Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac’s latest young adult book, “Killer of Enemies,” introduces readers to Lozen and her post-apocalyptic world in which technology no longer works.
Lozen must rely on survival skills learned from her father and uncle to take on gemods—genetically modified beings.
Before the Cloud wiped out the technology, Lozen lived in a world of haves and have-nots—those with technological enhancements were in power, those without served those in power, the Ones.
After the Cloud, Lozen’s mother and brother are held hostage by the remaining Ones because they need Lozen’s special monster-hunting abilities. Before the Cloud, some Ones mixed animal DNA to create gemods and keep them as pets. Now they roam free.
Besides what she learned from her family, Lozen has special survival skills similar to those of her namesake, Apache warrior Lozen, born in the 1840s. She uses those skills to take on the gemods. Lozen in Killer of Enemies can sense when enemies are near and make herself unnoticeable to them.
Bruchac published his first book of stories in 1975, and now has more than 100 titles in print. He’s won numerous awards including a 2014 American Indian Youth Literature Award from the American Indian Library Association for Killer of Enemies.
Indian Country Today Media Network spoke with him about his latest book.
Q: How did you develop Lozen, the main character, she is so incredibly dynamic and strong?
It’s been my good fortune to have had strong, dynamic Native women in my life ever since my early childhood. My sister Marge, for example, is the head of a new Native Studies program she’s been asked to put together at the University of Pennsylvania. And it’s been my good luck to have as friends and sometimes work with such dynamic Native women as Susan Power, LeAnne Howe, Gayle Ross, Joy Harjo… it’s a long list.
More specifically, though, my (if I can call her mine) character of Lozen embodies a lot of what I’ve seen both historically and in the present in the spirits of Native women in the southwest. It’s the sort of strength and dynamism that I want to celebrate and call to people’s attention. I spent several years researching—not just through books, but also traveling, visiting Apache friends in the Southwest—Chiricahua culture and history for an historical novel of mine that was published in
2006 called Geronimo. So I had a bit more background than most have in terms of an awareness of appreciation of Apache people and history than the usual popular stereotypes.
Their tenacity as a nation is astounding when you consider just these two facts. First, that in the second half of the 19th century every Chiricahua family had at least one family member who was enslaved by the Mexicans. (A good reason to be at war with the Mexicanos.) Second that all the people of the Chiricahua nation, including the men who were commissioned as scouts for the American army, was sent to Florida as prisoners of war in 1886 and never allowed to return to Arizona.
Q: Tell me about Lozen, who was she to the Apache people?
The historical figure of Lozen was a very interesting person, a woman who dedicated her life to defending her people. She was the sister of Victorio, an important war leader. Not only did she ride to battle by her brother’s side, she was also an important advisor and leader in her own right.
She was able, though her power, to locate enemies—by holding up her hands, she could sense where they were—and lead her people to safety. She never married and survived to be among those sent in captivity to Florida and then to Alabama where she died of tuberculosis in 1889.
Q: What prompted you to do a book set in the future?
Ever since I was in 5th grade I’ve been a sci-fi fan. I continue to read a lot of science fiction, but I’ve often been dissatisfied by the way Native people are portrayed or just plain overlooked in future worlds. True, there have been some exceptions—R.A. Lafferty, Roger Zelazny both created believable Native characters—but not that many. I also like writing about the future because it can serve as a reflection backwards on where we are now. For example, if the divide between the super-rich and the rest of us keeps growing as it is now, we might end up in a world ruled by characters like the Ones in Killer of Enemies.
Q: You say you believe that Natives and the old ways will be a part of survival after a world-changing event like this. Describe why you think that is.
There are a number of reasons why I believe that Native people and our old ways (however you define that term) will survive into the future and could, perhaps better than most, last through a cataclysm such as the one in Killer of Enemies. First there is the tenacity that we have shown to still be around in the 21st century—after the popular belief at the start of the 20th century that all us Indians was as doomed as doomed could be. Native people have the ability, as my old friend Chad Smith of the Cherokee Nation often put it, “to not just survive, but thrive.”
Survival skills are not usually developed by those who are comfortable, complacent, and believe themselves to be in control. Secondly, I have great respect for the old ways—which to me are as much of the mind and the spirit as they are of material culture. The lessons that stories teach us are timeless. The lived beliefs that we must share to survive and that one can both be an individual and a functioning part of a community and a family, those beliefs are powerful.
Q: You’ve been a storyteller for a long time. I remember reading Children of the Longhouse when I was growing up, how have your stories changed since then?
Oh my, has it been that long? But seeing as how I am a grandfather several times over, I guess it must be so. I would say that it is not so much that my stories have changed as that I have learned more about them as I’ve grown older. The same story may mean one thing to a child, another to a parent and yet another to an old codger like yours truly. If anything, I have more respect for those stories now and
I realize how little I know in comparison to the knowledge they carry. It’s been my honor to be able to carry them for a ways along the path that began long before my breath and stretches far beyond it. And the fact that my two sons are deeply committed to storytelling—and that my younger son Jesse as a fluent speaker of Abenaki can tell any and all of the stories he knows in both Abenaki and English—is both a joy and a very humbling thing to me.
Q: Loss of horses is tough on Lozen. What would that mean in reality for Natives? How would it affect the culture?
The loss of the horses is, you might say, a complicated symbol of what Native people have experienced since the arrival of Europeans in this hemisphere. And of adaptation. Consider the fact that all of the horse herds of America did not exist in the 15th century. They were descended from animals brought by the Spanish. These new animals were Spirit Dogs, as some of the Plains languages described them. Yet the Native nations of the Great Plains built an entirely new culture around them within a few generations. That is amazing. Look at it this way. We were Native people before the horse. We remained Native people with the horse. And if the horse disappeared again, we would surely mourn the loss. But we would still remain Native people.
And… if I get to write a sequel to Killer of Enemies as I hope to do, there just might be a little more to learn about that subject of the loss of the horses.
Q: Is there any significance of there being four Ones?
Four, of course, is one of the cardinal numbers in so many of our Native cultures. Four directions. Four seasons. Four grandparents. Four wheels on our pick-up trucks. And in many of our traditional tales our heroines or heroes have to face and defeat four enemies. So, that might explain why I created four Ones. Or maybe I was just partway through a directory search that day. 4…1…
Q: How does it feel to be recognized with a 2014 American Indian Youth Literature Awards from the American Indian Library Association?
I could not be happier about winning that award. It means so much to me to have something I have written recognized by librarians, in general. I have always loved and admired librarians. But to have such a recognition come from Native librarians?
Wow! That makes it four times as meaningful to me.
Why four times? You guess.