Sunday, February 19, 2017


Earl Old Person on his 86th birthday

Every year about this time I and others get inquiries like the one I’m quoting below.  They are 19th century fantasies about being sort of secular missionaries.  I’m blanking out whatever information might embarrass the sender by naming her, though I think she would be close to impossible to embarrass:

Greetings Mrs. Scriver, 

I am a high school English teacher in [big California city] and have recently been given a grant to travel and research about the Black Feet Nation in America. My original interest in doing this project was to learn more about my deceased relative, [I’m calling him Ebenezer.], who worked for several years with a tribe in Canada while living in Kalispell, Montana. I believe he was attempting to film the tribe and had been working with a chief by the name of Earl Old Person for several years. 

While researching online, I came across a blog you posted in 2005 where you briefly mentioned [Eb] and his work, as well as Chief Earl Old Person. I wondered if you had any additional details or information that may be helpful in retracing his steps and finding this footage he may have captured. I am hoping to create a blog about his work and see if there was ever anything done with the footage he was trying to get of the tribe. I will be sharing my research and explorations with my school in an effort to bring more awareness to Native American issues and culture. 

Thank you so much for your assistance and time. 

Actually, “Ebenezer” arrived as a VISTA worker, a program that was a domestic version of the Peace Corps.  It was the Sixties.  He saw the potential of exploiting knowledge of the Blackfeet (NEVER “Black Feet.”) and was so intent on bringing his camera into ceremonials such as Bundle Openings that the elders asked Bob Scriver, City Magistrate and JP, to have him arrested and kept in jail until the ceremony was over.  This is not rumor— I was sitting in the pickup with Bob when he had to shout at Eb to make him give up his idea.  Eb did NOT understand the idea of forbidding cameras and refused to accept the authority of the ceremonialists to set their own rules.

Eb was one of half-a-dozen opportunists hanging around in the Sixties.  Eb wasn’t as bad as the invasive writer who turned out to be a pedophile and a madman (incarcerated in a mental hospital at one point) who nevertheless won prizes for his book about the Blackfeet.  But Eb was nowhere near as honorable, well-read or respectful as Adolf Hungry Wolf, whose marvelous four-volume book -- research and photos accumulated over decades -- is sold by the Browning School District.  Adolf is a Canadian but the Blackfoot Confederacy includes both Canada and US. 

By now there are many authorities and websites about this tribe, written by people who are actually enrolled members.  This ignorant woman has evidently not made contact with them, preferring an ornery old white woman.  Why should I help her when I’m a writer myself with no interest in her projects?  Her assumptions about me demonstrate she knows nothing about me, did no research to find out. 

Eb was a loser.  He moved across the Rockies to Kalispell, the Outlaw town, because he wasn’t wanted in Browning (which is not in Canada).  He was an object of contempt and derision.

This woman’s school is a private posh enterprise in the wealthy part of town where their knowledge of Indians could easily be expanded if they went out to the chainlink fence where the undocumented Mexicans wait in hopes of day labor jobs.  Some of them speak neither English nor Spanish — they are the real thing, only speaking their tribal language from up in the mountain villages.  

I tried to brush off this woman, but she persisted.

I am happy to hear any stories you have to share. My attempt is to do honest research. I was very young when he passed and only remember him fondly, but as a true scholar my efforts are to learn openly about the Blackfeet Nation and any of Jim's work with the group, be it good or bad. Were your experiences with him negative, I would still be interested to learn about them, if you are willing to share. 

And I do actually live in [big city], though I have been teaching in [posh suburb] for a little over a year. Prior to that, I worked as a community college teacher and in various other teaching positions around the world; I am also a writer. My hope is to help bring these stories to students who come from often privileged backgrounds and will likely be in positions of power later in life. As an educator for nearly 20 years, I feel it is my duty to instill morality and compassion into my students' lives, and sadly, Native American issues are often overlooked in our society. 

If you are willing to open a dialogue, please let me know. 

I responded that I was not willing.  Next this scholar wants me to send her Chief Old Person’s phone number.

I took the gloves off:  “You are as lazy and self-centered as Ebenezer.  I won’t do your work for you.”

But she wouldn’t shut up:

“My goal in this project is to effectively help young people learn how to move forward in a peaceful and compassionate manner. Part of this involves opening discussions that are often difficult and painful but which hopefully lead to healing, as well as to learning appropriate ways to help ensure the rights of all people, especially when one is in a "privileged position" to do so. Part of why I contacted you is because your blog implied you too were committed to this endeavor and to critiquing a very flawed social/political system. 

Obviously, you are very hurt by the interactions you had with Eb. I am sorry you had a negative experience. I am not sure, however, why you have chosen to write such rude and hateful comments towards me, a person you have virtually no information about nor knowledge. It is because of humanity's inability to let go of anger and hate that lead to so many of the problems facing our world today, including the ones you claim in your blog posts to be so passionate and concerned for. 

Anyway, I will no longer contact you or ask for assistance with this project. Thank you again for your time. And I am sorry for bothering you or stirring up unpleasant memories. That certainly was not my intent. 

The people who would understand the idiocy of this woman and her fantasies about Eb are mostly dead.  It all happened a half-century ago.  The Blackfeet are much different now.  Earl Old Person is alive, but shadows are gathering.  It wouldn’t be worth blogging about except that she’s a type, a person who stars in her own melodrama, rummaging in the family trunks for some kind of significance.  It’s not easy to teach in a posh school where everyone makes far more money.  But many people here would consider themselves her equal, not her chance to patronize people living in tipis.

I confess:  I’m rude and hateful and know nothing about this woman — I don’t know why she’s surprised by me.  I’m full of anger and hate, with good reason.  At least I got a blog post out of the pest.  Be warned.  I could use names.  I could contact the school to complain.

She’s still not as bad as the French journalist who asked me a lot of questions via email, translated my reply into French, and published it in France as an article she wrote herself.  

Please know that I will help any real indigenous people, esp. those on the high North American prairie.

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