Friday, November 02, 2018


Yesterday on this blog I was quite frank and therefore likely to be misunderstood -- sometimes on purpose.  So I'll clarify here.

I'm white. I have a relationship with the Blackfeet Rez that goes back to 1961.  I married a man born there in 1914 (died there in 1999, never left except for college and the army) whose father came in 1903.  I lived there year round. Worked shoulder-to-shoulder, watched babies born, grown, through many adventures, and finally buried.  Watched all the people change -- the white people left, the Mexicans came, the Metis realized who they were, the Blackfeet married Cree and all the kids thought about college, becoming lawyers, doctors, and environmental research scientists.

I'm at the point of considering what ought to happen to my belongings when I die.  Much of it is correspondence with certain persons-- some of them indigenous -- and accumulations in file cabinets of articles about this place.  I've already begun dispersing materials, mostly genealogical, but no one wants material about anyone but themselves.  We're in a narcissistic identity crisis.

Yesterday I cited specific incidents to make the point that my white relatives neither understand nor have any desire to continue my interest in tribal people.  That's okay.  They live in Oregon.  They can take care of all the other stuff, not there there is much.  Mostly assorted books and a bit of old furniture.  There are a few Scriver bronzes, but Bob Scriver's estate was dismantled and taken to a Montana Historical Society warehouse in Helena.  At the point of divorce in 1970 I took no money with me.  I'm sending  the scrapbook and photos of Bob that I still have to his grandchildren.  A big share of his monetary estate went to the predatory lawyers.  it's a long story but not surprising.  I left Browning the first time in 1973, so none of it was about me.

So then the problem becomes finding someone to preserve my more formal archive for the future and convincing curators of the value of personal letters over the years and an accumulation of articles, clips, papers, and narratives of every sort.  What people called "Indians" are a wide assortment of people of many different kinds and degrees.  8,000 enrolled people are still here and 8,000 have left over the decades.  Their dedication, their vision, their steady effort has brought the people as a whole a very long way.  Individuals have ended up all over the place.  So many are dead, so missed, so needed.

It was clearly inevitable from the beginning.  The old people were so different  from anyone living today.  The youngest today are like no one living before.  This is not theory.  I've sat on the ground with the old people and heard them sing with the drum.  I've talked to the youngsters, smelled their weed breath.  I'm not operating from book descriptions, but wandering around in real people.  Sometimes it's these times of confusion, of lost categories, of directly opposite ideas, that finally offer real insights.

When I hear the female Twitter warriors raging on and on about how they own everything but are still attacked, not having what they want -- it doesn't sound like anything but right wing angry radio to me.  My emphasis has been on widening, being more inclusive, but many people approach history by narrowing it, closing out all the confusion.  Instead of looking for identity more deeply, reaching out to other lives, other species, other parts of the world, for them it is a time of claiming and defending what they already know and making sure there's no change.  In a crowded world we're all having to stake out a place.

But there was more than that for the indigenous people of the Americas.  There they were, minding their own business, when in swooped the Euros and smashed their world.  Even the calmest, most temperate people I knew occasionally flash a bit of rage and hatred, hidden burning abscesses that flared out when they are drunk or hit by circumstances.  It is related to, but not the same as the frustration and outrage of women constantly being underpaid, over-burdened, and unconsidered.

More than that have been two forces from the larger culture, sometimes international.  One was the spirit of "Bury My Heart in Wounded Knee," a collection of atrocities, massacres, and injustices that defended the idea that indigenous people were martyred but noble.  Resentment of the Vietnam War did much to dismantle the idealism of WWII, not just by facing ignominious and absurd death, but also by taking it to the extremes of grotesquely mindless darkness, something the peoples of the land already knew well enough.  They welcomed the high fantasy of werewolves and supernatural warriors.

The other force was anchored in the 19th century romance of the West, with its hidden undertone of the Civil War.  A certain kind of white man -- rich, powerful, searching for an importance not quite religious -- became an aficionado of the Fifties-style TV Western world.  They collected Indian [sic] gear and bones as well as bison hides and cowboy boots.  Some had accumulated fortunes from exploiting resources and they spent it on museums, historical societies, publishing houses, and galleries with their repetitious depictions of that world.  A person could make money with writing or art that catered to this.  

It was not until the native Americans began to paint in abstract and symbolic ways that they could create their own world.  By now this is a strong source of ideas.

It's unclear why wars are associated with these great social waves: do they cause them or are they a result?  Anyway, I've been lucky to live pretty much between wars except for the constant sand wars over oil.  This time right now may be a social wave we can't quite define yet.

History is in the midst of a scientific explosion that I come back to thinking about many times.  The idea of what a human is has had to accommodate the notion of hundreds of hominins and the idea of time has had to reach out far beyond human existence.  Life comes down to linked molecules in process.  The humanities demand empathy for those we previously stigmatized.  So I cling to my small proofs of this specific time: letters, articles, clips, and vague newspaper photos.  There's a message, I think.

No comments: