"I wish I were magical, but I am really just a poor-ass reservation kid living with his poor-ass family on the poor-ass Spokane Indian Reservation." (From
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
"Yep, my daddy was an undependable drunk. But he'd never missed any of my organized games, concerts, plays or picnics. He may not have loved me perfectly, but he loved me as well as he could."
Victor Joseph: “You gotta look mean or people won't respect you. White people will run all over you if you don't look mean. You gotta look like a warrior! You gotta look like you just came back from killing a buffalo!”
Thomas Build the Fire: “But our tribe never hunted buffalo - we were fishermen.”
Victor Joseph: “What? You want to look like you just came back from catching a fish? This ain't "Dances With Salmon" you know!” (From
“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,' I said. 'By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”
“You know what a reservation is? A prisoner of war camp. Where they keep defeated people.” (Sioux Indian man, from interview in Fort Peck Reservation, Bicentennial Summer, 1976)
Sherman Alexie is one of the very few writers capable of making students laugh, cry, get angry, and gain a deeply personalized understanding of American Indian history and identity. He uses irony and humor, and expresses them in a conversational, nearly always irreverent style liberally sprinkled with cursing. But then, he is also poetic, deeply reverent, and grateful for his identity. How did he develop his identity? By choosing to leave the reservation. He is an insider’s outsider, with a perspective that is a gold mine for students to learn history and especially to express themselves. Teenagers are by nature insider outsiders, with powerful antennae capable of figuring out what is true and what is false. Alexie will be the main focus of this unit, and, combining a close study of his writing with at least two films,
Little Big Man
, along with words and images from
Strong Hearts: Native American Visions and Voices
and other texts, students will develop some of the following skills: journalistic writing, memoir analysis and writing, film review writing, critical analysis of Indian History, as well as gain some appreciation of the varied experiences of Native communities, and podcast recording of class presentations or discussions.
The New Haven School District’s history curriculum, as far as Native American History goes, is sorely lacking. In most textbooks the subject is mostly limited to the Trail of Tears, westward expansion, and attempts to impose assimilation. The textbooks’ treatment of the subject essentially stops in the 1870’s. Native American History is not included in the New Haven District US History II curriculum and there are no questions about the subject in any New Haven District US History II Examination. There is no effort to explain, interpret, or to deeply describe the origins of the reservation system and its evolution to its current form. And there is no effort whatsoever to explain history’s effect on Indian identity in the present.