October 10, 2009

Alexie on warriors

Sherman Alexie:  Don't Call Me Warrior

America's most famous Indian author on Obama's tribe, Native wannabes, and why Kindles aren't sexy.

By Kiera Butler
Mother Jones:  On the campaign trail, Barack Obama was adopted into the Crow Nation and given the name One Who Helps People Throughout the Land. After that show of pandering, has he lived up to his name?

Sherman Alexie:  [Laughs.] Well, first of all, these tribes that have given so many names and honorary memberships to people, they're kinda trampy. I think some tribe adopted Norman Schwarzkopf, too. It's the Indian version of getting a Hollywood star. So far Obama's done nothing to be better or worse than any other president when it comes to Indians, which is what I suspected, because we represent no important voting bloc. His name should be One Who Helps Liberals and Moderates Throughout the Land.

MJ:  A lot of people want to claim Indian identity. Have you followed the case of Ward Churchill, the former University of Colorado professor who claims Indian ancestry and was fired after making inflammatory remarks about 9/11?

SA:  The tribes he claims he belongs to don't even claim him. Let's put it this way: You guys are all way behind in terms of what you know about his identity and his politics. Indians have been having those discussions since the beginning. His words got him in trouble, but he had lost plenty of Indian credibility before he lost white people's credibility.
And:MJ:  There's a line that I liked in your poem "War Stories": "I think that violent men will always find logical and rational and emotional and compelling ways to justify their violence." Your characters in War Dances do just that.

SA:  There's this whole notion of being an Indian—the idea that "warrior" is a positive description of us. When an Indian guy does well, he's a warrior, even now. He could be a computer salesman, but if he does well, he's a warrior. I'm not a pacifist by any measure, but I'm also fully aware that the reasons I might go to war could be very dubious.

MJ:  You've said that when you were younger you saw yourself as oppressed. Do you think you've gotten less angry, or just found a way to express your anger through humor?

SA:  I think my anger now, rather than being focused on my Indian identity, is directed toward most of the planet. I recognize now that the conditions that Indians are living in are the conditions that poor people everywhere are living in. I'm still furious. It's just that I'm older, and to carry around anger like that kills you.
Comment:  I agree with Alexie about warriors. Both American culture and Indian cultures fetishize the idea of warriors. Some cultures lionize their intellectuals, lovers, or gentlemen...but not ours.

Throughout history, people have fought stupid, unnecessary, and futile wars. Europeans and Americans have been at the forefront of many of them, including the biggest ones. All these good Christians have ignored what Jesus said: "Blessed are the peacemakers."

For more on Alexie, see Alexie on Obama, Alexie on Churchill, and All About Sherman Alexie. For more on unnecessary warfare, see Diplomacy Works, Violence Doesn't.

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