Clair Huffaker’s book Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian was, wisely, retitled Flap after the release of the film version starring Anthony Quinn. If you’ve not heard of Huffaker, that’s sad, but not surprising. His masterpiece The Cowboy and the Cossack has recently been re-released, and you should go read it right now.
Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian, by contrast, isn’t likely to receive the same re-release anytime soon, despite being in the tradition of Dan Cushman’s Stay Away Joe (which you should also read, at least according to Vine Deloria). It tells the story of Flapping Eagle and Eleven, two down-on-their luck Paiutes who decide to take on the whole US Government. Or at least, they decide to take on their own little corner of it. But what can two people living in some of the poorest conditions in the developed world do against the American Dream?
Destroy a bulldozer. Steal a train. And conquer Phoenix, Arizona. That’s what.
And the clincher is, it’s all perfectly legal, based on duly signed and ratified 19th century treaties.
At least, that’s the premise of the book. By itself, this would all make a good enough tale. Add in a raucous sense of humor, and this book is truly excellent.
That said, I don’t have any comment to make on whether this is accurate with regard to the status of Native Americans, then or now. That’s beyond the scope of this review. Instead, I think it’s worth reflecting on as a means of resistance to a vastly superior power. And as Christians, we have a long history of thinking carefully about that particular issue. Digging into that tradition is likewise beyond the scope of this review.
What I’m interested in here is the question of what we as Christians ought to think about these kinds of circumstances when others are involved. After all, at this point in the United States, Christians are not such a defenseless minority. That may not always be the case, but for now that’s where we’re at.
And this is where things get difficult. In the context of this particular book, there’s a clear right/wrong side. Again, I can’t say here whether this is a reflection of reality or just poetic license. The real world, however, is usually much messier. And that’s where Christians have to exercise those historically robust reflections well. Real world situations where a superior power is oppressing a minority are invariably complex and messy and without simple solutions. We know this from our own history and experience. Consequently, we need to think carefully about the situation and make an honest and accurate assessment, and then engage in an appropriate response when necessary.
Which is vague, and deliberately so, because no two such situations are going to be the same. Any response that says “always take the side of the oppressed” is going to be as wrong as a response that says “always take the side of the oppressor,” or even “the division between oppressed/oppressor is always clear-cut.” Instead this is a place where Christians need to obey the Biblical injunction to be shrewd as serpents, and exercise charity towards other believers who come to different conclusions than we do.
Also, we should enjoy this rollicking good book.