A writing project is filling my free time and thoughts when not working at something else, cleaning or taking care of business: exploring seven works of fiction that each deals with the relationship of Native Americans and European Americans. The works were written between 1940 and 2012. Three are written by Europeans (Iola Fuller, Margaret Craven and Geraldine Brooks), and four by authors whose ancestries include indigenous grandparents or parents (Waters, Silko, Alexie, and Erdrich).
Each story is set in a different area of the United States with historical time ranging from 1808 to 2012. As I have reread them, studied them, learned more about each author (online interviews, family member’s recollection, and formal research) I deepen my understanding of my country, of me, and our historic relationship to people of non-Anglo descent.
Why is this so important to me? It concerns my life-long puzzle over my culture’s exploitation of nature for profit and for power. Until I was 30 I never associated that exploitation with oppression of people whose nature is close to the earth: indigenous societies, women, African-American slave cultures and children. A realization came to me this morning as I considered these relationships in light of the long history of the human culture. Recent mitochondrial DNA research traces modern people back to a common matrilineal line in Africa about 175,000 years ago. Researchers trace migrations of these descendents into a world-wide migration, the formation of ethnic groups across the world. This took place over millennia and there are a lot of uncertainties but the general phenomenon is corroborated by different lines of research, and the more people learn about their individual DNA linkages, this picture will become more accurate. In the meantime the fact that ethnic groups no longer recognize their common origins is tragic and has led to war, oppression, hatred, and ongoing misunderstanding about our common humanity.
The degradation of natural resources arises in the context of these misunderstandings at a deep personal level. I had never made that connection and this is what I hope to write about in my new book, Who We Are.