Champions endure the hardest hits–psychological and emotional–and carry themselves forward with the idealism needed to see through the most barren desert landscapes. We’re charged with getting an education and then returning home to make things better. We’re up for the challenge. But we can’t be surprised when we get hit on both sides of the drum.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this “returning home” dynamic with my main character, Dean. You’ve been following the development of my first novel. I’ve published short stories, and have even written enough short stories to pull together a modest collection. But life has unexpected turns so I found myself divorced and back in my hometown, so I started writing a novel. The main character, Dean, is an homage in a sense to an experience I had with challenges of “returning home.”
Quickly, the working title for the novel is, Uncle Called Him Spider, and it’s about a young Kiowa who just graduated with a Master’s Degree and has moved into his wife’s Cherokee community, where he joins an organization which works to heal trauma with disadvantaged groups. He walks into what he believes to be a genuinely good place where he can “put his degree to work” and help heal his wife’s community. But he discovers the underpinnings of cooperate values attempting to destroy the strongest Natives.
The novel does great work with showcasing the struggles we Natives endure when we come home to help our communities. It’s worth the fight, absolutely, but there are dynamics we don’t consider before walking into these hornets nests. Dean grapples with being tokenized and being the Native who displaces other Natives. He is not only attacked by his fellow Native coworkers, but he is also attacked by the white, hyper-masculine director who only sees Dean as a source of money.
The most important issue it showcases (for me as an artist) is how we are conditioned to become less Native and more White. Furthermore, how we are all condition to be more masculine. In our society, the feminine is devalued and categorized as weak, while the masculine is the trophy everyone is subconsciously looking for. As the novel moves along, Dean is condition by the director’s tactics to be more and more like her. He doesn’t see it. As a character, he can’t acknowledge it because he’s not aware it’s happening. But what makes the novel interesting is that the director, the antagonist, is female. She has fought her way to the top of a male dominated field. In doing so, the reader is posed with a question: did she lose herself in the process? The reader is brought to contemplate this issue, not directly, but subtly, by watching Dean go through the exact same process. Then the reader is left to consider: did Dean lose himself in the process?
You’ll have to read the novel and deconstruct all the subtle symbols to determine the answer to both of those questions.
I’m deep in revision right now. I’ll let you know when the novel is complete. I’ll be shopping the novel for a publisher, if one doesn’t snatch it up before I finish the revisions. But these are many of the issues contemporary Natives encounter, especially as more and more of us obtain degrees and head off into a workforce where employers may not have had to deal with educated Natives is such numbers. We get hit on both sides of the drum as we do so. But the only other option is to let our people flounder with the culture clash. Those of us who know how to navigate the periphery stand as a buffer for the traditional Natives in the center. Often, we are unrecognized champions. Hopefully, Dean can change that.
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(Works Cited: Images were borrowed from Flicr and Wikipedia)