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Colonization and Dehumanization of Native Americans– Love Medicine

book introduction

Love Medicine is about the life stories of a group of Chippewa (who are all connected with one another) living on a reservation in North Dakota.

book recommendation

The book is well planned, and it is entertaining and heartbreaking to read. The connections between characters and how one event affect the other are interesting to see as the chapters go by. The book is highly recommended for history, politics, and literature

rating: 4.4/5

Image result for love medicine"
book cover of Love Medicine

Colonization and dehumanization
— book review of love medicine

What does it mean to dehumanize someone or a group of people? Under what circumstances are people being constructed as the “other”? While respect, equal treatment, empathy, sympathy, and being able to listen mark important characteristics of humanizing people, exclusion, segregation, forced assimilation, belittlement, ignorance, humiliation, and ultimately the rationalization of the “othering”process not only prioritize one group over the other but also dehumanize them. African Americans were dehumanized as slaves, and enslavers used proslavery justifications (which include scientific racism) to account for their actions. Similarly, another group of people the government or the people of power dehumanized were Native Americans.

When being dehumanized, the group without power loses more than respect and equal treatment: throughout the process, the people in the group also become subject to mental illness, sorrow, identity crisis, and loss of culture and a sense of meaning.

Colonization is defined as “the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area.” Under the definition, it is self-evident that the “indigenous people” of the area are susceptible to assimilation and loss of culture.

In Love Medicine, Erdrich uses stories of an extended Native American family to disclose the destruction of spirits of Native Americans by the “colonizers”, the American government.

The stories of most of the characters have sad endings, behind which reveal the common sorrow and desperation of the lives of Native Americans. Many characters commit suicide in the book, including June, who freezes to death in a snowstorm, attempting to walk back to the reservation, and Henry, who suffers from PTSD after being forced to fight in the Vietnam War. Other problems like alcoholism and diabetes are also present in the chapters, where many characters, because of the hardships in life and melancholy experiences, suffer from either drinking or other health issues like diabetes. In the Chapter “Love Medicine”, the narrator summarizes the pain of Native Americans under his witness as “King smashing his fist in things, Gordie drinking himself down to the Bismarck hospitals, or Aunt June left by a white man to wander off in the snow.” All three characters are part of Lipsha’s extended family, and all of whom can define the word misery. Behind the widespread unhappiness of the Native Americans were the government policies that separated family members, took away lands, and built reservations to segregate the group of people. Erdrich describes the victims as “the old-time Indians who was swept away in the outright germ welfare and dirty-dog killing of the whites.”

The author writes, “in those times, us Indians was so much kindlier than now.” As a direct result of the policies that paid no respect to the indigenous people or their will, the government extinguished the flames inside the people. As maintained by the sad tone throughout the novel, the sadness of Native Americans in general is carried out by the author.

The government completely made their decisions based on its own interests, which deprived Native Americans of their property, land, and even human spirits and hope. Many characters lost hope and faith, the only thing that keeps them going in life. Lipsha questions religion and the government by asking the rhetorical question: “was there any sense relying on a God whose ears was stopped? Just like the government?”

Behind the loss of spirits and hope were the loss of culture, beliefs, and identities as Native Americans. One narrator describes the government policy regarding Native Americans as giving them worthless land and then chopping it out from under your feet; the narrator angrily criticizes the fact that “[the government and policies] took your kids away and stuffed the English language in their mouths”, which refers to forcing Native American descendants to go to boarding schools and assimilating while segregating them.

The clashing conflicts between religion is a great example: part of the assimilation process was to Christianize Native Americans. In such a process, however, Native Americans lost the special meanings of their own Gods. One narrator says, “Now there’s your God in the Old Testament and there is Chippewa Gods as well.” The same narrator characterizes the loss of religious originality as wondering “if High Power turned it back, of we got to yell, or if we just don’t speak its language.”

The final mark of complete dehumanization is taking away identities and meanings of life of the people under colonization and dehumanization. In the first few chapters, Marie, a character with not “that much Indian blood” struggles to understand her identity and gain power in the reservation. She narrates, “I felt I had no inside voice, nothing to direct me, no darkness, no Marie.” She loses power other the authoritative character Leopolda and suffers from identity crisis. If Leopolda symbolizes the colonizers’ oppressive influence and Marie loses her sense of self, then all Native Americans were to suffer from the loss of meanings: from being colonized, they lose everything that is important to them, including love, family, culture, and pride.

Although people more often associate colonization with Europeans taking over lands in Africa, in the Americas, another type of colonization was going on: the European descendents were dehumanizing Native Americans, who had lived in the lands long before their arrival. Love Medicine is able to retell the story of the legacy of such a colonization process, in which members of an extended family all experience the loss of selves and the loss of their original culture.

date: 11/15/19

information: Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich


Published by Sunny

I am a high school rising sophomore and I love to read and write.

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