Wednesday, February 10, 2016


You see this guy?  Know him?  He’s the clerk at One-Stop, the only service station in Valier.  When I bought gas yesterday I had a long conversation with him.  It was about the exotic trace element called “palladium”.

He knew that palladium is often recovered from meteorites like the giant one in the Siberian wilderness (one of dozens in Siberia) and the one that created the Gulf of Mexico.  He explained that there is a plan to mine the Yucatan asteroid.  They would proceed by using underwater jets to wash the palladium out into the sea, just as they used to blast gold out of the hills around Helena.  The result would be a huge ring that could be seen from outer space.   And then he went on to discuss the Stillwater palladium mine in Montana near Billings.  The only other mine for this material on this continent is in Canada.  Russia holds the big cards.  My friend understands the political and economic implications.

“Exploration of the Stillwater Complex by the Johns-Manville Corporation has led to the discovery and delineation of an approximately stratigraphic zone rich in platinum and palladium comparable to the Merensky Reef. This zone, here called the J-M reef, is generally 1 to 3 m thick and has been traced for 40 km, essentially its maximum possible length within the outcrop area of the intrusion.”


Palladium is in the catalytic converter of my little pickiup and in the one-dollar-each monitoring strips for blood glucose, which is why they cost so much.  It’s pretty stuff. The politics of the mining, reclamation, uses, and new discovery of ore is the material of a hundred spy novels.  So, using your detective skills, what in the first paragraphs of this post is bogus?  

It’s the photo.  The man in the image is Charlie Koontz, who plays FBI Agent Daniel Krumitz in CSI: Cyber.   But he looks almost exactly like the clerk at the service station, who is a high-quantum Blackfeet Indian just as informed and intelligent as Krumitz.  I don’t know about the actor, Koontz.  All three of them break stereotypes: that Indians are dumb and uninformed, and that fat people are neither smart, dynamic nor energetic people.   (CSI shows are science-based and good about ignoring stereotypes.)

This is all great stuff and I would keep on along these lines except that I made a mistake.  It’s not palladium that I was asking about — it’s indium.  So now I have to go back and see what my informant knows about “indium.”  Yes, there really is such an element and, no, it is not named for Indians.  It is named for the “indigo line” in its atomic spectrum.  The atomic spectrum is “the spectrum of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation emitted or absorbed during transitions of electrons between energy levels within an atom. Each element has a characteristic spectrum by which it can be recognized.”


Indium is a chemical element with symbol In and atomic number 49. It is a post-transition metallic element that is rare in Earth's crust. The metal is very soft, malleable and easily fusible, with a melting point higher than sodium, but lower than lithium or tin.”

“Indium tin oxide is one of the most widely used transparent conducting oxides because of its two main properties, its electrical conductivity and optical transparency, as well as the ease with which it can be deposited as a thin film.”   This is what makes touch-screens work.

Electrical and transparent.

The color indigo is the dye for blue jeans.  And so now you see how connected the world is, weaving in and out of vocabularies and chemical reactions.  And how useful Wikipedia can be when it’s not assassinating people’s reputations by telling false facts about them.

My first plan in writing this post was to complete it with a photo of the real clerk and the genealogical facts of his family.  He’s proud of them and knows a lot.  Like me, he’s chosen to live a low-pay life that gives him time to learn.  This is not only against stereotypes about Indians, it is against the stereotypes about fat people.  He values his privacy.  As far as I know, he has no intention of writing a book.  Hooray.

We are now just about a month from the big money-making Russell Auction in Great Falls, which is actually a sort of city-wide frenzy of auction stereotypes about Charlie Russell, the artist; about Western art; about Indians; and all the Manifest Destiny dizziness that hides the holocaust of the continent when the indigenous people were killed by microbes, war and starvation.  Colonized.  

This is the link for the art that is for sale in a month and is now hanging in the CMR Museum in Great Falls.  Many artists complete their year’s income at this auction, which the attendees fancy is something like Sotheby’s. They feel they are characters in a movie, all dressed up and spending money to demonstrate status.  And that status derives from the exploitation of a people and their land, which then subsequently splits into contempt for their down-and-out status, while constructing a fantasy of nobility and supernatural relationship to nature.

This man is dressed for competitive dancing.
It is a costume.

The art is beautiful.  The tendency to make art “cute” by depicting raggedy little Indian kids playing around a log cabin has disappeared, along with the drunks.  There are pages and pages of advertising along the lines of the slick magazines that market an imitation of the rough and primitive for very rich people who build mountain houses of glass and stone, furnishing them with sofas upholstered in steer hides.  They wouldn't want anyone to think they were effete or elfin.  

I’m not trying to chide them for spending their wealth however they please.  In the Sixties I was part of that world, all dressed up with my turquoise necklace, explaining bronze casting to dudes.  Bob Scriver was “my” artist and raison d’etre.  Brilliant, powerful, and a player on the board of CMR.  His bronzes are rarely auctioned but the reasons are best discussed in another post. 

Subject:  Mountain Crow Horse Shield
Artist:  Kevin Red Star

Our foundry and studio in Browning employed local Indians — Blackfeet, Cree, Metis, and whatever.  Those were the people we knew.  We worked alongside them.  The daughter of David Cree Medicine, Bob’s best foreman and son of Carl who helped build the foundry, asked in an email yesterday if anyone had  a small Scriver bronze she could buy.   If you have one, I'll put you in touch. She will not be able to afford anything at the “big” main auction, but there are small subsidiary ones.

The point is that the reality of Indians will get you only sneering about their every confusion and misstep, and cynicism about the future.  But the fantasies about Indians are worth big bucks.  Few of these paintings will be created by indigenous artists.  They tend to do geometric and symbolic work that shows up in the minor auctions around town at the same time.  The general public is not educated to understand abstraction and they don’t like the political dynamic.  They don’t want to know about where Indium is on the Table of Elements, they want to know how much it’s worth,  and they know that the big moguls who made their money in mining during the 19th century collected Western art.

The final irony is that the West that Charlie depicted was already gone by the time he got here and his family’s wealth came from extractive mining.  Don’t tell anyone.  They’ll walk away.  Which is a shame, because there's no need to choose between myth and reality.  They're both valid.

I buy gas in ten dollar increments and try to get through the month on that.  It's not enough to get to Great Falls.  But at least I buy the gas from a real Indian.

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