(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Wordarrows: Indians and Whites in the New Fur Trade is Gerald Vizenor’s collection of autobiographical short stories. It stems from Kiowa novelist N. Scott Momaday’s belief that storytelling is a means of situating oneself in a particular context in order to better understand individual and collective experiences. Vizenor’s stories recount cultural “word wars” in which Native Americans cannot afford to be victims in “one-act terminal scenarios,” but must become survivors, relying on their own words to preserve their sacred memories and represent the bitter facts. In Wordarrows, the trickster, a figure from Native American oral traditions, who appears in most of Vizenor’s writing, uses stories and humor to balance the forces of good and evil in the world.

Wordarrows describes the reality of urban Indians, who are denied services and shuttled between various government programs. Vizenor’s persona, Clement Beaulieu, directs the American Indian Employment and Guidance Center in Minneapolis, where he is caught between politicians who want to restrict his radical activities and desperate Indians who need his help. At the center, Beaulieu encounters Marleen American Horse, who has been stereotyped as a drunken Indian. He helps her free herself from “the language of white people” so that she can create her own identity. He also meets Laurel Hole In The Day, a woman who struggles to move her family to a white...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Coltelli, Laura, ed. Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

McCaffery, Larry, and Tom Marshall. “Head Water: An Interview with Gerald Vizenor.” Chicago Review 39, nos. 3-4 (Summer-Fall, 1993): 50-54.

Vizenor, Gerald, ed. Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literatures. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.