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West Jordan Journal

Amazon’s A-list book ‘Confessions of an Iyeska,’ has SLC significance

Dec 11, 2018 11:36AM ● By Amy Green

“Confessions of an Iyeska” recently hit No. 2 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for the category of Native American & Aboriginal Biographies (Photo courtesy Viola Burnette family)

By Amy Green | a.green@mycityjournals.com

“Confessions of an Iyeska” recently hit No. 2 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for the category of Native American & Aboriginal Biographies. The story is about the life and work of late Viola Burnette, a woman who faced diverse trials. Viola was the first attorney general of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. She was also an Iyeska, meaning mixed-blood Native American. 

One of Viola Burnette's daughters, Jo Overton of West Jordan, helped see the book through editing and publication. Family, friends and supporters gathered at the University of Utah Marriott Library Gould Auditorium on Nov. 10 for a book release launch reception. 

“My mother was a world changer,” Overton said. “She was the first in her family to go to college, becoming a lawyer and judge. She rewrote the domestic violence code for both our tribe and another tribe. She started a group called Lakota Women for Change, and they went on to help our people change our tribal constitution for the first time ever. The original constitution was a basic template given to the Oyate (people) by the federal government, when our tribe was forced to sign a treaty and give up their land.”

Viola Burnette’s other daughters Terese Burnette, Janet Routzen and Anita Guevin have helped bring the story forward. They came from South Dakota and Southern California to unite with their sister Jo in SLC. It was a meeting in the middle—a literal halfway point to Utah from the sisters’ home states. The launch gathering was a special celebration of Viola’s life, family legacy, her preservation of culture and talent for telling important history through narratives. 

Family, friends and supporters gathered at the University of Utah Marriott Library Gould Auditorium on Nov. 10 for a book release launch reception. Sisters left to right--Anita Guevin, Janet Routzen, Jo Overton, Terese Burnette (Photo courtesy Viola Burnette family).

 The biography weaves together what Viola Burnette faced in the 20th century, being forced into boarding school, being female, a Native American of mixed-blood and more. Viola Burnette now has a wide and unfurling family tree of posterity, extending to Salt Lake City. The family branches out further, with legally adopted members who have an all-embracing attitude.

Kate Overton, Jo Overton’s daughter from Murray said, “It's not just my unci's (grandmother’s) story but one that many Lakota women faced in that time. It's a story of survival, perseverance and courage. It describes how difficult it was for Natives to live the way the wasicu (white man) wanted them to, instead of the way their people always had—how they were forced to depend on the government for everything and how that caused the oppression that we continue to face today.”

Indy Blaney loved the book. 

“It has a ‘Forrest Gump’ quality about it,” she said. “She (Viola) brings in so many things that were happening—other things that were happening in the country outside the Reservation, like where she was when Kennedy was shot.” Without wanting to give too many spoilers, Blaney summed up the book saying, “This is the story about a very brave woman who faced a lot of opposition in her life, both on and off the Reservation.”

On the Gould room’s biography launch table was an arrangement of fresh-printed copies. To the side was a plaque reading: “All of the proceeds from the sale of ‘Confessions of an Iyeska’ are being donated to a scholarship for Native American women studying law at the University of South Dakota Law School. In Memory of Viola Burnette.”

Jo Overton added, “Many people in our family have now gone to college and been able to use their educations to help our tribe and other Native peoples.” 

The reception began with Native American song and drum performers singing tribute to the book’s author and also in worship of a Creator. Strength and honor sounded from their circle of beating tambour and oscillating voices. 

Her journey is now history, officially bound together—Viola’s remarkable story. It is a real account that one can pick up, and in likelihood, one that can inspire. The soft robin egg blue cover is styled with angled red and ultramarine shapes, together making a spirited pattern. The book stands out in bold simplicity. One could wonder if the quilt-like design and complimentary colors on the front, symbolize Viola Burnette’s life—a first vivid offering of the powerful telling within.