Dovetails in Tall Grass
SparkPress, 2021 (2021)
Reviewed by Barbara Lingens
very year around Christmas a group of Dakota march on horseback in remembrance of the 1862 hanging of 38 of their people in New Ulm, MN. This story seeks understanding of that time and is told from the viewpoint of two women: a young Dakota wife and a young New Ulm settler.
he Dakota are limited to their reservation, which means they cannot hunt or collect medicines the way they used to. Supplies promised by the U.S. government fail to arrive on time, and when they do, most are spoiled. A promised annuity never arrives. Certain whites take advantage of the Native Americans, and many are prejudiced. Everything is exacerbated because very few speak the Indian language, and few Native Americans speak English.
n this difficult time, both Oenikika and Emma Heard try to make their lives. Oenikika, daughter of the chief and with herbal knowledge, feels very constrained for herself and anxious about the unease in the tribal warriors. Emma, proud that she is able to help her father in his law office, figures out how untenable the situation is by the large number of settlers applying for land, land that will surely cause the government to encroach on that promised to the Dakotas.
uthor Specks shows the life of these women, their interactions with other women and the men around them. There is much beauty to be seen in the relationships of each people, but their cultures are so different. When the Native Americans attack the town in desperation, the people who live there show no mercy. Even though there is a trial for the Dakota caught, there are only witnesses for the prosecution. The outcome follows - 38 to be hanged.
pecks is careful to mention her bias, being a white author, but I salute the effort she has made to name each Dakota who was hanged and to let us know which characters in her story are fictional. Part of her earnings from the book will be used to create a scholarship for Native American women writers.
y only problem with this work is the timing of the two women's stories. The dates at the head of each chapter go back and forth, and I think one of the prologue dates is actually incorrect. Anyway, this aspect bothered editorial-type me but does not detract from this beautiful but necessarily sober tale.
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