‘Indian No More’ shows termination policy effects on Native families
The effects of the federal government’s termination policy for Native American people during the past century is described in a new book titled “Indian No More.” COURTESY
Cherokee author Traci Sorell, of Wagoner, is the co-author of “Indian No More,” which focuses on the termination of the Confederate Tribes of Grande Ronde in western Oregon by the federal government and how termination affected one Umpqua family. COURTESY
Cherokee author Traci Sorell signs a book at a Tulsa bookstore event in September. Sorell visited the store to promote her new books, “Indian No More” and “At the Mountain’s Base.” COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – As she was promoting her award-winning book, “We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga,” in early 2018, Cherokee author Traci Sorell was asked to finish a book for a friend.
Her friend, Charlene Willing McManis, was working on a book titled “Indian No More.” It’s set in Oregon and southern California in the late 1950s and follows the main character, Regina, and her family’s exodus from Umpqua tribal lands. The Umpqua are a part of the Confederate Tribes of Grande Ronde in western Oregon, a consortium of 27 tribes that were relocated to that area.
In the mid-1940s, the federal government began terminating tribes with the intent of assimilating Native people into mainstream society. After the government’s termination of numerous tribes, many Native people were relocated to larger cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco.
The policy was changed in the 1960s and rising activism by Native people resulted in the restoration of tribal governments in ensuing decades and increased Native self-determination.
“‘Indian No More’ is a middle grade novel. The main character, Regina, is going into fifth grade when a majority of the book is taking place,” Sorell said. “It starts out being set in northwest Oregon. The tribe is terminated in 1954. Her family has to move and relocate, as many Native people from the 109 tribes that were terminated in that time period, because they couldn’t afford to buy the land at the marked-up price.”
Sorell said land was marked up two and three times its value and most Native people could not afford to buy land and stay in their homelands.
“So, Regina’s family moves from northwest Oregon to Los Angeles. A lot of folks from Grande Ronde ended up going to Seattle or San Francisco,” she said.
Sorell said “Indian No More” is not autobiographical for McManis, who is of the Umpqua Tribe, but it is influenced by her childhood.
“She was younger than the main character Regina when her family was relocated. She interviewed a lot of fellow tribal citizens for the story,” Sorell said. “She and I met in 2016. She had cancer after that, got better and then it came back, and so in the spring of 2018 she contacted me and said, ‘I’ve got this book sold…I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish it. Would you consider doing revisions and whatever is necessary to get it to publication?’ It took the wind out of me, and I just couldn’t really process it. If you knew Charlene she was one of most joyful, wonderful people you could ever meet. She just radiates love and joy and light all of the time.”
McManis sent the manuscript to Sorell who didn’t read it at first but sent it to her agent for input. Her agent believed she could honor McManis’s request.
“I read it and I fell in love with Regina’s voice and the story. Having been a Native American-studies major and having practiced federal Indian law, I was very familiar with the termination and relocation eras, which in addition to so many Native vets after World War II, created this large urban-Indian population, but I hadn’t really looked at what that’s like in the eyes of children,” she said. “So the book is wonderful because it looks at what it’s like when you move from the community that you know and everyone knows you and then you’re in this environment that you didn’t ask to go to. What does that do to take away that sense of place and that sense of community and having to start over in this very different place? She has to confront people telling her what real Indians do.”
She said there’s humor in the book as well as stories about the difficulties of growing up in the 1950s.
“You’ve got the civil rights era and the Cold War, but people don’t think about what’s happening to Native nations and their citizens. It’s a very accessible book not just for young readers but any readers to learn more about this time period,” she said. “My friend Charlene died May 1, 2018. Last fall I took over working on the book, and we finished up final edits and everything this past May, and then it came out on Sept. 24. It is also available at any book retailer.”
Sorell said she’s busy this fall because of the success of her first picture book, “We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga,” which was released in 2018. She is also promoting “Indian No More” and “At the Mountain’s Base,” her new picture book that focuses on a Cherokee family that awaits the return of their kin serving as a pilot during World War II.
For information about Sorell’s books, visit www.tracisorell.com
. To learn more about how “Indian No More” was written, visit fromthemixedupfiles.com