Stories of Cultural Conflict

By Elizabeth Levitan Spaid. Elizabeth Levitan Spaid is on the Monitor's . | The Christian Science Monitor, September 3, 1993 | Go to article overview

Stories of Cultural Conflict


Elizabeth Levitan Spaid. Elizabeth Levitan Spaid is on the Monitor's ., The Christian Science Monitor


GROWING UP NATIVE AMERICAN: AN ANTHOLOGY Edited by Patricia Riley William Morrow & Co., 333 pp., $23

EARTH SONG, SKY SPIRIT: SHORT STORIES OF THE CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Edited by Clifford E. Trafzer Doubleday, 495 pp., $25

`IN the books available to me as a child," writes editor Patricia Riley in the introduction to "Growing Up Native American: An Anthology," "Native Americans were usually exotic, cultural artifacts from the past, the stereotypical `Vanishing Americans,' sometimes portrayed as romantic or noble, but always backward savages on their way out, and soon to be no more."

Riley's book and another, "Earth Song, Sky Spirit: Short Stories of the Contemporary Native American Experience," shatter this long-held belief. Both collections offer diverse selections of short stories by native-American writers who explore the issues, traditions, and culture that have shaped the native-American experience.

Although the stories touch on some of the same themes and several authors appear in both works, each book offers something different.

"Growing Up Native American" is the shorter of the two, with 22 pieces by native Americans from 15 different Indian nations across the United States and Canada. The most interesting aspect of this book is its autobiographical accounts from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Several native-American writers tell haunting tales of how they were plucked from their families and forced by the US government to attend boarding schools where they were often treated brutally.

John Lame Deer, a Lakota holy man born in 1903, tells of his experience: "In those days the Indian schools were like jails and run along military lines, with roll calls four times a day. We had to stand at attention, or march in step. The B.I.A. {Bureau of Indian Affairs} thought that the best way to teach us was to stop us from being Indians. We were forbidden to talk our language or to sing our songs...."

He observes that while schools in 1972 (the year he was interviewed for this piece) were more modern than in his time, their effect on young Indians was the same: "These schools are just boxes filled with homesick children. The schools leave a scar. We enter them confused and bewildered and we leave them the same way. When we enter the school we at least know that we are Indians. We come out half red and half white, not knowing what we are."

The book then focuses on the 20th century, and includes stories (mostly fiction) about native-American children in the foster-care system, contemporary native-American women and their fight against oppression, tales about tribal traditions, and the ongoing battle against racism and prejudice. …

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