HAPPY TOFURKEY DAY: Expand the social, political, and economic dialogue with Native American Literature

In celebration of Tofurkey Day, this month's banned book selection is "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie. Alexie tells a modern-day story of growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Sexual allegations and its discussion of alcohol, poverty, bullying, and violence have made this book controversial. It takes a critical look at the treatment of American Indians and the problems they face living on reservations.


For the past 500 years, Native Americans have faced violence and brutality, continuing assimilation policies, forced removal and relocation, denial of land rights, and armed conflict. Following Christopher Columbus' arrival in 1492, violence and disease killed 90% of the indigenous population — nearly 55 million people. These factors have led to high rates of violence, suicide, and poverty among Native Americans.


On Tofurkey Day, a holiday of my own making, you celebrate Underdogs such as Native Americans. It comes from the 19th century dog fights. In those fights, two dogs attacked each other, and the smaller dog was termed the 'underdog'. Underdogs demonstrate grit through unrelenting determination against all odds. Persistence and bravery will often overcome a stronger competitor.


Want to get into the spirit of Tofurkey Day? The traditional meal to serve on Tofurkey Day is, of course, a Tofurkey. Tofurkey Day revolves succulent dishes made out of tofu. Whether you decide to make a tofurkey from scratch, or out of the box, they can be quite delicious. Go crazy with stuffing and a glaze. Just don't expect it to look like an actual turkey!


Reading about Native American history from their perspective provides an important viewpoint. Native American perspectives expand the social, political, and economic dialogue. When books are banned, the opinions of underdogs, are suppressed. By ignoring underdog viewpoints, you are allowing the top dog to dominate the social and political spectrum. George Bernard Shaw said,


Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”.


In 2018, the #MeToo movement began picking up steam and rumors about author Sherman Alexie began to circulate. NPR correspondent Lynn Neary reported on the accusations--three of the accusers were willing to speak on the record. They described a man whose success had made him a gatekeeper and mentor. For young authors, his recommendation could carry tremendous weight. He leveraged his notoriety to draw in women; then their professional relationship would turn sexual. While consensual, it was coerced. Alexie circulated a statement that confirmed the accusations: “There are women who are telling the truth.”


The knee jerk reaction when something like this happens is to ban the author's books. That is exactly what we shouldn't do. We must remember what George Bernard Shaw said about it being impossible to make progress if we aren't able to change our minds. In order for underdogs to get treated equally their viewpoints need to reach a “tipping” point in society to be accepted. That's why it is critical that books containing their history are in free circulation. It is believed "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" is loosely autobiographical. One may speculate whether the author's behavior on which the sexual allegations were based were a result of the environment in which he grew up. Books shouldn't be banned because they are painful to read.

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About the Author: Karen Strum is a Tampa Bay illustrator available for freelance projects. A unique cast of characters in her style can be designed for use in advertisements and materials for which you want something extra special. Karen's cartoons use retro imagery and vintage color palettes that add charm to every image she creates whether it is a comic, logo, diagram, book cover, or concept image. [Send an Email]


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