From the River’s Edge
Elizabeth Cook-Lynn constructs her protagonist, Dakotah Indian John Tatekeya, from a fine mixture of materials, including pride, courage, wisdom, and strength. These qualities, however, are tempered by Tatekeya’s more humbling habits of pursuing an adulterous affair and allowing alcohol to route him away from his responsibilities.
Engaged in a two-week-long drunken spree, John leaves his federally funded cattle ranch and his 107 cows unattended— protected only by barbed wire and by his faith in his neighbors’ honesty. Unfortunately, neither proves too sturdy. A white male neighbor—assisted by the devious son of one of John’s closest friends, Harvey Big Pipe—severs the barbed wire and makes off with more than forty cows from John’s herd. He immediately sells them in pairs and in threes to disperse the evidence.
After pinpointing the white neighbor as a suspect in the theft, John and the district attorney bring the case to trial, yet John quickly finds himself in the role of the accused. The strategy of the defendant’s lawyer, Joseph Nelson III, is to convince the jury that John is guilty for bringing the theft upon himself. Nelson tries to destroy John’s reputation among the jury members by portraying him as a careless rancher and as an unfaithful husband sordidly connected to Aurelia Blue, the young and beautiful Dakotah woman who is both admired and spurned by the community for reasons that Cook-Lynn attempts to explain but fails to make logical.
John realizes that the court system is merely a tool of the Anglo-American society—which exalts individual ambition—and he feels betrayed by the legal process that he turned to for recourse. As an accomplice to the white man’s thievery, Harvey Big Pipe’s son claims Anglo values, and thus becomes a symbol of Native American breakdown. He abandons community values by betraying a fellow Native American in favor of a few bucks. In...
(The entire section is 790 words.)