“If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one read.”
I have always been comforted by the written word. It would be dishonest to say that Sherman Alexie alone got me through that terrible, awful thing. His voice was among of chorus of authors and artists whose work I would play on repeat to block the flashbacks that kept jumping into my mind. His words didn’t destroy the darkness, but they were streetlights that helped guide me home.
“Yet Indian secrets can be disclosed suddenly, like a storm. Indian men, of course, are storms.”
It was ten. Ten women came forward. Ten women admitted to having the same experience with, as the article described him, “a pioneering figure in Native American literature.” That’s what I think was the worst part of it all. The fact that I clutched to this man’s words as I wandered through my own personal hell and aware ten other women suffered their own personal hell because of him. He put out a statement. He didn’t deny it. He withdrew his memoir and declined the award he won. Scholarships renamed, and his books tucked away to the back of shelves. People moved on. I couldn’t.
“At the halfway point of any drunken night, there is a moment when an Indian realizes he cannot turn back toward tradition and that he has no map to guide him toward the future.”
When I would tell other American Indians that I want to be a writer, his name always came up. It was only natural because he was the only one. The only famous one that ever made it big outside of the tribal crowds. The only one that was ever really successful, in a real-world way. The only one who made it.
“We all have to find our own ways to say goodbye.”
So many Indians perish in a hell of their own creation. We kill ourselves in front of our families, we drink ourselves to death and back again, we gamble away every last cent. All of those are very “Indian” ways to destroy ourselves, all of those are ways we’ve died or destroyed ourselves beyond hope.
The biggest criticism of Alexie is that he wasn’t Indian enough. He left the reservation, he went to college, he won big awards and went to fancy galas. He had so many experiences that so many Indians would never have, all while telling the Indian story. The irony is, it was a move engineered by the white man that finally did him in. Sexual violence is far from uncommon among Native women. 87% of Indian women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. 97% of those cases are committed by white men. Ironically, by doing what he did, Alexie, someone who was always so outspoken about how bad the white man was with keeping promises, seems to have killed himself with their favorite weapon.
Melanie Nolan is an acclaimed teenage essayist, poet, and writer. She is the winner of the Inaugural Bucks County Short Fiction Prize and her work has appeared everywhere from Luna Luna Magazine to her hometown newspaper. Her latest project with the Waub Ajijaak Press, is the Native Youth Zine to be unveiled at the Anishinaabe Racial Justice Conference this year, featuring her work alongside several other prominent young Native American artists.