Sunday, July 03, 2016

Diet Pepsi & Nacho Cheese by Nila NorthSun (1977)

Diet Pepsi & Nacho Cheese
Nila NorthSun
Duck Down Press
Fallon, NV

Pop quiz. Name 10 Native American writers. Any kind of Native American writers, how about just poets? How about naming 10 FEMALE Native American poets? Okay, how about 5? Can you name five? How about three? Can you name just 3? Oh, come on now. They have been here longer than European settlers who somehow created the "American Literary Canon". Of course they didn't write in English. They didn't write at all the way we have told that "writing" is.

Yeah, okay, you cheat and can name one - this one - Nila NorthSun. Not very difficult when it's staring you in the face. And that's part of the issue with having the ability to name Native American writers: they have been so marginalized that we seldom stare them in the face. Or see them at all. Unlike Afro-Americans or Hispanics, or any other minority in this country, Natives don't live among us. They were put onto 'reservations' a long time ago. And frankly I don't know how calling them 'reservations' instead of Concentration Camps allows us to sleep better at night.

That's part of the issue with Native American voices. They are different. Their experience in this country is that of a number of nations that were defeated and removed from their lands and their way of life, their religions, their very language by a relentless 500 year campaign by determined Europeans for the entire continent and everything that was here before their lily-white behinds landed here.

Native Americans' relationship with the Conquerors is complicated. And it's different for all three North American experiences. The peoples who lived in what is now Canada had a different experience than those in what is now the United States, and still different from what the Natives who lived in had been New Spain experienced even earlier.

I have read several Native American writers and poets including Alexie, Silko, Vine Deloria, Jr, Louise Erdrich, Joy Harjo (among the better known Native voices) but also Cheryl Savageau (Abenaki), Margaret Cesa, and Luci Tapahonso (Navajo). Nila's work is right there with them. Brilliant in its simplistic use of English while presenting the constant tension of being Native-born in a country that would rather forget you are even here.

This was Nila's first book. It was published in Fallon, Nevada which is significant since The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Indian Reservation is located there. A quick look into the back of this chapbook shows that Duck Down Press also published Gerald Locklin, Steve Richmond, John Bennett, and others.

Ms. NorthSun's only book of non-fiction is a history of that reservation and the peoples who live there. Diet Pepsi.. is a fantastic beginning to a well written life. Am honored to have it in my collection!

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