Black Eagle Child

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Young Bear appears in this delightful autobiographical novel as Edgar Bearchild. At one point Carson Two Red Foot tells his nephew, Edgar, about his childhood in 1908, but this requires naming dead people, and to name them is to cause them suffering. Yet if he does not name them, the history of his tribe and its identity will be forgotten. So, he must make a sacrifice before the telling. Young Bear’s sacrifice is fiction. He creates fictional characters, including himself, to represent individuals and types who have been important in his growth.

Though Young Bear tries in this way to hold to one of his community’s central values—“circumspection is the paradigm of harmony”—he is unable to avoid telling stories that involve criticism of his community for its failure to keep its traditions vital so it can meet change with dignity, just as he must show how the racism of the surrounding culture victimizes his people.

The stories he tells are sometimes wildly comic, such as Junior Pipestar’s encounter with a hermaphrodite. And they often veer into the tragic, as when Junior’s adventure coincides with a racist incident between white outsiders and the Black Eagle Child community, a fictional equivalent of the Mesquakie settlement near Tama, Iowa. Bearchild’s life is punctuated with spiritual encounters that affirm the belief taught by the maternal grandmother who raised him, that humans are insignificant parts of a much greater and mysterious spiritual life that pervades creation and of which the privileged gain glimpses.

Subtle, poetic, humorous, pointed, sad—this book offers instruction and delight for general readers as well as for those interested in contemporary Native American life and literature.