Friday, September 22, 2017

The Round House

This novel by Louise Erdrich was a National Book Award winner for fiction in 2012. It tells the story of the Coutts family, Geraldine, Bazil, and Joe, Ojibwe who live on a reservation in North Dakota. One Sunday in Spring, 1988, Geraldine is brutally attacked. The rape occurred near the Round House, a sacred space for the Ojibwe. This complicates justice, for the Round House is on tribal land but is surrounded by multiple jurisdictions. Unless the traumatized Geraldine can remember exactly where the attack took place, her white attacker will go free. Geraldine enrolls people into the tribe; Bazil is a tribal judge. Both of them have had occasion to "meet" the attacker through their files. Joe, the 13-year-old son of aging parents, realizes it is up to him to reclaim his family. With the help of his friends Cappy, Zack, and Angus he sets out on a course of revenge. Because the attacker has gone free through the jurisdictional nightmare. And, even if the rape had happened on tribal land, the tribal leaders would be unable to prosecute because the perpetrator was non-Indian; federal law prohibits them. (This burns my butt!) Something else I learned in the course of this book that is upsetting, to say the least. The number of women subject to sexual assault in this country is 1 in 5. That's sad. The number of native women who face sexual assault? 1 in 3. The number is surely higher because not everyone reports rape. 86% of these assaults are carried out by non-Native men. 86% cannot be prosecuted "in house", so to speak, leaving a Native woman to tell her story, relive the trauma, more than necessary. And face possible prejudice as well as the stigma of rape. Too sad. Must be changed. This unjust law must be changed.

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