Saturday, March 31, 2012


It’s so much easier to write about sex than about love. Someone asked me, “do you love him?” and I heard myself say, “For me, the concept of love has exploded. It is so many things that it is like a dancehall mirrorball and I interrogate it so much that it constantly turns, partly to escape the questions and partly to answer them.”

I started with “unconditional positive regard,” which means simply accepting the other person, as is, no assembly required, just take what comes. But that has sometimes made me into a patsy, a punching bag, someone who can’t defend herself for fear of the consequences. Is there such a thing as “negotiated positive regard?” The positive part seems irreducible, a matter of hope and the reason for staying. The regard part is an open eye, really seeing what is there, not just some imaginary projection.

What happens when, like a photo in developer in the darkroom, the forming details reveal something conventionally considered reprehensible -- stealing or cowardice or some other kind of cheating or victimizing others? Do you stay, hoping to be a good influence? Or do you rationalize about why they do it? Or do you leave with tears streaming down your face? Is vengeance justified? It seems as though, before any decision, one has to look out from that other person’s eyes, see the world as they see it. But they don’t want you to. They are afraid it will give you power over them. They have learned long ago that the only real safety is secrecy, hiddenness.

So then it becomes a matter of unrequited love, no longer an interaction but a yearning. A loneliness that is specific and focused. It’s not just wickedness that can put up the glass barrier -- any number of relationships are impossible due to circumstances. But this is a time when we have access to the faces and hearts of people that fifty years ago we would never have even known existed, and the strange is always seductive.

Maybe it helps to read about the modules in the brain that support bonding, attachment, recognition, faithfulness. They are separate in their whorls of function, quite unlike the lumped-up portmanteau of daily terminology. If one module is missing, the person recognizes his mother, but believes she is an impersonation -- not really mom at all, because there is no apparent feeling about her. If a different module is missing, one doesn’t recognize her familiar face, but reacts to it warmly anyway. If a certain kind of ground squirrel, which is normally faithful to its mate, is genomically altered by knocking out ONE GENE, it becomes promiscuous, racing through the grass after new partners. Stick the gene back in (it’s not that easy!) and Mr. Squirrel sleeps at home.

What about the envirome, one’s personal history? The happy little person who imprinted you in second grade with the memory of a freckled face and curly hair, so that ever after people who looked like that made you smile, isn’t that a sort of shaping love? But isn’t the stiff, thin, red-headed, brilliant person who refused you so that it made you obsess about a close relationship, if only to find out what they were about, doesn’t that stamp you with a unsolvable problem that you will try to explore again with every stiff, thin, red-headed, brilliant person? And as you grow, your ability to figure it out also grows so that maybe this time, this time . . .

I find that people are far too binary about who desires whom: you’re this or you’re that, you yearn for this which puts you in one category or that, which puts you in the other. But in fact, desire waxes and wanes, not just physical desire, but the emotional and mental wishes and attractions, both sides of the brain, one rushing eagerly and the other saying, “Watch out. There’s danger.” Which may only make the yearning more intense. So many stories hinge on bad timing, not just “Romeo and Juliet” or “Summer and Smoke.”

Unrequited love is a category all its own, bittersweet: sweet in the swelling emotion of regard for the beloved, bitter in the knowledge that it can’t go further, can’t complete. But there’s safety in that tumescence, never climaxing, avoidance of risk, of not finding out what one doesn’t want to know anyway -- not really. It’s not exhausted by reality, but always alive in a hidden place. Others need never know. You can get hooked on that.

The eye searches for pattern: a profile, the boss of a cheekbone, a gesture like the tilted lift of chin, or a way of squaring the shoulders, or a particular gait. The ear listens for a timbre or an idiosyncratic pronunciation, and can separate it from every other voice in the room. Love from a distance never gets to taste, to smell, and yet an actor on a screen who embodies the object of yearning can be more real than actual persons in the same room. Can this be healthy? Surely it’s natural and universal? A kind of emotional practice for reality -- if it will translate, if the gauzy unreality is not lost entirely.

Love in relationship becomes something else. Bonding, the extension of identity to include the other person so that “me” is “we.” The best relationships are partnering for a goal, in order to prevent eating each other up in craving and demands. Is there a memoryome? (They’re calling all the internal inventories of guiding data and evolutionary forces the science of “omics.” Genomics, proteomics.) Surely sharing intense and unique emotional experiences is one of the components of love.

Investigators of morality have discovered that the instinct of not having sex with family members, avoiding incest, is not a function of genomics, but rather the experience of growing up with them that triggers a module in the brain that makes you love them in a different way. Likewise, an unfamiliar man in the house with small children should not be trusted, because until he has spent the time with them to make him instinctively protective and curb his impatience.

Love of lesser beings, children/animals/dummies, too easily leads to trouble, control and even violence, so it becomes ownership and abuse. Then the private love between individuals becomes the business of society and authorities may step in. But let’s not end on a dark note. The love to look for is the one that opens doors, is full of gifts, puts one on tiptoe, makes one sing. Keeps one’s identity.

Friday, March 30, 2012

"BRICK", Review and Reflection

Seen immediately after watching “Justified,” the movie “Brick” (2005) is like wine after orange juice, Goggins or no Goggins. No, no, that’s not right. It’s like spring water after rot gut. Suddenly you can see to the bottom of the genre, what it is essentially in its chill clarity. All this film noir stuff was high school all along! If you think I mean it is childish, you’re wrong. It’s primal, the way adolescence is. Authority figures are so remote they don’t even count. Love of each other is everything. Everyone is his own hero, taking violence as it comes, thinking they are immortal. Death is a surprise. Everyone is acting: posing, making up, acting out -- but with deadly seriousness, “for reals.” It wasn’t so long ago that the average lifespan was in the twenties and thirties -- barely time enough to make a baby, much less raise it.

This movie is intended to be “film noir” except not so noir -- a new take on a familiar genre. I used to joke about a film noir series that was shot in Portland where everything is always in the rain and the light is always silvery, that it was “film gris.” “Brick” is “film blanc” as in white t-shirt and white brick, which is the macguffin: a brick of heroin. When high school isn’t about sex these days, it’s about drugs. But this is not grimly realistic -- no syringes, a little smoking because what’s film noir without curls of smoke? Sex and drugs are offstage. These kids don’t even say fuck.

Instead of dark nighttime passages up narrow alleys, the action here is on the broad flat spaces of So-Cal parking lots, playing fields, warehouse loading zones, 6-lane highways, empty plazas and cement culverts with canals big enough for boats. The main set is a high school “campus” where lockers are outdoors and low walls try to guide foot traffic. (You’re not supposed to walk along the top.) This is not about catching a nap during class, but about how to hide in a private corner in the library or how to hang outside without being caught.

The language of this movie is remarkable. The writer says he thought of it as being like song lyrics. It sounds like poetry, short rhythmic dialogue, and the sub-titles are grouped like poetry. You’ll NEED the sub-titles. The shorthand and slang referred to are from Hammett, Spillane, Shakespeare, and teen slang, which is as specialized as underground criminal jargon. Some of it was invented for the movie. You need the words because the plot turns sharp corners. It is a combination of crossword puzzles and Rubik’s Cube played out in a Mondrian built environment, everything flat, spare, square. The sound track is ditto, “found sound”.

The wicked male characters are, as is the noir tradition, kinda freaky and kinda dumb. The main enforcer, in white singlet and hat, uses his fists and in his fierce marches become somehow likeable, goofy. The main villain (“The Pin” for kingpin) is a little over the top. (It’s Lucas Haas, the boy from “Witness” who is now grown, in a great cape with one foot taped up to look deformed, carrying a duck-headed cane. Emily, Lucas’ mom in real life, came with one of my friends to visit in Browning in the Sixties and totally charmed all of us when she sang and danced in the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife with the full-mounted animals. She tied her scarf on the black bear’s head, which it seemed to like.) These are real Hollywood actors with “chops” and savvy -- not locals pulled off the street. There are two adults: the Kingpin’s mom and the high school vice principal. They are stereotypical but not puppets.

As is traditional, the hero, though constantly baffled and balked, is totally focused on finding out what the truth is. (The payoff is the last line of the movie. It’s not heroin.) His sidekick, “Brain,” knows a lot somehow but never figures in the action. The women are all femme fatales: one the needy help-me girl, one the vamp whose schemes drive the plot, and one the shape-shifting, knows-everything witch -- always in an extraordinary costume.

The main vibes of film noir are supposed to be paranoia and helplessness, except that the Bogart character -- through sheer determination and endurance -- survives for the next plot. The following comments come from the blood-spattered website called “Crimeculture.”

Shared guilt is often the only common bond amongst noir characters, who are usually doomed to be isolated and marginalised. The main themes are generalisations of the ill-fated relationship between the protagonist and his society. Characters suffer either from failures of agency (powerlessness, immobilising uncertainty) or from loss of community (isolation, betrayal). Obsessed, alienated, vulnerable, pursued or paranoid, they suffer existential despair as they act out narratives that raise the question of whether they are making their own choices or following a course dictated by fate.”

“Brick” is not a parody. Instead it suddenly occurs to us that film noir, aside from being connected to the crisis of existence after WWII, is repeated in the crisis of existence of many an adolescent. It’s high school rules, high school goals. Everything is so real, so crucial, every relationship seems as though it might be one’s last chance at . . . something. It is a reflexive time, when one is always watching in mirrors, trying out the little gestures of meaning.

Rian Johnson, the writer and director, nurtured this script from the time he was in high school himself, (b. 1973 so class of ‘91?), in fact, this very same high school in San Clemente. His family was well-to-do enough to loan the money to make the movie. (Under a million.) He and his brother had shot video from the earliest possible age, so that though this movie was shot in 35 mm, a camera was nearly built-in to their heads. Things like the special effects to make a common trash bag into a kind of apparition were easy for them. The brother, who was in London, composed the music by working via the Internet.

And yet this movie is not overloaded with gimmicks and illusions, none of the rancid involutions of “Twin Peaks.” The camera stays, gazing clear-eyed, sometimes from an odd angle, at the plain facts of desperation and loneliness that we somehow fail to see in real life.

Thursday, March 29, 2012



,Allen "Arsh" Stiffarm

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HAVRE - Allen Arthur "Arsh" Stiffarm, 56, of Havre died of complications from diabetes on Monday, March 26, at his home.

His wake is 7 p.m. today at Red Whip Center in Fort Belknap. His funeral Mass is 10 a.m. Friday at the center. Edwards Funeral Home of Chinook is handling arrangements.

Allen Arthur "Arsh" Stiffarm was born to Peter Stiffarm and Ruby Chief Goes Out Stiffarm on July 16, 1955, in Havre. Arsh attended grade school in Rocky Boy and Box Elder until 1964 when the family moved to Browning. He graduated from Browning High School in 1973. Arsh was a member of the Browning High School team that placed second at the 1973 state class B basketball tournament, where he also was named to the all-tournament team. In the first round game of the tournament, Arsh scored 28 points and grabbed 23 rebounds. For his efforts, Arsh was named to the class B all state team, first team. He was also named to the all conference and all division teams. He received a basketball scholarship to Northern Montana College where he played for two years. Basketball was his passion. In 1975, he was selected to play on the Browning Reds, an Indian independent basketball team that won the National Indian Activities Association Basketball Championship in 1975. It was the only Montana team to ever win this title. Arsh also played on the Rocky Boy Rockets and the Fort Belknap Warriors teams, winning numerous MVP honors. In addition, he also played on the Fort Belknap Warriors and Milk River Sponsors softball teams. Arsh was a real Renaissance man as he won the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow award at Browning High School. Arsh was also an avid fan of the University of Montana Grizzlies and the Pittsburg Steelers.

Upon his graduation from the University of Montana (business administration), Arsh worked in the finance department for the Fort Belknap Indian Community. He later worked for the National Tribal Development Association. In addition, he was a member of the coach-ing staff at Harlem High School.

Arsh was diagnosed with diabetes in his early college days. The rest of his life he actively participated in basketball, bowling, softball, golf and swimming to control his diabetes.

Arsh was preceded in death by his parents, his brothers Wesley and Lesley, his sisters Celia and Delia and his nephew Jeremy.

He is survived by his son, Allen Taylor-Stiffarm; his sister, Thelma Stiffarm, brothers Steve, Loren "Bum" (Barbara), and Garland "Ping" (PeeWee). He is also survived by his nieces, RaeDee, Amy and Mariah; and nephews Daniel, Eric, Pete, Jason, Justin, Tristan and Nathaniel "Nano." In addition, he is survived by numerous aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews throughout the United States.

Condolences may be posted online at Published in the Great Falls Tribune on March 29, 2012.

I'm adding this postscript a day late because I wanted to get the obit posted in time for people here to attend the services.

I vividly recall when "Arsh" and "Bum" showed up at Browning High School. Tall, handsome, funny and smart, they were standouts from the beginning. These men did not forsake their NA culture. (Bob commissioned Ruby, their mother, to replicate a beaded buckskin jacket that had been worn by Buffalo Bill so Buff Bill's grandson could wear it while speaking without risking the original, and she did an outstanding job.) But as you can see above, the culture of basketball was their bridge to a modern world where they continued to do well. This aspect of rez life is not always realized by the general public, so I note it here.


For fifty years (since 1961) I’ve tried to understand cases like that of the death of Marie Heavyrunner, not just because of knowing many members of that particular family (though that’s part of it) but because suddenly I was on the Blackfeet reservation and in the middle of things, including the history of the area. Heavyrunner is the name of the peace chief who was shot by cavalry in a winter massacre. But maybe because of the books I read or because of my humanities teachers in high school or because of my college courses, I want to know how things like Marie’s murder could happen. I am less interested in punishment than in causes.

Many people avoid such tragedies. Since they are “unsolvable,” why do more than read about them in the newspaper and shake one’s head? But I went to the U of Chicago Div School to learn how to think, was a transcriber at the U of Chicago Law School where I learned more, and now that I’m back next to the rez, I’m reading books that are finally beginning to pick the locks of the human brain. One of the most recent and most helpful is “Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain,” by Michael S. Gazzaniga.

Originally I was after Gazzaniga’s work (split brain research, which works with patients who have had the connection between the two sides of the brain cut to prevent epileptic seizures) because of the “neuronal work platform” he identified in the left brain half. In this book I think it is now called “The Interpreter,” which is a little problematic since that summons up an earnest person hunched at a table with earphones listening to Chinese and speaking English. There is no person. There is a nexus of nerves that receive processed information from smaller nexuses (nexi?) all over the cerebrum where each sorts input from the senses and pass the result to the “Interpreter,” which decides what to do about it.

At the same time I’m reading “Madness and the Criminal Law” by Norval Morris, a brilliant and humane man who taught at the law school but is now deceased. This book (I got it used for a few dollars on the Internet) addresses the problem of what to do with someone like “Stormy” whose act is so abhorrent and out of the ordinary (not an accidental death and not an incidental victim) that it could be defined as madness. This is the book in which Morris first invents the “Brothel Boy” who is convicted of murder and hanged, which raises many questions for Morris’ avatar, Eric Blair, who wrote under the pen name of George Orwell. It is clear that race and culture are powerful forces which provide varying assumptions to “the Interpreter.” For instance, the boy is retarded and knows no other life than being a servant in the brothel where he was born. To the English, this might be a mitigating factor. In Burma at the time this amounted to “who needs him?”

These two authors, Morris and Gazzaniga, devote their lives to understanding human suffering and how humans should be held responsible for what they do. This is an old discussion and yet it is renewed and invigorated now more than ever because of new tools for studying the brain, new understandings of how culture develops and evolves, and an entire reframing of the cultural arrangements for wealth, sex, and violence. You can pull Leschi into this context.

I was half-listening to the radio yesterday, one of those mid-day discussion programs on NPR that tries to be sane. A diplomat was trying to assess the impact on the present anguish in Syria of the Arab League, which has appealed to the tyrants not to kill their own people. The diplomat said, “This is a new idea to the Arab nations. For centuries and centuries those tyrants have killed their own people in great numbers and didn’t think it is important to worry about. They think it is their entitlement.” Later in the day I was hearing discussion about the bill to give all Americans entitlement to health care -- indeed, obligatory health insurance. I think part of the bill relates to mental health care, a particularly sharp issue when it comes to PTSD which sometimes causes delusions in which former soldiers kill their loved ones.

Everything is related. Up to a point. In the meantime, I learn about how to sort out such matters and I keep my focus by thinking about the reality of where I am. I’m not an interpreter -- yet. I’m only beginning. Nothing else seems very important. I try to look at it all “as though I were a Martian” with as few preconceptions as possible, but no one really achieves that -- just a far higher awareness of how hard it is to understand other people, especially those that society stigmatizes and rejects, even crushes because “who needs them?” If I were serving a congregation, a little delegation would come to urge me to turn to other topics. I know this from experience.

And yet the centerpoint of my reflections is liturgy based on the idea of “the liminal space” which I take to be something like the “neuronal working platform” which is also identified as “the interpreter.” The evolution of human brains and the evolution of culture seem to be rooted in the ability of the brain to evolve, especially in terms of social relationships. It appears now that it is not the size of the brain that makes us human but that all these small complexities of brain systems, guided by one big brain system and mostly unconscious, can reconsider its assumptions in order to survive. This is better done in “liminal space.” But there is genetic evidence that some people are born wanting to prevent change and others come equipped with a yearning for change.

As Gazzaniga and his crew look at brains and the evidence about them (there are many teams working in many places) they see the uniqueness of each person’s brain. The “little gray cells” develop molecularly, electrochemically, in response to what happens to them. Some people are missing one or more little processing centers or their sensory equipment doesn’t pick up the same information or they learned their basic assumptions in one culture but then were transported to another one. In a sense that happens to all of us since the culture changes around us.

In the 19th century if a man killed his mother, maybe in a rage or maybe out of greed, he would probably be hung like Leschi and the Brothel Boy. We don’t do that now. One of the things that has changed is that in the West we are reluctant to kill people. In addition, since this was a case of people defined as Native Americans, the story would be either romanticized or demonized, seen as somehow apart from the rest of society. I’m resisting that. I am out-of-step with most of today’s American culture.

Marie Heavyrunner 3/29/2012

Heavy Runner pleads guilty in mother's death

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A Browning man is set to be sentenced this summer after admitting Wednesday to killing his mother and hiding her body for months underneath the crawlspace of her home.

Mark Saint Storm Heavy Runner, 44, pleaded guilty to a count of second degree murder during a federal court hearing in Great Falls on Wednesday morning.

Appearing in restraints and wearing a black-and-white striped jumpsuit, Heavy Runner appeared before U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon and admitted to the facts set forth in an offer of proof submitted by the U.S Attorney's Office.

The offer of proof states that Heavy Runner and his mother, Marie Heavy Runner, got into an argument on July 1. Mark Heavy Runner then got angry and strangled the 71-year-old with a rope until she lost consciousness. He then submerged her head into a bathtub full of water until she drowned.

He then wrapped her body in blankets and put it in the crawlspace, where it wasn't discovered until Nov. 4. Blackfeet Tribal Law Enforcement served a search warrant on Marie Heavy Runner's residence, where Mark Heavy Runner and others were living. They found her body wrapped in plastic and duct tape.

Thomas Charles Marc Heavy Runner, 21, also was charged in the case with accessory to murder after the fact. He pleaded not guilty earlier this month, and his trial date is set for April 17.

Mark Heavy Runner was originally charged with another offense of first degree murder in his mother's death, but that charge was dropped in a plea agreement reached with the U.S. Attorney's Office. According to federal statute, second degree murder still can be considered an act of premeditated and deliberate murder. The only difference between first- and second-degree murder in the federal court system is that first-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence while second-degree murder can be punished by any amount of imprisonment up to life.

Haddon set Mark Heavy Runner's sentencing date for July 16.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The justification of writers has changed. Once a writer was a ink-stained genius scribbling in an attic to capture a vision of life. Now a writer is a guy in khakis who sits at a table in a “writers’ room,” struggling with other writers to create a performance fulfilled by actors -- who also have opinions about what will or won’t “work.” The difference is that historically the “writer” might not make any money and might not be famous until after he or she dies. But the writers on TV serieses get a salary. For them to become famous would be surprising. They are collaborators who might not even get their name on the credit crawl, since that is open to negotiation for purposes of reward, punishment, and collaboration. Maybe even better NOT being listed if the product stinks.

“Justification” for actors is jargon meaning the reason for the character to be doing something -- is it revenge? Is it because of the way they were raised? Is it because they’re in a really bad mood? Something close to it is the necessity of “beats and arc,” which means that each scene has to fit along a logical plot arc and earn itself in terms of upping the tension or explaining or setting something up for later, but also beats must fit inside a Procrustean form of a certain number of minutes, divided to allow for commercials. (In one commentary, the writers speak of a “cheesy” old-fashioned TV trick being to divide a suspense scene by putting the advertising break right in the middle of it. More often now there will be a completion and then a new beat begun.) This is structure on the level of a sonnet: rhythm, rhyme pattern, line length, all related in terms of a main idea and exploring given characters, that’s a self-contained story but maybe advances a series-long thread. Except in a sonnet there is no star actor to argue about what his “justification” is. Occasionally an actor will become so argumentative and rigid that s/he will be dropped from the series. (Melissa Leo on Homicide.)

In the case of “Justified,” the bad guy who was meant to be in only the pilot was so riveting when embodied by Walton Goggins, that he was resurrected from a fatal gunshot and kept in play for the whole series, which shifted the story from being about one lawman to being about two adversaries, almost a buddy movie with conscious references to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In fact, the whole series began to have a Gog/Magog aspect with two soul-less “daddies” as well as two painfully thin, very long-stemmed blonde actresses who could have switched roles without the viewer really noticing.

The justification for the series called “Justified” is Elmore Leonard’s tough-guy mysteries with a sort of Western pentimento. His style is tightlipped and ironic dialogue and close observation of character and setting. Inside knowledge about stuff. A lot of is based on class -- whiny incompetence being the indicator of the low class and resourcefulness being the marker of those who can think. Raylan Givens is a sort of late Clint Eastwood type without the snarl. That is, he’s a law-and-order man who tries to go by the rules. Mostly.

There's a lot of description people will recognize. “Oh, yeah. I know where that is. I been there.” Or “Gee, I had a car (or gun) like that once. Wisht I had it back now.” But because the writers and producing crews of the television show are in California and don’t know the Florida or Kentucky locations that well, they lose detail and specificity. Conscientiously wearing their bracelets that say WWED (What Would Elmore Do), they think about the action and the dialogue more than the setting.

I had a big problem with “Deadwood” and stopped watching it early because it seemed Manhattan show moved to a muddy canyon. They say there is a lot of crossover between fans of “Justified” and “Sex in the City.” It drifts towards the suburban generic without much convincing tough Kentucky ambiance. This is not “Winter’s Bone.” There are no kids and animals underfoot. No piles of old rusty debris. The kitchens are out of interior decorating magazines.

Goggins’ storyline is closer to authentic, maybe because of him. The converted church, the camp in the woods -- more like it. Goggins goes into near-ludicrous hippity-hop, eye-rolling mannerisms that make him seem on the verge of psychosis. The high point (or low point) of the Goggins’ story is when he is run off from his flock, hears shots, and returns to find them not only dead but hanging from the trees -- heads down, by one arm, every which way. It’s a little unbelievable -- could it have happened so quickly? But it had the grotesque, horror-echo of the Gothic South. The scene was almost abandoned because suspending actors is so expensive. (Who knew?)

The plot points are pretty much split between banter and violence, with some room for squirmy sex. What this show -- and most shows -- lack, that “The Wire” had, was the social action edge, the heartfelt wish to make the world a better place. Maybe this is the other component of Goggins’ storyline that works. Maybe the writers intended his conversion to be hollow and phony, but he manages to make it sincere. He comes perilously close to making Raylan seem flat.

There is a sequence of cinematography that is worth remarking. Goggins is getting out of prison and Raylan escorts him into a wide courtyard that is absolutely flat with a high white wall around it. (It was a real prison but augmented with CGI to get the effect.) They stand in this featureless place for a moment, then the roll-up door to the outside opens and the evening sun flooding in throws their long shadows across the cement. Goggins goes out, doing his over-the-top crazy moves, and Raylan stands, looking noble. And now I see that I’ve slipped into the reality of the actor doing the bad guy and let the good guy remain only a character in a story. Is that good or bad?

I’ve never read Elmore Leonard so I dutifully trotted over to the library and checked out “Riding the Rap,” the novel that is about Raylan Givens. It’s totally different from “Justified,” though Leonard himself swears he likes the series. The book all happens in Florida with much local detail, most of the action is the bad guys blundering and double-crossing each other, and there’s little sex. The title comes from advice Raylan gives a felon: that life, like a prison sentence, goes along better if a guy just “rides the rap” out to the end. He’s not a joyful person. But Goggins is and he gleefully steals this TV series.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I'm not sure of the ethics of retyping a newspaper story into my blog, so what is above is the url for what might be the final published story about the death of Marie Heavyrunner. There are still many rumors about the "sealed" information, some of them having to do with oil lease money.

A Heavyrunner family reunion had been previously scheduled for April 1 in the Stick Game Building in Browning.


Some years ago I made a rule for myself that I would not read or buy books about Indians unless they were about Blackfeet. This was to keep me from spreading out on a shallow sheet of generalizations or irrelevancies about Indians, which happens to too many people. But this book meant that I had to demote my “rule” to “advice.” “The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek: A Tragic Clash between White and Native America” by Richard Kluger is about country I know as well as Montana because I grew up in Oregon. In fact, Montana was once part of the political category, though never really part of the ecological unit -- at least not the east side.

Medicine Creek is a place at the bottom of Puget Sound once inhabited by the Nisqually tribe. They were displaced by Isaac Stevens, a statue of whom stands on “Marias Pass” at the continental divide because he’s the one who identified the way through the Rockies that made the Great Northern high-line possible. This has been confused and disguised by the creation of Glacier National Park which is bordered on the south by the pass. So there is a Blackfeet connection after all.

Stevens was not a very nice guy and he did not like Indians, so it was a bitter day altogether when the United States negotiated the far more benign and intelligent governance of Hudson’s Bay out of what is now the Pacific Northwest. The British manager of Fort Nisqually, William F. Tolmie, had been like the “White-Headed Eagle”, Dr. John McLoughlin whom I was taught to venerate (though no one lingered on the fact of his Indian wife, whom he loved and had formally married). In fact, Tolmie remained in the area and resisted Stevens as much as he could.

The historical events in this book (mid-19th century) begin when Stevens -- directed by the US government to gather the Indians into the smallest and fewest reservations that he could -- assigned the Nisqually tribe to a couple of small stony islands in Puget Sound where there was no pasturage for their many horses or fertile ground for gardens. When the tribal leaders gathered, they were stunned. Leschi, Chief, refused to sign. “Signing” in those days consisted of making an x where the literate whites said your name was written. Since Leschi refused, Stevens or someone acting on his behalf, simply but secretly simply added the x.

Over the next two years the outraged Leschi and his small band of followers were on the run and on the campaign trail, trying to gather support to force a change. They went to the east side (similar to the dry side of Montana) where the tribes were wilder, more war-like, and less harassed by whites wanting their land. Their success was mixed. Sometimes those tribes were used to guard whites against them, esp. when Stevens went on his own campaign through the eastern part of the state. The situation amounted to war because the Nisqually nation WAS defined as a nation or a treaty would not be necessary.

Forces drawn into the situation included the Hudson’s Bay men, whose sympathies and sometimes protection were extended to Leschi’s side, partly because their wives were Indian; the US Army who found Stevens arrogant and overbearing, unwilling to negotiate; militia raised by Stevens when he imposed martial law; the judicial establishment whom Stevens attacked and evaded; vigilantes; and Ezra Meeker, frontiersman and historian -- plus other peace lovers and war lovers.

Long story short, Leschi was accused of murder, demonized, exonerated in one trial (“hung jury” -- irony in the term) and subjected to retrial in country friendlier to Stevens, and then hung. He was never proven to have fired the fatal shot, which was part of a war skirmish anyway. Evidence that tended to exonerate him was suppressed. The British Tolmie was Leschi’s interpreter in both trials. Meeker was one of the holdouts on the first jury that refused to convict.

Richard Kluger examines all the facts he could find, renders opinions and interpretations as fairly as he can, and then brings us up to date on the fate of the Nisqually who after many years of poverty appear to have made a recovery through the efforts of both Indians and whites, both men and a couple of remarkable tribal women. The tribe does have a “smoke shop,” and does have a casino (“Red Winds”) plus an ingenious business that does underwater scuba work, including the removal from the sound of destructive old lost fishing nets that entangle sea life. It was founded by a female diver, Cynthia Iyall, who had learned to hunt geoducks (giant clams) that way. The Nisqually were finally given more appropriate land and have reclaimed some of it to salt marsh for salmon spawning.

Kruger never mentions one of the hottest issues: since the tribe’s treaty was counterfeit, does it have a remaining legal claim to the ground under Sea-Tac airport? If he had brought this into the book, his book would never have seen print.

Native American treatment across this continent was rough, often unjust, full of dubious characters on both sides trying to throw events their way. What’s at stake is the reputation of the nation. If you think the events at Medicine Creek with its mix of contentious tribes and blundering authorities, its side tales about plural wives and loyal brothers, sounds very much like recent events in Afghanistan et al, you’d be absolutely right.

In the end (Kluger doesn’t tell us how much he was a part of this.) it was decided that it was impossible to exonerate Leschi in retrospect through the official courts, so an unofficial tribunal was convened to publicly reflect on the evidence and reach a morally binding conclusion. Kluger is a little disappointed that the verdict was brief, a simple statement of the opinion that Leschi was not guilty and should not have been convicted.

Isaac Stevens -- oh, how modern this sounds -- had made a lot of enemies but also created lots of “clients” in his years as governor, so he was finally gotten rid of by electing him to be senator. His wife was much relieved to move to Washington, D.C., which she considered to be civilization.

The rhetoric of this book is high-falutin’ and the information is sometimes detailed to the point of fatigue, but the clarity of the argument and the even-handed description of injustice and character failure make it a book worth reading and a benchmark to be met by subsequent analyses and attempts to get the general public to think and think again about the events that made this country possible.

Monday, March 26, 2012


My friend, who found an article about “Indian Education” in the Atlantic mag, is bugging me about trying to sell them an article about Indian education that will be “real.” Even though he grew up partly on the Blackfeet rez, he was a kid, white, and still has little understanding of what’s at stake. He’s not intending me to be a crusader. He just thinks a “real” article would sell. He’s like the general public: you see a photo like the one with the Atlantic article, cute little chubby kid (a little overweight for good health, actually, considering diabetes) in his parade and pow-wow outfit, and you think, “Oh, he deserves a good education!” When this kid hits puberty, he will explode into a huge hoodie-wearing (yes, I said “hoodie”) sex-crazed monster who wants NOTHING to do with any control at all. Or not. In which case his or her task will be to survive his or her peers.

The author of this Atlantic article was reacting to a sensational case of a boy shooting his father to death. You want sensational? How about the young man I’ve been writing about who killed his mother and stashed her body under the house or the young dropout addict woman who killed her baby and carried its body around in the trunk of the car for months? The case of one of my students killing his father (many years ago) was a little different: accidental. They were fighting right enough, but the boy was trying to shoot over his father’s head and didn’t allow for being on a rise of land. All these cases were people I cared about. Don’t send reporters who are nice white library researchers who reiterate the same old moldy post-colonial facts.

Even a researcher should have looked to see whether Denise Juneau really is the first Indian-American Montana superintendent of schools. She isn’t. The very first superintendent of schools of any kind in Montana was Helen Clarke, a half-Blackfeet daughter of a white massacre victim (Malcolm Clarke) and she was also related to the murderer (Yellow Owl). Her teenaged brothers rode out with the cavalry to retaliate against the murderer’s band but got the wrong one and massacred friends.

You want culture? Helen Clarke was educated in St. Louis, brought the first piano into Montana territory, toured Europe in Sarah Berhhardt’s acting company. She’s buried up the road behind the Big Hotel in East Glacier, along with other relatives like John Clarke, the handsome and cultivated deaf/mute woodcarver whose daughter runs an art gallery there.

Is this trouble genetic? Hell, no. These people have better genes than you or I. They’ve been pushed through genetic filters that winnowed out all the weaklings, the timid, the dummies. For a while, a little more than a century ago, there were only 500 of them, mostly kids. You want to hear about “The Hunger Games” and kids getting killed for survival? Well, Meriweather Lewis knocked off a couple of boys. The hunger began when the buffalo were gone.

Is bad education the result of reservation conditions? 8,000 enrolled Blackfeet are on the reservation and 8,000 enrolled Blackfeet are off the reservation. I don’t think anyone has ever done an academic comparison of the two sets of kids. James Welch, Jr., the novelist, graduated from high school in Minneapolis. The present reservation superintendent, Mary Margaret McKay Johnson, (a very good one) is a local product.

The Atlantic story was about Crow. Otherwise, the story would have had to include the trail-breaking Piegan Institute and the Catholic grade school and the Baptist school and the one run by the Blackfeet Community College. They are not charter schools -- they are private schools funded by foundations, denominations and the tribe. Their kids do well in life. They aren’t fat. They say a prayer before lunch. They even speak Blackfeet. Of course, they’re pre-adolescent. There used to be a “Free School” for adolescents in the Seventies. (The impact is still felt.)

Here’s the secret: Indian education dropout problems are really the problem of educating ADOLESCENT Indians. They don’t drop out until puberty begins. The problems of how to educate adolescents of any race, community, or historical time are remarkably the same. Always tough. One major answer has always been “put them to work.” If you don’t find things to do that really engage them, then they’ll find their own. There’s a certain kind of person who is looking for them. The main educational system then becomes juvvie and/or prison and, sure enough, that’s where a big share of the minority adolescents are.

When I googled for adolescent education, this is what I got: "A tumultuous situation arises in the relationship between the adolescent...and the world. This tumultuous situation is necessary, and as teachers, we need to have it in mind during the years leading up to it. Overly sensitive teachers might get the idea that it would be better to spare young people this upheaval. However, in so doing, they would make themselves the worst enemy of youth." - Rudolf Steiner. I was surprised, because I had thought that Waldorf schools were for pre-adolescents.

And this: “Adolescence is the period during which we first sense, as human beings, our responsibility for earthly existence, and, inevitably, it is a time of turbulent transition and inner turmoil. During the first two seven-year periods of life, our soul, spiritual being gradually incarnates. With puberty, it takes hold of our whole being and turns outward to befriend the Earth and the forces of life and death. Steiner calls this profound inner transformation “a grand metamorphosis.”

That second quote is from the publisher’s squib for “A Grand Metamorphosis: Contributions to the Spiritual-Scientific Anthropology and Education of Adolescents” by Peter Selg. (Waldorf Books, ) I’m ordering. I’ll let you know how it reads. It sounds as though it might even be good for educating white kids. (!!)

Native American kids have had a dilemma, which is how to form an identity that reconciles assimilation with oppression. They are told again and again -- by articles like this -- that they have been abused, confined, traumatized, and diminished to the point of losing their culture (which is true), and then they are expected to emulate those oppressors. It’s not the same thing as immigration requiring Euro kids to conform. It’s close to the problem of African-American adolescents. It demands a metamorphosis full of pain. I think of the butterfly that goes into a chrysalis as a caterpillar. Recently I read that the insect metamorphosis is not so simple as rearranging organs and growing wings: rather it can be a matter of breaking down into a molecular soup and reassembling according to a new plan. Sounds like adolescence to me.