Adam Fortunate Eagle,
Scalping Columbus & Other Damn Indian Stories
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2014)

Adam Fortunate Eagle, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, is an artist, writer, lecturer and Native American activist who has spent his life working for Indian civil rights and writing about it. He has a sharp mind, an incisive eye for the telling image and a wicked sense of humor. His stories are laugh-out-loud funny, and this book collects dozens of them -- some true, some complete fictions, and most of them a blend of the two. (Fortunate Eagle helpfully includes as an appendix a detailing of the amount of bullshit in each story.)

The stories are flat-out wonderful. Some are short, less than a page long, more jokes than detailed narratives, while others take their time and stroll along leisurely for pages and pages. In them, we learn a lot about tribal life, the experiences of Indians in cities and much about what it means to be Native American in contemporary America. We also have a hell of a good time. One tale, described as 75 percent bullshit, tells how a young brave whose boyhood name was Short Feathers wins his adult name. Tall Bull, introducing the boy to the tribe with his new name, says:

A name is important to a person. It must be appropriate and it must fit the person. The young man sitting before you has earned his name. From this day forward, unless he earns a greater name, from this day forward, his name will be 'He Who Passes Wind Among People,' or 'Farts Among Many.'

He goes on to explain that the name might sound obscene and disgusting to the white man, but war is obscene and disgusting. What the white man has done to the Earth and the circle of life is obscene and disgusting.

A story about the occupation of Alcatraz, which Fortunate Eagle took part in, makes its point in less than half a page. It seems that the original idea was to simply circle Alcatraz in a two-masted barque loaded with 50 Indians, but Richard Oakes, a Mohawk, jumped overboard and swam to the island. Others followed. As one stood and removed his shoes, preparing to jump into the bay, the man standing next to Fortunate Eagle said, "That's the bravest son of a bitch you will ever know."

"Why is that?" Fortunate Eagle said.

"He can't swim." (0 percent bullshit.)

The centerpiece of the book, though, again 100 percent true, is the story of how Fortunate Eagle, sick of celebrating Columbus Day every year, discovered that no one had ever formally discovered Italy, so he went over there and "discovered" it in the name of the Indians. Turned out the Italians loved to be discovered and treated him like a visiting dignitary, setting it up so that he met both the president and the pope and was lauded all over the nation.

Scalping Columbus is a winner, a hilarious book that will have you shaking your head in wonder, groaning at terrible puns and painlessly learning a lot about contemporary Native American life.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

21 June 2014

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