A Q&A with Chris La Tray

Originally Published April 2nd, 2024

by https://milkweed.org

“At Milkweed, we often discover great books in curious ways, and the Métis poet and storyteller Chris La Tray’s debut memoir, Becoming Little Shell: A Landless Indian’s Journey Home, is no exception. Nearly a decade ago, Publisher & CEO Daniel Slager attended a writers conference in Missoula, Montana. There he crossed paths with La Tray, who was hand-selling books at local indie bookstore Fact & Fiction. Their exchange morphed from pleasantries to serendipitous dialogue revealing that La Tray was writing a book of his own.

Later that evening, Slager learned that La Tray had recently begun interrogating his origins, captivated by the alluring-yet-elusive suggestion of Chippewa heritage in his bloodline. For though his grandmother had admitted to as much, La Tray’s father vehemently contested their Indigenous identity until his death in 2014. But La Tray’s curiosity persisted. Over a decade prior, he recalled attending his grandfather’s funeral and observing countless Natives in attendance.

These questions would fuel the turning point in La Tray’s adult life—and become the catalyst for his investigative debut memoir, which retraces familial, geographical, and tribal histories. 

Over the next seven years, Slager and La Tray collaborated on four rounds of developmental edits to the manuscript. The result is a piercingly beautiful narrative of a person, a place, and a people that maps mutually uncharted journeys of belonging. As the dual storylines of La Tray’s search for his true identity (and later, tribal enrollment) and the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe’s fight for federal recognition become inextricably intertwined, La Tray unearths over one hundred and fifty years of obfuscated history. In passionate-yet-approachable prose, he renders a compelling argument for why the past must not be ignored, illuminating his own experience as an example of the kinds of devastating consequences ignorance promises to enact into the future.

We are thrilled to publish Becoming Little Shell in the Fall of 2024. Read on for a first look at the impetus behind the work, as La Tray opens up to our staff in the following interview.”

Read the full interview here.