In chapter 12 of Medicine River, we learn about Lionel James’s past and that he now travels around the world. In fact, he recently travelled to Ottawa to a “big conference, you know, on Indians.” Then, while talking to Harlen, he adds, “People want me to talk about what it’s like to be an Indian. Crazy world. Lots of white people seem real interested in knowing about Indians. Crazy world.” Why do you think Lionel thinks that their wanting to know about Indians is crazy

Lionel might think that white people wanting to know about Indigenous people is crazy because they only want to hear stories from the past, they can’t help him secure a hotel room, and their present interest in Indigenous life contrasts with their historical marginalization of Indigenous people.

Expert Answers

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The word crazy can carry multiple meanings. When Lionel James uses the term to describe the audiences that listen to his Indigenous stories, he’s likely suggesting that the situation is out of sorts, disordered, or absurd.

One reason why Lionel might think it’s deranged is because the people—i.e. white people—who are now asking Lionel to tell them about Indigenous culture are the same race of people who oppressed (and continue to oppress, in different ways) Indigenous people. The current interest coupled with the various oppression seems to leave Lionel with an uncanny feeling.

Additionally, Lionel appears to think it's crazy because these audiences only want to hear stories “about how Indians used to be.” When Lionel tries to tell stories about “how things are now,” his audiences express displeasure. The overriding preference for past stories makes it look like Indigenous people are a thing of the past—as if they’re not a part of contemporary life. This notion could be called crazy.

One more loony element involves Lionel’s troubles with credit cards and hotels. It could strike readers as bizarre that Lionel is asked to speak at all of these places, yet the people who invite him and fly him out can’t help him secure a hotel room.

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