A Conversation with Joseph Bruchac

by Lachlan O Faolain

Joseph Bruchac is an Abenaki author from New York. A prolific writer, his work crosses genres, ranging from poetry to prose, fiction to non-fiction. What follows is a portion of a conversation that took place at the 1999 University of North Dakota Writers Conference.

Native Directions: The whole issue of the "Fighting Sioux" mascot is raging on UND's campus. I was wondering if you had any thoughts you'd like to share about it.

Joseph Bruchac: I think it's not just the use of Native names but it is all of the things that go along with it; all of the stereotyping, all of the misunderstanding, all of the weight of history that was not written by Native people, but was written by non-Natives-- often with the active destruction of Native lives and Native traditions. To say that a school has the right to use it is a very big statement. The big question is, if it is meant to honor Native people, why don't all Native people feel honored by it? Traditionally, [decisions among the Abenaki] were done by universal agreement, and people would sit and talk for days or weeks or moons if necessary to come to a complete agreement together. Then a decision would be made. Now, to say that you can vote on it and a majority can tell a minority what to do... is to misunderstand the importance of that kind of unanimity of mind and spirit. To use something as powerful as another people's image to symbolize a game... it has to be a decision made in the light of all of the history, and all of the culture that surrounds it-- not a decision made lightly.