The United States has definitely succeeded in tarnishing and corrupting the Native American culture, as evident in Sherman Alexie’s poem, “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel”. One researcher records that, “The poem is a painful reminder of how the United States has at one and the same time decimated native peoples and their culture while exploiting those people and that culture for its own gain. ” I most definitely agree with this statement. Alexie’s poem, “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel” demonstrates the degradation and abuse of his culture and people through stereotyping.
He illustrates just how outlandish and brutish his people are portrayed. It’s disgraceful but needs to be brought to people’s attention. Society has us thinking with a limited perspective. There is always two sides to every story. Young people grew up believing that Indians were nothing more than savage people who danced around fires, singing, and wearing big feather hats. We have been taught from the beginning of time through the media (TV, movies, books, magazines, etc. ), and some education, that these people were unruly and uncivilized.
If our “great founding fathers of America” had not “tamed” them and taught them a more refined way of living they would still be barbaric in nature today. If that assumption in itself is not a ridiculous and tyrannical way of thinking, then I do not know what is. They are just as much of an asset to the American culture then they are given credit for. America was founded in search of liberties not afforded by others but as time progressed so has its prejudice ways. Alexie is just one of the few who has had the audacity to address it.
We have embraced this prejudice in our own customs, namely Thanksgiving. Teachers orchestrate activities where children dress up as pilgrims and Indians wearing feather hats, making “Indian” noises with their mouths; then reenact the “First Thanksgiving”. Although the story of the “First Thanksgiving does not shed negativity on the Native Americans, the way they are depicted is stereotypical. Type casted by physical appearance, religion, and lifestyle, Native Americans are fighting for their place in society everyday just like everyone else whose castaway or deemed “different or complex”.
Why should they have to consistently defend who they are and where they come from? We do not get to choose the life we are born into. While they are trying to fit in and live “normal” lives that live up to society’s standards, America is utilizing common misconceptions of their culture to bring in revenue. Not bothering to clear up the fallacies and set the record straight. It is as if saying thank you for serving your country while we make a mockery of your culture and its people, but do not worry it is okay.
Many more lines of Alexie’s poem further expounds on the ignorance of the public like, “All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms” (Alexie line 1). In “How to Write the Great American Novel”, this label implies their undomesticated disposition; “Indian men are horses, smelling wild and gamey” (Alexie line 21). Although some natives rode horses and may have smelt like them too; it was for their livelihood rather than by choice. It even plays on their spiritual nature; “Indians must see visions” (Alexie line 25).
The way they practiced their faith may seem more or less unconventional but yet again that is not our place to pass judgment. Being spiritual and believing in something or someone that could offer some type of divine intervention is what gave them strength and the courage to persevere through many hardships. While reading one of Sherman Alexie’s interview transcripts of his poem, “Up All Night”, I found it interesting and just as hilarious and ironic that the racial slur, “go back to your own country” was thrown at him (Moyers).
Technically speaking this is his country and if anything we are nothing more than immigrants. Native Americans also have to defend lifestyle choices such as their intake of alcohol. “Alcohol should be consumed” (Alexie line 24). This is hypocritical in the sense that early Americans (Englishmen) drank very heavily just to pass the time, after work, and during every holiday or special occasion according to history. In conclusion, some may say that my opinion is pure speculation and is unsound but the proof is irrefutable.
We see it every day through the media and in education. We even embrace it as part of our culture during Thanksgiving. America is blissfully ignorant to the decimation and manipulation of the Native American culture and its people. Their pain, needs, and desires will continue to go unnoticed until another student has to research or write on a topic that forces them to acknowledge the degradation they have had to endure and may continue to suffer as time evolves.
“How to Write the Great American Indian Novel.” By Sherman Alexie: The Poetry Foundation. Hanging Loose Press, 1996. Web. 06 Feb. 2013. Moyers. “Transcript: Sherman Alexie: Up All Night.” PBS. PBS, 04 Oct. 2002. Web. 03 Feb. 2013.