Review of Ian Frazier's On the Rez
In his 23 January 2000 Los Angeles Times review of Ian Frazier's new book, On the Rez, Sherman Alexie wrote that upon hearing the title of the book, “I laughed out loud.” Alexie was referring to how Frazier, a white man and outsider, appropriated the familiar term “rez.” When I saw Frazier's book profiled in the 24 January 2000 edition of Time magazine, I had the same reaction but not because of the title. Instead of providing readers with a photograph of the subject matter, such as an Oglala or beautiful scenery, Time chose to publish a close-up of the author, a non-Native who writes about Natives solidly from his perspective. Frazier and his new book were featured because of his reputation as a respected writer, and the book, of course, will sell thousands of copies. That Frazier is a gifted writer who likes Indians is not an issue. What he does with his enviable talent in this particular work is.
This is not a book about Oglalas. It is a book containing Frazier's ramblings about who he thinks they are. Frazier is very similar to Emily Benedict, the white journalist who wrote a short piece on the Navajo-Hopi land issue and then realized that “I was so interested in the people that I wanted to write more.” 1 So she secured a book contract, swooped into a place she knew nothing about to gather information for her book The Wind Won't Know Me, then left the Southwest for good. Like Benedict, Frazier entered a place where he does not live and garnered information from a few confidants to whom he apparently gave money. Then he observed, exited to write his memoir, and now collects royalties.
This strategy has been used with great success by many white scholars for decades, but the difference between Frazier and most modern white scholars is that scholars know they had better thoroughly research their topics prior to blurting out what is on their mind. And, I hope, they undergo the processes dictated by university and tribal institutional review boards, entities that were created to