"Like a cannibal in Manhattan": Post-relocation urban Indian narratives

Laura Furlan Szanto
English Dept., University of Califonia, Santa Barbara
July, 2006


American Indians are people who grew up on reservations and remain connected to their communities, or so the assumption goes. In actuality, American Indians have always been travelers and border-crossers. Two-thirds of Indian people now live in urban areas, many as a result of Relocation Policy, in effect from 1945 to 1960. Urban Indians carry with them connections to their homelands, ties of tradition and kinship, but they also create new diasporic communities in the cities, complicating what it means to be Indian today. In this project, I build upon recent scholarship in identity theory and global studies to examine the importance of land and kinship to Indian peoples as portrayed in urban Indian novels. These texts depict a more postmodern world---inhabited by what Gerald Vizenor calls "postindian warriors"---who must attempt to negotiate cultural heritage and city life on a daily basis, and who, by their very existence, refuse to be contained in Indian Territory. I trace the formation of the urban Indian novel through works by Sherman Alexie, Louise Erdrich, Janet Campbell Hale, and Greg Sarris, looking at how these authors imagine what it means to be an Indian in these spaces. In The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven , Alexie writes that "Indians can reside in the city, but they can never live there." My study of "relocated narratives," or the "narrative of relocation," challenges this idea. I argue that the reimagination of Indian Country is actually a reclaiming of urban space, and in effect, a renarrativizing of American history.