Following on from my recent post on how you can help stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL) I’ve decided to do a post on five Native American characters in literature that I myself have read, as I love diverse literature a d I feel that Native American characters are both underepresented and sometimes mis-represented in mainstream literature, and also YA literature- not to mention culture, including TV shows and films, in general.
For instance, in traditional Western literature- not to mention films- Native Americans are usually seen as the ‘bad guys’, or written off as ‘noble savages.’ In 2009’s X-men Origins: Wolverine the character of Silver Fox appears. In the original comics, Silver Fox is a Native Canadian Black Foot, yet in the film the part was played by Caucasian actress Lynn Collins, and her name was changed to Kayla Silverfox. Native actors walked off, in protest at the disrespectful portrayal of their culture, from the recent Adam Sandler film, Ridiculous Six. The recent remake of The Lone Ranger cast Johnny Depp as Tonto- a decision greeted with much controversy. The sad truth is, these are just a few examples.
For more on this, feel free to read this great article by Zak Cheney Rice. Below are my personal favourite Native American characters in literature that I have read recently. Enjoy!
Joe Crazy Dog and Cassie, from The Onion Girl by Charles De Lint (YA novel)
Joe is a visionary who tells peoples’ fortunes with rodent and bird bones in Fitzhery Park. He is a thoughtful-and at times humorous and mischevious- trickster ‘Otherworlder’ who can cross into other spirit realms. He can shape-shift so that at times he wears a coyote’s head. In The Onion Girl, it is he who teaches hospitalized Jilly Coppercorn how to move between the spirit worlds, therefore giving her more freedom. He is an engaging and fully rounded character who cares deeply about his heritage. I also really enjoyed reading about his Native girlfriend, Cassie, who is kind, caring and a great support to Joe. She also divines the future using Tarot cards. Read my full review of The Onion Girl here.
Tommy Raven, from Forests of the Heart by Charles De Lint (YA novel)
Yep another De Lint review!
Tommy Raven is more of a troubled soul, but an infinitely memorable one. A recovering alcoholic, he is part of Jilly’s group of friends, connected to DeLint’s character, Bettina, who can see mystical spirits, and is haunted by the past. He has strong links to the spirit world through his large group of visionary aunts, (sixteen in total) and does what he can to help Bettina and the others. He is portrayed, IMO, with skill and sensitivity. Read my full review of Forests of the Heart here.
Raven from The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Adult novel)
In this magical realist novel, Raven is a Native American man who falls for Tilo, the Indian ‘mistress of spices’ who runs an enchanted spice shop. He chooses to embrace his heritage and chooses his own name, Raven, as part of a mystical ceremony. He is brooding but handsome, and magnetic to Tilo. The book is full of their chemistry and burgeoning romance, and it has a wonderfully moving ending. It was made into a film in 2005 starring Aishwarya Rai, but sadly no Native American actors. Raven is even renamed Doug. 😦
Piper McLean from the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan (YA novel)
Piper, from Rick Riordan’s bestelling Heroes of Olympus series, is the daughter of Native American Hollywood actor Tristan McLean and the goddess Aphrodite. She got her name from her Native American Grandpa Tom, who noted her strong voice. She is a brave, adventurous tomboy, and her father Tristan is keen to pass on his heritage, teaching her old Cherokee stories he learned from his own father. A much recommended (and personally loved) series. For more on Rick Riordan, see another review of his work here.
Honourable mentions also go to Cherokee Zoey Redbird from the House of Night novels by P.C and Kristen Cast, Johnny American Horse- who believes he is a descendant of Crazy Horse– from James Lee Burke’s In The Moon of Red Ponies, and Perceval Gray, the Native American 1800s criminologist in K.N Shield’s The Salem Witch Society.