Tuesday, November 22, 2011


When I read the paper every morning, I keep scissors at hand and when I get to the obits, I cut out those from the Blackfeet reservation and tape them onto five by nine inch file cards. Eventually, I alphabetize them into file boxes for future reference. At first I thought I was doing a genealogy project and recorded dates, but then I found that the more useful information was the naming of relatives. By now I play a kind of solitaire with these cards, remembering.

For instance, I remember a fierce little seventh grader who took on any injustice or shortfall with a firestorm of emotion. 1961 was my first year of teaching and I inadvertently supplied her with a steady stream of “atrocities.” Once she was so angry -- and so was I, both of us out of frustration -- that I just picked her up and set her outside the classroom, then held the door shut. That was Kathleen Bremner Murray who died Oct. 28 from cancer. She had been the registrar at Chemauwa Indian School in Salem, Oregon, for thirty years and continued to “stand up for anyone she thought was wronged.” Of course, Bremners are noted for intelligence, energy and achievement.

Another obit is not about Kathy’s classmate, a Babcock, but about his mother who turns out to be a DesRosier. another achieving family. The Sherburnes and Scrivers attract attention as early white families on the rez, but more interesting is the story of the DesRosiers, who integrated into the tribe and thereby persist locally. Mary Louise DesRosier Babcock worked in banking, raised eight children, and did it well.

You can’t always go by family names and in fact, the “lifemazes” of some families who are related by having the same name only, can be strikingly different. Two women with the same historically significant name were recently noted as passed. Both women were my age but I knew their husbands better than I knew them. One was Susan A. HeavyRunner, daughter of George and Molly Kicking Woman, who was married to Clyde Heavy Runner. The other was Marie Heavy Runner, whose maiden name was Last Star, who was married to Thomas Heavy Runner. I think she may have been a second wife. Heavy Runner was the peace chief who was mistakenly killed, along with his band, in a bitter winter massacre that is still unhealed, sometimes called the Baker Massacre (1869).

Susan earned an AA degree in Early Child Development and worked first as a cook and then after 1976 as a Blackfeet language teacher and supervisor. Clyde worked in the Scriver Studio occasionally and is one of the men who posed for the bronze called “Real Meat.” He’s been active in the maintenance of Blackfeet ceremonies, which was a vital part of the Kicking Woman’s lives. Susan’s brother is Kenny Scabby Robe, founder and centerpole of the acclaimed Blacklodge Singers. Susan herself was active in both Catholic and traditional religious societies and saw no contradiction.

Marie’s husband, Tom Heavy Runner, along with his father Jack, worked with us over one winter, then returned to ranching. At some point he was Methodist. If you google his name, you’ll find Marie’s short statement about Thomas, who was an officer in WWII in Germany, describing the discovery of the concentration and death camps and its effect on him. www.firstwarrior.com/Gallery/Tommy_Heavy_Runner.html He was a reserved and gentle man. The last time I saw him, after diabetes had caused the amputation of his foot, it was with Marie in their home. She was a good housekeeper, also a quiet person. I taught his son, who goes by “Tiny Man,” and also his grandson, Josh. Neither of them is quiet.

Marie’s death is being investigated by the FBI, which means everything has gone down a bureaucratic black hole. The short version is that she was recently found with her throat cut, wrapped in plastic and stuffed to the back of the crawl space under the house, possibly the house I visited. She had been dead since summer. A “gang” was inhabiting of the house. I do not know the names of those people but they were arrested. The FBI is famous around here for never solving cases. I hope this turns out differently but, as is notorious enough to be worked into the scripts of cop shows, they send all the screwups to Montana. (Actually, the region is supervised from Salt Lake City. None of them want to live in tough back country.)

So I google Susan and up pops Jody Pepion’s dissertation: http://www.dissertations.wsu.edu/Dissertations/Fall2009/j_pepion_120309.pdf

Jody is the daughter of Webb Pepion, famous artist, and the niece of Eloise Pepion Cobell (but she doesn’t mention that). Jody lists Susan Heavy Runner as one of the strong people who put her feet on the right path, that of militant and searching resistance to domination, the path of empowerment. I urge you to read it without judging, without reacting, just letting it blast through you like the emotional wind tunnel it is. It is the counterforce to rez violence, the FBI and a lot else besides.

This thesis is the difference between Susan and Marie. It is the fierce sense of justice that was in the little kid who was Kathy Bremner as I knew her. It’s a start but it is not enough. We all need more. I say “all.”

One of my most vivid memories is driving up Highway 89 and passing Webb Pepion’s ranch at the turn-off for Heart Butte. The homesite and studio are up on a hill and I was startled to see that people on that hill were flying kites! Not just children’s kites, but big elaborate ones. Maybe the group included Jody and Susan. Normally the wind around here is much too torrential for kites. They fly, all right, and then shred, rip the string out of your hands, and are never seen again. But if you pick your time, you can find the wind milder, sweeter, more sustaining. It’s not that there’s a big seasonal shift, but more that there are intervals you have to pay close attention to recognize. It was such a joyful image.

Hurricane-force winds have shred and “disappear” people. We all have to pick our stance. Mine is attentiveness. And then I write it all down. I’m not necessarily wanted on the rez just now, but there’s plenty to do in Valier. Keeping a card file is only one thing.

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