Friday, September 30, 2005

Structure, Construction, Deconstruction Pt. 2

Here are the rules I thought of overnight about structure. Actually, it was more like remembering them from a hundred workshops, including one with Starhawk. (

1. Structure should be based on real experience and natural structure as much as possible. (This is where the Neocons go badly wrong. George Bush has less experience of reality than Louis the Fourteenth.)

2. Structure should be enabling, not suppressing. Of course, one person’s suppression (dams) is another’s enabling (irrigation). But de-struction is a form of con-struction. (Knocking out the dams to let the salmon through.)

3. Structure IS, whether we like it or not, fluid, time-bound, going somewhere. Rivers, power lines, the land, ecologies, households -- no matter how well organized and maintained they are, they are deteriorating, flowering, bringing forth, interacting. (I’m thinking about my little old house. Gutters are the structures to be addressed today. The rain is coming.) Even the Rockies are wearing away. Animal skeletons are not permanent: the structure is there, but the cells are constantly dying and being replaced and in that process, slight changes to the whole skeleton develop.

4. All structure is part of a larger structure, right on out into space and through the cosmos. When considering the impact of a structure, this must be considered or one risks creating changes never intended at all. (CRP, the payment of farmers not to grow any crops in order to avoid surpluses, has wiped out many small towns because the farmers took their money someplace else.)

5. Every structure must have feedback corrections in it. In our democracy, the main feedback loop is elections. When we have gone one direction too long, the next election should restore balance. At present it appears that some people have managed to abort and subvert elections here in the US (consider the controversy over the Ohio presidential election), on the reservation (That old lady I mentioned yesterday maintains that the ballots they count are all marked up before the election, and then switched with the ones the people actually vote on, so the previously prepared ones can be counted publicly, creating the illusion of honesty. “It’s because they know who will be on the ballot,” she suggested. “If no one knew who was going to be on the ballot, then they couldn’t mark those ballots in advance.”), and in Iraq. Someone needs to do some very serious systems analysis about elections, and I think someone probably is. The old Blackfeet way was simply to vote with feet by walking off. Won’t work now.

Reservations have a very hard time with elections, laws, and all the paraphenalia of government structure, because in their case so much is constructed and so little comes out of the natural order that was so recent. Just setting up a reservation is a fiction. It’s only a legal category, though the mountains and rivers help to set borders.

Once the legal category is created, people start sliding it around to their own advantage. If you look at a map of Glacier County and check the eastern edge, you’ll see that all the oil wells are just barely over on county side -- that’s because they quietly moved that border as soon as oil was suspected. Recently the City of Cut Bank built two large, expensive reservoirs on reservation land which had been patented and therefore could be bought and sold. However, it was still on the reservation and therefore subject to tribal law, which included a requirement that all big construction projects hire a certain percentage of Indians. The tribe shut Cut Bank’s project down while this was sorted out.

Cut Bank claimed ignorance, which is equivalent to arguing that a law is not a law unless you know it’s a law. (Do you know all the laws there are? I don’t. But lawyers are supposed to know how to find out.) They did not argue that when land is owned by non-Indians, it is no longer part of the reservation, but that HAS been argued. Also, no one defined Indian. (The problem is not that there is no definition, but that there are too many.) Cynics interpreted the situation as a ploy to get bribes. Others felt it was due to Cut Bank failing to see Tribal constructed laws as “real.”

Many people have been assailing one of the biggest and most powerful constructs of our modern society: the multi-national corporation. Corporations are organizations (constructs) that we pretend are people (corporate has the same root as corpse) and treat in law that way. But corporations are NOT people and have now used their definitional privileges to reach back and control the governments that granted them this fantasy status, because they can see that otherwise they will be limited. After all, nothing about this is natural -- it’s all invented on paper.

And the results are now beginning to be deeply destructive. If the alternative media is correct, our own internal citizen army -- the national guard -- was kept away from New Orleans while Blackwater soldiers of fortune, hired guns, were sent in to keep order. They are a private army with no allegiance except to whomever meets the payroll. Think about it. (Not TOO much or you won’t be able to sleep.)

In fact, some observers think that the multi-national corporations that control governments have abandoned their own checks and balances and grown to such proportions that they will destroy themselves. One example was Dell, which doesn’t make computers but only assembles them from parts for which they contract. They hadn’t realized that one small SE Asia supplier was the only source of a vital chip they had to have. That little supplier hit problems and SMASH falls Dell. Sounds like our war effort in Iraq to me. Except the tiny vital part of the construct that they assume is in endless supply is the soldiers.

Davidson Loehr’s book is “America, Fascism, and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher.” (Copyright 2005. Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, Vermont. He recommends “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power” by Joel Bakan. (Copyright 2004 by the Free Press.)

David is the senior minister at the Austin Unitarian Universalist Church in Texas. Their website is down: either it is swept up in the storm chaos or overwhelmed by something else.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


1. “That which is constructed, as a building.”
2. “Something organized or organized according to a plan or design: the political ‘structure’ of a republic.”
3. “The manner of such organization: a hierarchical ‘structure.’”
4. “The arrangement and relationship of the parts of a whole, as organs in a plant or animal, atoms in a molecule, etc.”

Construction/Deconstruction, Infrastructure, Instruction, destruction.

I have a storm, a chaos, of concepts having to do with structure. In an effort to “order” them, I’ll try an essay here.

First, I want to mention that someone whose name I didn’t catch was on NPR noting how different cultures are, both in their tolerance for disorder and their approaches to keeping or restoring or creating order. This was in reference to the recent major hurricanes. He spoke of the orderly Germans, who will impose order by force if necessary. And he spoke of the orderly Japanese who will appeal to the greater good of the whole and the honor of one’s family. But, he suggested, there is something in American character that loves chaos and that’s what showed up in our response to the disasters. We hate reading instructions. We like to wing it by the seat of our pants. (A mixed metaphor that suggests rotors on our britches.)

Partly our mental picture of a disaster is heroes rising above the bothersome restrictions to save the victims. But this specific disaster stripped the covers off of an economic structure that no heroes had risen above -- the poverty of often-black people not supported by political “will” on any level and an infrastructure so fragile that it was bound to collapse, just like their little houses.

Let me start over. When I went to seminary in 1978, I got there in the middle of a huge discussion about “deconstruction.” The idea was that if you ignore the predictable surface meanings of books, you can look deeper into them and see the pentimento of class and education. In the assumptions of the author, you can make out their prejudices, which are often self-serving and not always very nice. Take for example the little story called “The Indian in the Cupboard,” which many whites consider charming. Then ask yourself what’s charming about a white child who can entrap a real human being, miniaturized, for a toy and keep him away from the Indian’s real life. Why are Indians, real human beings, so often seen as children’s toys?

People got so good at this deconstruction business that they could find faults and blame everywhere. A presumably intelligent local Indian woman recently told me that Bob Scriver copied because all his sculptures of Blackfeet look like Blackfeet. She’s evidently never heard of portraits.

Let’s start over again. Yesterday I drove to Great Falls for my monthly load of groceries. On the way I was thinking about a book I thought would be a good idea: “What Are You Looking At?” It would describe and explain both the built and the natural infrastructure of the land. “Natural” being streams, soil, wind, temperature, and underground configurations from ages past. “Built” being the roads, power lines, underground pipelines, above ground fences, communication towers, shelter belts and fence rows, rocker pumps and then the towns clustered along the way -- most of them gradually deconstructing. The way of the Native peoples here was to adapt to the natural infrastructure with one huge exception: they used fire to maintain the prairie. Probably our major recent unnatural structuring has been dams and pumping things out of the interior of the earth.

Let’s start over again. I talked about this theory of how Americans love chaos with a Native American lit professor. He pointed out how chaos allows thieves and oppressors to get away with lots of bad stuff, because the confusion means that no one really sees it and all monitoring agencies are missing or disabled. I thought of Eric Berne’s ideas about “Games People Play,” like “Uproar,” which is like upsetting the table when you can see you’re going to lose at chess, or “NIGYSOB” which written out is “Now I’ve Got You, you SOB,” and plays out as a form of entrapment -- provoke someone until they strike out at you, then claim to be attacked. Does this remind you of tribal politics? Or maybe DeLay? But on the other hand, sometimes so much chaos manages to keep the foot of the oppressor off the neck of the vulnerable.

David Loehr, a friend of mine from seminary, has written a book; actually it’s a collection of sermons, like my “Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke.” David’s book is “America, Fascism and God” and came about when one of his sermons along these lines -- which is very hard on politicians -- caught fire on the Internet and swept across the country. More about that in a minute. First I have to justify how I can talk about David down in Austin, Texas, can appear in this “place-based” blog.

Actually, he came to visit me in 1989. Down on his luck and out of money, he badly needed to escape from the church scene, so he bought a See America ticket and traveled among friends along the railway. I had just been hired to teach English in Heart Butte Actually, I was darned lucky it turned out that way -- the superintendent had told me I had the job but he “couldn’t find the contract” for me to sign -- while he continued trying to find the young man he really wanted to hire because he could coach basketball. Luckily for me, the young man had gone off on an adventure and couldn’t be found. His disorder saved me from being stranded with no teaching job in September.

I picked up David at the train station in East Glacier and took him cross-country out to my new teachage apartment in Heart Butte where the hot water heater was broken and he had to sleep on a mattress in the front room. He said it was like being back in the army. On the way in the dark we came around a corner and almost hit a colt in the road. David was very concerned and thought we should take it along with us -- where was its mother? So we can grant that he doesn’t know much about Montana.

But he’s been doing a lot of reading and thinking about fascism. Also, he has a sort of pocket version of the final report of Martin Marty project on Fundamentalism, which was just firing up when we left. (Martin Marty was one of our most beloved and powerful professors, though a very humble, pastoral sort of person. Someone gave him millions of dollars which he used to fund grad students going all over the world to study the “fundamentalist” version of the religions there --ALL the religions. Incredibly, when they all came back together after years of study all over the globe, their accounts of what drives fundamentalism were eerily similar. What was under it, the pentimento of fundamentalism, is biology, they suggested.

Our species evolved in beings gathered into bands with big strong men who could fight or hunt and nurturing protective small women who could keep a camp and raise children. They protected their territory, resisted “others,” and maintained an infrastructure of ceremonies. All this is still in place. Not just on reservations, but also in cities, in the Superdome.

More later. Gotta think some more.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Montana Festival of the Book 2005

Bookfest ‘05

This was quite a different Bookfest than any I’ve attended before, because, I think, of a lot of subtle but interacting factors. One was the weather: a Canadian cold front was coming through so it was a wetter, chillier experience. I left late, about 5:30 AM, and the Big Dipper accompanied me as far as the Highway 200 exit, but from then on driving worsened until I was going through Rogers Pass (5,610) in a snow storm with big goose feather flakes. I was happy to get to Lincoln where the waitress met me at the door with the news she had just taken a quiche out of the oven. It was spinach and dried tomato, and it turned out she had evidently just thrown a handful of spinach and big slices of tomato into the mix instead of cutting and stirring. I didn’t complain.

The road was slow enough that I got there at ten, missing the panel on “Publishing in the West.” I’m tired of the subject anyway. I’ve attended that panel twice. Russell Chatham is the only one I’d care to hear from at this point and he’d “testified” on Friday. But I had a nice chat with Pat Burk, wife of Dale Burk. We probably hadn’t talked since the Sixties when Dale was the only writer/photographer chronicling the new phenomenon of Western artists. His two books are the subjects of one of my blogs.

The Burks, who are about my age, confirmed that aging is affecting us, affecting the way we see the world. We were such idealists -- we dreamed so big. I ran into Don Marble, a county commissioner in Chester, and one of the “good” lawyers -- now retired and no wonder -- and again hit the theme of “the world is changing,” with his concern for the way economics and politics are going -- far too entwined, far too vicious, far too hard on the little guy and the land. Iraq and the Gulf Coast disasters are wearing hard on us, bringing back semi-subconscious memories of WWII or even the Depression. We resisted the impulse (more or less) to count the number of fine writers missing in action here -- dead, aged, involved in other matters.

The first panel I attended was moderated by a veteran (even founder) who was NOT missing in action: Annick Smith. The topic was “A Boy’s Life -- Male Memoir.” Annick raised four boys so she felt competent to urge on this set of four men. Her approach was structured, with an introduction, and she had interviewed each of the men in the lobby of the Wilma just before, so they were warmed up and confident.

Greg Keeler is someone I don’t really know, but feel as though I do because the Bozeman Unitarians were so fond of him when I was there. A scruffy guy, he says his whole strategy is being the butt of his own jokes -- he says it turns out that way most of the time anyway, so he just uses it. A poet and musician (he composed the conference theme song) he has most recently been a memoirist of Richard Brautigan. Suddenly everyone is curious about Brautigan again, and Keeler was a neighbor and tolerant but protective buddy through some of Brautigan’s wild excesses in Bozeman. Now Greg turns to his own life. Fishing and fish have been the non-mega-charismatic totem of his life, so his coming memoir is called “Trash Fish.”

Doug Peacock, now bald but with short chin whiskers, flowered on this panel. Annick has known him “forever” and her warmth kindled his sense of humor. He said with his poor eyesight (his glasses go on and off all the time) he misread the original panel title and thought it said, “Male Member.” Acting out what that might be like, he narrated, “Dick stood up and went to the door. It was cold outside.” He thought it should be Hemingwayesque, of course.

Fred Haefele, author of “Rebuilding the Indian,” was on one of the panels at the first Montana Festival of the Book I attended. He is considerably mellowed, softened, and more attentive, although once he claimed to be “off task.” He’s a lifelong arborist and I daresay it’s only in this unaccustomed setting that he goes “off task.”

Jonathan Johnson, a much younger man, told how he and his wife had made a plan for finishing college, then holing up in a cabin near the ranch where he grew up, so he could write. He’s a poet, now turning to a memoir invaded by a surprise: a baby daughter. His memoir turned to something more the journal of a pregnancy and birth.

The startling fact of the “Male Memoir” was that Peacock and Haefele -- both in forty/fifty mode -- were also new fathers of baby daughters. What can it mean? None of the babies were the fashionable adopted Chinese females, but full-fledged biological creations in which the fathers took an almost maternal pleasure.

The second panel was “Men and Beast -- Writing Responsibly About the Wild.” The panelists were totally incompatible in method though they all care greatly about the grizzly. Mike Lapinski, an engineer who thinks in bullet lists, diagrams and slogans, preaches “Science,” and whose book is “The Grizzly Maze,” about Timothy Treadwell who tried to become a bear, was the organizer. He alloted everyone their ten minutes and put himself last, so he could run long. He had a few main points: bears are not the dangerous monsters portrayed, leave bears alone, and -- if necessary -- bear spray really works. A handsome rawboned man, he’s clearly a type not often seen at Book Festivals and we’re poorer for it. But it’s easy to understand why he wouldn’t come. He writes hunting books: he’s old-fashioned, right-wing, an effective escapee from the system who won’t vote unless his wife MAKES him.

Gary Ferguson lost his wife tragically in a river rafting expedition last summer. Another handsome man (in a different way) he speaks eloquently about wilderness in the way liberals do, alert to conservative control of the agenda and its weird phobia about science.

Doug Peacock locked his brakes. He’s the romantic who sees the “mythic” bear and understands the deranged war veteran Treadwell. Retreating by reading from his manuscript, he recommended Paul Shepard. I’ve got to get back to Paul Shepard. Is Doug Peacock handsome? For me, a burly bald man in an undershirt holding his cat in his arms -- as depicted in the Festival flier -- is nearly irresistible. He terribly misses Ed Abbey and says there is no contemporary equivalent or replacement.

Andrea Peacock, Doug’s wife, was nothing like I expected and with her analytic journalists’ outlook came closest to providing some kind of overview. She seems young, flexible, and sympathetic, but -- as she reported -- she is capable of spending the entire last summer reviewing written records, hardly going outside.

One of the problems I found with this year’s festival was that there was no time between sessions for meals, schmoozing, taking a quick shopping break and so on. I guess it’s my own fault for not wanting to miss anything, but Richard Wheeler and Sue Hart (the star of last night’s premiere showing of her movie on Dorothy Johnson) invited me to lunch and I had to turn it down since there was only a forty-five minute interval. It’s hard to be in Missoula and not have a little time to prowl.

I “do” the festival all in one day because I don’t want to leave my cats overnight, but there were several small dogs at the festival. One lady sighed, “We’ve already had four dog fights this morning!” Since they were all dogs that weighed less than maybe five pounds (One vet I know claims that dogs that weigh that little are no longer dogs, but rodents.) the biggest damage was to eardrums.

On an empty stomach and at my usual naptime, I got into trouble at the next panel by sitting in the back with Mary Clearman Blew -- whispering, we thought -- until a very nice librarian-type lady came back and rebuked us severely for damaging the event. Mary went into administrator mode and apologized. I personally felt defiant. If you ask me, there are too many “nice ladies” at this event. They’ve grown gray-haired over the years, but they still worship “culture.”

The panel was “The New Novel” and was moderated by the blonde Festival Goddess herself, Kim Anderson. Everyone on the panel was young enough to be my offspring. I recognized Kevin Canty (whose daughter is ten years old) and he spoke about going to the computer and listening for voices from some other place. (There was a great deal of emphasis on “how do you get your ideas?” Rather like the lady who told me she loved to blog but had a hard time coming up with ideas.) He’s funny and easy, but that’s surface.

Claire Davis was quite different than I expected from reading “Winter Range.” I thought she’d be less huggable, less mordant. I guess it’s the tension between those contradictions that makes her interesting. Her new book, “Season of the Snake,” is about a woman married to a sexual predator who doesn’t see it. Claire, Mary and Kim Barnes belong to the outpost of Missoula literary society in Moscow, Idaho, which these days accomplishes more and better stuff than the Mother Fort. Next on the horizon is an anthology women over forty. (Frankly, I don’t care about that. Where’s the anthology for women over sixty?)

Jess Walter, of Spokane, was almost like a white version of Sherman Alexie. His most recent novel is about a guy in a witness protection plan, sent to Spokane, where rubbing elbows with good citizens makes him rethink (or maybe for the first time “think”) about what a democratic society ought to be. Jess played poker with two of these-type guys, and seems fully capable of rendering them as they are. One re-offended and is back in the slammer.

Dean Bakopoulos is the token import, the exec. director of the Wisconsin Humanities Council. His recent novel was “Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon.” He was a high energy, funny guy but I don’t remember anything specific. Garth Stein is a similar type guy who’s from Seattle. The truth is that I don’t know these books, don’t really know what the authors are talking about, and am not motivated to read of them -- oh, maybe Claire’s. The theme of this panel was about being an “outsider,” but it appeared to me to be about something like personal blogging, an exploration of one’s own internal world and the voices that come from “someplace else,” other people’s lives. I must be getting old and cranky.

Luckily, Kirby Lambert, art curator at the Montana Historical Society, had just been to the blogging panel when the next panel started and said that my name had come up in a defense of how blogging is just a lot of interior rambling -- the moderator there said that what I posted was well-written and obviously I’d spent a lot of time on them. I hope I’m an influence instead of an anomaly.

The last panel was “Forged in Fire.” The fire-jumper, Lori Messenger, had been whisked off to respond to water: she is running an emergency response center in the Gulf of Mexico states. Mary Clearman Blew read her essay about fighting wildfire while suspecting she was pregnant. On a quick break in a small town after hours, she appeared at the only drugstore just as they were closing -- smoke-smeared and weighed down with her Nomex garments and other gear. The women of the town sympathetically found her a pregnancy test and gave her advice about a time and place to take the test. Negative. But later she had a daughter. (Where are all these girl babies coming from? That “other place” the writers kept insisting was an inspiration?)

Kim Barnes’ essay was about the terror of being the one left at home while her family went out to risk their lives. A tall, beautiful woman, Kim is newly gray in front and it becomes her. The only moment in which the terror returned to her was when she spoke of her daughter wanting to fight fire.

Phil Drucker wrote a story he claimed was named for “one of my earlier ex-wives.” It was a cliff-hanger but he assured us he didn’t burn up in the end. The plot hinged on two fire-fighting readiness groups who got into a water fight on a hot afternoon and then had nothing left for fighting the fire that broke out. Mary earlier had organized an anthology of Idaho writers on “water,” and jokesters like Phil suggested, “Well, now you need to do fire, earth and air!” Okay, responded Mary. And Phil could co-edit! The earth anthology is now being organized and air after that. Mary is reading submissions for “air” and says they’re good.

One of the most valuable parts of the schedule is the thumbnail bios of the writers, which I use all the year long to try to keep track of developments. I’d like to see this bunch of bios posted on the Montana Arts Council website, or maybe the Montana Festival of the Book website. WITHOUT noting how much money they make for the glory of the Montana economy.

Worrying about the pass, I left straightaway, but it was cleared and graveled. Enough snow along the way to track elk. On the west side the snow became dark rain Thin pewter rents tore the low indigo clouds into long silvery streams with a star here and there like a fish. The streams formed an estuary, and by the time I was north of Choteau, the Big Dipper was sailing along with me and the sky was a huge net of glittering stars.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Blackfeet Harvest Moon Ball

In 1961 when I arrived on the rez, the Big Hotel in East Glacier Park didn’t even like local whites to come around, much less Indians. The place was entirely staffed by blonde and obedient Minnesota kids, usually with a connection to Great Northern Railway. But times change and even Minnesota kids aren’t what they used to be -- the Great Northern, of course, no longer exists.

This last weekend the Harvest Moon Ball was held in the Big Hotel, completely organized, attended and funded by Blackfeet. Not all were local: one was Greek, and one lives off-rez with whites and paints like a white man because he was entirely educated in big city white art schools -- but that’s beside the point and mean-spirited anyway. The featured artist, Leonda Fast Buffalo Horse, had the highest selling piece: “Celestial Bear Shield,” a mirror and stained-glass round shield with a bear paw and two eagle feathers. It sold for $2,800 in the live auction. Total sales were $39,000.

Four artists -- Valentina LaPier, Brett Wagner, David Dragonfly, and Gary Schildt -- created “quickdraw” art for silent auction. The “quickdraw” deal was invented in Helena at the Rendezvous of Art and consists of the artists creating their work right on the spot with an arbitrary time limit. The model was an Indian woman in a shawl and braids with an eagle feather stuck in her hair and an eagle wing fan. (Evidently no one made a fuss about stereotypes.)

Professional chefs -- many of them Blackfeet restauranteurs -- supplied a feast of prime rib and salmon. Quite different from what used to be the norm at pow-wows and ceremonies, which tended to be boiled ribs, boiled eggs, fry bread, and oranges you peeled yourself. And different from the big “feeds” that serve Indian Tacos. Pretty Indian girls in Academy Award-type fancy dresses undertook the traffic control and serving. There once was a time you’d have had to hold a gun on young Blackfeet women to get them into such dresses!

This year was meant to honor two of the most beloved Blackfeet artists: King Kuka and Ernie Pepion. Both recently passed on. Kuka had a strong spiritual component to his work and often painted riders in a spatter of white “snow.” He was educated at the University of Montana, earning a BA and worked in many different media. He said, “Dreams are invisible voices calling me, sustaining me, carrying me in difficult times.”

After a car accident iin 1971, Ernie Pepion was confined to a wheelchair but his imagination and mordant humor were never confined. He said, “Since I am a firm believer in dreams, I believe that one of these days I’ll dance right out of this chair, maybe not at this lifetime, but maybe in the end when I go to the Sand Hills. I am trying to show that even though we handicapped people may have physical limitations, we can conquer anything mentally.” Engineering students in Bozeman rigged an easel for him that could be lowered into the floor or pivoted around the middle so there were no limits to the size of canvas he could use.

The money goes to the Blackfeet Community Development Fund, directed by Eloise Cobell, whose lawsuit against the US Government (did you catch the last scandal: the records found in the garbage behind the Archives building in Washington, D.C.?) has taught her to think outside the box and to think BIG. So here are tribal people using creativity and glamour to create an event that makes them proud and builds up funds for a community people always used to say would prevent any such thing.

The Big Hotel comes along meekly, having checked their own financial books and realized that this money was made in a season when the place used to be shuttered, though it’s one of the sweetest parts of the year. (Not least because all the tourists disappear after Labor Day.)

(I’m indebted for the facts above to John McGill, the editor of the “Glacier Reporter.”

In the Sixties it used to be that “Indian art” was when you (rarely Indian) bought some photographic portraits of old-time Indians (often rigged up with stuff out of the photographer’s trunk) and either painted them or carved the likenesses -- then sold them to tourists. We’ve come a long ways since then. The entire August, 2005, issue of “Southwest Art” was devoted to what they call “Native Art,” and it is almost entirely conceived by Indians, drawn from their own world, often contemporary or in a medium entirely unexpected, maybe experimental. Fabulous glowing bowls of glass with “sand-carved” geometric patterns. Elegant jewelry cast from leggos. Startling abstracts in colors never seen in nature. Shamans (shamen?) with the heads of animals. Then it all swings around the other way and here’s work by a self-taught Indian admirer of Charlie Russell or a surreal trompe l’oeil by an Indian admirer of European old masters.

When one looks at the subject matter, the “traditional” portraits of romantic Indians are almost all by the new wave of Chinese artists or maybe a leftover from the “pretty girl” tradition of Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post.

They say that the famous Santa Fe Indian Market is so high dollar now that the Mafia is beginning to muscle in. Hillerman hasn’t gotten a plot out of that yet, but surely it’s worth a murder mystery.

My favorite work in this issue belongs to “bird art” and shows ravens and crows walking around in big red high-top tennies. Except for their feet, the birds are realistic, esp their attitude.

Maybe attitude is the key to the whole thing: an attitude of “sure I can!” and “look at that!” and a willingness to be personal, to mix up the categories and taxonomies, but not to lose civility, beauty, and solidarity. This is the real fund that’s being built up by the Harvest Moon Ball at the Big Hotel. Community and personal meaning.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Indian DNA and Paradigm Shift

Brian Dippie’s famous book, “The Vanishing Indian,” managed to convince us that Indians hadn’t vanished at all -- but now we find that our understanding of what to call “indians” and what Indians “are” -- even what human beings are -- is up for grabs. It’s the definitions that are vanishing. We are deeply challenged by how to think about the people who were on this continent before Euros arrived.

Let’s work backwards. It was quite a discovery to know that we could actually write out the recipe for a human being: a DNA map of each individual, a list of the main genes, even the ability to identify the genes we share with other animals -- which turns out to be 99% of the genes we have. It is even possible to “build” a a simple worm by creating the right molecules and getting them to adhere to each other in the right order, which is NOT a simple task. About a zillion times more difficult than exploring outer space.

THEN it turned out that every gene (which we had learned to think of as a sort of round billiard ball with an eye color or nose length written on it) is really a little factory, a jig, a template for molecules and it is these molecules, proteins, floating around in a body that determine what that body is like. BUT whatever happens to that body also affects both the template for the molecule AND the molecule as it floats. The factory turns off and on, and it retools to fit the situation. Ever more complex than we thought. Some genes turn others off and on -- maybe on a time schedule, maybe in response to the environment, maybe in response to something like sunlight (like vitamin D).

So now we have the exponentially more huge task of identifying those molecules, giving them names, figuring out what they do, what atoms are in them, how they are “folded.” This last turns out to be crucial as a proteome (a molecule made in the jig of a gene), if it’s folded wrong, becomes a “prion,” and that will kill you. It won’t fit with the other molecules the way it ought to and will gum up the works until you have Alzheimers or something else bad.

If you don’t eat the substances your system needs to make your proteomes, you will be deficient. Can’t digest food quite. Won’t have energy. Can’t think straight. Get rickets or pelagra or scurvy. But substances vary. The iron atoms in one place are slightly different (isotopes) from the iron atoms in another place. Maybe that makes no difference -- maybe it does.

I understand “race” as being fitted to an environment so exquisitely that one’s very molecules are made of local isotopes, one’s metabolism is adjusted for the specific climate, one’s physical structure is adapted to the necessary tasks, and one’s religion is drawn to and shaped around one’s life. How poetic. What good is an outlook like that when there’s money involved? Legal definitions? Social relatonships? One’s self image?

I dunno. I just thought it ought to be on the table.

Here are other ideas:

1. Anyone who FEELS like an Indian or what they think an Indian feels like, IS an Indian.

2. An Indian is however his or her home tribes defines it.

3. An Indian is whatever the government says, but the government says different things for different purposes: land ownership, scholarships, loans and subsidies. And all these lines can be rearranged if there’s not enough money to go around -- just make the definition a little tighter or looser and the number of Indians becomes greater or lesser.

4. An Indian is a reservation dweller and cannot properly be an Indian any other place.

5. An Indian is a matter of blood heritage and their pedigree is their proof. Did you know Heather Locklear is a Lumbee Indian? Did you know that Ward Churchill is NOT by this measure? (His tribal membership is a complimentary membership given by a tribe he knew so that he could sell art at Indian Art Fairs without being arrested because it’s against the federal law to sell Indian Art if you’re not an Indian according to your own tribe.)

6. The Duck Test -- does the person walk like a... talk like a...
act like a... and so on. Except that most times the duck is straight out of the movies.

7. A white person can be adopted into a tribe and then becomes a kind of blood brother which is a Real Thing.

7. Since you can define Indians so many different ways, they are simply not a coherent entity and it is hopeless to try to define them.

Recently the Cree-Chippewa in Havre got into such a ruckus about how their tribe would define Indian (Some wanted to move the line to qualify their grandchildren who were whiter than the rule allowed) that they got embarrassed and threw the local reporter out of the meeting.

There’s a scientific point of view that “Indians” are only a phenomenon defined by what was here when Columbus arrived. If you find bones that are old enough (like the Kennewick man) to precede known tribes, they aren’t Indian, can’t belong to an existing tribe, but belong to an even more ambiguous category like “early man.”

Back East some tribes are trying to reconstitute from a diasphora that has been passing for white for decades, because they want to have the legal right to buy land and build casinoes. Some of those people think that if their blood were analyzed, there would be markers of tribe in there -- genes that only that tribe carried. Some businesses are analyzing African-Americans’ blood and claim to be able to tell individuals what African tribe they came from. (To me some faces are certainly Somali and so on.) But what if they come from several tribes? Once they got to the States, they would not have been sorted by tribes.

Certifying Indian people as certain tribes according to their blood doesn’t at all allow for the amount of adoption, kidnapping, child sharing, and other genetic mixing that must have gone on across the continent.

It’s all questions with no answers. Every question has three answers: yes, no, and I don’t know yet-- tell me more. Mostly the last.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Faith-based Reservation Management

An accumulated stockpile of “Montana, the Magazine of Western History” is invaluable. One of my most useful issues is Vol. XXII, Number One, Winter, 1972. Originally I bought it for $1.75 because it included an homage to Lone Wolf, also known as Hart Schultz, the half-Blackfeet son of James Willard Schultz. Paul Dyck, Hart Schultz’ adopted son, interweaves his comments with stories from Lone Wolf.

Doing some rearranging on my shelves, I see that there is another intriguing article in the same issue, this one by Howard L. Harrod, who wrote the definitive history of the Methodists on the Blackfeet Reservation. The article is about a nineteenth century presidential experiment with “faith-based” management of the reservation. President Grant was fed up with the constant graft, drunkenness, and incompetence of Indian agents and thought that if the churches supplied the agents, this would no longer be a problem, because all churchmen abided by the principles of Jesus Christ. Right?

The Blackfeet were arbitrarily assigned to the Methodists, though the Jesuits had been active on the reservation for decades. Who knows why? Fear of papists? Maybe Irish papists lurking across the Canadian border, disguised as Metis and waiting for their chance to invade the US? Agent Young, ordained, was sent along to “civilize and Christianize” the “savages.”

It was a policy of the US Government to put tribes who were traditional enemies on the same reservation, in hopes that they would fight each other rather than collaborating to resist their white administrators. This worked pretty well other places, but on the Blackfeet reservation the idea of sending a Methodist to supervise a people used to Catholics succeeded in pitching the white folks against each other. In a civilized and Christian manner, of course. Which meant a lot of politics and letter writing, and bitter suspicion that still persists.

Part of the problem was that when the reservation was shrunk north of Birch Creek, it left high and dry St. Peter’s Church and school, the center of Jesuit works. This meant that the clientele, which was not to leave the reservation, was separated from their teachers and St. Peter’s had no reason for existence. Undaunted, the priests came by wagon to gather students they already knew and to find new ones, which they transported on grounds that their parents wished it.

On page 49 is a photo of those students, seventeen of them, ranging from near-adult girls (possibly matrons) to a little pre-school tyke who is wiggly enough to be blurred, even though Montana’s first Catholic Bishop, John B. Brondel, is holding him by his shoulders. The next small boy over is clearly too cold -- he has bare feet and his shoulders are hunched, his hands clenched. There is only one boy with braids and a blanket. The year was 1885, so when I came in 1961, these children -- those who survived -- were the elders in Browning. They are not named in the caption. Neither are the two men with mustaches and white foreheads -- probably drivers.

Agent Young argued that these children were his wards and that his authority over them was greater than than that of their own parents, who were also wards. On page 43 is a photo of children at the Blackfeet Agency School, probably the infamous Willow Creek school just outside Browning. The boys wear small three piece suits, bandannas and round hats. All are shod. (Many dressed this way the rest of their lives.) The girls wear pinafore dresses, with many petticoats, and stand with their hands together. One wears moccasins. No one looks happy. I don’t see a year in the caption. The Agency School didn’t have enough space to accommodate all the students who were supposed to attend.

Young’s favorite thing was handing out candy on Christmas Eve, which he claimed warmed his heart, though there is no precedent in the New Testament. In fact, this is the infamous period when the buffalo disappeared and somehow so did the government commodities, so that people were starving. It is claimed that Young fed corn meant for the people to his chickens.

When he arrived on Little Badger in mid-December, 1876, where the agency was, Young did not like the location. “I don’t believe a more unsuitable place in every respect could be selected on the reservation.” Three-fourths of the tribe had gone hunting buffalo to the southeast. A few chiefs came to see their new agent, looked him over, shrugged, and went back to hunting. Young should have realized right then that he was not going to make obedient peasants of them.

The well-known and beloved “Brother Van” Van Orsdel sized up the situation and got as far away from it as he could, concentrating on the many small white communities who were open to Protestant services. The Methodist denomination sent no money, though President Grant had hoped they would. Appeals from Catholic officials to Washington, D.C., officials would be seen as reasonable, but then referred back to Young for his opinion, which ended the matter. John Imoda, S.J. tried to bring in the Montana courts through a writ of habeas corpus, but it didn’t work.

Young finally threw the Jesuits off the reservation in 1882, but Father Prando simply built a chapel in the infamous town of Robaire, across the Birch Creek boundary, where the bootleggers plied their trade. Many Indians came to attend mass: there were nearly 700 baptisms and 55 marriages.

St. Peter’s Church remains near Great Falls where it is ceremonially opened once a year for services. A much fuller account of all this back-and-forth is in Howard Harrod’s book, “Mission Among the Blackfeet.” (University of Oklahoma Press, Copyright 1971. ISBN 0-8061-1301-4) Harrod himself has passed on.

Today Methodists all along the Montana High-Line are finding their congregations shrinking, but the Catholics are booming. Maybe it’s that Blackfeet like ceremony. Maybe that original antagonism is still alive, reinforced by some political reason that is now forgotten.

Even though I’m a Unitarian-Universalist, I served the Blackfeet Methodists for one year when their normal supply channels failed. Though I preached from the conventional lectionary, I didn’t shy away from my own sort of Taoism/process theology point of view and no one had trouble with that. Many people have recognized the political component of religion -- the force that causes those who profess peace and love to act out turmoil and punishment in the pursuit of resources. “Faith-based” bureaucracy turned out not to be a very good idea, which Bush advisors would do well to notice.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Art in the Churches of Browning, Montana

Catholic churches are traditionally open to art and even in small reservation parishes of Montana there have been some spectacular accomplishments, particularly the work of Brother Joseph Carignano, the cook and handyman, primarily, but also a gifted artist in his ability to recreate European-style paintings. Sixty-one religious paintings cover the walls and ceilings in the historic St. Ignatius Catholic Church. One painting on the little roof over the pulpit which is meant to bounce preaching out to the congregation was commissioned to be done by Ace Powell. It is a sky with clouds and I seem to remember a dove, but maybe not. I remember Ace debating about it with Bob Scriver.

The Catholic church in Browning, Montana, is not so elaborate, but has classical church statuary meant to celebrate the namesake of the church, Theresa, the Little Flower, as well as Takawitha, the Native American saint. Also the sanctuary enfolds striking creations by local artists. The stained glass windows in the style of Roault are by King Kuka. Glowing chunks of thick glass illustrate the Stations of the Cross. One of several websites for King Kuka is

A more-than-lifesized Jesus on the Cross is the work of Gordon Monroe, who was Bob Scriver’s fiberglass artisan and who styled the figure after Scriver’s small crucifix called, “Eli, Eli.” Gordon is a committed evangelical Christian who has been secretary-treasurer of the Blackfeet Tribal Council. He’s especially active in charity work, bringing in truckloads of donations for poor people from a network of contacts throughout the United States.

The combination of the windows, which includes a “Sacred Heart” image in the round “rose” window over the altar and the huge bronze-colored figure on the Cross, which sometimes wears a gold lamé robe, is quite powerful. This church was built of field stones collected and brought in by the members of the tribe by horse and wagon and then mortared together by Blackfeet workers. The stones are round, tumbled by ancient glaciers, and often pink or turquoise argyllite. (The first Indian Health Service hospital was built in the same manner.)

A small side-chapel of the Catholic Church, where Mass is said on Thursdays, has an “Indian” theme in its decorations. The grounds have several “medicine stones,” which were brought from the prairie, to the distress of some elders who thought they should not be moved. Geologically called “boulder erratics,” they were carried in and dropped by the ancient glaciers that shaped so much of this land, and often became “itching rocks” for buffalo who had no trees to scrape against, reconnaissance posts for prairie hawks and cougars, and altar stones where offerings could be left as gifts for Natoosie, the Sun.

The Heart Butte Catholic Church, St. Anne’s, has given up its small emerald-doored log cabin and rebuilt as a capacious building with modern facilities, including a residence for the priest. The front wall, behind the altar, is a broad mural of the Heart Butte area in the old days.

The Methodist church, the trademark flame-and-cross on its bell-tower which was originally the entrance, has stained glass windows by Brent Warburton. Warburton, once a teacher at the Blackfeet Free School and often a cook like Brother Carignano, also did the stained glass windows at the Holy Family Mission Catholic Church in the Two Medicine Valley. The larger mission school buildings once operated by the Jesuits have been demolished. Warburton was not a church-goer.

In the Holy Family windows the main motif is doves for peace. In the Methodist church in Browning, the pattern is more ambitious and involves all the windows of the sanctuary in a wrap-around mural of a stream that arises at Chief Mountain behind the altar, then continues around the side, passing foothills wildlife, and ends in a prairie rainbow, God’s promise not to destroy the world again. Warburton’s style is realistic, slightly stylized. Neither he nor Kuka used paint to add detail.

A recent pastor had a Pentecostal bent and enlisted others to put stained glass windows in the bell tower. Hard to notice unless the light is right, the most striking of these is a pastor in clerical garb. He also added an icon of Mary in the sanctuary and banners in bright colors.

This once very modest church was built outside of Browning along Willow Creek where the parsonage is now located. It was moved to town long ago and resituated in a different orientation to the compass. Build-ons were a response to a large Sunday School operation in the Fifties, but now the church mainly uses its space for community support.

The oldest art in this church is the carving on the fronts of the Communion Table and the pulpit. These are the work of Al Racine, some of his earliest wood-carvings. Later he would be acclaimed for these bas reliefs, and also his well-loved Napi cartoon character, who flees riding on a cougar which he whips with a rattlesnake, saying, “I’m gettin’ outta here! This place is too tough for me!” The only remaining public example of Al’s cartoon character in his big black hat is on the side of Ick’s Place, an emporium of gambling and intoxication, where it was altered to hold playing cards and a bottle. Originally the character was eating flapjacks.

Even so does art wind in and out of our religious lives, even when the religion is that of Lucifer rather than Jesus, Natoosie or the Virgin Mary rather than Jehovah. A reservation is only a microcosm of everyplace.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

"El Rancho Gumbo"

“El Rancho Gumbo: Five Thousand Days in Montana’s Piegan Country” by Abner M. Wagner. Copyright 1983. ISBN 0-930704-15-0. Only 750 copies designed and printed by the Sagebrush Press, Morongo Valley, CA.

El Rancho Gumbo was a couple dozen miles north of here and a few miles south of the little ranch Bob and I had on the Two Medicine River, but not long enough to give the place a name. The gumbo, which is a very fine sticky clay (Bentonite, some call it) descended on the wind from prehistoric volcanic dust. It’s good for some industrial uses if you can find it in a pure enough state in a place where you can get it out. Our "rancho" was two miles from the highway, but the little van regularly got stuck, usually at night on the way home. I’d take my shoes off, so I could tell whether I was on the road, and leave the van behind until morning. By then, usually a neighbor, like Bob Wellman, had roped it and dragged it to a grassy place. As soon as the road was dry again, it was passable. Now it's paved.

But Wagner’s family was there much earlier, arriving in 1921, the era of irrigation ditches being dug with fresnoes and patrolled daily on horseback. Wagner’s dad, Watermaster on the
Badger-Fisher Division of the Blackfeet Project, bought the 320 acres from No Bear’s estate. It cost $1600 and the patent deed was signed by President Calvin Coolidge. There was nothing but buffalo grass until the family pitched a tent, then upgraded to a 12X16 shack, and finally built a proper log house with logs from the west side. The well had clear, cold water but was so loaded with Epsom and Glauber’s salts that the effects of it on people were -- salutory. The house was wired, but electricity never came. Neither did plumbing, so they used that room as a closet. About the time it was finished, the author’s mother died, his brother married and left the state, and his father was transferred. When he got lonesome enough, Abner, too, went on his way.

Much of what he tells about concerns horses, which were everywhere in wandering bands. The BIA had brought in huge Percheron and Devon “cold-blooded” horses which were set loose on the prairie and soon became snaky pashas intent on preserving their harems, even if it meant snapping the necks of colts that got in the way. Many horses were rounded up and sold to the east and much time was devoted to keeping them from breaking through the three strand wires that protected wheat fields.

The shopping towns were Valier (18 miles away) and Cut Bank (20 miles). If rancho denizens stayed the night, their greatest pleasure was a real soak in the bathtub at the Valier Hotel. There was only one. Wagner figures probably everyone in the west end of Montana had been in it at one time or another. The Cut Bank livery was run by two “austere” old ladies, the Miller sisters, who lit the way to the proper stalls by carrying an elegant kerosene parlor lamp with painted flowers on it. When they had a horse in residence, one sister would take a wheelbarrow up to the grain elevator to buy a bale of hay for it -- they never had enough ahead to lay in a stockpile of hay.

The wind blew so hard that he was literally blown off his horse once and his mother, after the house had been lifted and dropped back on the foundation, insisted that a system of props and cables be installed to keep it down on the ground.

Here’s what he says about his horse, Zambeezie: “Zam was a ridgeling, which means that he came into this world with a birth defect a little hard to explain to an urban society sprinkled with fair young ladies. The truth was that he adored the fillies but he could never be a papa. And for that reason he was so ornery that we never could get together without first having a tall argument about who was going to be the boss that day. It usually took about 45 miles to get his steam gauge down from the red mark and if he ever got a little bit of oats stuck betweeen his ribs it would take another 10 or 15 to do the trick.”

This talk is illustrated by the author with art work that is certainly vigorous, but probably more impressive when seen in color. There are photos, including photos of old Piegans themselves. He says, “They were men of high moral character who lived by a strict code of ethics,” and he mentions by name Eli Guardipee, Heavy Breast, Ironeater, Running Crane, Two Guns Whitecalf, Grandma Eagle Calf, Wades in the Water, and Chases after Buffalo. Wagner’s father had lost a hand on the railroad and used a hook, so he was Ironhand, “Muckskimyucksi.” Often he would mediate Indian family quarrels since he wasn’t related to anyone, and even became an honorary Crazy Dog, the Indian order-keeping group.

The author says, “My first winter at El Rancho Gumbo was punctuated by a stay at Mrs. Angel’s rooming house in Valier. Here at the Montana House I batched in a back room, near the sink in the hallway. The room had a two-burner kerosene cook stove and a single cot. This arrangement was so I could attend high school. However, it was interrupted at Christmas time because there had been insufficient income from the ranch the first summer, and Dad’s wages which were staking the operation did not stretch far enough to maintain my residency away from home. Therefore I became a jerkout...”

But he was always a good steady reader of practical magazines and high-falutin’ books. Nearly self-educated, he “landed a job with the Seattle District Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There was no way I was going to be incarcerated in a gas filled office or caught tossing cans of beans over a counter after all of the cool air I had enjoyed on Fisher Flats.” He stayed in that job for thirty-one years and found what he’d really wanted all along: a wife. Not that different from the big stud horses or even Tarzan, the blue tomcat, who sharpened his claws on the hairy ankles of his favorite Shire and spent cold days asleep on its back.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Bill Haw and the Blackfeet Free School and Sandwich Shop

We hear a lot about the boarding schools for Native Americans run by religions. Books have been written and the consequences have been debated. But in the Aquarian Era, roughly the end of the Sixties and first part of the Seventies, there was an entirely different kind of school happening: “free schools,” called that because they were free to do things their own way.

In Browning the Free School movement was embodied by William T. Haw, who came straight from a Rogerian MA in counselling in Detroit. Carl Rogers, in case you’ve forgotten, was part of the Third Force psychology movement, which said, “How come we keep studying people who are hurt and bent (neurotics, psychotics) when what we’re trying to achieve is people who are functioning at their best? What do we know about about happy, achieving people?” Rogers was famous for sitting down with the truly damaged and simply trying to “mind meld” until he kind of got a “vibe” or clue. This was revolutionary.

So Bill Haw showed up in Browning, where the idea had always been to power down your enemies, and his favorite case from Detroit was about a little black girl who had been seriously traumatized. He got down on the floor with this nearly pre-verbal child and they colored and drew pictures together until she let him into her world. Counselling was a success. One of his other proud moments was being arrested in Detroit for some traffic offense, but then organizing the prisoners into a soulful singalong.

At this time young people were really into power and Browning High School was highly excited by AIM and college-level revolts and occupations. They staged a revolution at BHS, freaking out just about everyone over thirty (who couldn’t be trusted anyway) but Haw went into the auditorium with them and did his Rogerian thing until the kids settled down and went back to classes as usual. The school was crowded even then, so Haw’s office was in a converted boys’ bathroom. Phone calls to him had a strange echo because of the ceramic tile. But it WAS on the corner with a good view of the Rockies.

Teachers were just beginning to live in East Glacier, for lack of housing in Browning, but the school board felt hard-line about it and told us we’d be docked if we didn’t make it to school As it turned out, the winter of 1972 was one of the worst on record and for one ten day period no one could make it through the twelve miles except on a snowmobile, a vehicle just coming into use. The effect was to bond the teachers a bit closer than usual as we snowshoed the days and sang folksongs through the evenings. Three of us big heavy ladies hitched rides to town with Bill in his van and with us situated over the back axle, we never got stuck. We called ourselves the “Three Graces.”

The Blackfeet Free School and Sandwich Shop was housed in the old commodity warehouse, which had stood empty for years. Nowadays activists sneer at being offered such old leftovers, but Haw’s ethic was one of recycling, pioneering, inventing and pushing the limits. The students helped with the conversion necessary to create a Sandwich Shop. They were drop-outs, thrown-outs, and where-did-HE-come from kids and the faculty was also at least a little bit hippie. The idea of the Sandwich Shop was partly to feed the kids and partly to run a little business that casually brought in adults and gave the kids experience.

In the middle of winter, an old school bus was found somewhere and the whole school went south. The adventures were scary and mildly risky, but at the end everyone felt as though they’d really done something extraordinary -- no longer did they feel trapped by the rez.

I loved hanging around, but I was really an outsider except for one summer workshop held at the Cut Bank Boarding School which normally stood empty all summer. The government grant was to help Montana kindergarten teachers who were dealing with Indian kids understand what was going on with them. Bill’s basic plan was to arrange for something to happen to the fifty or so participants, and then to spend time in small groups reacting to what had happened and what they had learned.

These were all “nice” white people plus some local Indian folks. One of his first strategies was a paper and pencil test that revealed prejudice. It was always a surprise because those who were most rigid and uncompromising often considered themselves the most tolerant! Many of the Indians were far more opinionated than the whites.

But the biggest success was an afternoon when Bill divided the class into three groups for some real life experiences. One was taken out by Starr School and dumped out on foot. Their instructions were to get back however they could. A second group was sent up to Moccasin Flats on a scavenger hunt: some coffee grounds, an old newspaper, a beer bottle cap, etc. Moccasin Flats was then the oldest and scariest part of town. The third group was arrested and thrown into the notorious jail. Among their numbers was Mary Spotted Wolf, a tribal judge!

In these violent meth-driven days, I’m not sure this sort of thing should be done, and even Bill was a little worried. But the pedestrians returned in the backs of pickups with kids and dogs, the scavenger hunt got a little delayed because they kept being asked to stay for tea in the shabby but scrubbed kitchens of the old cabins where they knocked, and the jail-birds had an uproarious time with the local drunks -- all well-acquainted with Mary Spotted Wolf. The experience was a tipping-point for a lot of nice white ladies who had been forced to attend because their principals made them and they needed the education credits. They gave up their fantasies.

Bill went to Alaska where he was an administrator and then “retired” back to Kalispell where he and his second wife ran a pet store. Life was exciting as always. He told about installing a burglar alarm that called him at home if there were any unusual noises in the pet store at night. At 3AM his phone rang and he was connected with a speaker phone in the store. “Who’s there?” he asked. A short conversation later he realized he was interrogating the pet store parrot instead of a burglar.

Today Bill is not coherent and lives in a nursing home. I’m not sure who could write a formal account of his impact on the Blackfeet Reservation school system, but someone ought to do it. Maybe Terry McMasters, who taught English and learned ceramics in those turning-point years. Maybe Russ Pannoni. It seems to me important to have that model of mild and good-natured revolution in front of us.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

"Daughters of the Buffalo Women" by Beverly Hungry Wolf

It’s natural to think of Blackfeet in generations for some reason. Beverly is of my generation or a bit younger. (She was born in 1950. I was born in 1939.) We’ve known each other about forty years, since she first showed up in Browning as the wife of Adolf Hungry Wolf. The last time I talked to her she was just leaving a teaching job at Piegan Institute. Her mother was not well and Beverly herself had been badly hurt in a car crash. I think this 1996 book was written after that. Her mother is gone, but so far as I know, Beverly has recovered. Adolf was in town last week, but I didn’t see him. He and Beverly are divorced now.

This book, “Daughters of the Buffalo Women: Maintaining the Tribal Faith” (Canadian Caboose Press, 1996. ISBN 0-920698-45-5) is self-published but high quality. The cover is graced by a wonderful double portrait done by Winold Reiss, reproduced through the courtesy of Winold’s son, W. Tjark Reiss. (Tjark was the same generation as Bob Scriver, born in 1914. Both are gone.) A title for the portrait is “Picunnie Pemmikan Makers” and the models are Cecile Boy, daughter of Bird Rattler and an aunt of Beverly’s mother, and an older woman, “Ragged Woman,” who was “the wife of a warrior and buffalo hunter named Bear Medicine.” Cecile Boy was the second wife of Theodore Last Star. The couple were in the movie I spoke of in the last post about a Sun Lodge ceremony.

Since this book is about “the tribal faith,” I will tell more. Theodore Last Star was the Keeper of a Beaver Bundle of considerable importance. Some time after his death and then Cecile’s death, Bob Scriver acquired that Bundle -- I think by purchase instead of transfer. When the Scriver Artifact Collection was sold to the Provincial Museum in Edmonton, that Bundle went with it. After the death of Bob Scriver, Ralph Klein -- the premier of Alberta -- returned this Bundle (with others) to the custody of the Blackfoot Old People on the Alberta side. He could not send it across the Canadian/American border. But the Blackfoot Confederacy is an international body and the Canadian elders gave this same Beaver Bundle to Bobbie Burns, a restaurateur and rancher in Babb. He paid them a high price and accepted the Bundle in a transfer. So far as I know, he is handling it in the traditional way. In the Fifties Bobbie Burns was employed by Bob Scriver and lived in his house.

The rest of the story is that this Beaver Bundle is claimed both by Theodore Last Star’s family from his first wife and his family from his second wife. There is a good deal of rancor over all this. But if you look at the cover of Beverly’s book, where Cecile is wearing a bright red dress and peacefully making pemmican, none of all that has happened yet. I knew Cecile late in life -- she was still poised and attentive in the Sixties.

This small book has 144 pages and seems at first reading to be a simple telling of the stories of her mother, mostly, as well as other older female relatives, and Molly Kicking Woman, the last of the old-time Montana Blackfoot Bundle Keepers. (There is a portrait of Molly in Bob Scriver’s sculpture of “The Opening of the Medicine Pipe Bundle.” She and her husband, George, were the same age as Bob Scriver.)

Beverly’s mother was a child in the 1920’s and remembers her grandmother, First-to-Kill, who was married to White Elk (Heavy Head), an old time warrior who was pierced in a Sun Lodge ceremony. The buffalo ended about 1880, and First-to-Kill (women were often given names according to their father’s war exploits) was ancient in the Twenties, so she was probably born about 1840 and grew up in a lodge made of buffalo hides. In the 20’s she would gather her grandchildren, paint their faces, pray over them and teach them to take their oldest clothes to sacrifice to the Sun by leaving them at a Sun Worship boulder. In the Twenties everyone thought that such practices were dying out and would soon be gone.

Unexpectedly the trend reversed and now all the Bundles that had been collected and stored in museums have been repatriated and Spring is full of ceremonies. One of the subjects Beverly is qualified to address is that of whether they are authentic ceremonies, whether they should be changed (as they are), whether the old people would approve. She emphasizes how intricate, rigid, and fraught with hazards the old standards were.

This is a family that has been very involved with natural medicine, old ways of doctoring and so on, but then was able to translate that so that Beverly’s mother, Pretty Crow Woman spent many years nursing.

As is usual in all the Hungry Wolf books, there are many photos but they are family photos -- not romanticized with props; just snaps of exceedingly handsome young men and shy women. Some of the most interesting are boarding school photos where the nuns wear full medieval regalia.

One of the funniest stories in the book is two trickster boys who stole nun outfits, dressed in them, and went out to walk back and forth in the yard, reverently reading from prayer books. The principal, a priest, became curious and went out to let them walk past him. He spoke to them in French. (One of the many ironies was that most of the Catholic religious were French-speakers from Quebec who had to learn English the same as their Blackfeet speaking students.) The nuns inclined their heads and said, “Oui, Monsieur.”

Again the priest spoke to them in French and they repeated, “Oui, Monsieur.” But it wasn’t the right answer this time. He looked closer and recognized the two boys, who hiked up their habits and ran for it. The priest pursued them, but the story goes that he was laughing so hard himself that he didn’t catch them.

This book isn’t high ethnographics nor is it a polemic. It is an earnest, sincere, and graceful memoir of and by real women in their real lives. Beverly was careful to read what she had composed here (since it’s drawn from many different interviews, letters, remarks, and even library research) back to the women she is quoting so they made sure she got it right.

There are two more generations after Beverly: one is fortyish and maybe going back to school as the house empties out -- just becoming a grandmother. The other is twentyish and just starting a family or maybe a career -- maybe college. And the next is still babies, coming into a world we can’t describe. But the two generations before Beverly have many good things to tell them and, thanks to Beverly, those things are here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

"The Piegan Medicine Lodge -- a film

This tiny movie was filmed in 1956 in Heart Butte by the Montana Office of Public Instruction and the Fish and Wildlife Bureau. The ceremony itself is quite modest and the film quality is bad: early color with nearly black shadows. The Medicine Woman was Maggie Swims Under and she pledged for her grandson, Joseph, who was in the grip of polio, a plague of the Fifties on and off the reservation -- even striking the President of the US.

Narration is by Knute W. Bergan, for whom the primary school in Browning is named because he was superintendent there at one time. I have no idea what made him so outstanding that a school would be named for him -- maybe it was only his Indian-friendliness. (I personally would rename the school for Greengrass Bull, who was an early outstanding warrior. In later years he earned a living by hauling wash water in a rickety wagon with a pack of assorted dogs behind him.) Bergan’s narration is rather “Bushian,” that is, long “a’s” and every consonant carefully pronounced. One short sentence slowly announced after another. There is a bit of Blackfeet language here and there in the background.

The most prominent characters, aside from the Medicine Woman, is Jim Whitecalf Sr. who at this period was relatively vigorous and actively supervising, going back and forth in his capote. (A capote is a coat with a hood made from a Hudson’s Bay blanket.) Once the dancing begins, the camera loves Theodore Last Star and his second wife, Cecile née Boy. Both have modeled for many artists, both painters and sculptors. I can recognize Fish Wolf Robe and Louis Plenty Treaty.

The older men wear white buckskin, rather plain, and new Sioux-type eagle feather headdresses. One carries a full otter hide with small round mirrors on it. The younger men’s costumes are much more somber and spare than now, and their dancing is more restrained, stylized -- none of the wild contemporary flinging. I saw no younger women dancing, no jingle dresses.

Heart Butte rises in the background. There are not many lodges, maybe half a dozen to a dozen, and not a huge crowd. The men who bring in the center-post tree wear cowboy clothes and ride their horses of which there are many, mostly brown, including the well-trained team that pulls the running gear on which the tree is transported. People are sober and careful. Older folks are in charge. There is no self-torture with thongs through breast muscle. There is ceremonial fasting, broken by a kind of communion of thin-sliced boiled buffalo tongue. Everything is done four times, in contrast to the magical Christian Three.

The only legend mentioned is that of Scarface, who goes off to see the Sun so that he can be made handsome and marry well. But it’s my understanding (and feminists will like this) that there is another legend that is equally or more pertinent -- that of the woman who falls in love with the Evening Star and goes to live with him in the Sky World. She is told there is only one restriction on her in that world -- she may dig as she is used to doing on the prairie in order to find food and she may keep her digging stick, but she should never try to dig up one huge “turnip” or something very bad will happen to her.

Everything is fine for a long time and she has a child, a boy, but she gets restless and like Pandora, starts obsessing about that “turnip.” When she can no longer resist and yanks up that big root, it makes a hole in the sky and through it she can see her old village and family. She is stricken with homesickness. Sent back to earth with her baby, she must never let his feet touch the ground. He must be kept on a buffalo robe. Of course, eventually his feet touch the ground and he vanishes.

The Medicine Woman in this movie is plainly carrying a digging stick on her back -- this is the true holy object. I’ve thought a lot about what it means to have a long-used tool, an extension of one’s hand, that is a connection to the earth and food. I’ve also thought about the wives who were captured, bought or romanced away from their families, maybe very young, and who might always have a quiet longing to go home. Babies who grow up, put their feet on the ground and walk off. Sacajawea and "Pomp" are a case in point.

The great emphasis of old-timers who talk about the Medicine Woman is that she must be irreproachable, totally virtuous. If she is not and dares to be the central figure in this ceremony, the results will be death and disaster for the tribe. Everyone likes the wild warrior stories, but it is the “little mother” who is really the key to the good life. One woman who overreached was struck by lightning in the middle of the ceremony.

The Heart Butte ceremonies are held in berry season, August, unlike the Browning Indian Days which were scheduled by the Indian Agent to fall between cuttings of hay. The Browning ceremony is now a huge, flashy Pan-Indian Pow-Wow accompanied by rock concerts, horse races, rodeo and blackjack tents. Neither event would be complete without stick game, which is so old that game “bones,” made of stone, have been found in Africa that date to tens of thousands of years B.C.

This rather crude little movie was made early enough that people must have still been a little nervous about being possibly suppressed or punished by the Indian Agent. On the other hand, they are probably not happy about cameras either. Bergan says, “This is the first time in history that a Medicine Woman has been photographed in her lodge,” but Walter McClintock took an earlier photo in “The Old North Trail,” maybe. Those were still photos, though. Bad things for the next year will be blamed on photographers.

Those were the days when Indians were still seen as performing ethnic spectacles that white people could visit in order to admire. There’s a little note of patronizing indulgence. But the boy, Joseph, did recover from the polio.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"Blackfoot/Whitehand," a Bulgarian movie

“Blackfoot/Whitehand” is one of the strangest and most reassuring little movies I know. It’s a half-hour documentary about Darrell Kipp walking around in Bulgaria -- that’s it. He meets people, he gives some short speeches, he learns a bit of Bulgarian and offers Blackfoot words. You get this from the Parnas House Film Agency in Sofia. The director/producer was Vlado Trifonov. The film has gone the rounds of the festivals.

Darrell, whose Blackfoot name is “Apinakwe Peta” or “Morning Eagle,” was invited by a friend from college, Vern Peterson, who teaches at the American University of Bulgaria. Kipp wanders casually among Bulgarians, Croatians, Turks, Sunni and Shiite Muslims in tiny villages in the Rhodope Mountains. They are baffled about who he is in his Harvard garb: khakis and Oxford cloth blue shirts. He’s huge, wears a pony tail -- no feathers -- at first they get the idea that he might be from India -- but wait, no, from the USA where the Indians are going extinct. They know that much. Darrell has to tell them that Indians are far from extinct, but the government likes to keep them invisible, which turns out not to be that different from Bulgarian peasants. They give him a sausage, a loaf of bread. Big smiles. When he stays at the house of a professor, which is a stone house where the bedroom is furnished with a one-legged bed built into a corner and one peg on the wall, he is given brandy, eggs that come from the hens in the yard, and bread toasted for him by the old professor on the top of the wood stove. The effect on Darrell was intense: it threw him back to his childhood in the little town of Blackfoot on the Montana reservation. His grandfather made him toast that way.

The bits of his speech that he re-enacts for the camera make three points: 1) All people are equal, but that does not mean that everyone should be the same. 2) Indians were nearly destroyed but they managed to survive, just like Bulgarians who even now are dependent on a cow, burros who do impossible labor to create crops, small businesses like coffee shops. 3) We cannot go back from the polluted world but we cannot trust it either. We must solve this problem but it is everybody’s problem.

The last point seems impossible: the water in the ancient stone spring basins is clear and clean. Darrell splashes it on his face and drinks it with no fear. Then the camera takes us to the village dump, where the wind-blown plastic catches on the bushes and fences just as it does on the rez. When he asks a group of men if they have questions, they say, “What brandy do you drink?” The men -- and the more privileged women -- drink rakia and tea constantly.

The Rhodope Mountains and foothills look very much like the Blackfeet Reservation along the Rockies in Montana. It’s a stony place where the paths wind among stone walls and houses. An old woman with a long stick harries her sheep towards home. A dog, looking like any rez dog, shows up and proves it knows Blackfeet though it refuses to speak for food. A little boy appears and tracks along with Darrell, looking waaaaay up there at this man who talks all the time, but not Bulgarian.

Darrell is an observant Catholic and Blackfoot at once. In these mountains he prays Blackfeet prayers for the people and their mountain springs. In the Orthodox church, among all the icons, he lights a candle. In the Muslim mosque he sits silently as the men tip forward on their rugs in prayer. Worship is worship.

These are humble people, less well-off even than reservation Indians if one looks at material goods. Yet both cultures are rich with story and song. At the professor’s house the guests dance Greek style with hands held up high while a simple bagpipe whangs out the tune. There’s not much that can be explored in words except at the University, but much is conveyed with faces: curious, suspicious, skeptical, amazed. A legless man announces proudly that he is a journalist, and then goes on his way scooting a homemade cushion attached to his torso.

Darrell has only recently broken his rule against taking any official position, except for the development of the Piegan Institute which has run a Blackfeet Language Immersion School for twenty years. He’s descended from the “peace chief” Heavyrunner, who was massacred by mistake in what one could call a terrorist strike by the U.S. Cavalry. We’ve wondered how much he’s like Heavyrunner, because somehow he is able to turn away wrath. Not that he doesn’t get angry, even outraged, but somehow he doesn’t let it curdle him. Maybe it helps that he’s big but I remember him in high school, a little guy with big black glasses.

One of his secrets is his farflung network of friends: small town Montana classmates from when he went to Eastern Montana College; sophisticated and wealthy Harvard classmates from his graduate days there; nutty hippies from his MFA days at Goddard; army buddies and locals from Korea; Hawaiians from the indigenous language movement; and Canadian Blackfoots of every kind. Also, he relates well to women and isn’t afraid to learn from them, especially his wife, Roberta.

All the time Kipp goes all over the place, talking. His message is always something like: “Take hold of life. Decide what is good and then make it happen. Don’t ask anyone for permission. Just get to work.” This makes some people very angry. They want chapter and verse -- and guarantees. A workbook.

He said that when he was in Bulgaria, he had a kind of breakdown or breakthrough. It was suddenly clear that there are poor suffering people everywhere -- it is not just that Indians have had to endure so much, but that people everywhere must endure. He no longer felt that Indians were alone. Wisdom grabbed him.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Rolland Nadjiwon Replies

[Rolland had a few things to set straight about the blog I posted yesterday about "The Backbone of the World." So, with his permission, here you go...]

Just a couple of things Mary...I think it is great, but, my last name is spelled "Nadjiwon". I emphasize this because there is a dispute in our family if the spelling is 'Nadjiwon' or 'Nadjiwan'. We just tell everyone the ones who use the 'a' never got past the first letter of the English alphabet.
Also, I am potowatomi. I have been a trapper but not for a number of years now. Educator...yes. I teach University Courses in English Composition and Rhetoric, Indigenous Literature, Native Literature, Culture Studies, Cross-Cultural Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Literary Theory (I enjoy this the best) and Creative Writing (this is my second).
Potowatomi:  I am a part of the potowatomi from the Western Indiana, Illinois, N. Missouri and E. Idaho. We are prairie potowatomi and lived peacefully in the designated Indian Territories until gold was discovered in the Black Hills. In the 1840's we were invited to relocate to Kansas and Oklahoma. What we called the 'mission indians' accepted relocation and were marched in what we call 'The Trail of Death' to Kansas and Oklahoma.
There were those of us who refused to relocate and stayed in our homelands until the United States sent the cavalry to issue a re-invitation. We managed to elude them for some time but we were quite a large group. Some of the kickapoo were with us also. We made the decision to split into two groups and one would move North into Canada and the other would move South into Mexico. We are the ones who came into Canada. We consider ourselves political refugees and our homeland as occupied territories. We are still trying to repatriate our lands or, at least, some part of them. Notre Dame University is on unsurrendered lands. They do, in recognition, give special considerations and scholarship waivers to potowatomi.
We still keep in touch with the potowatomi and kickapoo in Mexico. Some years ago, we had a large potowatomi gathering and a couple of potowatomi were sent from Mexico to bring us fire from the original fire in our homelands to build the fire for our gathering. I was not able to attend but a friend of mine took a charcoal from the fire, mounted it for me and gave it to me as a gift. Why the fire? Our name, potowatomi, means 'keepers of the sacred fire'. We kept the sacred fire for the 'council of the three fires', the Odawa, Ojibwa and Potowatomi. They had kept this original fire going in Mexico for now nigh onto 165 years now.
I thought I should explain all this so my alternate information would not offend and you would understand how important this is in the lives of our people and my own life personally, also.
I am not with my potowatomi community but with my mother's people, Ojibway, here at the head of the Great Lakes in Sault Ste. Marie. My Dad moved here when I was a child because the potowatomi, when they came into Canada, were in Ojibway territory and they did not appreciate that we would not become christians, go to school, or settle in permanent homes. We brought our tepees and horses with us. Must have been one 'hell' of a struggle to do that with all the lakes and rivers in this territory. I don't think we were ready for that. In response to these factors, the ojibway communities that did take us in put us on those lands the least conducive to survival. Survival:  That is how I ended up here in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.
After 165 years, we are still not happy with the arrangement, individually or collectively. There are funds held in trust by the US gov't for the potowatomi in Canada but we refuse to take it. We want our lands. All they are offering us is 2.5 million dollars which in over 100 years has not increased or collected any king of interest. Strange eh.
So...that is a bit of who I am. Kind of a long response...hope it is worth it.
rolland nadjiwon
"The prospect in a few hundred years of just one language per nation, and then just one language for the whole world ... is indeed real."

[Then I asked Rolland whether he uses “that French stuff” I can’t understand when he teaches Literary Theory. All that "post" and "de" stuff like postcolonial and deconstruction. Made him laugh. Then he had recommendations.]
Actually there is a lot of the postcolonial theory that is not french but out of india. If you think the french are convoluted try reading some of Homi Baba :) Two that I find quite good are Gomez - Moriana, Antonio. Discourse Analysis as Sociocriticism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1993. In particular his ninth chapter: The Emerging of a Discourse Instance: Columbus and the Invention of the "Indian". Also, the works of Ong. Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the World. Methuen: New York. 1982. All of the works of Walter J. Ong are, for my purposes, excellent and also exciting. I also use works and references from the writings of Joseph Campbell.
Usually, my theories do not follow the western pedagogical or canonical highways. I prefer "the path[s] not taken"... :)


[What Rolland and I have in common is this preference for paths not taken -- oh, and Joe Campbell. I keep calling him Ol' Joe Campbell, but people rebuke me for being disrespectful. I thought being called "old" was a term of respect.]

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Backbone of the World -- The Amskapi Pikuni World

When you Google “The Backbone of the World,” you get a list of two things mixed: a book written by a white man who hiked down the mountains and a video shot by Blackfeet Indians about their own land. I’m discussing the second. You can get video clips and sources for the video called “Backbone of the World” (the Rocky Mountains) through Google.

When I complained about the lack of Native American literature lately, Rolland Nadjiwan -- a Cree trapper and educator from the far north -- said, “We’re doing this stuff for each other now. Not for whites. And we’re making videos instead of books.” This is a crucial illustration: it is a window, not a door. You can look, but you are outside: very hard on all those romantic white people who rush to be adopted into the tribe and given a name and initiated to the secret ceremonies. That includes me.

The first shot is Darren Kipp cleaning off the inside of your TV screen. As he works, the film goes from black and white to color, a pointed reminder that this vision will be clearer, more vivid. But you’ll have to do some thinking because this is a braided story with complex editing, professional quality because George Burdeau, a professional Blackfeet producer/director, did this project as way of coming home and also as a way of teaching his skills to others.

One of the things I like about it the most is the shooting in winter -- most professionals only come here in the summer when it’s all idyllic and wonderful and the tourist places are open. This one shows snow and ice. The cabin shown is either George’s or Darren’s, and they are there in St. Marys year round. Joe Fisher’s grandfather was a trapper who used to snowshoe from Babb to Browning in winter (five foot drifts in those days) to get the mail for everyone in the St. Mary’s valley, since there was no other way to get through. It’s probably thirty miles.

In a way this is a man’s video because an important layer is these young men discussing the difficulty of finding a new way without giving up the old one, and stumbling through the effort of making the movie they are in. Early, they show themselves circling in the brush, lost. They have a sense of humor about it and illustrate the problem by admitting they filmed a group of women talking, but botched the sound because they mixed up the tangle of cables.

The key “framing device” is the story of “Scarface,” who goes to visit the Sun. It’s told by Molly Kicking Woman in Blackfeet and then told in English by Curley Bear Wagner. Another theme is the future of the Badger-Two Med area where oil companies want to drill, destroying sacred ground and possibly the quality of the headwaters of the reservation. The film goes in and out of Blackfeet, back and forth between BIA Indians who aren’t afraid of drilling and old-timers who loath the prospect and say the mineral rights were never sold. In this respect, women are able to speak their minds eloquently.

Most people will respond to the panoramas and aerial shots of the Rockies along the west edge of the reservation though they probably won’t recognize Chief Mountain at the north and Heart Butte at the south, especially from the air. Backed by sonorous “splendour” music -- nearly organ music -- images of every season flow across the screen: tapestry, stained glass, chancel and altar, platen and chalice. The communion of mountain water and bugling elk. “This is our church,” say both Curley Bear and Buster Yellow Kidney. Carol Murray speaks of “The Creator.” The echo of Christian terms is always there. How can it not be? This is part of the complexity of being Blackfeet and American in a world where each claims dominance.

Then the camera goes back to town but doesn’t linger on Indian poverty. No one will say, “Oh, how depressing.” There’s only one drunk and he’s as vigorous and full of ideas as anyone else. But there is sorrow. This movie was made in 1997 when the annual commemoration of the Baker Massacre was still new and those who cared went out in the coldest month to build a fire, remember, pray, name the people killed. Usually the grief around here is covered over with anger -- grieving seems dangerous.

The disguise of poverty is thrown off: these people are dressed well, they speak for themselves, and they know what they’re doing. Some have college degrees. Most are employed or prospering as entrepreneurs. Their faces echo the old photo images that slide through the video.

Molly Kicking Woman and Curley Bear Wagner’s voices are very familiar to me. Molly was one of our Bundle sponsors in the Sixties and we were very fond of her. She’s gone now. Curley Bear was one of my students in the Sixties and an adversary to us when Bob was alive, but now I consider him a friend. I visited with him at the discount warehouse store last week. He just finished another movie in Indiana.

When I watch a video like this, I’m always full of ideas of what they ought to do next, what the key is, what I remember, and so on. And all the Blackft quietly slide away. If they are going to find their OWN way, the Napi-yaki must stay out. I can applaud, I can recommend to others, I can offer resources and connections if I have them, but my job is to butt out.

A march to save the Badger-Two Med is shown. It includes whites and some Montana folks will spot Ripley Schemm, who grew up on the East Slope of the Rockies where it used to be reservation. Bob Vetter has been a dedicated defender of the area and he is much appreciated. Whites aren’t excluded, aren’t punished, aren’t even much harangued these days. They are just slid to the side so they’ll be out of the way. Make that Way -- as in Blackfeet Way. Amskapi Pikuni Aanist.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Keeping the Hours

After a minimal amount of Googling around, I found a list of the more-or-less official liturgical hours:

Lauds -- dawn
Terce -- breakfast
Sext -- 9 AM - mid-morning
None ---- Noon
Vespers -- nightfall
Compline -- bedtime
Matins -- midnight
Vigils -- 3 AM

Angelus is a separate bell that is rung three times a day when prayers commemorating the Annunciation of the Incarnation to the Virgin Mary in the Christian tradition, the idea being that God has made Mary pregnant but she is still a virgin -- someone has to tell her the plan. So you see, Jesus DID have a belly button because he was created as a blastosphere, attached to the uterine wall, and developing with a placenta. Mary had a normal pregnancy. (I think I’ll start a Cult of the Placenta and a tradition about where it was buried.)

What’s not clear is whether God used Mary’s ovum or simply planted His/Her own egg, which must have been a clone. I mean, presumably a god’s chromosomes would not match with human chromosomes. The Creationists would be reassured to know that human genes will not match with primate genes because the primate genes -- though very close to the same -- are arranged on a different number of chromosomes. The Trinitarians (three Gods in one) will love the clone idea.

Anyway, an angel was sent to announce the achievement to Mary and serious admirers of Mary say the appropriate prayer three times a day. The bell is to remind them to do that in case they have lost track of the time.

When time was a matter of dawn and dark, sun and moon, or even, for the sophisticated, a matter of stars wheeling through the night, one didn’t lose track of it except possibly on a day like this: overcast, uniformly gray and chilly, damp. I have a mental image of the Blackfeet women withdrawing into lodges to do something with their hands that didn’t require much light while they sat by the fire. If they’d had sheep, they might have invented knitting or crochet. The men this time of year were probably hunting, keeping warm with exercise.

Scholars tell us that in the early European days, hours were of uneven length because the sun rose and set at different times as the seasons passed. Staying up late was a matter of wealth, because it would be costly to provide candles or oil lamps. But around a fire, one could linger a bit with a musical instrument or a storyteller.

Finally, the clock was invented: a matter of wealth to buy one, so the church or city hall supplied a bell for the others. Nicholas Whyte, who supplied this information and a lot more on his remarkable website
supplies this poem:

L’Orloge est, au vray considerer,
Un instrument tres bel et tres notable,
Et s’est aussy plaisant et pourfitable,
Car nuict et iour les heures nous aprent
Par la soubtilite qu’ell comprent
En l’absence meisme dou soleil.

The clock is, when you think about it,
A very beautiful and remarkable instrument,
And it’s also pleasant and useful,
Because night and day it tells the hours
By the subtlety of its mechanism
Even when there’s no sun.
___ Froissart

I have a clock in every room. That might seem silly for an old retired woman, but I still have to set a timer to get my muffins out of the oven unscorched. Most of the time I go by the radio, NPR, not just the time of day but what day of the week. I listen to Yellowstone Public Radio, which can be streamed. ( or My favorite weekday is Thursday when “From the Top” features young classical musicians of phenomenal talent, along with a little friendly teasing by Chris O’Reilly. (There’s a website: and at 9PM Lennie Holliman plays her redactions of the various book festivals around Montana -- sometimes bringing order to rather scrambled spontaneous panel discussions at the events.

It is important to keep a schedule, even on overcast days indoors, and to do the same things at about the same times. The mail is up at 9AM and the same regular Valerians are there at the same time. We are old and if one of us is missing, others will inquire, and if no one knows whether you are out of town or your pickup is still in the driveway, someone might drop by -- casually. They say that for purposes of digestion, one should eat about the same things at about the same times every day. For purposes of sleep, one should retire and arise at about the same time every day. And for purposes of thought, one should sit down at the keyboard at about the same hour.

For various reasons, including delivering the newspaper for a month and using the Internet for a reduced rate in the middle of the night -- like 3 AM (Vigils) -- I’ve grown used to getting up at that hour. It’s a mysterious hour that I always connect with a photograph I saw of a Cistercian monastery. The Cistercians date back to the recovery from the Black Plague when much land lay fallow for lack of cultivation and people were hungry. The photo was black and white, of the “night stairs” which led directly from the dormitory to the chapel for prayer at Vigils. Hence, “vigilance.” They prayed for plagues to be kept away. And they built their monasteries over tumbling mountain streams, bringing clean water in and discharging dirtied water out, to preserve sanitation. (The opposite of a cistern!) They ought to be called to New Orleans.

But my real guides to time are the cats. They’ve learned to wake at 3AM or maybe 4AM (Lauds in summer, so laudable), because then I open the cat flap to outdoors. We have a night door rather than night stairs. I feed them a bite, make coffee, read the paper, go back to bed. At 9AM they are back, time to get up and feed them a bite, go to the post office. At Terce or Sext, they are ready to sleep. I do None (noon) alone. Mid-afternoon they reappear for a little something to eat and a long vigil outside through vespers, their favorite hour. They are diurnal. At Compline I find one cat in my bed and the other curled in the window next to my computer. Liturgical cats acting out a litugy based on their biology and my culture. Christians do that, too.