History no longer needs to be written by the victors. In fact, letting history be written by them leads to an all-together ridiculously narrow minded, subjective analysis of important events. Events that are not as far removed from present day issues as we have been led to believe. Look no further than the atrocities suffered by Native Americans during the development of this country and the overwhelmingly grim statistics plaguing the Native American community today concerning poverty, health issues, education, alcoholism, and violence. The four books below are all works of fiction that will completely change the way you view colonialism and its lasting effects. In school we are fed images of peaceful pilgrims, of heroic cowboys and savage Indians, but we weren’t told about the broken Fort Laramie treaty, the slaughter of women and children at Wounded Knee, or the largest mass execution in US history (38 Sioux Men) ordered by President Lincoln two days after he famously signed the Emancipation Proclamation. I never heard about the way Native children were ripped from their families and communities, so they could be forcibly assimilated into a society that had pillaged, raped, murdered and ultimately desecrated their populations and way of life. Native Americans allude to this untold history in their work. Additionally, these novels change the narrative surrounding Native Americans that has, for far too long, been about creating the idea that indigenous people and their descendants are mythological and therefore not afforded the same politically correct respect other minorities vehemently demand.
Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday – DreamWorks made this children’s book into a movie in March of this year. I read the book right before the movie came out and as usual – it was very different from the book. You may not even realize this is about colonialism because of all the aliens and the enslavement of humanity by the adorable Boovs! BUT it is. And if you read (and watch) with that in mind it takes the commentary surrounding the history of colonialism and indigenous people to a whole new level. Science fiction fans will also appreciate the imaginative worlds, creatures, and other creations of Rex. The story is told from twelve year old Gratuity aka Tip’s perspective as she tries to find her mother with the help of a well meaning Boov alien named JLo.
Favorite Quote: “When I was a little girl,’ I said, sitting down, ‘the wallpaper in my room had pictures of Noah’s story. You know what’s weird though? It’s weird that the ark would be such a kids’ story, you know? I mean, it’s…really a story about death. Every person who isn’t in Noah’s family? They die. Every animal, apart from two of each on the boat? They die. They all die in the flood. Billions of creatures. It’s the worst tragedy ever,’ I finished, my voice tied off by a knot in my chest. ‘What the hell,’I said, ‘pardon my language, was that doing on my wallpaper?”
- Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony – This novel follows the journey of a half-white, half-Laguna man suffering with post traumatic stress syndrome after his service in World War II. Emotionally engaging and stylistically innovative, Silko’s novel is captivating from beginning to end. Warning, the nonlinear structure of this book is very disorienting but pays off.
Favorite Quote: “This feeling was their life, vitality locked deep in blood memory, and the people were strong, and the fifth world endured, and nothing was ever lost as long as the love remained”
- Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part- Time Indian – You will fall in love with the young narrator Arnold Spirit aka Junior. This novel was written with young adults and children in mind but adults will enjoy it too. Junior faces bullies, falls in love, and expresses his unique perspective as a kid who veers off his reservation in search of something more. Throughout the book there are drawings made by the character that are comical yet thought provoking. It is so cliché to say this but this book made me laugh and made me cry. This book should be required reading in junior high schools across the country.
Favorite Quote: “I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,’ I said. ‘By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”
- Louise Erdrich’s Tracks – Feminists will especially love Erdich’s novel that revolves its larger than life protagonist, Fleur Pillager. The story progresses through first person narrators that change at different intervals. Just a few of the issues tackled in this story is violence against women, empowerment, the loss of tribal lands, and religious differences. You’ll be entertained by the narrators who are sometimes questionable and therefore have to come to your own conclusion on who to trust and who not to. Multiple narrators force you to consider different views and challenge even the most astute reader.
Favorite Quote: “Our trouble came from living, from liquor and the dollar bill. We stumbled toward the government bait, never looking down, never noticing how the land was snatched from under us at every step.”