3 out of 4 stars
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In 1862, the Homestead Act was implemented, enticing Americans and foreign immigrants to migrate to the western parts of the country. New settlers were given the opportunity to own a portion of the public land spanning 160 acres. The settlers, called ‘homesteaders,’ needed to pay a registration fee and were required to live in their allotted land portion for a minimum of five years. The government called this a ‘fair chance’ for all citizens and aspiring citizens to acquire land properties. However, the government never considered the indigenous people that were already living in Western America. The Homestead Act displaced a number of tribes and led to heightened racial discrimination and abuse. One of the many tribes displaced and maltreated were the Utes of Colorado. And in The Inheritance, author Christine Sleeter sheds light into the sufferings of the Utes and other American Indians who were unjustly branded as 'savages' and forced to leave the lands they called their homes.
The book recounts the life of Denise Fisher, who, at thirty years old, seems to have everything in life. She has loving parents, a hot ‘maybe’ boyfriend, and a best friend she considers as the ‘sister she never had.’ To top it all, her beloved grandmother has bequeathed her a house, saving her the need to pay rent which is the usual headache of underpaid teachers like her. But everything changes when Denise meets an elder woman who claims her mother was the first white child born in Colorado—the same story Denise’s grandmother used to tell her. The elder woman is unrelated to Denise’s grandmother; thus, Denise finds it baffling why the two shared the exact same story. Denise then sets out to find the truth behind the 'first white child born in Colorado.’ Her curiosity eventually leads her to the history of the Utes in Colorado and to the discovery that she is a descendant of colonizers. Denise then experiences internal dilemmas and struggles to reconcile with the fact that the house she inherited from her grandmother is a product of homesteading. Adding to her dilemmas is a series of complications involving the most important people in her life—her parents, her lover, and her best friend—as Denise reveals to them the truths she uncovered.
The Inheritance is a fictional story loosely based on the author’s experiences and studies regarding the Utes and other indigenous groups in America. Coming from an indigenous tribe and also from a country that was under colonial rule for hundreds of years, it was refreshing for me to read about the perspective of the descendants of colonizers. I never thought they could have these sorts of quandaries. The author’s understanding of the indigenous people was also very evident in the book, and I agree with all her ideas regarding colonization and the importance of land not just as a physical property but as a home. I also commend how the author bravely criticized the educational system in America that neglected to incorporate in the curricula the struggles of the indigenous people and the laws that disregarded their human rights.
The only negative thing I observed is how the historical facts were laid out in the book. It would have been better if the author used a more artistic or literary approach in explaining these historical data, and not merely crammed dates and decrees into a few paragraphs. The stories of the Ute and the Ohlone Indians are also promising and would have left a bigger impact on me if the author provided more personal accounts of the indigenous people and a little less on details that could be researched. The author’s treatment of the historical accounts is mainly factual, and as a reader, you will be joining the main character, Denise, in her researchers about the Indians. If you do not like this type of narrative approach or if you are looking for a historical fiction story, then this is not the book you’re looking for.
I give The Inheritance 3 out of 4 stars for its thought-provoking discussion of colonization and for the author’s advocacy of giving back to the Indians who were unjustly displaced from their lands. The book is also very well-written with only a few typos and some errors in punctuation. The author was also fond of using ‘continued’ as a statement signifier, and for purposes of tightening, the author should consider omitting some of the ‘continued’ in the narrative.
I recommend this book to fans of general fiction and to anyone interested in reading more about the real—uncensored and unaltered—histories of the Native American Indians. This book will definitely provide readers a broader insight regarding American colonial histories that school textbooks may fail to discuss in detail.
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