A recurring theme of survival appears throughout Alexie’s poetry. In historical order, first comes massacres and relocation, then come the abuses of land and the abuses of people, and finally comes alcoholism and diabetes. Survival is the interruption by the white man and the guilty conscious of the red man.
Alexie alludes to the disruption and destruction of the American Indian people. “In my dream, Fred Astaire stumbles (yes, stumbles)/ into the powwow and is shocked by the number of Indians/ who have survived/ the smallpox blankets, U.S. cavalry, relocation, etc.” (79-80) The words truly specify the “weapons” of the white man, and they only describe the premeditated tactics used by the government to wipe out the Indians. They do not describe the psychology behind getting the Indians to turn against one another. Alexie is stating that the survival rate of American Indians is so astounding that it forced a graceful dancer such as Fred Astaire to stumble.
There are also allusions to the treatment of Native American land and people. “This is a poem for my tribe, who continue to live in the shadow of/ the abandoned uranium mine on our reservation, where the/ night sky glows in a way that would have invoked songs and/ stories a few generations earlier, but now simply allows us to see/ better as we drive down the highway toward a different kind of moon.” (51) America has completely taken advantage of their land. Not only are they poisoning the Indians through uranium contact with air and water, they also “allow” the Indians to work there and die of uranium contact with the skin. Alexie also plays with the ignorance of older generations of Indians. Just as Columbus tricked the ancient Indians into submission through an eclipse proclaimed by his god, so the U.S. toys with the current Indians’ stupidity through the uranium mine. The only difference is now, the Indians can distinguish between the lies. Alexie also references the Holocaust to show the abuses of the Native American peoples. “We too could stack the shoes of our dead and fill a city/ to its thirteenth floor. What did you expect us to become?/ What do we indigenous people want from our country?/ We are waiting for the construction of our museum.” (119-120) What an image to picture. Through experience, Alexie states that those shoes, like other American Indian “junk,” will be taken by the whites (or bought based on luck) to be placed in a museum where they will charge Indians to walk inside and experience the culture they were forced to abandon by those same white folks. Alexie utilizes despair to express survival.
Finally, after adapting to relocation and white settlement, Indians fell prey to alcoholism and diabetes. Alexie begins with his father’s generation, then moves onto his own generation. “Drunk like that, I/ imagined myself as/ you, drunk like that/ and carried the same/ small ambition: I/ only wanted to live/ one day longer than you.” (39) Alexie places himself in his father’s shoes and still wishes for the same exact thing, “to live one day longer than you.” As a son, Alexie is hoping to differ from his father and not drink. As his father, Alexie hopes to live long enough to be able to watch himself grow up. Alcoholism is so strong among American Indians, it could be considered a disease, one that plagues the Indians as much as diabetes does, if not more. “Having learned sugar kills me/ piece by piece, I have to eat/ with more sense/ than taste.” (44) Unfortunately, sugar is put in everything, making survival that much more painful.
Although, Alexie suggests a reasonable (yet improbable) solution to all the problems Indians face.
“I want some Indian to finally learn/ to dance the Ghost Dance right/ so that all of the salmon and buffalo return/ and the white men are sent back home/ to wake up in their favorite European cities.” (138)