An Enlightening Experience, Courtesy of Sherman Alexie

On November 9, 2013 I went to go see Sherman Alexie. He is described as “a gifted orator, he tells tales of contemporary American Indian life laced with razor-sharp humor, unsettling candor, and biting wit” on the Chicago Humanities Festival website. He is also the author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, as well as multiple other works. I did not really know what to expect walking in, all I knew is that it would definitely be interesting. Alexie discussed many topics such as banned books, small business Saturday, reservations, Native Americans sports mascots, and mental health.

He talked about reservations in Native American society today. He made an immense impact with his statement that reservations are “rural concentration camps” and that they “were created in an act of war”. I find this statement fascinating because we just finished learning about Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal policy. While there is no exact count, many died on the Trail of Tears which was the forcible removal of Native Americans off their lands. Alexie’s statement could be considered correct for the facts that reservations, similar to concentration camps, were places to hold unliked members of society in one area. They were also created as a way to claim more territory for whites and this could make them seem like they were created in an act of war.

At the end of his conversation with the interviewer, the floor was opened for questions and one of the questions was from a teacher. She asked him about his bipolar disorder and basically how it was like to be Native American and bipolar.  I did not know that he suffered from bipolar disorder when I came in and I was amazed that he could talk so easily and openly about his condition.  Alexie made me realize that at the end of the day no matter what a person’s race and background is, bipolar disorder is hard to deal with. His comments on his disorder made me think about the Eugenics Movement in America. As a part of the movement some people wanted to cleanse the gene pool so they sterilized people who they considered unfit to have children, sometimes against those people’s wishes. People who were considered unfit included ones with mental illnesses.

Alexie made me consider parts of American history and culture differently. I am glad that I went to see him because it was truly an enlightening experience.

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