My regrets at not inquiring more closely when I traveled through Cherokee country in 2008 were compounded when reading this novel by Charles Frazier. His protagonist is Will Cooper, all but abandoned as an orphan at the age of 12. In his role as a bound boy running a remote trading post, Will finds himself adopted by the fading remnants of a Cherokee community. Through his eyes, we see the tale of dispossession of indigenous homelands as the invading “brave new land of the free” steamrolls its way through 19th century North America.
There are many differences and many parallels when comparing the histories of indigenous dispossession in the USA and Australia. Treaties were made and reinterpreted and broken in one context – and the doctrine of terra nullius ensured there was no thought of a treaty in the other. The end product seems similar however. A people degraded, exploited and robbed of culture and dignity, even when attempting to grasp the nettle and adapt to dominant ways.
Will Cooper, himself a materially successful exploiter of the accident of his circumstances, is regarded with suspicion, leaving him with unfulfilled issues of identity. One is left with the feeling that our tragic history of racial exploitation has left us all depleted.