*Friends and readers of the Blok: you may know me as an occasional contributor of opinionated, semi-snarky posts. Today’s has more gravitas. If you want some funny material to laugh about later, you will not find it below. This one contains a little more of my blood. I feel it would be enormously disrespectful to trivialize a piece of literature of this quality into something humorous just to gain myself more of a reading audience. Let it be known that I in no way want to appropriate, or disparage the suffering that the Native American community has undergone, and continues to undergo. I wish to present this review, and its subject matter, in a respectful and enlightening way. I speak of my own greatly diluted Native American ancestry, not in an effort to manipulate emotion or elicit sympathy, but with the knowledge that my family had skin in the game from both angles. Everyone came from somewhere.
I spotted “Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars”, written by Ethan Hawke and illustrated by Greg Ruth, while hurrying through the DFW airport earlier this week. I’d just stepped off a hellish- I repeat, hellish– flight and had a little over 2 hours to make my connection home. I sought a bathroom and wine and food, in that order, until I saw a bookstore and surprised myself by zooming inside like a toddler heading for Build-A-Bear. I didn’t spot “Indeh” until I’d already made up my mind to leave and had turned to go to the register. It was tucked away on a top shelf, a tall light-colored book with dark block print on the spine. On a whim I pulled it down and purchased it, then went on my merry way, home to my family.
You would not think that I’m part Native American on both sides of my family. One side was Cherokee, and I don’t want to misremember the other, so I will leave it alone. When I was 10 or 11, I wheedled enough information out of my grandmother to do some basic fractional math and calculate that if I chose to make my home in Oklahoma I could apply for some sort of government status in order to obtain money for college. Mom and Dad didn’t buy it, despite my prepubescent eye-rolling and pleas that Oklahoma was “right next to Texas” and thereby surely not that different.
I remember hardly anything about the actual ancestry discussion with my grandmother. The images and impressions that stay with me, 18 years later, were of Grandma’s pursed mouth and her eyes avoiding contact with mine. Ancestry was not something she felt inclined to discuss unless we were speaking of her Irish relatives. There was no room on her lips for stories of Native America.
So I forgot, because it’s easier to think about chicken nuggets and Hanson than it is to ask questions about your past. The only information our school taught about Native Americans was that most of them died from the diseases that white settlers brought with them from their decrepit, decaying Old World. Fast forward many years and I read “Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars”, that centers on the story of Apache leader Cochise, his son and heir Naiches, and his brave Goyahkla-better known as Geronimo. Here was real information about a part of my familial history nobody wanted to discuss, or even seemed to have knowledge of. Now there’s another “before and after” in my life: before I read, and after.
Describing the novel itself eluded me for the better part of 2 days. Should I write something heart-tugging? Dramatic? Grandiose, in the style of “Dances with Wolves”? Eventually I took a cue from the actual work itself, which is spare and nearly colorless. There is no froth here, no hint of pastels, no richly colored, evocative landscapes that may distract the viewer from the story itself. Illustrator Greg Ruth’s landscapes offer no relief of color from the atrocities that fill its pages. The scenery is bare, shaded in tones of white and gray and black. Cliffs are rendered with as much loving detail as a character’s plaid shirt, or the band tying back his hair. Handsome horses are given their due as well. Union soldiers’ bristling muttonchops and buttoned uniform coats are treated with as much respect as the Native Americans’ seamed faces and baggy, worn clothes. Every stroke of the pencil is carefully calculated-nothing overwhelms, nothing hides. Everything on the page is balanced.
Writer Ethan Hawke created this novel first as a movie script, with the assistance of a mentor named Charles Gaines. Eventually he realized that a graphic novel medium would serve his purpose better than an extraordinarily expensive movie-if the script ever even got off the ground in a place as white-washed as modern Hollywood- and so he sought Greg Ruth to illustrate. Hawke’s writing is, in my opinion, superb. Like Ruth, his hand is light yet firm, and he deals with extremely difficult subject matter with as much fairness as possible. This is not a novel about the plight of iconic “noble savages”, nor the expansion into the West by wave upon wave of greedy, evil, death-dealing white men. This novel is about flawed men from both sides of a terrible war, who lived and lost and fought and bled and sought peace. Assumptions were made and atrocities committed, innocents murdered and friends betrayed. This war doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. Superheroes have their place- let there be no mistake, I like Iron Man and Wonder Woman as much as the next reader- but a novel with a basis in fact carries truth in itself. These truths and the men who lived them deserve to be taught in history books, right next to stories about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
Eventually these brutal wars took such a toll on the Apache that they began calling themselves “Indeh”, literally meaning “the dead”. They reserved no hope for their future because their hearts were broken. I’ll end with a quote directly from the book, which I think says all that needs saying.
“When one Apache dies, there is no one to take his place. We were no longer Indah, the living. We were now Indeh… the dead. As we walked away, our feet didn’t even leave footprints.”
~ Shiera Carter ~