Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

The world according to Silas Ermineskin

The Moccasin Telegraph, by W. P. Kinsella. Boston: David R. Godine. 186 pp. If you look hard enough, you can almost see teen-ager Silas Ermineskin telling the 16 stories that make up W. P. Kinsella's ''The Moccasin Telegraph.''

Silas is sitting there, maybe on a bench, talking and occasionally glancing over to wink at his audience, while he tells them about Frank Fencepost and Dr. Don and Mad Etta and Victor Powder and Ellsworth Shot-both-sides and Grover Manybears, Canadian Indians all. They populate Silas's world and imagination.

About these ads

But it may be hard to get used to Silas's odd patois. Here, for example, is the beginning of ''Pius Blindman is Coming Home'':

''The trouble started because Minnie Blindman's daughter told a lie. Betty, the daughter, got to be sixty or more years old. Her own family growed up and gone and her husband died, must be close to ten years ago....''

W. P. Kinsella has been refining Silas Ermineskin's language for some time now. While ''The Moccasin Telegraph'' is the first collection of his stories available in the United States, Kinsella has four other collections of short fiction, published by Oberon Press and available in Canada, where he is very popular.

Not surprisingly, the stories in ''The Moccasin Telegraph'' are pro-Indian. Silas understands only too well how white men feel about Indians.

In the story, ''Dr. Don,'' he writes: ''Must be 10 years since we had a full-time doctor here on the Ermineskin Reserve. Maybe three times a year the Department of Indian Affairs doctors come around but they is all white and wear coats white as bathroom fixtures, smell of disinfectant, and to see them work remind me of a film I seen of assembly line workers who put cars together....

''Dr. Don don't be like that. Guess being an Indian helps.''

Kinsella is a funny writer, but he is also serious about the problems of reservation Indians, who kill each other over relationships, sometimes drink too much, commit crimes, and the like. The stories Silas tells are funny/sad, and they're too good to hide inside ''The Moccasin Telegraph.'' Open it.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.