November 28, 2022
Erika Wurth spoke about her new novel White Horse at the Boulder Bookstore on November 16, 2022 (Maeve Conran)

Colorado author Erika Wurth is part of a new wave of Indigenous literature

Aspen Public Radio | By Maeve Conran

Colorado author Erika Wurth has written novels, short stories, poetry and non-fiction.

Her latest book, White Horse, is a piece of literary horror that explores themes of loss and identity through the lens of a protagonist who, like Wurth, is an urban Indian. 

Much of the novel is set in a bar, the titular White Horse, which is based on a real bar in Denver, which Wurth says was a gathering place for urban Indians, something she says can be hard to define.

"I have to say, I'm sure a lot of different natives would have different answers for that, and I think that it's actually a combination of things, one of which at least is talked about a little bit, and the other one I wish were talked about more," said Wurth.

"So a lot of people in the fifties, the government did these, 'let's shrink the reservations and get Natives off the rez. It wasn't forced right, but it was encouraged and they did these relocation programs," she said.

Wurth said people relocated to urban areas with jobs, cities like Chicago and Denver.

"And then a lot of people, like my boyfriend, his mom is from the Rosewood rez, and she herself decided, you know, 'I'm gonna go to Denver and it's not too far and better jobs, etc.' My family is, you know, something that's probably talked about more in Canada where urban Indians have like government records and they have a sort of secondary status, but my family is a bit more like that. And that is a group of Native people that some of them are from Mexico, so they're Latinx natives who know, what tribe they are, know a lot about their traditions."

Wurth's family are also Chickasaw and Cherokee who relocated from Texas.

"And isn't, again, unlike a lot of different urban Indian cultures in Chicago or Minneapolis or Winnipeg, where a lot of the culture revolves around probably mix of different traditions, but primarily Native American church and pow wows."

In addition to writing books, Wurth designed a room in Meow Wolf in Denver, which incorporates Native American history, contemporary native stories, and Indigenous futurism, a concept Wurth says is alien to most people who aren't even familiar with Indigenous people in contemporary settings.

"Grace Dillon, who's of Anishinaabe descent, she very respectfully, I think, took a nod from Afro futurism and created this Indigenous futurism," said Wurth.

"You say Native American science fiction, it breaks people's brains and it makes them unable to just force us into the past and force us into this more stereotyped narrow singular vision of who we are."

Wurth lists Rebecca Roanhorse as a leader in this genre.

"Black Sun takes place in the past, but it's a magical past and you feel an almost nostalgia, you know, walking the streets of like ancient Mayan territories that are civilized that almost like what we would want for ourselves in the future."

Wurth also cites B.L. Blanchard's new science fiction novel The Peacekeeper about an Ojibwe detective as an example of Indigenous futurism.

"It's set in an alternative America, (an) alternative world, in which colonization never happened. The characters are going to a Chicago that was never colonized and again, this just almost sense of nostalgia or something none of us can ever really have and hope for in the future," she said.

Wurth, who did her undergraduate studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango and her PhD at the University of Colorado in Boulder, is part of a new wave of Indigenous writers, something she says is long over due.

"There was an article that I looked up (which) came out in '97 and it was like, 'here are all these Native American writers,' and then they all boiled down to one," said Wurth.

"And for 20 years I've spent time, especially in the last five years, writing these articles about, Kelli Jo Ford, Brandon Hobson, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, the writers I mentioned before, showing that hopefully this is not a moment, that it just keeps on going and increasing and I will break myself around making sure that it is never boils down to just one person again," she said.

Wurth says that for too long, literature has not reflected the full breadth of Indigenous experiences and has instead perpetuated clichés and stereotypes about Native Americans, something she hopes to change.

"Again, the key is imagining that it's not anybody's job to decide who is a singular person to read, but it that it's so much more fun for Natives, for Latinx folks who often can be Native and or Black, for white folks, for Asian folks to just be like, 'I like the description of this book, this sounds fun.' And to imagine that that's a better future."

This story was shared with Aspen Public Radio via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Copyright 2022 Aspen Public Radio. To see more, visit Aspen Public Radio.

Don't have time to listen subscribe to KSUT Tribal Radio Podcast and listen whenever.