Seattle, Washington in Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians

PHOTO CREDIT: Joe Mabel.  This photo is made available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

“During the summer of 1976, the city of Seattle was beginning to change from the barbarous seaport of loggers, sailors, and Indians it had always been into the progressive, computerized, and sanitized capital of all things Caucasian it would become.”1

Sherman Alexie employs nine vivid vignettes to illustrate the lives and, at times controversial, perspectives of Native Americans residing in the Seattle area in his collection of fictional essays, Ten Little Indians. Each Native American narrator explores different personal woes such as loss, alcoholism, identity issues, and educational obstacles, all the while grappling with different ideas about racism against Native Americans in the predominantly white Seattle area. Alexie ironically juxtaposes Native culture with the characteristically “white” culture in Seattle–as seen in one Native American’s rant, “I don’t want to see some pacifist, vegan, free-range, organic, liberal, draft-dodging, NPR-listening wimp!”–and brings attention to the level of sensitivity in the white community towards Native Americans.

Seattle, home to the Puyallup, Duwamish, Snoqualmie, and several other tribes, is named for Chief Seattle (Si’ahl) of the Duwamish tribe. The sprawling urban environment is set against a lush, seaside landscape, with nearly 70% white population and under 1% of American Indian population. Despite this population disparity, Seattle still heavily aligns itself with Native American tradition through the use of Native American words as community and landscape feature names, the citywide celebration of the wealth-sharing potlatch ceremony of the Northern Northwest tribes, and the elaborate Native American art of the Northwest coast tribes on display in many museums and art galleries. One can even take a walk downtown and see manhole covers adorned with formline design, a feature of the Tlingit tribe. Though Seattle strives to keep the Native tradition alive and thriving, Alexie explores the idea that perhaps this sentiment is not kept among all of its inhabitants.

Read more about Seattle on Wikipedia, and explore Seattle’s rich Native American heritage online at Visit Seattle.

Find Ten Little Indians at a local library or on Amazon.

1Alexie, Sherman. “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above.” Ten Little Indians: Stories. New York: Grove, 2003. 124. Print.

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  1. Very interesting and informative read about the Seattle area and its ties to the native American roots – the imagery was especially poignant and makes me want to head up north and explore this lush landscape of the great northwest!