From Birchbark Books to Palestine: Takeaways from Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence

Rasha Ghabayen explains to a group of students the history of Native American Literature. (credit: Yousef Aljamal, Palestine Chronicle)
A look at the ways literature crosses borders and unites people in a common anti-colonial struggle.

By Benay Blend | Palestine Chronicle | Dec 5, 2021

…what both Palestinians and Native Americans have in common are “white saviors,”

In the past few years, several articles and books have focused on the ties between Native American and Palestinian activists/scholars. See, for example, Steven Salaita’s ‘Internationalism:  Decolonizing Native America and Palestine’ (2016), ‘Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan’ (2006), and Marion Kawas, “Solidarity Between Palestinians and Indigenous Activists Has Keep Roots” (2020).

Louise Erdrich does not draw these links in her most recent novel ‘The Sentence’ (2021), but it nevertheless brings to mind several commonalities as well as differences between the Palestinian solidarity movement and various forms of Native activism. Moreover, Erdrich highlights those moments in 2021 that called for alliances between various movements for social justice, including climate change and the murder of unarmed black men by local police, in particular George Floyd, so it makes sense to look for lessons regarding the Palestine solidarity movement that could be taken from the book.

Erdrich’s novel revolves around a fictional bookstore that is drawn from her own Birchbark Books, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Quoting from its webpage, Erdrich’s store “is operated by a spirited collection of people who believe in the power of good writing, the beauty of handmade art, the strength of Native culture, and the importance of small and intimate bookstores.”

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