Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research


For centuries, depictions of Native American culture have largely been constructed by White authors and have thus reflected white settler colonialist ideology. This paper suggests that one way to counter this point of view when studying Native American history is to turn to fiction, specifically fiction written by Indigenous authors. Taking as an example Ojibwe author Louise Erdrich’s Plague of Doves, a novel based on the real-life massacre of a frontier family in the late nineteenth century, this paper argues that the creative fiction of Indigenous authors can counter the biased, incomplete, and often incorrect official histories of White–Native interactions. In February 1897 in North Dakota, the Spicer family were brutally murdered in their home; almost immediately, Native American men were suspected, and several were soon taken into custody and charged with the crime. When one of the accused had his conviction overturned and was granted a new trial by the state, a mob of White men stormed the jail where the Native men were being held, forcibly removed them, and lynched them. Although the guilt of these men was widely accepted by the White community, the ones who confessed and implicated other Native men changed their stories over time, and the man who had been granted a new trial never wavered in his declaration of innocence. Erdrich’s reimagining of this tragedy lays bare how White greed and racism play into the determination of guilt, and it offers an alternative version of the murders. Although Erdrich’s novel is fictional, it illustrates how White prejudice and colonialist mentality can produce a historical narrative that is “official” but not a reflection of the truth. Ironically, fiction written by Native American writers can provide accounts of White–Native conflicts that are more truthful than traditional historical accounts produced by White settler discourse.