Sherman Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian from Washington State. He’s got a long list of accomplishments, including the film Smoke Signals (1998), books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Lone Ranger and Tanto Fistfight in Heaven, and poetry, like today’s
All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, preferablyfrom a horse culture. He should often weep alone. That is mandatory.If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful. She must be slenderand in love with a white man. But if she loves an Indian manthen he must be a half-breed, preferably from a horse culture.If the Indian woman loves a white man, then he has to be so whitethat we can see the blue veins running through his skin like rivers.When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gaspsat the endless beauty of her brown skin. She should be compared to nature:brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water.If she is compared to murky water, however, then she must have a secret.Indians always have secrets, which are carefully and slowly revealed.Yet Indian secrets can be disclosed suddenly, like a storm.Indian men, of course, are storms. They should destroy the livesof any white women who choose to love them. All white women loveIndian men. That is always the case. White women feign disgustat the savage in blue jeans and T-shirt, but secretly lust after him.White women dream about half-breed Indian men from horse cultures.Indian men are horses, smelling wild and gamey. When the Indian manunbuttons his pants, the white woman should think of topsoil.There must be one murder, one suicide, one attempted rape.Alcohol should be consumed. Cars must be driven at high speeds.Indians must see visions. White people can have the same visionsif they are in love with Indians. If a white person loves an Indianthen the white person is Indian by proximity. White people must carryan Indian deep inside themselves. Those interior Indians are half-breedand obviously from horse cultures. If the interior Indian is malethen he must be a warrior, especially if he is inside a white man.If the interior Indian is female, then she must be a healer, especially if she is insidea white woman. Sometimes there are complications.An Indian man can be hidden inside a white woman. An Indian womancan be hidden inside a white man. In these rare instances,everybody is a half-breed struggling to learn more about his or her horse culture.There must be redemption, of course, and sins must be forgiven.For this, we need children. A white child and an Indian child, gendernot important, should express deep affection in a childlike way.In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written,all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts.
There isn’t much to say about this poem, really, but it’s important nonetheless. If you watch American films, you know how they tend to treat Native Americans- usually exoticised and mysticised. Movies lump them all together, too, like one big, homogeneous group rather than various cultures- like with the “horse culture” reference.
Phrases like “Indians must see visions,” “tragic features,” and “Indians always have secrets” speak to the way American media pushes the same handful of stereotypes onto every character.