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 Billionaire Ted make Junior both angry and uncomfortable in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?

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To Junior, Billionaire Ted comes across as a rather condescending individual. Despite his professed love of all things Indian, he doesn't really understand indigenous people or their culture at all. What he knows, or claims to know, about Native-Americans, is largely romanticized, the product of an over-active imagination.

Although Ted...

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likes to come across as culturally sensitive, as a good friend to the Spokane people, in actual fact he fetishizes their heritage, seeing sacred objects as little more than commodities to be bought and sold. Billionaire Ted acts like he's doing Native-Americans a favor by collecting their art, wearing their powwow outfits, and saying how much he just loves their culture. In reality, however, he's patronizing them. He treats them as a curiosity, as living historical artifacts, almost like the inhabitants of a giant Indian theme-park.

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Another thing that makes Junior feel angry and uncomfortable around Billionaire Ted is his extreme wealth. This is what annoys Junior most: the lavish wealth that he has. Note how, as Ted tells his story, Junior punctuates it at various moments with his own thoughts and ironic comments. For example, when Ted says he can "always smell a thief," Junior responds in his own thoughts with "Smell yourself, Ted." In the same way, when Ted talks about his Montana cabin, note what Junior thinks:

Mansion, Ted, it's a mansion. Go ahead; you can say it: MANSION!

The repetition of the word "mansion" and also the way it is capitalized in the last instance conveys just how uncomfortable and angry Billionaire Ted makes Junior because of his excessive wealth, which, reading between the lines, makes Ted feel he can buy and purchase Indian culture and traditions.

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What makes Ted such an uncomfortable figure is that he is a figure like many others who claims to have a fascination with Indian culture and who claims to "love Indian people SOOOOOO much." Note how Ted says this himself in the following quote:

I know you've heard that before. I know white people say that all the time. But I still need to say it. I love Indians. I love your songs, your dances, and your souls. And I love your art. I collect your art.

What makes Junior uncomfortable about Ted is the way that he views Indians as objects, as cultural curiosities, and as consumable items: a hobby that he can spend his money on. It is this attitude that he has towards Indians, particularly with regard to money, that makes Junior both angry and uncomfortable about him. He rejects Ted's particular viewpoint that would have his identity and his tribe's identity viewed as nothing more than a cultural curiosity by the very people who destroyed his tribe in the first place. 

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