“What Sacagawea Means to Me” by Sherman Alexie

28Jan05

I thought that I would never read another piece of literature written by Sherman Alexie after the disaster that was FYE and Smoke Signals, but I’m glad that I surprised myself and read this essay because it’s quite good. My favorite sentence:

The Lewis and Clark expedition was exactly the kind of multicultural, trigenerational, bigendered, animal-friendly, government-supported, partly French-Canadian project that should rightly be celebrated by liberals and castigated by conservatives.

Alexie sees white and Indian cultures as at odds with each other and, therefore, he describes himself as a contradiction because he is the son of a half-white/half-Indian woman. He lists other contradictions of American culture:

This country somehow gave birth to Maria Tallchief and Ted Bundy, to Geronimo and Joe McCarthy, to Nathan Bedford Forest and Toni Morrison, to the Declaration of Independence and Executive Order No. 1066, to Cesar Chavez and Richard Nixon, to theme parks and national parks, to smallpox and the vaccine for smallpox.

The final paragraph of this essay is a grudging acceptance of the contradictions of this country and the acknowledgement that he himself is a contradiction.

Alexie’s expectation and seeming desire for a more homogeneous culture surprises me. Not that I want more Ted Bundys to appear just because I’m bored of everyone acting too sane, but different people and opinions are what gives cultures depth and richness. Alexie sees the dualities of the culture but does not seem to recognize the degrees of moderation which can be embodied.


Edited on 3/13/11 to remove a sentence that sounded so incredibly racist and dense in retrospect

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