Friday, January 27, 2006

Another author posing as Native American - Story from the LA Weekly

Link to full article.

The following excerpts are from the LA Weekly article; NAVAHOAX, by Matthew Fleischer. Please follow the link, above, to read full story.
:Eric




...Morris has suspected for years that Nasdijj is not who he says he is. A full-blooded Navajo and a professor of literature and Navajo studies at Dine College in Tsaile, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation, Morris is among the world's foremost authorities on Navajo culture. Shortly after The Blood was published, he saw Nasdijj's name listed on the national index of Native writers. Under the author's bio, it said Nasdijj claimed his name meant "to become again" in Navajo Athabaskan. This came as news to Morris, who is fluent in Athabaskan. "There is no word 'Nasdijj' in the Navajo language," he explains. "It's gibberish."




Not long thereafter, Morris got a call from Sherman Alexie asking if he would take a look at The Blood. After reading the book, Morris felt certain Nasdijj was not Navajo. "He seems to know some facts about the culture, but he has no sensibility of it." ...



the error that really made Morris crazy was a culinary one. To thank Nasdijj for his lessons, Navajo Rose routinely brings him Navajo tacos made of mutton. "Now that's just disgusting," says Morris of the tacos, which are traditionally made with beef. "We love our mutton but no one would use it in a Navajo taco; the spices just don't mix." (Indeed, in my experience on the reservation, the suggestion of a Navajo taco with mutton induces a nearly universal crinkling of noses in distaste.)



While a non-Navajo may see these gaffes as minor, Morris asserts they add up to a character that doesn't exist. Like a rabbi eating pork or a Hindu beating his cow, they are culturally incriminating; and the book is littered with them, he says. Nasdijj writes that as a boy his mother used to have sings (a religious ceremony) for him to familiarize him with his culture. "That's a communal activity," Morris says. "To have a sing by yourself is highly aberrant behavior. Like holding a church service for yourself."



Most startling and offensive to Morris is Nasdijj's depiction of Navajo clanship, which plays a vital role in tribal identity. In Geronimo's Bones, Nasdijj claims his mother was a member of the Water Flowing clan; no such clan exists however. "There's a Water Flowing Together clan," explains Morris, "but the difference isn't insignificant. If I was going to claim my mother's clanship I would at least make sure to get the name right."



Nasdijj also writes that because his father was white and without a clan, Nasdijj had no clan and was therefore treated as an "outcast bastard" by other Navajo. This, says Morris, is misrepresentative in that it wrongly portrays the Navajo clan structure as an authoritarian caste system. It is also factually incorrect. "Our lineage is passed on through our mother. If his mother had a clan, he has a clan (emphasis, Eric's)....



...Arguably the most infamous Indian appropriator is rabid segregationist and Ku Klux Klansman Asa Earl Carter, the former speechwriter for George Wallace who penned the notorious "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" speech. After Wallace's failed presidential bid and the collapse of segregation in the South, Carter assumed the identity of a Cherokee orphan and began publishing memoirs under the name Forrest Carter, allegedly in honor of KKK founder Nathaniel Bedford Forrest. His 1976 book Education of Little Tree was a critically acclaimed best-seller, and despite being outed as fraudulent decades ago, it is, remarkably, still in print...



...given the response of many, including prominent publishers and Oprah Winfrey, to the James Frey affair - that his message of redemption is true and so who cares about literal untruths - is it possible that Tim Barrus is using the Nasdijj persona as a vehicle for social justice?...




"It's crazy," says Harjo, "that's the problem with it. Why can't you be who you are, a non-Native person, supporting the same things Indians care about? Why do you have to be one of us to support us? That's a little loopy, isn't it? So you have to stand back and say why is that person lying about that? And the answer is because people like that don't do it for altruistic reasons. It's about profit. They think pretending to be Indian will help them sell more books." ...



"The backbone of multicultural literature," says (Sherman) Alexie, "is the empathy of its audience - their curiosity for the condition of a group other than themselves. Nasdijj is taking advantage of that empathy."



If Nasdijj is not Native American, he's not only misinforming his audience, he's making it harder for genuine work to come forward. The PEN/Beyond Margins Award is given annually to a Native American writer to help spread "racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities." When Nasdijj accepted the award in 2004, he accepted money and prestige specifically earmarked to help Native Americans share their story.



"The last act of colonialism is for the dominant culture to completely supplant the Native one," says Alexie. "Nasdijj is disappearing people. With every book he writes he makes Indians disappear."





The article uncovers the odd history of the man who would be a Navajo Survivor of many things; and was more than enough to piss me off.


Add NASDIJJ to your list of crap authors not to read.



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13 comments:

JLB said...

Thanks for the article... I guess it reveals some of my ignorance as well. I only just read "The Education of Little Tree" a month ago for the first time, and I enjoyed the story. I hadn't heard (nor had I yet researched) the background of Forrest Carter. Guess I have some more reading to do.

I agree with the author of this article... it is a strange phenomenon to see individuals trying to pose as something that they are not, instead of supporting causes they believe in as who they are.

JLB said...

I'm still a little boggled as I read what's floating around the net about Forrest Carter... if he was a segregationist and a KKK member, why did he write a story like The Education of Little Tree which advocates understanding, love, and a kind way of living?

You don't have to answer, I'm just a little stumped. As I said, it appears that I have much more reading to do.

JLB said...

Yup, another comment from me... I read the article here: http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/carter.html to understand a little more about Carter and the book. Looks as though I should have done my homework, and that I have a lot more research ahead of me. Could you by any chance recommend other sources of information on the subject?

Hoka-shay-honaqut said...

I have not read the book, myself; having been warned off. If I find anything else about that particular author/book, I'll post.

JLB said...

Thanks

will said...

mutton tacos? ish!!! sounds as bad as eelpout icecream.

FaeMystique said...

well I'll be damned...

will said...

while we're on the subject. as you know (eck at least knows) i currently reside in finland. we have a traveling band (they really are a band-playing music in the streets) of dudes from peru over here. but check this out, theres a few wierd twists. okay, peruvian indians, playing those zamfir pipes, drums, jingle bells. they have cds that they sell while busking. its yer standard peruvian/new agey stuff. thats not whats interesting. whats interesting (to me at least) is that they record and perform under the name "mohicans" and while performing wear fakey plains indian style fringed buckskins and technicolor turkey feather war bonnets, and occasionally do a ki-yi-yi kind of war whoop. theyre like really twisted wagonburners from the worst john waynge movie ever. (can you say wagonburner on the innerweb if you are being sarcastic?)

Hoka-shay-honaqut said...

Well, what can I say? Europeans want their redskins to be the Injuns they grew up with, in the westerns.
Who cares if Africa is closer to Finland than the "Great Plains" are to Peru.

Hoka-shay-honaqut said...

PS:
I'm kind of a Redskin Snob in that "my 'skins" are North American and Mexico is pushing it.

Will; Can you convince these guys to change their name to Shmohawks?

will said...

how about ho-smocks?

The Local Crank said...

Some politicians have this faux Indian attitude, too. Ward Churchill is a perfect example. He continues to identify himself as Cherokee (or Cherokee/Creek, depending on the occasion), even though the band he says he is a member of, the United Keetoowah, have said he is not and never was. AIM has also denounced him for his fakery. Even Bill Clinton once made a pretty thoughtless comment about having a 1/4 Cherokee grandmother at a forum on racial reconciliation. Even if true, probably not a good idea to tell people of color that you "feel their pain" because you are, at most, 1/16th Native American.

little tree's gay lover said...
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