Friday, July 11, 2014


The fourth step in this liturgical sequence I’ve been discussing is that of ending the liminal interval and taking the people back over the limen threshold to the ordinary world they left.  At the PNWD Leadership School three of we women had claimed the last worship of each “school” for three years ('76, '77, '78).  By the third year we had realized just how difficult closure of a powerful experience could be, so we built-in a "ceremony of leaving", ending with everyone carrying a lit candle out the door to the lawn.  There was enough air movement in the doorway that the candles were blown out.  The people lingered out there on the grass, but at least we could vacuum the room and stack the chairs.

This was also when I realized the difference in the experience of liminality between men and women.  The men were ready to leave, happy to leave, already jingling their car keys in their pockets.  The women were the lingerers.  I joked that they didn’t want to get out of the bubble bath of the hot tub, the intimate and vulnerable dream of it.  I did not think of telling them that refusing the inevitable end of intense experience was likely to lead to the scenario of “In the Realm of the Senses,” the Japanese film about a couple who refused to end their passionate lovemaking for days until the man, being erotically strangled, was accidentally killed.  The film came from a real incident.  The woman was found wandering the streets, psychotic, with her lover’s penis in her pocket, the ultimate keepsake.

Personally, I’m terrible at endings.  I hate ending a good book or movie, I hate ending the day and often rebound in the night to write a few more sentences.  I hated the end of my marriage -- I wasn’t even there anyway.  But I use the defense that I’m a writer and therefore have a sort of license.  Writing is more of a liminality than reading.  When reading, one is accompanied by the other person's consciousness that produced the words.  Writing by yourself can make you wander psychotically with a pen in your pocket.  Many writers have trouble knowing when the work of writing is ended, the piece is complete.  A few painters have said that they depend upon their wives to take the canvas away from them when it’s complete, because they themselves can’t stop, don’t want to end the over-the-threshold creative engagement, the flow of it.
Now a seeming change of subject that's still about endings, though it's a beginning.  Today (July 11, 2014) the front page story in the Great Falls Tribune is about the “new” Blackfeet tribal council being sworn in.

Larry Beckner’s photo of Tyson Running Wolf, who seems to be winking even as his hand is up to swear, tells the story.  He wears the traditional white buckskin suit and Sioux real eagle feather bonnet that has been the garb of prominent Blackfeet leaders for centuries.  Today those suits are worth tens of thousands of dollars and eagle feathers can only be acquired with special government permission.  Tyson, a handsome young man, is the new secretary of the Tribal Council, having previously been the head of the tribal forestry department, which meant running the forest fire program.  Serious stuff.  He’s progressive, has lived off the rez in Bellevue, WA, was a student body president in high school.  The Running Wolf provenance is braided into Upham, White Calf, and other prominent families.  

The reason the wink photo keeps being reprinted, is that right away after the swearing in, the same old recriminations and controversies of the deadlocked previous council were renewed.  The same chairs-and-table game appeared: who can sit where.  Chief Old Person had no chair.  Joe McKay got one from the audience.  This is not trivial stuff but rather highly symbolic of subjects and emotions too searing to confront directly.

Tyson in his forestry role, showing he can stand heat.

The Blackfeet do not want to end their tribe.  But nothing stays forever and the tribe has already changed so much that it’s easy to argue that it’s already gone, baby, gone.  The coming of horses ended the old dog ways even when the buffalo were still here.  Each person in their intense passion for the moment of Blackfeet as-they-know-it is stealing energy by quarreling, when the real issue is what the tribe will be going into the future.  And while they divide and disperse each other’s ideas, the larger world -- you could represent it as the US Government -- wants to end the rez, end the tribe, end the political force of a united tribal body, end the inter-tribal ties that interfere with corporate development of resources across the continent, end the international ties among indigenous people who block corporations who already control nations so they can deforest the planet.  It's so easy to kill the one you love, simply by loving too much, not knowing when to quit.

I’m not going to North American Indian Days this year because I don’t know anyone anymore and anyway it’s not like the small dusty local celebration I first knew.  That’s selfish pouting, but it doesn’t matter much since I’m not Blackfeet.  A lot of people on the rez these days are not Blackfeet though almost everyone is Native American.  Some are from other tribes, some are from other continents (South America), and some are just passing through.  They are a lot richer than people used to be.  A certain category of people live in RV’s on the pow-wow trail all summer, and another Blackfeet group is focused and educated enough to re-create the original lodges and ceremonies.  But the core of stabilizing white small businessmen is gone and will not return.  New small businesses are taking hold if things will just stay calm.

Woody Kipp

I loved seeing the photo of Woody Kipp leading the men dancers into the dance arena with his long braids and fringes flying.  Instead of eagle feathers, he wears the red beret of the modern military.  I'm not sure whether he intends it to refer to Vietnam or Wounded Knee.  Author of "Viet Cong at Wounded Knee", he is a veteran, journalist, college professor, rancher.  To me he epitomizes one way of being a Blackfeet today, the person who can go to the essence of the role and re-invent it out of today's reality.

The mountains change slowly but the grasses renew every year.  Once the people had horses, they were ruled by grass because horses must graze.  Dogs eat whatever people eat.  The big ceremonial gathering traditionally happened a month earlier than it does now, because that's when there was enough grass for herds of horses to graze nearby.  It was the red-headed agent named Campbell who persuaded the People to dance in July after the hay had been cut and stored for the winter, so that more horses would survive.  Some wisdom, adjusting, effort -- even self-denial -- today can save tomorrow.  We don't want our children wandering with only an eagle feather in their pocket.

Ki yo!  Nee na!  Na too see!
Spumokit.  Kee mo kit.
Ki mis nyok so kwax.
Un yi yee!

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