13 February 2008

Jana Eaton on Margaret Coel

Well, I did send the books to my friend Jana back in 2002. They arrived at a time when she wanted some respite from thinking about her thesis and her defense. She read The Eagle Catcher and wrote us about it before going on to successfully defend her thesis and earn her doctorate. (Congratulations, Dr. Jana.) Here's what she wrote:

"Ken thoughtfully mailed me three of the Margaret Coel paperbacks.

"While the reading is a bit different from that I'm doing for my dissertation (curricular decentralization and sociopolitical stability in Dagestan, Sakha, Tatarsan and Bashkortostan), I thoroughly enjoyed The Eagle Catcher and am grateful to Ken for putting me on to Coel. While I'm not overly impressed with the character development or logic of the plot trajectory at times, Coel accurately depicts the Arapaho customs as I remember them.

"Having grown up on the Reservation as an Arapaho, the book really resonated with me. I've never felt more nostalgic for life on the Res., a place from which I couldn't wait to escape years ago.

"Coel did do her homework. In fact, I recognized a lot of the names in the acknowledgments, including a close friend, Scotty Ratliff. Scotty is a Shoshone (both the Shoshones and Arapahos reside on the Wind River Reservation).

"He introduced Coel to various people on the Res. and said in an email that he took her to the sweat lodge.

"The big change that I notice is the congruence of Catholicism with Native religious customs and practices. This was not so much the case when I was growing up. In fact, the Church backed the banning of the Sun Dance, as I recall. It is heartening to hear that the Church is now "Nativizing" its services and practices. Likewise, sweating was not widely practiced when I was growing up, but it is very popular today -- and very spiritual.

"Still, the problems on the Res. are daunting and pretty much the same -- rampant alcoholism, abject poverty, high unemployment, etc.

"By the way, there is no St. Francis Mission; it is really St. Stephen's Mission. Why Coel changed that name but retained the other place names eludes me. Also, she says all of the characters are fictional, but I recognized several "fictional" names that are the real names of Arapahos living there -- Oldmans, for example.

"Anyway, thanks so much, Ken (even if I haven't been this homesick in years!)."

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