Native Lit is more than a marketing term

From High Country News:

If you drive west from Bozeman and veer off the interstate a few miles after Echo Lake, turning down a mostly gravel road still lovingly called Highway 38, you see them everywhere: Fences. At every turn, almost every inch of the way until you hit the national forest, they lurk. Some wrapped with tightly wound barbed wire, others just a few posts leaning on each other like a pair of drunken uncles. Everywhere you look, they straggle, weathered enough to deceive you into believing they’ve been there as long as the majestic streams and fields and mountains they serve to keep you from.

. . . .

I followed them all the way to Missoula, to the James Welch Native Literary Festival in late July. The first Native literary festival organized by Native writers themselves, it aimed to gather the premier and promising writers of Indian Country without the masturbatory performances of white guilt or capital-r Representation that ooze from similar industry-sponsored events. The festival was the brainchild of Sterling HolyWhiteMountain, a Blackfeet writer who loves to remind you that he is Blackfeet and that you are standing on his land. In this case, it’s actually Salish land, though in the span of the four-day fest, it also, kind of, felt like Sterling’s land, too. On the second day, we met on the third floor of the Missoula Public Library. As we spoke, writers floated past the couches we’d secured. Speculative-fiction writer Rebecca Roanhorse stopped by; poet and storyteller Taté Walker and I discussed journalism; essayist Chris La Tray marveled that he and Sterling both had the same limited-release Timex watch. And threaded throughout all of this was something resembling an interview with Sterling.

If you knocked back a shot every time he used the word “profound,” you’d be drunk by the time his first thought ended. Still, you’d stay on the edge of your seat until he finished. I asked Sterling why he picked Missoula for the inaugural fest. “When art ends up on a reservation, it dies,” he replied. “Art needs to be in conversation with other art, all the time. … Everybody just thinks like somehow we’re only in conversation with other Native art. And that’s not true at all.”

To be clear, neither the rez nor the Indian is the problem here. The problem is that most non-Indians would rather plop us into a category than sustain a conversation with our art. If you’ll allow me the metaphor, the term “Native Lit” is just another fence, one that the publishing and media industries use to separate us from other horror writers and sci-fi writers and poets and modernists. In order to pay the rent and carry on our craft, we must perform behind the barrier.

Link to the rest at High Country News