This subject seems to become very touchy whenever a non-Native says something. But in this case, not only do I know of what I speak, I live it. I have been married to a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for the past 22 years. He leads a traditional way of life.
I feature Native characters in my books. I know that many people are fascinated by Native Americans for one reason or another. To many, the cultures represent a lasting connection to Mother Earth and all living creatures to whom she gives life. It is a connection, sadly, that many European cultures have lost to a good degree, so there is a natural attraction to reconnect. Some think the spiritual path is “cool” or they feel a deep attraction to the practices of one tribe or another. To others the attraction is to something exotic and which still remains, to a good degree, unreachable by outsiders.
As for me, I happened to fall in love with Mel who happens to be Lakota. Technically, he fell in love with me first, though (lol). I knew a little bit about his tribe, the Oglala Lakota, through federal Indian law classes I took during law school. It became my specialty practice long before tribal gaming became a big deal and moneymaker for the posh law firms.
I really didn’t know the people, nope, not at all. Then I went to Pine Ridge with Mel to visit. Years later, we moved here. I finally got to experience life with his family and relatives as he had. We go to sweat lodges, ceremonies, and sun dances. Mel is a sun dancer, a pipe carrier, and will eventually become a holy man for his people. Oh and he’s a chef and we own a New York-style pizzeria in Chadron, Nebraska where I practice law. Ha, funny blending of two worlds.
My novel, “Blood and Ceremony” was conceived and begun at a sun dance in 2005. That is when we met our dear friend and medicine man, Michael Cross. The more deeply I get to know the people, the more admiration I have for them. I will never be one of them, but when I write about them, I clear everything I write with them first.
I write of medicine things, some of which should not be discussed. I write of heavy things that carry a soul price. I write of love and loss, but never without the proper respect.
My best advice to those of you who want to carry a Native theme in your novels or want to have Native characters, do your homework. Books are fine, but to capture the realism you’ll need, go spend time with the people. Have that respect. Your product will reflect the effort and the people will appreciate that you took the time to do it right.