A Nebraska-born folklorist shares how his life and perspectives have changed as a result of his 60-year-long relationship with Native American communities.
Welsch (My Nebraska: The Good, the Bad, and the Husker, 2011, etc.) resides with his wife in Dannebrog, Neb., (pop. 347) on land he has returned to the Pawnees—and on which he continues to live “by their grace.” Through personal interest, the author developed lifelong friendships with members of the Omaha and Pawnee nations, having been officially accepted as a member of both tribes. Welsch offers a disclaimer early on that his book is a memoir of his own experience of being accepted into another culture—a “casual, straggling conversation,” not a scholarly study, nor an attempt to speak on American Indians’ behalf. This approach makes the book authentic and engaging, if repetitious, and frees the author to toss in as much snark as he pleases. Welsch doesn’t suffer fools (most of mainstream white America, especially Nebraska football fans) gladly and doles out smug exaggerations where a touch of perceptive wit would be more effective and less alienating. Nonetheless, he writes ably and knowledgeably about a variety of topics, offering readers plenty to learn and enjoy. Welsch praises much of Indian culture, including civil debates, eloquent speechmaking, rich oral history, gift-giving practices, patriotism, community and lack of conflict among faiths. He also leverages his unique position as a full member of both cultures to humorously highlight the differences between Native and white cultures, such as “Indian Time,” and to deconstruct stereotypes in white and Native relations.
Welsch’s gratitude toward the Omahas and Pawnees is real, his outrage at their painful history is justified, and his story is proof that Native American culture is still alive and complex.