illustration of main character, Junior, holding a basketball and looking over his shoulder

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie
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Why does Junior call himself a part-time Indian?

Junior calls himself a part-time Indian because he does not feel fully white or fully Indian. He is rejected by people on the reservation for his choice to go to the all-white school, and he is rejected by his white classmates at school because of his Indigenous identity. This makes him always feel like a stranger because he is considered half-Indian in one place and half-white in the other.

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Junior calls himself a “part-time” Indian because he feels conflicted about his identity. After talking to Mr. P. about the lack of opportunities and hope on his Spokane reservation, Junior decides to transfer to Reardan High.

Reardan is a white high school more than twenty miles outside the reservation. Junior is the only Indigenous student there, and the white students make sure he feels like an outsider. When he is in this all-white environment, he feels disconnected from his Indigenous identity. Meanwhile, at home, he no longer feels like he really belongs, because he spends most of his day in an all-white environment. It is like his identity is split down the middle and he is not fully Indian and not fully white. He says,

Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the little white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger. I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other. It was like being Indian was my job, but it was only a part-time job. And it didn't pay well.

Junior's experience is also difficult because his decision to go to Reardan has a negative impact on his friendships on the reservation. His best friend Rowdy calls him a "traitor" for leaving, and Junior struggles to make friends with his white classmates.

Junior unfortunately has to sacrifice the comforts of friendship and feelings of belonging for the opportunities an education at Reardon could provide. Through his experience, Sherman Alexie shows how difficult life can be for Indigenous people in the United States.

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