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Sherman’s march, part 2


Before too much time passes I want to complete my Sherman Alexie report. (see post for Part 1.)
alexie, sherman
Alexie spoke in Philadelphia in an event jointly hosted by the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Galleries at Moore, both of which have Lewis and Clark bicentennial-related programming at the moment.

The author began by saying that while he’d gotten 500 offers to talk about Lewis and Clark in this bicentennial year, “nobody wants to pay the Indian.” But his Philly hosts compensated him well — as he mentioned more than once.

The talk was laced with comments about the various worlds he lives in. For example, the literary world:

“I have this huge literary career. Know how many books I sell? 50,000. There’s about 150,000 serious readers in this country and I’ve got about a third of them. In the literary world I’m Brad Pitt. And in the rest of the world I’m Ernest Borgnine.”

He’s part of the Indian world. At one time they thought his wife was related to Sacajawea and they were very proud. “Then we found out she was descended from the tribe that kidnapped Sacajewea,” and that was even cooler, he said. (image is video by Bentley Spang at Moore Galleries.)
spang, bently
He’s a Catholic.


And his looks are ambiguously ethnic (he’s been mistaken for Latino, Italian, Spanish, and lately, especially by airport TSA screeners, Mid-Eastern.

“I’m big, I’m 6’2″ and 220 lbs. I understand why I’m stopped,” he said.
haukaas, thomas
Finally, just in case you’re wondering, he wove Lewis and Clark into the talk, saying that he’s glad they came to the West. “They braved the wilderness…that was our house,” he said. (image is beaded shirt by Thomas Haukaas at Moore Galleries.)

“I’m glad they came because they brought Shakespeare. Without Lewis and Clark there’s no Miles Davis; there’s no Cesar Chavez.”

“You should be happy with us Indians. We have 10,000 times more reasons to terrorize your asses but we don’t. There’s a Lewis and Clark exhibit because Indians didn’t shoot them in the ass. There’s never going to be Native American suicide bombers because we can’t be on time.”

Alexie said he’s against traditional. Indians are traditional and Lewis and Clark is new. New is good.


Somebody asked him what was the best thing they could do for the Indian. He looked exasperated and told a metaphorical story about always thinking seven steps ahead and remembering who would be affected by the seventh step. Then he said “The best thing an Indian can do is get off the res. I’ve been trying since I was two.” (image is drawing by Thomas Haukaas at Moore Galleries.)

And he finished up on this downbeat note:

“Indians are slutty. That’s about colonialism. We Indians love you white people. You went from covered wagons to the Space Shuttle in one century! Indians are the nerdy girl in the corner…Indians are in a really bad marriage to white people. We’re battered spouses who say they won’t do it again.”

All in all, the talk with sweet and sour, funny and sad, angry, political and more than a little whimsical. What I most wanted to do after the talk was run out and buy one of Alexie’s books and up his literary Brad Pitt-ness quotient.

(image at top is Alexie, from his official website. What it doesn’t show is that the guy wears horn-rimmed glasses.)