Phone rings. It’s a girl in Conrad, thirty miles away. She’s been there four years. She needs to finish her Master’s thesis and wants to interview me. She can’t talk in sentences, but I figure she’s shy. She can’t come to interview me in person though I’m only a half-hour drive away, close by Montana standards. This thesis is going to be a novel but she’s using the theories of Krupat and Vizenor, the most difficult and politically hot of theories. Getting a little dated. “Oh, tap-dancing with the Marxists, are you?” I provoke her. She doesn’t know what I’m talking about.
She wants to write about the Big Flood of ‘64. I ask her if she’s talked to Rib Gustafson whose son Sid is also writing a novel about the flood. She doesn’t know who Rib is and doesn’t know who Sid is either. And she’s been in Conrad for four years? She hasn’t read Barnaby Conrad III’s book, “Ghost Hunting in Montana,” which is the white history of this area and includes the dam that failed in the big flood. She hasn’t read my book, “Bronze Inside and Out” and can’t remember the name of it. She hasn’t been to the library. She claims she drove up here and all over the rez yesterday (in a well-forecasted snowstorm) and said she thought the roads were terrible and there were totally inadequate street signs and she got lost.
Now she changes over. She wants to talk “survivance,” the latest theory wave, but she has a little trouble explaining it. (So do a lot of people.) She wants me to point out some really poor and suffering people so she can write about them. If you’re a poor and suffering person in a locally stigmatized but globally romanticized group, do you want some busybody invading your privacy by telling all the details of your family’s abuse, alcoholism, jail time, poverty and general pitifulness? I didn’t think so.
So she switches again. Did I know Curley Bear Wagner? (She’s not sure she has the name right.) Curley Bear was my student. She thinks he died a month ago. He died last summer -- I blogged about it. She wants to know about the terrible abuse and scorn heaped on returning Vietnam vets and how they need healing ceremonies. I tell her that no returning vet since World War II has been anything but honored. The ceremonies for honorably discharged soldiers on the Blackfeet Reservation are not “healing” ceremonies: they are honoring ceremonies for their service to the nations, both the US and the Blackfeet Nation. I tell her that if she wants to talk to a Vietnam Vet, she should go find Steve Conway who served well and who has returned to be a pillar of his community in every way, a strong and honorable man. She never heard of him.
So on to the juicy stuff. Is it true that Bob Scriver ripped off the Blackfeet and stole all their Sacred Bundles and made a zillion dollars? I try to explain. It’s too complicated. She can’t follow. She has no background. I tell her that I post history resources on www.lulu.com/prairiemary/ but she doesn’t bother to write it down. I can tell.
She goes back to her opening gambit: Is it all right for white people to write about Indians? She has no awareness that I co-write with Tim Barrus, though I put it on my blog, and no awareness of the Nasdijj books. At first I was suspicious that a provocateur has put her up to this, but it soon becomes obvious that she doesn’t know enough. She’s just blundering around in the dark, hoping I’ll come up with something interesting to get her off the hook with her advisors. On the other hand, she was fishing with juicy bait. So I hit star-69. 1-208-XXX-XXXX. Not in Montana. (If you’re feeling pitiful, call her up.)
So here’s my new policy. I’m not talking to any white people about Indians unless they come to my house, are polite, show that they know a few things, and maybe bring their grandmother. I’ll talk to Indians anytime, especially those I’ve known for fifty years. But I won’t talk to them on the phone. I will not discuss Vizenor and Krupat -- there are plenty of other people who will, some of them not even in the United States. If you want to play idea tag, I’m doing Deleuzeguattarianism.
[Name removed at subject's request.] or however she spells it, if she really IS doing a master’s thesis with Greg Keeler, had better read a helluva lot more than the seventy books she claims to have read. I doubt there are seventy really useful books about the Blackfeet out there, unless she’s read the complete works of Adolph Hungry Wolf, but she says she hasn’t read any of his books. Most of the books about Blackfeet are nineteenth century stuff. If she wants contemporary sociology, she should trot up to the University of Lethbridge in Alberta where the Blackfoot studies group includes a lot of Blackfoot members.
Let me make this perfectly clear. Native American studies have moved far beyond James Willard Schultz, although the fans of 19th century adventure stories are still there. Native Americans speak for themselves now -- ask Rosalyn LaPier at the University of Montana. The problem in publishing is not that NA writers are shut out. It is that the whole business of publishing has been dynamited by the eRevolution, which trumps the Marxist deconstruction models far and away. NOBODY is getting published. NOBODY knows what to do. There is only one sure thing: you can’t publish something that hasn’t been written yet.
I have no problem with “whomever” writing about Indians but they’d better have creds, by which I mean years working on a reservation or in an urban NA ghetto, sitting at kitchen tables over coffee to make friends and slowly get attuned to their real lives. It wouldn’t hurt if they did a few helpful things instead of exclaiming, “Oh, my goodness! We should punish someone!” (The politics of resentment come easy to the young.)
At least the 208 area code is in Idaho (Sho-Ban country), which is not that far away. The last person who wanted me to write their story for them was in France, facing a magazine deadline. Come on, people! I don’t ghost write! And now my coffee is cold.