Monday, February 08, 2010

Editorial: "Sucking the Quileute Dry"

Yesterday's New York Times ran an Op-Ed by Angela R. Riley. She's the director of the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA. Titled "Sucking the Quileute Dry," Riley's editorial is about the sovereign nation status of Native Nations, and our intellectual and cultural property. She focuses on Twilight and how Stephenie Meyer and the industry that has sprouted around her books violates Quileute sovereignty.

Riley is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma. She has a law degree from Harvard, and, she has served on her tribe's Supreme Court. 

Click over to Riley's editorial at the Times page.  If you're a librarian, print the editorial and post it where your patrons can read it. Librarians and teachers can also set up a time to talk with students about the issues Riley raises.

IF YOU ARE A WRITER, OR AN EDITOR, OR A BOOK REVIEWER...  Study the editorial. Apply Riley's words to your writing, or editing, or reviewing.


If you want to read more on the ways that the Quileute's are portrayed in the series, look over to the bottom of this page. There you'll see several links to posts about the series.


OrganicSchool said...

Interesting editorial. I lived in Idaho during the big "Napoleon Dynamite" rage, and the hordes of fangirls who invaded our tiny Idaho town, posing for pictures and littering, didn't elicit the same ire among scholars in our area. Granted, Idahoans aren't displaced Indigenous Peoples, but the fandom intrusion was similar . . .

Still, Riley's recommendation to consult Quileutes before using their name for any literary venture is what intrigues me most. If permission from ethnic representatives becomes the rule before any work can include such characters, will authors avoid writing about them altogether in the future? Or is that the goal?

I'm in the process of penning two different novels, and rethinking my ethnic characters because of Riley's editorial. Should I just make them all white, rather than risk the ire of a tribe or ethnic group for drafting these characters "without permission"? Great points all--I can't wait to discuss them with my writers' group!

Debbie Reese said...

I'm glad that Riley's editorial is making you pause.

You ask about permission from "ethnic representatives."

American Indians are not "ethnic" groups. The important distinction is that we are sovereign nations. There are political dimensions to who we are.

As a writer, you can do what you want to. Most writers do precisely that, and most of them write books that do not reflect Native peoples and our histories with any accuracy whatsoever. If you're reading and studying my site, you know how often people get it wrong.

Wouldn't you want the tribe your book is about to LIKE your book? If they did not like your book, wouldn't you feel bad about that? If your book rose their ire, wouldn't you be embarrassed?

Lot of tribes have protocols for writers and researchers to follow. Because of the copyright laws in the US, the protocols and tribal requests cannot be legally enforced. But morally and ethically? That's another question.

OrganicSchool said...

Yes--definitely. I'm a Mormon who has to pass by all sorts of incorrect and downright hateful accounts of my people in bookstores every day. That's probably why I'm so drawn to your site--the publishing industry could seriously benefit from a good look at your recommendations for greater social responsibility in their industry!

Phil K said...

Thanks for the link to NYT op ed article, I missed it previously. The spirit of La Push is much different and more important than any media product. I would recommend Who Owns Native Culture? - Paperback (Sept. 30, 2004) by Michael F. Brown (Amazon). A thoughtful book along the lines of this discussion.

Phil K
Burns, Oregon

Anonymous said...

Could the Quilute copyright their name/

jpm said...

Just a few random thoughts:
Organic School, it didn't seem to me that Professor Riley is exactly saying that the fangirls are eliciting ire from the Quileute people. The point is that the inequity in terms of profit, and the overall strangeness of the situation (being made famous based on ridiculous misrepresentations of who you are) exist and are not lost on Quileute people. The town of Forks has benefited hugely from the Meyer books and what they have spawned. Not LaPush, though.

The questions Debbie posts are truly food for thought: wouldn't an author want members of a tribe portrayed in a non_Native writer's book to think, "Hey, that person got it right. That person cared enough to look and think deeply about us."? I would think that would be a response to aim for. But not easy to come by. It would take a lot of work to get that sort of thing right, as an outsider. Then there's the question, "Can an outsider ever get it right?"

Also, not to be snarky or anything, but aren't some Idahoans members of displaced Native nations?

Pam said...

I was just coming to leave this link here but of course you have already seen it. Thanks for keeping us informed!

JT Chemotti said...

This is an excellent article. I just want to correct one statement in the Times account: Oneida silver is called that because it was originally made in Oneida, New York. Now, I think, it's made in China.

Debbie Reese said...


The city called Oneida is in the homeland of the Oneida Nation.

You can visit the Oneida Indian Nation for info:

Mark Jordahl said...

I thought the editorial was interesting, but I found her recommendations to be disappointing. Her recommendations for "profit-sharing" and otherwise getting some of the money from others who are getting rich off Twilight seems to encourage the Quileute Nation to negotiate for scraps rather than taking full advantage of this (fleeting) opportunity. I wrote more about this at