For this assignment, I want us to shift from the importance of representation and focus on how difference or a different perspective changed us in a meaningful way. Have you ever read a book and the character's perspective opened you to ideas, beliefs or realities that you had never considered? Tell us a about a work or an author whose body of work changed how you looked at the world, others or yourself. Have you ever read a book and had a paradigm shift because of it?
Recently I connected with professor and writer, Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Talk about kindred spirits, this advocate doesn't hold back. Do you believe in serendipity? Because after chatting with Debbie, I finally decided on a book I wanted to focus on for this meme.
I want to start by saying I was never a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, book or television and Debbie can tell you better than I why the series is problematic, and as an aside author Bich Nguyen briefly talks about the racism in the books in Stealing Buddha's Dinner. As a person of color, even as a child, I was put off by stories told from the white person's perspective which often meant people of color were secondary figures either to be feared or saved or they were viewed as the exception of their kind, you know, the noble savage archetype. One of my problems with Brave New World was the reference to native people and the noble savage character. I was preoccupied with the portrayal.
It's not the first time but in talking with Debbie I was reminded that outside of classic children's literature, I rarely read any mention of Indigenous people and when I did, it was seldom a positive representation. In adult literature, I know and have read a little from Louise Erdrich. There's Joy Harjo the poet and then I thought of David Treuer. Two years ago for a group read, I read, Little. As I said my knowledge of First Nation writers is shamefully little. I rarely read men and since I began mentoring teen girls, I don't read much adult literature either.
Little was a challenge for me for all the reasons I outlined: limited knowledge, my reading preferences and my focus for the last few years. Here was an adult read, a literary read about a culture I knew nothing about and from a male perspective. It was hard getting into the read but it came highly recommended and I respected the opinion of my friend who suggested it. The opening is slow and detailed. I had to mentally adjust and I'm glad I did. The writing is deliberate, focused and distinctly different- dispassionate I think describes it.
Little was a shift; it was an education. Here was an intimate account of a family spanning three generations, details about a culture and life on a reservation and a part of American history I knew almost nothing about. It's been too long for me to write a review but that's not my focus here. What I want impress upon you is that reading Debbie's current challenges against the misrepresentation of American Indians, evoked my experience with reading Little. I remember being stirred, agitated by what I learned. I can tell you that taking time to hear another person's perspective is not only informative but uncomfortable. It challenges you to rethink what you thought you knew or to question your ignorance. It tests your humanity. Little introduced me to two cultures and histories: the Indigenous community and the Nordic settlers of Minnesota. When Treuer described the history of the area and its occupants, I asked myself why hadn't I looked at this gaping hole in my understanding of this part of American history and the region before. I don't have an answer except to say that the absence and misrepresentation in effect contributed to my ignorance. Obstacles are not legitimate excuses however.
I wish I could say more and in order to do that, I need to read more. Stay tuned.
Mr. Treuer’s accomplishment is a wonder. Out of the seasons and landscapes of a Minnesota reservation David Treuer has forged a strong intricate narrative complete with the intimate voices of fully realized characters.
David Treuer is Ojibwe. He grew up at Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, where he now lives. He is a graduate of Princeton University.
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