Interview with/about Erasure:

The Blood Runs like a River through my Dreams
 
by Gwendolyn Edward

“‘I have always been bothered by the false claim to the Dine identity by Nasdijj,’
Morris says, ‘but if I spent my time tracking down every white writer pretending
to be Navajo, I’d have no time left to do anything else.’”
-Irvin Morris, Navajo writer and scholar, interviewed for “Navahoax”

 
(Note to self: my lawyer father says that if I really want to “stick it to him,” I shouldn’t just black out sections of text and reprint the excerpt. My father says that if he wanted to, though he’d probably lose in court, Nasdijj could sue me. “And get what?” I ask. “What money would I make off this?” My father says it doesn’t matter what I have or don’t have. Nasdijj could do it anyway.)

***

Attempt 1: Mark through text selections of “The Blood Runs like a River through My Dreams”, printed in Esquire, to have the writer “speak” to me about his adoption of a Navajo identity:

Interviewer: “Nasdijj, how come…”

(Note to self: the words “why,” “wrote,” and “write” do not exist in his excerpt. Not once. The one question I want to ask and it’s nowhere to be found. Cannot seem to frame the question I want with just the words “how come.”)

***

Attempt 2: Mark through text selections to have the author speak to me about how it feels to be “outed” and how he feels about lying to his audience:

Nasdijj: “This is the story:

They didn’t know. They didn’t know! In the beginning, I was nothing. My solution: wiggle and giggle. Surrounded by my boring people, analogues to death, I was never very good. I knew it. I tried: the cheap, breakable kind of fake.

The trip of a lifetime: Navajo. I laughed and said, okay.”

Interviewer: “White people in their wisdom risk a racial epidemic. But when I talk, they sincerely, honestly have no idea. And my heart breaks.”

Nasdijj: “If someone had said to me, ‘in the beginning’…I can’t say I would not have done this. I would have done this.”

(Note to self: this is supposed to be a conversation. Interviews shouldn’t start with so much hostility)

***

Attempt 6: Mark through text selections to have the author respond to me about my critique of his narrative and adoption of a Navajo identity:

Interviewer: “It was boring and invasive. Even now, writing about it feels like acid. The Navajo speak of it—this tradition, this disease—because it’s true. There are serious consequences. Writing so White People are allowed to adopt Indian wisdom, Indian Affairs.”

Nasdijj: “Remember: it was done long before we started doing it.”

Interviewer: “There are degrees of life in a diaper and out-of-control behavior.”

Nasdijj: “There had been a time when this was smart! We discussed it openly!”

Interviewer: “Where do you want to be? You—the eyes aren’t focused yet (and one never will be). The first thing you do is suck that little fist. The time when agenda made it better? Not anymore.”

(Note to self: might be impossible to “interview” without my open hostility—note attempts 3-5. Kyle says to embrace it. “Why do you have to play nice?” he asks. “Why give him a semblance of understanding? He published two fake memoirs, right?”)

***

Attempt 7: Mark through text selections to ask the author some basic questions, maybe not even about writing, but about everyday things; try to see if that hostility can be alleviated by talking about something else:

Interviewer: “So, fishing?”

Nasdijj: “Fishing was this place where I could stand in the middle of the river with Tommy, Nothing Fancy strapped to the cradleboard, which I could wear on my back.”

(Note to self: he asked for that one. Only erased two words before that gem of a response presented itself; attempt: failure.)

***

(Note to self: it’s not that I want to give him any benefit of the doubt. It’s that I want, desperately, for him to be remorseful.)

***

Attempt 10: Mark through text selections to find a way to ask him why he adopted a Navajo identity and wrote multiple fake memoirs:

Interviewer: “Nasdijj, why did you pretend to be Indian?”

Nasdijj: “To surround and nurture culture.”

(Note to self: since the word “why” does not appear in the excerpt, I’ve taken to creating words by blacking out surrounding letters. In this way I can combine “W,” “H,” and “Y” from “workers,” “alcohol,” and “syndrome.”)

(Note to self: Suzan Shown-Harjo says, “Why can’t you be who you are, a non-Native person, supporting the same things Indians care about? Why do you have to be one of us to support us? That’s a little loopy, isn’t it? So you have to stand back and say why is that person lying about that? And the answer is because people like that don’t do it for altruistic reasons. It’s about profit. They think pretending to be Indian will help them sell more books.”)

***

Attempt 11: Mark through text selections to find a way to ask him why:

Interviewer: “Nasdijj, why do you use the word Indian? Do you know what this connotes?”

Nasdijj: “I understand the anguish.”

(Note to self: was able to create “word” from “twisted,” “confined,” “differently,” and “manifested,” and was able to create “connotes” from “control,” “not,” and “helpless.”)

***

Attempt 12: Mark through text selections to find a way to ask him why:

Interviewer: “Nasdijj, why do you use fetal alcohol syndrome?”

Nasdijj: “I failed badly.”

(Note to self: don’t give him any credit.)

***

Attempt 13: Start over. Print his excerpt again. Try not to have an agenda. Just pick out the words as they come to you. Try to talk to him, really have the conversation you set out to write:

Nasdijj: “Those were the best years of my life. Was like surrendering myself to pretend. Too many things in a man’s life are never perfect. Sometimes none. And there it is: the attempt to live life on the reservation.”

Interviewer: “When People Who Should Know have yet to fix the holes, my heart breaks. Remember. Remember, when you encourage varying degrees of Indian, one slowly deteriorates. You have never discussed it openly in such specific terms: killing us.”

Nasdijj: “I make perfection.”

(Note to self: Matthew Fleischer says, “For as long as white writers have been impersonating Indians, Indians have been exposing them as frauds. Yet despite remarkable investigative successes in uncovering the truth, their efforts have been largely ignored.”)

***

Attempt 14: Erase as much as the author’s words as you can to completely tear him out of his own excerpt. Find single letters. String them together to tell him how you, a member of the Cherokee Nation, a woman who has never been able to profit off her identity, who has only answered for it, explained it, spent her life carrying her Cherokee Nation identity card in her wallet because she looks too white:

Interviewer: “Perhaps I don’t know what bad is. Growing demons frequently disguise themselves in ways I can’t see. But, I can say one thing: to steal culture is equivalent to erasure. If you can’t see that, there is little hope. What you did—’drunk Navajo’—is a bad example. A stereotype, and worse, you claimed it as yours. Look at your excerpt now: I claimed it. Made it mine. Look at all my erasures. You: no longer there. How does it feel?”

Nasdijj: “I understand.”

Interviewer: “Do you?”

Nasdijj: “Yes. I’m glad I could give back to the Navajo Nation.”

(Note to self: initial emotional satisfaction from looking at the eight-page excerpt from Esquire, almost completely black, his content gone, Nasdijj overtaken. High lasts about three hours until I realize what I’ve done doesn’t really feel like it changes anything in the end.)

Gwendolyn Edward’s nonfiction has earned nominations for both the Pushcart and Best American Essay. Her nonfiction, fiction, and poetry has appeared in Assay, Crab Orchard Review, Fourth River, Bourbon Penn, and others. She retains a MA in Nonfiction from the University of North Texas, a MFA from Bennington College, and is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Missouri. She specializes in genre bending.