Response: December 2015 Issue

One Book, Many Voices

Reading Program book - The Round House by Louise Erdrich

One Book, Many Voices
The Round House is a 2015 Reading Program Selection.

United Methodist Women at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, recently invited nearly 50 United Methodist Women members from other churches to learn about the subject of rape from different points of view. Women were encouraged to read The Round House by Louise Erdrich, an Ojibwe writer focusing on Native American situations and characters. Member Sondra Logan with the St. Luke N'Spirations bookstore made sure the novel was in stock.

"We had a fabulous time," said St. Luke member Kristi Grant Coleman. "It was great to have so many special guests from Owenwood United Methodist Church, Agape United Methodist Church, Dallas Indian United Methodist Church, Tyler Street United Methodist Church and Highland Hills United Methodist Church! It was truly a blessed gathering and a lively discussion."On the surface The Round House is a novel about the brutal assault of a Native American woman. It is also a tale of justice-justice defined, justice delayed and justice denied, explained Phyllis Edelen, the facilitator.

"The action takes place on and around an Ojibwe Indian Reservation in the summer of 1988," Ms. Edelen said. "The story unfolds through the eyes of a 13-year-old boy, Joe, whose mother is the woman attacked. The round house of the title is a sacred place that serves the spiritual and ceremonial life of the Ojibwe people. The location of the attack adds a level of insult that the attacker surely knew." Tribes represented that day were Choctaw, Ponca, Kiowa and Northern Cheyenne from Lame Deer Montana.

"Our different cultures-the book's characters or the United Methodist Women-didn't take away from the discussion," said Sandra Blackbear Rameriz, a member of the Kiowa tribe. "Like me, the other United Methodist Women members were interested in how each of the characters were affected by not only their tribal culture but their gender differences, lack of culture or lack of psychosocial limits."

"The round house rests on reservation land," explained Ms. Edelen. "Tribal courts and judges hear cases that happen there. However, the suspect is white, and tribal courts can't prosecute non-Native people. There is also confusion and conflict between federal and state law. Did the rape take place on a strip of land that is part of a state park, or on another that was sold by the tribe and is thus considered 'free land'? All these factors contribute to Joe's determination of what justice actually means for his mother."

The women at the event, like young Joe in the story, wrestled with these realities as well.

"It was an interesting look into dreams and visions through a 13-year-old's eyes," said Ms. Blackbear Rameriz. "Oftentimes we overlook our children in crisis. … I found myself in love with his father and so happy his mother began her road to recovery. And it was good to hear all our sister United Methodist Women expressing similar feelings and sharing their theories. Guess it's just a part of our female intuition, God's gift to each of us."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Native Americans are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and 1-in-3 Native American women report having been raped during their lifetime. It wasn't until 2015 that the Violence Against Women Act allowed for tribal courts to prosecute non-Native offenders, amending the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 to authorize "special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction" to tribal courts. Tribes can now prosecute all who violate a restraining order or commit domestic or dating violence. Sexual assault still cannot be prosecuted by tribal courts. Victims must rely on state and federal law enforcement, who are often located far away and who do not prioritize such cases.

The N'Spirations Book Club at St. Luke was birthed by the church's N'Spirations bookstore. In 2012 St. Luke United Methodist Women's secretary of program resources Laura Farnum Greene recommended that the book club select a book from the United Methodist Women Reading Program. Thus began an annual collaboration between the local unit of United Methodist Women and churchwide N'Spirations Book Club. In addition to The Round House, some of the titles the book club has read are The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

"The book review was very informative and enlightening," said Hella Mayberry, president of St. Luke United Methodist Women. "It was a rich experience to share in discussion and fellowship with women from the Dallas Indian United Methodist Church. Through their participation, we were able to gain more insight into Native American Women and injustice. It made the book come alive."

"There is so much value in engaging with other cultures," she continued. "We find that we are more alike than different. Yes, we have our cultural struggles, but we also have our human struggles."

Denise Johnson Stovall is a member of United Methodist Women at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church.

Posted or updated: 11/2/2015 11:00:00 PM