Sunday, March 05, 2017



Work, recreation and research have a tendency to merge in my days.  For instance, last night I watched an episode of “Bones”  (Season 4, Episode 6), the gruesomely explicit CSI series.  The most bizaare body so far was a basketball player who was behind the bleachers when they hydraulically folded into the wall.  People love these imitation corpses and make lists of the "best."  The “shock” bits disguise what is actually a discussion of what it is to be human, made of vulnerable suffering flesh.  "Bones" also explores the morality of sex quite a bit, as the Asperger-types question the voluptuous and emotional folks.

This particular episode was about an office romance that aroused jealousy enough for someone to throw a stapler at the victim’s head which triggered an aneurism.  (Okay, so they were reaching.) The payoff was throwing the body down the elevator shaft so that the car “mulched” (their word) the body into gobbets, one of which wore a high-heeled shoe. 

Villain, Hero, Woman

Then I watched a new addition to Netflix:  “The Salvation”, a Danish film, a “Western” filmed in South Africa in frank imitation of a spaghetti Western, except this was, as one reviewer remarked, “ink-soaked denim,” the usual pattern of one vengeful and powerful man confronting villains oppressing a town.  The town is half-burned, a jagged, shattered, charred background for urban shooting war.  Mads Mikkelson specializes in these roles, a righteous family man confronting a totally evil greedy-man (the handsome but menacing Michael Raymond-James.)  Everyone already knows the plot, just as we all know that the CSI show will end in solving the mystery.  

We recognize the steps and the characters, so the skill of the film is in the style, which is surprisingly restrained, almost barren.  I didn’t know there was dry terrain with buttes like that in South Africa, but maybe they were CGI.  Most of the victims are shot neatly in the middle of the forehead and drop in place.  

The restraint is more menacing than the episodes of fire.  A bad guy shoots a good kid on the roof of the hotel by sending bullets up through the ceiling.  This breaks the bottle of kerosene the boy was carrying, which drips through the ceiling and — since the bad guy is smoking a cigar, sets him on fire.  There are the traditional pair of women, a blonde heroine who is killed early and a dark heroine who at this point is tied to a bed, about to be immolated.  We don’t see how she got loose — the editing cuts to the villain using her as a shield on the balcony of the hotel.  I shouldn’t spoil the rest.  But note that she’s not Indian (there are no Indians — everyone is a “settler”) but she was captured and tortured by Indians, which made her a savage victim.

Twitter, as I follow it, includes a lot of indigenous people in both Canada and the US.  An on-going thread is about a book, “The Orenda” by Joseph Boyden, which has become the focus of outrage and political sword-waving about its perceived message: “the emergence of Canada: Indian savages, do-good Jesuits and the inevitability (even desirability) of colonization.”  It’s an apologia for the destructive “settlers” of the Empire.  (No reference to contemporary Palestinians with the same problem.)  The setting is the last years of the Huron Confederacy (1600's) in what became central Ontario.  If you want more, I’m quoting Hayden King, a professor at Ryerson in Toronto.  He’s Pottawotami and Ojibwe from that same area.

A friend had sent me a copy of “The Orenda” months ago, but I didn’t read very far into it because it was so “witchy” as Blackfeet would say.  Indeed, most of the doin’s in brush-and-stream country is usually dark and grotesque, the country of the starvation people who eat what Blackfeet call “nothing food.”  (Bison are real food.)

Until this review I hadn’t known that the tribal torturer (equivalent to a Spanish inquisitor) was named “Tekakwitia”, but I immediately recognized the name as similar to that of the first Native American saint, who is particularly celebrated by the Blackfeet here.  The Browning Catholic Church put a statue of her in the yard.  In fact, a young woman of this community was named for her, familiarly called “Tekkie.”  She had Down Syndrome which meant she was cheerful and generous, much loved.

The villain Tekakwitia is the father of this woman with the similar name who recently was deemed a saint.  The point of Tekakwitia the Torturer in this novel is that he converts to Christianity — he is REdeemed.  Then the suffering of the Jesuits become worthy.  Hayden King sees the whole book as “the marginalization of the perspective of the Haudenosaunee, the centering of the Jesuit point of view and the cultivation of old tropes, specifically the savage Indian — amounting to a tale about the inevitability of colonization.”  

From a purely historical point of view, like the CSI scientists, that’s the fact of the matter.  From the warmer moral relationship point of view, the fault of the book, according to King, is that it makes it seem that the victims triggered their own destruction and deserved it because they were such vicious sadistic savages.  I won’t venture to guess what that California private school teacher — the one who wanted to come learn all about the rez so she could inspire her upscale students — would made of this book.  I daresay she will be careful to not know it exists.

Adrian Jawort is a contemporary NA writer in Montana who honchoed “Off the Path,” a unique anthology of writing by and for NA’s because he saw that NA’s must read and publish for themselves, about their own lives today.  He’s in Billings and writes for “Indian Country.”.  I reviewed the anthology with admiration.  It is full of suffering honestly told.  The piece linked is about the death of Adrian’s brother.

This is not Sherman Alexie joking around.  Jawort is reality-based and not from the 1600’s.  It is not Algerian/French theorizing, nor are there any Jesuits or saints.  Jawort told me his second book, “Moonrise Falling” and third book, “Off the Path II” were gothic in that intense genre that is often expressed in film as horror.  I challenge you to read them.  I’m not up to it right now.  I wonder what Hayden King said about them if he reviewed them.  Surely he knows they exist.  You can buy them on Amazon.

Academic and urban indigenous people immediately see this Goth/horror approach as insulting to their identity and some react by attacking the character of the writer.  These folks want to be seen as blameless, maybe even a bit romanticized, certainly middle-class and prosperous. They feel being indigenous is an entitlement even if they have never lived in Indian Country and have very low blood quantums.  To them being “Indian” is innate rather than survival-based from interacting with the land itself.  And they want revenge.

One can’t fault the reality that point of view.  It’s what also creates the monomania of Jesuits and settlers, that feeling that they are part of a privileged, admirable community.  But I wish they’d get over attacking the writer, trying to force him to eat his own legs.  It didn’t work for the Iroquois.  Attacks on Joseph Boyden come from the same vicious attitude they want to claim is “unIndian.”  

But the publicity must be great for sales.  Maybe even motivation to wade through this elegantly written and very long book, somewhat based on the life of Jean de Brébeuf.  King said it was the bloodiest book he’s read since “Blood Meridian.”  Some will consider that an attractive feature.  If you want authenticity, buy Jawort.  If you want to be an activist, how about getting involved in the neglect of NA murders?

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