Indianz.Com > News > Elizabeth Cook-Lynn: New book explores familiar tribal themes
Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. Courtesy photo
A novel called “Winter Counts”
Thursday, October 8, 2020

A new book of fiction, Winter Counts, is a novel about the Rosebud Indian Reservation by a lawyer, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, who lives in Denver and has joined the available list of books about the lawlessness on Indian lands, the corruption of tribal councils and the reclaiming of Indian identity.

What’s new about that?

What’s new is that its protagonist is a Lakota named Virgil Wounded Horse, caught up in an Indian world filled with losers and crooks, a man who becomes a reservation hood who believes all governments are corrupt and so he comes home to save his people from their own misery.  

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. Harper Collins, 2020.

Our protagonist is not only an unreliable narrator, he is a thug filled with the righteous need to become a hero in the tribe as he takes up with an old girlfriend, the daughter of a former tribal councilman, Ben Short Bear, and tries to help his own debased people.

Seeing himself as a savior, Wounded Horse is particularly hard on the tribal government and its corrupt institutions as he goes about saving his nephew, Nathan, from Denver drug kingpin because there is no law on these Indian lands.

It is a long story sprinkled with references to Virgil’s version of ceremony and history of the Lakota, even the yuwipi experience and Lost Bird.  

This is a slashing story of violence and may be the only true crime text available to today’s study of Native Literatures.

In the final scene, after many harrowing episodes, our protagonist watches Ben Short Bear, now revealed as a local, reservation based drug dealer, shoot down the rival drug dealer from Denver saying “I’ve built a successful business and Jackass is trying to take it away.”

It is revealed that drugs are not just the province of Mexico and Chicanos in Denver. They are now localized, and taking the law into your own hands is now the name of this competitive game.


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Elizabeth Cook-Lynn is a retired Professor of Native Studies. She taught at Eastern Washington University and Arizona State University. She currently lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has written 15 books in her field. One of her latest is Anti-Indianism in Modern America: A Voice from Tatekeya’s Earth, published by University of Illinois Press.

Note: Copyright permission Native Sun News Today