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Colloquium Archive

Scott Lyons

Name: Scott Lyons, Syracuse University

Presentation Title: "Who Lost the Youth of Leech Lake?: American Indians and Mainstream Media"

Date: September 30, 2004


In April 2004, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran a three-part series, “The Lost Youth of Leech Lake,” chronicling a reservation youth culture largely defined by violent crime, chemical addiction, mental illness, and a general and growing sense of despair. Feedback to the stories was unusually hot, with no fewer than three public demonstrations at Leech Lake Reservation (Minnesota) protesting the negativity of representation of Native youth. The series also had its supporters, as evidenced by numerous letters-to-the-editor and op-eds praising its “realism,” while author Larry Oakes spent weeks defending his desire to “tell the truth” and emphasizing his sincere concern for Native people.

Obviously, the series hit a nerve. Why? This presentation will examine the “Lost Youth” controversy in the larger historical, cultural, and rhetorical contexts of non-Indians writing about Indian peoples, as well as the more immediate situation of Leech Lake youth today. Three general questions will be pursued. First, what kinds of stories typically get told when non-Natives write about Natives? Second, why do particular narratives tend to persist over others? Third, how do written representations connect with “reality”: history, politics, and actually existing Indian youth?