Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Going apart as a way of going forward is one of the springs of evolution.  When a population is isolated -- on an island or in a valley or through some human social circumstance from quarantine to security-protected privilege -- then they may develop new specific anatomies or strategies that suit the circumstances.  Then if a boat, a railroad, a change in social mores, releases those new factors into the general larger population, the effect can be invigorating.  Or merely destructive.  Or fatal.  Or creative.

Our attention tends to be drawn to the moment of confrontation when the subcategory suddenly erupts and insists on change.  But in fact the accumulation of preceding small changes plus the macro-change of the context, either of which category could have been the precipitator, is probably the most important object of study in order to cope with emergency level events and fallout over the following years.

I’m watching this closely on the Blackfeet Reservation where has been a cascade of colorful events.  Let’s stick to the case of Shannon Augare.  The recent incident is that this young man, a member of the Tribal Council and also the elected state representative, was at the local prestige bar in Cut Bank, a white oil town next to the rez, with his mother.  He left at closing time, was followed by a pair of Cut Bank cops and stopped on the reservation which begins only blocks away.  Arguing about jurisdiction (a very old dilemma), the cop escalated by reaching into the car to get control of the keys.  To prevent this, Augare drove off.  He was found on the rez by the tribal cops, parked, with his mother in the driver’s seat.  

There was no OJ Simpson pursuit.  At no point was an objective measure of intoxication made.  A ticket for a court appearance was issued and served by tribal police the next day.  The tribal council law and order head moved the issue over to the federal justice system.  The tribal chair, Willie Sharp, asked Shannon to recuse himself until the matter was sorted out.  So far, he has refused.

I’m not interested in right or wrong, though everyone else -- involved or not -- is pursuing the incident in terms of whether Augare is guilty or innocent.  What interests me is the long “grazing plain” behind this “buffalo jump” moment and the long processing period that we are working on now.  These two areas are where the connections can be made.  These are the contexts that cause off-rez people, esp. non-Indians, to become completely baffled, including young reporters sent to get something factual out of the situation. 

This time the situation is particularly interesting because a videographer is putting speeches on YouTube, so the world can see the famous Blackfeet gift for rhetoric and dramatic gesture.  Shan Fagstrom is unknown to me so I won’t speculate about where he came from or what he’s up to.  The fact of video is quite different from written documents and restores the Blackfeet to their comfort zone, which is oral communication.  This is a technological shift -- the fact that it exists, that there is probably close to critical mass of cyber-skill and availability of devices on the rez (the schools are investing in tablet computers).  It will draw back the curtain for off-rez people who are either afraid of visiting or have no reason to come.  On the other hand, there is among the People a pent-up desire to be seen and heard -- hopefully understood -- without an intermediary.  It can seem like grandstanding and sometimes it is.

Let’s begin with two videos that I saw for the first time this morning.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0B9C_8uywQM   is Bill Old Chief, a middle class rancher from the same social context as Augare.  What he’s doing is traditional: counting coup, telling about defying the enemy.  The father of Jim Welch, also called Jim Welch, told me that when he was a boy the sidewalks in Browning were actually boardwalks, raised alongside the dirt horse-trodden roadway.  Welch was small enough to lurk under the lip of that walkway in order to listen to the old men who would sit there on a long bench in front of the mercantile store to warm themselves, both with sun and with stories of their feats as young men.  They spoke Blackfeet, which Welch understood though he didn’t speak it well.  And they added signtalk, something like Old Chief demonstrating how he tore the Blackfeet constitution in half and then tore one half into bits which he threw in the air to demonstrate how disrespected the document is.

http://www.vidstopin.com/video/2UkoqFiLe4k_san-francisco-police-threaten-to-arrest-zachary-running-wolf-for-burning-sage/   Zachary Running Wolf would be described in different ways depending on who’s doing the describing:  activist, outlier, provocateur, traditionalist . . . trickster.  He’s a bit of a Napi figure, defying two minority cops, who were produced by the efforts of law enforcement to co-opt the social divisions that resist order.  This woman officer has made the mistake of choosing shaky ground to take a stand.  The black officer is divided between trying to back her up and his own opinion (I'm guessing) that it's minor.  Zachary’s sage burning is a twig in his own hand and more likely to burn him than anything else, but on the other hand fire is always a danger.  This is a city combustible with social issues that can flare over symbolic gestures.

By now I’m curious about Shan Fagstrom.  He’s not editing, just filming straight.  No fancy camera work, just a solid tripod.  Both situations were evidently staged but not scripted.  Fagstrom has a whole series on YouTube.  So I viewed more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noGNFIOIKtc  This vid is of a beautiful, educated, Tribal Judge named Dawn Running Wolf explaining her struggle with Augare and his attorney Tom McKay.  She is explaining how she applied standard US law in the interest of objectivity and legality.  An ongoing problem is that there is no intertribal appeals court or supreme court.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOunJzZNQB0  is Gordon Monroe, the person I know best because he was a student of mine and a co-worker with Bob Scriver.  He made the two big fiberglass statues of Bob’s rodeo series.  He is a Christian pastor who has been deeply involved in relief work among the tribal poor.  He’s a person who stands on many boundaries, but not a man who’s easily stampeded. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MP7wMXorRWQ  Geraldine Gordon is a long-time activist who has written many letters to the Glacier Reporter.  I taught her children and her husband worked with Bob Scriver, but I don’t know her.  I think she’s not particularly religious, but many women on the rez have entered the political arena through the social services, empowered by old-time ceremonial participation or by the Catholic Cursillo movement.  A curious result of this is that when I came in 1961, the rule was that whites and Indians never touched, except that men would shake hands to indicate equality.  Now, women like Betty Cooper, Theda New Breast, Frosty Calf Boss Ribs, and so on will hug other women warmly, including white women.  Some men will do that, but with ceremonial caution.  The symbolism is full acceptance as human beings.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSPOq9E9EaQ  I’m not entirely sure who this is in the wheelchair, but I think it’s Tiny Man HeavyRunner, much aged and ill, quite unlike the young Tiny Man who was a rhetorical point man for AIM.  He’s a Blackfeet speaker and, as is usual, the language is used as prayer.  If this is Tiny Man, he was on my class rolls as “Floyd.”  I worked with his father and his grandfather and also taught his son.  

These cops standing around are BIA.  They know the difference between protected ceremonial speech and political rhetoric.  The shift in the nature of police is a big part of this story.  Highly trained, often with military experience, uniformed and armored, they look impressive but are never completely funded enough for a reservation this huge.  These people are basically imported temps.  The tribes they may have worked with in the past may include those in the Middle East.

It’s going to take a long time to work through all these videos.  But what a great thing it is to have something to work with -- IF we can prevent YouTube from dumping all the evidence.  These materials can be censored at the touch of a button, not the one in your hand, but the one far away in the Cloud.

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