Thursday, May 29, 2008

First Nations Fantasy by Daniel Heath Justice

Within Native Studies, there are a lot of awesome people. Daniel Heath Justice is among them. He teaches in the Centre for Aboriginal Initiatives at the University of Toronto. Daniel is Cherokee.

Academic work aside, Daniel writes fantasy. Specifically, a trilogy called "The Way of Thorn and Thunder." In it are three books: Kynship, Wynwood, and Dreyd.

You can read an interview with Daniel here.

I bought the books, but have not yet read them. Daniel calls the trilogy "an Indigenous Epic Fantasy." On this page, he talks about the "civilization" vs "savagery" binary, the Noble and Ignoble Savage imagery that predominates representations of indigenous peoples, and then, he talks about his series.

If you've read them, I'd love to hear your thoughts! If you're a fan of fantasy, order the books. They're published by (and available from) Kegedonce Press.

Monday, May 26, 2008


In drafting yesterday's post, some information on treaties dropped out, so I'm posting that now.

Treaties are agreements between state entities, generally called nations. When tribal leaders enter into a treaty, it is with a state entity, not a small group that operates in a way that is different from the rest of its group.

In TWILIGHT, Meyer has Quileute elders making a treaty with a group of vampires. Elders are esteemed in Native communities. Their counsel is highly valued. When they are leaders, they are in a position to negotiate treaties. Otherwise, they cannot. Perhaps Jacob's great grandfather was a leader. She doesn't say.

She also uses 'truce' to describe the agreement made by Jacob's great grandfather and Edward's pack. That could be a more apt term for this agreement, but it implies these two groups had been fighting, which is not the case.

Using 'treaty' gives vampires the status of a nation. I wonder how much Meyer actually knows about treaties? Does she know tribes are sovereign nations and that is necessary for a treaty? Or, does she really think that any member of any group can enter into a treaty?


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Meyer's Twilight: second post

A few days ago, I posted passages from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Passages of the Native content in the book... I talked about the Quileute boy, Jacob, but didn't include the physical description of him. Here it is:


"looked fourteen, maybe fifteen, and had long, glossy black hair pulled back with a rubber band at the nape of his neck. His skin was beautiful, silky and russet-colored; his eyes were dark, set deep above the high planes of his cheekbones. He still had just a hint of childish roundness left around his chin. Altogether, a very pretty face" (p. 119).

A plausible description; realistic, predictable.

On page 234, Bella and Edward are in his car, in her driveway, talking. At this point in the book, Bella knows Edward is a vampire. Edward sees a car approaching. Staring at the car, Edward's expression is a "mix of frustration and defiance." Bella gets out, Edward takes off. In the approaching car is Jacob and his dad, Billy. Meyer describes Billy like this:

"In the passenger seat was a much older man, a heavyset man with a memorable face--a face that overflowed, the cheeks resting against his shoulders, with creases running through the russet skin like an old leather jacket. And the surprisingly familiar eyes, black eyes that seemed at the same time both too young and too ancient for the broad face they were set in. Jacob's father, Billy Black. I knew him immediately, though in the more than five years since I'd seen him last I'd managed to forget his name when Charlie had spoken of him my first day here. He was staring at me, scrutinizing my face, so I smiled tentatively at him. His eyes were wide, as if in shock or fear, his nostrils flared."

Another complication, Edward has said.

Billy still stared at me with intense, anxious eyes. I groaned internally. Had Billy recognized Edward so easily? Could he really believe the impossible legends his son had scoffed at?

The answer was clear in Billy's eyes. Yes. Yes, he could."

Meyer's physical description of Billy is not as well done as her description of Jacob. Cheeks resting on his shoulders? Yikes! And black eyes? Actually, there is no such thing as "black" eyecolor. Dark brown, yes, but black? No. Meyer is not alone in that error; lot of writers say Indians have black eyes. Eyecolor aside, consider the adjectives: too young, too old. Conveying... vitality? wisdom?

Update: Tuesday, May 27, 2008
A reader wrote to say that her father's cheeks rest on his shoulders. She says that is what gravity does to the face, and wonders if I'm trying to make the point that a Quiluete wouldn't have that happen to them. She's being a bit sarcastic, saying explicitly that my comment on Billy's cheeks and eyecolor are nit-picky and take away from the validity of my other concerns. In response to her.... Yes, I do know that age and gravity effect the skin tone, but cheeks resting on shoulders.... the only image I could come up with in my mind was of Jabba the Hutt! The question on eye color: I stand by it. It is not biologically possible to have black eyes. They may be very dark brown, but not black. That in itself is not a big deal. Put the remark into context, however, and it becomes important. When trying to convey the idea that Native people are scary and threatening, writers often use 'black' eye color to invoke a sense of fear. I know... Bella is not afraid of Billy and Meyer is not trying to make Billy out as a scary person.

Charlie (Bella's dad) is the chief of police in Forks. On page 236, he says to Jacob:

"I'm going to pretend I didn't see you behind the wheel, Jake,"

to which Jacob replies

"We get permits early on the rez."

That line "we get permits early on the rez" stands out to me. I wonder if the Quileutes do, in fact, give drivers permits to 15-year-olds? As sovereign nations, some tribal nations issue automobile license plates that are valid, just as any state-licensed-plate is. With a tribally issued license plate, a tribal member can drive anywhere. As yet, I don't know about driver's permits/licenses.

Update: Tuesday, May 27th, 2008
Some tribes do issue driver's permits, but the Quileute's do not. I called their tribal offices and asked. All driver's licenses held by Quileute's are issued by the State of Washington.

I'm digging into research on Meyer's novels because Twilight is being made into a movie. The part of Jacob will be played by an actor named Taylor Lautner. In this interview, he says that in preparing for this part, he learned that through his mother, he is part Potawatomi and Ottawa. It doesn't sound like he was raised Potawatomi or Ottawa. In the interview, he talks about meeting Quileute tribal members.

About his character, he says he loves the contrast in Jacob's Native American side and his werewolf side:

Lautner: His Native American side ... he is very friendly and outgoing. He loves Bella and is very loyal to Bella and his dad. But on the werewolf side, they're very fierce and just attacking, and they have this huge temper. So there's a lot of stress and things going on inside him as he's trying to keep his temper to himself. I love that part, which Stephenie [Meyer, on whose novel the movie is based] created, with the contrast between the Native American side and the werewolf side of him.

At the close of the interview, he talks about a line he likes, about being half-naked. I think he's referring to a part in the second book, New Moon, where he transforms into a werewolf. That suggests that parts of New Moon will be included in the film.


In Meyer's stories, there are white vampires that do not hunt humans. White humans, that is. But, they might hunt their natural enemies--the Quileutes who were wolves before being turned into men--who they might attack if they are in a weakened condition. To protect the Quileutes, an elder made a treaty with the vampires. They promised not to expose the vampires presence to the whites (pale-faces) and in turn, the vampires promised not to go onto the reservation.

My thoughts...

First, you have to accept the premise that the vampires and Quileute ancestors are traditional enemies. Then, you have to imagine that the elders have decided to give these enemies a chance. The elders think this particular group of enemies/vampires--because they are controlling their urge to attack humans--are deserving of a chance to co-exist nearby. But they don't quite trust them, so, the all agree that the vampires will stay off the reservation. In return, the tribe will not expose the vampire's identity to the good people of Forks.

In telling Bella about the identity of the vampires, Jacob laughs that he has violated the treaty.


Tension between vampires and Quileutes, but no tension between the white people in Forks and the Quileutes. Because it is fantasy, we've got to suspend disbelief and accept the vampire/Quileute tension. And, because it is fiction, we're encouraged to believe that the people of Forks and the Quileutes get along. But, relations between whites and Quileutes have been complicated. In the 70s, the northwest tribes were engaged in legal proceedings to have fishing rights based on the treaties honored. Here's a line from this document: "
More than a century of frequent and often violent controversy between Indians and non-Indians over treaty right fishing has resulted in deep distrust and animosity on both sides. "

A treaty between the vampires and the Quileutes, but no mention of treaties between Quileutes and the federal government. Is Meyer assuming her readers know about such treaties and reservations?

A Native laughing about violating a treaty. Possible, but not likely. Particularly unlikely for a reservation-raised Native. There's always an exception to every generalization, but I doubt that an actual Quileute teen would say the things that Jacob does.

I've got the second book on order...