The essay explores the manner in which the abuse of Native Indians by White Americans and their experience facilitated racial discrimination. For the purpose of the paper, the thesis will be premised on three stories by Sherman Alexie that include the following: ‘A drug called tradition’, ‘This is what it means to go Phoenix, Arizona’ and ‘The trial of Thomas Builds-The-Fire.’ All these stories explore the experiences that Native Americans experienced in reservation camps as White Americans abused them. Through the stories, the essay will come up with an analysis of how these abuses and experiences helped in shaping the Native American tradition. The experience of abuse and segregation that Native Americans experienced in the hands of White Americans contributed to strengthening of their tradition and created a strong bond among them despite efforts by the White Americans to disintegrate the community by detaining its members in reservation camps.
The abuse of Native Americans and their past experiences contributed significantly in facilitating racial discrimination since its members got a chance to reflect the things they enjoyed in the past as they reflected their current circumstances. In the story ‘This is what it means to go Phoenix, Arizona’ the death of Victor’s father helped to rebuild the links between Victor and his childhood friend Thomas who was very instrumental in assisting the former to get the remains of his dad back at home (Dix, 159). Ideally, it is through the abuse of the White Americans in the reservation camp through the Tribunal Council that facilitated their reunion though the discriminative treatment that Victor experienced after the death of his father. Ironically, despite the death of Victor’s dad, the Tribunal Council was not ready to release enough funds to help him facilitate the burial arrangements of his dad despite being a worker at the reservation. Alexie states “Now Victor, we do have some money available for the proper return of tribal members’ bodies” (59). He further states “But I don’t think we have enough to bring your father all the way back to Phoenix” (59). The statement was derogatory and discriminative at the same time since all the Tribal members were entitled to equal treatment when it comes to welfare issues. However, the Tribunal Council opted to abuse Victor even in moments of sorrow when he was mourning his dad. It is prudent that it is from the uncouth treatment that Victor received that resulted in his reconnection with Thomas who assisted him through the exercise thus strengthening the Native American tradition. Despite the lack of sufficient funds, Victor and Thomas were determined to go all the way to Phoenix and fetch the body of Arnold and later deter it by their tradition.
Similarly, the experience of going down to Phoenix reignites the kind of discrimination that exists in the society whereby the Native Americans are perceived to be inferior to their White counterparts. Ironically, during the flight to Phoenix, Thomas flirts with a White Olympic gymnast a fact that nobody would have believe back at home due to the kind of discrimination that the Native Americans experienced. Despite the abuse and frantic experiences that these people underwent in the reservation camp, they were soothed in their time of sorrow by being embraced by a White American who would freely chat with them through the entire flight. Alexie notes “Yeah, but everyone talk to everybody on airplanes” (65). Victor noted the fact that people in planes would freely talk to each other irrespective of their race unlike at home, it was a demonstration that the issue of class was a primary element that resulted in Native Americans being abused since if they had enough wealth, they would still live respectable lives and uphold their tradition.
In the story ‘The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire’ the tribal police assert that Thomas is “A storyteller fetish accompanied by an extreme need to tell the truth” (Alexie, 94). Ideally, the reason behind Thomas’ life incarceration sentence was the fact that he always told the truth. Just as it had been the norm, the White Americans often subjected their Native counterparts to all manner of abuse, a fact that facilitated racial discrimination in ancient America. For instance, based on this story, the tribulations of Thomas begun the moment a group of eight hundred Indian young men was rounded up for being accused of stealing horses from government settlers. These men were taken to a solitary place where they would be executed. Thomas battled his way from the killers’ bullet by killing two soldiers and out powering the rest an effort that made her see another day. However, it is not this incident that brought him before the court of law but the fact that he usually talked the truth something that the tribal offices hated. Ideally, in the past, he was rounded up and almost jailed by opening up on the postmaster by revealing certain hidden truths. However, he was later pardoned with the condition of being compelled to stay quiet for the rest of his life. It is prudent that Thomas had to undergo such kind of injustice merely because he was a Native America a group that was perceived to be inferior in the society. Twenty years later, Thomas once again opened up to Ester, the wife to Tribal chairperson a reason that made the lady desert her husband. It is from that perspective that Thomas was arrested and aligned to face charges of a felony (DeNuccio, 91).
Ideally, the accusations that Thomas was accused of were fabricated and were a technique to get rid of him since he was exposing some of the truths about the Tribal officers. During his testimony in the courtroom, Thomas retrieved a letter that was sent by the commander who was mandated to execute the eight hundred men captured referring to the young Indian men as animals and in other incidents as horses. Those remarks exemplified the height of racial discrimination that Native Americans underwent in the hands of White Americans. It is prudent that the tradition of the Native Americans together with the experiences of abuse facilitated racial discrimination in society. Despite the fact that the court is supposed to an avenue for justice, the presiding judge made skewed rulings that seemed to be against Thomas with the aim of ensuring he was convicted as charged. Similarly, when the testimony of Thomas caught the attention of the Indian supporters in attendance, the court had to use force by employing police officers to eject them to obstruct justice (Dix, 161). Given the fact that Thomas was a Native American it was prudent that he was not going to be subjected to a fair trial despite the fact that he was arrested for being honest.
The importance of the Native American tradition and their experiences of abuse by their White counterparts are further exemplified in the story ‘A drug called culture.’ Typically, the story centers around Thomas receiving vast sums of money from the Washington Water Power to lease part of his land for power mast installation. The analysis of the story will be premised on the excerpt where Alexie notes “When Indians make lots of money from corporations that way, we all hear our ancestors laughing in the tree” (13). He further notes “But we never can tell whether they are laughing at the Whites or us” (13). Ideally, the typical Native American tradition comes into play in the sense that whenever these people get hold of vast sums of money all they do is the party with friends as a way of celebrating. An element of togetherness is depicted from Thomas’ actions in the sense that since he had received a fortune, it was ideal for him to share part of the revenue with fellow Indians in the spirit of sharing. However, from the other perspective, the White Americans fully understood that the Native Americans were in dire need of money. Thus, they would quickly short charge them by making dubious deals that in the long run render the Indians landless. The notion that the ancestors were laughing but it was not clear who they were doing it at was a classical depiction of the foolish tradition of the Indians. Despite the fact that they had been languishing in poverty for long, the Indians would not think of a way of liberating themselves economically even when an opportunity presented itself. Ideally, that is the primary reasons that the ancestors were laughing since even if the Native Americans were bestowed with resources, they would stick to their tradition of squandering the fortune and resort to being abused by the White (DeNuccio, 88).
It is evident the tradition of Native Americans was designed in a manner that presented them as uncivilized individuals a fact that made their White counterparts to perceive them as being inferior. Similarly, it is from that perspective that they were prone to abuse which degenerated to racial discrimination that made Indians undergo experiences as second class individuals in the society.
- Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto fistfight in heaven. Open Road Media, 2013.
- DeNuccio, Jerome. “Slow Dancing with Skeletons: Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 44.1 (2002): 86-96.
- Dix, Andrew. “Escape Stories: Narratives and Native Americans in Sherman Alexie’s’ The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven’.” The Yearbook of English Studies (2001): 155-167.