Thursday, October 18, 2018


I am aware that posting this will make some people very angry and that some of them might even try to take revenge.  Very few of them, if any, will be as old as I am (79).  This relates to Khassoggi because it is in terms of writing.  But also it's about the young mostly female defenders of their identity.

When I came to Browning in 1961 to teach high school English, everyone (with a few exceptions) who had a business or profession was white though it was a rez. I became attached to a white man who was born there in 1914.  His father came there in 1903 and established the Browning Mercantile, which was the store most likely to be patronized by tribesmen.  The "Indians" of the town were divided between Blackfeet and Cree (and a few other tribes plus one or two black people).  Cree, which included Metis, occupied a social place halfway between white and "Indian".  A black person was treated as an anomaly and like most anomalies was either disliked and feared, or amusing and friends.  Some of my students became white replacers as the whites left, and some of them became "medicine men" to use movie parlance.

Bob Scriver's career began as a portrayer of frontiersmen and cowboys.  When the oil boom hit and the council was suddenly rich, Iliff McKay and Blackie Wetzel conferred with Scriver about a series of monument-sized depictions of Blackfeet.  The result was "Transition," "No More Buffalo," and "Return of the Blackfeet Raiders."  Bronze monuments of Indians had been one of the forces driving the assumed natural nobility of "red" people because they were presented as representing the original Americans, therefore symbolic.

Probably the last of these monuments was Fraser's "End of the Trail" at the Pacific Coast, which was acquired in plaster by the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City where it signified the end of the Old West.  Maybe by now it's about the end of the democracy of the United States.  By this time Scriver was making figures of "Indians" that were not portraits of individuals.  They were historical and responded to the stereotypical white man's ideas about history, which by this time many Indians shared.  They were now the administrators and small business owners.

But there was one last blooming of 1960 reality.  I always thought it had something to do with Bob being thrown out of the Masonic Lodge because of his sexual behavior: multiple marriages and romances.  He began to focus on traditional "Bundle-opening" ceremonials and beliefs as an access to honour and spirituality.  The result was portrayal of the actual people.  (George and Molly Kicking Woman were the youngest except for me -- George had been a classmate of Scriver.)  Sculptures were his "second life" of not-quite-secret doin's and beliefs.  

White people did not know these ceremonies existed, except for John Hellson, who had married a Blackfeet woman in Canada and knew a lot of behind-the-curtain things.  About that same time Adolf Hungry-Wolf was the same.  The most political tribal people objected -- but none of the old people we knew and no whites listened.  Bob -- and therefore myself as his appendage -- participated in the doin's as sincerely as we could on their terms.  We were accepted, partly because Bob put in a lot of money and partly because he genuinely had the dreams.

An influential third-circle of entrepreneurs and publishers had grown up around the "idea" of cowboys and Indians, which was partly about WWII, a way of dealing with trauma and a return to peace which gradually became more violent storywise.  Charlie Russell, James Willard Schultz, Walter McClintock and many others were part of this and it more and more took on the characteristics of an "Orientalism," as Edward Said's theories suggest.  That is, more and more it was about an IDEA derived from the reality and edited to flatter the white consumers who considered themselves the ones who really "knew."  There's still a lot of that around, but in the Sixties there were enough believers to support the genre.  Bob divorced me, at my request, in 1970 and I stayed around until the fourth wife moved her clothes into the bedroom.  Then I stopped being an appendage.

When I came back to Valier in 1999. I had the idea that I would write about all this.  The result was "Bronze Inside and Out."  I also had the idea that I would fit into the Montana writers group: AB Guthrie, Jr. and Norman Maclean, Ivan Doig and Jim Welch (both my age).  I would be the "other" "Writing Mary" besides Mary Clearman Blue.  And so on.  I soon found out -- mostly by attending the Montana Festival of the Book -- that writing can be a middle-class, self-congratulatory, white, prosperity-based form of mercantilism, just like Western art.  I didn't want to be like that.  Half one's time was given to promotion and negotiating contracts.  Writing had to sell.

I couldn't do that anyway.  The gamble was buying a house and hoping I would find a way to eat until I hit Social Security in a few years.  Along came the Internet.  And all the writers there were practically children who lived in a different world.  I wrote a few "Western" short stories, a bit of autobiography, and began a long association with a group of boys creating an online episodic cross between a bildungsroman (coming of age) and whatever Don Quixote is (Quest? Satire? Picaresque?), including images and videos mixed with print and presented as a journal or diary of their lives plus a strong unconventional moral dimension.  Of course, this was derived from doing sexwork for survival but moving towards art.  

No group of writers with this style has formed that I know of, though there are many transgressive writers.  It is multi-lingual, international, future-oriented, reform-demanding.  I've never met any of these people.  If I use the name of their instigator, it will only increase criticism and rejection of both me and him but form me I don't care.  Valier is what Browning used to be: so far out of the mainstream that no one comes here.  Maybe briefly in good weather.

When I was divorced ($1200 alimony which was three months salary in 1970), and after my sojourn with animal control in Portland, I went to the University of Chicago Divinity School which is my Yale Law School.  That is, I use it as a shield and a sword the way Kavanaugh did.  I was there to try to understand Blackfeet culture and ceremonies as one with the sensory life of them within me.  The Div School was not able to do that, but what I needed was somehow alive in the thought stream of the community (Eliade, Lakoff) enough of a handhold.

The irony is that I can't write about it without a storm coming down on my head.  The glory of it is that I don't care.  It's worth everything.  I have left the narrow, the prescribed, the well-rehearsed middle-class story that has escaped suburbia like kudzu covering reality.  I have joined the "deep," the "long," the people's and all life's history and all that preceded it in the cosmos and is still transcribed in our very planetary stones if we only learn to read the evidence with our elegant new ideas.  They include "Indians," whether or not they left molecular traces in Warren's cells, whether or not it's a useful identity.

I defend the right of an academic or politician or artist to leverage genome, cultural heritage, life experience, location, practices, language, aspirations or whatever else.  I want to get out of their way.  But I also want to tell them about Mary Ground, Alonzo Skunkcap, Chewing Black Bone, Young Jim Whitecalf and so on.  I knew them when they were very old and I was very young.

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