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Moving Beyond the Reservation in My Mind

Julianne Jennings
3/19/14

“Oh Uncle Adrian, I am in the reservation of my mind,” is a passage from Adrian C. Louis’s literary work, Elegy for the Forgotten Oldsmobile. It is the same one line written by a different author and in a different context which affirms a biography of oppression in living on an Indian reservation; and the intellectual and emotional understanding that fuses together the immense communicative power of language. For Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, who grew up destitute where literary dreams were more than beyond reach, Louis’ passage opened his eyes to the potential of writing. Alexie soon went on to write several novels, for example: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, War Dance, First Indian on the Moon, Indian Killer; and and Smoke Signals (1998), a critically acclaimed movie based on one of Alexie’s short stories and for which he co-wrote the screenplay Smoke Signals (1998), a critically acclaimed movie based on one of Alexie’s short stories. Sherman Alexie’s writing has cleared a mental, emotional and spiritual path for others wanting to ‘fancy dance’ a new Indian reality though writing.

For some however, moving beyond reservation borders is more difficult — a place where poverty, despair and alcoholism have often shaped the lives of many Native Americans living on reservations. But what about Indians who grew up off reservations with desires of wanting to write a different experience?

In a series of e-mails Alexei Auld, Pamunkey-Tauxenant, Graduate, Columbia School of Law, and a Sundance Native Writing alum whose work has been featured in E! True Hollywood Story, Fondo Del Sol, and numerous curated festivals and publications has recently penned a must-read book titled Tonto Canto Pocahontas to answer my inquiry.

Auld asserts, “It is difficult, but as human beings, we cope in different ways. It was easier for me to move beyond the 'reservation mind' because I never grew up on one. And I'm not making a judgment, it's just my reality.” He continues, “I have always participated in the culture. My grandmother was in an arranged marriage with my grandfather to 'keep the blood strong'. My cousin, who was the Chief's brother, married my wife and I. I was a member of a Lumbee Indian church in Baltimore (they were originally from North Carolina, so they were experiencing the whole off-Rez urban experience as well). I worked the powwow circuit with my parents until I left for law school in NYC. Served as president of Columbia Law's Native American Law Students Association. Organized the first unity pow wow between Columbia's undergraduate and graduate Native American student organizations.”

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