Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices

dreaming-in-indianEdited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. Annick Press, 2014. 128 pages. $19.95/hardcover; $12.95/paperback (available in March). Recommended for teens and mature preteens.

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Dreaming in Indian offers young people a wide-ranging collection of piercingly authentic Native American voices, from artists and writers to scientists, chiefs, and elders on the experience of being Indian (NDN for short) in the modern world. In essay, poem and song, flash fiction and short story, they describe lives, homes, families, work, activism, and dreams for the future as well as the white bigotry and oppression that continue to challenge their lives.

They speak from many elements of the NDN experience from life on the reservation (“rez”) to the cities; from the residential schools to the worlds of high fashion, entertainment, and pop music; from the Tar Sands to the Sun Dance, to the Idle No More movement and Round Dance revolution.

This is not a comfortable book, but it is a profoundly necessary read. With sensitivity and heart, the contributors address experiences of bullying, of physical and sexual abuse, of post-traumatic stress and drug abuse, of giving up a child to the foster care system, of surviving poverty and the culture-annihilating residential schools. They write authentically of hard choices, from attempted suicide to prostitution. They describe the experience of being culturally stereotyped, of selling out traditional values for badly needed money, of translating their culture into their own art, and of witnessing their culture’s imagery being cynically appropriated.

Throughout these struggles and sufferings, courage and determination shine through. Over and over we see the pride and strength found in heritage and tribal identity, earth-based values, and traditional spiritual teachings and rituals.

These are voices that hint at powerful inner healing work to transform suffering into beauty and power, voices that have moved beyond their own personal healing to share their culture with the world.

Chayla Delorme Maracle writes frankly about how the desire to participate in the Sun Dance ritual motivated her to quit drugs and clubbing. Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq thanks those who bullied her for teaching her compassion for others, and teaching her strength and resilience for practicing her art.

And these are voices standing in the strength of their heritage to protect the people and the natural world. Graphic artist Arigon Starr addresses Native American issues in graphic novels with an NDN superhero, and graffiti artist Tom Greyeyes challenges the stereotypes of Indians with his murals and videos. And, most powerfully, activist Raquel Simard writes of her discovery of purpose through the grassroots indigenous rights movement Idle No More, which started in Canada and is now international.

These authentic and powerful voices provide a necessary wake-up call for youth growing up in mainstream America’s easy cultural heterogeneity and entitlement—a call not only to understand the harm that our society has inflicted on the First Nations of this land, but also to see the power of the human spirit in overcoming that harm.

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