Wednesday, November 28, 2018


In the twenty years since I withdrew from the urban world of Portland, OR, in order to return to the rural small town of Valier next to the Blackfeet reservation where I lived in the Sixties, a great deal has changed but in sneaky and surprising ways.  For instance, Browning, the "capital" of the Blackfeet rez, technically no longer exists and Valier has become a bedroom community as businesses wink out.

Browning in the Sixties was a double-yolked egg, on the one hand the locus of the federal authorization and control offices and on the other hand a center of Euro/white/"settler" business that was only there because of the feds, who at that time were white.  The town was defined as a lacuna in the rez in the same way that an embassy is defined as a bit of the sponsoring country's soil existing within the host country.  The laws and practices of the business part of town were regulated as though they were outside the rez, under the jurisdiction of the state.  Now they must relate to the tribe.

The previous order has ended.  Browning is no longer a "town" because that's defined by the state and so what the maps call "population centers" are becoming a rez lacuna in the state.  No one quite knows what that means.  The name of the struggle is "sovereignty" and the problem is whether a tribe can support itself in the face of federal raids on resources and persisting historical invader structures.  

Rez land is controlled by federal law overseeing the workings of the tribe, which is considered to be a cooperative or a corporation with shared ownership by the tribe.  One key problem was defining who the share-owners were since the idea of tribal belonging keeps changing as the generations expand on the baby end while diminishing on the grandparents end.  In turn, this was complicated as the influence of the larger culture diluted the organic unity of an ancient way of life based on fittingness rather than control.  And then the control of the industrial revolution transformed the use of the land -- sometimes the land itself.  The resources of the rez are being redefined.

A continuing tension in all communities is the individual versus the community, particularly when the individuals differ among themselves so much and the community has a hard time making itself a unified vivid entity.  In the case of the rez tribe, it struggles with various internal groups (Metis, Cree, white, and now Mexican) as well as the seductive literary "Orientalism" of fast, feathered, horseback riders from a past that may have never existed.  The domestic horse came as the bison went.

Valier was definitely controlled by the land, the east slope ecotone of altitude from high in mountains where snow accumulated to low and flat where ancient glaciers had scraped the prairie so it was treeless.  This natural architecture created the basis of irrigation that made dryland grain farming into a bonanza, somewhat released from the larger weather patterns like hail and high winds.  No one expected this to change from its steady "governance" of prosperity, but global warming has done that, along with global politics and directly altered genomes.  Wheat is not what it was.

So governance of human life is and has always been a struggle between organic natural order and imposed or derived rules created in a hierarchical manner with size dictating what's at the top.  Federal regulates state which controls county which affects city which imposes on domiciles and businesses.  Still, climate and terrain are bigger than federal.

In the Sixties, partnered with the City Magistrate and Justice of the Peace, who was in a constant struggle with ambiguous laws, irreconcilable justice, frank tragedy, and the assumptions of a white man raised in a red world, I was daily privy to discussions of specifics. In the Seventies I was inside the Portland government, seeing things from "behind the curtain".  This conversation persists in my head and colors what I read on the Internet.

I'm not alone., the scifi publisher posts an excerpt from a time-travel fiction version of this on-going thought question.

Twenty years of the past fifty years of my adulthood have been passed here -- thirty if you count the Sixties.  My personal time-travel.  Many people here have never had experience outside that twenty years or in a different place.  They still have not felt the drastic differences that have controlled their lives.  

Watching the Trump scandal unfold, those of us who are attentive have slowly realized that the problem is not just some evil or faulty individual who doesn't understand any world but his own.  Someone has said that Mueller is not after Trump OR Putin, but the boss of them both.  Behind them stands an alternative and effective government of the world, that of "mafia."  It is not plotted but organic and not so much based on wealth as networks of control.  Much of its power comes from secrecy, happening in plain sight but not recognized, exploiting capitalism in a way that destroys democracy because it excludes everyone who is not "made."  It is not /Jewish/Christian/Islam et al but is an institution just as big and full of assumptions, unconstrained by any oversight or written code.  It's modern history is short, mostly about escaping from nations.

Someone remarked, "Trump has no relationships -- everything to him is a transaction."  To a mafia this is true of everyone who is not "made" but inside the network the old ties of "blood" (genealogy), loyalty, and obligation remain strong.  Though there are prominent individuals who take leadership, the ultimate faithfulness is to the whole "family," so the elimination of individuals is regrettable but occasionally necessary.  Some people are personally safer if they are in jail, but their families are not.  Is their wealth safe?  Maybe not.

All of this becomes much sharper against a background of natural laws and fittingness that are torn apart by modern resource and technical development.  More and more people trying to live more and more apart with more and more elaborate lives have become combustible in the most literal way.  We are looking for systems of preservation.  In the search, nations come up short.  So does the Internet, fascinating as it is.

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