So You Think Your Life Was Wasted – Section Three (2)

You may think you know where this entry is going after the first couple of paragraphs, but I think that, like me, you will be surprised.

January 7, 2006

A friend gave me the DVD of “Dances With Wolves” for Christmas. and I am watching it on my computer, a little at a time. The following is from this morning’s journaling.

I do not understand why watching this movie still hurts so much. Whenever it is of the white man learning the Indian ways, for one thing. My active raw pain is no less than it was in 1992 and I understand it no better. I was building a little fire and I realized I perhaps haven’t been seeing those scenes just from the white man’s side – as I had thought. I have called myself, so many times, a white Indian. And I suddenly realize it is more like I am caught between the two. And now I know why. This can never be validated but it can be experienced.

Friend, I am awake to your presence. I welcome and honor you. Will you speak to me and tell me what it is I have to do for our people?

Yellow Hair.

My name? Your name? Isn’t that what they called Custer?

Yellow Hair. You must be patient. Although I am completed, as you say, still I speak through the person that I formed, the vessel I inhabited. You understand? You cannot expect Joseph to speak to you and David and have them interchangeable. Neither, me.

Nor must you expect me to talk like a movie Indian; or your idea of Indian. This is a common idea that people get when they try to go back in their minds. It is a sort of game of hide and seek they wind up playing, much as Mormon scriptures were written in someone’s idea of a more ancient language.

My essence will come through – but easier if you merely communicate, and do not worry if I sound like a “real” Indian. I won’t. You have never heard a real Indian, and never will, not in the way you are thinking; you might as well hope to hear a real colonial.

This puts light on very real pain I have felt.

Yes, I know. But whose pain do you suppose it is, really? Yours as an individual? Mine as an individual? Ours together as part of the same individual? True, and not true because not sufficient. You will remember your friend Eva speaking of the pain of individuals being the bearing of the pain of the tribe, of the people.

You cannot expect exceptions. Not you, not anyone you know. Not anyone on any side of any dispute. If settlers get killed, there is pain for their people. If Indians get killed, pain for their people. One does not cancel out the other. It is human to be in pain, and human to suffer the ills of the people and very human to suffer not knowing why, and scarcely knowing that the suffering is not the essence of the life but one aspect of it.

All things pass. What you almost remember – what brings tears as you see even moving shadows of it – cannot be recreated nor need it be. Would you like to return to fighting saber-tooth tigers, or mastodons, or dinosaurs? Would you hunt walrus or seal in fur board with lances?

You see the insufficiency of your life “inside a machine” as Joseph puts it. But what is the way forward? That is the thing to keep your eye focused on. There is no returning to the tribe and the plains and the buffalo. There is no return to the mountain men and the fur trappers.

You must carry us forward! That is always the task, forward on the river of time, not back.

Do you remember the crying child you carried within you, unknowing because you had no other state of being to compare it to? Katrina, the innocent murdered child? When you saved her you healed that within yourself. Well, you have so much more to heal. It is true in more senses than that of ancestor-reverence that you must try to heal the pain of trapped ancestors. They may be fine, and in such case – as myself – they need no assistance from you and may be able to assist you. But others who are lost in dreams – for that is how we see them – need assistance from the living.

You have many thousands, perhaps, not in their Happy Hunting Grounds but in a dream of their final situation. [The life-circumstances they died in, I took this to mean.] Freeing them frees you, and it is a gift to the people, and to your ancestors. It is a gift, also, to your children, for any work that reduces warfare among the Still-Dreaming is work that helps to heal the world of the living present.

(Later in the afternoon.)

All right, friend. Ready if you are ready. Is your name, then, Yellow Hair? If so how did you get it? Are you in fact a white man living among Indians?

We were not plains Indians but Haudenesaunee. We lived in the east and lived among the whites – I should say they lived among us – for unrecorded years. Many half-white babies were born in those years. One was my mother. I was only one-quarter white and there was no doubt about my parentage, but there was the yellow hair, and don’t ask me how. There were persistent rumors that we had lived among other strangers from the north and west, some of whom may have been white Europeans, I suppose. Perhaps those Mandans you referred to. But there was no way of knowing if one tribe’s name for people was meaning the same people as another tribe – whites – meant. So – one more riddle for you.

It is difficult to go your own way mentally. It is like hunting, and having no other party with you – the shy game may appear to one, as it would not to many, but the price to be paid is uncertainty. You cannot stray from the trail where there is no trail anyway, but how do you know where you are, where you are going, even where you have been? You wanted to be an explorer (did you ask why?) and here you are. Wishes are generally granted, and usually not as expected.

Merely as a reminder – remember that the first time you heard Joanne Shenandoah sing her native songs on that audio tape, you felt much as you felt with “Dances With Wolves.” But that was a homecoming rather than a journeying between the lines, so to speak. You will remember that you memorized those songs in her tongue and sang them with the tape and sometimes alone.

Your work is on behalf not of the Indians as they exist but of the intuitive way they lived; the organic way they were one with their surroundings; the spiritual they incorporated seamlessly with the material.

Do not romanticize them. To do so would be to do them no honor. Is there honor in being a cigar-store Indian? What does your society think of Indians as pretend-whites?

Your task – all who read this who feel the ancient family ties – is to change the white man’s world. Change the pressure that is distorting what yet might be. That is honoring the Indian side of your heritage. Leave Indian ways for those who came in this time in Indian bodies. Their task is as simple and difficult as yours, but it is not the same task. Can you help an Indian teenage recapture a sense of belonging and purpose? No. You cannot do it. You could make it easier, though, for him to cease to be a pretend-Indian himself, stealing cars instead of horses. The only thing you can do is to help shape the new civilization that is supplanting the one you grew up in. When people find their right place in the new culture they won’t be stealing cars and getting drunk and indulging in self-pity and raging anger and victimhood. Instead they will act as their warrior ancestors would have acted, and they will be able to do so because they will again be a part of a whole! Can you see the analogy? They – like you – can make a vital contribution out of what they are; and this is the only way they can contribute. And if they cannot do this they cannot do much. In this time you are in, there isn’t much neutral ground, much wasted-space, so to speak. Everyone is there to contribute, if only to sharpen problems – and bear it in mind, making problems more pointed, more urgent, makes them more obvious – and thus more likely to be addressed if there is the will anywhere to address them.

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