“Calling For a Blanket Dance” by Oscar Hokeah
The history of indigenous people in the Americas is rife with abject violence. Horrors reached their height when Native Americans encountered white Europeans beginning in the 16th Century. The Native Americans most often came in peace, but were soon tricked, fooled, displaced, and slaughtered, their way of life forever destroyed. The next step was placement in tribal reservations where much was promised, but only neglect and disparity were delivered.
There were always natives who fought to maintain language, stories, customs, and traditions. These elders would do their best to pass knowledge on to younger generations, trying their utmost to offer these tenets as an alternative to lives of retributional violence, addiction, abuse, and neglect. A big part of this effort took the form of maintaining communal gatherings centered on dance.
The central figure in Oscar Hokeah’s wonderful debut, “Calling For a Blanket Dance” is Ever Geimausaddle. A product of a mixed Mexican/multi-tribe Indian marriage, we follow his trajectory from two generations before birth. We witness the earliest signs of Ever’s propensity to violence driven by systemic societal neglect and abject poverty. We meet good people who are bound to make bad choices, believing in false love that only leads to premature pregnancy, birth, ill health and inadequate care, dangerous living conditions, aborted education, and limited employment opportunities, inevitably perpetuating the cycle.
Ever’s heritage and development is told in a series of first person narratives, though not until the final segment by Ever himself. There is little reason to believe that Ever will be the one to break through, but there is always hope. Hokeah is gentle with the reader in sharing his vast knowledge of Cherokee tradition and reality. The Family Tree at the beginning is highly useful. A Glossary may also have helped, but it just made me think harder, which was for the best. It’s a cold, cruel world out there, but Native tradition and culture flows deep. There are pathways to success where community embrace can pay forward and pay back.
Thank you to Algonquin Books and Netgalley for the eARC.