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The ANA Messenger: Social Development Edition 2013

Published: September 26, 2013
Social and Economic Development Strategies (SEDS)

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Book Review of
The Roundhouse

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The New York Times Bestseller, The Roundhouse, a fictional story set in 1988 on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, is ANA’s current book club reading.  The book captures a coming of age story, Native American tradition, suspense, and justice.  The author offers readers a glimpse into a tribal justice system, while seeking to provide a deeper understanding of the legal obstacles Native American women encounter.  

Joe, a young Ojibwe boy, is on a quest to unveil the person responsible for a brutal crime that brings emotional and physical pain to his mother.

“My mother was sunk in such heavy sleep that when I tried to throw myself down next to her, she struck me in the face.  It was a forearm back blow and caught my jaw, stunning me.”

His determination to seek justice creates a compelling story of humor, inspiration, integrity and resiliency.  The young boy narrates a story that takes him on a mission to understand and seek justice for a crime that later inspires him to pursue a career in law.  The narrator sets a lighter tone for a heavy subject and readers will appreciate the humorous tone blended with Native American tradition set throughout the book.

The author transports readers back to 1988; previous and current cases involving tribal jurisdiction against non-Native perpetrators remains unclear and complicated.  The complexity of tribal jurisdiction and the right to prosecute non-Native suspects on tribal land creates a story modern day readers can relate to. 

In the afterword, the author provides statistics from the Amnesty International on the high number of sexual violence among Native American women, and quotes “the tangle of laws that hinder prosecution of rape cases on many reservations still exist” resulting into a “maze of injustice.”

“A 2009 report by Amnesty International including the following statistics: 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime (and that figure is certainly higher as Native women often do not report rape); 86 percent of rapes and sexual assaults upon Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men; few are prosecuted.”

The passage below describes how a young boy observes his mother’s state of emotion dwindle into anguish, ultimately resulting into a state that affects the entire family.

“Her serene reserve was gone-a nervous horror welled across her face.  The bruises had come out and her eyes were darkly rimmed like a raccoon’s. A sick green pulsed around her temples.  Her jaw was indigo her eyebrows had always been so expressive of irony and love, but now were held tight by anguish…”

The book comes at a time relating to current issues, such as the newly passed law, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) 2013, offering tribal communities the right to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators on tribal land.  The Roundhouse allows readers to ponder on the complexity of tribal law and sexual violence in Native American communities.  Overall, the author does a great job allowing the young boy to narrate and unfold a vivid tale of courage and strength.

Tyanne Benallie (Diné)
Program Assistant, Tribal Tech, LLC
under contract to The Administration for Native Americans

The Roundhouse by Louis Edrich ©2012 HarperCollins Publishers Inc., New York. ISBN 0062035426

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Last Reviewed: October 18, 2016