Which Tribe?

Spokane Indian Sherman Alexie often snaps "that's personal" during interviews, yet the characters in his books and films closely follow his own life growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington.

The Business of Fancydancing—Alexie's second movie and first directorial effort—is the most personal yet. The 35-year-old author of the novels Indian Killer and Reservation Blues, books of poetry, and short stories, and screenwriter of the 1998 hit Smoke Signals, debuted his new movie at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Now it's making its way across screens and film festivals throughout the country.

More abstract and poetic than Smoke Signals, Fancydancing offers a complex dialogue on ethnic identity. In the film, Seymour Polatkin (Evan Adams) and Aristotle Joseph (Gene Tagaban), two high school valedictorians from the Spokane Indian Reservation, leave their native culture for university life in Seattle. Seymour becomes a writer and successfully markets his Indian identity by drawing on his childhood reservation experiences.

Aristotle doesn't adapt so easily to the white world. Resentful and angry, he returns to the reservation where he develops an alcohol problem and a violent disposition. When Mouse (Swil Kanim), a talented but cynical Indian violinist, dies, Seymour returns to Wellpinit—after 16 years—to attend the funeral.

The drive is a mere six hours, but the emotional journey is complicated. Seymour's white lover, Steven (affectionately known as Custer), fears that Seymour will decide to stay on the "rez." And not all of his old Spokane friends are excited to see the Indian—nicknamed "The Little Public Relations Warrior" by Aristotle—who made it big by writing about their personal tragedies.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2002
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