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Birchbark Blog

Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong

Louise Erdrich - Monday, October 19, 2009
Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong, a satisfyingly complex book by Paul Chaat Smith, who maintains that although we are considered somehow primitive and simple we are actually oceans of terrifying complexity.  I have been called this by men, with no regard to my Turtle Mountain heritage.  Just . . . an ocean of complexity.  And this book, too, is so complicated that I found my emotions were all mixed up.  Irony, laughter, rage, weariness.  A mixture -- a complex character trait but as one of my character flaws is a vague obscurity I appreciated the harsh wit and intelligence in these essays.  A recommendation with many stars after it.

I'll be taking this book along on my next trip along with Chitra Divarakuni's One Amazing Thing, covering Indians -- East to West.

And some favorite post snow fall reading -- Homer and Langely, by E.L.Doctorow.  I loved this novel for its quirky, mild mannered fidelity, for its courtly reserve, and at last for the gentle horror of its ending.  I thought it beautifully imagined and restrained.  A perfect work.  The portrait of a consciousness cut off from even the world of music, floating in soundless space, the last 10 pages were extraordinarily moving to me.

Axsel Bjorklund commented on 22-Oct-2009 08:28 AM
On the one hand, not having read the same books, I hesitate to comment. On the other hand, under the guiding principle of "fools rush in...", I must say that simplicity and complexity are two sides of the same coin. Recently, scientists have progressed from Chaos Theory to a theory of complexity where there is what they term a "self-organizing principle". This leads me to believe that you, me, or anybody else that is hassling with this framed in terms of a problem can henceforth rest easy. In short, everything will be OK.
Gary Deason commented on 31-Oct-2009 02:51 PM
CULTURE: We Anglos value our complex world of science-technology-economics-business, but remain pretty simplistic, even naïve, about the equally complex world of spirit-religion-land-art-culture-family-human relationships. Anglos misunderstand and devalue Indians by reducing their expectations to what they themselves cherish and practice (technology, business, etc) instead of what Indians cherish and practice(spirituality, family, etc). We all see through our own lenses. Measured by the standards of white culture, not surprisingly, Indian cultures come up short. If one reverses the viewpoint, Anglos come up equally short, probably even shorter.

RELATIONSHIPS: Maybe this is part of the larger social and cultural background (there’s also the genetic) of male-female relationships, particularly a (white) male attitude toward a woman of native heritage living her uncommonly rich spiritual, cross-cultural, and family background. Static, linear, deductive heads and hearts struggle to understand and appreciate kinetic, relational, value-laden thoughts and emotions. The reverse is true too.

UPSHOT: If inter-cultural relations and male-female relations were more like Yin-Yang or Same-Other, with a healthy dose of respect maintaining equilibrium, the tension would power compelling outcomes.

Hmmm... that turned out too cerebral. The important point is: I hope we all keep trying on both fronts!
Barbara Scott Zeller commented on 20-Nov-2009 09:13 AM
I am an Anglo who does not recognize herself in Gary's post, so "We Anglos" may be a stretch. Cultural generalities scare me.
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