Quick, Name a Novel or Memoir About Urban Indians
The majority of today's Native population is urban-based. The National Urban Indian Family Coalition finds that 78% of Natives now live in urban areas. As such, a lot of us urban Indians have times where we struggle with various identity issues, large or small. Feeling lost or isolated in the city and falling into a pan-Indian experience offers up plenty of time for reflection and consideration of who we are as Natives in the world today when the majority of Indians are losing connection with our homeland or reservation.
Creativity and writing is one of the best ways to better understand oneself within current surroundings. Sherman Alexie's work often binds these struggles with identity as urban Indians together in some of his short stories, novels, and poetry. In fact, a lot of Native literature deals with these identity issues whether it's explicitly addressed or not but not necessarily within the urban experience which is the majority experience today.
Alexie's latest book, a children's book called Thunder Boy Jr., is all about identity and creating an individuality outside of a parent's shadow. Because of this book's release, Alexie has been on a constant media tour saying basically the same things about his personal experiences in finding identity over and over again to different audiences.
Presumably as part of this media gauntlet, Alexie shared six of his favorite books on identity struggles with The Week. The list is eclectic and consists of one fictional work amidst the other five non-fiction. Most seem quite interesting and the novel sounds particularly unique and horrifying. The list is also quite diverse, but omits any treatments on identity by American Indians though it is possible to find ourselves in treatments of identity of other marginalized people groups.
This got me thinking, what good books about urban identity are there by Native authors?
In doing an independent study on the urban Indian experience this last term, I was looking for memoirs or creative expressions of identity by urban Indian authors but found next to nothing. I was forced to look at memoirs, albeit good memoirs, by those coming to America as first generation immigrants to glean insight to better augment my own experiences as an urban Indian. I could find no specific memoir on life as an urban Indian. I found Richard Wagamese's, One Native Life, but that chronicled his life from adopted by non-Natives to back on the reservation. All other Native memoirs or creative treatments, meaning not solely academic analysis, were based on the reservation. I did find, a little too late, American Indians and the Urban Experience, which turned out to be what I was looking for initially. However, that was the only book that creatively approached the urban life by Native Americans that I could find.
If the majority of us have moved away from the reservation, why does 99% of Native literature put us back on the reservation?
I can think of two Native novels–Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary and Janet Hale's Jailing of Cecelia Capture–that address some modicum of the urban Indian experience. What others are there? What about memoirs? There has to be more. Let's build a list.