Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ABRAXAS: A Worthy Worship Experiment At this url is an essay written by a group of ministers and lay people who belonged to the Unitarian Universalist Association. Now it is part of the UUA website called “Worship Web,” which is particularly needed in this denomination because many of the small congregations are lay-lead and don’t have a trunk full of things to read or any real certainly about how to go about organizing worship. They may have come from places where it just wasn’t done by laypeople. Sometimes even as a professional and experienced minister, it really helps to be able to find something specific.

One of the main leaders of Abraxas was the Rev. Vern Barnet, now working at (Community Resource for Exploring Spirituality) though the formal organization may have tuckered out. It appears that even the indefatigable Vern is now “emeritus” and writing. Here's Vern:

I admired this organization and liked Vern, but in 1978 I didn’t quite know how to approach this group. Abraxas, named for an early god-idea, thought of itself as a monastic order in a joking way. They were very earnest and yet jocular, which I know doesn’t mean they weren’t serious, but it seemed like a cover for what I finally decided was -- on the part of some members -- simply arrogance, a wish to know more and be better and keep secrets. They declared themselves “spiritual” but seemed to define that as “interfaith” among the major religious institutions, including those that were Humanist. Vern still writes his religion column for the Kansas City Star. Here’s the most recent column:

Abraxans loved paraphernalia, vestments, smells and bells, secret names. They were very traditional, but would mix traditions within their prescribed ceremonies by using a reading from Hinduism, or a little ritual from an obscure corner of Christianity. It’s a style that came from the Sixties/Seventies comparative religion studies. Things can get a little confused with such an approach. I remember a time at the UUA general assembly, when some Buddhist priests had been invited to perform their liturgy. The audience, wishing to do the right thing, imitated the priests by standing and sitting or whatever, (paper fans were involved so the people used their programs) as they would have in a Catholic mass. This disconcerted the priests, who came from a tradition where the important people do the stuff while the congregants merely observe. This ten minute YouTube vid is a little service to view privately. The UU Chalice is there, with a double-circle for the Unitarian-Universalist overlap, the music is gospel and a well-known contemporary song. The sentiments are inclusive, so that the martyrs include Harvey Milk and many others, plus ringing spaces to indicate that there are more and more of them than we know. (I expect there was a gong bowl rather than a bell.) Many religions are mentioned. It’s hard to see how anyone could be offended. But to me, that’s sort of what’s wrong. It’s so generalized that it is -- forgive me RevWik (Erik Walker Wikstrom) -- bland. It’s over-familiar, very Sixties and Seventies.

But then, that’s probably who’s there in that congregation, what they know, what they have used as an operating principle for the last decades, and what helps them keep their bearings. If a person came along and started challenging the idea that love conquers all (which is not very hard to do) they’d be considered a trouble-maker and if there were too much trouble, love would pitch trouble out the door -- and that’s what they SHOULD do. As it says in Robert’s Rules of Order, a person who is not in sympathy with the purpose of the meeting may be excluded.

The Roman Catholic Eucharistic Mass is from the same liturgical patterns as Abraxas except for sticking to prescribed historical words that have been used for thousands of years. In the Sixties and Seventies they too “loosened up” by including guitar players with the organist, unscrewing the pews so they could be put in a circle, and using an English translation of the Latin mass. The result was uproar and residual resentment -- now reversal. Just a few days ago another new English mass was introduced and there was less emotion, but it was NOT comfortable for people who were used to the memorized words rolling out in a litany. Here’s an interesting blog about what is called “Circle Worship” which kind of riffs off of Starhawk. The actual order of service is familiar, not far from what people kiddingly call a “hymn sandwich.” Daniel Harper is a Minister of Religious Education, which has a special concern for children and that shows up in this service. Again that same “nice” sort of “arty” context with a lot of earnest idealism. Familiar, pleasant. Quite like a concert attended with friends.

Such a context can be an oasis for some people but it does not exactly change lives. There’s not likely to be a spiritual breakthrough into other worlds or an epiphany of new understanding. Halfway between the Masonic Lodge and Bahai, but always in a familiar pattern laid down long ago, content wobbles between therapeutic counseling and post-WWII social action. The stream bed is wide in some ways, but the people attracted by tolerance and plurality are not likely to be cutting edge. On the other hand an amazing life-changing experience every Sunday would only wear everyone out. This is the problem of the whole United States “experiment,” as some call it: that it is meant to include everyone but doesn’t always (it DOES sometimes) or dare to power change even when the status quo is cooking the frog.

Abraxas was an admirable experiment in re-invigorating the medieval models by reaching out for world-wide words and practices, something like the New England Transcendentalists realizing what Buddhism and Hinduism had to offer and pulling it into their Christian thinking. But they are never going to kill roosters in church because Santeria might do that. They are never going to use Sun Lodge ordeals in which chest muscles are torn. And they are never going to throw up their hands and speak in tongues and fall on the floor. Worship styles are almost always class-based and so are denominations. Even the more radical experiments like those at UU Leadership School stay within UU culture, elastic as it can sometimes be.

I’m just the kind of bear who wants to go over the hill to see what I can see. Which is why I left the meeting.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

CALVES: An Interstitial post

I'm making FIMO (Sculpy, et al) calves to sell at the Christmas Fair and Walk day after tomorrow. Last year I sold one, so I'm encouraged. I'm following the Bob Scriver theories of sculpture.

1. Don't be afraid to measure.
2. Keep a "morgue" of photos of the animals for reference.
3. When it comes to size, a "handful" is appealing.
4. The real secret is to participate in the "being" of the calf -- not just the way it looks to the rancher or other onlookers, but what it feels like to be a calf.

That said, my customers are likely to be ranchers, so I'd better take special care to be accurate. White is Charolais and will have a pink nose. The "Hereford" in the back is not quite a dark enough red, but that's the color of my FIMO. Next is a black Angus. I think I'll try a newborn.


Demographics seem to be only about census head-counts, but in fact they are a mirror of how well any population is doing, which is why they are so vital to government as well as to others. The three main forces of change are birth rates, death rates, and migration. In the case of the original populations of the North American continent, these have been deeply affected by the usual forces of climate, war, and famine, but most of all -- and in recorded times -- disease coming from Eurasia and Africa. New methods of analysis have developed that tell us more about climate change over millenia, traces of prehistoric peoples, the nature of the genome of both humans and diseases, and the relationship between health and diet. The importance of demographics grows. A blizzard of sharply focused studies now exists and is available via the Internet.

Russell Thornton’s “American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492” is still a solid introduction. After a quick review of the main theories of how people got to the Americas, he faces squarely the destruction of a whole complex of people that were once a living network of villages and passageways from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Arctic Sea to the southern tip of South America.

Partly as predators and partly by accident, Europeans, and the Africans they brought along unwillingly, arrived as a mere trace along the Atlantic coast and through what can only be called “germ warfare” -- carrying deadly plagues in their bodies -- wiped out the indigenous people. The coastal population, fleeing inland to escape both smallpox and gunpowder, passed the deadly microbes on in a kind of shock-wave of contagion. Sometimes the Indians succeeded in turning to wipe out some early colonies, but it was usually hunger that killed them, in spite of help from the living indigenous people and from raiding the granaries of the dead ones. Counter-contagion seems to be mostly limited to venereal diseases.

By the time the story gets to the 19th century, population tragedies were being reported as they happened. The focus was on the prairie clearances when Civil War veterans and politics were clearly genocidal, and provoked a horrified wave of sentiment supporting the tribes. These massacres (and slavery also) forced reconsideration of what it meant to be human, to be a citizen, to have rights, and to be a Christian nation. Thornton doesn’t go into these huge philosophical concepts. still being thrashed out today, but in his careful marking of one massacre, removal, and redefinition after another, he supplies the raw material for reflection.

A Blackfeet history through this period is a free download on (Blackfeet Paper Trails: Essays, Bibs and Time-Lines.) The Blackfeet experience is quite typical of the plunging population elsewhere, but it is one of the most recent on the continental United States. When I taught in the Sixties, there were still survivors of the 1870 Baker Massacre. After the Department of War realized Indians were too difficult and expensive to exterminate, it turned to the extermination of the buffalo. In what is called the Starvation Winter of 1884, six hundred tribal members died, reducing the tribe by half, half again being children. Slowly, slowly, matters turned around. The most poignant line in all the agent’s records is the notation that “this is the first year that births have out-numbered deaths.” The equivalent in the boarding school report is “only one child died this year.”

Birth and death as markers are far from simple facts. Even so immaterial a force as culture loss can affect both. The ceremonies, the language, the storied connections between generations are as important as food and shelter. Despondent mothers do not care for babies, desperate fathers do not want them. For indigenous people the whole level of vitality that sustains generations dropped perilously low. Waves of suicide preceded and followed the responding waves of religious synthesis and attempts to cause restoration, like the Ghost Dance movements. (Suicide remains a problem, especially among young people.)

The small percentage of survivors, maybe five or ten percent of the original population, were yet a saving remnant and have grown into a lively and vital force (therefore rather troublesome to those who are crowded and challenged by their population growth). The five hundred remnant Piegans (the American division of Blackfeet) are now more than eight thousand on the reservation and the same number enrolled but living off the reservation. (Half the identified Indians in the US live off the reservations.) Commercial development is thriving, schools are showing much more success than failure, and a steady creativity expresses itself in efforts to curb alcoholism and diabetes. Most of all, the birthrate goes up, infant survival is up, and the aged live longer. The people are changed by their sojourn through time, but they are still Blackfeet. This process continues for all of us, through America and around the world. Elimination is outwitted by transformation. So far.

Now again our attention is turned to natural resources and climate change. We find evidence of ancient severe and long-lasting drought through the SW, abruptly changing ocean shorelines that have submerged possible evidence of prehistoric villages and travel routes, negative impact of modern diet on even “modern” people (I’m thinking of diabetes and obesity in particular), the continuing worldwide plague of HIV that came from deep African jungle and has punished the Africans most of all, plus the poisoning of people and land by our careless excavations of minerals and abuse of topsoil with chemicals, the huge diasporas of people moving across the planet, the suction of the urban drawing people from the rural -- these are all issues that show up in demographics.

Thornton’s list of references is 34 pages long, a chapter in itself. Since the book was published in 1987, not much that he wrote has been discredited by later thought and research, but there has been an explosion of new insights due to new scientific methods and some legwork tracing territory.

I’ll leave you with two examples from “migration”: a few summers ago the Piegan Institute summer seminar hosted Narcisse Blood, coordinator of Kainah Studies at Red Crow Community College in Standoff, Alberta, who had been identifying the oldest tribal trails entwined with the Old North Trail down the eastside rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains. The team had vehicles and GPS monitors, but spent a lot of time walking while looking for likely historical campsites, a day’s trek apart. The GPS readings were returned to their college where huge map-making machines traced them out on paper.

About the same time, a white scholar (Ted Binnema) took Old Swan’s hand-drawn map of 1801 showing landmarks, and made it a project to identify and photograph each of the landmarks for a computer presentation. (His book is “Common & Contested Ground: a Human and Environmental History of the Northwestern Plains.”) Even so does insight weave in and out of research. Raw numbers and percentages reveal worlds. Demography is a dramatic discipline.

Monday, November 28, 2011


The first US census that asked about race was in 1790. Every year the categories are revised to use slightly different criteria so that numbers can’t be reliably compared. Hispanics/Latinos can be either Indian or not, so their category can be separated but overlaps with Indians.

But there is another caution: the US Census uses sampling to arrive at their numbers. Samples are commonly used in surveys and care is taken to make sure they reflect reality, but inevitably the forces discussed above will mean that assumptions will make a difference. In the 2000 Census Report of the US Census Bureau, ten tribes were selected to stand for the 4.3 million people (1.5 percent of the total population) who claimed to be American Indian or Native Alaskan, which included Alaska Athabascan, Aleut, Eskimo, and Tlingit-Haida. Ten tribes were chosen to represent all the rest: Apache, Cherokee, Chippewa, Choctaw, Creek, Iroquois, Lumbee, Navajo, Pueblo, and Sioux.

There are deep geographical and historical differences among these tribes. Generalizations are necessarily very broad. Also, the US Government has a peculiar way of erasing tribes, admitting new tribes, combining several historical tribes into a new one, and generally confusing matters. These ten tribes above are large, historical, and relatively stable compared to some of the smaller groups.

To the degree one can generalize, these are the 2000 findings.

1, Persons surveyed are younger than the general population. About a third are under 18. Median age is 29, compared to the general 35. Less than ten percent were 65 or older.

2. More people lived in family households: 73%

3. 72% to 90% spoke English at home except for Navajo, Pueblo and Eskimo where as many as a fourth of the people don’t speak English very well.

4. 71% of the surveyed people had a high school diploma, compared to 80% of the general population. 11% of the groups had a BS degree or higher, compared with 24% of all people.

5. 66% of men were employed, compared to 71% of all. 57% of women were employed, compared to 58% for all women. No estimate was made of jobs “off the books.”

6. Among American Indians, 22% to 29 % had management or professional jobs. 15% to 25% had service jobs.

7. American Indians and Alaska Native men with full-time jobs averaged $28,900 a year, compared to $37,100 for all men.

8. Twice as many people in these two groups lived in poverty (25.7%) as all people (12.4%) The poorest tribes were Apache, Navajo, and Sioux, all of them having more than one-third living in poverty. The Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Iroquois, and Lumbee all had a little less than one-fifth in poverty. [Recently the definition of poverty has been changed.]

9. One third of the two big groups lived on reservations or the equivalent.

In the interval between the 2000 Census and the 2010 Census, there was a sudden awakening among the Native American populations who realized that resources (money) are allocated according to population. It was in their best interest to be counted. An advertising campaign, grassroots organizing, and general reassurance were extended. The numbers are still being “crunched.”

An earlier jump in people self-identifying themselves as Native Americans came in the Sixties when romantic times and block-buster books like “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” persuaded a lot of people who had been “passing” as white (or black) that they should declare themselves Indians.


The roots and assumptions of Canada and Mexico were different from the history of the United States. Two major wars fought in the United States, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, involved Indians fighting on both sides, but also were fought on American ground which was mostly NATIVE American ground. Villages, gardens and livestock were destroyed as wars always do. Aside from humans being in the way, scorched earth policies wiped out habitat and game. But Indians hardly counted as human in the minds of hardened soldiers and renegades fighting their own brothers.

One of the major U.S. influences was the Dawes Act, an imitation of the Homestead Act, which assumed that people should be scattered across the land on homesteads that they owned. Reservations were divided into plots and assigned to the members of the tribe who, if they were declared competent, then could manage their own matters, including the sale of the land. If they ran up debt against it, it could be seized. Or they could leave the land in the trusteeship of the United States. (We know how that worked out.)

In Canada the emphasis was on tribe rather than individual and reservations were left in joint ownership as communal property. (Communism and socialism are not the bugaboos in Canada that they are in the USA.) Some chafe at this system. Much of Canada was for a long time under the guardianship of the Hudson’s Bay Company and therefore managed by educated male employees who often married tribal women, even if it was only in the “country way,” creating the Metis. Hudson’s Bay factors kept careful records so we have counts of people, inventories of merchandise, and numbers of furs acquired.

Mexico fought an internal war that was fueled by differences in class between Europeans and indigenous people. The upshot was a system formally declared to be pluralistic and respectful of indigenous languages and ways. Also, the Catholic religious view was that indigenous people had souls and ought to be converted to the church regardless of status.

This part of the continent had already seen the rise and fall of major cities. By the time of the arrival of the Spanish in Mesoamerica, many of the diverse ethnic civilizations were loosely joined under the Aztec empire. The capital of the empire, Tenochtitlan, became one of the largest urban centers in the world, with an estimated population of 350,000 inhabitants at about the same time as the first major cities around the Mediterranean and in China.

The new infections ravaged the entire continent, just as they did in Australia. Alaska was infected by Russians. Smallpox was only one of many diseases, mostly those with origins in the domestication of animals, but also those with insect carriers like malaria that came from Africa. Later on, a virulent flu arose in China, traveled to Moscow, went from there to Europe and crossed the Atlantic to spread across America. When Lewis & Clark made their trek, they thought that once they had crossed the Rocky Mountains going West, they were far enough from civilization to safely indulge themselves in female company. Alas, they had not thought about the ships coming up the Columbia, even though they hoped to return to the east the easy way by hailing one of them. The impact on their health was devastating. It was Thomas Jefferson who had instructed them to carry cowpox to vaccinate the tribes against smallpox, but there was no good cure for syphilis.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

JOE OLD CHIEF, SR. (1921 - 2011)

Joseph R. “Gizmo Joe” Old Chief Sr.

Joseph Robert “Gizmo Joe” Old Chief Sr., 91, a laborer for the Great Northern Railway who enjoyed pow wows and was proud of the traditional ways of the Blackfeet, died of natural causes Friday, Nov. 18, at a Browning hospital.

A wake is in progress at Glacier Home Center, with prayer services there nightly at 7 pm. His funeral is 11 AM Friday at Church on the Rock with burial in St. Michael Cemetery. Pondera Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

Survivors, all of Browning, include his children Loretta Old Chief, Darlene Old Chief-Tatsey, Marlene Old Chief, Geraldine Old Chief, Rose Mary Old Chief-Calf Robe, Joseph Lee “Dusty” Old Chief, Wyonna “Lulu” Old Chief, Paul “Windy” Old Chief, Joanne Old Chief, Frederick Old Chief and Debra Old Chief-Hairy Bull, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Theola “Cupie” Cut Finger Old Chief and sons Baby Joe Old Chief and Marvin Old Chief.

* * * * * * * *

Joe Old Chief was born in 1921, long after there were no more buffalo, and yet he knew all the old ceremonial songs and is one of the drummers portrayed in Bob Scriver’s “Opening of the Medicine Bundle” because he WAS one of the drummers in the Sixties. If you knew Joe, you would recognize him -- the people are actual portraits. If you met him on the street, he would certainly look Indian to you, but he would be dressed like any other Browning cowboy. People were long and lean in those days. Joe was always cheerful, maybe with a little chemical help but not pills -- more liquid. He was a Blackfeet speaker and had Blackfeet manners, which means a bit of 19th century formality. I liked him.

When I was the study hall supervisor at the Browning Junior High School in 1988, having burned out as a Unitarian Universalist minister, I met Joe’s grandson, JoJo, who was half-Haitian. (Maybe he was a great-grandson.) His parents must have met in the city. President Eisenhower had made an effort to solve the “reservation problem” by moving a lot of people -- always the solution that came to hand when armies were dealing with Indians -- off the reservation to the city, thus presumably forcing them to modernize and get jobs. Since, also as usual, not enough planning or money was provided to make a transition from deep rural to high urban, the newly moved Indians were dumped into the usual ghettos until they could figure out a way to get back to the reservation. Out of this phenomenon came the Red Empowerment movement -- with a little help from Black Empowerment -- and then a very mixed result when they returned, toughened and mouthy.

When Jojo was being “good,” meaning obedient, one of the teachers tried to endorse that by telling him he was being “Haitian” but if Jojo was bad, this teacher told him he was just another nigger. (He didn’t use the forbidden word -- he said Negro or black -- but he MEANT nigger.) When Jojo was in study hall, he was not Haitian. I don’t think he really had any idea at all what “Haitian” meant. Neither do I, really, except that I very much like the blog called “The Rawness: human nature and sexual politics which is a sophisticated approach to life written by a half-Haitian man in NYC, with occasional forays back to the island. Even if it had existed in 1988, I don’t think Jojo could have read well enough to have enjoyed it but if someone read and explained it to him, he might have benefited quite a lot. We’ll never know. I’m told he was killed in a car accident some years ago. I’m also told he took tender care of Joe Old Chief.

The contrast between the two lives is stark. Old Joe (I never heard him called “Gizmo Joe,” but the nickname doesn’t surprise me -- such nicks are a sign of affection and familiarity.) didn’t live in the buffalo days, but the 1907-08 commodity census published as “Blackfeet Heritage” shows “Old Chief,” 57 years old -- a grandson of White Calf, son of Big Painted Lodge -- and his son, “John Old Chief,” 24 years old, who was on the modern side of the timeline when people had two names. That could have been Joe’s father.

They lived along Willow Creek, which is the stream that bisects the two parts of Browning. There are no white people in the family line-up to this point. John Old Chief’s wife, Ada, was a Morning Gun raised by Double Runner who thought that was her real family, and when she died, John married her sister, Annie Morning Gun. I do not know the relationship to the Morning Gun who owned the land where one of the biggest and earliest oil strikes on the reservation was later made. “Gizmo Joe” was not a rich man. A trickle of lease and investment money might have made it through the bureaucracy to him.

Joe always wore dark glasses because of eye trouble. I never knew what it was, but it may have been the result of trachoma which causes eyelids to swell up and turn the lashes towards the cornea so scraping makes the tissue opaque. Trachoma is fairly easy to cure but the consequences persist. When Bob’s fourth wife was in the hospital for some surgery, I happened to be back in Browning on vacation and shadowed them without being welcomed. Bob was frail and from the way they talked, I thought Lorraine might die, leaving him to cope with no support. The nurses interpreted me as a daughter and shoved me into the situation. In the surgery waiting room there was no chair but Joe Old Chief’s wife was there, waiting for him to come out from eye repair -- probably a corneal transplant. Recognizing us, she gave her chair to Bob. He may have been her teacher once. It was a simple and generous act, very characteristic.

Joe and his wife lived on the edge of a penumbra cast into the future by a potent, functioning system of beliefs and practices. The best equivalent they could find may have been the local Pentecostal church. When Jojo and others demanded to know why I came back to Browning, I said it was because I loved them. Jojo said, “Eeeuugh, I don’t want no sex with an old fat white woman!” I explained that I meant religious love. At the time I was serving the local Methodist church as an interim.

Jojo refused to believe that was possible. “Let’s hear you preach!” he demanded, because his idea of a minister was Pentecostal, someone who could speak so powerfully and magically that they could send people into trances and make them speak in tongues, maybe even handle snakes. With my theatre background, I was tempted to let loose upon them my best version of a religiously possessed preacher, but I didn’t. Maybe I should have. I also should have attended old Joe Old Chief’s funeral, but I wasn’t sure I’d be as accepted at the service as I once was in the circle of Bundle Keepers. I smudge sweetgrass for Joe to honor him.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


I’m working on an entry for an encyclopedia. It’s about native American demographics. I thought you might be interested in some excerpts from my first draft. I'm just sketching things out and have MUCH research and rewriting to do. This is about half the length the final manuscript will be.


Native American demographics (counting of peoples) is problematic in several significant ways. The first problem is deciding who is “native.” Since the idea of counting people comes from Europe, whose first contact was so unexpected by both sides that neither side was quite sure the other was human -- just that they were “other.” Archeological studies have enlarged this problem of definition, trying to understand who the earliest inhabitants were, where they came from and how they got to the Americas.

Far more information than Columbus had has developed recently through study of the genome and geology. It is now clear that the genetic base of first Americans is Asian, possibly consolidated by a population that developed as a group for a long time, maybe in Beringia, the land between Asia and the Americas that is sometimes underwater. It is spoken of as a bridge, but was actually more like a prairie lowland, miles and miles wide.

But there appear to be other early sources of people, particularly in South America where settlement was more separated. However, South America raises the possibility of marine migration on the Pacific and, less likely, the Atlantic. So far there has not been development of the idea that immigration could have come by a polar route, either over the snow or on the open sea of some periods. Generally, the scientists agree that there are two or three basic genomes, suggesting waves of migration rather than a continuous trickle.

The bottom line is that when the Euros thought of counting the “other” they were just looking for people “not like us,” as much for cultural reasons as for genetic differences. Europeans are always taking inventory. The first lists of Americans included African Americans but only because they were possessions, a list of assets. Some tried to press Native Americans into that category. The advantage was that there was no need to pay the cost of an ocean passage. The disadvantage was the Native Americans simply would not occupy the niche, though they sometimes took slaves themselves.



As soon as European and African contact was made, disease spread among the indigenous people so quickly that many Europeans thought of the land as empty, occupied only by remnants. The demographics and patterns of contagion would not be investigated for centuries. Today we are able to trace the genomics of even the smallpox variations that repeatedly reduced the population by major proportions.


The invention of animal “breeds” had a huge impact on European thought, which for a long time was focused on differences. In fact, their idea was that the native peoples were like a different species, which cannot interbreed. Some suggested that Native Americans evolved from a different creature. This unreality was soon replaced by the obvious when mixed children appeared, but the idea of “class” and “breeding” held on, enforcing economic and stigma penalties on people from “lesser” origins.


At first at least some indigenous groups were seen as allies. There are full-blood people who qualify as Daughters of the American Revolution because their ancestors were registered soldiers with the American forces. But as soon as competition for land and other resources began to grow, many groups became resistant and war was the result until the 19th century when the prairie clearances created the archetypal image of the warrior on horseback. Residual hostility and the practice of “hunting” Indians have taught them not to reveal themselves. Today’s census takers still find themselves evaded and reviled, which undermines the usefulness of the statistics.


Lists are sometimes changed by political forces. In Canada qualifying for First Nations status had always come through descent from an indigenous father, the assumption being that a white father meant the children would change their culture. When indigenous women finally forced their children to be considered indigenous, the number of Indians made a big leap.

Going the other way, the Cherokee -- prosperous and assimilated -- at the end of the Civil War had not just freed the slaves they owned, but also extending to them tribal membership. More recently the tribe decided to throw them off the rolls. Uproar, lawsuits, and elections were all affected, to say nothing of sympathy for the Cherokee.



The earliest lists of indigenous tribal people may have been made because they were prisoners of war. In better circumstances, perhaps a list of treaty signatories. Then came the lists of people to be removed from land that European-descended people wanted and, with slightly better motives, those displaced and impoverished refugees who were to be issued commodities. Persons were simply compelled to line up and file past a clerk who did his best to record the names of people who spoke a different language and had different assumptions about the world. For one thing, the concept of the father’s surname accompanying a “Christian” name was unknown to many. The hapless clerk wrote down who they said they were (or in exasperation just gave them a new name) unless someone else in the line accused them of lying. These wretched lists became the basis of all Indian tribal membership.

The metaphor of “blood” came to control the descendants of those people until the present time. At that point of making lists no one even know about blood types, much less the human genome. Assuming that certain sections of the chromosomal genome called “alleles” can distinguish tribes is one that scientists say is uncertain and faulty. What we call “blood” is “bloodlines” like the blood lines of breeding animals, pedigree and provenance as recorded by some clerk. We are counting descendants of the people who lined up.


Tribes, originally conceived as “breeds” as in animals or “nations” with boundaries, are self-declared today, so that a census counts the members as defined by the tribal authorities. The members resident on the reservation is one group while the “diaspora,” those people whose origins on are the reservation but who live elsewhere is the other. It is a problem that so many people move back and forth. The assumption of location as identity doesn’t work.

Another problem is that the pan-Indian treatment of education (boarding schools), pow-wow networks, and political groups -- aided by the allure of the stranger -- has created a category of people who are entirely “full-blood” but not enough quantum of any one tribe to be enrolled.

A third problem is the person who is self-identified as Indian but who is a very low quantum and raised in the city. They may have little or no connection to their putative culture but assume entitlement anyway. Often these people are mixed with Asian or African descended people, as well as Europeans. Persons who don’t really fit the defined categories might not be counted.

Another problem is those people who belong to tribes not officially recognized by the US government, either because they were closed down and dispersed or because no one ever thought of them as a tribe, including themselves. At any given time there are groups trying to be certified as tribes, possibly because of economic advantages.


One political movement wants to count as tribal members only those persons living on the reservation. What is reservation? A number of quasi-reservations have developed because of changing trust status (land that is managed by the federal authorities on behalf of tribal members) or because of the realization that Hawaiians, Alaskans, and others are also entitled to a “homeland.” What is a homeland if it is a few acres of developed property in a city?

The controlling issue, aside from trustee land, is sovereignty, because tribal lands were defined by treaties which gives them equivalent-to-state standing. Taxation, law & order, domestic law, education and other state domains are paralleled on reservations, though many delegate at least some of those matters to the state. Currently problematic is the intrusion of Euros and Latin Americans onto reservations where no laws address their behavior. Drug dealers and abusers can’t be counted.

Every reservation treaty is unique, depending on the time when it was negotiated and the controlling assumptions. For a whlle it was a confinement, then a plunder, maybe a commune, then a corporation. Some treaties have never been signed. The enforcement of the terms of treaties has meant large settlements because boundaries were ignored when valuable natural resources were found.


Native American persons were not granted citizenship until 1924. Military service in a time of war had a lot to do with the change, partly because of recognition of the contribution on the part of the nation and partly because men who had been of equal status with others as soldiers realized how important it was.


Many characteristics of Indians, quite apart from appearance or traditional culture, arise from residence on reservations where there are few ways to make money, population is thin, access to education and medical care is limited, and the impact of missionaries is still felt. When the national census is made, it is shown that the population is increasing faster than others, that it is significantly younger, less educated, more likely to be in families, more likely to be in families with only one parent, less likely to be comfortably housed (if at all), and more susceptible to the afflictions of poverty, like malnutrition including diabetes, tuberculosis, and so on.

Friday, November 25, 2011


The seventh chapter of the book called “The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution” by John Brockman (1995) -- which is drawn from the people who write on is by Lynn Margulis who just died. She was a year older than me, an evolutionary biologist, and the person who had the original insight about our human cells being an assemblage of different bacteria, all grabbed and stuffed inside its cell walls by a eukaryote long ago. (This tendency has persisted in us, deeper than heredity -- our very nature to grab and stuff.) And more recently someone else has discovered that not only do our cellular mitochondria have their own little separate circlet of genes, there is also free-floating code just wandering around in the fluid of the cells.

None of this shocks me. I’m beginning to understand that we are only a molecular dance and that our “identity” is a happy (I hope) illusion that is ended by death, which is not the destruction of a creature so much as the molecules no longer cooperating. Same thing, different point of view.

What shocked me was that Margulis would say something like, “I’ve been accused of fantasizing that the planet is a creature, but I do NOT think so. I do think that the planet is an ecology and that it was evolving its patterns before there were humans -- will continue after humans are gone.” Then in the comments the oh-so-smart scientists would say, “Margulis thinks the planet is a creature -- what a warm and fuzzy thought, just like a woman.” The name of the chapter is “Gaia Is a Tough Bitch” (A free download at ) and that’s Margulis, too. Lovelock, who was the original Gaia guy, probably should have changed his name to “Toughlock.” Or even “Toughlove.” Some scientists never get past “love” and others have never recovered from “red in tooth and claw.”

Margulis says, “The language of evolutionary biology is the language of chemistry.” The action -- the mutability and unfolding change -- is happening down among the bacteria, not up there with the dinosaurs. It’s just so much more fun to look for fossils while wearing your field khaki.

“The question is, From where comes the useful variation upon which selection acts? This problem has not yet been solved. But I claim that most significant inherited variation comes from mergers — from what the Russians, especially Konstantin S. Mereschkovsky, called symbiogenesis and the American Ivan Emanuel Wallin called symbionticism. Wallin meant by the term the incorporation of microbial genetic systems into progenitors of animal or plant cells.”

That is to say, selection comes from infection, which takes into the cells new code that is either better or worse for the creature. It is our own ability to handle infection, attaching new code to carrier-viruses and sending them into the cells of an afflicted body, that has become a potent medical procedure, including the only AIDS cure so far.

But it was a struggle to get the objective selfless scientists to look at her evidence. She said bitterly, “The only way behavior changes in science is that certain people die and differently behaving people take their places.” Luckily, this is a little too cynical and the scientists did come around, many of them without dying.

So Margulis went to even MORE shocking but logical conclusions:

“Put it this way: a purified chemical is prepared from brain and added to another purified chemical. These two chemicals — two different kinds of motile proteins — together crawl away, they locomote. They move all by themselves. Biochemists and cell biologists can show us the minimal common denominator of movement, locomotion. Anima. Soul. These moving proteins I interpret as the remains of the swimming bacteria incorporated by beings who became our ancestors as they became us.”

No Buddhist or Hindu would be shocked. This is what they thought all along: that we are an illusion, that our sensory maps are very partial, that we all merge into each other and become each other, and that the the strongest moral principle is compassion for all our forms.

Margulis’ next step got her into trouble again. She says,

“I noticed that all kinds of bacteria produced gases. Oxygen, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, ammonia — more than thirty different gases are given off by the bacteria whose evolutionary history I was keen to reconstruct. Why did every scientist I asked believe that atmospheric oxygen was a biological product but the other atmospheric gases — nitrogen, methane, sulfur, and so on — were not? "Go talk to Lovelock," at least four different scientists suggested. Lovelock believed that the gases in the atmosphere were biological. He had, by this time, a very good idea of which live organisms were probably "breathing out" the gases in question. These gases were far too abundant in the atmosphere to be formed by chemical and physical processes alone. He argued that the atmosphere was a physiological and not just a chemical system.”

Here is her formal position: “Lovelock would say that Earth is an organism. I disagree with this phraseology. No organism eats its own waste. I prefer to say that Earth is an ecosystem, one continuous enormous ecosystem composed of many component ecosystems.”. . .

“The Gaia hypothesis is a biological idea, but it's not human-centered. Those who want Gaia to be an Earth goddess for a cuddly, furry human environment find no solace in it.” . . .

“Gaia is a tough bitch — a system that has worked for over three billion years without people.”

The question is whether human beings are able to destroy this system one component ecosystem at a time. So far it looks as though we are, though the bacteria and viruses are fighting back as hard as they can. In legal systems, intentions count. In the real world, results count. Gaia has no intentions, no yearning, nothing but simple bit-by-bit interweaving forces that have somehow created us.

A recent article suggests that the reason people hate atheists and try to eliminate them is that they think no one will behave themselves unless God is watching and putting it all in His “book.” But the real laws of life are written in chemical compounds, the bonds among them, the valences of their electrons. A strong Christian ethical tradition is that creatures should do what their natures let them do best, on grounds that God made them that way so there must be a purpose. So the Christians take the purpose of humans to be praising God and enjoying His creation. (Puritanism is a heresy.) Since God is understood to be a Creator and we’re told we’re created in His image, we should all be artists. Artists or children. (Be careful to wash your hands.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011


If you've been putting off reading "Bronze Inside and Out" because of the cost, you might be happy to know it has somehow showed up on the Internet as a free download.

This is entirely without my knowledge, consent or permission. I hardly know what to think about it. If you read the book, I WOULD like to know what YOU think about the book.

A fourth source of downloads has been added.

I have two serious worries. One is that these downloads from obscure websites will be carrying malware that will infect your computer. The other is that such piracy will cause a crackdown on the Internet that takes away its freedom.

If someone is doing this maliciously with the purpose of depriving me of royalties, it is futile. I haven't made any money and will not. If people read the book, I'm rewarded. So far authors who have put their books online for free have discovered that it HELPS sales of paper books. This is a book valuable for research and will increase in value over time. It's not as though you're reading to find out what happens.


When I took the shamanism books back to the library, I asked the librarian to photocopy the very long bibliography for me. While she did that, I browsed the reshelf cart -- the books that had been checked in but not put back in place. Here was “Wyoming Summer” by Mary O’Hara, the author of “My Friend Flicka,” “Thunderhead,” and “Green Grass of Wyoming.” I have a biography of her, but had not realized there were other books. This one is developed from a journal she kept on a horse ranch that started out to be a sheep ranch. Even as a horse ranch, it only survived because for two months in the summer it became a “boy ranch,” for boys from wealthy families back east. Mary herself was high class in the American way -- she was an Alsop whose father was an Episcopalian minister, she had written scripts in Hollywood for a decade, and she was a gifted composer who composed musicals. This ranch housed in the front room her fine grand piano, brought in a wagon. Her second husband, the one with her at this point, was a big handsome Swedish horseman with a military background. The feel of her writing is almost like Norman Maclean -- a Biblical ghost just under the surface.

I’d have to go back to reread the Flicka books -- I haven’t looked at them for fifty years -- to know how much of “Wyoming Summer” echoes. This is the raw material. I recognize it and it surprises me at the same time. I recognize the hillside spring and the horses and the cats. I do not remember the amount of mysticism, framed as nature. I was most startled by her account of what she called “Shinar,” a state of ecstatic dissociation in which she tapped otherwise unreachable creative forces. In fact, throughout it’s clear that one of her great strengths is her sensitivity to shifts of consciousness which she illuminates for the reader with sensory details. Prismatically she goes from concentration at the piano to a vigorous walk with the dogs to irritation over some small matter to glorying in landscape.

Here’s her clearest statement about Shinar:

“It has let me in! Yes, it is Shinar, so quickly gained today. Sometimes I enter as easily as one slides into a dream -- and I move through a mountain. The walls are held apart, not because I was making any effort of concentration, but because I am collected into a wholeness -- no part of me left behind (this in itself is bliss), I go forward to bathe in air that is purest joy -- how can music do this to me? I swing on the groundswells of it. I fall into troughs of anguish which are also delight. If I were sobbing I would not know it. It is all bliss and I am helpless.” When Shinar closes, putting her back out, she feels “the dry grief of dislocation. Loneliness.” This is quite a lot more intense than “flow.”

The female contemporary Western writers have become many: Mary Clearman Blew, Sharon Butala, Linda Hasselstrom, Molly Gloss, Judy Blunt, Teresa Jordan, Gretel Erlich . . . on and on and on. When I returned to the east slope, I thought I would make a place among those writers, but that’s not the way it’s happened. Along came computers and wiped out publishing. But I’ve changed, too.

As a child I read the works of an earlier generation: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Gene Stratton-Porter, Isak Dinesen, and Mary O’Hara. Huge range in skills, life experience, and popularity. None of them conscious feminists, though they never let being female stop them from anything. They were not trapped, abused, or victimized -- their hard times came from everyone’s hard times. I read them innocently, thinking this was the way the world really was.

Now I’ve split. Sometimes I write a little genre Western story. For fun. Other times I reach for Shinar. (Imagine a self-mocking tone here.) At last I begin to grasp the great paradigm shift that was deconstruction and realize how much I must tear apart and destroy among my own assumptions. My family was guided and limited by bourgeois class assumptions from Britain, both the sober Scots with their admiration for education and the howling Irish with their demand for reprisal. My family on both sides stayed within the canon, looked for conventional success. My father’s side bought the books but never read them. My mother’s side believed that money meant virtue.

So I read the books and ignored money in the search for some deeper virtue not based on convention. This pushed my focus from product to process. It’s not safer. It’s scarier. I lose people and feel cold-blooded about it. I gain people and that’s nice, but not crucial. I’m not local anymore, though I love this place, not least because one can reach out to the galaxies in night skies.

I’ve gone feral in some ways. I refuse to belong to anyone, which -- of course -- tempts some people to try to capture me. I distinguish between morality and ethics, morality being conventional good behavior and ethics being principles carefully thought through. Fortunately, most of the time they don’t contradict each other. Subtle pentimento from the University of Chicago remains, but my seminary there has folded and moved out of my concerns, regardless of their protests that they’re making progress. If one must be SOMETHING, Unitarian Universalist is not a bad choice, but I’m no longer institutional. I’ll always be fond of my former families.

Mary O’Hara had to struggle to finance and manage her ranch, though she had a formidable partner. In the end what brought them to their knees was a fire that wiped out a barnful of hay, the profit of a summer, and immolated their beloved workhorse team, screaming and then terribly quiet. Like Isak Dinesen’s coffee plantation in Africa, this fire ended their knife-edge existence. Except that both women could write and DID write and told us everything, or so it seemed. Books are mimesis only, artful. Maybe they aren’t for the reader at all -- maybe they open the gates to Shinar for the writer, a shamanic art practiced alone.


This is Ethel and John Pinkerton, my maternal grandparents, on their Roberts Creek farm near Roseburg, Oregon. Turkeys were all the rage at the time -- the idea was that a person could get rich raising turkeys. Of course, the turkey bubble -- like all bubbles -- burst, but they made enough to scrape by. It was a close thing in those days. World War II was a close thing. We just now dare to speculate about what would have happened if "we" had not won.

Turkeys are quite different these days. So are grandparents and so are we. Beyond that, it's our way of understanding the world that has changed most radically. For some of us, "we" is so radically inclusive that we are convinced that what each of us does matters in a deep way that changes everything.

For this, we are grateful.