Richard L. DuMont, author of the Native American Johnny Hunter novels, discusses his new middle-grade/YA novel, Heritage, and what it’s like for Johnny Hunter to be living on a Cheyenne reservation in the 1970s.
About the book: Johnny Hunter lives on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and dreams of going to college on a basketball scholarship. But as the tribe is pulled away from the traditions of their ancestors, with suicide and drug use becoming increasingly common, Johnny must use his gift of spiritual vision to lead his community back to their roots.
What was your inspiration behind Johnny Hunter? Is he based on a real person? I write about Johnny Hunter to tell the untold story of modern life on a Native American reservation. As a people, they are the forgotten Americans and I want to draw attention to their poverty and struggle to survive. Johnny Hunter is a fictionalized person, but I hope he is a true representation of a Native American teenager.
Who is your personal favorite character in the Johnny Hunter novels? Besides Johnny, Gray Man is my favorite character. He represents all that is valuable in the traditions of the Cheyenne people. He will not let their culture disappear. Part of his character is a deep connection with his Cheyenne ancestors.
Why do you like to write about Native American culture? Native American culture has many aspects that I value. These include love of the land, living in balance with nature, spirituality, and respect for their ancestors.
The novel (and series) takes place during the 1970s. Why did you choose this particular decade? I chose the 1970s because I wanted to write the story before the advent of cell phones and computers. I believe this placed emphasis on family, tribal ties, and Cheyenne history without so much interference from the outside world.
You have an interesting scene about a buffalo hunt. Tell us more. I did a lot of research in writing this book, including the modern buffalo hunt. Native tribes that hunted the buffalo in the Yellowstone river area as part of their traditional hunting grounds are permitted to hunt any buffalo that roam out of Yellowstone Park in the winter. There are a limited number of permits each year and Johnny and Gray Man are lucky to get one. I wanted Johnny Hunter to experience a buffalo hunt just as his Cheyenne ancestors did.
Why did you choose to make Johnny a basketball player instead of another sport? Johnny is a basketball player because of my love for the game and the fact that basketball, called rezball, is immensely popular on many reservations. It is an activity that units Native Americans and being a good player can make you a hero to your tribe. The game also offers the chance to win a scholarship to a university.
Since you love to write about Native Americans, are you also a big fan of book and film westerns? I have read many books about Native Americans, mostly about the high plains people. Little Big Man was and is my favorite book and movie. Older movies always showed the Sioux and Cheyenne as cruel savages and I didn’t like them. Movies like Dancing With Wolves were a dramatic change and the Lakota were treated like human beings.
Tell us a little about your next book. My next book is set in the 1870s and is the story of Painted Horse, an Oglala chief, who tries to lead his people through their loss of freedom to life on the Pine Ridge reservation. It will once again show the struggle of the Native Americans confined to a reservation while trying to hold onto their culture and traditions. While a distressing time for Native Americans, it will offer some hope in the face of overwhelming despair.
Do you plan to write any future Johnny Hunter novels? Yes, I do. When I finish Painted Horse, sometime in the spring of 2020, I will return to the Johnny Hunter novels and continue his story.
What is life like for Johnny Hunter on the reservation? My novels about Johnny Hunter take place on an American Indian reservation. While I do my best to describe life on a reservation, I hope the following information will help my readers better understand the struggle of living there in modern times.
Johnny Hunter lives on the Northern Cheyenne reservation, which consists of 444,000 acres of rolling grassland, sitting on the Tongue River in southeast Montana. Out of 11,200 tribal members, approximately 5,000 Northern Cheyenne live on the reservation. It is hot in the summer and very cold in the winter with lots of snow.
Unemployment on the reservation is over 50% with the average median household income at $14,417. There is substantial alcohol and drug abuse. There’s only one general store on the giant Northern Cheyenne reservation, where the tribal members may buy groceries and receive government allotments of cheese and other commodities.
Despite the difficulty of their lives, many Northern Cheyenne are participating in the growing national Indian movement which focuses on returning to their ancestors’ cultural and spiritual beliefs as a better way to survive. On many reservations, including Johnny’s, there is an emphasis on keeping their language alive, re-leaning traditional skills such as making beaded jewelry, and Native American art.
Johnny Hunter shares a small wood house with his mother and grandfather. They are fortunate to have a horse shed and keep horses. His home is over a mile from his nearest neighbor and that’s common on the reservation. Some homes are brick, but many Cheyenne live in house trailers which are cold in the winter. On the school bus each morning, Johnny will pass lots of isolated homes, many with a car or truck sitting up on concrete blocks.
After a long bus ride, he arrives at a Catholic school, where besides American history, he also takes Native American history. Lunch is provided free. The highlight of every day for Johnny is basketball practice and games. “Rezball” is the most important game on many reservations and it unites the tribe like no other sport. Playing for the Chiefs helps provide Johnny with the strength to overcome the difficulties of reservation life.
His grandfather, Gray Man, is his rock, and provides Johnny with the link to their culture and spiritual beliefs. Through him, Johnny will carry on the Cheyenne culture for years to come and pass it on to the next generation.
A huge percentage (63%) of Northern Cheyenne are under the age of 19. Hopefully, they are growing up with pride in being Native American and will find strength in the Cheyenne traditions and culture to lift the tribe up, even in modern America.
Read an excerpt of Heritage
Available Formats & Purchasing Information:
Purchase direct from BHC Press and help support independent publishers
Save 10% off hardcover and softcover editions bought through our online store
Click here to purchase softcover
Click here to purchase hardcover
Booksellers, Librarians, and Retailers can purchase copies though Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Bertrams, Overdrive, and Perma-Bound. BHC Press also offers attractive pricing and discounts to booksellers, libraries, and retailers. Visit our website to learn more about available retail/library partnership programs.
About the Author:
Richard L. DuMont has been fascinated by Native Americans and their history since he was a young boy. He enjoys researching Native American cultures and has visited the Pine Ridge and Northern Cheyenne reservations during trips to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. A Vietnam veteran and a graduate of Xavier University, he lives in Cincinnati near his children and grandchildren. His previously published works include Hunkpapa Sioux and the young adult series Johnny Hunter.
Categories: Middle Grade