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Writing red: Vine Deloria, Jr. and contemporary American Indian fiction

Holly Rae Boomer, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

Vine Deloria, Jr., has spent his writing career articulating problems, historical and contemporary, that have beleaguered American Indians in the United States. Disfranchisement, disempowerment, subversion of Indian traditions to white-ways, self-determination and loss of culture are the primary issues that Deloria addresses in his many books and lectures. ^ Deloria uses a literary technique—taking action through writing and demanding attention be paid to Indian issues by the non-Indian establishment—I call “counting coup.” This literary technique parallels the historical Plains Indians' technique of counting coup in spirit, style and significance but not necessarily in form. Deloria's technique of “counting coup” is an attempt to assure Indian survival through verbalization. Specifically, Deloria wants to reclaim an appropriated and revised history by telling the Indian story in an Indian voice. ^ I also show how American Indian fiction authors, James Welch, Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich, translate Deloria's program into symbolic and narrative form. Their fictional works not only articulate the same concerns that Deloria identifies as central to contemporary Indian culture, but the novels themselves are embodiments of the solution that Deloria proposes to those problems. ^ James Welch, in The Indian Lawyer, portrays a successful Indian lawyer who uses the establishment to empower his search for identity through his success. ^ Sherman Alexie, in The Indian Killer, portrays an Indian man without Indian identity and isolated from his tribe. Alexie illustrates how Indian culture is subverted in favor of white culture. ^ Louise Erdrich, in The Bingo Palace, portrays an Indian man with shamanistic powers but who is ambivalent about seeking empowerment and self-determination through establishing a tribal casino. ^ The novelists are doing in their work what Deloria says Indians have to do. There seems to be a unified front (though perhaps not consciously) among contemporary Indian writers, inasmuch as both the fiction and non-fiction authors have identified the same problems and seek to enact the same solutions. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, American|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

Boomer, Holly Rae, "Writing red: Vine Deloria, Jr. and contemporary American Indian fiction" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3126942.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI3126942

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