Reservation Blues

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The powerful chief executive at Cavalry Records, who manages George Wright and Phil Sheridan. He has little patience for the mistakes of Coyote Springs when they play for him in New York, leaving the studio within minutes. Like the other two Cavalry Records executives, he too is a modern version of a famous U.S. Army Officer implicated in the slaughter of Native Americans. One of the better-known figures from that era, George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) fought in the Indian Wars until he was defeated at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Significantly for Alexie’s novel, Armstrong once ordered his men to shoot 875 captured Indian ponies

Mr. Armstrong Quotes in Reservation Blues

The Reservation Blues quotes below are all either spoken by Mr. Armstrong or refer to Mr. Armstrong. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Grove Press edition of Reservation Blues published in 1995.
Chapter 9 Quotes

“These women have got the Indian experience down. They really understand what it means to be Indian. They’ve been there.”
“Explain.”
“Can’t you see the possibilities? We dress them up a little. Get them into the tanning booth. Darken them up a bit. Maybe a little plastic surgery on those cheekbones. Get them a little higher, you know? Dye their hair black. Then we’d have Indians. People want to hear Indians.”

Related Characters: Phil Sheridan (speaker), Mr. Armstrong (speaker), Betty, Veronica, George Wright
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Sheridan pitches his repugnant idea for selling Betty and Veronica as a Native American band to Wright and Armstrong, the head of the record label. This is the negative form of cultural transfer, what one would call appropriation - and a particularly backhanded and deceptive instance of it, since Betty and Veronica would be masquerading as actual Native Americans. The fact that “people want to hear Indians” is another reminder of the appetite of the white mainstream majority for the exotic flavors of minority culture - and the fact that Betty and Veronica could satisfy this appetite shows that it is at its base a shallow and ignorant desire equivalent to the one that Betty and Veronica were pursuing in joining the band.

Every suggestion that Sheridan makes for transforming Betty and Veronica into passable Natives is callous, surface level, and deeply racist, from plastic surgery to a tanning booth. In no way do the pair actually “understand what it means to be Indian” - as Alexie’s novel has made clear, the only people capable of truly understanding that identity are the Natives themselves, and to assert ownership over their identity is theft. Witnessing this new racism, a form of cultural violence that has lasted while the explicit violence of the Indian Wars has faded, George Wright finally decides that enough is enough, and he leaves Cavalry Records for good.

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Mr. Armstrong Character Timeline in Reservation Blues

The timeline below shows where the character Mr. Armstrong appears in Reservation Blues. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...Cavalry Records in New York City. A fax from the pair to their boss, Mr. Armstrong, gives a review of the band, suggesting that they have a lot of potential and... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Wright and Sheridan are on the phone with Armstrong, who tells them to go check out a pair of “hot white chicks” in Seattle... (full context)
Chapter 8
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...At Cavalry Records, the band warms up nervously. Sheridan and Wright are nervous for Mr. Armstrong’s decision, hoping these Indians can make them money. Armstrong arrives, fat and powerful, and the... (full context)
Chapter 9
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...before Father Arnold’s decision, Betty and Veronica sit in Cavalry Records’ recording studio in Manhattan. Armstrong arrives to listen to them play, as Sheridan explains his plan. Because Betty and Veronica... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
Armstrong and Sheridan call Betty and Veronica into the control booth and explain their plan to... (full context)