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?
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
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.