Tuesday, May 22, 2018


“by the time you’re 35 you should have run for council twice and almost been elected the second time except your auntie was talking ish about you bc she never forgave you for that one time you stole her car and wrecked it out by seville. ?

“by age 35 you should have almost dated two of your cousins and been saved at the last second by that auntie who knows how everyone is related. 

“by age 35, every blackfeet should have tried (and failed) to explain what caddy means to indians from at least 17 other tribes”

Above are twitters from Sterling HWM  @MrHWM 
“Writer. Lover of beauty. Nīītsiṫaṗii. Unrecognized citizen of the Ǎamskǎapii Ṗiiḱǔni Nation. dreamers / they never learn / they never learn”

He also posted this:  “Americans have a special horror of giving up control, of letting things happen in their own way, without interference. They would like to jump down into their stomachs and digest the food and shovel the shit out.”
—Burroughs, Naked Lunch

All posts were made within an hour this morning and since I follow Sterling, I read them.  And laughed.  Because Sterling is on an X in my experiences where the Blackfeet, esp. the ones who have gone to college (BCC counts), and another group, smart young MFA males who pick up that California “defiance of culture” culture in which one reads criticism of culture that would be obscene if it weren’t so serious.  It’s not stuff that goes over well on the rez back home.

Strangely, the rez kidding is what needs to be explained.  This is what you need to know:

Extended family is very important: a reservoir of information and sometimes a source of discipline since your mother loves you dearly and would hate to hurt you, even in a good cause.  This is different from black city culture where mothers hurt their sons in a good cause: saving their lives with disciplinary punishment about which there is no question.  Better slapped than shot.

White mothers?  They don’t know what’s going on.  They’re at work.

So a tribal auntie will use a time-honored method of discipline: “talking ish” which is slamming and not quite damning.  An anthropologist said that in old times out-of-control persons were addressed while in their tipi’s — not directly, but by two interested parties standing just outside where they can be heard by the person inside.  They “talk ish” and remark on likely consequences to get the message across.  Evidently it worked.  It would made a great short story.

“Seville” is a housing cluster just across the bridge from the rez to Cut Bank.  It’s on the rez but accumulates people who find action in the larger county seat where there are grocery stores and lawyers.  The Sheriff’s report in the weekly newspaper often mentions Seville, or “Seville Flats” which is the larger area.  It’s not Moccasin Flats, which used to be the west side of Browning, privately owned but never maintained so that water was at a street tap and streets were at your own peril.  Now the area is rebuilt as low rent housing.

The Tribal Council was theoretically supposed to recreate the population as a corporation, very modern, while purporting to imitate the old-fashioned leader council circles.  The history of this Tribal Council was written up by Paul C. Rosier who relied on first hand research by reading files and correspondence.  His book, “Rebirth of the Blackfeet Nation, 1912-1954” is hard to read because of its density, but there are notes on this blog starting at May 3, 2005.  Ideally, one would buy the book, read it, and make one’s own notes.  It’s good to learn the names which sometimes show up on the pale blue lines of old journal pages re-used by artists to draw battle pictures.  Tribal council politics prepares one for Trump.

“By age 35 if you took state in high school and you’re still not talking about it are you even a rezzer?”  This comment comes from Robeet oonokiykuttsis Hall, Sterling’s cousint who can speak Blackfeet and understands rez dogs.

In small prairie towns, sports are far more important than politics and basketball success in one’s teens can impress others for the rest of one’s life.  When very old men are buried, their success in participating in a team that stars in state competition is bound to be mentioned.  It has taken the place of war but will not get a person into the Veteran’s Administration Hospital.  But if you’re tribal, you’ve got the Indian Hospital until Trump ends it.

“by age 35 you should be so bitter about council corruption that you decide to run for council bc in the old days everyone had a chance to embezzle  Sterling again.  He’s being tactful.  There are still chances to embezzle — it’s just a little harder.  Might need a college education.

Age 35 is a cross between what 21 used to be — an indicator of adulthood, settling down, getting a job — and what 40 used to be — the point at which things are sort of over.  Lifespans are shorter on the rez — you can argue about whether it’s hereditary due to being killed in battle before it was an issue or whether it’s due to poverty.  All I know is that my first batch of students in the Sixties are dying now.  (I’m 78.)  But there are individuals with extremely long lives.

There are two preoccupations with heredity on the rez and they are contradictory.  One is that you might contribute to in-breeding which would weaken the attributes of the people.  This became a major preoccupation when human breeding was being compared to domestic animal breeding.  It became the darkest among the Nazis, who applied the ideas of culling faulty animals to humans they considered below their own standards.

The other preoccupation is the opposite: that tribal people whose enrolment membership in the tribe, entitlement to the profits and benefits might be weakened or eliminated by marrying non-Blackfeet, usually thought of as white people though they might be yellow or black.  Basing membership on heredity and provenance was a major mistake.  

These ideas assume that being “Indian” is genetic.  But the jokes exchanged by these clever young men (on the cusp of 35) point up the cultural attributes that define “Indians” or at least “Blackfeet”, which is to say Aamskaapii Piikuni.  I apologize that I’m not clever enough to use the proper diacritical marks for writing down an oral language.  ("Caddy" comes from sliding consonants from T to D.  Very common around here.  Think of "catty."  I am.)

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