Sunday, October 26, 2014


Scene of the Marias Massacre

The rez kids I know best are the ones I taught fifty years ago, which was about a hundred years after the last massacre, when a whole band under the leadership of Heavy Runner who was at peace with whites and had a certificate to prove it (the way Ebola survivors are given certificates) were destroyed by US Cavalry because by chance they had camped in the wrong place along the Marias River. Nowadays Blackfeet activists certify their provenance by descent from the survivors of that atrocity. Or some others will claim they are descendants of Kipp, one of the scouts. And last week the tribal people of America received US settlement checks for mismanaging their assets in “trust.” Cobell is the name of the settlement — it was also the name of the other scout.

Frank Waln, Sioux rapper This video is not about Blackfeet, but rather about their 19th century enemies, the Sioux. The line between the two powerful buffalo-hunting tribes moved back and forth, in tension between the Sweetgrass Hills and the Black Hills, both sacred. The vid is the descendant of more modern social movements: not the uprisings or the long marches or the killings of women and children. Rather it comes out of the environmental movement rallies, huge rock concerts, the steady trickle of movies trying to be authentic that has created a casting book of Native American actors, the international powwows that include all indigenous people (even Hawaiians and Maoris), the t-shirt industry that finances travel, Disneyland in Paris that has an ongoing dance show, and the internet — because now kids all have cell phones and many have smart phones. These are the children of AIM leaders and Will Sampson. Misty Upham probably knew them personally, but she didn’t dance. She just had connections.

Galen Upham was one of my students. He wrote. Marvin Weatherwax was one of my students. He is a college professor. Woody Kipp was never my student. He was a journalist and now a college professor. Darrell Kipp was never my student. He went to Harvard (Harvard likes Indians) and Goddard (Goddard likes Indians) and was one of the founders of the Immersion School movement at the Piegan Institute. Galen and Darrell have gone on ahead. Marvin and Woody are still at Blackfeet Tribal Community College which against all odds has put down roots and thrived, just like all the others across the country.

The first rez rapper I knew was Jonathon Heavy Runner, free lance spontaneous classroom disrupter. He’s a calm productive guy now, probably a grandpa. Last time I saw him was accidentally on the street in front of the Valier bank where he was going in to do business. His pickup was full of kids who called him “dad.”

In the Sixties I was the dramatics teacher and wrote plays for the kids to be in, so that there would be a part for each one of them and they hardly had to act, since the character was written around them. One of the actors was Curly Bear Wagner, who became a kind of shaman/historian, but in high school he kept going fishing instead of attending rehearsals so we finally gave up on him and wrote his part out of the play. You can do that when you wrote the play in the first place. It changed the plot a little bit.

Recently Robey Clark asked me if I remembered the play in which he had to kill a mortally injured puppy — a puppet I made out of a Salvation Army Persian lamb coat. He was supposed to hit it with a mallet while another student yelped and cried offstage, but the sound effects didn’t stop, so the pounding went a little long. We took the play to State Thespian competition in Missoula and were praised but not given a prize.

The next year we took a Western version of “Taming of the Shrew” to State Thespian competition at the Brewery Theatre in Helena and were praised, but still no prize. I was the fool that time around. I confused the calendar and we took the school bus down a week ahead of time. The superintendent refused to send out the bus again at the right time, so we convoyed in old bomb rez cars. Show biz is important. No one can keep you down if you really want the show to go on. I was surprised by how easy it was to slip Elizabethan English over into cowboy slang. The scripts for this stuff are still around somewhere in my papers.

Eventually there were champion dancers who went to France, but at that time they were still little kids. The founder of the Black Lodge Singers, Kenny Scabby Robe, hadn’t yet started the family that became the core of the prize-winning group. The Blackfeet trick riders who make Westerns exciting were still just kids zooming around bareback on whatever horse they could find. The thing about kids is that they’re all potential and you can’t tell how they will turn out. More than that, you have no idea what the world will be like when they come of age. No one even dreamed of video. Or computers or the way YouTube could go viral. No one suspected that someone would start a newspaper called “Indian Country Today” and that it would be sold in the supermarket alongside “People” magazine.

The recent Marysville school shooting looks quite different from their point of view. Marysville is where my mother grew up, before there was a Muckleshoot reservation. She was white and told not to go near Indians, so she watched them, kneeling at her bedroom window while they set up camp to harvest crops not far away. “Sing your songs loud and pray hard for the Fryberg family, Tulalip Tribe, Marysville community and all those who knew Jaylen,” Chief Seattle Club program manager Caleb Dunlap wrote on Facebook. “. . . If you are sad, mad, confused or experiencing any other forms of grief, turn to your songs, medicines, prayers, elders [and] loved ones.”

Fifty years ago kids were encouraged to be assimilated. They didn’t know any songs, medicines, prayers. Their loved ones might be drunk or violent. No kids shot other kids because they had no guns. They used knives. In summer when the residential schools were on vacation, elders were raising them out on the allotments, but the kids never stayed indoors in those days. Down along the creeks in the coulees it was just luck if you could get AM radio. There were no rock concerts because Elvis Presley was just beginning to be on the Ed Sullivan Show. The Native American Literary Renaissance hadn’t happened yet. The main thing was basketball. (You had to cut your braids off to play.) The main thing is STILL basketball! But also college, amphitheatre shows, and the Internet. It’s all still hoop dancing. Sometimes traditional. Sometimes not.


Rave This video is traditional, both the oratory and the dancing.  The rap not so much.

This version is Hollywood. It’s all connected. The world is round. And spinning.

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