Why You Should Read Gerald Vizenor’s Upcoming Novel Native Tributes

By Kristina Baudemann

The cov­er of Native Trib­utes fea­tures the work of Rick Bar­tow, a Native vision­ary painter and imag­is­tic sto­ri­er of survivance.

 

“I write emo­tive sto­ries about Natives who have been absent in history.”

(Ger­ald Vizenor, per­son­al interview)

 

Ger­ald Vizenor’s his­tor­i­cal nov­el, Native Trib­utes, will be pub­lished in August 2018. And here is one impor­tant rea­son why you should read it: Native Trib­utes will encour­age you to re-vis­it the after­math of World War I – from a Native Amer­i­can perspective.

Native Trib­utes is the sequel to Vizenor’s Blue Ravens, a his­tor­i­cal nov­el pub­lished in 2014 that tells the sto­ry of Basile and Aloy­sius Beaulieu, Native Anishi­naabe broth­ers who leave the White Earth Reser­va­tion in Min­neso­ta to fight in World War I. Although Native Trib­utes could be read as a stand­alone nov­el, all of its events are trig­gered by the Great War in Europe and the broth­ers’ expe­ri­ences in Blue Ravens. Basile and Aloy­sius – one a writer, the oth­er a painter – have returned home, but even a decade lat­er the war has not left their lives. They join the Bonus Expe­di­tionary Force, a his­tor­i­cal event that most read­ers prob­a­bly know lit­tle to noth­ing about. More than 30,000 vet­er­ans gath­ered in Wash­ing­ton D.C. in the sum­mer of 1932 and camped on the Nation­al Mall and Ana­cos­tia Flats to demand pay­ment for their ser­vice in the war. The bro­ken promise to the vet­er­ans came in a long line of bro­ken treaties and promis­es to Native peo­ple. As Vizenor puts it in Native Tributes,

The United States Congress passed the World War Adjustment Act on Monday, May 19, 1924. Five years and hundreds of promises after the armistice of the First World War, and hardly anyone noticed the war bonus legislation that most veterans turned down. The Bonus Act provided only limited loans, not a real bonus of cash, and the loans would be deducted with interest from final cash payment in some twenty years.

The Indian Citizenship Act was passed two weeks later, one more overdue bonus. Reservation Natives were declared citizens of the United States of America. The act was ironic, of course, and with no trace of remorse. The provisions of citizenship would not “in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.” The white pine stumps, dams and flooded wild rice beds were the ironic provisions of “other property.”

The Bonus Act empowered tricky loans, and rightly named the Tombstone Bonus because most natives would probably be dead by the time the government dealt with payments.

Vizenor nar­rates the Beaulieus’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in the March with a mix­ture of sad­ness and gen­tle humor. The expe­ri­ence of the Bonus Army is fil­tered through the broth­ers’ per­cep­tions and through a series of per­son­al episodes fea­tur­ing beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed hand pup­pets, diva mon­grels, and By Now Rose Beaulieu, a Native who rode a horse named Treaty from the reser­va­tion to the Nation­al Mall. How­ev­er, there is an over­ar­ch­ing sense of the ter­ri­ble and last­ing impact of this war on all cul­tures, not only in Europe and Amer­i­ca (Pankaj). Vizenor’s his­tor­i­cal nov­el high­lights the link between Euro-Amer­i­can colo­nial­ism and glob­al pol­i­tics that cli­maxed in two world wars, ush­er­ing in the fas­cist regimes of mod­ern times.

Native Trib­utes guides us into the decades after the First World War where the two beloved Native char­ac­ters, already famil­iar from Blue Ravens, are the only con­stant dur­ing a time of inse­cu­ri­ty, pover­ty, and last­ing racist impe­ri­al­ism. When asked why he would rec­om­mend his upcom­ing nov­el to read­ers, Vizenor had this to say: “I write emo­tive sto­ries about Natives who have been absent in his­to­ry.  […] If for no oth­er rea­son, read Native Trib­utes for the his­to­ry of the Bonus Army and to appre­ci­ate the Natives who were there.”

Please vis­it Ger­ald Vizenor’s works and words at: www.geraldvizenor.site.wesleyan.edu/.

Ger­ald Vizenor with two of the blog edi­tors, Maryann Henck (right) and Maria Moss at the “Beyond Karl May” con­fer­ence at Europa-Uni­ver­sität Flens­burg in Novem­ber 2016. Pho­to cred­it: Kriti­na Baudemann

Per­son­al note: I’m indebt­ed to Ger­ald Vizenor for shar­ing his ideas with me in an inter­view and in his essays – and most of all for always being a patient teacher.

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Kristi­na Baude­mann is an instruc­tor and Ph.D. stu­dent in the Depart­ment of Eng­lish and Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Europa-Uni­ver­sität Flens­burg in Ger­many. She has con­tributed to the Extrap­o­la­tion spe­cial issue on Indige­nous Futur­ism and to The Fic­tions of Stephen Gra­ham Jones: A Crit­i­cal Com­pan­ion. In 2014, she was a Ful­bright fel­low at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona, Tuc­son. She is cur­rent­ly work­ing on her dis­ser­ta­tion project enti­tled, “Sig­ni­fy­ing Futures: Rep­re­sen­ta­tion and the Future Imag­i­nary in Indige­nous North Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­tures and New Media.” Kristi­na is addi­tion­al­ly an affil­i­ate researcher of Obx Labs and the Ini­tia­tive for Indige­nous Futures (IIF) at Con­cor­dia Uni­ver­si­ty in Montréal.