An Indian among los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir

An Indian among los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir
Hardcover, 5.5 x 8.5, 248 pages.
ISBN: 9781597145282.

By Ursula Pike

When she was twenty-five, Ursula Pike boarded a plane to Bolivia and began her term of service in the Peace Corps. A member of the Karuk Tribe, Pike expected to make meaningful connections with Indigenous people halfway around the world. After all, she was not just another privileged volunteer. She was “one of the good ones”—a fellow Native who wanted to help lift a community out of poverty through economic development.

But her hopefulness quickly turned to something different. She was there to help Bolivians, but instead they helped her: cooking her food, washing her clothes, teaching her to navigate the geography and language. Even her plans for “economic development” seemed questionable, as if they meant expecting a community to choose between its culture and its future.

Over the next two years, as a series of dramatic episodes brought these tensions to boiling point, she began to ask: What does it mean to have experienced the effects of colonialism firsthand, and yet to risk becoming a colonizing force in turn?

 An Indian among los Indígenas, Pike’s memoir of this experience, upends a canon of travel memoirs that has historically been dominated by white writers. It is a sharp, honest, and unnerving examination of the shadows that colonial history casts over even the most well-intentioned attempts at cross-cultural solidarity. It is also the debut of an exceptionally astute writer with a mastery of deadpan wit.

 

 

Reviews

"A fascinating look at voluntourism from an Indigenous perspective." Book Riot
"Pike’s emotional honesty . . . combined with her hard questions about the effectiveness of the Peace Corps and the white saviorism often built into charity work lend a heft not always found in armchair travel. Highly recommended for memoir and travel readers, and book clubs.” Booklist
“The Indigenous peoples Pike lived and worked with speak loudly from these pages, challenging many of us to check privileges we didn’t know we had, demanding the right to be complex, strong, and human. This book is all heart, all vulnerability, as a young California Indian woman makes family far from home.” Deborah Miranda, author of Bad Indians
“A brutally honest and badly needed story. . . . Witty and clearly written, this memoir is a must read, not just for Peace Corps volunteers, anthropologists, and others working in foreign lands, but for everyone—all of us finding ourselves in an ever-increasingly diverse and complex cultural landscape.” Greg Sarris, author of How a Mountain Was Made
“Ursula Pike’s memoir is unlike any other I’ve read, with her perceptive, always-seeking, and lovely narrative voice. . . . No one’s written about the Peace Corps like this, with the details of food and family and landscape told through the vision of an Indigenous woman finding new stories in a deeply-rooted place miles from her own.” Susan Straight, author of In the Country of Women
“Ursula Pike’s tender recollection of two years in Bolivia makes space for a complex and captivating portrait of a spirit wanting to relate. By bringing wisdom, clarity, and tremendous insight to her Peace Corps memories, she offers us a necessary perspective on the inseparability of Indigeneity and place. This book is alive with a spirit that welcomed mine to meet it.” Elissa Washuta, author of White Magic and My Body Is a Book of Rules
"Pike’s honest account of her Peace Corps experience is neither too political nor sanitized to show only a moralistic tale of white American saviorship. . . . What makes her memoir an insightful read is her insistence on focusing on what’s right and beautiful about the Bolivian culture, stressing the universality of human connection." Seattle Book Review
“In Ursula Pike’s perceptive and poignant debut memoir, a North American Indian woman knowingly enters the complex dynamics of voluntourism and discovers aspects about her own identity, colonialism, and comparative privilege while navigating the vivid landscapes and personalities of a small Bolivian community in the Andes.” Chip Livingston, author of Crow-Blue, Crow-Black
“A riveting memoir of personal transformation, a vivid piece of travel writing, and a necessary portrait of the long shadow that colonization casts over even the most genuine attempts to ‘help’ those outside of our own cultures. In lucid, intelligent, and amiable prose, Pike illuminates the complexities of these transactions and models the grace with which it is possible to scrutinize the dynamics that undergird one’s own best intentions.” Melissa Febos, author of Abandon Me and Girlhood
+ Show all reviews

About the Author

Ursula Pike

Ursula Pike

Ursula Pike is a graduate of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work won the 2019 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest in the memoir category, and her writing has appeared in Yellow Medicine ReviewWorld Literature Today, and Ligeia Magazine. She has an MA in economics, with a focus on community economic development, and was a Peace Corps fellow at Western Illinois University. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia from 1994 to 1996. An enrolled member of the Karuk Tribe, she was born in California and grew up in Daly City, California, and Portland, Oregon. She currently lives in Austin, Texas.

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