Thursday, June 18, 2009


This has been quite has been quite a week, filling my grab bag with what amounts to screen grabs. “Screen grabs” are a tech term for moving an image from a computer or TV screen to one’s computer hard drive. If you don’t know what a hard drive is, just let it go. One of the jigsaw pieces ( are you with me now?) was a meeting of the Valier Association for the Development of ? The community, I guess. I don’t know. VADC, anyway. Screen grabs don’t include acronyms.

Tuesday half-a-dozen harried women of early middle-age met to finalize plans for the big Centennial celebration for the town. Each was in charge of one piece/event category: scouts by this one, day-care by that one, churches by another. (No history of saloons, but one display about the major hotel once here.) All complained of overload. One of the women said her family told her she needed a Blackberry. (She can’t operate a computer, though she runs the Port of Entry office.)

When someone else offered a DVD composite of images of early days, this woman asked me how they could be presented since I was such a “techie.” (Snort.) I told her all I did was sit here and type. A little later it occured to me that any kid would know all they needed was a TV set and a DVD player.

At the town council meeting earlier in the week, the group was a dozen early middle-age men. They were addressing the high tech requirements of negotiating with the town’s employees, three people: a female clerk and two men who run machinery. Two claimed major knowledge of the arcane workings of labor law, which eventually appeared to require that nine people be assigned to the negotiating committee. One man was full of random information which he delivered with great conviction. The next day I followed up with queries and discovered that almost everything he said was wrong or just a plain lie.

Back to the VADC. The mayor, looking over all the photos of the early days, saw that nearly always ceremonies were “certified” by the presence of Blackfeet “chiefs” in their buckskins. So she decided that the Centennial ought to have some and called the tribal offices to see about “Blackfeet dancers,” as often featured in the Great Falls Tribune. She was informed by the Queen of the World (I don’t know her Indian name.) that it would cost $2,000 and that Valier was hardly worthy anyway, since anyone knew that demon white people had ripped off the tribe and destroyed their lives and caused all sorts of other mayhem. (This woman’s personal life is quite comfortable, due to her close relationship with big shots in government, both red and white.) The mayor was taken aback. It was a while before she remembered the tribal member who had generously worked with the local school all winter to develop drumming and singing. She would see what he said.

In the meantime, the posters had been printed. The only trouble is that the events on the list had mostly canceled. Other things to do. It's summer.

The mayor had asked me if I would again rent a table to sell books. Since the only book I sold last year was a $10 book of sermons which the mayor bought to give her mother-in-law, and the cost of the table is $10, I declined. But I offered to do a reading. Then it occurred to me that the little advertising mag about the Centennial had included four writers: myself, Ivan Doig, John Holden (a local rancher) and Rib Gustafson, a patriarchal veterinarian who doesn’t live in Valier, though his son, also a veterinarian, does. They omitted Rib’s son, Sid, who is a professional national writer, as compared to his father’s small regional books. Another of Rib’s sons is a musician who lives in Washington who had been hired to play at this Centennial. I suggested that if Ivan doesn’t come, someone be deputized to read from “This House of Sky” which is about growing up in Valier. And I proposed Sid be asked to read. He writes about here.

Resistance was major. Sid was declared an irrelevant outsider. No one was rude enough to say I was unwelcome right out loud. I mentioned that Norma Ashby, a local celebrity much admired for fifty years, had wanted to come read at the Senior Citizens’ lunch, inspired by her stopping at the Panther Cafe one day and being mobbed by those folks, who associate her with their youth. The senior citizen guiding committee had rejected her appearance on grounds that “she’s just trying to sell books.” But this time the VADC declared that such events “belonged” to the library.

Myself was rude enough to remark that people in Europe read my writing and admire it. That my blog readership is robust. But no one locally would read my book or blog. (We’ll see when this hits the airwaves! If anyone is techie enough to find my blog.) I’ve been told that my book about Bob Scriver is “too much about you,” that “he wasn’t all that famous,” and that “only virtuous people deserve biographies.” The library is stuffed with Westerns, mysteries, and romance. In fact, a new section of Christian romances has just been added. But the section on Native American writing was dismantled a year ago, reshelving the books among the “white people books.” That includes books written about here by local Blackfeet.

Earlier in the day I’d been talking to an editor’s assistant at Esquire magazine, reminding them of the ten year anniversary of their publication of the little story by Tim Barrus that led to him becoming the infamous “Nasdijj,” vilified for claiming he was half-Navajo. “It was an unforgivable offense!” announced this righteous 31-year-old prig. I asked him whether he would pretend to be half-Navajo if it meant he could make enough money to walk again. (At the time Tim was in a wheelchair due to avascular necrosis, needing a double hip transplant.) “Absolutely NOT,” declared the virtuous desk jockey. (Sherman Alexie endorsed this opinion in Time magazine, saying that the PEN Beyond Margins prize, ear-marked for minorities, was “stolen” by Barrus’ pretense. Alexie has not won the prize in the many years before or since, though there have been many Arab, African, and Chinese winners.) So let me get this straight: a white man’s work was only bought because they thought he was Indian, and then an Indian couldn’t win a prize because the man was actually white, an unfair advantage.

Valier knows that it’s out-of-step with the Big Bad World and prides itself on the fact. (They forget that it was WWI that brought the immigrant homesteaders here in the first place.) The Blackfeet are scrambling to become part of contemporary life, but are using their romantic and legendary past to gain an advantage. Some young man in Manhattan believes that’s absolutely justified but that the martyred purity of noble people prevents any white person from getting in on it, though PEN (Professional Something -- it’s writers, but I don’t know how you get E and N out of that) can ennoble themselves by awarding a prize for minorities, and one of those minority writers, an Indian, believes he is the only minority and would not qualify unless all white people were barred.

What a mess. Are we out of touch with reality or what? Seems to me our “conviction infrastructure” is full of Bernie Madoff fantasies. Maybe Obama would address this problem, hire a “Reality Czar.” Naw. The media would never stand for it. And Valier is not an Obama town, though the rez loves him.


Lance Michael Foster said...

It was wrong, fraud, and a lie for Barrus to pretend to be something he wasn't. But if the only way you could come up with money to get medical treatment was to commit a lie and a fraud...well, it would be a dilemma, wouldn't it. The balance of one's integrity vs the ability to walk and be healthy. But then many folks are armchair moralists, saying they would or would never do such-and-such if they were in a similar situation. We never really know unless we are in the actual situation ourselves. Not really. Not really.

See, one must be honest about such things. Really, deeply honest. Lying is always wrong. It is an evil in most traditional societies worldwide...except to one's enemies many of them. Sometimes lying becomes necessary to prevent a greater evil. Would you tell a killer where your friend was? The choice is between lying or your friend dying.

IF one had the ability to get terminal cancer treatment for your wife or husband or child or self that you could not afford otherwise because you had no health insurance, but writing a lie under an assumed identity...would you do it? Ahh, that's the fun part isn't it?

Lance Michael Foster said...

PS. The reality-altering gatekeeping of small (and not-so-small) powerbrokers is a hoot and just as wrong as being a Pretendian. Not so different the self-justifiers and liars of small town (or rez) gatekeepers and the self-justifiers and liars of Wall Street.

Oh yeah, I forgot about situational morality... the same EXACT thing is wrong if YOU (or people I dislike) do it, but justifiable if I (or the people I like) do it. Sort of like how poor people on foodstamps are despised for being on welfare, while ranchers who enjoy government agriculture and grazing subsidies (aka welfare) are pillars of the community. I keep forgetting how this works!