Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Neither Wolf Nor Dog by Ken Nerburn
Neither Wolf Nor Dog is a very well-balanced book dealing with past/present realities, conflicts and worldviews of both contemporary and past generations of Native Americans. This is done through the spoken words of an elder concerned with not romanticizing his people... and, as conduit, via the transcriptions, reflections and addendums of of a white reporter/theologian able to gently shed this elder's light to us - a readership of ostensibly non-Native Americans.
Ken Nerburn, said white writer, is approached by "Dan" (no surname or other name is given) a 78 year old Lakota elder who for years has been ready and waiting to share his story with the world. Nerburn accepts the task and, with it, a relationship and interaction with the elder that is fueled by early misunderstandings and then made whole by an eventual & wonderful dialectic and resolve. This dialectic, between Nerburn & Dan, between a 21st Century white man and a 21st Century Native American, is the key to the book's revelations. Nerburn's confusion over Dan's actions easily act as metaphor of our misunderstandings of "the Native American Experience."
As his confusion turns to revelation, Nerburn (and the reader) realize the more complex truths behind the history of these, our continent's true founding fathers. The connection to the land and its concomitant worldview is elicited over and over again (a reason I chose to place this review on the Stone Country Book Club Blog). But, Dan's discussions make this connection rigorous, lived, and contemporary, not easy, idealized, or of some dreamy romantic past. He brings to light the fundamental obstacles to the Native American worldview presented by our modern American world... he also brings to light the fundamental opposites of outlook between whites and natives. He most keenly does this through his description of native language, and how that language, even if unconsciously, utterly sculpts its user's worldviews - worldviews that lie opposed to those culled from our generally-used American English.
An engaging and surprisingly quick read, this book does not get lost in ephemera or overbearing pseudo-spiritual and anthropological assumptions. Dan is tough: on his own people and on the rest of us - American culture and its overbearing domination at large. He takes to task Native Americans seen as merely drunks or noble-savages (he would rather see Natives viewed as drunks) and whites wearing hippie feathers or going to pow-wows or boxing his people into the confines of reservations. It is his conversation: subtle, simple, and firey at times... one that is of the most important (for all of us "Americans") to, at some point in our lives, pay heed to... Highly recommended.
Daniel P. Cordua