Comments on Linda McCarriston's “Indian Girls”
While reading Linda McCarriston's poem “Indian Girls, ” I was struck by two things: one is the similarity between the theme of the poem and that of Ian Frazier's recent book, On the Rez (2001), and the other is that the poem clearly illustrates the reality that, despite good intentions, white authors who write about Natives often do more harm than good. 1
Frazier is an adventure writer whose writing ability is well known (most notably from his work in Outside magazine). In On the Rez, he considers one of the problems that plagues many tribes—alcoholism—and then proceeds to give readers the impression that everyone on the “evil” Pine Ridge Reservation is an alcoholic who contributes to the poverty, pollution, and violence that swirl across the bleak landscape.
Like Frazier, the talented poet McCarriston likes Indians and is concerned about them and particularly about the abuse Native women suffer at the hands of Native men. Unfortunately, like Frazier, she gives the wrong impression of tribal life. As uninformed readers might interpret the poem, Native females in the cold, dark north are perpetual victims of abusive men, and their only recourse is to wallow in misery. Just as Frazier does not tell us about the myriad sober Sioux who strive to make life better for their tribe and family, McCarriston does not mention the strong women (and men) who do not tolerate physical and verbal abuse from each other. Both authors dwell on the negative aspects of tribal culture, which only reinforces non- Natives' stereotypes of drunk, misogynist Native men and easy, barhoppin' “girls” who cannot come up with any better solution to their problems.
The most volatile debates today in the realm of Indigenous Studies surface over questions of authoritative voice, who benefits from writing about Natives, and whether or not fiction and nonfiction writings about Natives should contribute to nation building, empow