Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner & Other Essays: A Tribal Voice

Nov 15th, 1996 | By | Category: 8-3: Ceremony, Media Reviews

by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn
University of Wisconsin Press

Review by Lydia Whirlwind Soldier

In compiling her anthology of writings, this courageous Dakota writer, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn truly reflects the tribal voice of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Nations. One notices, regardless of the topic, Elizabeth’s deep and constant concern for justice for the Native American people. Her writings are historically important and definitely relevant to all Americans. They reflect her knowledge, her compassion, and her dedication to her people. Her place as a Dakota educator, researcher, and writer is firmly established.

This book is a must for post-secondary Indian Studies classes. A total of 13 topics are arranged under five sections: Thoughts on the Art of Reviewing Books; Dispossession; Who Will Tell the Stories; Women’s Lives; and The Last Word.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn identifies and examines the many forms of deep-seated racial discriminatory practices that Native Americans have endured since their first contact with Europeans and Christianity. She calls to us to look more deeply into the real agenda that is the root cause of Native American problems. Her “Tribal Voice” does not pretend to be a handbook of “how tos.” Nor does it just cite the many injustices. She relates in a more personal way how these discriminatory acts contributed to the problems and assault against the First Nations.

The essay, “End of the Failed Metaphor” concludes Cook-Lynn’s book. This essay examines the racist attitudes that may be consciously or unconsciously ingrained in spite of good intentions. She states that a metaphor has sometimes been used, if not to legitimize colonization, then to tolerate it in the modern world. The function of a metaphor is to clarify, to illuminate, not add to the confusion, she says. For example, she says that Wounded Knee is often described as an “event,” an “incident,” or an “affair.” Inviting poets to speak about Wounded Knee as a metaphor for tragedy trivializes the reality of a massacre.

I came away from the book feeling that Native American writers need to develop a new form of solidarity and closer ties with their tribes. We can educate American society about the injustices and tell the true Native American history and stories as they should be told. By standing firm on our convictions and beliefs, Native American writers can begin to make a difference. Until we can purge American society of prejudice and resentment toward Native Americans, there will be no justice for us, and Americans will continue to carry the guilt of their ancestors.

As an emerging Lakota writer, I respect Cook-Lynn’s head-on challenge to the general public to educate themselves on what has truly happened to the Native American people. I came away feeling exhilarated and proud because we as sovereign nations will emerge into the 21st century as survivors of the American holocaust.

Lydia Whirlwind Soldier (Sicangu Lakota) is a regent for Sinte Gleska University and the Indian Studies Curriculum Specialist for Todd County School District, S.D.

 

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