Native American author speaks at sold-out Emerson Theater

Author of the award-winning young adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” Sherman Alexie spoke to a packed house at the Emerson Theater on Saturday, March 28. Alexie discussed his Native American culture through storytelling, recalling events from his own life in his informal presentation.

MSU President Waded Cruzado introduced Alexie to the crowd after speaking briefly on this year’s President’s Fine Arts series Creative Nations, which the lecture was a part of. Cruzado emphasized the significance of Native American culture in Montana and around the country, stating that the goal of this year’s Creative Nations series is to shine a light on the rich cultural history. “Each event in the series demonstrates the beauty and strength of the First Nations communities through authentic stories creatively told,” she said.

Alexie came on stage with a humorous introduction, greeting the crowd of “Montana Indians” and “white people wearing too much Native American jewelry.” Alexie remained candid during his talk, using a casual tone to tell his stories about his life experiences as a Native American traveling a world vastly different from the reservation where he was raised.

Abound with racially and sexually charged jokes that prompted regular laughter from the audience, Alexie’s stories gave an intimate look into the intricacies of Native American world. Instead of being a stern “public Indian” as he described the straight-faced stereotype of Native Americans, he let the crowd see clearly into his life and culture. Alexie said of his nontraditional attitude, “I’ve never been the Indian anyone wanted me to be. I want to be surprising.”

While informal in nature, Alexie’s presentation addressed serious issues in Native American culture through his personal accounts. The author critiqued Indian-run casinos as a symbol of Native American culture’s death, saying, “Indian culture wasn’t completely dead until the first Indian casinos opened up. It was our way of saying ‘we give up.’”

He also poked fun at his own life, pointing out the irony of his profession. “I make a very decent living having white people pay me to tell them how evil they are,” he said at the outset of his presentation, receiving boisterous applause. Alexie was shameless in his remarks about himself and his culture, which gave his speech an authentic vibe.

Alexie said that it is hard to talk about Native American history especially because of the damage that those cultures have endured. He said, “When you talk about Native American history you’re really talking about damage.” Those damages are brought to light in Alexie’s stories that he uses to discuss the difficult topic of Native American cultural issues.

The author said that while life on the reservation can be rough, he is living proof that there is hope for Native American people to be successful. He said, “People see me and don’t realize that I was a res kid.”

As a part of the event, international artist Jim Dolan, well known for his “Bleu Horses” sculptures, will have two life sized metal horse sculptures auctioned off and Louis Still-Smoking will have a multi-media painting auctioned off as well. The proceeds from their sale going to support scholarship opportunities for Native American students. Interested buyers are encouraged to participate in bidding online at benefitevents.com/auctions/creativenations/. More information regarding the Presidents Fine Arts series and Creative Nations can be found at montana.edu/caa/pfas/.