Indigenous Writing, the Merging of Ancestral Knowledge and Modern Convention

Angie Elita Newell belongs to the Liidlii Kue First Nation from the Dehcho, the place where two rivers meet, which is in the Northwest Territories. A trained historian, she blends a tradition of oral stories with academic history and holds university degrees in English literature, creative writing, and First Nations history with an emphasis on colonialism.

Angie is the author of a new historical novel about the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn, All I See is Violence.

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Who are we and where are we going? Most people with an inquisitive leaning eventually come to this question, but what if you were born to a place that was once your home and are now told that it is someone else’s home? This question rises like the sun on a reservation – reservation, what does this mean? It means a minuscule section of land was allocated to you by a foreign king who claims the earth for himself. Placed here instead are new people upon her to exploit her riches to the king’s benefit, if you cannot kill all the indigenous people despite your best efforts, round them up and place them on a small prison of land, reservations

It is here where our culture is trapped, preserved by the few that can remember, elders, who struggled and struggle against every travesty known to man, stolen children, murdered people, raped women, forced sterilization and medical experimentation, the king wants you dead, how do you fight this? By remembering who you are, who we are, we are warriors under the guidance of god

The late Sioux historian Vine Deloris Jr. wrote in his pinnacle book Custer Died for Your Sins, “Experts paint us as they would like us to be. Often we paint ourselves as we wish we were or as we might have been. The more we try to be ourselves the more we are forced to defend what we have never been. The American public feels most comfortable with the mythical Indian of stereotype-land who were always THERE.” Herewith in lies the confinement of entering the realm of writing indigenous fiction, stray from what has already been defined as safe and venture out into unchartered territory you risk alienating yourself, but you will also miss some amazing truths that need to be told. Because these truths are not just Indian stories, we are all part of this history and we are all connected, these truths are all our truths and we owe it to the people slaughtered and whose land was stolen from them to read and hear them. 

As a historian you pretty quickly get the idea that we are never going back to what we came from. Regardless of cultural and ethnic background, the universe and time are continuously moving forward and expanding, ever shifting our landscapes and cultural ideals. I am an indigenous woman, First Nations, I belong to the Dene, Yumaria runs through my heart, yet none of my literary heroes are indigenous, or female. Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, T.S Elliot, Wilfred Owen, William Shakespeare and Gabriel García Márquez, their words and voices and stories carried me through a catastrophic childhood and adolescence. 

Against all odds I found myself in university studying English literature, creative writing and colonial history, it is here an intersection truly amalgamated, as I progressed as a historian I began speaking to indigenous elders from across North America, listening with great interest to their stories, fables, myths, tragic recollection of what has been done and still being done to them, all blended together in a harmonious chaos. I found myself in a surreal realm, their stories like lucid dreams. I would go home at night and review my notes, writing out proper non-fiction essays which I felt didn’t convey the true essence of what I was being told. The university and those who perpetuate within these institutions ignore the fantastic, trapped in what can be ‘proved’. If you weren’t there, whose to say if didn’t happen? Maybe Geronimo could conjure the rain, Sitting Bull could see the future, and Crazy Horse summon the thunder. 

With my modern literary heroes imprinted upon my subconscious I began to weave what I was taught historically with what I was learning orally and applied this with what I was crafting fictionally, rooted with in my modern literary heroes craft, I began to weave together ancestral knowledge, my roots, with what inspires me in this modern world and was creating something entirely new but nevertheless all the same, historical fiction. 

To be able to enter my ancestors past was a complete and utter honor. I saw with new light a history I already knew well when I began to craft my fiction. Events and people I had studied in archival research that always read like statistics became real, drawn for the first time in my imagination in color. I realized that they were no different than us, they had dreams, they had lovers, they had problems. The problems is where I felt fiction was the most extraordinary tool, for the problems Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Gaul met head on are still persisting the indigenous people of North America today and fiction allows you to do something that is more challenging in non-fiction, it is here you can humanize atrocity. And perhaps this is the greatest gift we can give back to a people who have been marginalized, victimized and eradicated, we can remember who they are.

Many thanks, Angie, for sharing your journey and the history behind your new novel. I believe that stories such as All I See Is Violence are critical to building understanding and ultimately mitigating the effects of past atrocities.

All I See Is Violence by Angie Elita Newell

The U.S. government stole the Black Hills from the Sioux, as it stole land from every tribe across North America. Forcibly relocated, American Indians were enslaved under strict land and resource regulations.

Following the real-life historical events that this colonialism caused, such as the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn, indigenous author Angie Newell dives into the chaos that resulted from these events and the fall out modern Indigenous peoples still bear today in All I See is Violence. Based on a true story, the lives of a professor, a soldier, and a warrior from three different periods in time collide in this literary historical tour de force. 

Cheyenne warrior Little Wolf fights to maintain her people’s land and heritage as General Custer leads the devastating mid-nineteenth-century campaign against American Indians, killing anyone who refuses to relocate to the Red Cloud Agency in South Dakota. 

A hundred years later, on that same reservation, Little Wolf’s relative Nancy Swiftfox struggles against the economic and social ramifications of this violent legacy. As their three tragic stories collide through the past and the present ending with three abrupt deaths, Newell works to illustrate how historical issues have a lasting effect and have imprinted on the indigenous people of North America today.

Poetic and impactful, All I See is Violence is perfect for lovers of literary fiction and historical stories alike, as well as lovers of books such as Lonesome Dove and Dances with Wolves who are looking for new perspectives on similar topics.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY 

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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