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Absence of Angels, The W. S.

Penn (1994)
The title of W. S. Penns first novel, The Absence of Angels, has particular significance to the narrative itself. First, the Absence of Angels is the spirit world that the young protagonist, Alley (Albert) Hummingbird, communicates with throughout the novel. Second, this place, the Absence of Angels, is an antidote to the streets of Los Angeles. Penns title suggests, then, a form of personal growth that accompanies the characters spiritual and physical abandonment of the inappropriately named city, which is covered by a blinding smog that hid Los Angeles from the light of the sun (51). A rather atypical bildungsroman, or comingofage story, the plot concerns Alleys attempt to understand his Indian heritage, first as a boy and later as a teenager and young adult. Little guidance in reaching any such understanding is provided by his father, who is the son of two-half breeds (30). Turning away from his Nez Perce and Hopi ancestry, Alleys father has long since left the reservation, married a white woman, and taken up employment in the petroleum industry. If his father proves an inadequate source of guidance, neither can Alleys white mother help him understand his tribal heritage. Instead, she tells him and his sisters stories of Indians raping white women and later, during her mental instability, converses with household appliances more often than she does with her family (11). Unmoored within this rather dysfunctional family, the young Alley oscillates between Los Angeles later Palo Altoand the reservation. The reservation, Chosposi Mesa, is home to his Indian grandfather, Billy Hummingbird. The old man is the only figure in Alleys life who constantly offers instruction or whose presence seems to give clarity to his grandsons understanding of an otherwise confusing world. It is his grandfathers presence that keeps Alley alive when he is jaundiced and starved of oxygen at birth. Billy arrives from Chosposi and leads Death, another recurring figure in the novel, back to the reservation. Having cheated Death at birth, Alley has a life that is a series of trials and tribulations. Through his relationships with Rachel, an Indian girl from Chosposi; Allison DeForest, an Anglo from L.A.; and his one true love, his fellow college student Sara, Alley begins to understand his place in the world and his own mixed-blood identity. Ultimatelyat the novels endthe grandfather, Billy Hummingbird, passes to the spiritual world known as the Absence of Angels. This passing gives Alley a new level of comprehension of his own place and presence in the

world. Finally, able to close [his] eyes and listen to [his grandfathers] voice coming out of the Absence of Angels, Alley understands his mixed heritage and has discovered a landscape within (29, 268).



Penn, W. S. The Absence of Angels. 1994. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Review of The Absence of Angels. Publishers Weekly, 10 January 1994. Sherwin, Elisabeth. William Penn Is Not an Imagined Native American Stereotype. Available online. URL: http://www.dcn.davis.ca.us/go/gizmo/1998/ penn.html. Accessed in August 15, 2005.
Padraig Kirwan

Adams, Howard (19212001)

Dr. Howard Adams was both an academic and a Mtis activist. Of Cree, English, and French ancestry, Adams was born in 1921 in the Mtis community of St. Louis, Saskatchewan, where he struggled with poverty and the discrimination experienced by the Mtis. But he excelled in academic subjects, receiving a Ph.D. in history from Berkeley in the turbulent early 1960s. Inspired by the Red Power movement of the late 1960s, he founded the Saskatchewan Native Action Committee in 1968 and the Vancouver Mtis Association in 1987. He taught at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of California. In his two books, Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View (1975) and Tortured People: The Politics of Colonization (1995), Adams mixes the personal and the polemic to address the colonization of aboriginal peoples from a Marxist perspective. He describes how his community was outraged that he called himself a half-breed, a derogatory term for the Mtis that some Mtis have reclaimed as a source of pride. Adams realized that as colonized people, aboriginal people must release their pain and anger to be able to discuss colonization objectively. Adams starts both his books with his own struggles to overcome internalized racism before turning to the larger issues of colonization. Adams was never afraid of being outspoken. He advocated a nationalist policy for aboriginal

people, believing that they should band together to fight common oppression. However, he also believed that revolutionary change for aboriginal people should occur at the local level and that they should forge alliances across class lines with the labor movement and other working-class struggles. In Adamss view, state sponsored aboriginal agencies such as band councils, the Assembly of First Nations, and the Mtis National Council are tools of oppression that aboriginal people use against themselves. As he writes in Tortured People, Neo-colonialism allows a corrupt class of Aboriginals to profit at the expense of the majority. In the end, the state succeeds in crushing the Aboriginal movement for self-determination by dispersing and disorganizing the Native population (131). However, although an academic, Adams never considered himself to be a collaborator with the state, a position he never fully addresses in his writings. Adams did find some hope in aboriginal literature. He cited books like Maria Campbells autobiography Halfbreed (1973) and Jeannette Armstrongs novel Slash (1985) as examples of decolonization. But he viewed pow wows and similar cultural gatherings as cultural imperialism that sets aboriginal people in the past and does not include a political component. Adams also saw hope in international indigenous movements like the Zapatistas in Mexico and in awareness in young people of the dangers of globalization.


Adams, Howard. Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Perspective. Saskatoon, Canada: Fifth House, 1975. . Tortured People: The Politics of Colonization. Penticton, Canada: Theytus, 1995. Purich, Donald. The Mtis. Toronto: Lorimer, 1988. Simons, Deborah. Howard Adams, Mtis Activist and Marxist. Studies in Political Economy (summer 2002). Available online. URL: http://archives. econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/2002w25/ msg00051.htm. Accessed in August 15, 2005.
June Schudler

(Ado)ration Diane Glancy (1999)

The poetry collection (Ado)ration reflects Diane Glancys commitment to her Cherokee heritage, Christianity, and the possibilities of postmodern writing techniques. Glancys poetry, with its darkly humorous wordplay and misspellings, emphasizes
Adams, Howard

the miscommunications between Western and Native sensibilities and ultimately reveals the unfolding relationship of Native and Christian spiritualities. (Ado)ration opens by presenting the encounter of Native and Christian spiritualities as a clash between two systems. The more autobiographical

middle portion of the collection depicts private sorrows, family moments, and visits to national parks. Eventually historical, personal, and spiritual encounters merge, and by the conclusion of (Ado)ration a new and syncretic form of spirituality is created and the transformative power of faith is reaffirmed. To address the ongoing process of religious, national, and personal transformations, Glancy adopts the imagery of journeys, for example: a road trip across the plains; Jesus as a punk kid riding a Harley; conquistadores on horses; a mind being pushed along a road; the tracking of footprints; and Jesus giving a sermon from a rocking boat. In Ledger Book Drawing Glancy describes an old drawing in which an Indian is depicted riding sidesaddle because the Native artist did not know how to draw a leg on the other side of the horse. The two-dimensional drawing is linked to a recurring religious and metaphysical query in (Ado)ration: how the visible relates to the invisible. In Well You Push Your Mind along the Road, the tribal religious perspective, which Glancy frequently presents as engaged with the tangible and the material, confronts its antithesis an intangible eclipse that is called Godand this collision creates a new being: You lift your voice and say praise to you nothing and nothing begins to hear, then nothing becomes something, until finally theres / A confrontation of wills / a split in understanding / that penetrates to the very nature of being (20). This phenomenological creation of being is called a migration between the self and the other. In keeping with its exploration of the clash and intermingling of religious systems, (Ado)ration acknowledges Native American anger at the colonizer but it also recognizes the desirability of certain European artistic and spiritual ideas. The epigraph and the opening poem establish this emotional framework. The epigraph quotes the Old Testament tale of Jacob and Esau, which from an American Indian point of view, is a skinwalker tale of trickery: Rebekkah fixes venison stew for her husband and teaches her favored son to wear animal skins in order to change his identity. The first poem, You Know Them by Their Stealing, alludes to the epigraph while acknowledging that some things that the Europeans introduced, such as goats and ragtime bands, are not so easily dismissed. The closing poem, Stolen Blessing, refers to the epigraph, but now the speaker glories in the continual struggle and exchangea head-on / inclision of faithand the strength of the new spirituality that is achieved through this struggle (59). See also spirituality.

Donelle Ruwe

Glancy, Diane. (Ado) ration. Tucson, Ariz.: Chax Press, 1999.

After and Before the Lightning Simon

J. Ortiz (1974)

The harsh and inescapable force of the South Dakota winter is the principal concern of Simon Ortizs After and Before the Lightning, a book of poems that stems from Ortizs experiences with the Lakota Sioux on the Rosebud Reservation, where he taught at Sinte Gleska College during the winter of 198586. In the poems, Ortiz seeks to chart his position in time and within the universe. The poems map the reservation in relation to the United States, to the North American continent, and to the universe. Throughout the book, Ortiz repeatedly drives the stretch of Highway 18 between Mission and Okreek; the poems themselves search for a larger meaning in such seemingly ordinary journeys and events. The books title refers to the season Ortiz takes as his subject; the thunderstorms of autumn and spring mark the beginning and the end of winter. Some, but not all, of the poems are dated: Ortiz records a period from November 16 to March 21. In total, the book includes nearly 200 prose and verse entries in this diary of life during winter.
After and Before the Lightning

The poems in After and Before the Lightning range from the anecdotal and conversational to the visionary. Ortiz includes prayers and dream poems with his depictions of mundane activities during winter. He divides the book into four sections: The Landscape: Prairie, Time, and Galaxy, Common Trials: Every Day, Buffalo Dawn Coming, and Near and Evident Signs of Spring. The titles of the sections announce some of the books most prominent subjects and themes and reflect Ortizs desire to write about the ordinary and particular as well as the cosmic. Despite the length and viciousness of winter, one of the last poems in the book, Our Eagerness Blooms, is cautiously hopeful. It expresses a certainty that spring will in fact return, even though the signs of the change of the seasons appear slowly in the Dakotas. Such a poem stands in stark contrast to Coping, for example, one of the many poems in the book that portray the psychological difficulty of surviving the freezing temperatures of winter. In Coping, Ortiz describes the severity of the wind and notes that its ferocity is not lessened by his knowledge that the wind is coming. Comparing these two poems illustrates one of the central tensions in After and Before the Lightning:

Ortiz records both the stark beauty and the grim hardships of the South Dakota winter, finding comfort in the cold even as he looks forward to the smell of the spring.