Thursday, November 29, 2018


This conversation linked below is one I've waited for a long time.  In a way I shouldn't comment so that their ideas will remain theirs and can't be diverted by a white woman.

On the other hand, I taught their parents and that should be worth something, if only the right to comment.  There are only a few of us and I don't know which others would stick their necks out.  Maybe I should point to Barbara W. whose son-in-law created a fat economic niche by organizing "trick riders" to be authentic "Indians" in movies.  She knows more about your parents than I do, but who interviews her?  (Who has written an exciting tale about a trick rider on a movie set?)

What I'm offering is not bossy stuff, but history.  In 1903 Thad Scriver came and built a mercantile store in Browning that supported two families for decades.  When Bob Scriver was told by his parents that Harold would "get" the store but they would pay for Bob to go to school, he chose music and came back to Browning to deliver state champion bands.  Ask Earl Old Person.

When I came in 1961, the political scene in the USA was almost as bad as it is right now.  Been following Rachel Maddow's blog, "Bag Man" about the Nixon corruption and law-breaking?  Did they tell about Martha Mitchell trying to blow the whistle and getting locked up in a "hospital"?  That's when I knew to keep my mouth shut.  Even now.

I never taught Darrell Kipp or Elouise Cobell, but I knew them.  They were only a little younger than me.  Darrell said that every local tribal house he went into had certain photos on the wall and one of them was Martin Luther King, another was JFK, and the third was Jesus.  Of course, all were assassinated heroes.  

Elouise started humbly keeping tribal books, learned finance, learned banking, and made friends with big shots in national banking.  Her lawsuit for the trust money of the American tribes was about as big a deal as possible and one many people thought was impossible.  Darrell and Elouise are dead, but their photos should be on the walls of homes.  The relevance here is that they didn't do this with academic degrees, though they had them.  Rather they just learned from the people who did what interested them, and the ideas interested them because they understood they were important.  They weren't assassinated -- they wore out.  It's hard work.

You don't need an academic piece of paper, though they're a good thing.  You need to learn how to listen and how to think.  The best universities teach that.  Darrell's information came crucially from indigenous people in Hawaii and New Zealand that he got to know at fund-raising events he attended to avoid the government leash.  He saw how to organize Piegan Institute.  When there was trouble, he called them for advice and they knew what to tell him.  Rosalyn LaPier was the spark for the summer seminars showcasing tribal academics.

There is no reason BCC can't have writers' workshops.  Or a publishing arm.  But more than a year ago I ordered a book from Browning Public Schools, one written by a teacher about local animals, and they took my money but no book came.  I called every now and then for months.  But it never came.  Shrug.  Completion is not a high value.

You three men are more assimilated than most people on the rez -- in fact, you're more "assimilated" as in "civilized" than many white kids in Valier or Cut Bank.  That is, you're dependable, you tolerate people of many kinds, you know a lot of jokes and have a lot of relatives, which are both a kind of wealth.  Each of you sees the rez through a different lens, focused on the rez community where you grew up: edge of the wilderness, resort town, coulee ranch -- converging somewhat in Browning, mostly because of athletics.  The internet still won't work in a lot of rez places.

Decades ago I used to shake my head over the tribe letting all the Scriver sculptures get away into the hands of the Montana Historical Society and assorted white crooks.  Then I stopped because the present welded sculptures are more real, more far-seeing, and more accessible.  But you haven't made it a point to discover how Bob putatively left millions to his soon-dying fourth wife -- not how he signed over the accumulation, but how he accumulated it in the first place.  The skills were not academic.  We sat out on the front porch and used a clicker to count every out-of-state car.  If they didn't stop, we put up a tipi.  If that didn't work, we brought in an old wagon running gear.  The next bait was a horse tied out front.  If they came in to the museum's front room, we kept track of how many went into the museum, etc.  That is, we were always analyzing.  It was old salesman stuff, nothing to be proud of.  Most artists couldn't do it.

Some of the success was situational.  Browning's Highway 89 is the beginning of the Al-Can highway, which had just completed when Bob opened.  The many housing projects started by JFK also fed into the economy.  One of the best innovations was Siyeh, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the tribe which was small and nimble and kept good books.  Thunder Radio - KBWG LP - FM 107.5 - Browning, MT -- sometimes streaming online.  Video crews?  Lots of stuff if you think about it.

But there is a cautionary tale from Heart Butte.  Someone got a grant for a small custom sewing business, set up the building and hired the seamstresses.  There was a broker/salesman, an experienced white man who found contracts.  One was for filters for tanks, I remember.  But the need for seamstresses never quite matched the amount of goods to produce -- people took time off, manufacturers went a different route, and eventually the place shuttered.

I do not want the history of all these economic ventures being reduced to one pencil factory and one tipi burner.  Fire-fighting is professionalized and effective -- they will not run out of work in the coming years as the planet warms.  Casinos?  I dunno.

You are very different people than your parents and grandparents were.  I remember them.  I feared a few -- loved a few.  They were real.

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