How Do You Manage
Since you Indians don't have internet
Boozhoo! Aaniin! Welcome to another edition of An Irritable Métis. I continue to get a steady increase in new subscribers, most of whom are arriving as recommendations from other newsletters … so those of you writers doing so, chi-miigwech! That means thank you very much in Ojibwe. As for you newcomers, I don’t know what info you get when you sign up but you can always find out more here, I think. Remember it’s never too early to keep a writer out of hock, so if you suddenly find yourself more flush than usual, here is one means of excess financial liberation….
The header photograph here is the view from the backside of what is left of Fort Assiniboine near Havre, Montana. The camera is looking roughly south/southeast; those are the Bear Paw Mountains off in the distance. It was in the foothills of those mountains where, in 1877, the U.S. military finally caught up with Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce relatives just shy of the Medicine Line into Canada. I visited that battlefield the same day I took this image, which would have been January 24th, 2020. It was a haunting experience, visiting that place … and the fort too, for that matter. Nothing good for Indigenous people happened in either location.
If one faced this direction in the late 1890s/early 1900s, you would have seen a significant collection of poor and starving Cree and Chippewa Indians led by Little Bear and Rocky Boy (Stone Child) camped here. They and their people were landless after years of land theft, starvation (the buffalo were gone), and being promised support by the government (both Canadian and American) that never came, and finally treated as refugees from the Métis rebellion in Canada led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Something had to be “done for” these Indians and public opinion by then was against wholesale slaughter1. What ultimately resulted was the Chippewa-Cree reservation at Rocky Boy, just south and west of what we can see in this photograph. When I need to simplify the answer to the question of who my Little Shell people are, I typically say we are the thousands of Indians who wouldn’t fit on that tiny reservation that was supposed to hold all of us.
The shaped fields in my photo don’t tell much of a story. Two hundred years ago, depending on the season, it would have been prairie grass teeming with bison and grizzlies and all manner of assorted wildlife who supported the lives and industry of many area tribes. Can you imagine what it would have been like? I think about it all the time, especially whenever I am in the area. I am thinking about it right now.
Nothing is stopping you from pausing a moment to think about it too.
The trip to the fort and the battlefield were part of the weekend I mention in THIS PIECE about James Welch that I wrote for the Missoulian in preparation for the inaugural James Welch Native Lit Festival that happened in Missoula last weekend.2 The festival was everything I hoped it would be and then some. I found myself more involved than I expected but that was fun too. Now I am paying an emotional price in the aftermath of so much socializing, and I find myself … depressed, I guess is the word. Sad.
It is a whiplash of high and low. The high being surrounded exclusively for a few days by people who get what makes you irritable. To not be the only Indigenous person on a panel, for example, or in an entire festival. Little things like that. People who know what it’s like to be asked really dumb questions related to being Indian, all of it. To know what it’s like to grow up with all the weird struggles over family and identity and erasure. It makes a difference.
The low of course is how literally overnight all of these people are gone again. I don’t have the means to contact hardly anyone3 so in some ways it’s like it never happened and it is unsettlingly weird. To wake up and realize I’m not going to see Tommy and Heather and Sterling and Louise and Sasha and Kelli Jo and Brandon and Mandy and Vic and everyone else today. Or maybe ever. Of all the people involved with the festival, Lois is probably the one I encounter most because she reads this newsletter and sometimes writes to me. I don’t know that any of the others do, and I’m not active in any of the social media currents or professional academic currents and etc. that the others are. Which is probably for the best, given the constant drama in and around the Native writing community. I’m reminded how I was once asked by a woman from the audience of a panel I was (the only Indian) on how Indians managed since we “don’t have the internet.” I assured her we do in fact have the internet, and have mastered its use to find amazing new ways to not get along.
I’m not complaining, I’m just facing the reality of the world that I think the festival was created to address: to highlight Native literature, yes, but also to bring us together, to solidify some connections. Time will tell if it achieves any of this. For many of us now it’s just back to lives largely unpopulated by other Indians, and it is hard. At least I am finding it hard.
I do have a couple things to look forward to. In just a couple weeks — August 23 – 25, to be exact — I’ll be representing the Little Shell at the All Nations Teepee Village in Yellowstone National Park on behalf of the Mountain Time Arts organization as part of their Yellowstone Revealed celebration. This should be cool. Come out and visit me if you can!
Next up, at the end of the month (August 27 – 28) is the Little Shell Powwow in Great Falls, our first since Covid. I’ll be there!
Finally, I am doing a Little Shell/Métis presentation in Lewistown at the gorgeous American Prairie Discovery Center (details coming) on Thursday, September 1st, just before Labor Day weekend … which is also when there is usually a Métis celebration I plan to attend (if it’s happening).
So the summer is going to end well, I think. I hope yours does too. Maybe we will get a big rainstorm soon. And maybe I’ll get to see some of you.
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Genocide continued – continues – of course, just less overtly to those not paying particular attention
I published an interview with Lois Welch for High Country News as well, which you may dig HERE. The challenge was constraining Lois to 800 words, which isn’t nearly enough.
Because, amazingly, and certainly a surprise to white editors and so forth trying to “diversify”, we don’t all automatically know each other