As I write this, things are heating up in Standing Rock. The Army Corps of Engineers, in a declaration bordering satire, is announcing that Dakota Access Pipeline protestors – including Standing Rock Sioux – will be forcibly removed from their camps in order to protect them from the harsh North Dakota winter. Local water protectors are calling for any and all to mobilize. At the same time, withering critiques of the “white savior complex” are posted on social media for short-term amusement, undoubtedly delighting the fossil fuel forces who are already emboldened by the “election” of the Moscow Candidate. Powerful forces are moving quickly to consolidate their holdings.
This is an old story. Except that the stakes for the environment and the climate couldn’t be bigger. There’s more to say on that subject. A lot more. But this morning, I feel moved to share some writing with you. Us artists see truths, then we try to figure out a way to reveal them. Sometimes it’s through a song. Other times, a poem or painting. Here’s a short scene from the sequel to Shades of a Warrior (currently seeking publication). I was partway into this bit before I realized its potential. I spent quite some time working, and re-working it. This is the first time I’ve posted a selection from one of my novels. Thanks for reading. Onward.
“…Windigos are greed,” said Russ. “Insatiable, lusty, never-ending, evil greed. They take, and they consume. This is what they do. They will do anything in order to keep taking. To keep consuming.”
“Sounds like the White Man,” quipped Amy. BJ was inclined to agree with her, but the words still stung.
“You sure you want to disparage an entire race?” said Russ.
“Why shouldn’t I?” snapped Amy, holding her ground.
“Because it’s not right. White folk have no monopoly on evil deeds. Not by a long shot. At this very moment there are people of every color and creed across the Earth doing horrible things to one another. In Nigeria, they’re stealing girls from schools, and forcing them to marry their captors. In Brazil, loggers are tearing down the Amazon, and shooting the Natives that get in their way. In Russia, journalists are murdered. In parts of the Middle East, people are killed for following the ‘wrong’ religion. In China, some disappear for speaking their mind. And, as you know,” Russ emphasized this phrase, “there are Indigenous communities all across America where corruption and unspeakable violence run rampant.”
“We weren’t always that way,” said Amy, quietly.
“No, you weren’t. But if you think there was no evil you are mistaken. I watched generations of your Ancestors come into the world, live their lives and pass into the next world, Amy. I’ve seen betrayal, thievery, and murder since time began. Within Native communities. Within non-Native communities. And between them. I was there when Columbus enslaved the first Natives he met. I was there when the French handed small-pox laden blankets to the Iroquois. I saw the U.S. Army massacre whole villages throughout the Southwest. I was right here on this shore when Larry Sourmeister’s great-grandfather scammed the Gitchigami Band of Ojibwe out of half their land. I saw it all.”
Amy’s cheeks were streaked with tears. “Why didn’t you do anything?”
“I did. So did some White folk. They ran out to feed the Cherokee as they were marched to Oklahoma. They ordered their soldiers not to participate in massacres like Sand Creek. Good men. Good women. But…you have no idea.” Russ sounded tired. BJ had never heard Russ sound tired. “Some good deeds can be overwhelmed by a few terrible ones.” Russ faced the old black and white photos on the wall, hung at every angle but straight. Photos of Natives. Photos of fish. Of wigwams and cabins and boats. He put his great hands on the pine boards beneath them, and leaned forward as if he were trying to keep the weight of history from crashing down upon him. “I worked away on the edges, mostly out of sight. I’d chase a Windigo off or pound him into dust. Eventually, another would appear. They’re attracted by chaos. The greedier and more numerous the fur trade companies or the railroad barons or the loggers became, the better the environment was for the Windigos. Like some of the settlers – the decent ones – I was stuck picking away at the edges, watching the slow-moving disasters play out. It’s never been a White versus Native or White versus Black thing. That’s a distraction. It’s a powerful versus weak thing. Always has been. The powerful use skin color and religion to divide, to conquer.” Russ touched the great axe on the wall. “Oh, I could have waded in, full-warrior-mode. I would have put a dent in some of it. But here’s the thing: if too many people in a given time and place find out about me, if I play my hand, and they find out who I really am, my presence becomes a disturbance. I have to leave. I’ve made that mistake before.” Russ faced the kids. His eyes carried the weight of a million memories over a million years. “I’m not ready to leave this place. Not yet.”