‘Reservation Nation,’ by David Fuller Cook
AKWESASNE, N.Y. – Warren Eubanks, the fictional character and narrator in “Reservation Nation,” is an observant Uwharrie man who has grown up on a rural reservation in North Carolina. He has observed every aspect of reservation life with thoughtfulness, and he reflects on his life and the lives of those he knew in a novel about all things Indian in the United States.
The reservation is one filled with political strife, crime, spirituality, greed, abuse and love. Warren and his relatives spend a good deal of their time trying to pass the time, but throughout their young lives they learn firsthand what being Indian in America entails.
Oil companies have cheated the Uwharrie of money, police have failed to investigate numerous crimes, and one of their own has sold them down the creek time after time. The chief of Warren’s tribe, Chief Billy, feeds from the hand of non-Natives and does everything in his power to keep his fellow Uwharrie people from causing trouble with the kowache, or white people.
Through Cook’s storytelling and Warren’s easygoing nature, readers meet many memorable characters, none of whom
Aunt Ida is loved by all animals, and she teaches Warren to stop throwing rocks at cows.
Sun Susie is a rough, chain-smoking, horse-loving girl whose tragic fate is one of the novel’s most intriguing story lines.
Ruay Overmoon knows just about everything and loves to talk ears off.
Jimmy Bird makes a living taking oil off the reservation illegally, and sometimes he beats his wife.
Ruby Keehoe had been sent to live with non-Native foster parents but returns to the reservation to start a family.
Thomas Matoas Point is a “medicine man in training” who loves to surprise people with his offbeat spiritual actions.
Every person Warren knows has a deep effect on his own outlook on life, being Indian and living on a reservation. Of his friend Thomas Matoas Point, Warren says: “He was one authentic Indian; not everybody has the heart to do that anymore. He was like a one-man tribe, and you can’t be an Indian without a tribe, so he went around trying to recruit Indians to be themselves, to be authentic human beings.”
Through his daily activities and interactions with people, Warren learns what to be proud of in himself and his people and what to question and stand up against in the world.
“Reservation Nation” is Cook’s first novel.
“Reservation Nation,” in its simplicity, is profoundly effective in portraying a realistic Native community. Though the novel is told through just one young man’s eyes, the reader gets to know many people through the captivating storytelling style of David Fuller Cook.
The author wastes no time in sending the reader straight to the reservation to begin meeting the Uwharrie people and learning about their lifestyle, their political barriers, their economic boosts and setbacks, their functional and dysfunctional households, their culture, their land, their history and future.
Without using real-life Indian stereotypes as a defining crutch for storylines, Cook depicts a believable reservation with both common and unique problems. Indian people across North America can expect to connect with one or more characters in the book, and certainly with the issues as well.
Perhaps one of the most memorable characters in “Reservation Nation” is Chief Billy – a corrupt Indian leader who “was always saying how he wanted to hear what everybody wanted, what was good for the tribe, but he had the same grin for everything. He had this way of lifting his head up off his shoulders and grinning at you, like he was saying, ‘You can’t tell if I’m lying or not,’ or ‘When you get outta sight I’m going to do whatever I want to because I’m the chief. You’re not.”
The notion that the corrupt leader of an Indian tribe might be selling the souls of tribal members – so to speak – in exchange for power in the white community is not a new notion, but it’s a fresh and fascinating one to read about. Chief Billy might be called “Reservation Nation’s” villain.
The novel is a truly enjoyable one to read, perhaps due to its free-flowing style and wandering plots. There is humor in the stories but you’ll have to read between the lines to find it. The characters are loveable in their raw portrayal, and the issues faced by the Uwharrie people make for an exceptionally fascinating narrative that will leave you thinking. For Natives and non-Natives alike, “Reservation Nation” leaves readers with a few things to think about.