All too often I do things against my better judgment, that fly in the face of being the person I am trying to be. Here is an example. The other day I spent the morning writing and by lunchtime was looking forward to a break. Sometimes after a span like that the need is as much to get out of the house and clear the brain, breathe different air, whatever, as it is to quell a growling stomach. So rather than make a peanut butter sandwich (which comprises the main course of three out of every five or so of my meals, heh) I drove up to the Wye—the intersection of I-90 and Highway 93—to hit the McDonald's drive-thru, a loathsome choice I don't make all that often but sometimes do.
While waiting in the lane to place my order I can hear a few cows lowing and my stomach lurches a bit because, this being a truckstop McDonald's, I figure there must be a cattle truck nearby. Then I am leaving, my food on the seat next to me. I find myself right behind the cattle truck as we queue up to merge back onto the overpass. I can see shapes moving through the tiny holes that make the whole thing look like a giant cheese grater. There is a cow, her face pressed against the grate of the side panel, looking right at me. I can see her eyes. They are wide with fear. She isn't making any noise but plenty of her companions are and they are loud. A stream of shit sprays out of the upper level and down the side of the trailer. I am horrified; horrified with myself at my continued failure to adopt a vegetarian diet in the face of knowing how this sentient creature, with her own desire to live and enjoy her own kind of happiness, will be cruelly ground into a vile form of sustenance that will contribute to the destruction of not only the world we all share, but with grave ramifications to the health of not just my embattled soul but of all of our souls. It horrifies me, and I'm still in the midst of the resulting wave of self loathing that comes in the wake of such encounters with my own disgusting hypocrisy and guilt.
There are other ways I often fail to live up to my efforts to be kind and give people the benefit of the doubt; we are all doing the best we can, aren't we? The rest of this message is not about those failures, though.
When it comes to books, more than any other medium I take the approach of, "If you can't say something nice.... " then I don't say anything at all. Writing is hard and tastes are varied. But I didn't follow that typical path last week re: a couple books and I've gotten some response, some chastisement, and even some mild lecturing (tone policing?) via email response to it. None of it is unexpected, especially given the small world nature of this writing community. While there isn't a single word in what I wrote that I regret or will rescind, I do feel compelled to follow up one more time.
I'll begin with the book about the basketball team. I've heard from a number of people I know and respect that the author is a good and humble man doing some wonderful things that would provide favorable answers to a couple of the questions I raised ... but he doesn't want anyone to know about them. That pleases me to know though I wish he would say so if only to call out the other people who aren't so noble. It's no different than letting slide "locker room talk" about women among your friends, is it? You might turn around and donate to Planned Parenthood or something on the sly, but if your peers don't know then how much are you really standing up for anyone? It's not my decision, though. At least he's doing things right, or at least his friends coming to his defense say so.
I also get the sense that a couple of these friends enlightening me are irritated that I dared to take him to task in the first place. But here's the thing: if you come into Indian Country as a representative of East Coast media, whether in the form of book publishing or glossy publications that so rarely get it right, and you choose not to share the ways in which you're different? You're a target. Especially if you're a white dude. That's just how it is, because 99% of the time if it looks like exploitation, and it smells like exploitation, well....
I'm throwing past writers like Ian Frazier and Peter Matthiessen on that pile too, both white dudes I've admired that wrote books from Indian Country in past years that I look at now with a much different view....
The other book, about guns? There are important things to be said about the discourse around guns in this country. This book is probably a good place to start. But. I'm outraged still that the publication originally open to a review (and paid for it but didn't publish) backed away out of what I see as complete cowardice. I wouldn't expect this book to be only about guns and Indians, but to ignore it completely? That has to be part of the conversation. It has to be. I've had a couple people mention The Second by Carol Anderson. It is a great book and essential. But it is almost entirely about guns vs. Black people. We are in Montana and I'm going to raise hell whenever an instance arises where Indians are ignored. Give me a fucking chapter at least that shows that, for all of a career-righteously-abandoned in a murderous industry you even once considered what those guns did to my people. The people whose stolen land you are living on right now.
Who stands up for Indians? A white woman is tragically and accidentally killed on a movie set and look at all the media attention. Where is the attention for Brendon Galbreath, a young Blackfeet man murdered by Missoula police months ago who still refuse to answer so many questions? Where is the noise from Missoulians, who bought stacks and stacks of social justice books in the wake of George Floyd but clearly either didn't read them or don't have any interest in challenging the structures of power in this white-as-fuck community?
Every time I write about this stuff my blood starts boiling and I start sweating. Look at the representative from the National League in the World Series. How is their name and mascot still acceptable to, what, millions of baseball fans? Where is the outrage? A bunch of white people will call us racists for being angry, and a few Indians will even call us "pussies" for not seeing the "honoring" the name actually implies. Those are all bullshit examples of colonized minds. There are tens and tens and tens of thousands of Indians who would disagree with all of that pro-mascot rhetoric.
There are other examples. Boarding schools. Crime statistics. MMIWG2S statistics. Pipelines.
Who stands up for Indians?
The anniversary of my father's death is October 30th. It has been seven years, now. I have spent most of those years investigating the history of our shared ancestry, wondering how much he knew and chose not to celebrate. He didn't live to see me quit my old job. He didn't live to see me find the roots of our people, to get enrolled with the Little Shell. He didn't live to see me stand in front of a room of people and make it very clear that we Little Shell, we Métis people in Montana, deserve better than we have gotten from the settlers and their long line of land thieves and exploiters and we aren't going to be quiet about it anymore.
My dad never had anyone stand up for him and his people and make it clear there was nothing to be ashamed of for being who they are. He—a guy who would punch someone in the face, something I've never actually done—would say, and I can hear his voice in my head, that he doesn't NEED anyone to stand up for him. "Fuck. Everyone," he says. I hear it because that is most often my first response too, inherited from him,;a rage and an often irrational view as an outsider to a world that feels made for other people. But we all need people to stand up for us. I'm not talking about people who think sharing a meme or hanging a poster or sticking a bumper sticker on their car to virtue signal themselves as allies. I mean people with the courage to take some risks that may alienate a few people. There are lines drawn now on this shared landscape and I will not back away from holding them, for me, for my dad, for our people, for anyone who has never felt welcome in this cis/white/bullshit culture.