Monday, August 31, 2009


For many years I’ve had a strange sleep pattern. I go to bed about ten, wake up at three or four (depending on whether it’s daylight savings or not), work for a while, and then go back to sleep until nine or so. Some days I would sleep longer except that the Baptist church next door has a carillon that starts at 9AM. This village won’t tolerate noisy vehicles or barking dogs, but welcomes bonging hymns. The minister told me proudly that he sets the volume on high. I think he feels people might be converted. I don’t hear it anymore but it drives company, well, bonkers.

In those few hours I call my “second sleep,” I dream my most revelatory and (increasingly) detailed stories. Often they are about cities, roughly the same city, which is a composite. There is a river, hills or mountains, tall buildings clustered in a downtown, and neighborhoods of graceful Victorian houses. NEVER a suburb or a strip mall or even an enclosed mall. Often there are shops, elegant and luxurious, but I never buy anything.

It’s a composite place. Sometimes I can entertain myself by figuring out which little piece came from BBC movies about Edinburgh (the rim of the ancient volcano) or London (the Millenium Wheel), which are from Seattle or San Francisco or Vancouver, B.C. Chicago from the end of the Fifties and Portland from slightly earlier and much later are probably the main sources. Before I left Portland I often preached in Oregon City, making the drive along the Willamette and then up to the top of the bluffs to where the old town is. The four small cities I served as a circuit rider (Helena, Great Falls, Missoula and Bozeman) sometimes contribute in small scraps.

Such dreams key to a mood: the main work is done, the machinery of thought is still fly-wheeling but the content-sorter is idle. Cities are sort of an always available substrate. Cities = books. Not the physical covers and pages that surround me in my house, but the ideas in them. I don’t dream the ideas themselves, I just dream the places ideas come from: cities. Because cities have the libraries, the universities, the bookstores, the theatres, and -- until recently -- films. Some parts of my cities are from sci-fi movie images, but never the claustrophobic ones in the rain.

Cities are places of transcendence as well as grimy ghetto traps. Parts of cities have always been slums. But I don’t dream the times as an animal control officer when I was riddled and gasping from adrenaline left over from danger. I do remember the times as a little child I stood on the end of our block and realized our street ran along a glacial moraine, that I could see across the neighborhood to the West Hills which divert the Columbia River into that sort of tab at the top left-hand corner of Oregon. Another time I stood in Vernon Park, across from my grade school, and realized I was looking across the Columbia at the historical location of Fort Vancouver. The history teachers at that school were pretty effective so I could imagine the log palisade and the bonfires that burned in front of it. I felt the connectedness of the world, its historical substrate.

It was the age of department stores with marble steps and bronze drinking fountains that carried chilled water -- not that Portland water requires much chilling. My parents both grew up on tough water-short farms and felt such a place was the cave of Ali Baba, so I picked up that attitude.

It persisted in the Nineties when I was working for the City of Portland and spent my lunch hour along a little trail that went up a street of shops to The Galleria, a restored department store with an atrium in the middle; to Rich’s Cigar Store where every kind of magazine was carried; to a bead store where I bought two of everything to make earrings; back down to Nordstroms, the glitziest store, with an escalator alongside a huge mirror so dizzying that it took me several tries to go all the way to the top; and then across Courthouse Square, the outdoor version where kids played hackysack and food carts steamed; then through glassed-in Pioneer Place full of shops where the escalator is just as dizzying; back through Saks and up the street to the Portlandia building. It was all a display of sophisticated commodities I couldn’t afford and wouldn’t have bought if I could have. I buy books.

I never dream about Powells, in spite of all the hours I spent there, because in those aisles my inner thinking flywheel had plenty to process and no space for fine china, elegant linens, clothes way too small for me, magazines in French. The whole point of these repeated dreams is “trans” cendance, floating through with no goal, the way the air shuttles go among the pointed white towers of Star Wars or Firefly.

For the last ten years I’ve barely left Valier. Calgary is the closest to one of these cities but since I need a passport to cross the border and a passport costs more than a hundred dollars, I don’t go there anymore. Now the Internet is my city. I slide through the blogs and websites, frictionless and unthinking, their images crossing my retinas but leaving no trace until I find a good book.

I don’t dream of mountains. I don’t have to: they’re right here. I don’t dream of the ocean except when I’m dealing with some much deeper issue than just “Western Civilization” which is what the city dreams are about. In a city dream I’m always moving, maybe walking on sidewalks or even through the spaces between buildings, esp. when the cities are old Mediterranean ones. But most often I’m driving, slantwise down the cliff, across some streets of old houses, turning onto a highway that runs along the river, seeing high bridges in the distance, noting the ship-mast-worthy Douglas firs along the way, accepting the gleam of sun when the clouds leave a space.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat
by Eugene Field

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t'other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn't there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went " Bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "Me-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney place
Up with it hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I'm only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed,"Oh dear! What shall we do!"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw-
And oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don't fancy I exaggerate!
I got my news from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole the pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock, it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)

I reprint the entire poem in case there are young ‘uns who don’t know it. My Prot Irish grandfather used to quote it. It seems apt in a town (Great Falls) with an abundance of museums elbowing each other for shelf space among the precious objects. Many of us have been watching this for decades as the stakes grew higher and the reputation grew wider. Players have changed, sometimes through death and sometimes through a growing number of national players. If Norma Ashby ever writes the true story of these two “animals,” it will be a blockbuster. She took notes, I’m sure.

The most obvious bone of contention was between the local Ad Club and the increasingly national nature of the board and Auction attenders. Most local Montanans pay no attention to what goes on outside the state, so they may not have been aware that “Western art” has been growing into a gargantua, many dealers and endowed institutions in a sprawling network around the whole continent, all ambitious and mostly funded by millionaire aficionadoes of the West who identified with both the cowboys and the oil millionaires at the fulcrum of frontier. Each has ambitious administrators who are often very well paid, but there are far fewer actual art experts and curators specifically trained to address Western art. Most people judged art according to the price it would command (at auction maybe) and the prestige it conferred.

These are the people who wanted to rent the museum premises for cocktail parties and weddings. It was the art experts who cringed to see smoke and alcohol-fueled behavior near their precious collections. Think of the damage to the carpets! But it helped the endowment greatly. Until many aficionadoes began to age out of the picture. Now the market for Western art is shrinking.

The CMR Museum tried to solve the schism by forming two boards: one a local board of concerned and influential Montanans and the other a national board of big money folks. The Blackfeet tribe does the same thing: a board of elders and a board of actual council members. Let the elders speak their good words, just what everyone wants to hear, and then let the council members quietly meet, maybe through the windows of their pickups. When I was at seminary, the board of trustees of the seminary was supposed to include one student, which was intended to keep them from rioting or picketing. I was that student one year and I did my best to rock the boat. The students was expected to show how dignified and adult they were by representing everything in the kindest and most helpful tones. But I was forty and on the prod. I drew wild cartoons and declared a crisis.

That’s when I found out the truth about boards (and Congress and any other body of big shots). I had ruined my reputation and chances for a big time church by making trouble. (It didn’t really matter as I only wanted to return to Montana anyway.) It was revealed to me that there were only about four trustees (all older men with big churches) who quietly made all the decisions after everyone had gone home. Both the CMR Museum and the Ad Club are no different. That’s where the roots of the split really are. Norma Ashby knows, though she’s not one of them. Bob Scriver, on the Montana honorary board, tried to raise an alarm and was shut out. Many small people know.

There is another relevant literary tale, a novel by Mary Kay Zuravleff called “The Bowl Is Already Broken.” She used her knowledge of the Smithsonian to create this much-praised tale of museum politics that spirals around a priceless porcelain bowl, dropped and shattered. Though the story winds in and out of all sorts of worldly pressures, the end is philosophical: as soon as anything exists, it will end. That’s true for all objects, for humans, and for mountain ranges. Even the continents and even the planet. The timing and manner of the end might be unfortunate, but nothing is eternal except eternity.

In the fifty years since the auction was founded, partly as a convenient way to launder art acquired by hook or crook, it has been marbled with dubious practices as well as celebrated as a Great Falls triumph. But what is constantly overlooked is the growing-but-stretched bubble of Western art value that fuels auction profits and, beyond that, a world culture shift that asks “what IS a museum?” “What IS value?” Beginning with the early Pope’s cabinet of priceless treasures, all the way up to the Virginia rec room with a Russell over the fireplace, questions at this level have not been asked or answered.

Is there anything more at stake than a boy’s collection of treasures: pretty rocks, tin soldiers, and the collar off a pet dog that died long ago? It’s only a matter of time before the Chinese plate and the old Dutch clock begin to talk.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


A coincidence in my online stream reached out and tapped me this morning. The first was a piece picked up by Arts Journal in someone’s blog. It was about a study done by Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, She’s been collecting samples of student writing of all kinds -- in class, private, all media -- and doing other surveys of how much college kids write. The surprise is that more than one third of their time is spent writing! And we thought they’d all gone to image and word. They’re moving away from YouTube to twitter and blog, more writing than in the day of pen and ink, and all with an audience in mind. In the professor’s opinion, it is GOOD writing. Maybe not typical, maybe not elite college scholarly writing, but well-adapted to the receiver and quite vivid.

It’s worth going to the following url just to see Lunsford’s picture, which is far from being either the post-mod chick or the frazzled feminist. She has the look of Renaissance about her.

At the same time, Rolland Nadjiwan, my Cree-Chippewa poet friend in Canada, sent out to his circle this url for a You Tube:

This “mash” has become a subject of controversy among Indians. For those of you who don’t have broadband, it is synchronized pow-wow dancing -- which I have never seen before and find incredibly powerful -- coordinated with Chubby Checker’s “Let’s do the twist.” I don’t think this is done in a spirit of mockery, but the original dancing would have been with a traditional drum group.

One of the dancers says in comments: “this vid was taken at 1995 Red Earth Pow Wow, Oklahoma ... I am one of the dancers you see here . . . um, I am not happy with the disrespect of our traditions in this way . . . Of course you don't see any disrespect. Samskhara, you are not native, not had the teaching, and know very little of the culture, obviously. Um, let me put it this way, what is called Archeology to one culture is called grave robbing to the one's who see their ancestral lands desecrated by non-indigenous grave robbers.”

That comment carries a lot of weight, but my reaction is that this is a lot like me saying a young woman looked like Shelley Winters, which sent her into a tailspin of offense because she was young and thought of poor Shelley as the raddled old woman she was at the end instead of the sleek starlet she was when I first knew her in the movies. Why is timing this to a much loved dance mode any more critical to the past than thinking up synchronized pow-wow dancing in the first place?

replies, “Excuse me, but I do not see disrespect in it. I see it as a way to demonstrate the possibility of two different cultures through art. . . In my humble opinion the art is to show the state of his spirit of humanity and share the beauty and synchronicity with nature. Peace.”

Pallii says, “I am Lakota and can see where this was made out of fun unless otherwise specified. When you do anything like this you will be subject to criticism, whether you call it art or not. I see one of the dancers commented so that should be one indication it may have crossed the line for an individual who is actually in the video. This is the first I have ever seen a "troupe" dance in synchrony at a pow wow or exhibition. Just like the hip hop pow wow dancing going on, something new to me.”

Pow-wow dancing has become more and more structured and competitive in recent years. The costumes are not like they were even fifty years ago and not ANYTHING like they were 200 years ago. The idea of what is heritage seems to zero in on what the critics knew in their own youth rather than what was long ago. Even 200 years ago is after “first encounter” rather than ancient times when dancing was religious. Pan-tribal pow wows are relatively recent. Anyway, pow-wow gets a little more show biz all the time and MUST do that to hold the attention of the general non-Indian audience. It is living dance.

Is this anymore insulting than a musical opera production of, say, “Star Boy?” And what does it do to express the views and life-images of full-bloods left behind in poverty on the rez? Those people are in many cases far closer to their “heritage” than the college educated, assimilated people full of post-modern theory who have access to YouTube. Pow wow is expensive, especially with high gas prices hindering travel.

So I’m drawing a parallel between modern (or post-modern or post-post-modern) vigorous new versions of pow-wow dancing and the modern (p-m, pp-m) versions of writing. The vigor, the newness, the working together, all pertain. (One of Lunsford’s interests is collaborative writing the way Tim and I are working.)

Some people want to find the “right” way to do things and then stick to it, because they see mainstream convention as the way to get praise and success. Other people are thinking, “Hey, why not try this?” And they do, in all the arts. We’re in a strange time that scares a lot of people, but not the innovators. Some revile Middle Eastern terrorists while others, luckily, are composing symphonies based on Middle Eastern instruments and traditional songs. And then there are the hybrids, using “roots” sounds and cyber-sounds together in order to create a sound track for a futurist military-mode sci-fi show like “Battlestar Galactica.” But then turn around and use the same kind of composing for the historical“Gladiator.” (Different composers and I think they all owe something to Paul Winter.)

This is not a well-written post because I’m thinking too many different things and mixing dimensions of importance. Pow wow dances, “mashing” in vids, historical “heritage,” movie sound tracks, rez culture, sci-fi, defense of culture. And yet it’s the start of something, a line of thought. And it’s a product of a steady stream of ideas that all came to me in print except the mashed vid. I think I’ll watch it again. This clip is hypnotic and I’m not even a Chubby Checker fan.

Friday, August 28, 2009


People still wonder what happened to get the sci-fi sit com “Firefly” canceled. It was a warm, funny, sometimes gorgeous (the CGI of space), occasionally near-outrageous and always sexy show. The Suits are always saying that the demographic they want is young, educated, and hip -- but it appears that this time they got what they asked for and then couldn’t handle it. Joss Whedon, the master mind, is from a family of series-devisers and script-writers: father, grandfather, and two brothers. One can only imagine the dinner conversation. Maybe the suits couldn’t even manage that.

Joss’ best-known series might be “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” which I haven’t seen. The title is a tip-off to his basic strategy: contradiction. The name “Buffy” summons up a little twinkie blonde with too much money and probably a dog in her purse, all blonde and sun-streaked. Quite the opposite of a vampire and quite unlikely to know how to slay one. Seemingly. Surprise is the name of the game.

In “Firefly” the incongruous characters are gathered around a “congruous” one, who is meant to suggest Harrison Ford in “Star Wars.” Far from the cleancut aircraft carrier crowd of “Battleship Galactica,” which is a kind of WWII movie, all military and upright, the “Firefly” looks like a bug, esp. when the “glow” is fired up. A professional prostitute rents one shuttle and a “shepherd” (clearly a Methodist minister) is a passenger. The crew is a tough-mama veteran soldier with a Hawaiian-shirted beach cutie husband plus an escapee from a spaghetti Western with a fetish for strange hats. This ship’s version of Scottie is a Daisy May who channels her ship’s every gear and cog. Scottie would love her -- but be afraid to show it.

But the two who drive the plot are a rather stiff, if handsome, young doctor and his sister. The sister embodies one of the most emotional sci-fi questions. There’s the human vs. machine problem that drives Battleship Galactica. There’s the cultural relativity vs. evil problem that always preoccupied Star Trek. There’s the human vs. other species that rivets Aliens together. This one is about the hidden powers of the human mind. The doc’s frail, pale, vaguely Asian little sister has psychic powers.

Ironically, aside from the brother who is determined to “heal” her, the crew mostly sees her as a hazard. They don’t even understand what it is she tries to tell them when she can “feel” or “see” or whatever it is she does -- and so they discount her, brush her out of the way, and when the results are really bad, want to just dump her somewhere.

But the “bad guys,” believe everything she can do and have tried to turn it for their own uses, surgically meddling with her amygdala in a way that leaves her out of control, too vulnerable to bring order to her own mind. Who hasn’t felt like that? Even with a perfectly functional amygdala? But this is worse -- echoing the “bad trips” of the Seventies when people tried eating everything chemical or fungal, without preparation, protection or any assurance that they wouldn’t go crazy.

In some ways this ship is the way the counter-ists hoped life could be somewhere, maybe in a commune. Free-flowing, anarchic until the crunch comes and then an effective team, the cheerful galley with the Mexican taxi-driver’s decoration aesthetic is as much the heart of the ship as the elitist officer’s mess in “Master and Commander.” This is a crew we recognize. We “get” them.

Chinese viewers are at last included through an on-going joke. The writer kept a Chinese speaking woman busy researching how to say in Chinese such things as “you inflamed baboon butt” -- not that the cast was admittedly equally able to remember the words, much less pronounce them correctly. On “Battleship” the censors were evaded by saying, “Frack you!” On “Firefly” they say “rammin’” but the mysterious Chinese is even more effective as a sidestep, as well as a swipe at the arbitrary condemnation of Anglo-Saxon words.

The sexual values are those of the halcyon days, as the historians say, between the Pill and AIDS. But it’s meaningful that the whore asks NOT to be called a whore and is actually called a “companion.” There’s a good deal of wit about it, and one whole plot turns on a brothel in a desert, suggestive of a Clint Eastwood send up. In fact, bottom line, this is a Western. I’m not sure whether it qualifies as “steam punk,” which is the future bent back into the past when steam engines ruled the world, taking people across the oceans and continents to strange new places. There are actually horses in this sci-fi.

Getting back to the “spring” of the story -- or should we say the digital quartz of it -- it appears that what Joss is moving towards is the need for a human being, even an enormously gifted person like River who can read minds, to be in a community and to play as a child. The two girls, River and Kaylee, actually play tag and jacks. The married couple do have sex and they do have spats and they do get jealous. It’s like a family with a couple of tough uncles and an exotic aunt. But most of all, it’s about the counter-culture ethic that continues to survive: scruffy, suppressed, mocked, and losing but going on being subversive while too many people get rich and smug.

"Firefly" is what I’ve been trying to define as a “virtual world,” that is, one that is not “real” -- and the difficulty here is trying to define “real,” -- but certainly convincing, even after we know how the set was built, why the actors were cast and so on. Maybe the “realness” of it is related to our sympathy with Joss’ deepest assumptions which have to do with the Alliance as oppressors and the “reavers” as cannibals. They can only be survived with the help of a dedicated group of people attached to each other strongly enough to risk protecting each other. More family than circle of friends.

And what’s scary about it is that Joss and “Firefly” are indeed at the mercy of “Alliance” producers who think THEY know what the public wants (more explosions and violent fights) and it’s even scarier to understand that they are probably right and the “Reavers” public DOES want violence and sex rather than talk and understanding. But what not everyone has realized is that values like the mestizo comaraderie of “Firefly,” which is much like the relationships among cast and crew while production lasted, probably did as much to change the culture as court-imposed busing did.

The work of the arts is to mirror the world in a way that renews it, whether through criticism or example. Often a virtual world is subversive in ways that the Suits with their eye on the dollar never value. And not every viewer is a reaver.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Trickster stories begin “coyote was going along . . .” because they are a road show. Trickster stories are the original picaresque, millenia-old and world-wide. This ever-moving journey takes trickster to one walled and guarded community after another. His song-poems get him through the gate to ruck up the locals with news of the outside world.

The chiarascuro of Tim Barrus’ life is drawn in the dazzle of spotlights and the dusk of backstage and back alley life. He travels by motorcycle cross-country with no headlight. The strangeness is that it is the spotlights that are deceptive and the shadows that are true. Moonlight reveals everything. But on the darkest moonless starless night the heart is felt. A decade into the 21st century, Tim has spent a half-century redrawing society from a counterculture and subversive point of view. He doesn’t try to overthrow the government. It is the culture priesthood he targets, those who sit in Manhattan skyscrapers planning to lunch, signaling “heels up” and “heels down” over the fate of lives they do not know, killing small furry animals with stilettos. The educated tweedy men are gone.

Tim is a trickster, determined to undermine, blast apart, even destroy the standing order of cultural institutions, including the family. He himself has been cut apart at his body’s hinges, his hips and shoulders replaced by surgery. He blew his own guts out. He’ll tell you about it. It’s no secret. These are circumpolar shaman markers, but he aspires to be a Meso-American nagual. He needs enough sun to maintain a tan. He likes to take his shirt off.

He survives only because he is a trickster, that world-wide pattern (coyote, Napi, raven, hare, B’rer Rabbit) that introduces the future by slipping through the gaps in the walls around the cities, charming the youth (the Pied Piper, Peter Pan, the Beatles), and then teaching them to speak their hearts anew. He’s not just San Francisco in the Eighties, he’s not just Key West or Santa Fe or the Village or even Paris and Amsterdam where he lived in the catacombs making poetry of bones.

Vilified for saying his mother was Navajo, Tim is not half-Navajo or Irish or Dutch or male or female or young or old. Neither is he everybody. He slides in and out of roles, like an actor who is always different and yet at the core is always the same, always recognizable, even in drag.

Mary Scriver is the opposite. Rosy-cheeked, once red-haired, always barrel-shaped, Stay Put Woman in a prairie village, she looks like someone’s granny. That is a disguise. No one notices grannies. They are everywhere, but they have no significance.

Her motto is Flaubert’s: “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.” People who take her for granted can be disconcerted. She is straight, celibate, dependable, abstinent, and interested in everything -- but she’s a lousy housekeeper. She is a person of place, the east slope of the Rockies on the edge of the Blackfeet Reservation, where the combed golden fields of grain bump up against the pine-cloaked wilderness of stone ramparts. She is rooted. Ordained in the UU denomination after the requisite training at the University of Chicago Divinity School she owns a small Minerva shield, emblazoned with the snakes of Medusa, but hangs it in the closet.

I’m interested in the scandalous Ulysses-type voyager that Tim is and not surprised to find that we like each other, understand each other, and can interpret each other to our constituencies. His Lewis Hyde trickster fits with my Thomas Kuhn paradigm shifts. Paradox, ambiguity, labyrinth. Don’t expect answers or recipes or rituals. But they might show up.

The natural milieu of Tim Barrus is a group. Many times when he begins a post that is a story, he starts out, “We see . . .” and then paints a word picture, because he is an artist. But sometimes it's a vid from Cinematheque, his group of boy artists, overlaid, paced to music.

He likes impromptu audiences on public steps, more formal audiences at a poetry reading, a party, a theatre company, a dance troupe, or a ship crew. His group of boys make a kind of shifting family, free but bonded to the protected intimacy of the group. They can go, but they return. Tim likes the art loft, the photography dark room, the library. Wherever he goes, he forms affinity groups.

The kinds of groups Tim does NOT like are the kinds I know best: church congregations, public school classrooms, school cafeterias, office cubicle floors, hotel conference rooms. At this point I don’t like them anymore, but I no longer like any groups. I’m happy in a restaurant only if I’m at a table with friends or a book, not in a banquet hall. Is the difference that I’m ten years older than Tim, that I’m aging? Or is there something else? Distrust of consensus, fear of mobs?

The larger world describes Tim as a kind of madman. In my smaller world I’m considered a “character,” which in Montana means an eccentric of whom one is fond but wary. Maybe troublesome. To each other we seem quite sane. Why is that? Is it about trust? Or is there something bigger? A cause, a life position?

Maybe it’s that I used to be coyote going along, living in a van like a hippie while serving four Montana UU fellowships of intelligent, funny, dedicated people who tried so hard to be inclusive and helpful but only succeeded a little because they knew so little about the truly outrageous. Now that I live in one place, I remember travel. Why don’t I go along anymore? I say it’s because the cats won’t let me. They watch for coyotes and growl at dogs. Danger, danger!

All yesterday afternoon the electricity was off. Big machines working everywhere to beat the weather had cut something. In the clear luminous day the first yellow leaves drifted softly down. This is generally a quiet place, except for the lawnmowers, but yesterday was truly silent. I stopped everything to sit watching, liminal. My guardian cats were sleeping, narcotized.

Where Tim was, he went to the walled and guarded airport to meet one of his boys because the kid is part of what keeps him alive. The kid is also a coyote, going along . . . When the electricity comes back on, I’ll get an email song-poem.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


An understanding of sexuality/gender assignment that is based on a mere duality, especially one that is enforced by the culture, will always end in conflict, destruction, and suffering. This insistence on duality comes from an intolerance of ambiguity that results from an over-coded society that always wants to know exactly what IS and how much it’s WORTH because they’re afraid of being fooled by an impostor or sold a bill of goods. How can they enforce laws if they don’t know how to define exactly what’s happening? They don’t want to admit that there are things outside their experience -- maybe FAR outside.

When I was working at Multnomah County Animal Control in the late Seventies, there was no law that addressed b*sti*lity -- that is, sex with animals -- because the nice people who wrote out the law had no idea such things happened. When the police were asked to shut down a performer who had an act with Great Dane dogs, they called us to see if they could use the animal cruelty law. We were reduced to asking them about the expression on the dogs’ faces. A woman called to beg us to take away the family cat because her husband would only make love to it instead of her. We wondered about the man’s anatomy but told her she needed a counselor because there are LOTS of cats. He’d just get another one. These are sexual problems that are only problems if they interfere with human life. Mammalian sex, when anatomically possible, is a bigger category than human sex, but no human has sex that isn’t at least half mammalian.

But this is going to be a book review on a much higher philosophical and sociological plane and I’m sure you’re relieved. “Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality and Spirituality” is an anthology edited by Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang. I mentioned it to Alice Kehoe at last Friday’s Piegan Institute seminar (She's in it.) and got a quick lecture on why the title is no good. But the questionability of the title is part of the point of the book. Words always interplay with the reality of the phenomena in question, esp. when webcrawlers are involved, which is why I spell some words with stars to fool the software.

Early “penetrators” into the cultures of the North American people were shocked, SHOCKED to discover that some of the things that Euros thought were disgraceful were quite taken for granted and calmly dealt with in NA tribes. Euros are always inclined to be Latinate and to “conceive” of things in terms of thesis/antithesis -- in this case without synthesis. So they assigned “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” as opposed and mutually exclusive. But the nice thing about Latinate words is that you can build your own: “omnisexuality,” “ur-sexuality,” “meta-sexuality,” or as Fritscher does, “homomasculinity,” or “hypermasculinity” with, of course, female equivalents across the divide. And then there’s “intersexuality” which isn’t used later in this blog to mean sex across the genders but rather people genuinely and medically not assignable on one side or the other. We're talking identity, not partner preference.

But first, the book called “Two-Spirit People” was meant to address BOTH the vocabulary and the divvying up of territory involved in both the reality and the derived descriptions of non-Euro NA tribes before the missionaries told them what their positions ought to be.

Some people became enamored with the word “berdache” which was in part was Alice’s bone of contention. (I can’t help the puns. My subconscious does it.) It’s a very Euro word. Here’s the historiography in a nutshell: “The earliest use of the term Jacobs could find when doing research for “Berdache: A Brief Review of the Literature" (1968) was in the Jesuit Relations (from the 1700’s) where such individuals were condemned. ‘The word originally came from the Persian bardaj [barah], and via the Arabs [bardaj] spread to the Italian language as bardasso [berdasia] and to the Spanish as bardaxa or bardaje [bardaja] by the beginning of the sixteenth century. About the same time the word appeared in French as bardache . . .[and] refers to the passive homosexual partner.” Since these people included “kept boys” or what the Brits call “rent boys,” other people who were homosexual but adult and NOT kept or for sale, did not like the term. “Two-spirit” also has problems since it clings to doubleness.

This set of essays is operating on three levels. The highest level is trying to open-mindedly understand how any one set of folks figured out how to think about their gender inclinations -- not just sex, but for instance who does the dishes, who does the hunting, who does the gardening, and what do they wear? The second level is about terminology: what do you call a dignified, functioning man/woman? Or woman/man? Or is that different? What’s anatomy and what’s occupation? Can there be compromises? Can people move back and forth? Things can be very complex.

The third level is accounts of what a set of rules can do that doesn’t fit an individual, forcing them to suffer and struggle, whether just in their self-image or in significant economic ways like getting a job or making a supportive alliance with someone else that's NOT based on sex.

When I was doing my chaplaincy in a big regional Illinois hospital, over a ten week period, there were two babies born who were between the sexes. At that time there was no book like “Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes” by Gerald N. Callahan, which has been skillfully reviewed in Ms. magazine. The reviewer, Leanne Mirandilla suggests “not only are there more than two genders, but the argument could be made that there are as many genders as there are stars in the sky.” She says “Around 2,000 children per year in the U.S. are born intersexual due to a variant set of chromosomes (not simply XX or XY), or various enzyme or hormone deficiencies.” (I would add “excesses.” There are other matters, such as the uterine environment.)

What I would like to see next would be more articles like “Saga of the unshaven armpit – skins and feminists.” By Gyasi Ross

(“Skins” is inside Indian slang for Native Americans. Don’t use it if you didn’t know what it meant.) This blog is a little mini-lesson about the difference between “matriarchal” and “matrilineal” interwoven nicely with an account of what economics can do to gender roles in a family. Even so do political opportunists and oddballs leap upon anthropological ideas to confirm their own life desires. So who can believe their categories?

Economics rules. You don’t fit your culture, you starve. Therefore, you sham. Which hurts. Wouldn’t it be better to create an economic scene that let everyone eat?

Those two babies? They were surgically and medicinally altered to force them into one gender or the other. That was 1980. Might not happen today.

Monday, August 24, 2009


The Internet means that often there is a strange echo or maybe it’s not the Internet at all -- maybe it’s Jung’s synchronicity that proposes filaments of connection among us operating through our un- or sub- consciousnesses. At any rate, on the heels of the Kiipippoistoyi (Hundred Winters) history conference about the separation of Glacier National Park from the remains of the Blackfeet Country that was designated a reservation, here came a gift from Julie Terrill Ash, who was once the editor of the Glacier Reporter in Browning and who had found my blog though she’s now in California.

It was the VCR tape of Amy Grant’s “Old-fashioned Christmas,” originally called “Headin’ Home for Christmas” which aired in 1986. It was filmed more-or-less in Glacier Park.

Amy Grant was and might still be the sexiest of the Christian singers: lots of loose hair (which to my mother meant S-E-X, I suppose because in her day one took one’s hair down only at night), covered up clothing, and a boisterous kinetic style. But look at the cover of the tape and it’s pretty clear that her producers and she are playing sex off against virtue. Not that anyone is objecting.

The show is built on the pretense that Amy and her husband are taking an intimate little vacation before they go back to Tennessee for the actual holiday of Christmas, evidently because the show wants images of a white Christmas and Glacier Park is full of snow. (They were lucky. Sometimes it isn’t!) This modest story line is filled out with the idea that Amy is looking for Christmas presents and visiting local emporiums, like a crazy trading post full of taxidermy atrocities and peculiar artifacts, all ballyhooed by a familiar actor/comedian. The reason Julie knew I would want the tape is that it includes a visit to the Scriver Studio to show off Bob’s bronzes of Blackfeet.

Which is the point. The Blackfeet in this tape are the “lawn Indian” type that the Glacier Lodge paid to dress up and look dignified in their white buckskin beaded and fringed suits with full Sioux headdresses, to generally reassure tourists that they are benign and, in some way, primitive royalty. They appear as Bob's bronzes and as audience members when the storyline about touring the country gives way to a glorious concert on the west side of the mountains in Kootenai Lodge. A children’s choir, which pulls in the little girl who has been pretending to be Dennis Weaver’s daughter (Weaver is pretending to be a local rancher), an adult choir, and the local orchestra combine to back up Amy, her husband, and Art Garfunkel in familiar Christmas classics as well as some contemporary Christian compositions.

It’s all very well done, as Bob Scriver -- who had a sophisticated music education as a band leader and music teacher -- was quick to declare. A close-up during the concert found a tear on his cheek, no doubt taken to be evidence of how much he was moved by the music, but which I cynically suggest is grief over having to leave the music behind in order to be a famous sculptor.

But that’s not the point of this blog. The point is that insight I got from the seminar that Glacier National Park and the Badger-Two Med area just to the south are an American Jerusalem. The spectacular mountains are claimed by two different “nations” as a key sacred ground and this double claim can be hard to share. The Blackfeet assert strongly that these mountains, which make winter survivable through Chinook winds and summer survivable through slowly melting snowpack, are their life-source. For centuries they have gone there to built dream-beds and call for visions.

But the white folks of this country, particularly the rather soft-core Christians who have absorbed the transfer of the sacred from the institutional church and the historical birthplace of Jesus to nature in all its most grand and impressive forms, see our national parks as natural cathedrals meant to celebrate the near-religious patriotism of a well-loved “Christian” nation which set them apart for ITS people. Their idea of Christmas comes mostly from Victorian middle-class ideas: withdrawal to the country, gifts, evergreen trees, a certain style of sleigh rides and firesides. Most of all, family. Lacking Balmoral Castle, one seeks out a lodge.

And, luckily, peace and good will to all. This conciliatory attitude means that looking at the Scriver bronzes gives Dennis Weaver a chance to speak of peace and dignity when dealing with Indians, even though the examples in question are all drawn from the 19th century. In fact, Weaver himself was quite dedicated to the idea of peace. This was a feel-good program and had no reason or motivation to take on reservation poverty or to feature a little Indian kid instead of the little white girl.

When these programs are developed, the producers go to the state film and tourist office, at this time occupied by Gary Wunderwald. I wasn’t in Browning in 1986. In fact, I was serving a congregation in the Seattle area, but all through the Sixties when Bill Browning had this job, we worked closely with him. It saves the producers a lot of scouting time for this office to make suggestions and in those years they kept Bob Scriver high on their list. Bob was careful always to come through. One big reason Indians get left out of such programs is they don’t pay attention to the state match-makers and they don’t show what they have to offer. The activist-type demands or the victim-type pitches just don’t work. Media wants a story and good images they can count on.

So I doubt that Gary Wunderwald or the Montana Chamber of Commerce had any awareness that they were presenting an illustration of two “nations” both claiming their Jerusalem and occupying it peacefully together, mostly because the two approaches were so radically different that they missed the content-schism altogether. There are some advantages to being shallow and skating over the differences.

But like the conflict between two kinds of hunting that I discussed in the post about the seminar, Bob Scriver was again a man who had both kinds of religion inside him: oldtime Blackfeet Bundle-Keeping as well as a kind of surface Christianity mostly acquired from the media. He LOVED Amy Grant. No conflict there. Well, except the usual madonna/whore split Americans cherish along with their other mythology.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Certain figures of philosophy, story and poetry in all their glorious forms will return to basic domains of human concern again and again, giving them flesh in semi-human bodies such as the nagual, the shaman, the werewolf, the windigo, the sorcerer, the messiah. Incarnation means “in flesh form.”

Let’s do some sorting. The umbrella that includes ALL these forms is our human ability to think of inhuman or superhuman powers. We all live in societies where there is a continuum of skills and awareness, where some people have more skills and power or even awareness than other people. This is worrisome, because it affects one’s ability to eat -- not just in the practical nutritional sense, but in all the life-sustaining dimensions including healing. When one of these forms with special powers is imagined, they are often anthropocentric, that is, about human concerns.

Some are even institutional, supported and funded, for instance, as a priest or a doctor or -- in a tribe -- a medicine person or herbalist. They are meant to be able to join two realms: that of special knowledge and that of the person needing help.

Because good and evil are human constructs, different in different contexts whether that context is culture-wide or simply an atypical exceptional event, many of these go-between roles are anthropocentric. It is a matter of concern whether the role is an evil one or a benign one -- good for people or bad for people. Because “good” and “bad” when taken beyond simple rule-based morality are often ambiguous or even have unknown ultimate results, the stories about them are meant to help people reflect.

But some of these go-betweens have no concern with good or evil. They are from some other dimension, somewhere beyond human knowledge, and break through unaccountably. In our times the pseudo-scientific beings called “extra-terrestials” come in their flying saucers. Many who interact with them pull them down to human dimensions, often medically which is the only way many ordinary people interact with science. The aliens give them “examinations,” often sexual which is the deepest and most worrisome aspect of medicine for many people.

Today’s sci-fi, like Battlestar Galactica, addresses science in a different way, the relationship between human and machine, especially in terms of robots, who in this storyline are able to get pregnant by humans. We know from experience with animals that this is the test of relationship: can the meiosis that separates chromosome pairs and then rematches them with another set actually form a new creature? (We get nervous when there is mitosis, the simple breaking apart of one creature into two. That’s what plants do, and what scientists do when they clone.) Might we end up with a chimera, something half one animal and half another, half animal and half human: a centaur, a minotaur, a mermaid?

In older times the troubling relationship was between humans and animals. Humans tried to say they were NOT animals, not vulnerable edible meat, but rather something superior whether through mind or soul. Or magic. Or trickiness. BUT it was then possible to conceive of someone who could shape-shift in and out of being an animal or someone like Circe in the Odyssey, who could force people to shape-shift in and out of an animal. Some cultures, like Native Americans, enlist the aid of animals and identify with the qualities of one sort of animal, taking dream guidance from them. These stories are still in the realm of good and evil.

Concern about animal-being gives us the werewolf or possibly the vampire. But these shapes are flesh-eaters, humans who have taken the form of predators. (Strange to think about our love of predators, our sexualization of being consumed.) A little farther out are the windigo (the personification of starvation/predation) and the skin-walker. The only story I’ve ever heard of a windigo turning good was one Joe Bruchac told the junior high in Browning years ago. It was about a loving young mother who fed the windigo enough soup to make it human. A female Messiah whose power of good, defined as nourishment, was able to convert the windigo into a human. Another figure on the “evil” side is the skinwalker.

Do you doubt the reality of the windigo? Consider the case of the bus passenger in Canada who decapitated and ate the man next to him. Consider the cannibal in Great Falls who ate little boys. Consider the recent story of the mother in the paper recently who killed and ate her own baby. There is something in the human brain that can lose the category of “human being” and go entirely outside any human context.

More recent than the tension between human and animal, or human and machine, is between the human per se and the human mind, the struggle to tell “reality” from “illusion” regardless of whether they work anthropocentrically for good or evil. Pogo’s principle, “we have found the enemy and it is us,” is one thing. Now I want to bring up the possibility of parallel universes, the reality of insanity (we do not hold insane people accountable morally in the usual way) and the idea that in the cosmic scheme of things we are just a bit of fuzz on a tiny planet far from the center. This what the crawling baby Krishna reveals when his mother looks into his mouth. Infinity.

Some people have been so endangered in their lives, sometimes beginning in infancy, that they feel they must constantly fight to keep their existence alive, like fighting to keep a flame burning or fighting against a shrinking habitat niche. They are so aware of temporariness and smallness and possibly have seen so many people snuffed by deprivation, starvation, that they yearn to call down the power from that other realm. They may become tricksters in an effort to elude destruction. They do not purposely do good or evil, do not seek power over others, evade all institutions that seek to capture them, and often work as poets rather than scientists, though if a person gets far enough out into deep ecology and theoretical physics, it’s hard to tell poetry from the logic and math. It’s hard to tell madness from insight. It's not about good and evil. It's about being and nonbeing.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


A conference exploring the history of Glacier National Park.

Student, U of Montana, where his Ph.D. will be in environmental history. His earlier degree was from Notre Dame and he and his sister, Shannon, who came along, are clearly Irish Catholic in origin.

Shawn is a west-sider where he likes to hike and all that. He pursues the approach of the “hermeneutics of suspicion” in a mild way by proposing that Glacier National Park was created by plutocrats for the benefit of the upper classes, both those who felt it was more patriotic to take vacations in American places instead of the usual Alps or Mediterranean and those who wanted to built a railroad empire. This pushed out the homesteaders and other ground level people who owned land up against the mountains that became Glacier National Park. Since the people on the land on the east side were the Blackfeet, this was largely a west side phenomenon. And it was disingenous since the Park employees continued to shoot game for their own use.

Bailey did a careful reconstruction of how the last of the wave of homesteaders had to be pushed back out. By using newspapers and letters, he was able to substantiate his claim that well-connected Easterners and Montana big shots were able to manipulate the processes to get what they wanted. Many productive small farms, partly supported by subsistence hunting in the mountains, were eliminated. There was little mining over there. A huge fire that swept the mountains in 1910 helped to push out settlers.

The Blackfeet were seen as tourist assets, something to reinforce the nobility and privilege of the white people who could afford to come and make contact.

He spoke about Mary Roberts Rinehart, a much-admired and wealthy writer of murder mysteries, who also loved the Park and wrote about it. His assumption was that she had little interaction with lower class helpers or Indians, but I’m not sure that’s validated and Ray Djuff, an attending Calgary expert on Glacier Park, said his reading of what happened was different. The only book of hers I have is “Through Glacier Park in 1915,” which is small enough to reread quickly. I’ll see. The pattern is much like the English colonialists in Kenya or India, but the actual on-the-ground experience may be different. In fact, commentors on early Blackfeet “royalty” who were paid to put up lodges on the lawn, to tell stories and to dance, see things rather differently from each other. Some emphasize that the Blackfeet received status and friendship as well as much-needed income. Others point out that their monetary intake was small, often in the form of tips, and that they were provided food that was left over in the cafeteria after guests and the help had eaten. What the Indians didn’t eat went to the bears, another spectacle -- out on the garbage heap.

In general, Bailey is very much in sympathy with the “Missoula” approach to Blackfeet politics with its strong post-colonial theory and contingent of activist Indian students.

Alice Kehoe, an anthropologist who began her training on the Blackfeet Rez and who, along with her former husband Tom, is one of the major experts on Blackfeet, recommended a book called “Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy" by Jonathan Peter Spiro - 2008. Spiro is a biographer of Madison Grant, an American aristocrat early environmentalist who has not become so famous as others of his kind. Alice points out that Spiro is a Manhattan immigrant-descended Jew, which is very much like Alice’s background, so this is a suspicious but conscientious account. What Spiro does in terms of Glacier Park is to link it to the Boone & Crockett Club, which is just to the south of the the Park and founded about the same time by approximately the same people. They had somehow linked the idea of the perfect species of humans with all their exceptionalism (Spiro remarks that there is probably not a teenager in the US who could have been admitted to Yale in 1884!) to the notion of “trophy” animals and the importance of collecting them as a marker of privilege. I’ll come back to this. The fourth speaker takes up hunting in the Park.

Later Ray Djuff remarked that though Bailey had worked out the cost of coming to Glacier on the train from Minneapolis and the cost of a stay in one of the big hotels ($3 - $5 per night), which amounted in total to about half the year’s wages of an ordinary working man of those times, he had not taken into account the many campers who arrived on foot, lovers of “tramping” as they called it, who were not packed in on horseback to the chalets for fine dining as the high-end tourists were.


is the husband of Rosalyn LaPier, who organizes this event. Beck is on the faculty in Missoula. LaPier is getting her Ph.D. in history there, but also has degrees in physics and management. Their daughters act as registrars, dog-ejectors, go-fers, and other necessities -- always with good grace and competence.

Beck’s talk was illustrated by some of the most beautiful images of the Park that I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a LOT, to say nothing of the real thing! He gave us an overview of just how one makes money in a place where it’s tough to survive.

Also, he gave us the important news that some Montana Native American students spent the summer in Washington,D.C. preparing original documents such as letters written by Blackfeet to federal officials plus answers, for access on the Internet. These will be easily accessed with no charge without having to go through a “gate”. His example was a four page letter hand-written, striking for its high quality. The Indian writes from his heart; the official answers in boilerplate. Beck had asked for an advance “migration” of the materials he wanted from the master hard drive over into a smaller computer. In a 24 hour period the material was only half transferred, so this will be a huge mass of material to digest. (Beck and LaPier are working on a history of Indians in Chicago -- not at all what you’d expect: MANY Indians doing very well.)

Also, he recommends the thesis of Shawn David Kline, “From the Other Side of the Lens: Intersections of Blackfeet economy, culture, and imagery, 1900 -1930.” I will recommend that paper bibliographies be handed out in future seminars as I’ve had to dig out some of these excellent and desirable recommends from Google. Some of us are not as sharp-eared or quick with our fingers as most grad students.

Because LaPier is an ethnobotanist, Beck is highly aware of the important of gathering herbal materials as well as hunting for meat and hides. Normally done by women, this “economy” totally escaped the white elite described by Bailey. At a previous Piegan Institute seminar, the group was bused up to the Park and guided to gather local edibles, which were then combined into a soup for lunch. The consensus was that it was pretty tasty.


is a Gros Ventre who grew up in Kalispell and has made many forays into Glacier Park. He is Assistant Professor of Psychology and American Culture at the University of Michigan. Though his subject was not directly related to Glacier Park, it was an important counter-balance to the sometimes obsessive preoccupation with a tragic past and also related to the interruption of the spiritual renewal sources in the Park.

Perhaps because so many scholars of Native America are Jewish, the work being done in “historical trauma” with the descendants of the Holocaust was soon transferred to the NA context. The idea is that PTSD, which so many of us have come to understand through the effect of war on soldiers or else through the feminist movement working with rape victims -- and which some apply to victims of environmental trauma through forced removal as refugees or captive, or destruction of the land which can rather more mystically be described as the earth’s rape -- is derived within the treatment context of human services. A great many counselors and medical workers are now Native Americans, often working in drug recovery. There are 400 NA clinical psychologists.

Specifically and historically, the NA people are seen as still suffering from the trauma of their treatment in the 19th century and other more contemporary events like relocation to cities or the severe poverty on reservations. This theory system is an attempt to find SOME way to interpret and heal the high rates of crime, disorder, mental afflictions,alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide on reservations. The original injury is seen as cumulative across the generations, like the breakup of families in order to send the children to boarding schools and the subsequent loss of parenting skills as well as the relational network of helpers.

If this approach works for you, is a useful place to start. I googled it up -- Gone didn't specifically mention it.

Gone points out ways this approach helps. One is that it locates some source and cause for a generalized distress that people tend to think is somehow “their fault” or their essential nature, that they are somehow substandard people or being punished for an offense. It gives a point of focus for action and relieves the paralysis of self-blame and self-hatred. Also, it offers a solidarity with other victims so that effective group support and political action can be organized.

Another group of advantages is that it heads off the medicalization of individuals, which leads towards separation and individual treatment as “cases,” instead of solidarity among people with a tribal heritage. It discourages the pharmaceutical approach which offers a pill for everything, thus undercutting any kind of reflection or action and relieving the community from forming an image of a constructive future. The pharmaceuticals that give short-term relief might not be legal. Alcohol works, as the veterans know well. Prescription pill abuse on reservations is currently a hot topic.

(It’s interesting that the “spiritual” recovery movement is more and more towards group retreats. Several of these sessions were operating not so far away right during the seminar.)

Then Gone moves to a critique. He points out that PTSD was only suggested and defined in 1980 and is still developing. It is based on the consequences of horrific experience, as in combat, and theory often focuses on physiological consequences: brain changes that can be described in a vague pop or junk science way. There are attempts to “recondition” or “re-experience” that are vulnerable to quack interpretations. The original theory of PTSD gets expanded into what might be called “complex PTSD” so that a person whose grandparents recounted their survival of the Baker Massacre might be more vulnerable to a back alley beating, one trauma fitting into the other.

Gone remarks that PTSD is interpreted as applying to ALL NA’s, in that way that Americans constantly lump all Indians into one big pan-tribe that looks like a scene from “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” Some tribes suffered rather less than others. Or maybe in different ways. This suggests that the nature and dynamics of how their PTSD works might be quite different and might not be justified as a cascade effect down the generations in every case.

Gone asks what ARE the exact confirmed processes of “secondary PTSD?” Is it a matter of stories? Is it a spiritual loss or a genetic pre-disposition? One wants to be very careful about pathologizing an entire people on the basis of a smaller group, esp. when considering the formation of identity in the young. Think of self-fulfilling prophesy. Think of the cottage industries that have grown up around “healing.” Think of the constant use of victimhood to squeeze money out of the government and institutions. We’re still both blaming and capitalizing victims.

Anyway, it would be good to figure out exactly what it is that’s being escaped: is it PTSD or is it the economic dilemma on reservations and in ghettos? If it's economics THAT should be addressed. This approach entirely neglects the many, many NA’s who have gone on to be successes. (Many have reflected -- including me on even so small a scale as Browning -- that an Indian who is a success in a button-down shirt will not longer be seen as an Indian, because the victimhood and the association with colorful pow-wows is the public DEFINITION of an Indian. Even the Indians themselves begin to think of successful people as privileged whites, even when they know their origins.)

So what’s the answer? Gone suggests moving from “traumatized” to “bereaved,” which implies something lost and therefore legitimizes mourning and rebuilding rather than some kind of inner sickness. He suggests “aggrieved” as another useful word.

Gone gave three points of an agenda: 1) pursue justice 2) identify and dissect resilience rather than pathology 3) start to build positive things, maybe even literally, so as to feel success. (In my sermons I call this the lesson Jesus was after when he told the terminally ill man to pick up his bed and walk -- and the man did.)

At this point there was another one of those little synergies between speaker and audience Sally Thompson ( Do not fail to use this link!) reminded us that Abraham Maslow went to the Blackfoot Nation in Alberta specifically to study sexual “noncompliance” (assumed to be pathologies). The elders there called him on the carpet and asked why he couldn’t study positive things. Why couldn’t he ask about “clean sober people” and how they managed that? After thinking this over, Maslow totally revised his approach to psych, no longer concentrating on what goes wrong, but inquiring into the nature of success and happiness. Maslow’s turnaround was a genuine revolution with a major impact on society -- for a while -- as it was the theoretical justification for saying “why not?” (Not what the tribal elders expected, I’m sure!)


, W. Turrentine Jackson Professor of Western US History, University of California at Davis, is often a member of the never-ending seminar on Darrell Kipp’s porch in St. Mary. He looks enough like Stanley Tucci, my favorite actor from the “feel-good” movie “Shall We Dance?” that I kept expecting him to break into a tango, but he never did. Sigh.

He also appealed to me because of my love affair with the book by Daniel Justin Herman called “Hunting and the American Imagination” which suggests that America was founded by men who wore imported English hunting caps with their American fringed buckskin jackets. Half came to America with the intention of becoming landed gentry owning protected hunting grounds in the way Robin Hood so resented in Sherwood Forest, and half came to America with the intention of eliminating all landed gentry and letting all men hunt equally, esp. for subsistence instead of as a point of superiority and privilege. An awkward number wanted to achieve both. This meshes with the oxymoron: “noble savages” in which Indians are supposed to be privileged but free. And Bob Scriver was dead-center on this contradiction, wanting to be “better,” while at the same time yearning to be an Indian just like all the people around him. It is a want that cannot be satisfied.

To such people as Bob, Glacier Park was a constant affront. Half the time he thought he was an Indian who had been given a permanent entitlement to hunt there BY TREATY, and half the time he was angry because he thought that Indians should not be able to keep him from hunting on the reservation. His mother had deeply impressed him that he was related to a knighted MacFie, but neglected to mention that the relative (who was by marriage anyway) was knighted for being a captain of industry and that the original MacFie fortune had been made by oppressing and enslaving people in the Caribbean sugar industry.

Warren was careful to point out that his own grandfather’s background is among the “red” IWW laborers of Washington state who sympathized with Marx. He’s not an elitist, though he makes his living sitting on an Indian’s porch thinking about it and gazing over St. Mary’s Lake at the landscape that is the face of history. (Jokes.)

Mostly he was speaking about the 1895 Agreement about the “Ceded Strip” that was added to the Park when gold was detected there. The government decided to pursue the same tactics as in the Black Hills (Warren wryly noted that they had not learned much from the fiasco there.) which was to just take the land ownership from the Indians and give it to the miners (through very advantageous laws that are just now being considered for repeal). I have not noted much about George Bird Grinnell though his name comes up over and over in these matters. He’s another of those double people: on the one side he had deep family ties with the upper mercantile classes back east and on the other he had a romance with the Indians, which, of course, paid off for him when he told their stories in books.

Many confusions arose because of the usual clumsiness and wrong-headed thinking in managing these matters. The main approach is through the idea that land ownership is determined by its “use,” and since the Indians weren’t “using” the mountain valleys and so on in any way that whites could recognize, it could better be “used” by miners. (I’ve often been told in Valier that it was all right for homesteaders to come to this country because the Indians were not “using it.”) There were also some tricky insertions in the Agreement: the phrase “so long as the mining claims remaining on the public land of the U.S.” -- when, of course, mining claim specifically REMOVES the land from the public lands -- and “shall be regulated by the provisions of game and fish laws of the state of Montana.” These trapdoor provisions were cleverly set, but never used because the gold rush fizzled. However, they remain and are only prevented from going to court by strategic restraint from prosecution, even in the case of a provocateur like Bailey Peterson, who shot mountain sheep there almost publicly.

Warren said that though the literature claims that Indians were afraid of the mountains and didn’t live in them, this is not true. They considered the places majestic and holy, but entered all the time for meat, wood, and herbs -- to say nothing of spiritual renewal. In fact, no less a witness than Walter McClintock constantly described the plentiful and necessary hunting in 1896, right on up into Park lands. Warren didn’t think McClintock thought much about the women’s “gathering” but in fact, I recall, he was a botanist and “The Old North Trail” has much description of vegetation and its uses.

When Glacier Park was created, it was in the business model of the Northern Pacific, which successfully exploited Yellowstone as a destination, which justified the railroad which then enabled townships to form along the railroad, increasing its revenues. Yellowstone was rooted in the mystical idea that nature was something separate from humans that was too sacred to be inhabited or owned. Humans could visit only as designated supplicants. (Such as tourists.) The cities of the times were hellholes of pollution and oppression -- full of immigrants and opportunists. Somehow, being white visionaries who realized the transcendence of wilderness gave them the right to decide what to do with it, which generally included their own access. Hunting became a privilege on the Brit model again, and this is where Spiro and Herman become relevant.

(I note that despite this possibly being described as the Upper Class vs. the bottom of the totem pole, today it is the business Middle Class that owns the Park through both the government and the tourist concessionaires. The “sacredness” has migrated through patriotism and the displacement of religion from institutions to nature, from Creator authorized institutions to literary nature, to the idea that the National Parks are the cathedrals of Humanism and the Nation. So now there are at least two claimants to the sacredness of Glacier National park, an American Jerusalem.)

Indians were considered trespassers, pushed off, made into ornaments and laborers. This led into the idea that the Park could be made “more natural” by human intervention, and since the Boone & Crockett folks thought “more natural” included elk (think of the trophies!), some were brought up from Yellowstone. They were very happy in the Park and the Blackfeet were happy to eat them. Soon there was a disagreement over the unwild concept of ownership: the Park rangers considered the elk to be “theirs” and so did the Blackfeet. (A departure from the idea that usage confers ownership.)

Warren “took testimony” from such notorious local characters as Teddy Burns and Warren Cassidy, who are legends in Babb, and it’s clear that Warren identifies with them and their constant guerilla hunting in the Park. Bob Scriver, as JP, often had to deal with them. Again, he was dependably on both sides: law & order and -- at the same time -- another defiant hunter. I’ve heard many stories about such solid citizens as Merle Magee Sr. and Calvin Augare hunting in the Park, frustrating the rangers, including Francis X. Guardipee, the Boy Scout Blackfeet Ranger. Warren asked one hard-bitten ranger, a cross-country ski expert, how the poachers got away so easily. The ranger said, “Skis have to stay on the trail. Snow-shoes can go anywhere.” A basic guerilla concept.

To keep the elk in the Park where the Blackfeet couldn’t get at them, the rangers began to feed alfalfa in huge amounts. The result was the same as in Yellowstone: a burgeoning plague of elk eating everything. So now the rangers who had been trying to keep the elk IN the Park by shooting over their heads to haze them back, tried to haze them OUT where the Indians could legally shoot them. But frightened elk head for cover -- shooting over their heads sent them back into the timbered high country! The rangers used skyrockets left over from the 4th of July with about as much success. The formal report used the phrase “unimpressive reduction.”

But the elk did scatter to some degree and in 1963 a herd showed up in Sweetgrass Hills. (Bob and I saw them.) Warren feels sure they were descended from the Yellowstone elk transferred to Glacier and then “managed” out. So much for natural. The drive to survive can sometimes outwit all those managers.

At present there is a movement to create “cooperative agreements” but the extreme complexity of the Glacier ecosystem as well as the complexity of the Blackfeet Reservation sociology will make this a long effort. We can only hope for more success.

At this point the seminar ended in many conversations, hugs, distribution of leftover fry bread and other benefits.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I'm not very sure about the rules of this, but consider it a promotion for the online edition of the GF Tribune.

My interpretation of what has happened is that the on-going war between the national interests and the local interests has finally ended. National won. There will be consequences.

Prairie Mary

August 21, 2009

Russell Museum, Ad Club part ways

Tribune Staff Writer

Two longtime pals on the Great Falls Western Art scene are going their separate ways this week.

C.M. Russell Auction officials Thursday announced it was severing ties to the popular annual C.M. Russell Auction of Original Western Art held in March.

The auction was launched in 1969 and continues to be run by the Great Falls Advertising Federation, also known as the Ad Club. For 41 years, the Ad Club annually donated a slice of the auction's proceeds to support the C.M. Russell Museum.

At the peak, the Ad Club donated $421,280 to the museum in 2006.

However, the donation dropped sharply this year with a decrease in art sales. The donation amounted to $120,829, the smallest amount since 1970. The 2008 donation to the museum was $400,240.

The reason for this year's figure was rooted in the flagging national economy, according to Sara Becker, executive director of the Ad Club.

"We sold half as much art as we did last year," said Becker, a former marketing and publications coordinator at the Russell Museum.

Museum officials said the museum will create an independent and exclusive additional event that will feature sales of Russell works and other western art.

No date or location for that sale or auction has been chosen by the museum's board of directors, said new Executive Director Darrell Beauchamp.

"Most likely it will be held in 2010," Beauchamp said, as opposed to later this year. Beauchamp said details remain to be determined by the museum's governing board.

Ad Club officials said the much ballyhooed Russell Auction will go on as scheduled, albeit without the museum's formal participation.

Beauchamp said in a news release that it was important for the museum to directly manage any event using the museum's name and brand.

"It is not just the new guy deciding to do this," Beauchamp added. He said museum staff and board members had been discussing the issue for some time, especially in recent weeks. He said the timing appeared appropriate with a new director on board.

"It didn't have anything to do with the money," Beauchamp said. "We didn't base the decision on the low auction results from 2009." He said the museum was "very appreciative" of the Ad Club's donations of $5.7 million over 41 years.

Both sides officially wished each other well Thursday, but not all of the comments were sunny ones.

"We're still perplexed by this whole deal," said Jack May, Ad Club president. "It was very shocking. We've lost a lot of sleep over this."

An Ad Club official said the group will try to figure out other organizations to which it will donate auction proceeds.

"We will examine benefitting other worthwhile organizations in the area for the future," May said in a news release.

May also expressed surprise at Beauchamp's comment that the decision was not based on money.

"It has everything to do with money, and they've expressed that," May said.

The club released a letter from David Solberg, museum board chairman, which said the club's 2009 donation to the museum "was insufficient to cover our costs in money, facilities and staff time."

Beauchamp said the museum considered such letters private and maintained it was quoted out of context.

"It's unfortunate that he feels that way," Becker replied. She said the club was trying to explain to the public what was happening.

May said museum officials were "making it pretty plain that they think they can do it better."

Becker said the Ad Club is not planning a name change for its Russell Auction, adding the club registered the name with the state. Beauchamp said museum officials have not decided if they would have any heartburn over the club's continued use of the auction name.

A museum news release said the Russell Museum had spent "forty-one years of assisting" the Ad Club with the auction.

"There are some small, really minimal things that they have done," May replied. He said the club should have no trouble finding another location for an auction reception, for example, or another location where potential auction art would be judged.

Beauchamp said museum staff and officials spend "thousands of hours" on the auction.

May said the auction was begun as a fundraising event for Ad Club, and the museum was a secondary beneficiary.

May said he believes Ad Club's large group of volunteers worked very hard at the 2009 auction but was hurt by national financial concerns.

He said a popular art auction in Reno, Nev., the Coeur d'Alene Art Auction, three weeks ago saw those effects.

"A year ago they did $39 million (in sales)," May said. "This year they did $10 (million)." Actually, the Reno auction reported grossing $11.665 million, still far less than the $39 million figure.

Beauchamp said the Russell Museum is financially sound but would like to be able to increase revenues.

"We're wishing the Ad Club nothing but the best," he said. Beauchamp said the museum's new event should take place "as early as spring of 2010."

Becker and May said they are not expecting the museum's decision to hurt the annual Russell Auction.

"I don't think we're going to see significant damage," Becker said. She and May said the Ad Club would have some concern if the museum event were held at exactly the same time as the Russell Auction, set to be held March 17-20, 2010.

Becker said it would be better for people to be able to attend both events, if they are held during Western Art Week in March. Beauchamp said it's possible the museum event will be held then.

May said a number of events have popped up during Western Art Week in Great Falls, which he said gives the area economy a big boost.

"We'll keep doing what we do," May said.

Beauchamp said the museum simply would like to "do a better job of controlling our destiny." As for Ad Club, he said "it's very clear to us now that their number one priority is to support the Ad Club."

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Hope Good, publisher of “Treasure State Lifestyles Montana,” has been commissioning short historical and local essays from me. She has generously agreed to let me reprint those pieces on this blog. Look for the courtesy magazines in waiting rooms and at various advertisers around the area. What you’ll find here are just the stories that I have supplied.


The first story is about the Belgian community that has been a big part of Valier. Bob Scriver’s daughter, Margaret Skogan, finished high school in Valier and married a DeSmet, part of that Belgian community.

Valier sprang up where it is through a confluence of forces. One of the most deliberate was the importation of a Belgian village to what is still called “Belgian Hill.” Eight percent of the Valier population still self-identifies as Belgian and they include some of the most diligent and prosperous families. At first there was a little village called “Williams,” which has since withered and dispersed, leaving the Belgian church, Sacred Heart Mission, and its graveyard under the shelter of the ridge, now easily recognized because of the line of receivers and transponders on top.

Victor Day, Vicar General of the Diocese of Helena, was a native of Belgium so he welcomed the idea hatched in the interest of bringing farmers to the newly irrigated land and helping them escape the ravages of WWI. Father Shevlin, the local pastor, and Emile Monroe, an early guide, met the families and sheltered them in an eight room house “owned by Bishop Carroll” and previously the ranchhouse of the Conrad Circle Cattle Company. A part of that company was the Block Hanging Seven, the ranch where Lake Francis and the other components of the Pondera Canal Company were developed.

The devout farmers were meant to be stable and productive, not prone to the disorder of the oil town to the north, Cut Bank. White people were needed to settle because Swift Dam and the dependent irrigation grid were partly on the reservation and Birch Creek had only recently become the southern boundary of the reservation. The Conrad brothers didn’t bother with permissions and documents, and tried to get the boundary moved even farther north because of the good land between Birch and Badger Creeks, already under irrigation though not very effectively. They knew that occupation by law-abiding whites would help their goals.

The Catholic Church Extension Society helped to build the little church which endured from 1914 to 1963, helping the transplants keep alive their identity as it had been in Belgium. As they learned to speak English and the little town of Williams disintegrated, these people attached to Valier, helping to shape its identity. Principally, European farmers were accustomed to living in a village and traveling out to the fields daily while American assumptions about homesteads meant actually occupying the farmed land, a lonesome practice for farm wives. Valier is often best understood in the European pattern, as a hub with spokes.

In the Sacred Heart Mission days there were twenty-two weddings, twenty babies baptized, and twenty-eight funeral masses. For a while the old European festivals persisted. The church still stands and the graveyard is maintained. A side road from highway 44 provides access. Don’t be surprised if someone nearby meets you there. It is still cherished.


Each issue of “Lifestyles” concentrates on a different community. This story harks back to the dedication of the Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea monument in Fort Benton.

The fate of the nation was determined when President Thomas Jefferson, a framer of the Declaration of Independence, bought the Louisiana Purchase which was defined by the drainage of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. He sent Lewis and Clark to discover how far that drainage reached, using the waterway for the great highway it still is.

The northern limit of continuously navigable water was Fort Benton, naturally the town to want to do something big for the 200th birthday of the nation on the 4th of July, 1976. That’s “big” as in “really big statue” of Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea and the baby Pomp. And there it still is along the levee. On the Fourth the town held a major parade that included the sculptor, Bob Scriver, riding his beloved horse, Gunsmoke, as well as all sorts of characters from mountain men (Corky Evans) to a ten-foot-tall stilt-walking Uncle Sam. (Didn’t get his name.) There weren’t seventy-six trombones, but there were a LOT of fine marching bands and a kilt-wearing pipe band from Alberta as well as floats.

The statue itself was “veiled” with a huge tarp and “unveiled” by Scriver. At the time Montana wasn’t so used to giant statues and the foundry head from New York City, Bob Spring, attended the dedication, beaming at his work.

Since then Fort Benton has repeated its role as the mother of Great Falls. Paris Gibson, a rancher from Minneapolis who had moved to Fort Benton, traveled to the Great Falls and realized with that power source there ought to be a city. Great Falls people at the dedication of the big Lewis and Clark statue were inspired to commission their own version which now stands under a giant flag.

Since those days Fort Benton has reclaimed much human history from Indian encampments to the mysterious death of the first governor, from the wrecks and conflagrations of the steam paddle-wheelers to the faithfulness of a sheep herder’s dog. The original fort is rebuilt. Yet the town remains a modest ag center, showing you don’t need to live in New York City to be sophisticated. In fact, as soon as Europeans realized they could step off a sea-going ship and onto the deck of a steamship, royalty and fine artists eagerly traveled in what amounted to a floating hotel. Prince Maximilian, Audubon, and others were anxious to see the far West.

When Lewis and a sub-group of the expedition had been to the northernmost reaches of the Marias River and realized that the drainage ended at the 49th parallel rather than the fiftieth as hoped, they met a party of young Blackfeet horse herders and killed two of them in a skirmish over guns. Within decades Culbertson and his beautfiul and resourceful Blackfeet wife, Natawista, were holding court on a steamboat that brought in supplies to the Blackfeet and new settlers, then removed thousands of beaver plews on the way back to St. Louis to spend the winter. Wood hawks made their living all along the river by cutting and piling cords of fuel for those paddle-wheelers. Until the railroads were built, this was the only practical means of moving raw baled buffalo hides to the cities of the east where they became conveyor belts for the new factories.

When Lewis and Clark, reunited and homebound, got to the shores of Fort Benton, they could not have guessed they would be immortalized in bronze. What they did understand was that they were only weeks from a celebratory dinner party in Saint Louis, complete with oysters and champagne. In 1976 we settled for a smashing parade!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


For two days in a row I’ve traveled to adjacent communities, on Monday up to Browning for the dedication of the new high school and then on Tuesday to Conrad to do some interviewing for free lance articles in “Treasure State Lifestyles” which does Regional Community Coverage for north central Montana. Online at This is a monthly giveaway publication you might find in waiting rooms or those little wire stands in the foyers of grocery stories. Though it’s not so upscale as something like Big Sky Journal, in it’s own way it’s more “Montana,” because it is by and for locals. Big Sky Journal is on the newsstands in big cities and is meant to support high end tourists. It comes from sophisticated high-density college towns.

One interview I did from home via telephone: that was the Gustafson family whose patriarch is Rib Gustafson, a big rumbustious veterinarian married to an artist wife in the best Western pattern. When I was asked to interview “a Gustafson in a law office” I assumed it was Rib’s only daughter, who is a lawyer, but as it turned out the woman in question was Susan Gustafson who grew up in Poplar and married an unrelated Gustafson.

The other interview was Mary Pouray, daughter of Dorothy Floerchinger, whom I knew as a local historian whose scrapbooks now occupy 34 feet of shelves at the University of Montana library. Mary's address was “Big Sky Villa.” In the phone book the address of the “Villa” was 701 Minnesota (the streets are named for the states) but I paid no attention to the north/south indications and ended up at a supported living “tower” on the wrong end of town. The ladies there set me straight.

I discovered that Big Sky Villa is a complex, the converted housing the Air Force “sold” to the town for $1 when they pulled out of their cold war activities in the area. Norby Hall at one edge of this compound, much upgraded, serves as a community meeting hall for many conferences and town halls and a theatre for the Pondera Players. Since I hadn’t gotten a house number, I stopped at a nearby complex that serves children who need special services. I had no idea that such an institution existed anywhere this side of Great Falls. The place was humming with preparations for the school year but cheerfully stopped to help.

I was directed to “the house with the goose wearing crocheted clothes” and, sure enough, there it was. But Mary Pourray, daughter of a major progressive force in North Central Montana, was not a frivolous woman. Nor did her house look like an Air Force barracks. Her elegant little duplex was furnished with beautiful objects from a trip to France to find her husband’s French roots: dolls, demitasse cups and a big P stamp for branding sheep with paint.

At the law office I butted in on a spirited conversation about Wall Drug Store, that phenomenon of advertising! It is indeed a drug store, but made famous by billboards far and wide, and furnishing in large part souvenirs saying “Wall Drug Store,” like the fellow who was famous for being famous.

What I’m thinking about today as I write up these articles is that I was interviewed about as much as I did interviewing, even in Browning. I don’t normally mix with people, partly because writing so much means that one is turned in on oneself without filtering, so in spite of writing about myself it is always from MY point of view! Kind of a bubble. When these people began to ask questions, I suddenly began to see me from THEIR point of view, a person who is quite different. I worried them. I was too frank.

We had a lot of overlap. I started out to be someone like Mary Pourray, teaching kids English in the small town public schools, or indeed like her mother, Dorothy, who taught here in Valier. Or I thought in the very beginning that I would be like Susan Gustafson, a mainstay of the local amateur theatre company, acting and directing fine productions of classics. But I ended up being pulled off course by Bob Scriver, whom they all knew superficially because of stopping into the Museum. Mary remembered meeting me when I was skinny and had red hair. Fred DesRosier in Browning remembered both Bob and I all through the decades (His ancestors got to Browning half a dozen years before the first Scriver came, about the same time Charlie Russell showed up.) Fred is one of the few locals I’ve met who has read “Bronze Inside and Out,” already knowing everything. (He said I did a good job, which pleased me very much.)

Mary asked me about family and whether they were nearby. Susan and I talked more about things like the wonderful “thrust” stage in Choteau and whether the school people really understood what they had. Fred DesRosier and I talked about new books about the Blackfeet. He’s quite deaf now and gets frustrated, but reading works. Among them they had an excellent understanding of the political forces of this east slope way of life, the tussles between right wing libertarians who want untrammeled free enterprise and left wing do-gooders who want no child to go hungry, both on and off the rez. To them those forces are concrete and name-by-name. They don’t think in abstracts so much as I do and aren’t inclined to borrow trouble from issues that are alive in faraway places. And yet there is a strong arts-conscious community, quite skilled. They aren’t exactly what you might call “cutting-edge,” mostly because they are getting older. The You-Tube generation doesn’t want to stage Oklahoma.

Except, remarkably, in the last ten years in Browning, staging big-time musicals has been exactly what the high school has wanted to do. The Conrad people do not go up to be in the audience. The excuse is distance, but I think the real reason is that they feel alien there. They have no awareness of how alien I feel in Conrad! Sometimes I even feel a little out-of-it in Browning. I don’t participate in Valier either. In my virtual reality I live in the English BBC world and the Paris Cinematheque world. It’s actually quite comfortable that way, unless I go trekking around. Then suddenly I seem like a tubby old woman with white hair who is somehow deprived. It’s disconcerting.