I haven’t consciously visited Native American reservations too often; so I don’t really know what life is like on any of one of them. There are all these many different tribes, and I also admit I don’t know much about any of them. In reading Sherman Alexie’s book of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, knowing it was fiction, I couldn’t be sure if the portrait he painted of the Spokane reservation in the state of Washington was really just how life is there—or was.
Impressions of the world Alexie portrays:
- Everyone is called an Indian, and not differentiated by the names of individual tribes. I was surprised by this. Aren’t the different tribes different? Alexie lumps them all togther.
- Alcoholism is rampant. Everyone is poor, but there seems to be plenty of alcohol. The use of alcohol seems to both help people get in touch with themselves and to narcoticize them.
- Watching youth play basketball is a feeling of hopefulness.
- Women may be stronger, more enduring than men.
- A form of dancing called “fancydancing” is a way of remembering something wonderful about tribal life before everyone was herded onto reservations by white men. He mentions it but doesn’t describe it.
- Life is poetically filled with the sense of a culture tragically crushed by white men. There seems to be a sad poetry in every aspect of life on a reservation.
- The culture had, may still have, strong feelings and beliefs about nature, dreams, warrior sensibilities (if you’re a man), and tribal belonging.
- As sad and hopeless as reservation life seems to be, it appears to be hard for anyone to leave the reservation.
Alexie paints a bleak portrait of tribal life, including spirituality, on the Spokane reservation. Is spirituality sometimes just tragic?
What do you think?
© Brother Greg 6/15/10
Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven. New York: Grove Press. 1993.