Tuesday, September 24, 2019



Snow is higher than a cat.  Everyone is safe and sound.  The wind has stopped.  Now the work of digging out.  We know how to handle this but not usually this time of year.

Prairie Mary

Monday, September 23, 2019


Half of Blackfeet live off the rez and half live inside the boundary.  I don't know how that correlates with where they were born, nor do I know the average claimed "blood quantum."   Those who left were both voluntary, like those during WWII who went to build ships and planes for the war effort and just didn't come back, and were semi-involuntary, like those who accepted programs to move to cities and learn new skills (Relocation) or the Canadian Sixties Scoop.  Some followed spouses.

Nobody looks like they did when the rez was created in 1850, partly because of the way they dress now and partly because of genetic mixing and partly because of being indoors instead of always outdoors and moving as they were in those days.  

Most get a share of the tribal money in trust with the US government, though the management of that trust -- set up because it was assumed that rez people didn't understand money -- has been so corrupt and negligent that people scoff at the few dollars they are sent annually.  Now and then there is a bigger payout, but it's not "free" money -- rather, payment for what was taken.

One of the major questions today is how to escape from the safeguards that have become prisons, and how to even decide who belongs in the demographic category.  Here are some options:

Provenance, often called "blood quantum" though it's about generations.

Sovereignty, which is a matter of self-governance, but -- eeks -- self-supporting.

Actual DNA indication of tribal identity, which is unreliable since any one "set" of characteristics is altered in the next generation.  Advertising that says it can identify tribal origin is largely false.

Appearance such as skin color and facial stereotypes, like whether one looks like Two Guns Whitecalf, which is hard on Navajo and Inuit.

Residence, actually living on the rez, esp. doing something in the rural parts.

Participation, being a part of the local community work whether schools, roads, tribal council, or churches.

Culture: paying special attention and renewing the language, the ceremonies, the values of the People 200 years ago.

None of these is perfect.  No one seems to show ALL these indicators.  The people who try the hardest might be the people who are least "Indian."

Consider two examples, both of them men I've known for fifty years.  Some people here believe that the only way to escape poverty, alcoholism, and early death is to get away from here and find a way to survive in the city, probably by becoming educated at a college grad level.  One way to do this, maybe the most dependable, is to conform, fit in, and not buck the system.  There are off-rez "white men" always looking for "Indians" they can work with and who can become interface enablers.  

Education is probably the main field where this works.  So the student who chose off-rez corporate education support still comes back because he misses the old rez free-form ways.  But he comes back in a car that cost twice the tax value of this house and he has two houses, one in the city and one on the rez that stays empty most of the time.  The one in the city is in a "gentrifying neighborhood" and is increasing in value.  

Those like this who do come back, find that the infrastructure is weaker, the distances are longer, the culture has changed.  They begin to petition the tribe to pull up its socks -- without being entirely sure those guys wear socks.  He's used to having a salary and mentors.  His pension is nice.  The contrast between the city life and the rez is daunting.

The other example is a man who was able to qualify for a more rarified kind of education.  It wasn't the content that made the diff, but the quality and kind of contacts, which is one of the real values of higher education.  Moving through sociological roles, but resisting the conventional middle-class terms, he cut trail.  After years working across the continent and painful periods of depression and self-examination, he became convinced that the way to innovate education -- in this case to renew the indigenous language -- was to define and create his own "charter school" that did just that.  As soon as he had thought it through and found others who could help to explore the way forward, he was joined by idealistic people.

This man settled on the rez to focus on this school and find the teachers he needed.  He was willing to travel to raise a LOT of money through his contacts.  He didn't use paper instruments, but rather personal speaking.  This life wears people out, and it was not at all easy, but when he was home on the rez, he was really with his people.  He also had two houses, one of them a cabin on a rez lake.  Today he is not retired, but deceased, much mourned. He was never on the tribal council was never controlled by the federal BIA.

These are two honorable life-paths.  Both men are enrolled, identified as indigenous.  They know and like each other, but both express how hard it is to understand each other.  The difference is so deep that it can't quite be put into words.  There are dozens of other ways to go: learn a trade, front for a local white man, marry well . . . 

In the Sixties when I came to the rez, young people were idealistic, outraged, and activist. Many of them had major impact on many lives.  One of the group was Eloise Cobell, who finally put the spotlight on federal trust malfeasance.   

Sunday, September 22, 2019


They say cats have nine lives.  I've seen them survive falls from enormous heights, be hit by cars but leap up and run off -- yet I've grieved for cat deaths and asked the vet to kill some cats who were in great pain or very aged.  I meet death and life, intermingled as they are, through cats.  To me they are not pets or toys, but independent beings with their own goals and decisions.  More than anything else, they address the continuing tension between individual and group.

These cats invited themselves into my life and I interfere in theirs very little.  Mostly I just feed them, shelter them, and rescue them if there is a threat.  Otherwise they go about their cat business which only sometimes includes me. Since there are more than a few and they come and go, I capitalize on them by letting them be my observed white rats, though they are gray cats.

The first cats in this house were intended pets and they ruled the roost for ten years, just as they felt they were meant to do.  But they died of old age and then the cat flap swung only in the wind for a while, until the feral cats began to move in.  The first one, I think, was a calico cat who figured out pet doors by watching the small dog across the street use his.  But I never caught her in the house.  She lived in my attached garage with her kittens.  

Richard S.Wheeler, the now deceased Western writer, had sent me some electric pet warming pads and I put them in the bottom of cardboard boxes with old blankets.  When the winter temps went to twenty below, the cat family stayed warm and a few older kittens figured out the flap, though I'd been feeding them in the garage.  The trouble with that was that if they didn't eat wet food immediately, it froze solid as a rock.

Since then, there have always been cats who were related, one generation after another, a perfect frame of reference for reading Joseph LeDoux's book, "The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four Billion-Year Story of How  We Got Conscious Brains."  This is a big fat book that goes small step-by-step through the beginning of life and then the gradual complexification of whatever forms survive.  Though I've been reading about these materials for decades, this is the most clarifying and complete book by far.  

I'm just about to start Part Five:  "And Then the Animals Invented Neurons."  I just finished the part that came to Meiosis, which is a key part of the idea of mutation, the constant reshuffling of DNA -- which creates variations on a DNA recipe -- and then evolution -- which keeps the most successful versions and lets the rest die.  Changing environmental conditions mean that sometimes it is one variation that survives and other times it is a different version.  There is no goal.  There is nothing about domination of others because that's not always what it takes to survive.  Jesus' revolutionary Christian idea was that it may be the meek and small who survive.  Any kid can explain how the dinosaurs,  so powerful and big, couldn't survive the cataclysm of an asteroid impact with the earth, but the little wee mammals went down in burrows and nibbled on whatever there was.  That's where cats come from, as well as mice.

First here was that calico grandmother, then her babies, then many of them disappeared, then the people next door brought home a big gray striped tomcat (only a baby then) who grew into a big thug of a tomcat I called Finnegan as though he were beating up people in an Irish pub.  He was a house-wrecker.  I became the asteroid in his life, but he was leaving anyway.  

One little kitten I called "Blue Bunny" -- because that was her color -- loved Finnegan and often sat close enough to lean on him.  When he left, she became my fondest cat and still is.  But my only way to curb the population, my means of predation, is to drown kittens the minute they are born, while they are still slimy dark blobs with no eyes.  I'm as gentle as I can be, using warm water and staying with them by my big Victorian pedestal sink.  This is one of the darkest parts of my household life. 

Seeing this, Bunny took two kittens under the house and hid them in total darkness.  I considered closing the hatch to the crawl space but didn't, in case they were alive and she was feeding them.  That was the case. Tuxie is the surviving kitten.  Flat, shiny coat, Tuxedo markings ( thus the name), a skinny bone frame, a Finnegan attitude, she's not quite right.  If cats too far off the basic formula, they die as kittens.  She is still very much attached to Bunny and still tries to nurse, though she's had batches of kittens herself.  At the moment there are two, the only two in the batch, one basically white and the other the group keynote gray. The two grown females care for the kittens, though only the mother gives milk, and the two half-grown tomcats left from the last batch have given up trying to smack them.  They are mostly quiet cats, even the kittens.  But they stink, no matter how diligently the cat boxes are maintained.

Cats demonstrate how the inherited characteristics -- appearance and disposition -- are accentuated and complicated by what humans think about certain colors.  Some are more attractive than others and some have myths around them, like black cats.  But to me, ginger cats are the smartest and steadiest.  Calico and tortoiseshell cats seem to be the best mousers, maybe because they are always female and must feed babies.  But here came gray instead.

Cat, like humans, are individually formed by their DNA-prescribed bodies and minds pushing up against the circumstances of their environment.  They need very little, which is why colonies can form and thrive.  Up the street from me one day, I witnessed a whole line of possibly twenty cats -- most of them ginger and in all sizes, come out of an abandoned church and go single-file between the houses across the street.  I never saw them again.  Probably the town decided to kill them.  They can't shoot within the city limits but they like to use poison.  As well, there is a respiratory virus that occasionally sweeps through.  At one point I was feeding nine cats, but in a few weeks I was down to four.  I should be getting them shots and sterilizing the ones I can catch, but I have very little money.  Cat spaces are soon filled by new cats.

The individual lives of these little animals, like those in the wild apart from humans, are wound like ribbons through the fabric of life, generation after generation.  I should probably interfere with them more.  They do kill birds, but mostly ring-necked pigeons who are invaders from another ecology, attracted by spilled grain.  I think about the morality of all this.  So much of morality is about these forces.

Saturday, September 21, 2019


Reluctantly, last night I signed back on to Netflix.  It's so easy that I begin to understand that signing on and off happens all the time.  But then they begin to ask the same dumb questions as always, like what is the number of my cell phone and no place to say I don't HAVE a cell phone, just a landline.  They keep wanting to know whether my child is watching but I don't HAVE a child.

I signed back on because I wanted to see the prequel to "The Dark Crystal," but I didn't understand that it's ten episodes in a series.  The characters are the same -- Skeksis and pod people, but no sign of the wise old Turtles so far as I've watched.  The plot is like that of any crime series, adventures.  But I'll follow it to the end just to see the gimmicks.

The other films on offer are the same dreck as always, repetitions for an adolescent audience.  But then I stumbled across "Designated Survivor," which isn't "stunning" though it tries to echo "House of Cards."  Watching against the backdrop of real-time politics is amazing.  The idea is real: the practice of designating someone to stand clear whenever the entire governing body is in one place, an easy target for wiping out the lot.  It's sort of like identifying a designated driver when heading out for a party.  The difference from reality is that a bomb has destroyed the capital -- amazing CGI of the shell still standing, barely enough to be identified -- instead of Trump simply firing everyone.  There is no designated survivor of a madman president.  Maybe his children.

Kiefer Sutherland, considerably matured, has the Jimmy Stewart/Gary Cooper role: the earnest and honest All-American hero who will lead us through the events, pointing out the Constitution as he deals with the stereotypical people.  This modern version of the familiar trope has many females representing FBI, media, the bombshell blonde who is the designated survivor of Congress, the unbearably handsome hunk who is his chief of staff, the Muslim speech writer who is the only one who usually "gets it," and so on.  No gays.  No "Indians," the most undesignated survivors in the country.

The basic idea is an English one:  that a nation is best governed by a combination of the wealthy "nobility" and a separate but equal group of ordinary folks who govern with common sense and even compassion.  Kiefer's version is rather Ivy League, a liberal academic with the code name "Glasses", a category scorned by many these days.  We now realize scholars and activists have their own rotting corruption and are just as desperate to preserve the hegemony of old white men.  It's more usual to see this category as like the General Blowhard who is easy to spot as a villain.  

In fact, it's easy to guess that the screenwriters are going to make the villains internal to the country.  This film was written in 2016 and rumors of foul corruption were already in play.  There's no "cold war" element except in passing theories about villains.  No collaboration by the President with our worst enemies.

The "real" story is being written today in a hundred books, to say nothing of the Mueller report.  The daily news is as insane and salacious as the movie but a little strangely -- I've only seen a few episodes so far -- there's nothing about the President.  Nothing about Mafia.  In the reality version the President, insane and repellant as he is, dominates everything.  We thought Mueller was a stainless paladin, but it seems that a vicious teddy bear like Barr managed to cut him short.  In the film Russia or the Ukraine have not been mentioned.  There are no "Arabs" in robes.  The factors are necessarily simplified or we couldn't follow.  In fact, we can't really follow the reality.

As it happens, my Twitter feed includes a lot of Canadians and since my father's family farmed up there for a couple of decades, I'm aware of what happens even in the far north.  The indigenous people of the northwest were more invisible then and are now far more enraged than the rez people down here, who mostly just get through each day as best they can.  In fact, it appears that the political climate around the entire world is coming to a boil -- quite literally when you think of the planetary climate.

It's sort of a relief to watch a silly movie about things that threatens the order of our lives so deeply.  We can sort of ignore the problem of what we're going to eat -- partly because growing crops is more difficult and partly because the crops themselves are so altered and the soil so depleted that we aren't nourished -- and other problems as incredible as that.  Instead we can wonder where all the overweight people went, since there are none onscreen.  Many echoes of 9/11.

The Oval Office is at least not bright red.  There is a Remington knockoff or recast just like the one we see in the background all the time, but not the one that's always behind the president, which is a miniature version of the first successful bronze monuments cast in America.  It is intriguing that in the rubble of the Capital building is a damaged bit of a statue of an indigenous man.  You can tell he's an "Indian" because of feathers on his head.  I don't know what statue it's supposed to be, but I'll do a bit of research.  Because the movie-makers know most US people think Remington is a fabulous artist, the statuette has a spotlight on it in all shots of the Oval Office.  It's the American West, dominated by old white men on land they "own."

Life has a surreal quality these days.  I grip the good news stories but they are often trivial and slanted by the reporters anyway.  PBS seems off-point -- even Brooks and Shields come off as fuddy-duddies who just stammer out the same old bromides.  Frank Oz's fantasy seem more to the point.  There may not be ANY designated survivors.

PS:  I'm watching the movie and taking notes.  The wicked Michigan gov looks just like Gianforte.  "Kirkman" is the faux president's name.  It means "Church Man."  You know: moral.

Friday, September 20, 2019


Another characteristic of the two demographics I think about is that both are shattered by divisions of many kinds.  This may be what keeps them from becoming a unified power with more impact, but it may also keep them from committing to one path that turns out to be wrong.  The two big categories are what has been called "gay" but which has devolved into such a plethora of kinds and names that a whole website is devoted to a list.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gay,_lesbian_or_bisexual_people

We're far beyond thinking that any male that has female characteristics is "gay."  The divisions are every which way and are constantly changing. Age, location, economics, and more.  It turns out that there are a thousand variations on what people's private inner psyches desire, and that they develop over time.  Even keeping in mind a separation between sexual physical arousal and what a specific time and place stipulates as a proper gender role is barely possible.

If we go to a more neutral word than sex or love, maybe the idea of "attachment," wanting to be with and relate to a specific other, then we are confronted with cross-species relationships like kittens being mothered by Golden Retrievers or goats who are imprinted with a horse.  The sex part gets confused with feeding and sheltering -- in humans an economic issue.

Then the other group.  This might seem as though it ought to be the most emotionally unified people but in fact, indigenous identity is just as hot a topic.  "Indians" can be a politically demonized word, indigenous and autochthonous are Euro Latinate big fat words, redskins is disrespectful.  We are advised to use the specific names of tribes instead, but they tend to be in English or French or supplied as hostile nicknames by rivals.  

People obsess over "blood quantums" and claim to be "Indians" if they have small amounts of provenance over a number of generations and have always lived in the city -- and yet the overwhelming cultural nature of the identity is completely ignored.  The divisions run through "blended" families, sometimes separating half-sibs.  Small fractions of non-white inheritance overwhelm a person's majority white identity.

At first contact when the indigenous people were easily distinguished from Euros by simply looking at them, this might have made more sense.  But even then there was little awareness of how different a Zuni might be from a Lumbee.  The indigenous people had varied their nature to fit their ecosystems, so corn people were quite different from salmon people.  The hundreds of identifiable tribes each have their own systems.

Now that the world has been so homogenized and globalized, the very aspects that were once considered negative, meant to be stamped out, leading to the demonizing of "blanket ass" old-timers, is entirely reversed and those same people are praised and valued.  Blankets are given as prestigious gifts.

The whole issue of multiple identities in either context, gay or Indian, is stigmatized and politicized until tempers run high and injustice overwhelms common sense.  Funnily enough, there is overlap among gay indigenous people, esp those who engage in tribal pursuits disapproved by missionaries.  This often attracts gay people into tribal contexts where controversy immediately develops over whether these people are "two-spirits," or spiritual at all, whether being labeled a "berdache" means you are a prostitute, or whether not welcome on grounds of being white.

The unfortunate development of anthropology of the indigenous in the context of white academics and sensational novels plus later interpolations from urban peoples like political Blacks, have confused the most major historical divisions which were among the indigenous who were the objects of pity and sentiment, indigenous who were fiends and enemies, and indigenous who were innocent children of God.  This goes into a scramble that includes media sexpots who post selfies in defiance of lethal stalkers, and guys who just want to play basketball.  Everybody finds something to be indignant about.

All of this presses on the issue of archives.  Over the years I've accumulated a lot of clips, personal writing, books, and so on.  On my demise the books certainly are meant to go to the Blackfeet Community College.  In the meantime I'm still using some of them.  I think the materials about "teaching Indians" are so outdated that I'll just pitch them.  

I contacted the D'Arcy McNickle library of the Newberry Library in Chicago, about binders of letters from Darrell Robes Kipp, only to be patronized by a young white man who objected to me putting three-hole punches in the letters and rejected any notes.  Over the years I've seen much of this kind of material -- personal, joking, but often insightful -- censored and even destroyed to preserve reputations or certain political points of view.  I'd just as soon not let that happen.

I'm told that the Montana Historical Society has started a "box" of materials of mine from the years of circuit-riding as a UU minister, but when I tried to return records to the fellowships, the district, or the denomination, only one person would accept them.  Everywhere the mood is confusion and resistance.  We are in a kind of Dark Ages.  Trump is not so much a cause as a product of people who don't want to get involved.  It's expressed in money.

People who worry about my safety and reputation give me advice, but they rarely have a very good picture of what I do, where I've been, who I treasure, and who I'd like to rap on the head.  I'm trying to think about two levels:  what should be done if I die tomorrow and my niece in Oregon has to deal with this stuff; and what should be done if I can hang on another decade until the sea-change that is bound to come has transformed the whole layout.

Though Darrell Kipp has been gone for many years, I keep wanting to call him up  see what he thinks.  (I WAS disconcerted to call the Piegan Institute and have him answer the phone, though I knew it was just his voice on the answering machine.)


PS:  Articles are beginning to appear that explore how archives can be a viable idea in the face of the coming climate apocalypse. This may be the true "end of history."

Thursday, September 19, 2019


In this historical time when we are struggling to understand the truth and value of individuals by watching them in videos, whether fiction or fact, our most basic problem is discovering what a person "is" anyway.  Some of them insist that their virtue comes from the dominating Christian assumptions (which are largely shared by Islam and Judaism) and therefore take "God as their witness."  Others try to show that they are at least as smart as a college sophomore by expressing cynicism about whether any people anywhere are virtuous -- all is naturally selfish so it's okay for them to be selfish.  We just heard this in impeachment hearings.

While we are trying to figure out politically how to leave "God" out of it and still arrive at something ultimate and unchanging, there have been people struggling along to use various tests in the interest of describing a truly "good" person.  At least what qualities might be involved.  This study looks pretty interesting as a place to start.  It unfortunate that it's all so multi-syllabic.  I've tried making their lists look like lists.


"The results yielded two highest order factors 
Self and 
Self–Environment Interaction

6 middle order factors 
Emotional Self, 
Cognitive Self, 
Social Emotionality, 
Emotional and Cognitive Control, 
Ethical Emotionality and Behavior, 
Social Emotionality and Behavior)

12 factors at the bottom 
Ego Resiliency, 
Ego Strength, 
Intrapersonal Emotion, 
Personal Space Cognition, 
Interpersonal Cognition, 
Emotional Creativity, 
Externalized Interpersonal Emotion, 
Internalized Interpersonal Emotion, 
Emotional Motivation, 
Ethical Values 
Ethical Behavior).

"Significant outcomes of the current study
  • 1.  The basic psychological structure in humans comprised two separate super-modules (self and its interaction with environmental representation).
  • 2.  The two super-modules are ‘bridged’ by social emotion.
  • 3.  Meta-cognition seems to be a significant element of temperament and this poses important conceptual questions.
  • 4.  A defining finding was the frequent admixture of emotional and cognitive processes in the same module and even in meta-cognition.
  • 5.  An important characteristic of the current model is that it does not accept the hierarchical separation of ‘temperament’ vs. ‘character’ and locates both of them across all hierarchical levels and modules."
What I get out of this is that the study accepts the idea I've been proposing that a human being is the self-contained "meat sack" -- as the young rudely call the "in-skin" -- acting against the surrounding environment that presses on it as "out-skin." I'm so pleased to be in agreement, though they don't talk about the necessity of fittingness in terms of the specific ecology: city/country, sparse/plenty, high population/low population and so on.

Then there is the useful list of personal qualities that are helpful without directly saying which is "good" and which is "bad" except noting that having values and behavior requires both cognition (thinking) and emotion (attachments and expression).  I take it that's what they mean by a "frequent admixture of emotional and cognitive processes."

So what is "meta-cognition"?  "Metacognition is, put simply, thinking about one's thinking. More precisely, it refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one's understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one's thinking and learning and b) oneself as a thinker and learner."  This definition is from Vanderbilt University.

"Aside from these three components, metacognition also has three different types of metacognitive knowledge – (1) Declarative knowledge, (2) Procedural knowledge, and (3) Conditional knowledge. Declarative knowledge refers to the factual information that one knows, and can both be spoken or written."  This is from a psych website.

We have a living public example of a man who has no metacognition because of frontal temperal lobe deterioration.  The part of the brain behind the forehead is crucial to this kind of thinking.  It is not well-taught and is also absent from most of our media.  We teach what will earn money, not what will aid metacognitive knowledge, self-monitoring to see how well one is acting in the world.

What a citizen needs to know (the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, voting law, courtroom procedure) has been dropped in high schools.  The underlying principles of clear communication (intelligibility, vocabulary, context, sentence logic) have been dropped.  Economic principles have never been clearly framed.  The biological sciences are too scary and political to teach.  So there go the three main components of metacognition.  In my experience, kids know what they learned from television and computers.  They have contempt for their teachers because the faculty doesn't know that metacognition even exists. They teach content, not reflection about it.

Instead we learn game strategies, what is popular, and how to "gas-light" to control someone.  Unable to impact their environment, young people try to make themselves indelible and remarkable with tattoos, metal attachments, and radical behavior with no goal in mind.  I'd say they have become like the ball in a pinball machine except that was a game of my childhood, not theirs.

it's always wise to check the sources of "instruments" and studies like these, because then one can judge whether or not to accept the conclusions.  This study comes from a website called:  
https://www.biomedcentral.com  "A pioneer of open access publishing, BMC has an evolving portfolio of high quality peer-reviewed journals including broad interest titles such as BMC Biology".

"Open access" means that you don't have to pay hundreds of dollars to read the studies.  "Peer-reviewed" means that the members of the cohort or discipline that read these articles have read the writing and evaluated them.  "Broad interest" means that the articles are not just of interest to highly trained people, but have meaning for all of us.  They pride themselves on being sustainable (not flash in the pan, like much pop journalism) and continually reforming as knowledge increases, thus escaping the academic trap of one's value being dependent on yesterday's ideas in the heads of aging professors.

What would it be like if our government were open access, peer reviewed, broad interest, sustainable, continually reforming and free of aging legislators?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


The idea is out there that getting a book you wrote published is a kind of ultimate achievement that will show you're talented and achieving.  No one expected that books would be displaced by the internet.  But already people didn't understand ordinary publishing.  Some is powered by a red hot topic, like the political tomes that are pulling together theories and evidence right now.  People really want to know what's behind this chaos and evil.

But there are also gender-specific genres, romance novels for women, adventure "real life" for men.  Schools teach us certain books must be included in a real education, but once we're no longer forced, most of us never read them or think about them.  As usual, what impresses us best is material rewards ($) for mass popularity, like the NYTimes list of best sellers or the now defunct "Book of the Month Club."  Pure quality is so hard to define -- since it depends on the reader's idea of what that is -- it's barely discussed.  People will say that something is "good writing", but not be able to tell you why.

The invention of internet "publishing" changes the terms of writing.  One need not hoard the writing until there is a "book" to be published as a unit.  The reader can follow the development of writing as it grows in the mind and heart of the writer, sometimes transforming what was contradiction in the beginning.

I'm working on two "bodies of work," by others, one more than a decade of letters, typed before computers were invented, describing the process of developing an indigenous language immersion school for primary-aged kids, including the effort to fund and finally endow the school.  The other is more than a decade of blog entries, also describing a community for kids but this time one as flexible and inventive as the entries themselves.  The kids in this second case are without families but with the most penetrating and vulnerable of diseases, HIV/AIDS.  They are in distress but resourceful.

Neither writing nor editing, I'm organizing these materials for those who keep specialty archives, and hoping that I can preserve the work of two different and extraordinary men who dedicated themselves to their efforts and grew from it.  Why I ended up being a recipient of this writing -- some of it exceptional, poetic, and unexpected -- I don't know.  Perhaps one of them was a preparation for the other, though they didn't know each other and maybe wouldn't have liked or approved of each other.  If I had to draw a Venn diagram showing the two as overlapping circles, probably the commonality would be about prejudice, suffering, and how art/poetry/story can address them.

So if I'm in sympathy, why didn't I end up sponsoring a group the way these two men did?  (I did have a ministry, but it eluded me.)  Is it that I'm a woman who was taught that her role was enabling men?  Many women would make these two epistolary relationships into romances, even sexual, but that didn't happen.  The distance between ways of relating was necessary for the creation of letters and vignettes in the first place.  There was no money in it, as there would have been in the context of publishing where even women are paid for editing. I can work with print, not boys or little kids.

Both groups were risky, even dangerous, to themselves and others, and stigmatized but also eroticized.  Maybe that's what kept me fascinated, pursuing research that might show what was going on more clearly and even suggest ways to help.  Both men were highly intelligent, younger than me by a decade.  One is dead and the other is dying.  I'm feeling my age which is why is seems important to find archives.

At least partly involved is my turning away from materialism, which it seems to me involves at least partly denying awareness of damage, blindness to being used by others.  My family, survivors of the Depression and the conversion of agriculture to industry, is obsessed with a "living" which demands a certain standard.  They talk about hating their jobs.  I dumped all that, partly because idealistic work like ministry and teaching doesn't pay well anyway.  The only prosperous cousins run a "titty bar".  I learned to get along without fancy stuff, with the exception of the computer.  

This whole blog post is self-indulgent, but it's an attempt to change the terms of discussion.  Why should a woman claim "me-too" is her problem when attempting to survive on men's terms, instead of simply changing the terms of effort.  Of course, I didn't have children as one condition of living in a risky, low-income way.  Neither of the groups in these two bodies of work I guard have a lot of money.

I did devote the Sixties to hard work in service to one man, Bob Scriver.  My reward was marriage and some thought that meant money, though we were divorced before the money happened.  I left with no money and though he had millions, he didn't live any differently from before.  He didn't live for any others, in his will  he even cut off his own grandchildren.  His archive, the Montana Historical Society, does not serve his body of work -- which was not publishing but a thousand bronze sculptures -- with either curation or exhibition.  

I don't regret any of these years, which were a participation rather than simply receiving writing about what happens.  They taught me a lot.  I did publish in the traditional manner, one book entitled "Bronze Inside and Out" which was about the years with Bob Scriver when he went from local recognition to something like classic status.  So there's that.

In the last twenty years I've built another body of work by blogging and self-publishing.  What is unseen, iceburg like, is constant reading, thinking, and tracing patterns just for the pure "helluvit."  The dialogue about this must be what was attracting the two men who were each creating their own bodies of work around relationships with young humans.  The low-pay humanities jobs I had prepared me to look clear-eyed or at least unblinkingly at some terrifying, heart-breaking, and celebratory happenings.  That's the way real progress goes.  It's not about numbers or things.
“Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake….It is not a gift given but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one.”
from THE TOMBS OF ATUAN by Ursula LeGuin

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Someone remarked astutely that of all the aspects of our environment the one that remains most difficult to manage and yet most omnipresent everywhere, is other people.  One solution is the privatization of intimacy in a biological act of sex, about as intimate as it is possible to get to another person and dynamically efficacious on the spectrum of trust and safety in the best of circumstances.  When it is "cold," it can be demonic.  Playing on the sense of danger, risk, and possibility is enormously alive in these circumstances.

But also, group life introduces issues of conformity, status domination, group emotional melding, and the ways of doing things that we call culture.  Again, if it is cold, it is a cult, a hanging mob, a terrorist organization.

"Following trauma, an individual may shift from being optimistic, socially engaged, and emotionally resilient to being withdrawn, lacking purpose, and having difficulties feeling safe in the presence of others. These changes in behavior and psychological well-being reflect a disruption in how the brain regulates bodily functions through the autonomic nervous system. When the autonomic nervous system shifts into a state of defense, individuals experience hypervigilence for danger, intrusive sensations, body numbness, digestion problems (including irritable bowel), changes in appetite, disrupted sleep, sexual difficulties, fibromyalgia, and problems establishing and maintaining relationships."


Stephen Porges speaks of a neural platform for social interaction.  I think he is talking about a "worldview" that has been learned from one's experience and closest others, creating systems in the brain, circuits of thought and feeling that guide one through life.  Executive and physiological platforms that aren't working will prevent access to the thought processes one needs right then.

A "religious conviction," or belonging to a group that sustains a world view of like-minded people, is a way of coping with the need for safety that will keep one's "platform" or "worldview" working.  As one person put it, belonging to a community means you can risk venturing into fearful places because even if you are put under enough stress to shatter your "worldview," the community will remember who you are and remind you.  For some people, books can become a community of sorts.  Sometimes they are combined with live people or correspondence.  Care is necessary, because a community can present too many and too confusing ideas as well as becoming invested in control.

Porges' theorizing has focused on listening in terms of sound processing as language, but his ideas included a "window of communication" to coin a term for our presentation to each other of the "third" myelinated autonomic nerve connection directly from the brain to the face, controlling the speaking organs, breathing, heartbeat and gut -- which demonstrate the expression of emotion or feeling.  These communications carry listening and speaking, and their print derivations which are reading and writing.  But Porges did not develop systems for thinking about the experience of empathy which are somehow related.

Empathy as a concept is constantly corrupted by a 19th century system of thought based on pathos or compassion, which is being aware of the life and emotions of other beings, but not participating in them.  I mean, we do not feel sorry for the man living in a doorway and therefore join him -- rather we begin economic reforms that will make that necessity end.  It is a strong motivator of progressive laws and actions, which are characteristic of that century.  Going along with the pathos is the rational understanding that if we make life more fair and equitable for the least of us, it will improve the lives of everyone.  (This insight seems to have escaped many of us.)

When this philosophy of sentiment began to be indulgent and a venue of control, the reaction against it diminished it to pity and a source of superiority.  The entire mood of the polity turned to cold, hard, "brain" views of the world.  This was defended as "real" and effective, a source of the amazing technology that made us so greedy for more wealth.  It justified the murder of thousands and thousands of competitors as "efficiency," a euthanasia, "good death," though not for those who died.

Empathy is the ability to "become" the other person.  The most objective evidence is that of the person who sits on a couch and watches someone do something physically arduous: athletics, dancing, climbing.  Sensitive technical awareness operated by others will register that the muscles of the person doing nothing faintly echo what the active person is doing.  In fact, that's part of the pleasure of watching something like fencing, acrobatics, dance, games.  The phenomenon can be powerful enough that watching "tennis" can cause the watcher afterwards to have increased skill almost as much as practice.  So what is the result of constantly watching depictions of violence, esp. war?  Is it different from depictions of sex?  If the latter is porn, what is the former?  Which is worse, denial and elimination of such things. or struggling to understand?

For children, who are exposed to trauma or other things they have no neural platform to process, such social interaction will pull that intensity into their worldview, distorting it, and therefore stunting their ability to trust either sentiment or empathy, both of them classical and deeply human ways of handling catastrophe.  If there is an intimate and somehow trusted person, they may be able to rebuild but only with resistance.

What Porges brings up, but then leaves, is the conviction that when people share their worlds in conversation of one kind or another, we become able to understand far more, our neural platform is broader and more adaptable.  We can work together, eventually building amazing inventions.  He feels this is the jump that was made when humans first became able to talk and listen with understanding and to progress together.


Monday, September 16, 2019


When I first became enamoured with Unitarian Universalism. part of its charm was two ministers who were friends.  Alan Deale in Portland and Peter Raible in Seattle.  Both were PK's -- preacher's kids -- but nothing like the corrupt and debased children of Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell.  Evangelical rabble-rousers are not connected to congregations, a body of agreeing people who support and guide their minister, certifying his or her value.  These UU leaders had firsthand knowledge of congregations.  The two PK's grew up in congregations, which some people say is like growing up in a small town, and knew both their dark and protective sides.  

They had little use for the passionate emotions of a Big Daddy in the sky, having eaten breakfast with him for their entire childhood. In 1975 they had discovered Organizational Design and incorporated it into a Leadership School.  It was congregation-based, which is a bit of a necessity in a church based on congregational polity and no dogma.  (This means that their system of organizing is self-contained, not beholden to a larger denomination, but neither does it require a certain set of beliefs.)  In time any effective minister can persuade most of the people to think his or her way, but the power remains in the pew.

Unless the minister were "enthusiastic," that is, inspired by his or her own transcendent mysterious-seeming direct contact with . . . "something". Those who can feel it say it is electrifying, totally different from ordinary life, powerfully convincing.  Yet scientists say they can make people feel this exciting state with a bit of magnetic stimulation to certain parts of the brain.  (In the 20th century there was a great fascination with electrifying parts of the brain, either to feel God or to become more sane.)  Also, certain drugs or brain afflictions can evoke the same experience.  This suggests illusion.

It is ironically logical to believe there is something more than humans can know.  Any humble realist understands that there is far, far, far more "out there" that any human brain or even collaboration can grasp.  Perhaps more than in any other era our technologies have revealed more vast, eternal, infinite entities and processes than any human has ever had to wrestle with before, from the tiny molecules of cells to the terrifying endless stretch of time and space; from the mystery of who we are to the disconcerting knowledge that there were all these others, disappeared hominins.  So is something reaching down to us, in to us, or are we reaching out and up to find something?

More practically, from a minister's point of view, is it possible to call the Holy Spirit?  It seems clear that carefully designed liturgy, beautifully expressed words and music, a setting both grand and safe, can set the people vibrating and weeping.  What is that?  How does one do it?  Not to be obnoxious, but I have done it.  Or seemed to.  But in my experience the congregation did not enable or protect such experiences but rather ground them down and threw them out as distractions.  As a minister, at least, calling the Holy Spirit was like being a whore, triggering an addictive response that cannot be personally felt.  If I valued even closely thinking about anything like a Holy Spirit, it was necessary to be solitary.  Not even talk about it much.  To analyze it is in the face of peril, possibly destroying access.

Maybe what seemed like the landing of the Holy Spirit in the middle of a play, a symphony, an art museum, a long view across a deep mountain valley, was just a burst of emotion.  Nothing to do with the Mysterium Tremendum.  Once an organization begins to build on what seems miraculous and calls itself "religious" while trying to keep everyone from disssenting, we have entered the field of "organized" religion and all its justifications for bad behavior like war or oppression.  Soon members will be criticizing each other for not genuflecting properly, not paying enough tithe, or trying to make indulgent parents of their minister or God.  They exasperated even Jesus.

Congregations have their uses.  Denominations can be a way to keep people more or less on the same page and have an impact on the even larger culture.  But there is something that sweeps invisibly through our lives, a set of convictions, perceptions, morality, and aesthetic choices without thinking why.  Why did our country, supposed to be built on honor and compassion, suddenly turn to murderous greed, and then defend it?  Is it because the old system of values was based on a primitive notion of the world which smashed in the face of new knowledge?  Is it because since God is dead of evaporation, we can do anything and don't care?  Is it because individuals can do things that are monstrous and yet are never struck by lightning for it?

Can a sea change like this -- except positive -- be started by a new thrilling spiritual experience that seizes everyone with the inspiration to reform?  Or must these be person-contained perceptions of something that most never know is possible, a felt revelation of empowerment?

Every time I preached about this kind of moment, people came around afterwards to tell me they had felt this, maybe multiple times, but didn't really know what it was, what it meant.  They thought it was better to tell no one for fear of being mocked.  When I brought up the subject, even in seminary, it was turned aside.  People said it was blissful to have warm, safe times and a great satisfaction to rest after achieving something important, but it didn't mean there was another plane of existence that somehow reached through to us.  Others told about a chimp regarding in awe a mighty waterfall, and said it was evidence that even animals could be spiritual, so how could it be a human privilege?

Since Descartes we've wrestled with an imaginary split between logical rationality and the empathic sharing of felt meaning.  Perhaps we've let the first method overwhelm the second.  After all, greed and rejecting transfiguration are sensible ways to survive in a confounding world.  Take care of yourself and your own.  Ignore the rest.  Very possible.  People do it all the time.

In the end both my PK heroes have died -- of old age rather than lightning -- but not before being betrayed by this impulse in order to get status and expensive toys, to use relationships outside social rules, and to turn away from both congregation and denomination.  They didn't seem to suffer.  Neither ever confided that they had felt the Mysterium Fascinans and Tremendum.  Would it have made a difference?

Sunday, September 15, 2019


Brett Chapman is an "Indian" attorney in Tulsa who specializes in Defense at this point in his career.  He's also on Twitter and posts about indigenous people.  I'm reacting to his recent post about Julia Wades in the Water, a Blackfeet woman famous for being the first NA female police officer in US, working with her husband who was also a policeman.  She's quite well-known and often wore ceremonial clothes to be alongside her husband, greeting big shots from back east.

Julia's period, the first decades of the 19th century, was recorded by photographers and artists because they still remembered the ways of their grandparents in the days of the treaties and first reservations, but were capable of operating in the "modern" world of the time.  At major events they presented the Old World, but then went on with daily business after the celebrities were gone.  The photos of the private daily lives of the rez people were not popular and unseen until recently when people like Paul Seesequasis began to collect them.  Even Adolph Hungry Wolf, whose amazing collection of photos in his four Good Medicine set of books, stuck mostly to posed images.  The general idea was that the old Blackfeet culture was disappearing and should be recorded, but that once the tribal people were assimilated, they were no longer interesting.

When I came in 1961, Julia and her cohort were pretty much gone.  "Old" Jim Whitecalf was still around.   "Young" Jim Whitecalf was my age, early twenties.  Both are dead now.  I'm prompted by Chapman's tweet to look at Google.

This is a quite grand and near lifesize portrait by Winold Reiss.

"Julia Wades in the Water of the Blackfeet was the first Native  American woman police officer in the U.S. and served her people on the reservation in Montana for three decades from her first shift in 1905 until the 1930s. She was very strong and respected by all."

"They accomplished so much in their life,  she and my grandpa Wades.  we have pictures, my other cousin has pictures of them where they meet with Harry Truman," said Salois Solway, her granddaughter."   (Intriguingly, the name  Solway implies relatives who were Metis.)

"She said Wades In The Water inspired her to study law and she served as a  tribal judge, because it was simply in her blood. Wades in the Water and her husband also took pictures with tourists and camped in Glacier National  Park."

"Julia Wades in the Water was a member of  the Blackfeet Nation and became the first American Indian policewoman shortly after the turn of the 20th century. She served at the Blackfeet Agency in Montana for 25 years until her retirement in the 1930s." 

"Julia Wades in Water served her community managing the detention facility and assisting with female suspects. She sustained many warm friendships among the Blackfeet and the non-Native people of northern Montana.  This pioneering law enforcement woman was deeply invested in maintaining the values and safety of their community, and Blackfeet of that era remember all her contributions "


This link is from the diary of John C. Carter, who was a lawyer and a Brigadier General in the Confederate army.  He made a trip through the West in 1932.  The document is a PDF that won't let me edit out sentences, but it's more than just interesting to read as a whole anyway.  The white government officials and the elite of the tribe acted in unity to welcome and impress visitors.  Bob Scriver was 18 in this year and probably played his cornet in the Blackfeet Brass Band.  When he became its director, a white beaded buckskin suit was made for him and most people may not have realized he was white.  

It was a very "bourgeoisie" time, just tipping into the Depression, and people valued brass bands, travel to exotic places, conformity to politeness and social ceremonies, and a kind of patronage of "foreign" peoples that today is seen as condescending and even racist.  Forrest Stone was the agency head at this time.  He must have had a big house because his other guests included Major General Hugh L. Scott, who was making a major effort to record signtalk.  (There is a vid, very serious at first and dissolving into funny stories later) and he took imprints of the participant's feet which were cast in bronze and are still in front of the Museum of the Plains Indian.  The sculptor Voisin may have helped with this.  Other guests were the tall red-headed F.C. Campbell, who was arguably the most successful of previous Indian agents, and his daughter.

A lunch of sandwiches and iced tea is held, and then the guests go to the rodeo which still exists, much improved, at the fairgrounds.  Carter speaks of the adjacent campgrounds, so it must be Indian Days.  The plan is to leave the rodeo early in order to go to Heart Butte for a Medicine Lodge sponsored by Tom Horn.  The host drives a "Ford V8" just like the one Carter has at home.  Oliver Sanderville has been asked to speak in sign language and he goes on and on.  "Old" Jim Whitecalf dares Scott to ride a bucking bronc and says he will also ride one.

When the folks return from Heart Butte, they go to the lodge of Wades in the Water on the Indian Days campground.  Carter says that Julia speaks "some" English.  She is warm and helpful.  Charlie Russell has recently died and a female white sculptor, "Mrs. Lincoln", is there to take photos to use for making a memorial.   Her behavior was rude. She did not accept guidance about her behavior and offended all the Blackfeet but they pretended they didn't notice. The whites present tried to control her but couldn't.  

The leading tribal people mentioned were still powerful in the Sixties.  This preservation of on-the-spot observations is something like the fine portraits of Winold Reese, about the same time except not quite so formal.  It hints at a dimension of reservation life that isn't known to most of the art and novel aficionados, mostly white, who buy what they think of as authentic.  The depictions are dramatic and usually feature peak moments that are quite different from the police work of Julia Wades-in-the Water which was mostly managing prisoners, esp. women, at the station.  Jail was real, Julia was real police, and people still spoke real Blackfeet.  No one with good connections was in jail for long, but propriety covered up a lot of suffering that visiting whites never saw.  

Much of what we think of as "authentic anthropology" as collected by whites comes from the memories of these twentieth century folks about their grandparents.  Both Charlie Russsell and James Willard Schultz never saw what they used in their work, but gathered it from these people.  Today a "library account" will be what the early 20th century Blackfeet reported.