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THE PEOPLE AND THE WORD:READING NATIVE NONFICTION
Review by Dr. Dawn Karima
THE PEOPLE AND THE WORD: READING NATIVE NONFICTION.
As headlines loom large, "fake news" accusations whirl around a
variety of stories, and questionable sources fill social media,
interest in non-fiction is experiencing a rise. THE PEOPLE AND
THE WORLD, by noted scholar Robert Warrior, offers insights into the non-fiction authored by Native Americans. Accuracy, truth, authenticity and reality each appear as elements of non-fiction. Warrior balances the canonical facets of non-fiction with a particularly Indigenous perspective.
“Scholars of early Native American writing have differed on whether to focus on clear examples of published works or to include all shreds and fragments of Native literacy,” writes Robert Warrior in THE PEOPLE AND THE WORD:READING NATIVE NONFICTION, but wide agreement exists that various kinds of nonfiction make up the vast bulk of early Native writing. In a stunning survey of historical nonfiction by Native Americans, Warrior has “attempted to link what intellectuals do with what is happening among those seeking to change the realities of people in Native American communities.” The resulting book is a triumphant celebration of skills in language and cognizance throughout Native America.
Warrior’s book is fascinating because it addresses nonfiction. The majority of books published
about Native American literature focus on the fields of poetry and fiction for literary criticism. For Warrior, renowned for serving as a professor of English and Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, this book represents the answer to an intellectual question. “Specifically,” he writes, “I want to ask why, with some notable recent exceptions, critical attention to Native literature has focused either on fiction, autobiography, and poetry ,one the one side, or on oral tradition literatures on the other, when, in fact, nonfiction writing has been vital for so long.” In an era when truth and fiction collide and combine in disturbing ways, Warrior's book is a welcome look back at the integrity of literary non-fiction.
Warrior analyzes several examples of this “vital” writing from the nonfiction genre. In “Eulogy
on William Apess”, Warrior delves into the historical, cultural and ethnic contexts that precipitated the Pequot author’s personal and religious writings. Warrior celebrates Apess’ persistence in publishing
his work and the talent and determination than inspired this Pequot author.
The poignancy of Apess’ life and losses is echoed in “The Work of Indian Pupils:Narratives of Learning in Native American Literature.” Focusing on the Santee Normal Training School, Warrior presents the printing and publishing work of the Native American students trained there as an example of nonfiction.
Warrior analyzes the use of technology, the lack of ownership, and the presentation and purpose of Indian education in America. He states that “I am interested in expanding the boundaries of what Native writers talk about when they evoke education.” The result is a fascinating chapter,that challenges conceptions of academic and vocational training.
Additional chapters celebrate self-determination through nonfiction. Warrior discusses the Osage Constitution and the work of N.Scott Momaday with ease and grace. His writing is intellectually intriguing, yet accessible in style and content for a wide variety of readers. For those weary of the blurred lines of modern license with fact and fiction, this book may prove to be a revelation. Re-introducing readers to well-crafted non-fiction as well as talented tribal authors makes this text an exemplary addition to the literary criticism of Native America.