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Native American Novel written by non-Native American

Jerry

Scribe
While the above NA term is a blanketed one, I'm well aware and hopefully educated, yet perhaps not fully in tune on every particular nation and historical aspects that gather under that given term. Though my research is exhaustive, painstaking, enlightening and enjoyable in accuracy, I've taken and attended seminars that says 'just don't do it' if you're not part of a particular tribe, especially if you're white - as I am. It's a speculative work but maintains a historical viewpoint from a Lakota POV. As a child, I've had this story within me (as I'm sure we all have) that I've written always in some form or fashion, here and there, in poems, screenplay attempts, or whatever napkin or shred of paper lay nearby. So, I've determined in this past year to write my novel in the viewpoint of my MC's who are both Lakota and Blackfoot, as well as a host of many other character's that make up my story.

I have not lived in that lifestyle, nor part of a family to understand fully the subtlety and bond, nor the private sacred ceremonies that many a non native have nor will ever see. And I use that as a point in my novel as well. I feel the Native American author has largely been ignored by the literary community - much less a character that is made apart from the stereotypes and molds an entire nation of people have been made into. I'm not looking for acceptance, although it is very important to me that I have that understanding and approval. I know it is said that to have a member of the tribe be the beta reader for their approval - and this I am doing with respect and for accuracy. But, if there are any Native American authors here - what is your opinion on a non-native writing from the perspective of a Lakota or any nation. People will say its fiction, so do as you please - or it's fiction, but don't change the history or 'culture' as obviously, even within the Sioux, that alone doesn't describe the diversity of each tribe under that nation - and this I follow religiously.

What are the opinions of this novel written by a non native? I feel strongly about it, but question myself at times. Not so much with doubt, but that it's something that perhaps no matter what, frowned upon. Many whites have written novels about Native Tribes and even though they have been critically acclaimed - they have been bashed for stereotyping by the very tribe they write about. I'm not trying to capture the spirit nor the essence of a tribe, but just simply writing with the Lakota Blackfoot viewpoint as my main characters - knowing fully, not to hopefully fall into the traps of past writers who even with the smallest of words, can condemn a people and an author's own work. I write with respect to people, places, and events, and to the substance and truth in creativity I trust is given and granted to an author.
 

CupofJoe

Myth Weaver
One of my favourite writers is Tony Hillerman. He wrote twenty[?] books based on Navajo characters. He lived in the area and got to know the people, the culture, the land and all the interplays between them as he was writing.
I have no problem with some not of X writing about X. They had better get it right though. Do. Or do not. There is no try - as someone wise once said.
 
If you are fully aware of the cultural sensitivities and critiques, and feel compelled to write this story...

Have you thought about trying to find someone or a group from the Lakota or Blackfoot Nations to co-write with you? Or, at minimum, actually review your work?

It sounds like you're ...essentially... asking for permission or approval to write a work of fiction: If you feel like you are in a gray or murky area of cultural-appropriations in spite of your deligence, reach out to the very people you want to write about for guidance. The worse thing they could say, you're already expecting. You can decide to go forward from there, with or without their blessings. The fact that you even care enough to be concerned is a good start.

My next question is, does this story "hold water" without the Lakota and Blackfoot cultural attachments? Could you make up another fictional culture to set this story? If these Nations are truly integral to the story by providing all the context, and without wouldn't work at all, then proceed with the caution and sensitivity you're already undertaking.

The other side of the coin is... damned if you do, damned if you don't. If you completely fabricated a culture of non-Europeans co-existing in the Americas with known First Nations peoples that wasn't a factual tribe... you'd likely be criticized for that, too.

Is this writing about another culture as troublesome a thought as, say, writing a story about characters just before the communist revolution in China? How about fictionalized accounts from Captain Cook's "expedition" to Australia?

Introspection on history is rather grim. I grew up reading very occassional First Nation's fiction, likely written by non-first-nations authors, and tried to learn about their cultures... all through the very carefully constructed lens of pre-approved government-endorsed narratives. I'm actually offended that, even as kids, we were so adamantly lied to about what our governments did (and still does) to these people. Where is the First Nation's voice in all of this? Anyways... I digress.

Also, importantly, where is your actual research coming from? (Non-native) acadamia writings? Anthropologists? Biographies? I don't mean to be flip about this, but for accuracy and authenticity, maybe try researching for writings and audio recordings from tribal Elders if that is available.

I ask this "who wrote your research" question because some things, just don't translate well between cultures ...and get edited through "filters", as you are likely already aware of. To put it simply, ask for the real information directly from the source and side-step those (*cough*U.S. government*cough*) more concerned with combating a bad PR image.

Ultimately, it sounds like you're aware and conscientious with your writing, but that may not be enough. Writing fiction derived from real life cultures is not without risk, but that hasn't stopped authors before you from writing. You will have your critics and detractors. Write what you heart compells you to write, write that wisely, and be prepared for the feedback. That's all any author can do.
 
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Malik

Auror
My next series has a half-Blackfeet MC.

I was raised on the Blackfeet Reservation in East Glacier. My stepfather, who raised me from the age of three, was Blackfeet, and my mother was half Blackfeet, but illegitimate. I'm not a tribal member--there was a huge kerfuffle over her lineage, and therefore mine, that ultimately led to us moving. We spoke some Blackfeet in the house growing up (my mother had a Masters in Algonquian languages), and I learned the tribe's history and the stories of Old Man, Morning Star and Star Boy, and so on. I did a vision quest on Nina'istaako--Chief Mountain.

Even with all of that, I have made a deliberate (if at times tortured) choice not to identify myself as a Native American author. I'm definitely concerned about being accused of cultural appropriation when the next series comes out. However, the MC's background will mirror my own at several points; the only person I'm appropriating anything from is me. There's a story there that needs telling, and it will resonate widely. I'm willing to gut it out to get his perspective on paper.

I'm not going to say don't do it, but I would advise you to tread very carefully. Some people are humorless about this.
 
Yeah, this is one where I say do it, but with eyes wide open to the fact that someone will shred you if you have enough success to reach enough readers. That’s just the world we live in these days. Even if 99 of 100 have no problem, someone will. I am an advocate of writers writing their stories, but it’s a crazy friggin world of hyper sensitivity. There was a good article the other day about YA Fantasy, things are bordering on passing straight past the line of ridiculous in my opinion, so tread lightly.
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
I think you should go for it. If the story works, then people will read it. As Demesnedenoir said, there will always be someone who takes offence, especially if your books sell well.
 

Jerry

Scribe
Thank you, one and all. I appreciate your words. I do realize it is a sensitive issue and will have my share of those against me. I may not be able to crawl into the very lives and skin of my character's, but I can give them a voice that will be true, even in the fictitious world I build around them. And that’s my intention – and my doubt, in that, I want to use my voice and hope with the advice and counsel of beta reading tribes, it will be felt and heard and not frowned upon. I struggled, and perhaps, will still, but feel strongly that we are invisible journalists in the world we conjure and use that ability for and from all sides of the fence. With your positive thoughts – and my beta’s – I hope that I can be one of them – an outsider who cares and gives a damn enough to express himself within another’s being. I guess that’s what being an author is all about and I shouldn’t forget that – and you have made me recall why I do what I do. Thank you all.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Without reading the manuscript, I would say it sounds like you are doing everything right so far. You are doing your homework, listening to Native voices and not speaking over them, and coming at your story from a place of respect, rather than privilege. As the others have said, tread carefully and be prepared for flack. It will come, no matter how careful you are in your writing. No matter how close to the truth you get.

My writing partners and I consider ourselves to be representation authors and we take this very seriously. We do our homework and write the stories we want to read, stories which are not often told. We tell LGBT stories, black stories, Native stories, disabled stories, women's stories, and so many others. It's a fine, fine line between signal boosting and speaking over under represented voices, but we believe it's a line that can, and should, be walked.
 

Jerry

Scribe
Without reading the manuscript, I would say it sounds like you are doing everything right so far. You are doing your homework, listening to Native voices and not speaking over them, and coming at your story from a place of respect, rather than privilege. As the others have said, tread carefully and be prepared for flack. It will come, no matter how careful you are in your writing. No matter how close to the truth you get.

My writing partners and I consider ourselves to be representation authors and we take this very seriously. We do our homework and write the stories we want to read, stories which are not often told. We tell LGBT stories, black stories, Native stories, disabled stories, women's stories, and so many others. It's a fine, fine line between signal boosting and speaking over under represented voices, but we believe it's a line that can, and should, be walked.

-- Thank you. Thank you very much... I am and I shall.
 
Maybe I’m misunderstanding the question, but I’ve never heard anybody say anything like you need to be Native American to write about Native American characters. There are religious practices that are not for outsiders I think, but I haven’t heard anybody go so far as to say you oughtn’t write about native characters period.

Also it’s literally impossible to avoid backlash, so a neurotic obsession over avoiding it accomplishes nothing besides making you neurotic. I’ve been there. It’s not productive. Not even God can please everybody, just do lots of research and seek and heed the advice of betas from the cultures you hope to represent.
 
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