Sunday, June 21, 2009


The second of two dozen people indicted and seized in their homes for collecting and trafficking in Indian artifacts in the Four Corners area (we think of it as Navajo county) has killed himself. This time the person was Steven L. Schrader, 56. He wasn’t in Santa Fe on the day he was supposed to appear in court. Instead his body was found in a corn field behind an elementary school in Shabbona, IL, not far from his mother’s home with two bullet wounds in his chest, evidently self-inflicted. There was a note that is not being disclosed. Something has got to be going on that we don’t know yet.

Schrader lived in Santa Fe. His home was not searched and he had turned himself in rather than being arrested in the SWAT team manner the others were. The objects he had were ancient sandals and baskets which had collected while with the Crites, a married couple who had been arrested before for the same offense. The Crites did have arrowhead collections; they also had sacred prayer sticks, baby blankets, seed jars and other objects included in ancient Puebloan burial mounds. Schrader was a single man with a job and no police record that was disclosed.

There were 150+ comments in the Salt Lake Tribune and rising. I was stunned to see that they were attacks on the two men who had committed suicide for being cowards! I think some of the commenters were thinking but not saying the same thing that I am: these suicides are disproportionate. Are they really suicides? Or did this investigation stumble upon something more serious than collecting arrowheads, possibly a gay relationship? None of them addressed the morality of digging up artifacts to buy and sell or even mentioned the practice. (If Tony Hillerman were writing this story, he would have.)

Lance Foster suggests that sometimes objects themselves are powerful, affecting the fate of those who come to them with bad consciences and much secrecy. (See his post entitled “The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon” at his blog called “The Sleeping Giant: Bioregional Animism in Montana” Lance is an excellent Metis archeologist, writer and artist in Helena. (

It doesn’t seem as though a person in Santa Fe would have to hide being gay -- though the other suicide, a married doctor in a small Utah town, might have to hide a clandestine relationship. If they were truly in love, one could interpret this as a Romeo/Romeo script. But maybe that’s not the factor that was in danger of being unmasked at all. Many are asking why the home invasion-style arrests -- full body armor, sudden entry, heavy weapons. Are collectors so dangerous? Was the real reason for secrecy something more sinister, like drugs, terrorism, pornography or a militia group? There’s been an element of self-fulfilling prophesy in the whipped-up emotions of people who are convinced Obama will destroy them all. And too many law enforcement people, especially on the federal level, are prone to harbor television script-writer-type convictions about the world. It was lucky no one was shot during the arrests.

Since the change of administrations with the new emphasis on transparency, many rocks are being turned over. Economic collapse, growing world hunger, renegotiation of the meaning of family, populations of all kinds on the move across borders, new diseases. We’ve been deceived, ignorant, foolish, and the suicide rate is up all across the country, isn’t it? So many layers of secrecy. So little social sophistication that is helpful. I mean, we know so much about crime from the media, so much about immorality from talk radio, and so little about our own reality. (Where’s that reality czar? Why isn’t she doing her job? What is she, a committee??)

I’m against secrecy, but foregoing at least a little discretion is like going nude. It’s fine in the right context if you have nothing to hide, but it makes you terribly vulnerable. When I was very small, I was curious about what people looked like under their clothes -- once I realized that in under there they were ALL naked. But now I don’t care anymore. I’d rather stay warm and dry myself and I assume others would, too.

Over the last few days I’ve been sorting my collection . I don’t collect artifacts, I collect people from the Blackfeet reservation. That is, every time there’s an obituary in the Great Falls Tribune, I cut it out and stick it onto an index card, then file it. At first it was a way of keeping track of lost friends and I put the dates on each card. Then I realized that I didn’t always recognize people I’d known over the last fifty years and even their names had changed, sometimes many times. I appreciated the trend to include photos of the people at both young and old ages. (So many of the young faces of men are in military uniform these days.) So now I just cut out everybody from the rez, even if they’re not here and related to an Indian only by marriage.

The edge of the enrolled tribe has always been a porous membrane, ever since the first “enrollment” list was made by some Army clerk sitting at a wobbly table on the prairie while the people filed by, giving their unpronounceable Indian names so they could get government food. You can count on there being some starving non-Indians in that line and no one until then had thought much about who was “in” and who was “out” or even what a tribe was.

I got lazy about putting the dates on the obits I saved. If I couldn’t find the scissors, I could tear out the notice, but I couldn’t always find a pencil and there was no backup. So now what makes the cards useful is the same thing that makes the genealogy in the 1907-08 Blackfeet Census so helpful: the family relationships that are at the heart of tribe anyway. It grows from the center out, not by people coming in from outside.

That Census book was simply typed up from a shoebox of cards just like mine. It’s alphabetized the same as mine are -- right this minute. Yesterday they were a jumble and there will be more filing to do in a few weeks. While I sorted them, I remembered the real people. So many tiny babies. So many former students. So many wild characters and sturdy citizens. So many suicides. So many diabetes deaths. Just “so many.”

The point of forbidding the collecting of arrowheads is not the value of them, not that white people are getting rich off red people. It is, as Lance Foster points out, the information embedded in where they were found. In fact, so many are found in the high arid west because the land is constantly being stripped by wind and eroded by storms so that the layers of objects re-appear where they were put down and then covered up long long ago. Just so am I interested in the information recorded in a few inches of newspaper print. Though I know there is deep secrecy in some of these stories, there’s no need for a SWAT team.


Lance Michael Foster said...

Dinetah..Navajo Country... when I attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, some Navajo friends told me about the Chindi, a type of ghost that comes to exact revenge, such as against people who disturb graves...

Lance Michael Foster said...

PS. Mary,c THIS out, from Loren Coleman

"There is something strange going on with a seemingly isolated story quietly occurring in Utah-Colorado. It has come to involve suicides, Indian artifacts, and perhaps, most covertly and confusingly, Mormons."