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The Great American Indian Story

In today’s readings, Zinn’s history of the early to middle nineteenth century from the Native American perspective informs the Roanhorse piece, allowing the symbolism of the story to be more deeply understood. The main character of Roanhorse’s “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience,” works as a virtual spiritual leader. In this imagined job, Jesse Turnblatt pretends to be a barely-literate, Indian spiritual leader who provides customers (referred to as tourists) with an “authentic” Indian, spiritual experience entailing vast nature, costumes, long hair, and spirit animals. Indeed, this is what the character known as White Wolf looks for when he makes an appointment with Jesse. Despite initial doubts about the experience, White Wolf eventually warms up to Jesse and the two become friends. However, after about a month of friendship, Jesse gets sick and White Wolf steals his job, wife, and eventually house. 

Jesse’s character arch is not a simple tragedy; rather, his story ironically provides himself with the authentic Indian experience that White Wolf originally sought. White Wolf — a pale, brown haired, white male — represents the Anglo-Saxon settlers of North America. After a timid, failed attempt at settling into the landscape (Roanoke), the settlers were welcomed by Native Americans as traders. Likewise, White Wolf is initially timid and helpless before Jesse welcomes him and gifts him his nickname. However, after the two fraternize, things start to go poorly for Jesse in a similar fashion to the Native Americans of history. Indeed, Jesse soon finds himself sick like many Native American communities did after the arrival of Anglo-Saxon settlers. Additionally, White Wolf stealing Jesse’s job, wife, and house is analogous to the confiscation of Native American lands under the Indian Removal Act. Indeed, this is why Roanhorse’s piece begins with the quote from Sherman Alexie: “In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written, all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts.” In this story, a white man steals a Native American’s life because that is the “authentic” Indian experience he asked for. Meanwhile, Jesse, the Native American, watches his life fade away as he becomes a ghost in his own home. 

The reason the quintessential American Indian story should end this way is deeply rooted in the history and proven by America’s response to that history. While white Americans enjoy the fruits of Native American lands, they also choose to forget the painful history of Native Americans in this country, thus subjecting them to ghost status.

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5 Comments

  1. Jeffrey Sprung Jeffrey Sprung

    I believe that Roanhorse’s short story “Welcome to Your Authentic American Experience” provided a very accurate analogy of the interaction between white people in the United States and Native Americans. The comparison of Indians to “ghosts” further made me realize the detrimental emotional effects white people had on Native Americans by displacing them out of their land and changing their culture. I agree that many Americans do not fully understand the pain and suffering Native Americans experienced due to Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act.

  2. Alexander Barnett Alexander Barnett

    I agree, its almost as if white America is trying to take credit for the rich tradition introduced by the Native Americans. It’s sad that they do this considering they are the ones who originally caused the Natives so much hardship.

  3. Carly Cohen Carly Cohen

    I am so saddened by the maltreatment of the Native Americans in our country. History books do not teach us the whole truths about what happened to them. This book has opened my eyes to so many injustices.

  4. Sophia Peltzer Sophia Peltzer

    I agree that the short story Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience was very compelling and effective in symbolizing the experiences and hardships of Native Americans. I also agree with your point that American whites try to claim the unique culture of Native Americans while ignoring the injustices they have brought upon them. It speaks to a broader pattern of white mystification and exoticism of other cultures, allowing whites to fantasize and romanticize other cultures from afar but mistreating them if they get too close to their own societies.

  5. Samuel Hussey Samuel Hussey

    The unfortunate character arch of Jesse in “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” is too typical of that of Native Americans. My fear is that it is too late to make any lasting changes to this repeated behavior of taking what rightfully belongs to the natives and hiding the evidence. However, as you mentioned, one thing we can do is tell their stories. By having a story like this readily available for people to read, it opens up the perspectives of those who have been hidden from the truth their whole lives.

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