Interview with Gordon Henry
Keywords:Native Americans, language discrimination, linguicism, stereotypes, boarding schools
Gordon Henry is an enrolled member of the White Earth Anishinaabe Nation in Minnesota and professor of American Indian Literature, Creative Writing and the Creative Process in Integrative Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University. He is the author and co-editor of many books and collections, including The Failure of Certain Charms: And Other Disparate Signs of Life (2008). His novel The Light People (1994) won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Following some of the stages in his career and personal story, which he kindly accepted to share with me, this interview highlights some of the crucial key issues concerning Native American people and cultures, questions that still need a wider transnational space both inside and outside academia. Discrimination based on language has influenced the history of Native American people for centuries, starting from the forced education of the young in the 19th century and continuing in the 20th, in the context of Hollywood film productions. Linguicism, language-based racism (Phillipson 1992), is a topic that needs to be addressed in the light of the recent flourishing of extremist thought worldwide, which carries the abused rhetoric of ‘us vs them’ (van Dijk 2015) and, at the same time, spurs protest movements. This reflection goes hand-in-hand with the controversial topic of the appropriation of Native American cultural practices by old and new wannabes (non-people who are so much fascinated by Native American cultures that end up imitating them by, for example, choosing a Native name or emphasising certain aspects of the culture which they admire, often basing their beliefs on stereotypes), whilst people living in the Reservations are still neglected and the Native American and Alaskan Native population register extremely high suicide, homicide and alcoholism rates compared to the U.S. all races population (especially women). But, the efforts and educational programs aimed to preserve languages and cultures (like the Lakota Language Consortium or the Rosetta Stone Endangered Language programs), the vibrancy of the artistic scene in the visual, literary and music fields, the various forms of activism and community engagement projects (such as, for example, the MMIWG movement – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – the water protectors protest at Standing Rock, known as #NoDapl, or the prayerful journey called Run4Salmon in California) are also to be acknowledged as milestones in the process of regaining self-sovereignty by Native people. Against the background of these considerations, I am pleased and honoured to share thoughts, feelings and emotions with Gordon Henry.
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