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featured guest
 Sherman Alexie

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Photo Credit:
Rex Rystedt

Your Questions 6 Questions

P.O.V.'s Borders visitors sent Sherman these questions in response to his work and his answers to P.O.V.'s initial 6 Questions. Read on!

Question: Sherman, what advice would you give to young people who are still figuring out which borders they are willing to cross in their life? Like should they stay or leave home? Go to college or work with their own community first? Take risks & come out about certain parts of their identity (queer, poor, etc.) or not? Thanks.

Sherman: This feels like a question a social worker should answer. I don't know what any individual should do about crossing her own borders. I only know that I live a happier, more adventurous life, by crossing borders. Of course, the crossings are always painful, as well. In most ways, I think border crossing is a very selfish, individualistic act. I've come to the point in my life where I encourage young Native Americans to become much more selfish about their personal needs and wants.

Question: Mr. Alexie, I totally agree that we need fewer churches, but I have a comment pertaining to "white people," and your "sweatlodges." Until I had the privilege of being asked by a Lakota Medicine Man (I know this isn't your tribe) to participate in an Inipi Ceremony, my only knowledge of Indian culture was from books (a few Pow Wow's at Fort Hall). It was an inspiring experience and I am so glad that I took the opportunity. Not every white person is out to exploit Indian culture; some really do just want to understand it better. The Inipi Ceremony did that for me and when I have been asked, I have participated in other ceremonies. It has given me a respect for Indian culture that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. It is not my belief, but it gave me a chance to honor yours.

Sherman: Spiritual matters should be private. I've always found that non-Indians who participate in Indian ceremonies often find some way to make it public knowledge. I don't have to participate in another culture's ceremonies in order to respect that culture. Also, I think many Indian spiritual leaders ask white people to participate out of basic fears and insecurities. We Indian folks have been so battered and bruised by white culture, so hated and vilified, that we go crazy with need when individual white folks treat us with any sort of decency. We're an oppressed people who starve for respect. I suspect that Lakota Sioux elder is a good person who loves the attention he gets from white folks. We all want the love and attention of others.

Question: How do you negotiate in your life, relationships with White people? By the way, I love and respect your work (though I don't always agree with everything!)

Sherman: I was recently asked how I could stand to be around white people, which is so funny, considering that most of my closest friends are white. Perhaps Indian culture and white American culture are oppositional, but individuals don't have to be. Most of my friendships are not based on race, but are based on basketball and books. If you love basketball and books, chances are good you'll be my friend. If you can explain the many nuances of the pick-and-roll and say it in iambic pentameter, I'll probably marry you.

Question: In discussions with Native scholars, I have heard them lament non-Natives who do not know how to approach Native texts. How would you suggest non-Natives learn to cross the border of literary criticism when dealing with Native texts?

Sherman: Incorporate the native texts with non-native texts. Read "Ceremony" alongside "Emma." Read "House Made of Dawn" alongside "Moby Dick." Read Simon Ortiz and Emily Dickinson together.

Question: Mr. Alexie, This may be a question you can't answer, but here it goes. I work at a Native American charter school in Northern California, and the kids I tutor in reading and literacy there have some of the greatest things to say, they just don't always know how to say them, let alone write them. Unfortunately, all the kids have a long way to go when it comes to reading and writing. To both encourage their education of their various tribal cultures and to encourage them to read I want to engage them in discussions about being Native American (there's a lot of racism at the school as well) and I want to get them to read. They don't want to do either. None of the teachers there seem to know what to do either, they are very tired. As a Native American who found a love of words, what would you suggest I do about introducing Native American literature to fifth, sixth, and seventh graders? I really want to read the seventh graders The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, but I just might get fired. We'll see.

Sherman: Get a video camera and make homemade films about the stories you're reading. Get a copy of Simon Ortiz's "Man in the Moon," a story about an elder Indian man's reaction to the moon landing, and have your kids make a short film out of it. This generation of kids are motion picture trained, so use that training as a bridge to the written word.

Question: How has the situation in Palestine affected your view of the struggle for indigenous land rights?

Sherman: I think most of the leaders of Israel and Palestine are guilty of violent fundamentalism. I don't agree with violent action. I condemn Israeli tanks and Palestinian suicide bombers. But I also know the mainstream media here in the US doesn't really show the oppressive conditions that many Palestinians endure. I wish the US would act as a ethical mediator in this conflict, and many other international conflicts, and not create policy simply based on our economic concerns. But of course, that's asking a lot of any administration, especially the current one.

Question: Sherman — What was your path to becoming a queer ally?

Sherman: Yes, it's official. OUT Magazine named me a queer ally for 2002! What's that phrase? Straight but not narrow. In my opinion, there's something magical about androgyny. It takes a man and a woman to make life, the creation of life is androgynous, so the creation of art is also androgynous. Therefore, androgynous people must also be magical.

Question: Hello, Sherman. Since many indigenous youth and other youth of color look up to you as role model, how do you handle that role in the community responsibly?

Sherman: As a reluctant role model, I can only advocate for two things for any youth: stay sober because you'll die young if you don't, and question all authority figures because they're usually seeking to protect their power.

Question: Here's a biggie: what are your visionary ideas for solving the issues/struggles you work on?

Sherman: I have no answers. I only hope I'm asking the right questions.

Want to read more? Check out Sherman's answers to P.O.V.'s 6 questions, the same 6 we asked all of the featured guests.

about Sherman Alexie


Sherman Alexie learned to read by age three and devoured novels, which often made him the brunt of other kids' jokes on the Spokane Indian Reservation where he grew up. He has published 14 books to date, including The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Reservation Blues, and Indian Killer.


Visit Sherman's website at: