James Welch, 1986
"Honor is all we have...that and the blackhorns. Take away one or the other and we have nothing. One feeds us and the other nourishes us."
Rides-at-the-Door, Fools Crow's father, 339-340
"Fools Crow is the finest presentation of tribal culture that we have had in fiction. (It is) an act of historical imagination unprecedented in our literature"
Robert L Berner, University of Wisconsin, World Literature Today 1987, 333
James Welch, 1986
In Fools Crow we are taken to a world where Sun Chief travels across the sky by day and Night Red Light brightens the sky by night. Life for the Pikuni (Blackfeet) is dependent upon nature, the whims of which are given spiritual explanations. So well is the book written that these native American perspectives become those of the reader, and there is no feeling of awkwardness or falseness in making this transition. The natural order is not questioned or resented, rather human indiscretions or natural disasters are taken on the chin. James Welch's beautiful prose opens up the culture of the Blackfeet, including its more mystical aspects, revealing it to be sensitive and endearing, yet at the same time it is often harsh and has to be borne with stoicism. Despite being raised as a Catholic who in adulthood became an agnostic James Welch plausibly evokes the spiritualism of the Pikuni -"the visions, superstitions, prayers and ghosts". (About James Welch, Don Lee, Ploughshares 1994, 197)
Despite the author's empathy fhe book never becomes sentimental or a lament for the Vanishing American. The dominance of the Napikwans clearly derives from the barrel of a gun. The use of the word Napikwan itself is a refreshing reminder that the commonly used Wasichu is the Lakota word for White Man and that Lakota was just one native American language among thousands.
Fools Crow was chosen as the best work of fiction 1986 by the LA Times, which gives credence to James Welch's hope that his book would help to break down prejudicial barriers for native Americans, as he revealed in an interview:
"Most people in America have a cliched view of Indians, that they're all alcoholics and on welfare. Maybe through literature, people can gain an understanding of how Indians got the way they are today, and how they differ from one another, as tribes and individuals." (Quoted in About James Welch, Don Lee, Ploughshares 1994, 199) Fools Crow is a remarkable achievement in that it is beautifully written and a wonderful experience to read. Like all great literature it explores and enlightens us about the human condition.
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© Chris Smallbone November 2010