Monday, April 24, 2017


Jack Gladstone blesses the Badger/Two Med

The hard-core Blackfeet have a conviction that objects have a life and intentions of their own.  Frivolously, this explains why my books change location and create even more books.  Seriously and religiously, it explains why the Medicine Pipe Thunder Bundle that was transferred to Bob Scriver and I fifty years ago has disappeared.  The Old People say that when it wants to come back, it will simply be there again.

This spring, moving things around and removing some books that had gone dormant, I found the binder containing the manuscript of “Penucquem Speaks: A Look at Our World from a Different Culture.”  I’ll append a link to the manuscript at the end of this post.  Penucquem’s English name is Ronald Thomas West, a near legendary person who was on the Blackfeet rez decades ago.  I read this manuscript about the time it was copyrighted in 2004-2005 and it has evidently decided I need to read it again.

So I used Google, found Ron and emailed him.  

An oxymoron, regardless of the sound of the word, is recognized almost exclusively by smart people.  It describes a phenomenon that is a contradiction.  In our binary world, most people think they have to choose one side or the other, because they are not aware of the quantum physics proof that things can be two different places at the same time.  
Ron’s article called "The Great Oxymoron" about academic Native Studies Programs is at

He speaks of the folly of expecting white people to understand and make possible Native Studies of things they have spent centuries trying to stamp out.  The need is for indigenous people who can walk on both sides, and they are arriving.

Ron's bio squib at "Unlikely Stories" is:  “A Vietnam Veteran and former Special Forces Sergeant of Operations and Intelligence, Ronald Thomas West is a retired investigator that had worked primarily in Human Rights and is published in that field together with Dr Mark D Cole under the title "The Right of Self Determination of Peoples and its Application to Indigenous Peoples in the USA: The Mueller-Wilson Report." Ron spent two decades immersed in Blackfeet Indian culture. "The Great Oxymoron" is an excerpt from Napi Mephisto, an unpublished work-in-progress.”

There are other excerpts posted here and there.  He has created a body of work well-suited to the episodic but persistent demands of the Internet.  It escapes the blockhead publishing Procrustean sales strategy that deforms much thought and experience.  He has given me permission to quote and publish from this manuscript, which is long.

I can name maybe a dozen men (always men, not because there are no women but because they marry and then disappear into family, which is NOT the tribal way) who are like West to some degree.  Some of them are dead and some of them are, well, evil.  They tend to be shape-shifters, because they are produced by pasts that re-shaped them several ways, so they are multi-dimensional.  They are not necessarily shamans or ceremonialists, but they are open to those worlds and their realities.  The sequence of events in the Sixties and Seventies produced some of them.

Specifically, West was in Vietnam with a double genetic heritage that let him “pass” and occupy two worlds.  Drugs, trauma, and world-shifts brought him to the Blackfeet rez in the Seventies.  He took refuge with Alfred and Agnes Wells in Heart Butte, throwing in his pittance of disability money along with his skills.  On their behalf he negotiated deals, cut wood and carried water, and paid attention to them.  In a while he moved on to East Glacier, where Cree spirituality more or less descended on him.  Not necessarily the “real” thing and invaded by misguided white seekers. 

I knew these people Ron knew because they worked in the Scriver Studio or because their children were in my English classes or because they were drunks brought in daily for Bob to try.  Bob evaded entrapment by the culture oxymoron because he grew up there in Browning and because of his music.  I evaded the paralysis because my basic undergrad education was in theatre, where the whole idea is to understand and inhabit people who are totally different.  

Dreams came to Bob in the Sixties.  Our ceremonialists were of a slightly different set a decade earlier than Ron’s friends, so my point of view is not exactly the same, but we saw the same cultural oxymorons, which were the efforts of white academic or mercantile people to understand a culture entirely different — not because they wanted to help or would be social advocates, but because they were profiting from it.  Not that indigenous people are opposed to profit.

One of the most inscrutable phenomena, and one of the oldest because stone gambling counters have been found in the Bombas cave of the east coast of Africa that are of paleocultures, both stones fitting into a hand and one etched with lines.  I cannot find a photo on Google because the entries that used to be there are overrun by white ideas about gambling: casinos and cybergames.  

White people are warned never to play stick game because it looks as simple as “button, button, who has the button,” but it is part of an ancient system of meanings embedded in the culture; Ron suggests it's something like the I Ching, which is basically impossible to translate.  You feel it.  Not only did Ron learn how to play, he is able to explain this dimension, and also to tell stories about the gamblers and their interactions in the game and out.  Stakes are high.  It’s as fascinating as Baccarat.  

Think back to the Wells family living at Heart Butte, an entrance to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Badger/Two Medicine ceded strip, which has just been declared by the tribe to be Sacred Land where drilling for oil is forbidden.  The US Government had just recently agreed.  But now, with Trump emboldening the industrial opportunists again, there is a lawsuit from an oil company as intent on drilling as a dog smelling a bitch in heat.  All this is far from over until a generation dies.  That has begun. 

Ron was much involved in the first wave of resistance, but now those defenders must be renewed by a second generation, far more educated, deeper into the oxymoron.  So I figure that this is a stick game again.  And I figure that “Penucquem Speaks”  is a Bundle that has come to give the People stories and ideas that are the REAL content of Native Studies.  It's too strong for many people.  In fact, Safari would not give me links to the manuscript and I couldn't figure out how to attach the pdf Ron sent me.   Here's Ron himself.  

Thank you for writing. I've gone (mostly) off the grid. If you are requesting free pdf copies of my books, please state which ones and be patient, when I check this account I'll get them out to you.

Penucquem Speaks (ranked five stars by Howard Zinn at amazon) is an autobiographical sketch of my many years life with Indians of the Northern Plains (Blackfeet, primarily.) I recovered the copyright and give it away free these past several years.

Napi Mephisto is a collection of essays stitched together simply intended to get teeth grinding and provoke outrage in those people really stuck in the ethnocentric bias of euro-centric (western) culture

Queer Chicken Dinner is a rip into Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’

Cosmos and Consciousness is a translation of pre-Columbian world view into modern modern western terms (the most difficult to write, by far) 

There will be more as I read and digest.

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