August 19, 2006

The power of words

More from American Indian Writing, Seen Through a New Lens:From the Boston Tea Party to “Dances With Wolves,” to the New Age movement, Mr. Treuer said, sitting in the bar in Bena, a small settlement on the reservation, Natives are inextricably bound up in the myths white Americans have created about what the country was, what it is and what it represents.

Indians occupy “vast territories of the imagination,” he said. “The stories America tells itself about itself involve us, but most people will never meet or talk to one of us.”

With his work, whether fiction, criticism or lexicography, Mr. Treuer said he was trying to create a new Indian story, one in which Native literature joins the mainstream of American letters, while Indian traditions receive their proper attention from scholars and are preserved from extinction.

“Words are the most powerful shaping tool,” he said. “Writing, speech, language don’t just communicate fact, they create fact.”
Comment:  I agree with Treuer's final statement. The media is creating the reality for today's Indians. Whether it's as bloodthirsty savages or greedy casino owners, how we perceive them = how we treat them.

One problem with Treuer's position:  I doubt Erdrich, Alexie et al. would agree they're writing "cultural artifacts" rather than literature. In fact, Indian authors routinely say they're trying to transcend the genre of ethnic fiction and create works with universal appeal.

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