The Ghost Dance and the Politics of Exclusion in Sherman Alexie's “Distances.”

Tom Farrington

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Critical responses to (Spokane/Coeur d'Alene) Sherman Alexie's stories of the Spokane Indian reservation and its (semi-)fictional inhabitants in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993, herein TLR) tend to polarize over the problem of the collection's cultural authenticity. The majority of these criticisms fall into one of two categories: those who condemn the author's prose for trafficking moribund Indian stereotypes, and those who defend his commitment to realistic portrayals of a struggling reservation community. In either case, it is the perceived capacity of the stories to develop a particular sense of indigenous community that typically functions as the measure of their cultural authenticity. One story from TLR that has received none of this critical attention is “Distances,” a contemporary, dystopian realization of Wovoka's late nineteenth-century Ghost Dance prophecy that shares none of the characters, settings or events common to the other stories. This apparent withdrawal from the collection's featured community and “reservation realist” aesthetic affords Alexie the critical distance to examine the exclusionary principles that underlay the formation of American Indian communities, and the value of these principles for the individual members. A close reading of “Distances” reveals Alexie's representations of contemporary Ghost Dances to be crucial interjections into the debates surrounding American Indian literary nationalism, as his writing seeks to dramatize the problems of a separatist agenda for urban Indian communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-540
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of American Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


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