All I See is Violence by Angie Elita Newell – A Review

All I See is Violence by Angie Elita Newell – A Review

“I think of my life. Of wandering in a shrinking forest, game, berries, fish, growing less and less every year, and illnesses, illnesses we have never seen, rotting us from the inside out. I realize for the first time what it is like to live; before I only knew what it was like to try not to die.”

All I See is Violence by Angie Elita Newell is painfully honest. But, in its honesty, it offers a heartfelt, necessary, and brilliant story. 

Told from three different first-person point of views, “All I See is Violence” seems to perfectly encapsulate the Native American experience. There is Nancy Swiftfox, a college professor and mother of four living near the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1972 during the height of the American Indian Movement. There is a General George Armstrong Custer, the American military hero fresh off the heels of political turmoil and dead set on restoring his reputation and ending the American Indian Wars. And then there is Little Wolf, a female hunter and warrior who lost everything and only seeks to hold on to her land and her heritage amidst the greed and death wrought by America’s Manifest Destiny. 

“I understand right then what I think he meant. We are both Indians. Joshua can go home at night with the sense that he has real freedom. We, on the other hand, go to sleep every night with an ache and a longing in our soul for something we can’t even remember if we ever had—freedom.”

What I found striking about this novel was the author’s ability to tell a story filled with so much tragedy, so much death, so much reason to be angry and resentful, without anger and resentment. It is not gratuitous. It does not rely on clichés or dramatization. It relies merely on the author’s ability to tell a good story with sincerity, reaching deep within the human experience—deep within the Native experience—to pull out a true sense of grief and longing that may never be reconciled. Even Custer, who could so easily have been shown as the villain, is shown as a man who loves his wife, his brother, and acts according to the role he’s been given, brash as he may be. And the victims, Nancy and Little Wolf, are not exploited as helpless bystanders. They are seeking their own truths, their own happiness, their own answers. They don’t know where to find them, but they do not live in pity. They are genuinely seeking answers. They are genuinely, and perhaps tragically, human. 

“There are only about fifty of us left. I see the bodies, all blue, all army blue, the color of freedom, the color of progress, lying on the hill of the ridge we’d just run up. The gunfire rings out, but not one bullet even comes near the Indian with the long golden hair. I waste three more shots as I watch him disappear. I look at Captain Keogh, who is standing next to me, his rifle at his side and the color drained from his face. I hear the war cry before I see what is coming. There are more Indians than I could have imagined. This dream I have, the dream of securing this land they waste, is turning into a nightmare.”

This is not a redeeming story by Angie Elita Newell. It ends with the line, “For all I see is violence, all I feel is pain and suffering, and all I hear is hate.” The Native warriors defeated Custer and the American forces at The Battle of the Little Bighorn, but it did not change the outcome for the Native people. Crazy Horse died a year later, and Sitting Bull died in 1890, both after being arrested by U.S. authorities. A century later, as Nancy Swiftfox’s story illustrates, the legacy of the American Indian Wars plays out all while groups like AIM continue the struggle to be free. And still the U.S. government holds on to the Black Hills, the land it stole outright. But this story is not meant to be redeeming. It is a story of suffering. It is a story of longing. It is a story that is brutally honest, simple, and true. It is a story about what it means to live in the shadow of genocide.  

“I feel myself looking up at the sky. It is a clear blue, and I wonder why we are here. I wonder why we have to prove that we are worthy of our life to these people who have come from so far away. I wonder why they want our home so badly. I wonder why they don’t take their big boats and sail back to where they came from.”  

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