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Some of My Best Friends

ON THE REZ; By Ian Frazier; Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 320 pp., $25

January 23, 2000|SHERMAN ALEXIE | Sherman Alexie is a Spokane Indian and the author of "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." A new collection of short stories, "The Toughest Indian In The World," will be published in May by Atlantic Monthly Press

Frazier claims ownership of the tribe based on his superficial admiration of certain aspects of their culture. He likes the way Indians dress, without considering how economic means most often determine any particular Indian's wardrobe. He admires Indian hair and wears his own hair in an imitative ponytail, without recognizing the complex cultural signifiers of any particular Indian hairstyle. He shares in the deifying of Indian basketball heroes while omitting the cold truth that few Indians have ever played college basketball and that no Indian man and only one Indian woman has ever played big-time professional basketball. He raises a patriotic flag for Oglala war veterans but never addresses this bitter irony: The Oglalas are fighting for a country that refuses to return the Black Hills, a refusal that is essentially an act of war. He admires the Oglalas because of who he believes them to be, not because of who the Oglalas believe themselves to be.

In describing his relationship to the tribe, he writes, "In the same way that I have gotten used to my liking for hot sauce or my aversion to crowds, I accept that my affections veer toward the Oglala Sioux." Yes, in the end, with all of his talent, sensitivity and originality, Frazier places the Oglala on the supermarket shelf alongside the habanero chiles, bottles of Prozac and many copies of "On the Rez."

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