Thursday, September 06, 2018


Though I struggle not to be a smart-aleck know-it-all, sometimes I'm just overwhelmed.  This morning I'm looking two subjects that challenge my efforts.  One is the interview of Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.  I am far to the left and no expert on the complex, shadowy laws and practices of this body of legislators which has drifted (ha!) or crept away from the past.  I can only comment on what I see on vids.  Sometimes what I see in the background audience is more interesting in the performance of Kavanaugh, which I find deficient for a Supreme Court Judge.  

The other subject is quite different.  Yesterday readers of AP stories were startled to notice the by-line of an article by Sharon Cohen about the shocking number of uninvestigated and unsolved -- even unadmitted -- deaths and disappearances of women who either enrolled with a tribe or looked like they might be.  The article is said to be coming from Valier, Montana, where I live, and the town is said to be part of the Blackfeet Reservation, which it is not.  

In fact, Valier is close but not on the reservation.  It is said to be 30% populated by Native Americans, but you wouldn't know it if you stopped for coffee.  Historically it is a white town with Belgians and former Confederates in its past.  The town prides itself on appearance in spite of the usual economic forces hampering the problem of maintenance.

The loss and death of Native American women is a long-standing and deplorable fact that has been statistically examined in spite of difficulty in getting the material.  It happens on both sides of the boundary with Canada, not necessarily on the reservation, and often along highways used by truckers.  There is a spectrum of opinion on why these many deaths happen.

At one extreme is the claim that these women put themselves in danger through bad or at least risky behaviour like hitch-hiking, drinking, hanging out with dubious characters, vulnerability to the charms of felons, seductive presentation and so on.  In other words, breaching stigma imposed by respectable people is an invitation to violation.  In other words, blaming the victim, a concept currently rejected among liberals.

At the other extreme is a related idea that certain categories of females, particularly if they are dark-skinned, are fair game for attack and violation.  This has been an historical and regional feature of war.  Dusky people are enemies, other.  The most extreme version in the past was the belief that people with a dark skin are a different species -- that pale skin is a characteristic of further evolution away from "monkeys."  Today this whole category is considered wrong, illegal, stupid, and ignorant.  When better people assert and to some degree enforce such realization, the worse people go underground.  Their behaviour doesn't end but goes covert.  Even some indigenous women accept being beaten by intimates, either because they think they deserve it or because they need the minimal support they get or because of the traditional romance of dangerous men.

If ignoramuses want to be covert, they at least know that getting away with it is much more likely in places that are out on the edge, neglected by federal law enforcers like the FBI, culturally muddled because of previous hostilities, and populated with poor people with struggling families.  They also have the idea that law enforcers who are not white are incompetent, an idea they have managed to pass to some people who ought to know better.  The learning curve has been rising for years now, along with demands for equal enforcement among peoples.

There is another element, which is the nature of the trucking industry in a time of employment change.  A concern is felons taking the jobs, which has made it necessary for men with imprisonment in their pasts to be barred from driving trucks across the Canadian border.  A less clear cultural influence is the mythologizing of indigenous people -- what might be called the Pocahontas effect.  Solitary men driving long distances where no one knows them, weary, hungry and unpraised, are easily pulled into brief relationships close to prostitution.  Trying to be dominant and macho, driver dynamics with women can easily slip into violence, esp. if drugs and/or alcohol are involved.

This particular article about the ongoing tragedy of dead ethnic women zeroes in on one unsolved case on the Blackfeet Reservation.  I know these families, have taught their children in the Sixties, who are now grown into the grandfathers interviewed.  It's as unfair to stereotype individuals according to their families as it is to stereotype them by "race," whatever that is.  (Probably more cultural than genetic. regardless of appearance.)  Just the same, we all do it all the time.  (The Kennedys, the Kardashians.)  The impression I have of the families named in this article is that their members are adventurous, intelligent, good-looking, and connected through misadventures of individuals to subterranean layers of society.  They tend to flirt with trouble.

Most people around here can tell stories about murders.  Decades ago a teaching aide came to school shaken.  Her neighbour, an employed and conscientious man, had a less responsible brother who came around when the good guy was at work and got in the habit of drinking with his wife.  Maybe more than that.  One day the man came home from work early and discovered that they had gone too far, drinking until they both passed out in the brother's car while it was parked at the top of a hill alongside a small lake next to the house.  Maybe they were watching the highway.  Anyway, the man took off the parking brake and gave the car a push.  It went into the lake.  it's said that one of them must have waked up, given the tearing inside.  When the aide was told, it had happened just hours earlier.

Death lives on our doorsteps, regardless of genealogy, virtue or location.  This high prairie is dangerous country.  We drive long distances, we endure extreme climate, we are ignored because we are so far away from the big centers of power and law enforcement, and because of a simmering cauldron of low-level rage in many people.  Women, children, and vulnerable men are beaten up.  Guns, knives, baseball bats can be lethal and they are omnipresent.  

Most of all, we are unknown.  To some people, this is a source of safety.  To live quietly without incidents means being passed by when trouble goes traveling.  I don't know that this is true, but it is a reason why we are not happy to see Valier identified as the source of this story.  That said, I sure hope Ashley Heavy Runner Loring turns up somewhere -- sadder, wiser, and alive.

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