

I admit, there is an aire of fatalism on the reservations. Of course, rampant alcoholism and generation after generation of FAS doesn't help. I am a nurse. I have worked in Indian Health Services through Aberdeen, South Dakota. Best job I ever had. I am not a social worker. I really don't know how to make things better other than telling the truth and continuing to have such an extreme respect and reverence for my People. I have no excuses either. If by my example, an Indian girl decides she wants to become a nurse...I have made my reservation or whatever reservation I am working on a better person at a time.

TRUE...these People ALL have stories to tell. And it should be recorded. I cared for an old Winnebago woman who was 101 years old at the time and she was dying. She was telling stories one right after another to a roomful of her family and the elders of the tribe so her stories could be told. She recalled being taken away from her family and sent to Indian school where they cut your hair and gave you a name. The man who took her promised her family he would take care of her but he repeatedly raped her and other Indian girls in the school...and would bring in his friends to do the same. She had 2 babies while in Indian school and both she says were taken away and sold. She never got to mother them. She had 2 boys. Never saw them again. Now she is an old woman who has been a mother to 13. She had many stories to tell.

Books about Indians don't a comment. Pure evidence of out-of-sight, out-of-mind ignorance. Amazing...

Thanks for your comments and research on the subject. I totally look forward to reading your book. I certainly feel as if your heart is in the right place. Thank you!

Michael | 4 comments I look forward to reading it when it is issued in paperback.

Kristen James | 3 comments Hi to everyone and Stew. I joined this group today and then spotted this discussion. I live in the Pacific Northwest and wrote a fiction novel based on the local Native Group despite not being a tribe member. My Indian grandma was from Arkansas but the family buried her heritage after settling Or. I've connected with this place and needed to write about it; I wanted a book that celebrated Native life here before it was changed.

Both issues in this discussion struck me. I think it's important for white, Indian and mixed authors to write about Native Americans - writing is how we record and pass along our heritage. We should tell the story of how life was before and how it has changed. Authors today write historical novels from all time periods, and people don't accuse them of cashing in on the past.

This discussion also reminded me about Res life across the US. It's a bit easy to forgot about that in Or where many tribes have opened casinos on their land here. They became sovereign nations so they can allow gambling there, while the rest of the state bans it. When I researched my book, I found the local Natives had summer games every year and other competitions, and I think that might had influenced the current casinos. The Umpqua tribe provides many jobs to people of all ethnicities in a poor county through the resort and travel center, so you could say this tribe and many others in Oregon are flourishing because someone had a smart business idea. I know many would condemn gambling, but their situation (caused by the sad history of the last 200 years and reservations) led to the unique opportunity.

It'd be great if someday people believed that all Americans can embrace the entire history of this land. "Every river has a people." This place and land are the constant while all of us are the recorders.

message 10: by Monica (last edited Feb 05, 2010 08:00AM) (new)

Monica | 24 comments Hi everyone,

At Crazy Horse monument last fall a waitress (granted-not the best source of information) said he was half-breed with long blond hair, who got his name by trying to prove he was as brave as full-blooded Indians by doing extremely dangerous things and eventually got his moniker.

I'm by no means a scholar, but nowhere was this alluded to in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or Black Elk Speaks. In fact, to my great dismay, people grab pictures off the internet without so much as reading a word and proclaim images to be of him. Some even identify Little Big Man as Crazy Horse. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee states clearly that the only image of him was a pictograph of his murder at age 35. Has further research discovered otherwise?

I emailed several dozen people who'd posted misinformation, even corrected his wiki page, barely scratching the surface of the names of people identifying him improperly. Some were kind enough to apologize, many didn't respond. Several were of native American dissent. Others just liked the image for their motorcycle gear!

If proper information isn't disseminated, if many people, not just Americans, don't make the time to read, how will the truth ever be learned? If this lack of information is disseminated about the greatest native American, with a 600 ft. granite mountain being carved in his name, how on earth will we ever expect to know the truth about anything regarding native American history?

Stew | 15 comments Monica,
Absolute baloney from that waitress. There has never been a confirmed photo of Crazy Horse. He was not of mixed ancestry other than his parents were from two different Lakota bands, the Oglala and Brule.
Too bad the monument would employ someone with such a lack of information.

Monica | 24 comments Yes, and I wonder where she's getting her information!!!

He's someone I'd like to read more about but I'm leary of finding accurate/ erudite sources.

Greg Olson | 3 comments I recommend Joseph Marshall's "The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History"

PaNdORa   (gökçe) (pandora-m) | 10 comments what happened to the members???

Monica | 24 comments We're here. Just don't have a lot to say...

PaNdORa   (gökçe) (pandora-m) | 10 comments when we started reading Black Elk speaks in one of literature class ,I cried alot .Especially in the chapter in which he talks about wounded knee massacre Even though I am not native american or not an american ,I critizes west political views

message 17: by Monica (last edited Jun 19, 2010 02:29PM) (new)

Monica | 24 comments I read Black Elk Speaks after Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. It was shocking to read a first hand account of warfare from Black Elk's perspective. The Black Hills are so amazing. It's easy to see why the Indian's wanted to keep that land. My review such as it is is here

My piece on BMHAWK is a description of a road trip I made which inspired me to finally read the book.

Pandora, if you haven't read it already, BMHAWK is a much broader overview of American western expansion.

PaNdORa   (gökçe) (pandora-m) | 10 comments thanks I havent read it yet but I am going to read soon

Thomas (ThomasStrubinger) I have read Bury my heart at Wounded Knee and it is a very shocking book that should be read.

Monica | 24 comments Tstrubi, well put. And very, very true!

Pamela | 10 comments Not to be obtuse but if I might offer a friendly suggestion or nudge....

While Black Elk Speaks is often times one of the books most recommended for an historical "view" of our People...I would beg to differ on that suggestion.

This was brought up on another topic in the group and Molly put it concise and to the point....

Black Elk Speaks was written by a white man who abused his friendship with an Elder...and that Elder was horrified after reading the book.

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee is definitely the one to suggest. I wish it was taught and discussed in every school in the U.S.A.

Monica | 24 comments Pamela on what basis do you make this statement? How do you know Black Elk was horrified? Is there a rebuttal somewhere?

Pamela | 10 comments Let me ask Molly....she's our moderator...but I do remember talking about this in college about Black Elk Speaks. I went to college in Sioux City, Iowa and one of my extra classes was "The Wounded Knee Experience" which was taught by an Anasazi native. His only objection to the book was exactly that...

If I remember correctly, he also had some kind of objection to The Education of Little Tree....but I can't recall what at the moment...

Molly is our moderator and I've found her to be REALLY informative and spot on. Let me let her know we are having this discussion so she can help us out.

Stew | 15 comments I have to agree with Monica. Where does that Black Elk information come from? Can you cite something?

Let's say that is true put that aside for a moment. If Black Elk had never met Neihardt, would we know his story today?
The answer is no. His story would have been lost. Black Elk Speaks would not be a world renown story that has brought the Lakota perspective of these events to millions of readers throughout the world.

We should all be grateful that this white man took the time to put Black Elk's story down on paper. And he did it in a day when no one really gave a damn about telling the Indian's point of view on anything.

message 25: by Molly (last edited Aug 10, 2010 06:58AM) (new)

Molly (MollyHell) | 28 comments Mod
Okay I have finals until next Wednesday so I can't get too involved, but I'll make a couple comments.

1. "Citing" something won't make my information less true or if I can't, untrue. Natives pass things down by ORAL tradition, not paper, and especially at that time, no Native scholars existed. A white man putting it on paper wouldn't make this any more valid. I hope you guys can understand that. This is info I have heard many, many times from many, many Natives. I will try my best to find someplace where you can read it on print on the screen. ;D

2. Stew, I really like you, but the day I THANK a white man for *taking* something of a Native's so WHITE PEOPLE can "understand Natives"better is the day I go home and shoot myself in the face. I hope you take that in the way I intend it, which is, as strange as it seems, not insulting. LOL

Stew | 15 comments I'm not insulted. I'm glad we're having this discussion and the Native Books group seems to be making a comeback.
Well, everything I have seen and heard, many members of the Black Elk family embrace the book and are proud of their forefather.
Some members of the family have even written their own books.

Did Neihardt receive royalties for his work? Yes. Does his family (who didn't do any work) still receive royalties for the book, which is still in print and continues to sell. Yes, they do.
Does the Black Elk family? Not that I'm aware of. So there might be some of his 100s of descendants out there who are bitter about this.
So I can agree that in fairness the story should have be co-authored, and in this day and age, it would have been. But as Molly points out, it was a different day and age. There were some, but not many Native Americans out there who were capable of writing their memoirs.
In short, no Neihardt, no Black Elk Speaks.

Pamela | 10 comments I really believe the rule of thumb careful of what you are reading and where it came from. While there seems to be more historical fiction written about Native America versus real history, accurate information can be gleaned from both. Reality is....American History is taught in a VERY different way on the rez. No matter which way the world tries to comfort itself by doing justice to the Native American Indian by "getting the story straight" or blaming their white ancestors for THE WORST GENOCIDE THE WORLD HAS EVER is still very real in the hearts of Native Americans today as we watch what's left of our entire race disappear through dilution and ignorance on all parties interested or involved.

You bet. Responsibility to keep track of our own history has been virtually non-existent to the world beyond the reservations. But on the reservations...the few that I've been on or visited, our oral tradition lives on and is alive and well. Speaking only for myself and where I've been as a Blackfoot Sioux, unless you have embedded yourself and lived with the population of a reservation as a Nation in and of ourselves, it is difficult to convey this phenomenon to the "white world." I have lived and worked both on and off the reservation. The perception of regular Joe-Schmoe America is distorted and filled with stereotypes. Let's face it. Some people are scared of us...especially if we "look" the part. And of course, we take advantage of that sometimes...(I'm rolling my eyes at that) but it is true. At Pine Ridge, I've SEEN people almost run to their cars when they see "real Indians" (lol) walking toward them holding homemade things to sell for a few dollars. Of course...the natural comments to that are...."They just want the money to buy alcohol"....or "let the government take care of see how well they take care of their houses"...(rolling my eyes again) well, hells bells.

Also we are sooooooo violent. There is a big documentary out about the gangs on reservations...once again Pine Ridge is featured. Yeah...that's really going to bring the tourists to the site of Wounded Knee. Well...the gangs are our own fault...but we are not all violent. And believe me...we KNOW what would happen if one of ours would hurt one of the visitors.

What else....we are all alcoholics, we all live in poverty and destroy anything the government provides housing or buildings. We don't work, don't pay taxes, don't take care of our kids, we have terrible eating habits...diabetes, we live on "the system", we are not religious.....gosh....need I go on?

There are so few of the "real" us left. And for the most part...we accept that we are extinct and beyond repair. I was talking to the tribal office recently about tribal enrollments and benefits. My son was questioning me about this recently because one of his friends in the Air force has Native American ancestry but on a very diluted line and receives benefits...while my son is 1/8 Blackfoot Sioux and we are not using benefits by my choice right now. He thought benefits stopped at 1/8th and that this friend of his was "claiming" ancestry for the benefits. This opened up a really great conversation. According to the tribal enrollment long as you trace lineage to an enrolled member, you can be enrolled. Dilution is our biggest threat right now. We are losing native languages and culture and traditions that are irreplaceable.

So we don't have a lot of our history written down as we know it and tell it. And generally speaking...besides us, there isn't a huge request for it either...just look at the Native American Indian section next time you go to Barnes & Noble or Borders. You'll be lucky to see 20 books.

I think all that we are asking for is temperance. If it is written by a white guy, you have to question that person's sensitivity and motivation for the subject and consider their sources. I think we are not dictating what you can or can not read...just that you read it with our best interests at heart.

Like Molly, I have to admit that the criticism we have about Black Elk Speaks comes from the Native community I am familiar with...and this comes from people and friends I know who are members of many different bands and tribes of the Sioux.

My mother once told me...and take this with a grain of salt because she was in chemo therapy at the time and telling her stories while feeling awful..."It's like know how people are talking about that movie The Passion of Christ or whatever? How it was much, much worse for Christ than that movie could even everyone got all emotional and stuff about watching the scourging and the hoo hoo and blah blah blah?" Well that is what it is like for us. No matter what you try to tell the white people or whoever is interested in what our history is, they'll never get it. Because it is 100 times worse than even we can tell by mouth. And STILL they'll find a way to blame an Indian for what happened to us. It's just not worth it."

So there you have it. I don't necessarily agree with ALL of that....but the majority of it? YES.

And mom is still riding around on her Harley today...I'll be seeing her on Thursday.

Monica | 24 comments Yes, and there's the Irish holocaust. And the Israeli invasion of Palestine.

I am one of those people who was frightened when buying a kachina doll and was glad I was with someone familiar with the reservations.

I live in Detroit. Reverse racism gets people nowhere.

An Irish friend says her Italian husband can't understand why their daughters get crushes on any Indian or black boy at school. "Why can't they like a white kid?" Cause that's the way the world is. There are reactionaries galore and plenty of economic racism, but, there is melting in our melting pot: Chinese + American; Japanese + American; English + African; Puerto Rican + American; Venezuelan + American; Phillipino + Yugoslavian. A friend of mine is black, white and Indian. He's quite handsome and my girlfriends of color think so, too!

I'm a member of the Sokka Gakai International and have found an organization where black, white, yellow, red and brown, even that beautiful shade of Indian (by Pakistan) gray skin people are working together to turn poison into medicine.

All races are merging. We're experiencing the melting in the melting pot...especially in the next generation. Let's work toward world peace, because peace rocks!

Molly (MollyHell) | 28 comments Mod
Yes, I so look forward to being melted into a big mass of homogenous matter.

I EMBRACE difference. I don't need to melt with the world to have peace. Peace comes from within not from eradicating all difference.

Monica | 24 comments Please don't dismiss or misinterpret the intent of my last remark. Black, white, yellow, red and brown people are in this organization. I don't know another place where working for peace is a reality. People of all these colors EMBRACE one another and work everyday to understand and overcome our challenges.

Jesse Hanson (jesseshanson) | 5 comments It'd be nice if we could get along while maintaining unique cultures. But the business man will make all the world the same if he has his way - if the world can survive in spite of him.
Still, i don't see how we can stand in the way of love.

message 32: by E. (last edited Jan 01, 2012 07:37AM) (new)

E. P. | 7 comments Good intentions do not matter as much as the impact your actions have. Despite the nobility of your intentions, it seems that you are struggling with your racial privilege. You even seem defensive about having white privilege in your comment.

I think that the first step is to recognize who you are and to accept that you are privileged as a “white male writer”. In comparison to a Lakota writer, you will be given more grants, sell more books and be taken more seriously by dominant society just because you are a white male with a higher-education. The lived experiences of Oglala Lakota writers are not as valued by dominant society and you are, despite your diet of ramen noodles, taking advantage of an unequal playing field in writing this book.

What is the impact of you, a white man, writing about Indians? Maybe, you will misrepresent indigenous peoples in your book and contribute to damaging stereotypes. Certainly, you further entrench the whiteness that exists in anthropology and in society at large which is that white authors who write about different cultures/peoples are viewed as 'experts' whereas authors who write about their own cultures/peoples are unfairly viewed as 'biased'. Definitely, you conquer the knowledge and experiences of oppressed peoples for personal gains. You may also want to elucidate your motivations for writing this book and be honest about it.

I'm not saying that you should or should not be writing this book – I just think that ANYONE writing about ANYONE ELSE should be mindful about who they are and why they are writing and disclose this information so that readers are aware of the author's biases and limitations. Because, at the end of the day, the only subject we have authority over, is our own selves.

Monica | 24 comments And you might elucidate (to yourself, thank you) your motivation for your thoughtful and mean-spirited post on new years day of all days!

message 34: by E. (new)

E. P. | 7 comments I am sorry, but how am I being mean-spirited?

Monica | 24 comments Your whole tone. I'm not going to start my new year this way, sorry.

message 36: by E. (new)

E. P. | 7 comments I left some positive suggestions for the poster. I think that it is important to be mindful of such issues and that is why I posted this when I saw the topic. Have yourself a happy new year.

Stew | 15 comments E,
I'm not bothered about your comments. In fact, I think it is geat this comment thread continues more than three years after it was posted.

You said "maybe" I contributed to misrepresentations and stereotypes in my book, The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder. The fact is that it has been out for three and a half years now, and I have never heard any such feedback from those who have read it. I have received overwhelmingly positive reviews and feedback from members of both communities. But dont take my word for it, track a copy down at your local library and give it a chance. If you dont want to purchase a copy or it isnt available at a library near you, let me know, and I will get a copy to you. It wil also be available in ebook format Jan.15.
Best Wishes for the New Year, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

message 38: by Red (last edited Jan 02, 2012 11:06AM) (new)

Red Haircrow (redhaircrow) | 13 comments A few times I've been consulted by writers looking for specific Native American history, traditions, etc. and recently by an author wishing specific details of a certain ceremony which is frowned up to share knowledge about. It can be potentially dangerous.

Although I completely understood his desire to be authentic in what he was writing, and he'd obviously done a lot of research...because of the nature of the ceremony, there is very little information about it, for the above reason. So some of my questions to him was why he needed the exact specifics, was it crucial to the story? (He said it wasn't, he just wanted to be authentic.) Did he need to prove to himself or others about his writing? I told him very honestly, even having the info and if writing on the same topic, I would not include that knowledge I would not include, and could not give it to him because it was not mine to give. It had come from elders.

I add this example, because I truly believe that whatever ethnicity you are, if you are respectful, knowledgeable (and sometimes to why some things are not shared) you can write a competent, even outstanding book about Native Americans, etc. though you may not be Native American.

I can understand some of the points E. was making and agreed with them as an explanation. They are just facts. If you go to an agent with a story to sell about Natives even a great one, and you're Native American, unless they are pretty open-minded, it might be rejected because they may not be able to sell it based on "who" you are. While the same book by someone they prefer to represent, whose face will help sale to the majority of mainstream demographic...that is just reality. It is not said to be mean, or anything. It's a fact, like others, we live with every day.

"I just think that ANYONE writing about ANYONE ELSE should be mindful about who they are and why they are writing and disclose this information so that readers are aware of the author's biases and limitations. Because, at the end of the day, the only subject we have authority over, is our own selves."

A credible point, though I would add "MAY BE", because an author may have biases or limitations, but they made not. For example, in one of my upcoming novels one of my characters is Russian, and part of the story takes place in Russia. I've visited Russia several times, made efforts to learn the language and spent much time with Russians, and had a couple of Russian readers give me some feedback. They didn't dismiss my work out of hand just because I'm Native American, and not Russian.

I don't think a writer should be dismissed because they are not Native and happen to write on native topics or characters. I think it is very important how they do so, however, yet fully believe they can write however they wish. They should just be cognizant natives may not like it or reject it. I think just saying, "no one else has left negative feedback about my work" isn't necessarily pertinent or relevant in a way because if a person doesn't know a fact or info might be inaccurate or they are a native who doesn't mind so much, they may think it's the best ever. But they have that right, too.

It's a passionate topic for many closely attached to it.

message 39: by E. (last edited Jan 02, 2012 12:02PM) (new)

E. P. | 7 comments Thanks for your replies, Stew and Red. Stew, I am not suggesting you did or did not use stereotypes in your book but, that it's a legitimate concern that people might have. To me, white authors writing about my people or any oppressed group is always a colonizing experience given the political and social landscapes of the world we live in. However, I am not dismissing your work, or any other writer's work based on their ethnicity. I think it can be done (and has been done) with respect, self-awareness, self-disclosure and humility.

I agree that it is a passionate topic. To me, it is rightly discomforting conversation however, I think a dialogue is important to have.

I firmly believe that everyone has unique subjective identities and experiences that they bring into their writing. Who you are will definitely influence what the story is and how you write it. On the flip side, your identity and experiences will influence how you read and interpret a story. Perhaps, 'limitations' and 'biases' are not the right words but I think we are not separate from writing, reading, or whatever it is that we do.

Stew | 15 comments E.,
I 100 percent agree that every writer and reader brings their own life experiences to the table.

You may also be interested in a column I write for the Native Sun News, A View from A Wasicu, where I have expanded on this original post in several columns over the past few years.
I also post these columns in a blog here for those who don't get the paper:
All the Best,


Paty Jager | 7 comments This is a wonderful discussion.

I've written three historical romance novels about the Wallowa Nez Perce.(I'm not Native American) I used the empathy I harbored while growing up in their beloved valley to show how they grew to love the valley, how they tried to live with the white men who took over the area and then their run for freedom.

I had two Nez Perce who answered questions or found the answers I asked about the daily life of the people but there were a couple times when they couldn't help me. The elders wouldn't divulge the information I wanted. In those instances I changed the scenes.

This conversation is giving me a gook look into what I need to know for a mystery series I'm currently working on. The main character is 1/2 Native American and denying her roots until her grandmother comes into her life and opens her eyes.

Great conversation. I look forward to reading both sides.

Monica | 24 comments What reason do the elders give for not sharing knowledge?

Paty Jager | 7 comments Monica, Pretty much what Red stated before. They didn't want to disclose the information because it was sacred or they didn't feel "whitemen" would condone their actions beliefs.

message 44: by Monica (last edited Jan 04, 2012 06:48PM) (new)

Monica | 24 comments Not helpful. Aren't white people GrOoVy enough? It seems like a form of racism. We all have differences and only with dialogue will things improve. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

message 45: by E. (last edited Jan 04, 2012 10:39PM) (new)

E. P. | 7 comments Monica, what you are describing is the claim of "reverse racism" which does not exist. Period.

I would add to Paty, that in many contexts, knowledge is important and should not be taken lightly. For example, if western medical knowledge was widely disseminated, without the proper training and protocols, individuals can abuse the knowledge and cause harm.

A dialogue is important but that doesn't mean we have the right to colonize people's knowledge and we should be mindful of the power imbalances that exist.

Monica | 24 comments Sorry. I'm still sticking with my story. Secrets are a no no in any good relationship.

message 47: by E. (new)

E. P. | 7 comments So, you are going to ignore a history and reality of oppression?

Paty Jager | 7 comments E and Monica, I didn't push for more explanation because it is a culture that has been misunderstood so many times I can understand their fear and distrust. It has nothing to do with race. It has to do with distrust that has been held deep. I can understand that distrust having done my research to write the books I did.

We (whiteman) may say it is history and we'd like to capture it or it will be lost if it isn't documented, but I can also see that the Native Americans, who were treated as badly as some tribes, have the ingrained distrust even so many years later. When you've been jacked around as much as they have and lied to as much as they were, I can see their reluctance to spill information.

It has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with survival.

message 49: by E. (new)

E. P. | 7 comments Paty wrote: "E and Monica, I didn't push for more explanation because it is a culture that has been misunderstood so many times I can understand their fear and distrust. It has nothing to do with race. It has t..."

I kinda agreed with most of what you are describing as an explanation, but I think it has EVERYTHING to do with racism, which is a part of colonialism, which is still going on.

message 50: by Red (last edited Jan 07, 2012 10:35AM) (new)

Red Haircrow (redhaircrow) | 13 comments I don't believe it's generally a form of racism, reverse or otherwise, Monica as you label it, and you completely have the idea wrong. Within Native American tribes there are certain people who perform ceremonies, or have sacred knowledge, yet still some things are not even generally known among the tribe itself. They don't tell any and all natives, only the chosen designate.

So to me it seems you are looking to wrongly accuse someone, and your comments definitely show a closed-mind that is not even attempting to understand the breadth of the issue. The only direction I would give to Paty's comment is that it is not "whitemen", certain knowledge wouldn't be given to anyone, whatever someone perceives as the color of their skin, unless they are selected.

From one of my articles at a quote: " It’s not my summation, though I agreed generally with the comment from an anonymous poster on a thread about native ceremonies and why some are not shared even if someone is possibly good intentioned. The responder suggested that maybe those from cultures where few things are deemed sacred, or who freely give any information about themselves or religion (prostylizing types), they do not understand when a culture or group chooses not to, even if it is their right to keep it to themselves."

It is not a matter of a relationship. It is not a matter of secret, but of sacred. It is not general history, it is our history. It is not a matter of difference, though sometimes it is a matter of practicality and safety.

It is not always a matter of fear or distrust either. The people who had asked certain information of me, I didn't distrust their motives, they had good intentions I felt, but it was not my knowledge to give. Also, of the particular information they wished, the components themselves can be dangerous regarding ingestion, etc. So there are practical realities also, just not ideas or beliefs.

Conversely, if I chose to look at it simply from Monica's perspective and response in kind, I would flat out refuse to give any information simply because a person like this is demanding we so, and if we do not we are being unfair and racist. Why would I (we) want to give anyone sacred knowledge who demands it, as if just because they ask you have to tell everything you know? That attitude and very way of behavior and aggression is distasteful. It is not our way, and personally I don't respond to it no matter what any tries to wrongly label me.

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