Robert Arthur Alexie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Robert Arthur Alexie (22 July 1957 – 9 June 2014) was a Canadian First Nations novelist and a land claim negotiator who played a key role in land claim agreements in the Northwest Territories.

Alexie was born in Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories and lived in Inuvik. He served as Tribal chief of the Tetlit Gwich'in of Fort McPherson and also served as the vice president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council for two terms, helping achieve a land claims agreement. He was elected as President of the Gwich'in Tribal Council in July 2012.[1]

Land Claim Negotiations[edit]

In 1990, Alexie led the Gwich'in delegation at a Territories-wide meeting of Dene and Metís groups working on a comprehensive land claim agreement between these groups and the government of Canada.[2] When it became clear that other groups at the delegation were not ready to accept the negotiating position taken by the Gwich'in, Alexie led a walkout of the Gwich'in delegation.[3] Alexie then became the Chief Negotiator[4] for the Gwich'in Tribal Council as they pursued their own land claim agreement with the Government of Canada, which led to the signing in April, 1992 of the Gwich'in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement.,[5][6]


Porcupines and China Dolls[edit]

His first novel, Porcupines and China Dolls (published in 2002 and reissued by Theytus Books in paperback in 2009 [7]) examines the lives of students forced into the Canadian Indian residential school system [2] and the ensuing intergenerational or Historical trauma for them and their families.

As reviewer Jim Bartley wrote in The Globe and Mail, "On a September day in 1962, we enter the school (now "hostel") with two boys, James and Jake. For the first time in their lives, they will live without family around them, captive to strange, cold adults, a militarized sense of time and no appeal for the wrongs done them." Bartley adds, "[Alexie's] evocation of chronic mental anguish has a cumulative power that transcends his sentimental excess. Though the abuser is brought to justice here, the pain lives on in ever more elusive ways. Alexie offers no easy outs.[8]

Thomas King explains the novel's title in The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative: "the girls had been scrubbed and powdered to look like china dolls and the boys had been scrubbed and sheared to look like porcupines"[9] One of the lines from which the title draws its name comes from Alexie writing, "No one heard the little china doll that night, but if she were given a voice, it would've sounded like a million porcupines screaming in the dark."[10]

Author of The Lesser Blessed, Richard Van Camp's review of Porcupines and China Dolls suggests, "[t]his book will initiate more healing than any of us will ever know. It's hard but good medicine."[11]

King also indicates that Alexie—alongside Eden Robinson, Harry Robinson and Ruby Slipperjack— creates "fictions... primarily for a Native audience, making a conscious decision not so much to ignore non-Native readers as to write for the very people they write about",[12] suggesting that the text does not provide enough of a debriefing for a non-Native audience to understand its weight historically.

CBC Radio host Shelagh Rogers wrote, "Dramatic, raw, merciless, Porcupines and China Dolls is not a book you coast through. It is about our history and what happened to 'The People', as Alexie writes, when the Europeans arrived."[13]

The Pale Indian[edit]

Alexie's sophomore novel, The Pale Indian (published in 2005), offers perhaps an even less clear historical debriefing than its predecessor, confirming King's suspicions about intended audience. The Pale Indian takes place in the 1980s and surround's a young man's return to his northern community after being raised in Calgary by an adoptive white family. The novel is both a love story and a tragedy. The Pale Indian is full of energetic sex and humour[14] that provide respite from some of the more serious issues that the novel confronts.

The Pale Indian has been referred to as "a novel of secrets, lies, and madness written with power and eloquence".[15]


Porcupines and China Dolls (2002), ISBN 978-1-894778-72-5

The Pale Indian (2005), ISBN 978-0-14-301553-6


  1. ^ CBC North news story
  2. ^ CBC North news story
  3. ^ CBC North news story
  4. ^ Northern Journal
  5. ^ Northwest Territories Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations [1]
  6. ^ Canadian Encyclopedia
  7. ^ Theytus Books
  8. ^ Stolen childhoods and urban drift, Globe & Mail, June 8, 2002
  9. ^ King, Thomas, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative, (Toronto, House of Anansi, 2003), 116.
  10. ^ Alexie, Robert, Porcupines and China Dolls (Toronto, Stoddart, 2002), 5.
  11. ^
  12. ^ King, Thomas. The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative, (Toronto, House of Anansi, 2003), 115-116.
  13. ^ Shelagh Rogers remembers Robert Arthur Alexie, on CBC Radio website
  14. ^ "Authentic Indian Voices Speak With Pain, Honesty." Winnipeg Free Press (MB) 6 March 2005: b8. Web. 7 May 2010.
  15. ^