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Bones Carrying On
Without soul to move them
Welcome to the midweek(ish) version of An Irritable Métis. This is where things are usually a little more random, a little less … irritable. If you forgot what all this is even about, you may remind yourself here. If you want to help keep a writer out of hard labor, well….
Rename the Arch
This just past March 1st commemorated the 150 year anniversary of Yellowstone Park. The park is magnificent and I love it, even if reflecting on it (and Glacier too) is a circumstance where I can hold two bitterly conflicting thoughts in my head at the same time. First, the deep love I I have for the landscape; its grandeur, and all the magnificent wildlife … but also how our national parks are glaring symbols of colonialism and genocide that trigger the worst of my ill feelings about America. I’ve touched on the decolonization of conservation before. I think about it all the time and will write about it more in the future. This is part of that.
The website for Yellowstone Forever mentions the following (highlights mine):
Today, the National Park Service recognizes 27 individual Tribes with historic and modern-day ties to Yellowstone: Assiniboine and Sioux, Blackfeet, Cheyenne River Sioux, Coeur d’Alene, Comanche, Colville Reservation, Crow, Crow Creek Sioux, Eastern Shoshone, Flandreau Santee Sioux, Gros Ventre and Assiniboine, Kiowa, Little Shell Chippewa, Lower Brule Sioux, Nez Perce, Northern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, Oglala Sioux, Rosebud Sioux, Salish and Kootenai, Shoshone–Bannock, Sisseton Wahpeton, Spirit Lake, Standing Rock Sioux, Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa, Umatilla Reservation, and Yankton Sioux.
The excerpt comes from the page of the website that briefly discusses the history of the park. This photograph accompanies it:
During my workshop at Lamar Buffalo Ranch last month a woman who is on the board of YF asked what I thought needed to be done to improve the park’s relationship with Indigenous people, or to address how they’ve been removed. My first thoughts are always to just give it the hell back. Really.
But here is something we can do first in the interim, while we work out those #landback details. Consider the name of the famous arch at the park’s northern entrance in Gardiner: the Roosevelt Arch. It is named for Teddy Roosevelt, who “laid the cornerstone at a ceremony that drew thousands of guests, and much fanfare” in 1903. From a list of Ten Interesting Facts about the arch, here are two of note:
The Arch was not originally intended to honor Roosevelt, but was so named because the president happened to be vacationing in the park during the Arch’s construction, and was asked to speak at the dedication ceremony.
And then this one:
After the dedication, Theodore Roosevelt never returned to Yellowstone, so he never visited the completed Arch.
Roosevelt was many things but being someone I exalt for any reason is not one of them. Among the many faults that the members of his fan club tend to overlook is this quote: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are,” Roosevelt said during a January 1886 speech in New York. “And I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”
So when I see the image of the teepees beneath that arch, it triggers my rage for all the same reasons people successfully had the Roosevelt statue removed from out front of New York’s Museum of Natural History for last January.The man was a racist and an imperialist and an arrogant prick. Why should the arch carry his name if he never even saw the bloody thing and spent essentially zero time in Yellowstone? And who in their right mind never saw the irony in pitching teepees under it given his thoughts on Indians? Assign it an Indian name instead. I’m sure any one of those 27 tribes would happily come up with a better one. Literally any name would be better. I’d prefer Archy Archington if it came down to it.
Hardware for Mara
My friend Mara Panich leveled the eff up last year, all the more impressive since it was in the middle of a global pandemic. She flat out up and bought the bookstore she toiled in for over a decade and, far as I know, continues to kick ass there. She also published her first book: a collection of poetry called Blood is Not the Water. The book is beautiful, and is being recognized so: it was just announced that it has been selected as an Honor Book for the 2021 Montana Book Awards. Wow! That’s a big deal and it is well-deserved and I’m very happy for her. What a magnificent reinvention she’s accomplished. Get in on the ground floor of being able to say, “I knew her when…. ” before it’s too late.
It just so happens her birthday is only a couple weeks away. Please consider BUYING HER BOOK. It will be a kindness that checks several boxes: 1) you’ll make her happy (and she’ll sign it too); 2) you’ll support an indie writer AND an indie press; and 3) you’ll be supporting the owner of a small business integral to its community. That’s a lot of boxes! So, yes … please.
A Kind of Homecoming
I don’t know how many people reading this newsletter live anywhere near Lewistown, Montana, but I’m excited to say I am doing a Métis/Little Shell talk there on March 24th, and it will be in person. I’m thrilled. Lewistown is where the La Tray Family story in Montana really starts, at least as it relates to my dad’s side of things. My paternal ancestors are among the group of families who started what became the town way back in 1879 after they chased dwindling buffalo herds down out of the Red River valley, dodged U.S. Cavalry bullets up and down the Milk River, and then finally settled along Spring Creek in what is now called Central Montana. I mean, this picture is in the Lewistown museum and it is captioned, “La Trays.” The axes that hewed the logs of that cabin earned their notches cutting wood for steamboats running up the Missouri River too; my Great Great Grandfather Mose La Tray was one of those woodhawks.
This is a big deal to me. I’m doing a bunch of stuff while I’m there; an interview for a podcast, a meeting with excellent folks from the American Prairie Reserve, a workshop with some teenage writers, and then the event itself. I’m tired thinking about it but also STOKED. If you’re anywhere near there, I’d love to see you.
I’m just a couple weeks away from when I “turned on” the option for paid subscriptions. What a year it’s been too. I never would have imagined the support I’ve gotten and I can’t thank you enough. Truly. Hopefully things have been interesting enough that you’ll re-up when you are (presumably) reminded to by whatever goes on behind the scenes of this place. I love the little community that has grown up here despite my efforts to alienate everybody. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, well….
Back to Mara. Here is a poem from Blood is Not the Water; one of my favorites. In fact I read it as part of my week-long residency for Spokane Public Radio what seems like a decade ago. You can hear that HERE, if you are so inclined. Meanwhile:
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I love Yellowstone Forever. I’m a member and I led a workshop for them at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch last winter. I’m doing another one in Auguand hope to return in the winter again. They do excellent work and every person I’ve interacted with from the organization has been top notch. In celebration of the 150 years, you may donate to them HERE if you are so inclined.
I only wish that statue was rendered down to a puddle of whatever it’s made of than moved somewhere else. Let’s jackhammer his face off Mount Rushmore while we’re at it, along with those of the other three assholes up there.
I realize Indians were probably part of this decision and failed to see the irony. That too is an ongoing symptom of colonialism and generational trauma. EDIT: A clearer version of what I am trying to say here is this: I realize Indians were probably part of this decision and failed to see the irony. This type of thing is OFTEN an ongoing symptom of colonialism and generational trauma. At the time of this writing I have no idea why the tipis are there or if Indians are/were even involved.
Bookstores are all that and more, you know.