Colorado author Erika Wurth is part of a new wave of Indigenous literature

Colorado author Erika Wurth has written novels, short stories, poetry, and nonfiction.

Her latest book, White Horse, is a literary horror piece that explores themes of loss and identity through the lens of a protagonist who, like Wurth, is an urban Native American.

Much of the novel takes place in a bar, the eponymous White Horse, which is based on an actual Denver bar that Wurth says was a meeting place for urban Indians, which she says is difficult to define.

“I have to say I’m sure a lot of different locals would have different answers to that and I think it’s actually a combination of things that are at least a little talked about and others I wish more about.” being talked about,” said Wurth.

“So a lot of people in the 1950s, the government, did that, ‘let’s shrink the reservations and get the natives out of the rez. It wasn’t really enforced, but it was encouraged and they did these resettlement programs,” she said.

Wurth said people have moved to urban areas with jobs, cities like Chicago and Denver.

“And then a lot of people come, like my friend, his mom from the Rosewood Rez, and she herself decided, you know, ‘I’m going to go to Denver and it’s not too far and better jobs etc.’ My family is, you know, something that’s probably more talked about in Canada where urban Indians have similar government records and they have kind of a secondary status, but my family is a little bit more like that. And that’s a Native American group. Some of them are from Mexico, so they’re Latinx Native Americans who know what tribe they belong to and know a lot about their traditions.”

Wurth’s family also includes Chickasaw and Cherokee who relocated from Texas.

“And again, isn’t unlike a lot of different urban Indian cultures in Chicago or Minneapolis or Winnipeg, where much of the culture probably revolves around a mix of different traditions, but mostly around the Native American church and pow wows.”

In addition to writing books, Wurth designed a space at Meow Wolf in Denver that incorporates Native American history, contemporary Native stories, and Indigenous futurism, a concept Wurth says is foreign to most people not even familiar with Native American peoples the settings are familiar to the present.

“Grace Dillon, who is of Anishinaabe descent, I think very respectfully took a nod to Afro-Futurism and created this indigenous Futurism,” Wurth said.

“They say Native American sci-fi, it breaks people’s brains and renders them unable to just force us back in time and force us into this more stereotypical, narrow, singular vision of who we are.”

Wurth lists Rebecca Roanhorse as a leader in this genre.

“Black Sun is set in the past, but it’s a magical past and you feel almost nostalgic, you know, walking the streets of ancient Mayan territories so civilized it’s almost like us would wish for in the future.”

Wurth also cites BL Blanchard’s new science fiction novel The Peacekeeper, about an Ojibwe detective, as an example of indigenous futurism.

“It’s set in an alternative America, (an) alternative world that has never been colonized. The characters travel to a Chicago that was never colonized, and again, that sense of nostalgia or something that none of us can ever really have any hope for the future,” she said.

Wurth, who received her undergraduate degree from Fort Lewis College in Durango and her doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder, is part of a new wave of Indigenous writers that she says is long overdue.

“There was an article I looked up[thatcameoutin1997thatsaid’HerearealltheseNativeAmericanwriters’andtheyallcamedowntoone”Wurthsaid.

“And I’ve spent 20 years, especially the last five years, writing these articles about Kelli Jo Ford, Brandon Hobson, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, the authors I mentioned earlier, to show hopefully this isn’t a moment that it just keeps going and growing and I’ll push myself to make sure it never comes down to just one person again,” she said.

Wurth says that for too long the literature has failed to reflect the full breadth of Indigenous experiences, instead perpetuating clichés and stereotypes about Native Americans that she hopes to change.

“Again, the key is to imagine that it’s not anyone’s job to decide who an individual person to read is, it’s for natives, for Latinx people, who are often natives and/or black people can, for whites, be so much more fun with Asians just saying, “I like the description of this book, that sounds funny.” And imagining that’s a brighter future.”

This story was shared with Aspen Public Radio through Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, including Aspen Public Radio.

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