This past Saturday I had the privilege of seeing Sherman Alexie, Native American author of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and several other books, who chose to leave reservation life on his own accord.
Throughout his presentation he spoke of his life on the reservation and as an author of a banned book. Towards the end of the talk, a series of questions were asked, the final one asked him to comment on reservation life and why someone might choose to leave. He responded by saying that reservations are nothing but “rural concentration camps” in which Native Americans have become accustomed to living. He goes on to recall that they were “created as an act of war” and that they are a dark and depressing place. His response expressed the cause and long term effect of white settlement and domination in early United States history. In the 1800s, President Andrew Jackson made the choice to send Native Americans west of the Mississippi to “save” their endangered people and culture. He also did this to reinforce western expansion. His choices, along with those of his supporters, led to the horrid reservation life that Native Americans have since had to endure.
Sherman Alexie went on to state that the reason that “we [the varying groups of people] are here today because someone got pissed off and decided to leave to start a new group.” Though he was referring to the emigration of humans from Africa later forming all peoples and cultures, this also relates to the founding of the United States. Excluding the entrepreneurs seeking profits through the Virginia Company, early colonists sought religious reformation. Several Christian denominations such as the Puritans, Protestants, and Separatists, unhappy with the Catholic Church, came to the New World in order to modify the Catholic Church to satisfy their own preferences. In addition to religious motivations, disgruntled farmers, pushed out of their over populated lands in England, came to the New World in search of a better life, most often through indentured servitude.
Sherman Alexie, both through his literature and lectures, ties history to the present, reflecting his own experiences and those of people around him.