The University Record, February 11, 2002

Author/poet/filmmaker minces no words

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

He cast a spell on a multi-cultural, multi-generational audience of 600 in the Michigan Union’s ballroom, garnering rapt attention, raucous laughter, some giggles, and a standing ovation on the completion of his presentation. Part standup comic, part raconteur, part thespian, Sherman Alexie’s Feb. 5 MLK symposium appearance came with determined construction, passion and a message.

The in-your-face author/poet/film maker told of life as he knew it as a member of the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State and as he knows life now—an Indian off the reservation. “There are no Indians who want to be Indians,” he said. “It’s a tough job.”

“We are all extremists,” Alexie told the audience. “We all operate on ignorance and fear and not enough information.” It is easy to motivate people behind hate, fear, ignorance and not enough information, he said. “You can get people to fly planes into buildings. And you can get people to bomb a Ninth World country. So let’s get more information.”

And with that invitation, Alexie launched into some hidden or disguised truths that kept the audience’s unwavering attention. He spoke of the U.S. having trained and made Osama Bin Laden. “Our Frankenstein,” he called him. And he spoke of biological warfare not being new to the U.S. in reference to the smallpox-infected blankets distributed purposely to Indians. He pointed to the fact that the U.S. considers itself a non-violent country, but one that came from war, genocide and slavery, one that supports capital punishment, and uses war as an excuse to enter certain ethnic communities.

“Yet,” Alexie told his audience, “this is the only place where a poor Indian kid can rise up and tell white people they’re wrong and not get shot.”

Alexie’s lecture, “Killing Indians: Myths, Lies, Exaggerations” was sponsored by Information Technology Central Services, the Law Library, the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, the School of Information and the University Library.