Camp Disappointment Memorial Obelisk
Suddenly one of my old blog posts came to life and began accumulating hits. It was posted on December 7, 2011, and is entitled “A Card File Made in a Decade.”
It begins with this explanation: “When I moved to the edge of the Blackfeet Reservation in 1999, I started cutting out all the obits from the Great Falls Tribune and sticking them on cards, which I filed. By now I have 2 file boxes mostly full. At first I kept dates of publication, but then I stopped. Mostly I figured I would use them for genealogy since they list next of kin. But someone was inquiring about rez violence because of what I’ve been blogging, so I sorted my cards. . .”
There are enough computers and adepts on the rez now to do effective searches for information. People were prompted to search this time in order to frame up background for two recent deaths.
Tom Mancha (60) is alleged to have recently murdered his wife Charlene Little Dog Mancha at the obelisk commemorating Camp Disappointment, the site where Lewis and Clark realized the boundary with Canada would be the 49th parallel. It has become a popular spot for bad behavior.
Mathew Grant (21, visiting from the Canadian Reserves) was found dead in an alley of Glacier Homes, an extension of Browning, weeks after he disappeared December 15. Cause of death is not determined yet.
I am not a journalist and I am white. But my history with Browning goes back to 1961. Very little is showing up in the media and in my experience these stories soon fade. But maybe there are some dedicated and aware tribal members who won’t let that happen this time.
I tried to think what I could do to help, since I have no power, no information, no muscle, no connections. But I do have an imagination, so I’m going to use it to invent two generic deaths and try to make them vivid. As though they were cell phone images. These are totally invented. If you quote the stories, make sure you note that they never happened in reality.
FIRST STORY: Domestic Violence does not necessarily happen at home.
When he beat her up, which was totally unpredictable until minutes before the violence began, he began by demanding her cell phone. At least once she had managed to dial 911 and scream for help before he smashed it, her little friend she kept in her pocket. After that she bought a cheap emergency cell and hid it. But he found it.
This time they were drinking in the county seat, but not in the upgraded tavern where the rez professionals and businessmen went. And when it was closing time, they took a bottle with them. One more DUI and there would be real trouble, but her reminding him of that was a mistake.
They hurtled through the snowy landscape, heedless of livestock or deer. Not much other traffic at this hour. He veered off onto the rising turnout road up to the obelisk so suddenly that she fell over on the seat, which made him even more angry. There was no one else on the parking space at the top where in daytime a person could look out over the valley to the far away ridge where the Louisiana Purchase watershed ended.
In the past he’d tried to drag her out the passenger door and knew she would lock it, so he just yanked her by the hair past the steering wheel, which she tried to grab but couldn’t. She wasn’t exactly sober. Then he had the tire iron. She only felt the first blow.
SECOND STORY: ‘Spose you think you’re better than us.
The little group sorta thought of themselves as Ninjas in their black sweats. They didn’t have anything to do and didn’t think they should have to do anything. They were tough guys, not exactly welcome with their families, though some were more tolerant than others. No one was very sure how these guys paid for drugs, but they always had them.
What they really liked was violence. They talked about blood lust and sort of confused it with historical battles. Their scars, tats, and piercings were supposed to be like war paint and they would draw faces with painted designs they saw in movies or at pow-wows, but they didn’t have the stamina for actual dancing. Their energy was rage.
This was a cold night and they hadn’t found a place where they could hole up to slam, so they were just cruising the alleys. Then they saw a guy come out of a house and walk their way. They didn’t know him.
“Hey! Who are you?”
“Oh, uh, I’m Stephen.” He was soft-spoken, in newish jeans with a nice jacket. A bit of an accent.
“How come we don’t know you?”
“I’m Kainai. Just visiting my cousins. Going over to the Community College to use the library.”
The guys doubled over with laughter to cover their true feelings, which were that they were intimidated. None of them was a good reader or had a high school diploma. Their older relatives had tried to make them understand that school was access to success, but they refused to believe it. Elders had also impressed on them that the Canadian part of the Blackfoot Nation was the Grandfather people who knew the old ways, and should be respected. This thought also threatened them, so they turned mean.
“So you think you’re better than us, aayy? College boy?”
“Hey, nice toque! Lemme try it on!” They snatched his hat. “You got any money? You want to help us have a good time?”
The boy was confused, which the guys took as weakness. They were right. Then they turned seductive, mock coaxing. “Come on with us and we’ll show you how.” The boy now wearing his hat grabbed him between the legs. He yelped and tried to pull away but then the knife slid between his ribs. There was just enough light from the houses to see the blood.
These stories never happened. Or maybe they happen all the time. But why? What should we do about it?