I took out the law book my father called The Bible. Felix S. Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law. It had been given to my father by his father; the rust red binding was scraped, the long spine cracked, and every page bore handwritten comments. I was trying to get used to the old-fashioned language and constant footnotes. Either my father or my grandfather had placed an exclamation point on page 38, beside the italicized case, which had naturally interested me also: United States v. Forty-three Gallons of Whiskey. I suppose one of them had thought that title was ridiculous, as I did. Nevertheless, I was parsing out the idea, established in other cases and reinforced in this one, that our treaties with the government were like treaties with foreign nations. That the grandeur and power my Mooshum talked about wasn't entirely lost, as it was, at least to some degree I meant to know, still protected by the law.
The immense difficulty of prosecuting crimes of sexual violence on reservations has haunted me for many years, but I didn't know how to tell the story. I wanted to write it as a suspense novel. How else to include jurisdictional complexity? I didn't want to bore myself. When my main character, Joe, started talking, I knew I had been waiting for him. A writer's gift. Even now I miss writing in his voice and miss working on this book.
Erdrich's story, though fictional, is especially timely considering recent news about the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and revelations of rampant sexual abuse on at least one reserve.