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D'Arcy McNickle was a Native American tribe member who was born and educated on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana; Wind from the Enemy Sky is his fictionalized account of the time in American history when the American government was trying to control and move the Native American people. McNickle was a long-time government employee and attempts to present this history in a balanced and fair way.
The two primary conflicts between the Little Elk Tribe and the American government are the building of a dam and the kidnapping of Native American children. The dam is built to help the white homesteaders irrigate the crops they are growing on the land they have bought from the government--lands that once belonged to the Indian tribe, of course. The effect of this dam on the tribe, however, is devastating to the tribe's way of life. In fact, they see the dam as a kind of murder.
The kidnapping is wrongly considered by the government to be a kind of humanitarian act. When an Indian child is kidnapped, his appearance is changed to resemble a white boy's and he is educated as a white boy; he is also encouraged to forget everything about his own heritage and culture. To the Native Americans, of course, this kidnapping is stealing children from their families and stealing culture from those children.
These two things, in addition to many other incidents, are the crux of the cultural conflict as presented in this novel. The primary reason these and other conflicts cannot be resolved between the fictional Little Elk Tribe and the white government in this novel is that they cannot effectively communicate with each other. The agent for the Little Elk Reservation says it this way:
“The problem is communication. The answer is obviously that we do not speak to each other--and language is only part of the problem. Perhaps it is intention, purpose, the map of mind we follow.”
This problem of communication is so difficult to resolve because the two cultures approach things so differently. For example, while Native Americans think it is insulting to answer a question immediately because it shows a lack of proper consideration of the question, the white culture sees this as weak, hesitant, and even insulting. Though The Boy tries to ameliorate these kinds of differences as he interprets and negotiates, there is still very little common ground between the way two parties communicate.
On top of this lack of communication is layered the generations of suspicion which Native Americans have of the white government. For years, the Indians have been oppressed by broken promises and cruel treatment. It is a justifiable suspicion based on years of history when dealing with the white man and his emissaries.
Given these circumstances, it is no wonder there is no "peaceful and productive resolution" to the points of disagreement between this tribe and the American government. Even with the best of intentions, the two sides are not going to be able to overcome such obstacles because they are unable to communicate effectively and are working from a foundation of distrust, suspicion, and broken promises.
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