Diane Glancy

 

The Ghost Dance

1890

We had been like wolves that gathered because we were starving. The animal we gathered around was the Ghost Dance. We moved in a pack. We circled. We circled. We stumbled as we danced. As we moved beyond our endurance. Our limits.

They came like a blizzard without end. They brought their unrest. We felt it in the air. Break their teeth— Their hold on the land. Drive them back, O Maker. They have no fear but themselves.

Some were saying they saw the ancestors starting to return. But our ancestors were the falling stars. I saw them at night on the open prairie.

We howled like wolves. Our teeth were on fire. We fainted. All hope was gone. In the confusion— soldiers opened fire— Winter was all that we will know. We were mowed down. We swallowed darkness.

 

 

The Sioux Uprising

1862, Southwestern Minnesota

We were warriors. We would make our mark. Our way of life was gone. Our land was gone. Our game was taken. We could not hunt. We were supposed to become Christian farmers like white settlers. We were not paid for the land that was gone. The summer was hot and dry. Nothing would grow.

At first there were four of us. We were Dakota, Mdewakanton band. The trader refused to give us supplies while we waited for what the government owed us. “Let them eat grass,” he said.

Sometimes the soldiers gave us liquor. Sometimes we drank it until we couldn’t feel our anger anymore.

We rode by a white man’s farm. “Are you brave?” We killed the white man who had the land— But his wife, some neighbors and boy— We killed them because they were there.

“Do you know what will happen now?”

We ran.

Little Crow declared war. We planned to kill all the whites, even the white soldiers who rode in from Fort Ridgely and Wood Lake and Fort Sill.

We were on the war path. We killed the trader and stuffed his mouth with grass. We shot clerks. We shot the doctor who would not treat our children who died from the white man’s diseases. We shot whoever walked by.

We couldn’t stop. We kept killing after they were dead. Stabbing and stabbing.

Some of the whites fled, but others stayed. They farmed and went on as though we weren’t there.

We rode onto their farms.

Little Crow and the others fled wherever they could. But it was a matter of time. We were captured. Henry Sibley held military trials in the field. They lasted no longer than what it took a bird to fly from its branch. We were to be hanged. 392 men were tried. 69 were let go. 16 sent to prison. 307 were to hang. At least they tried us. Some wanted to murder us without a trial. President Lincoln commuted all but 39.

 

 

Mankato Hanging

December 26, 1862

Afterwards we could speak of it, when we were in our haven of rest, as the minister called it. He stood with us on the scaffolding and told us we would be blessed. I don't know what I remember. We were hated even in death. There was no pity from the crowd. Die, you snake! Then we were in the black prairies of space. We tumbled over stars as we had prairie grass. The comets hissed. Sometimes I come back to the land. I feel the rope still around my neck. I was one of the hanged. It was a cold morning. My legs trembled. I could hear our teeth rattle. They put a blindfold over our heads. The minister prayed. The ramp fell. What were we supposed to do? Give up? Disappear? They kept coming. We knew they wouldn’t stop. We sat in council asking the Great Spirit to lift us from the earth, to bring back the old ones, the buffalo, to make the white man disappear. We are in our own part of space now. The buffalo are fat, un-hee, the wind is free.

 

 

Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians

1903-1933, Canton, South Dakota

All that is left, is a graveyard inside a wooden fence. The caretaker’s house across a field. A cow barn, sheep and swine sheds.

The main building of the asylum dismantled brick by brick.

Not many patients released but through death. Causes listed: tuberculoses, syphilis. Other Indians buried elsewhere.

At the opening in the wooden fence, 120 names on a plaque: Names of Indians Buried in the Cemetery.

Some of the names:

Yells at Night

Big Day

Ne-Bow-O-Sah

Ruth Chief-on-Top

Blue Sky

James Crow Lightning

Sits-In-It

Lowe War

James Blackeye

Guy Crow Neck

Willie George

Joseph Bigname

Baby Caldwell

Red Crow

Silas Hawk

Cecile Comes At Night

Amos Deerr

Two Teth

Long Time Owl Woman

Edith Standingbear

Kay-Zhe-Ah-Bow

Kay-Ge-Gay-Aush-Eak

Louis McIntosh

Dasue

Maud Magpie

Nancy Chewie

Mary Buek

Trucha

Enos-Pah

Baby Ruth Enos-Pah

Here I stopped copying names.

Yells at Night d. 11-21-08
The sun turned its back. It was dark all the time in the cell but for a thin strip of light at one end of the trap door. Sometimes I tried to pick it away. Sometimes I tried to catch it. There were things moving in the dark. I sat in the corner with them touching. I crouched in the corner because the air above me was bigger than I could stand. I saw small balls of light. They were fingernails of the spirits in the pit. I heard their hands lift the trap door. The stars fell in rattling as they scratched the walls.

Big Day d. 7-3-05
I worked in the gardens and wasn’t hungry anymore. I ate until they kept me from it.

Ne-Bow-O-Sah d. 12-18-14
I tried to sing but they stopped my song so I sang with my thoughts. I was the spotted one who called the sun from its hiding place. Because of the spotted one the sun came. I turned into a bird with spotted wings I flew into the night until a blanket thrown over me, my wings wouldn’t open, my claws grip, my beak tear. The spotted one lifted me. The animals held in their barn. The pigs in confinement. They sang their thoughts with their song.

Ruth Chief-on-Top d. 5-15-18
I worked in the laundry. I washed and mended sheets bitten or clawed. Maud and Nancy wanted to run. Where would they go? The snow covered fields like sheets torn by roads. What would they do? There was no world left outside the asylum. How would they leave? Just walk down the road unnoticed?

Blue Sky d. 6-20-14
They wrote our names hardly listening to what was said. One had a name so long they called him Bigname but it meant something like Now-the-people-have-seen-the-darkness-the-prophecies-said-they-would-see-they-danced-and-this-is-what-came. I worked in the crops listening to what the fields said.

James Crow Lightning d. 3-8-21
The lightning had the strings of a straight jacket. The wind was a storm. They came and got me for thundering. How could I sit without moving unless I was wrapped with lightning? My arms could not hold still. They bound me at night. What was the council of my grandfather? The sky was empty without him. The strings of the lightning laced. I was a tree tied into place by the roots of its lightning. I untied the lightning. I ran through the field. I plunged into the Sioux River. I climbed the ridge to the east. I unlocked the roof of the cow-barn to fly like the thunder. The wind unroped me. It hurt to be tied by lightning. My legs pulsed until I howled. They would find my feet purple and dead.

Sits-in-It d. 1-26-21
I thought in circles like someone lost in snow. I would not tell them my name. I would not move. Sits-In-It they called my name.

Lowe War d. 12-24-09
There were clowns climbing his head. In the cell there were loud noises of the circus. I heard horse. Cow. Pig. Sheep. Animals from another land locked in the asylum of their cages. Animals forced to be what they were not. Doing what they did not want to do. Living with their hearts caged. I saw a train. Animals dead to themselves, their eyes glazed. The thunder yelling—then only silence.

James Blackeye d. 5-6-22
The inmates were brought to the asylum in the night. By train or road. The blizzards howled. The train howled. There was a stirring of sound from the cells below. A baby cried. We were ordered to be quiet. To hold our noises, our cries and moanings. But in the asylum we could hear the ghosts, the spirits, the old ones, the dead ones, until we descend into death. The world was insane. They brought it with them. It was the disease we caught like smallpox. They recorded our deaths. I dug the graves. Children were born there. This hell they invented
in God’s name.

Guy Crow Neck d. 9-6-27
He stands in the cell with a light in his head. He shows me the holes in his feet and hands. He says he is Light. He calls my new name. He speaks me into being. I have been said.

Author's Note:

Acknowledgment to Jennifer Lynn Soule and Bradley Soule for their talk, Death at the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians, Center for Western Studies Dakota Conference, Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, May 30, 2002.

After the conference, I stopped at the Hiawatha Asylum cemetery, which is on a dirt road a mile east of Canton, nine miles off I-29 on Highway 18, south of Sioux Falls. I left an offering of tobacco for the voices, none of which I heard, only imagined what they might have said, asking forgiveness for the trespass.

 

 

Auntie Opey

1938

Auntie Opey George wanted as far away from South Dakota as she could get. She had a relative [Willie George] who died in the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians. She had a long and troubled history. She had dreams that were more than dreams. They were real, Auntie Opey said. She dreamed she was standing on the open prairie. On one side, there was land and air; on the other side, the land was gone. She was standing in a landscape, she said again; to her left, there was land and air; to her right, there was only air. Take one step to her right, and she'd fall into open space. She had a cat who was dead, yet said in the mornings just before she woke, she could feel the cat beside her, curled in a ball the way she did when she was alive. Auntie Opey George was raped by a rancher. She told her father, but he wouldn't listen. She ran away and married Earl Ruff, a man she met in a feed store because her father wouldn't believe her. Afterwards, her father killed himself, first telling his brother, Lukus, to punish her for running away. Lukus [who in some accounts was her former husband], killed Earl, brought Auntie Opey back, imprisoned and tormented her [or his wife, Deercee, did, out of jealousy]. After escaping from Uncle Lukus, Auntie Opey had twins, Anderson and Zekus, whom she left for someone else to raise because she ran away again. Much later, she escaped wherever she had been, and joined her sons. They recognized her, even after such a long time, killed Lukus, and bound Deercee to the back of a buffalo. For this, the spirits on the reservation visited Auntie Opey with madness, which caused her to wander restlessly all over South Dakota until she met Ralph Fustus and married him in Pierre, and when they died, they both were buried in one grave.

<>

Sometimes there's several versions of the story, but it's the same story: To be raped was to know anything could happen. I could say no. I could fight. But I would be raped. I knew I shouldn't go. I felt it. Don't go. But he aroused my curiosity. It was the attention I got from him. He wanted me. What was so fearful? Because he wanted me to unwrap me. To break into me. Afterwards, I knew the body of a man on me. I knew his weight. The hurt of it. I would never be safe. It was a choice I made. To be raped by the headmaster of the boarding school. I was not innocent. I was easy.

There were hornets in the attic. I heard them buzz. I saw them enter and leave through an opening in the eave. I knew they were there. I wasn't afraid. I went to the attic to find them. I was outside the camp. I was outside both camps. His and mine. I should have been wrapped in a shawl dancing at the pow wow. I should have been dancing to know who I was. But that was taken from me. It was denied.

I ran away from school after the rape. There was a man in Centerville I married. I got a job in the drugstore and he came in. I slept in the back room. He knew I was there.

"What's your name?" He said.

"Opey George."

"You can come and take care of my children."

They called me Auntie Opey.

After I married him, my father killed himself with alcohol, antifreeze and horse liniment from the dumpster, leaving a note telling his brother, Lucas, to avenge his death on me.

I had plans for you, my father said. You were to earn wages, send money. Uncle Lucas found me. Took me back home. He tormented me and kept me in the barn.

Long afterwards, I escaped.

After I ran away, I gave birth to twins who were brought up by a farmer. When they were grown, my boys killed my Uncle Lucas and tied his wife to the back of a buffalo.

Then I went mad.

My father's uncle Willie George died in the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians.

I heard his voice.

You know the borderland between the real and unreal. Between what happens and what is imagined. There is a spirit world that moves with us. Moves above us. Or we move with it. Or it moves us. Uncle Willie George talked about the spirits he saw. The world divided between the darkness and the light. He was afraid of the nails the dark spirits flew into him. They infested our lives. But the dark spirits had more than us to worry about. They were at war with the spirits of light. In his bed he heard the roar of the war planes. We received the fallout of their power. It was over us they fought. It was between themselves they fought more.

It is something that is still happening. It hasn't finished yet.

Great Uncle Willie George wasn't crazy. Just trouble. The authorities arrested him. He ended up at Hiawatha because they couldn't handle him.

I was cured and wanted as far away as I could get. I ran with my dance partner, the train, to Tithorea, the next town to the west.

In Tithorea, I married Phocus.

Both of us were buried in one grave.

<>

Sometimes you find your story in history:

1) Antiope was raped by Zeus.

2) She ran away from her father and married Epopeus, king of Sicyon.

3) Her father killed himself, first telling his brother, Lycus, to punish Antiope. Lycus (who in some accounts was her former husband), killed Epopeus, brought Antiope back, imprisoned and tormented her (or his wife Dirce did, out of jealousy).

4) After escaping from prison, she bore twins, Amphion and Zethus, who were brought up by herdsmen.

5) Long after, she escaped joined her sons; they recognized her, killed Lycus, and bound Dirce to the horns of a wild bull.

6) For this, Dionysus, to whose worship Dirce had been devoted, visited Antiope with madness, which caused her to wander restlessly all over Greece until she was cured.

7) She married Phocus of Tithorea on Mt. Parnassus where both were buried in one grave.

 

 

A Time to Get in Gear1

Shall the axe boast itself against the man who uses it?
Is the saw greater than the man who saws?
Can a rifle strike itself against the man who lifts it up?
Isaiah 10:15
 
Hi'hi'hai'-yai!
Hi'hi'hai'-yai!

1982

A pow-wow van. Lodge poles tied on top. Teepee-hide folded underneath. The Two Teth family. Oh boy. Father Spud. Mammam. Girl boy. Buzz. Heading east on I-94 to pow wow in South Dakota. Traffic. Three spirits along the road. Father Spud stop.

The spirits get in. Huh. Huh. Huh. Uh-uh.

They go spudding down the road. Feathers hanging from the rear-view mirror.

"What's up?"

"Got a man whose dog killed his son. The man went on a rage and killed the dog, a daughter and his mother. We're going to call him back from the crazy world."

The spirits fight over who rides in front. Father Spud has to separate them. Puts two in back with Buzz between them; one in the third seat with Girl boy. Father tells them he will stop the van and put them out on the road if they don't straighten up. They could forget their mission let the man stay crazy. They are messengers from the spirit world. How could they fight? They should remember their mission from the Old One the way He intended.

The spirits look out the windows. They see the hawks in the air that like the currents above the highway.

"Where this crazy man?"

"We'll know the road when we come to it."

Father looks at Mammam. Another one of those.

Sometimes the sky is behind a black-out curtain, old and worn, and only sometimes can they see the light behind it. That is the stars at night. Other times the sun is all light and they wait for the black-out curtain.

"Why'd you hitchhike?" Buzz asks them. "Can't you get around on your own?"

"I thought you could get to the place you supposed to go," Mammam says.

"Nobody pick you up?" Girl boy chuckles.

"Not many see us," the spirits say, talking at the same time until their voices sound like bees in the van.

Father Spud stops for gas. The spirits look at the ice machine. The convenience store.

The spirits have come with a message. That's what the spirits are. Messengers from the Messenger Himself. The High Plains Holy Drifter. He roams the world. His eye goes over the whole earth seeking who will recognize Him. Seeking who will take their eyes off the earth just once to see inside the sky. Or who will look hard enough they see the lessons just out of sight.

What's up is a puzzle. A game with the spirits. But what the Two Teth's pick up is not a game, the Two Teth's being Father Spud, Mammam, Girl boy and Buzz. What they pick up is a narrowing of the highway. Road construction. The highway lanes changing, the arrows showing the shift in lanes. The pow-wow van jagging on the highway, over the hump of road that crosses the median and they are single file in the oncoming lane. The ones coming from the other way don't like it either. Their cars frown as they pass. The road is theirs now. The Two Teth's are the defeated and have to ask permission to pass on their side.

"Once two women claimed the same man as their husband." The spirits tell a story to pass the time. "They kept fighting until the messenger said, let's divide him, so each woman will have a half, and the women agreed."

Mammam squirms in her seat. But not as much as Father Spud.

Sometimes something reminds the spirits of the old world, the world that was here before this one. Maybe the cut-out of the Badlands they pass. Or a particular edge of the sky. Father Spud isn't sure. Then the spirits grow quiet. Or they ask to stop, but Father Spud keeps driving. He sees their longing for what they knew. He thought it would be over when he left the earth, and he would never look back.

The spirits bump against Buzz who asks them to stay by the windows.

I come from the Father I come from him.
The crow.
The crow.
I cry like it.
I cry like it.
Caw, I say.
Caw!

The spirits are cawing in the pow-wow van. What else can spirits do?

They don't caw too good.

"Huh. Huh. Uh—" one of them interrupts.

"That was the road there."

"No—" the second one says.

"We're not there yet," the third one says.

"That the road we passed down to Pine Ridge?"

"Yop," Father Spud says. "South through a wedge of the Badlands. Then the prairie. Highway 44 to 35. Manderson to Wounded Knee to Pine Ridge."

"Turn around."

"There's another road ahead that goes to the same place," says Father Spud.

"That one's gravel," Mammam reminds him.

They turn around and take the road south from the interstate and drive through the dirt bluffs of the Badlands. Then the pastures with spotted horses. Mile after mile of prairie grass and a few hills. They drive past the white frame churches standing on the prairie. Little square boxes, cardboard-like, with a steeple.

The devil— Hi'hi'hai'-yai!
The devil— Hi'hi'hai'-yai!
We have put him aside Hi'hi'hai'-yai!
The White Man Above.
He is our Father.
He is.

Them spirits— ha! They always making jokes.

When they are nearly to Pine Ridge, Father Spud turns onto a dirt road at the insistence of the spirits. Howard Chewie written on a mailbox crooked on its post. A dirt road to a rusted trailer, several sheds, broken-down cars. Too late to back out.

The man had a dog who mauled to death his only son. In his rage, the man got his shot gun, killed the dog, a daughter and the grandmother, and wounded another daughter.

The rifle took over. He couldn't stop shooting. The rifle kept loading itself. Chewie's wife, mother, daughters tried to stop him. He shot at them, missing his wife and two daughters. He shot the trailer. He went wild. His eyes had snow in them, they said.

His mother had told him to watch the dog. Yet Howard Chewie neglected the danger. Ignored it, rather. The dog growled at the boy. The dog was not in the mood to tolerate children. Maybe it had been abused before it wandered onto the Chewie place. Maybe the boy reached down to him, maybe the dog thought the boy meant it harm, but the dog turned with a vicious bite to the boy's face, and once the injury was made, the blood, the screaming, something primal was loose, and the dog continued its attack until the child was dead. The dog lay in a bloody pool at the edge of the yard. The coroner's van had left with the bodies of the boy, the girl, the grandmother. The rescue unit had the other girl nearly to the hospital in Pine Ridge, a clinic, actually. What the spirits and the Two Teth's found was a woman, Mrs. Chewie, Howard's wife, still crying, broken between sobs, and the two girls huddled together under the porch of the trailer where they often played. Howard Chewie had disappeared down the dirt road. The pound had come for the dog, or what was left of it.

The spirits talk to the girls under the porch. They ask Girl boy to sit with them. They talk to the mother and ask Mammam to sit with her. They hear the police sirens. The police dogs. They want to find Howard Chewie before the police and the dogs do.

They are standing in the yard and then they are gone. They move across the prairie without moving.

"Why didn't they do that to get here?" Buzz asks.

The police close in on Howard Chewie. He won't give up. They shoot. Howard Chewie is wounded. He falls. The dogs rush him. The police pull the dogs off Howard. They hand-cuff him. They pull him to his feet. He struggles. They hit him with their fists. He is in the back seat of the police car, stunned and cuffed. He is in a sleep-walk. The spirits get in the police car. The police don't know they are there.

The spirits sing their healing song.

We give him a name:
He could not stop shooting the gun.
He could not stop shooting the gun.
We take his finger from the trigger.
We take his hand from the gun.
We call him back:
We give him another name:
He will stop shooting the gun.
Now he will stop shooting.

Howard Chewie is in the hospital, under guard.

What is a shot gun to strike out on its own? The spirits talk to Howard Chewie. Should one of them stay with him? They argue. No one wants to stay.

The girl's in the hospital too, in another ward. The spirits take a lightbulb from their medicine bundle. From their parfleche they take a cord. They plug it in her room and light the blue lightbulb.

We touch the blue wound.
We touch the blue wound.
It is in her where she can't see.
It is inside her there.
We light the blue wound with blue light.
The light draws the hurt into itself.
We unplug it from the socket in the wall.
The blue wound is gone.
The blue wound is gone.

The spirits love electricity. They use it in their ceremonies whenever they can.

"Your father was going to shoot himself," the spirits tell her. "You stopped him before he did."

Now the Two Teth's arrive at the hospital, which is more of a clinic, with Mrs. Chewie and the two girls.

"I want to go to the trailer," the wounded girl says.

"He shot it full of holes," Mrs. Chewie says, "you're better off here."

"We'll patch it for you," Father Spud says.

Mamman, Girl boy, Buzz look at him.

The spirits return to Chewie's place. They ask Father Spud to drive them in the pow-wow van, feathers hanging from the rear-view mirror. Lodge poles tied on top. Teepee-hide folded underneath. The Two Teth's could unwrap it in the Chewie's backyard. They could feed the tethered horse. Dig post holes for a fence. Help the girls through their nightmares.

The spirits have a healing ceremony with sage on the Chewie place. They have a cleansing ceremony in the trailer with sage. The brillo pad of the spirits. Comet scouring. Holy. Holy. The Messenger Himself. The Maker. The Old One. Even the Two Teth's hear voices in the sage. The spirits buzz the trailer. They think it has wings.

The Two Teth's were on their way to the pow wow. They were stopped. The spirits always intrude. Interrupt. They don't know a good pow wow when they see one.

"That girl in the hospital is going to recover," the spirits tell Father Spud. "That's the pow wow where we go."

In the two girls' nightmares, a family drives up. They unload their gear. Just what the Chewie's need.

"Who are those people?" The girls ask.

"Their name is Two Teth," the spirits say.

"Two Teth?" They ask. "What's that?"

"The original name must have been Two Teeth. Who knows? What is One Teth? What is Two Teth? You go with what you got."

It is a thought they toss like a ball.

The Two Teth's also try to sleep. Mammam paints the white sky black with a brush that spreads the paint thin. That's the night sky. The old white paint showing through as stars. Maybe the black-out curtain will cover them a while. How could they fit in a world in which they don't belong? Not even to their own kind. Their own needy kind in trailers and tract housing.

"What do you want me to do?" Mamman looks at Father Spud. "I'll know it when I see it."

"It's scary to dance at the pow wow," Buzz is telling the two girls in the yard. "The drummers try to trick you. You think the drummers will stop but they go on. You think they will go on, but they stop. If you mess up, they don't let you forget."

"I think we got the van in reverse," Father Spud say. "Get it in gear. Let's move ahead."

The spirits sing their funeral song in the cemetery:

They will eat pemmican— E'yeye'yeye'!
They will eat pemmican— E'yeye'yeye'!
We say so, we say so,
the Father says so, the Father says so.

"Your sister's on a far road. She caught up with your brother," the spirits tell Mrs. Chewie and the girls. "Your grandma and that old dog trotten there too." At that Mrs. Chewie cries. Mammam tries to quiet her. She frowns at the spirit. The one doing all the talking. "We washed them with the ceremony," the spirits tell the Chewie's. "They won't carry blood into the next world."

The son, daughter, and Howard's mother are in the afterlife. The spirits assure the wife, the two daughters who hover near their mother until it looks like their feet aren't touching the ground.

The dirt cemetery is pitiful. Twists of tobacco. Braided sweet grass. Medicine bundles with wads of sage. Hand-made crosses. A few stones. The prairie wind sweeps over them nearly pushing them over. It isn't easy to stand on the prairie. One spirit loses his cap. Well, it was the cap he borrowed from Buzz. Buzz frowns.

Death. Death. They know it on the reservation. The reservation roads staked with white crosses. Accidents, alcohol related. Careless driving is a form of suicide on the reservation. A wish to step into the sky. A release from hopelessness.

Mammam divides Father Spud with her words. Her complaints. Why are they still together? Buzz and Girl boy reel from their fights. The Two Teth's catch the Chewie's ball and in that ball is their own strife. The red dog death. They are bit. They know the rifle. The rage. They step over that line. They are going the same place. Disaster from which they never recover, despite the blue lightbulb of the spirits. No matter, the Old One Himself can patch them up. They have been hit. They have been defeated. They have been blasted with poverty. Alcoholism. Unfaithfulness to husbands. Wives. Beat kids. Get them shut up. Put the meanness in them. The mean red dog bite. They over there now. In the other world. The ancestors. The Chewie's boy and girl and grandmother and dog. They are beyond the peep holes of light. The peep-hole show of this life.

The Pine Ridge Gospel Church preacher preaches at the funeral. Christ. Christ.

Euchala.

Euchala.

Wadu.

"Which way is it?" Buzz and Girl boy ask. "Is it this way or is it that?"

Father Spud goes to the Pine Ridge Hardware for rifle-bullet repair. The Two Teth's plug the holes in the trailer. Buy window glass. But wrong size. Go back. How much trouble to put up fence? Trouble. They buy a bag of cement to set the posts in the holes. Girl boy fixes the broken swing in the yard.

Are these spirits really here? Or are they a vision they encounter? A trick? A step into the other world? It is high summer. Yet the Two Teth's see spirits with eyes like a white-out blizzard.

The wounded girl comes back to the trailer from the hospital.

Howard Chewie is in jail for murder of his mother and daughter.

Attempted murder of his wife and three other daughters. The trial upcoming. It will be quick. Guilty. Guilty. Every one of them.

 

 

Little Ghosts Running from Children

Some of our stories are absolutely ugly.
Those are the ones we need to tell.
  Gerard Baker, Hidatsa-Mandan

1959

We were brutalized and the terror was all ours. The nun tried to make it beautiful. She read us the lives of saints how they were beaten how they were sawed in half [Hebrews 11:36-37].

She never asked what caused our welts and bruises. She sat before us in school. Above her the Savior nailed to the cross. She must have thought of us receiving our blows. Our stripes like Christ's.

At night in our house we crawled into our bed pulled up our feet wore our shoes shivered until our breath ran like small ghosts.

In the mornings dull from drink our father knocked over empty bottles on the nightstand stumbled into the room. We shook with fear. We read his every breath when they deepened with anger. He marked our territory, made our sweat stink. We had nowhere to go.

The winter beat us with storms the summer with heat. A tornado wiped a few houses away. We listened to one another yelping crying out in pain our bodies jerking he beat us one at a time in front of one another or taking us in the other room what we heard worse than what we saw.

We walked to school teased a dog chained in his yard pelting him with stones until his fury jerked his body the chain so short he choked himself when he leapt at us flapped to the ground wild dog stupid with rage could not get us no matter what he did we pelted him until he passed out we thought he was dead but his spasms sucked breath into his body we left him there was nothing of himself he could hold onto.

Where did he learn to hit? What school he go to? The welt school. The whip school. The belt pound and hammer school. We laughed thinking of him learning how to beat we howled when he passed out before he beat us. We were wild with beauty.

Here he come with stick.

Who will get?

Who what done?

He watching?

What he see?

His stick fire.

Me he beat.

By his stripes we are healed [I Peter 2:24].

We groaned in sleep we cried our dreams we peed our fear. The knowing it was ahead. But God didn't stop the death of his son, she said.

The dog there barken. We barken back.

Louder he.

Louder we.

Shud up owner yell.

She showed us pictures of heaven and hell. Hell was most of it. Christ sat on his chair with a hole in the floor where he sent the unbelievers to be tortured. Dark as a prairie night with fire when a trailer burned. She said there was torture we could not imagine we would grow hollow our eyes would dry up. We would know terror that would take our breath. We would be staked to the ground. It would be hotter than summer and there would be nothing to drink for ever and ever. We would be alone though we were crowded together. There would be no light that was the worst part. There would be only voices wailing. Nothing we could see. We would feel snakes pass over us. They would enter our mouths. We would feel them moving through us. They would crawl in our bones. They would coil around our elbows and knees. Over us was the galaxy of light we could not see but knew was there and would receive reports of the rejoicing in heaven of which we never would be part. But we would know it was there and could have been a part if we had looked to Jesus who was busy sending everyone else to hell.

Are people whipped in hell? We asked but she didn't answer.

It was Growl face.

Dog rattle.

Snap tooth.

Snout face.

Jaw rattle.

Snap dragon.

Fizzle spit.

Wedge jaw.

Whip thistle.

Dog biscuit.

Roof roof.

Rib bones.

Show down.

She prayed for us to have vision of Christ but we saw the bad spirits over our father beating him with bark branches. Tying him into knots. We knew the yard was full of spirits we could not see but knew were there. They stood watching and if we looked they stepped behind the shed. They stopped up our ears with dust, filled our lungs with mud from the slough, blew windstorms in our heads. They holy men prayed. They had rituals to keep the bad spirits from us. We were tied to them corralled like the animals. It was hard getting through the world. Disease. Accident. The pressure alcohol lifts. Some of us kept leaving. Others of us made it. The bad spirits were hunters. One move and they knew where you were. You can't imagine how you longed for water. Or you talked to someone and they don't hear.

It was Musket face.

Yap yap.

Show gum.

Growl growl.

Scrap face.

Speech impediment.

Whoofa whoofa.

Snarl.

Sod buster.

Dust eater.

Wheeze wheeze.

Our father going nowhere. He roars at the spirits he sees. Our house where the bad sprits practice hell. He think he running from Wounded Knee? He think we cavalry?

Kicken up dirt with hind feet.

Revven engine.

Bark face.

Stiff back.

Fur rise.

Ridge back.

Zip dog.

Hizz hizz.

His self twist.

Remember when he was dog.

When my father stumbles on the ground he cries. We tell him Christ goes anywhere even to the bottom of our lives.

 

 

A Green Rag-Braided Rug

I.

In Memory of Richard S. Cardinal, Chipewyan,2
1967-1984
The following document was found after Cardinal nailed a board between two trees and hanged himself.

 

I was born in Ft. Chipewyan that much I knew for certain, because it's on my birth certificate.

I have no memories or certain knowledge of what transpired over the next few years. I was once told by a Social Worker that my parents were alcoholic's and that all us kids were removed for this reason. I was separated from the rest of my family and placed in a foster home some-were in fort MacMurry.

My earlyiest memories are from when I was liveing with a family in Wandering-River. I have little memory of the home but I do remember that I was playing with some wooden matches and I guess when I left one was still going and the outcome was desastrous, the shed in which I had been playing had caught on fire, which spread and caught onto the hay stack. When they finally put the fire out and managed to save ¾ of the stack I was given the wipping of my life... I was also reunited with my brother at this home so I did not feel so alone any more. We were moved after about a year.

Our next home was in the same town just a few miles away. This home was good in one way but bad in alot of ways. It seemed that for every good happening there were two bad ones… about three months later my sister Linda [who is the oldest of the girls in our family] was moved into our foster home. Charlie and linda were always playing together and seeing as I was still pretty small I was always left-out so I began to spend alot of time alone.

Our next move was a few month's later, we were moved to live— where we lived with a elderly couple my the name of—. I enjoyed this home for the first two days then everything went wrong when we had to go back to school. The first day I was sent to the office three time's in the same day for fighting….I began to get into a lot of trouble for neglecting my chores and was hit several time's with a stick and sent to bed...

[This next year] I was not considered an outcast… and got my first tast of puppy love with a girl named Heather. I was halfway through the school-year when a Social Worker came to our home and I was to be moved and asked me how soon I would be ready to move and I answered, 1 week, I should have answered never. When I would move alone Charlie and linda would stay.

I had 4 hours before I would leave my family and friends behind and since linda and charlie were at school, I went into the bedroom and dug out my old harmonica and went down to the barn yard and sat on fence and began to lay to the cows. I didn't know how to play at all but I played real slow and sad like for the occation, but before halfway through the song my lower lip began to quiver and I knew I was going to cry and I was glad so I didn't even try to stop myself. I guess that-heard me and must have come down to comfort me, when she put her arm around me I pulled away and ran up the road aways. I did'nt want no one's love any more I had been hurt to many times so I began to learn the art of blocking out all emotions and I shut out the rest of the world and the door would open to no one.

The Social Worker arived to take me away to my new home. On the way their he tryed to talk to me but I was'nt hearing or trying to hear. When we arrived the Social Worker wanted to talk to the parents alone so I remained in the car…I was taken into their house and— showed me were I would sleep. The room was in the basement of the house. When I walked into the room I could not believe my eye's. The floor was covered with water and there were boards on the floor to keep your feet from getting wet. The walls had been painted red but had long before began to peel off, the window which was no bigger than a atlas had a gape between the foundation at the bottom which let in the cold winter wind and the beds were no wider than two feet across and about a foot off the floor. there was a 40 watt light that was in the ceiling and you had to pull a string to turn it on...

In the morning I as assigned chores to do and I would be fed after they were done. When I was finished I was returning to the house to eat and found a lunch bag in the door way, this was my breakfast. I was not allowed to eat with the family in the house, and the same with lunch and supper. The next few days were like living in jail, I was set boundaries in which to stay in and I was to come running when I was called. I kept telling myself that this was all a bad dream and I would wake up soon with charlie and linda and the rest of the family in our home back in Ft. Chipewyan, but in reality I knew that I would'nt wake up and that this was real, and not just some bad dream.

The first month's rolled by slowly and then bang! it was my birthday, I was nine however it seemed that everybody could careless. I remaind locked in my own little world and would and would not let anything in or out I was enrolled into Westlock Elementy School, I was better hear I was away from the farm and the family that lived their.

Here I began to fall into bad company and got into alot of trouble. We were let out of school two weeks for Christmas holadays. I figure things would eased-up abit between The Family and I during this period however I was wrong Things got worse. I was beginning to feel rejected and unwanted. Christmas morning I was sent outside and not allowed back in till dinner and even then I had to eat in the basement, This was it I could'nt take anymore of this I had to leave, go somewere were nobody would find me. I pack my belongings into my back-pack and I had stoled a bottle or rye so I packed that to the garage and rolled up the old tent and secured this onto my pack I was almost ready.

I went back into the house and got a box of wooden matches and stuffed it into my pocket's as I was comeing back-up the stairs and noticed for the first time the guns hung on the wall ther was a box below the gun rack and I opened It up. Beautiful I told myself, the box had pagages of shells for the guns. Each pack contained 3 boxes of fifty shells. I took two packs and stuffed them into my jacket. When I had got the gun out of the house to the garage. I slipped on my pack picked up the gun and head away from the house. I had been gone 4 days before I was caught and brought back to the farm however I felt as though I had done darned good since I was only 9 years old.

I spent the rest of the winter here feeling lonely and very depressed. And I began to think seriously about suicide. The first time I attempted it I used a rasor blade to cut my arms but it hurt so much I didn't try it again. When school started up once more I began to skip classes and the—were informed. When I returned to the farm that evening—was waiting for me and he began to yell and scream at me. I was'nt listening and did not care. finaly he blew his stack and hit me. It was the first time I was hit by him and I guess he exspeted me to start in bawling but I didn't I just stood there and stared blankly at him. This must have scared him because he backhanded me. My lip begin to bleed quite badly. When I tasted the blood I spit it beside his shoe's and told him to GO TO HELL, and with that I walked away while I left him standing there looking rather stupid.

After school I would do my chores and sit in the barn and think and one day I was in there thinking, and it struck me I could kill myself now and no one would know until it was too late, and it just so happenes that the bail I was sitting on had a bailer twine on it so I slipped it off and climbed up to the rafters. After I had secured the rope I climbed down and placed some straw underneath the rope I climed on and stood up determined to go through with it. I said a short Prayer for god to take care of my family. I placed the rope around my neck and kicked my lungs felt like they were melting right out of my head. Finaly I blacked out and was engulfed in a blanket of black.

Unfortunately I woke up. I could see alot of people above me, all of a sudden thay all began to talk to me at the same time. I could not make out what they were saying all the words were echoing in my head and my eye's would not focus in on the people above me then I was swept back into a sea of blackness.

I was released from the hospital after about a week. I was returned to the—family my social worker was there. We sat and talked for about two hours about how things were going. I exsplained to him that I wanted to return to-and I wanted to be with Charlie and Linda, however he tried to exsplaine to me how that was impossible for me to go back because… she was getting too old for so many young kids to take care of an eventually the—would get another boy my age…

II.

I was born in Ft. Chipewyan that much I knew for certain, because it's on my birth certificate.

I have no memories of certain knowledge of what transpired over the next few years. I was once told by a Social Worker that my parents were alcoholic's and that all us kids were removed for this reason. I was separated from the rest of my family and placed in a foster home some-were in fort MacMurry.

My earlyiest memories are from when I was living with a family in Wandering-River. I have little memory of the home but I do remember that I was playing with some wooden matches and I guess when I left one was still going and the outcome was desastrous, the shed in which I had been playing had caught on fire, which spread and caught onto the hay stack. When they finally put the fire out and managed to save ¾ of the stack I was given the wipping of my life…I was also reunited with my brother at this home so I did not feel so alone any more. We were moved after about a year.

Our next home was in the same town just a few miles away. This home was good in one way but bad in alot of ways. The new foster parents were strict and I had to go to church. It seemed that for every good happening there were two bad ones… about three months later my sister Linda [who is the oldest of the girls in our family] was moved into our foster home. Charlie and linda were always playing together and seeing I was still pretty small I was always left-out so I began to spend alot of time alone.

Then my foster parents brought another boy about my age into their home and I had someone to play with. They talked to Charlie and linda and told them that sometimes they had to play with us. We had stories at night and when I went to school the teacher told them I was behind and had to learn some at home too. They helped us with homework and told us stories of the Chipewyan and when I didn't do my chores one night I went to bed without dinner and after that I didn't neglect my chores. It was alot of work to have foster children and everyone had to work hard. When I got in trouble at school for fighting I had to stay after school and my foster parents didn't get me until dark. They told me I shouldn't waste my time fighting. They saw the stories I could write and they asked me to tell them at night and Charlie and linda and the others had to listen. On cold nights in the open room of the upstairs I sat on the round, green rag-braided rug and told a story. I had an iron bed that creaked when I got into it and a three-drawer wood chest with light green paint.

The next year I got my first tast of puppy love with a girl named Heather. Charlie and Linda knew I liked her and they teased me. I fought with Charlie and got a wipping but not as bad as when I started the fire in the other place. I still liked matches. I liked the spark and the small yellow tongue of flame. It was only air but air that had a story about it. It could lick other things and give them its flame. Sometimes I watched my foster parents light the wood stove with a kitchen match and some wadded-up paper and wood. I felt the warmth spread across the room. The fire was there— its heat, though the fire itself stayed in the wood stove. The match was a small stick but it could start a roar. But it was a roar that got out of hand pretty quick if it got loose. I had learned that and didn't want to repeat it.

I wanted to write a story about a match. A match explodes into fire when struck on the head. I had stolen matches in the first place I lived. I had struck fire that lit the haystack. A match was an oar on a river of fire. It brought down a stack of hay. When I struck matches I had something from another world. I had power. I had caused heat and light. I wanted the magic of blaze, of burning, of running fire. But I couldn't stop the fire. It ran away from me and I was sorry I struck the match that burned the hay. I was amazed it caught and spread but amazement turned to fear. Look what I had done. His words when he came after me were a flame.

It was my birthday and I sat at the table next to my foster father and got presents that was a new shirt and a tablet for writing my stories. Charlie said paper wasn't a present— he didn't want it anyway who would? But I wrote Heather on the first page and told how I gave her a cookie I saved from lunch and she thanked me.

And Charlie and Linda and George and me sneezed and coughed and were sick at Christmas— our foster parents gave us medicine and we got better and opened our presents. And Linda could light the kerosene lamp in our room and I watched the flame— the combustion of a yellow point of air that was only air but it was like a story that was only words but words that carried a small tongue of flame.

I thought the combustion of alcohol was like a flame— It was the fire my parents needed.

We were fighting and tumbling in the upstairs, the attic, of our foster parent's house— Charlie and Linda were teasing me and we were fighting and Charlie gave me a bloody lip and our foster parents came with a belt and corrected us and told us a story from their Bible and we had to sit and listen to it and be quiet and my lip was throbbing and the blood tasted like the iron post of my bed.

  And he [Elisha] went up to Bethel: and as he was
  going some children came out of the city and
  mocked him, saying, Go up, you bald head; go up,
  you bald head. And he turned back and looked on
  them and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And
  two bears came out of the woods and tore forty two
  of them. II Kings 2: 23-24

 

We looked at our foster parents who sat before us and didn't say anything for a while. We listened to the silence of the attic room and knew we would be out on the road by our own doing like those children, and who knew what bears would come from the woods.

III.

2004

It was education that got me out. And that barely. To gather voices to make the papers I wrote. To teach different points-of-view to say here we are. To finish a thesis on the Ghost Dance, which somehow caught my interest when I was at first drifting. To attend conferences invited to speak as one who was and will be. To be the first native to give a lecture at my own university on the native experience in the native voice.

I tell you, the Ghost Dance was not a frantic dance against annihilation. It was older than the white man. There always was the belief the dead would return, or we would return to them. Some came and said the dance was new. They came and turned it around. They never could get it straight. Those who wrote it down. The Ghost Dance was not a dance of despair. I tell you, it was based on a knowledge of loss and restoration. It looked Christian because of its similarities to their apocalyptic beliefs. Sometimes the same patterns develop on both sides of the fence. We only listened to the Christians because parts of their beliefs were similar to ours.

Because we did not have ammunition, education gives us the fire stick, the matches, the target. Get them out of suicide. Outsmart death. They aren't going to the hereafter by their own hand.

This is something like the westward movement across the country. Covered wagons and struggle. The land rough and travel hard that left people in its wake. The story has to be cut up. Only parts can be told at a time. Some of it left in silence. Some scrambled among others. Otherwise they would say, this document is too depressing. It isn't true. Nonetheless, the job of stories is to remember. Memory keeps us here. That's why stories are important. I say first you have to listen to the story, and the story within the story. The ghosting of a story put here for remembrance. Sometimes I am a raging scholar.

My foster father lifted us above the ground level. The war zone. Where alcohol and drugs and despair took prisoners. Were captives to it. Yet some made it. Maybe it was church that made the difference, but I'm not sure what happened there or why I don't always go.

What do you do in church? Some of us were there, for a while anyway, but cars wouldn't work, people couldn't find a ride, they'd been out late the night before and couldn't get up, they were sick, they were poor, they were discouraged.

Is possible to go back and change history? Or at least keep it from happening again. Those dark and silent years when my parents let them take us away.

A story can never change the past. It can't bring anyone back. But it can be an after-trail saying the people longed for a place to belong. Their left-overs are still here.

IV.

Nuva' Ka Ro’rani’! 3
 
nuva' ka ro'rani'!
nuva' ka ro'rani'!
nuva' ka ro'rani'!
nuva' ka ro'rani'!
Gosi'pa' havi'ginu'!
Gosi'pa' havi'ginu'!
 
The snow lies there- ro'rani'!
The snow lies there- ro'rani'!
The snow lies there- ro'rani'!
The snow lies there- ro'rani'!
The Milky Way lies there,
The Milky Way lies there.4

 

I flew to South Dakota to talk with a man I had met at a conference. I wanted to talk further with him about my work on the Ghost Dance. It would become my doctorate. It would become my first book. I remember the round fields, the ones irrigated by water-wheels, the first time I saw them from the air. They reminded me of the green rag-braided rug in the upstairs of our foster parent's house.

These are the notes that appeared as they were.

His great-great grandfather had gone to those dances. He said they slept in tule lodges. In pine-bough arbors. He had told it to his son, who told it to his son, who told it to his. They ate fried bread, watermelon, rabbit stew, boiled coffee. His great-great grandfather saw the blowings, the trances, the shaking. When he dreamed, he saw the other world.

On January 1, 1889, there was a total eclipse of the sun. The sun died and came to life; so will we, his great-great grandfather had said.

The Ghost Dance was the Mason Valley post office. They were sent to another place from there, the man said, adding his own comments.

They danced near Mount Grant. There was fire in the center of the earth. They knew it was there. The lake tried to rise up, extinguish the fire, but the sage hen kept it dry. [The earth plays with matches, I added my own comments.]

They flew above the earth as smoke from the sacred mountain. Above the smoke from the sage and cottonwood fires. I ask you what would you do? In brokenness we were formed. In brokenness we were framed. We thought we were whole, but we were wrong. We were in darkness and we could not stand on the ledge of change. We realized our weakness. What can I say? We were in anguish. The Maker thundered at the head of his army. It was a momentum. We were swept under. This we share because another momentum comes. Our old stories say. We don't know when. We are rubble before the Maker. It is his mystery. When we were pushed out of the world, there were provisions. There was a way.

But he said his father said his father said that his father said that Wovoka gouged his hands and feet with his own knife to look like the Christ. That Wovoka, that Paiute Jesus. Yes, he survived a fever. He survived death.

If he was not Jesus, he brought hope. He brought vision. Yes, but he made his own marks.

This trembling, this going away to the other world. A shuffle of the feet. The repetition of the chant. The snow lies there. The snow lies there.

They quaked and fell rigid and stiff as a tree.

They were dreamers. They saw into the other world. They went there and came back. They bought a dance back from the other world, close as a shadow and its cottonwood. In the dance, they passed between a cottonwood and its shadow. They were merchants from the other world.

There was a final day for them, yet the earth went on. It ended with Hotchkiss guns, howitzers, a cold, starving, desperate people, some of whom would survive to know suffering, hunger, annihilation of their way of life, and the hopelessness of their dreams. The Big Foot band had been called hostiles. There were battalions of soldiers. Cavalry. Infantry. His great-great grandfather heard it where he was. It was another day the sun died.

Imposters. All of us.

They closed that which was coming. Now the darkness that covers the land.

But in winter, the sagebrush is capped with snow like the Milky Way spread on the earth as a blanket so thin you could see the darkness through its light.

Wherever it was, his great-great grandfather was close to it.

A new world will come, the buffalo, the elk, the old ones. All will return. Those who don't belong will have to leave.

Something, whatever it was, has not passed, but stayed in its dormant shape to dance again on the land.

They would not be lifted, but pass through the dark years before them.

Their disappointment, their anger. Their brief time to dance. To them it was everything. To them it was nothing. To them, it was somewhere in between.

<>

The next month, I flew to Reno, Nevada, and rented a car and drove just over a hundred miles south through the desert to Walker Lake. Nothing was there. A camper in the distance, the ground smeared with pelican droppings, spider webs strung like miniature universes across small rocks. I drove into Schurz on the Walker River Reservation past a church and a cluster of houses. I saw a man sitting in his yard in a green metal chair and stopped to talk to him. Beyond us was Grant Mountain in the Wassuk range. Mr. Hanjar told me Walker Lake was evaporating because of upstream diversions. He told me his wife would fix us lunch. As we talked in the yard, I thought for a moment I could almost hear them— the Ghost Dancers. But then a car passed and the air was silent again. As I drove back north it seemed to me, the Ghost Dance had been a struck match— a miniature volcano— a little flame of light.

 

 

 

 

Author's Notes:

1. "A Time to Get in Gear": Some of the ideas for the spirit's songs are from The Ghost Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890, James Mooney, University of Nebraska Press, 1991. <back to text>

2. "A Green Rag-Braided Rug": Richard Cardinal's story is from "Alone and Very Scared," Brandon Sun Newspaper, "Dimensions" Section, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, Oct 6, 1984. <back to text>

3. "A Green Rag-Braided Rug": The Ghost Dance Religion, James Mooney, University of Chicago Press, 1965. <back to song>

4. "A Green Rag-Braided Rug": This Paiute song seems perishable, a bundle of twigs, going around and around, going nowhere with vocables— the ro’rani’!s, or extensions of language— sound actually making a place for further possibilities. Nothing happens without the voice, which is an energy field that speaks-into-being [nothing is that did not come from words]. Native song means breath or that-which-is-life or the-maker-of-life. The vocables, as I said, serve to cover anything not said that needed to be said.

But this song is not perishable, but provides necessary assurance. It is a song from the Ghost Dance, the late 1880-90 Messianic dances that were thought at first to be a trail for the return of buffalo, ancestors and family who died with the coming of the cavalry and the settlers. The song is for the voices caught in the path of the coming world. As it turns out, the Ghost Dance was not for the returning, but for the leaving.

Can you imagine Walt Whitman in the attic of his brother’s house in Camden NJ closing his Leaves of Grass and Emily Dickinson working in Amherst MA in solitude as the Paiute made their song of departure in western Nevada [“Nuva’ Ka Ro’rani’!] They danced and chanted their words in the basin of the Sierras. The mountains were spotted with snow in the moonlight; the sky was spotted with stars. The repetition of words in the dark night and their hopeless situation brought trance and vision— the snow on the mountains was joined to the Milky Way, the path to the hereafter. In the song, the Paiute entered the universe. They were roadward [a vocable to extend the-road-with-an-end to the-road-where-there-is-a-way]. <back to song>