Last year, as I was working on a manuscript of a novel built on the last 150 years of Northwest Salish history, a Salish teenager shot and killed four friends in his Marysville high school gym. At the time, I was enrolled in an American Indian Studies class at the University of Washington because I had been concerned about my role as a writer. I am not Native American—Midwestern Jewish—and, while I wanted to finish my manuscript, I wanted to avoid appropriation and, what my professor would have called, psychological colonization.

When there was no land left to colonize, no settlements left to plunder or animals left to hunt to extinction, the descendants of those first Europeans turned to Native culture as a resource. In the same way we once took their land, Americans have, for decades, happily taken Native religion, narratives, dress and, even, rituals. Nothing is theirs and theirs alone anymore. So, while depicting other minority cultures may not always, necessarily, be an act of appropriation, so many Native American populations have lost so much else that the use of their image only echoes a trauma that began when the first ships landed.

Continue reading “Can fiction be excused from direct experience?”