Sherman Alexie is American poet who uses his Native American background as inspiration for his poetry. In his poem Evolution, he talks about how the Native American culture is being degraded.
Sherman Alexie is an Indigenous American writer and poet who belongs to the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Native American nation. He grew up on a Spokane Indian reservation in Washington. He experienced first-hand issues and harsh realities of indigenous people living in reservations (which was a systemic attempt at taking away indigenous lands and limiting them in clusters to fixed “cultural pockets” so that they could be “civilized”/governed more easily). White oppression on indigenous communities ranges from systemic violence and mass murders, erasure of ethnic identities and cultures, stealing native lands and forced removal of native people, cultural appropriation, and is the cause of their poverty and degradation.
Alexie is very vocal about these inequalities and oppression, and in his works, he talks about his experiences of being an indigenous individual in racially-conscious America. He also focuses on the issues and difficulties of people who live in Indian reservations; gambling, alcoholism, and addiction are daily realities they have to face, along with extreme poverty and marginalization.
Alexie himself battled alcoholism in his late teenage years and later came out of his addiction after the publication of his first book in 1992, I Would Steal Horses. The same year, he published his first poetry collection, The Business of Fancy dancing: Stories and Poems. Therefore, his works are highly autobiographical and portray his genuine experiences.
Historically, Native Americans have been the victims of several forms of exploitation; however, alcoholism has played a major role in their demise. Introduced centuries ago by white settlers, alcohol made its damaging mark on the Native American culture. With low tolerance and desperation, the Native Americans will trade anything in order to get more alcohol into their systems and Buffalo Bill, a soldier, bison hunter, and showman, took full advantage of this addiction- as many white men did- and used it to his advantage. At the end of the poem when the audience learns about what happens to all of the valuable merchandise that have been pawned off in order to support the Native American’s addiction and the fact that Buffalo Bill has then closed his pawn shop and has opened a museum of those same items instantly sums up history. Not only does Buffalo Bill gain profit off of their addiction, but he then charges them to go see all of the cultural items- most of what they had left of their past life and dignity- that they pawned for this shameful addiction.
The language of this poem also paints a vivid picture for the audience of how these people were seen and respected, or had lack thereof. Using “Indians” instead of Native Americans for instants paints more of a historical picture as to how the Native Americans were portrayed. In the third stanza when the speaker is describing how the last Indian “has pawned everything but his heart,
Buffalo Bill takes that for twenty bucks” also shows how ruthlessly the Native Americans were exploited and taken advantage of. This demonstrates the “evolution” of the Native American people and how they came from being the first and the superior people in the Americas to the bottom of the barrel, sort of speak.
Towards the end, we can see that the native people become, more or less, puppets in the hands of Buffalo Bill. They fall into the trap and are forced to sell everything they own; Alexie even describes how they sell their skeletons and organs. This shows the extent to which white Americans oppress indigenous people and how they do not even hesitate to stoop to unfathomable lengths to advance their own interests.