A Door to Memory: 9 Author Quotes From Indigenous Writers

From left to right: Lee Maracle, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson © Aaron Mason, Leslie Marmon Silko.

Editor's Note:

If you’re stirred by these author quotes, amble down our archive for more.

The world’s indigenous people are celebrated annually on August 9th as a reminder of their contributions to global culture and ecology, and to make sure their rights and interests remain on the rest of the world’s radar. As self-explanatory as that might sound, native populations remain under-represented (or perhaps worse, negatively/stereotypically portrayed) throughout most of our culture, and very few of the literary voices produced by these communities end up being heard above the din of the mainstream.

Perhaps you’ll feel inspired to read up about one of the authors quoted below, and observe how their view of their homeland differs from the prevailing narrative of those who’ve occupied it more recently? In the long term we really may all be neighbors on the same space-rock, but until we acknowledge the historic (and ongoing) erasure of these cultures, that kind of universalism isn’t likely to be accepted very graciously.

Or as Sherman Alexie wrote: “The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”

Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead, 1991
“Because if you weren’t born white, you were forced to see differences; or if you weren’t born what they called normal, or if you got injured, then you were left to explore the world of the different.”

Janet Campbell Hale, Bloodlines, 1998
“If Irish or Italian culture dies in America it really isn’t that big a deal. They will still exist in Italy and Ireland. Not so with us. There is no other place. North America is our old country.”

Joanne Arnott, Breasting the Waves: On Writing and Healing, 1995
“Goodness will never win against evil. That split is an irresponsible division of reality.”

Lee Maracle, Ravensong, 1993
“Where do you begin telling someone their world is not the only one?”

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Decolonial Love, 2013
“i redrew the maps those old ones kept tucked away in their bones. i took these notes:

how to pluck the feathers off a goose
how to roast a duck on an open fire
how to block the cnr lines
how to live as if it mattered”

Vine Deloria Jr., God Is Red, 1973
“Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors. That is when the invaders of the North American continent will finally discover that for this land, God is red.”

N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain, 1969
“A word has power in and of itself. It comes from nothing into sound and meaning; it gives origin to all things.”

Gerald Vizenor, Some Other Frequency: Interviews with Innovative American Authors, 1996
“Life is a chance, a story is a chance. That I am here is a chance.”

Joy Harjo, September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond, 2002
“My generation is now the door to memory. That is why I am remembering.”