NEW YORK – “Genocide of the Mind: New Native American Writing” is a collection of writing that describes the struggles of American Indians to maintain an authentic identity within an evolving world. The essays specifically address the urban experience of those Indians who struggle against the inaccurate portrayals of indigenous peoples by the stereotypes perpetuated within various forms of media and who have joined the movement to correctly preserve a heritage largely unknown within their new communities. The works also reveal the struggle between two cultures as traditional Native values and traditions clash with the trends and ignorance of our modern society.
MariJo Moore explains the title of this anthology of essays, compositions and poems by writing, “There have been many genocidal attempts, without and within, to destroy and/or misrepresent the histories, futures, languages and traditional thoughts of Native peoples. But traditions, unlike doctrines, can persist and evolve at the same time. This anthology is a response to modern-day Native people becoming more and more disgruntled with spurious representations. Each writer has built a bridge between what has been “presented wrongly” and what needs to be “expressed accurately.”
The anthology addresses the complexity of emotions that young American Indians face when maintaining their Native identity in the urban contemporary world. Chapters on maintaining culture within the city, the memories of the past and being American Indian are addressed. An essay by Eric Gansworth tells the story of how he mistakenly forgot his driver’s license and tried to return to the United States using his Native American Identification card. The guard dismisses his companion from the room and asks him if he has any real ID. This story perhaps illustrates the despair of these authors as they are trying to maintain their cultural identity, but have to live in a global society. Other essays and stories are more subtle recalling memories of the past and how older relatives passed on their traditions or their native languages and the need to preserve them.
The anthology also delves into topics that are often considered mainstream media issues such as the use of American Indian images as professional sports team mascots and logos. The use of these images which portray America’s indigenous peoples as red-skinned tomahawk-choppers is used an example of the complacency of the Eurocentric society in accepting certain forms of racism while rejecting others.
For example, Alfred Young Man writes that the “Indian mascot practice is an utterly inappropriate and contemptible idea to Native people today, especially in light of what we now know about cross cultural education, psychology, racism, and political history, nor is it the harmless fun that Ted Turner (owner of the Atlanta Braves), his fans and others insist on saying it is.”
He asks the reader to consider the appropriateness of “honoring” Mohammed or Jesus Christ by using them as mascots. The point of his and other essays in the “Indians as Mascots: An Issue to be Resolved” chapter is to point out that we as a society have perpetuated a stereotype of the Native. This kind of stereotyping if done to any other ethnic or religious group would be deemed abhorrent and would be denounced immediately.
This anthology is an excellent collection of essays, stories and poetry that should be read as it serves as an educational text about racism, prejudice, finding identity and the reclamation or preservation of tradition. It is also about being heard and identified as the individual as well as being a part of a unique culture. It truly encompasses not only the experience of the young Native in a new environment or the stereotyping of one race, but gives a powerful message about our world and what needs to be done for our society to become a global community.
Contributors include: Paula Gunn, Simon Ortiz, Leslie Marmon Silko, Maurice Kenny, Steve Russell, as well as emerging writers from different Indian nations. More than 25 tribes are represented.
MariJo Moore, Cherokee, is the author of “The Diamond Doorknob,” “Spirit Voices of Bones,” “Tree Quotes,” “Red Woman with Backward Eyes” and other stories. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including National Geographic and The New York Times Syndicated Press.
Vine Deloria Jr., Standing Rock Sioux, is a respected elder, prominent spokesperson for the rights and concerns of indigenous people, and the author of many books including “God is Red,” “A Native View of Religion” and the best selling “Custer Died For Your Sins.”
“Genocide of the Mind” was published by Thunder’s Mouth Press, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group. For more information, write Thunder’s Mouth Press, 161 William Street, 16th Floor, New York, NY 10083 or call (646) 375-2570.