Books Are Life

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For most Indians the only special place in front of a library might be a heating grate or a piece of sun-warmed cement but that’s an old joke and I used to sleep with my books in piles all over my bed and sometimes they were the only thing keeping me warm and always the only thing keeping me alive.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Proper Burial

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Jesse WildShoe died last night and today was the funeral and usually there’s a wake but none of us had the patience or energy to mourn for days so we buried Jesse right away and dug the hole deep because Jesse could fancydance like God had touched his feet. Anyhow we dug the hole all day and since the ground was still a little frozen we kept doing the kerosene trick and melting the ice and frost and when we threw a match into the bottom of the grave it looked like I suppose hell must look and it was scary. There we were ten little Indians making a hell on earth for a fancydancer who already had enough of that shit and probably wouldn’t want to have any more of it and I kept wondering if maybe we should just take his body high up in the mountains and bury him in the snow that never goes away. Maybe we just sort of freeze him so he doesn’t have to feel anything anymore and especially not some crazy ideas of heaven or hell.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Beauty, Ants and Laughter

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There is something beautiful about broken glass and the tiny visions it creates. For instance, the glass from that shattered beer bottle told me there was a twenty-dollar bill hidden in the center of an ant pile. I buried my arms elbow-deep in the ants but all I found was a note that said Some people will believe in anything. And I laughed.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Just Add a Sweater

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The chair in which Jim Chee sat was covered with a stiff green plastic. He felt the chill of it through his uniform shirt. The house was the “summer hogan” of the Kinlicheenies. There was no heating stove in it. In a while, when the high country frost arrived full force, the family would shift its belongings into the old earth-and-stone “winter hogan” and abandon this poorly insulated structure to the cold. Until then, the problem of the chilly margin between the seasons was solved by wearing more layers of clothing. Fannie Kinlicheenie looked about eight layers deep. Chee wished he had worn his jacket in from the patrol car.

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

Definition of a Witch

The word witch has many meanings in the United States, some good and some bad. The historic usage as a slur for people who practice earth-based religions or anyone practicing herbal medicine or midwifery, has resulted in unfortunate misunderstandings and excuses for senseless violence. For more information about the Pagan community and it’s use of the term ‘Witch’ see: Witches’ Vox, Starhawk, and History of Witch Burnings.

The following quote describes a very specific cultural perspective based on a definition that falls under the ‘bad witch’ category. It is not a reference to modern Paganism or the US history of witch burnings. It’s also a quote from a novel – only members of the Navajo nation could say, definitely, how accurate this information really is.

I went back and forth on these quotes and ultimately decided to post them because they are a wonderful example of the style used by this author and an excellent segment of descriptive color in a work of fiction. Also, I do not see anything racially or culturally offensive in the quote.

If there are problems in the presentation of the Navajo culture or additional issues surrounding the use of the word witch, then they are valid concerns and worthy of further discussion. If I am blind to a problem, I invite you to open my eyes. Feel free to add comments accordingly.

Quotes:

“And finally Chee had accumulated a general impression of Windy Tsossie. It was a negative impression. His kinsmen and his clansmen, when they admitted remembering him at all, remembered him without fondness or respect. They talked of him reluctantly, vaguely, uneasily. No one put it in words. Since Chee was Navajo, no one needed to. Windy Tsossie did not “go in beauty.” Windy Tsossie was not a good man. He did not follow those rules which Changing Woman had given the People. In a word, Windy Tsossie was believed by his kinsmen to be a witch.”

“To become a witch, to cross over from Navajo to Navajo Wolf, you have to break at least one of the most serious taboos. You have to commit incest, or you have to kill a close relative. But there’s another story, very old, pretty much lost, which explains how First Man became a witch. Because he was first, he didn’t have relatives to destroy. So he figured out a magic way to violate the strongest taboo of all. He destroyed himself and recreated himself, and that’s the way he got the powers of evil.”

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

Definition and Purpose of Marriage

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Barnes & Noble

The following quotes all occur within a few pages (or paragraphs) of each other.

Quote 1:

The territorial, state, and federal governments of the United States were built upon a particular vision of civic responsibility—that men, as heads of households, entered civic life on behalf of their dependents: wives, children, servants, and slaves. The political system of the United States was predicated upon this vision, overwhelmingly reserving suffrage, jury service, elected office, membership before the bar, and judicial appointments to white male heads of household and limiting the legal rights of all others by their degree of separation from that ideal.

Quote 2:

These ideas clashed forcibly with the conceptions of kinship and social order that existed among the Upper Midwest’s long-established Dakota, Ojibwe, and mixed-heritage communities.

Quote 3:

Marriages of all kinds, and the households that marriages created, were inextricably bound up with questions of nation and identity for the Dakota, the Ojibwe, mixed-heritage individuals, and Americans alike.

Making Marriage: Husbands, Wives, and the American State in Dakota and Ojibwe Country by Catherine J. Denial

Article about this book: There’s never been ‘traditional marriage’ in Minnesota, says author Catherine Denial, Minn Post, Amy Goetzman | 09/27/13

Never Expect Charity

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“Don’t think a man don’t care about one goat because he’s got a thousand of ’em,” Hosteen Nakai would say. “He’s got a thousand because he cares more about goats than he cares about his relatives.” In other words, don’t expect the rich to be generous.

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

The Reason People Do Not Trust The Police: Abduction and Human Trafficking

Having lived and worked in both the Fargo/Moorehead area and Duluth, MN, this story does not surprise me. Sadly, it is far from the first time I’ve run across an article like this. Also, this is neither the first nor the last woman to experience this problem, yet police continue to refuse to take it seriously: Crimes against Native American women raise questions about police response, The Guardian, by Zoe Sullivan (01/19/2016)

North Dakota nightmare: Lake Vermilion woman abducted, taken to Bakken oil patch, The TimberJay, by Marshall Helmberger and Jodi Summit (06/03/2015)

A woman was traveling through North Dakota when she found herself stranded. While contacting family on her cell phone she was abducted:

The man had snuck up behind her while she was messaging friends and family members on her progress and was focused on her laptop computer. It was the last message her family would receive for almost a week.

Somehow she managed to escape:

The following few days, she said, are lost in a fog, as her abductor may have kept her drugged. She woke up to the dinging of an open car door, and found herself lying in the backseat of a beat-up Honda Accord with a missing back window. With her abductor apparently outside the vehicle, she stumbled out of the back seat and crawled away. “I tried to run,” she said, but her vision was blurry. Despite that, she managed to make her way down a steep ditch and her abductor apparently didn’t pursue her, but her memory of her escape is far from clear.

And survived through the help of a Good Samaritan:

While she had begun her ordeal in Casselton, in far eastern North Dakota, after escaping her abductor she found herself in a remote part of northwestern North Dakota. She said she wandered for at least two days, without food or water, before finally being rescued by a North Dakota man, who spotted her wandering across open country near the tiny town of Wildrose.

Then the police do THIS:

While Edith had hoped her experience would help law enforcement officials apprehend a kidnapper and possible human trafficker, she soon discovered that officers at the Williston Police Department had little interest in her story. She said officers refused to take a statement about her abduction. Instead, they ran her own record and found a 2011 traffic violation from Grand Forks still outstanding—and arrested her on a bench warrant for the unpaid ticket.

“I kept trying to tell them that I’d been taken, but they wouldn’t listen. One officer told me I was full of __it and was just trying to get out of the warrant,” said Edith.

According to Edith, the Williston police offered no medical assistance. Instead, they booked her into a holding facility overnight and shipped her to a jail in Minot the following day.

This is just one of the many reasons why people do not trust the police. It’s also living proof that the militarization of the police force is ineffective. When police officers are so distanced from the human beings they are tasked to serve that they can’t recognize a situation for what it is…or take the OPPORTUNITY it presents to capture a REAL bad guy…then there is something seriously wrong.

Learning Through Listening

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Barnes and Noble

For what? Chee thought. But he didn’t say it. His mother had taught him one learns through the ear and not the tongue.

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

International Sorry Day – Alaskan Children

Barnes and Nobel

May 26th is National Sorry Day in Australia. As I’ve stated before, the forcible removal of children from their families in an effort to destroy languages, cultures and religions is a human rights violation that has occurred world wide. In honor of International Sorry Day (an unofficial holiday), I am posting this quote is from a book about an Inuit child who suffered this violation. Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867 and the last residential school closed in 1996, so the residential schools program is a history shared by Canada and the United States.

Quote:

“Olemaun,” he whispered. I had not heard my Inuit name in so long I thought it might shatter like an eggshell with the weight of my father’s voice. At the school I was known only by my Christian name, Margaret. I buried my head in my father’s smoky parka, turning it wet with tears. I felt a touch much gentler than my father’s strong grasp as my mother’s arms joined his. Together they sheltered me in that safe place between them.

Not My Girl, written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

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