Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Portrait of Crown and Bannock

This story originally appeared in Prairie Fire Magazine after it was a finalist in the 2010 McNally Robinson Creative Nonfiction contest.

1
Joe came into my life in an unceremonious way. I was seven. My brother was with our father and I’d spent the night at the sitter’s, because my father no longer took me. Friday night was my mother’s night off. I’d go to the sitter’s and she’d dress in the one half-nice outfit she owned and take the city bus down to the Buffalo Hotel with her friend who lived in the apartment below us.  
            Saturday mornings, I took a sadistic pleasure in waking her from groggy, hung-over-sleep. I’d get up early, walk across the parking lot to our apartment complex and let myself in with the key I kept on a white shoelace around my neck. But, that morning when I burst through the door to exact my punishment on her for not spending the night with me, it was different. A stranger’s oily head was laying on my pale pink pillow case.
            The sun shone through the bed-sheet-curtain onto his terracotta, pock-marked skin, his eyes shielded from it by shaggy black bangs. The room reeked of man smell, booze and stale cigarette smoke. I took a step back; as if a wider angle would help me to better understand the picture.
            My mother, becoming aware of my presence, opened her eyes. She sat up, reached for her cigarettes and presented me with a defiant look of teenage rebellion. She was twenty-seven. Her lips parted in a smug, disobedient smile, as if to say, “So you caught me. What’re you going to do about it?” No apology. No explanation. She lit a cigarette, a new habit for her, puffed out a breath of smoke and told me that Joe would be living with us from now on. I would have to share a room with my little brother.          
            I shrugged my shoulders like I didn’t care— caring was letting her win. I went back outside and hopped on my green, banana seat bike and rode circles around the park, until I was called for lunch. I expected a cold bologna sandwich, but when I stepped into the apartment, I found Joe at the stove frying potatoes and onions, like he owned my mother’s kitchen. The thought of eating his cooking made me ill. 
            He set a greasy plate in front of me and I looked from it to him. I didn’t want either. He smiled shyly, without saying a word. My mother pleaded with embarrassment, but I left my food untouched and went back out to ride my bicycle.
A light prairie rain fell on my back as I peddled. It didn’t matter. I kept riding; until I saw him come out the front door. I stopped my bike and watched him from across the street. He walked with his head down, tucked into the collar of his lumberjack coat, staring at his toes. My father never walked with his head down. When he disappeared around the corner, I rode back to the building, locked my bike to the stair rail and ran up to our apartment. He was gone!
 My mother was sleeping on the couch and I wondered what she had been thinking, as I stared at the Smurfs on the TV and crammed handfuls of dry Fruit Loops into my mouth.
            My independence was short lived, however. Joe let himself into our apartment without even knocking. He had a box of Black Label beer slung over his shoulder, and he looked at me guiltily from under those shaggy bangs. He kicked off his cheap Velcro SAAN store shoes and he looked for a moment like maybe he got it and felt bad for invading my home, but it didn’t make him leave. He walked past me and set the case of beer beside the kitchen table. My father would have at least put the bottles in the fridge.
            I see it all from the outside now— a family portrait, I sitting on the floor in front of the TV with my Fruit Loops, my mother snoring on the couch in the foreground, and Joe cracking a beer in the background. I call it: Initiation of the Child of an Alcoholic

.
2
My brother stared at me with confusion and accusation. We had a sort of sibling telepathy and I could read his expression. He was asking who this man was and how could I have let this happen. There was nothing I could do. I didn’t like it anymore than he did. But, I felt guilty for not being able to make it all better.
            Joe worked the rigs, which meant that he didn’t work much, except in the winter. He spent his summers drinking beer and collecting U.I. So, my mother decided that he could be our new sitter. I liked our old one better. He fed us healthy, rich people food and read books to us. I doubted if Joe knew how to read. At the old sitter’s we had lunch at the same time every day, and were only allowed one hour of television. Joe fed us whenever and didn’t care what we watched on TV, but he was strict, really strict. We hated the chores he gave us and how he made us sit up straight, and if we chewed with our mouths open, even if we had a cold, he would take his saliva-coated, food-slimed fork from his beer-and-onion-breath mouth and rap our fingers with it. In fact, rapping our knuckles was his favourite form of punishment. He didn’t yell like our mother. He didn’t give warnings. His face would just turn mean and tangled and he’d lash our knuckles with whatever was handy. Sometimes, he would even smack me across the face.
            Things weren’t all bad, though. He usually cooked us breakfast, which was less lonely than pouring our own bowls of cereal before heading to the sitter’s. It was always fried potatoes, or bannock. If my childhood mornings had a taste, they would taste like Joe’s bannock, smothered with butter and saskatoon jelly.
            He took us places, too. He loved the outdoors like no one from the city I’d ever met. I thought he might be like me, but not for too long, because it weirded me out. I thought about it just long enough to wonder if the traffic also kept him awake at night, and if he missed the country like I did. I hated our musty apartment.
When Joe wanted to go, all he’d say was, “Come on.” It was a lot of words for him. When we got our marching orders, we’d pull on our shoes and wait for him to find his fishing rod. Then, we’d walk. We’d walk and walk. We’d walk, until we were too winded to protest. We’d walk, until we were too tired to even think a complaint. We’d walk, until our little brains transcended the pain of our blistered feet and we’d follow him into a place of release, where the confusion of the world was forgotten along with our discomfort and exhaustion.
            The river wasn’t just for fishing. Joe was a stone skipper too— the best I ever saw. He’d wind back his arm and send a rock jumping like popcorn toward the far bank. Ours usually died with an instant balloup. My brother took on learning Joe’s skill like an apprentice studying a master. I gave up, preferring to scratch non-permanent words in the sand with a stick— sads and lonelies I could stomp out with my foot.
When I look back at him there on the shore, I don’t see him as the cliché— the Hollywood Indian, organically silent and quiet. Instead, I see the opposite. This picture is called: Man with the Indian Beat Out of Him

3
Winter came and Joe left for the rigs. We went back to the sitter’s. Then, one day he appeared at our stove frying steaks and drinking Crown Royal. When Joe drank beer, he sat at the table and was quiet. When he drank Crown he moved around a lot and got loud. I didn’t like him like that, but I did like the purple draw string sacks with the Crown logo on them. He gave them to me to put my Barbie things in. I also liked that we left the apartment for a fourplex on the other side of the park. We were moving up in the world, though children still came by door-to-door on Wednesdays selling meat from their freezers so their moms could go to bingo and everyone’s parents got drunk and made a lot of noise at night.
            We lived the high life when Joe first came home. He gave us money every day to buy slushies and rent movies at the store. He even bought us new skates. But, within a couple of weeks the money was gone. Joe packed to go back to the rigs, and my mother made an appointment at the food bank. It was feast or famine from the time he walked into our lives—steak and Crown, and powdered milk and canned vegetables.
Spring came and my mother bought an old canvas tent from the used sporting goods store with her tax return. Joe was back and we all went camping as a family. He whittled us whistles from green twigs and taught us to cook bannock on a stick like a hot dog. We’d fill the centre holes with jam, and let it squish out all over us. It was better than marshmallows. We were finally a Rockwell portrait: Happy Family Camping.
            In the winter, he went back to the rigs and we started the cycle again. It was like the same movie playing over and over, until one fall when we came home from school to find Joe gone. Our mother explained that he was in trouble and it would be cleared up soon. It wasn’t. He went to jail— convicted without evidence, as my mother always reminded us. He’d been in trouble once before when he had too much Crown and threw a chair through the picture window. The police had come and hauled him away, as he pounded his Velcro shoes against the back door of the cop car. It was a drunk-tank crime, not the sort of thing you go away for. We couldn’t see him doing anything you go away for.

Prison didn’t terrify Joe like it did me. He met us with a smile, at ease, as if Bowden wasn’t a scary place where people in uniforms searched you for drugs and locked you behind row after row of concentric, barred gates. I wished my father would get rid of his girlfriend so I could visit him on weekends, instead.
            I asked my mother why she stayed with Joe.  She told me she didn’t want to be lonely and that she had a right to be happy. We were all miserable. She cried every night.

The worst Christmas I ever had was the one when Santa gave me someone else’s Barbies. I could tell, because they had chopped off hair and wore outfits crocheted by my mother. It was also our first Christmas without my father.
            The second worst Christmas was the one we had at Bowden. Instead of drinking hot chocolate and eating gingerbread cookies, we hopped in the back of my mother’s Nova and drove down to see Joe. In the movies kids always sit around a tree getting puppies and doll carriages. We spent Christmas morning being searched. The guards even cut a small hole in the back of the teddy my father gave me, to search for contraband. It was the first gift my father had given me in three years. Later, I didn’t care. I found a receipt for it in my mother’s things.
            I hadn’t expected anything from Joe. It wasn’t like he could shop in prison. Besides, I didn’t even like him. Why would he give me anything? I was shocked and even a little embarrassed when he shyly handed me a brown paper package. I suspected it really came from my mother, but it didn’t. It really was from him. Inside was a beaded necklace and earrings like I’d seen women wear to powwows and rodeos. The beads were ice-blue and orange and strung together by his own hands into spider webs that hung in Vs. I didn’t want to give in, but they were stunning and I put them on immediately. I even thought for a split second about giving him a hug, but I didn’t.
            Joe held my mother’s hand, while we children played Twister and shuffle board, all of us trying to make the best of it. The adults pretended it was Christmas, but we knew better. No artist would paint: Children Playing Twister in Jail, on Christmas.

4
When Joe was up for parole, we cleaned the house spotless. A lady in a grey suit came by to inspect our place, peering under beds and in closets. Joe was denied parole, because of the collection of empties we had gathered for refund at the depot. The lady thought they belonged to my mother and said it was an environment non-conducive to rehabilitation.
At the end of his sentence, Joe was released to the Salvation Army rehab program, right next to the Friendship Centre— that’s how he described where it was to my mother. I knew it, because my father painted the sign on the western wear store next door, back when I was still his daughter. I felt like his sign could see us. I hung my head and hurried in the door.
            Joe was high on sobriety when we found him reading the bible in the visiting room. His sobriety was intoxicating and soon the rest of us were hooked, too. If my father painted our portrait it would’ve been entitled: Model Family of a Recovering Alcoholic.
We started going to church regularly. Church wasn’t entirely new to our lives. Joe had reached out before, dragging us to beautiful old monuments, strict and full of ceremony. We were always met with the same look of suppressed horror and castigation my grade two teacher gave me when she found me playing barefoot on the playground, my ill-fitting shoes cast off. She called me a dirty, little heathen under her breath as she walked away, but I heard her.
The church people liked to sit us in the front row of pews like an exhibit: White Trash Woman with Heathen Kids and Savage. An usher would persistently hold a basket out, trying to convince us that God needed our bus change more than we did, while the congregation felt all warm inside for opening their doors to sinners. We learned a lot about sin in those churches— mostly that poverty was a sin. We walked home a lot, too.
            I usually wore a dress from a thrift shop. My favourite was a calico blouse and button down skirt with a fake petticoat sewn behind it. It was something Shania Twain would’ve worn in the early days. My mother preferred slouch boots and bright corals. My brother, when he was with us for Sundays, dressed in western shirts and Wranglers bought by our dad. But, Joe owned only t-shirts, jeans and SAAN Velcro shoes.
            As soon as the sermon would begin, quiet Joe would start slowly ripping those Velcro tabs. He’d rip them up and stick them down. Rip them up and stick them back down. I was ashamed of him. I’d sink low in the pew and pray to be made invisible.
            Joe would laugh mischievously to himself, before performing his final stunt. He’d close his eyes and fade off into a loud guttural sleep. Those old churches were designed to carry noise and his snores were no exception. We’d wake him as soon as the service was over and make a getaway as quickly as possible, never to return.
I never found God in those places, but I think Joe found exactly what he was looking for.

5
Joe gave up working on the rigs. It wasn’t an environment conducive to sobriety, or steak and bottles of Crown Royal and trips to the store for slushies. He took a job at a plant nursery. It was the perfect job for a man who loved nature and disliked talking. He stayed on there for a long time. Once, he brought me home a flowering cactus. I promised to never let it die, but it did. 
On one of Joe’s days off, he asked my mother if he could borrow her car to visit a friend who lived in a town near our father’s farm. He’d been on the wagon for close to a year and none of us were worried. In the days before sobriety, it would be a certain runaway, but he was different now. He was born again and Jesus had made him a new man.
            His boss called on the third day to say he was fired. He came back on the fourth. We had just moved to a new town outside of the city and my mother missed her exams at the college. He didn’t apologize. Instead, he threw rhetoric in her face about how she was as fat as a cow and couldn’t keep house worth a squat. It wasn’t his words. It was my father’s. My mother refused to take Joe back.
            She drove us to the beach for ice-cream, to make it easier on us. At first, I felt like celebrating. The sick feeling didn’t hit me, until my brother found our father’s cowboy hat in the back seat of the car. I dropped my vanilla cone out the window into the dirt and called it: Sabotage.

There is a man who hangs out by the Liquor Store. His hair is to his shoulders, he’s dirty and walks with a limp, and sometimes I can swear he’s Joe.
            In my dreams he recognizes me. I take him in the store and buy him a bottle of Crown Royal, instead of that cheap Royal White wine he drinks from a green jug. We go to Wal-Mart, because we have no SAAN anymore, and I buy us both a pair of cheap Velcro shoes. It’s Sunday and we decide to go to my sister-in-law’s church, the one my husband’s ex also attends. We sit in the front pew, aimed and ready to rip, as soon as the minister opens his mouth. When everyone looks on us with pity and condemnation we just laugh, numb with Crown we share straight from the bottle. No one raps our knuckles.
After, we go to the river. Joe teaches me how to skip stones like a pro and we eat bannock with saskatoon jelly. I draw our portrait in the sand: Father with Daughter. He tells me he loves me. I hug him and tell him, “I’m sorry.”
The End



Ghost Dance

  This story originally appeared in Water~Stone Review. It is based on a concept by Keith Secola.

My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake it will be

the artists who give them their spirit back.

                                                                                                       Louis Riel


1.
The loud, overhead pounding woke Jack Wilson[1] with a start. He wasn’t sure at first that what he thought he heard was in fact what he heard. He rolled over slowly on bones seized from years of inactivity to see if anyone else had heard it too.
“That’s for us, ennit?” said the man next to him, who only went by his first initial, ‘T’.[2] Both men were Paiute and had Paiute names, but neither had gone by his for more than a hundred years. The reasons they abandoned them changed with the times. Jack mostly claimed that his name had died of malnutrition somewhere just after 1890,[3] and T asserted his was far too new-agey . . . might as well go by a moniker like Crystal Rain or Rainbow Awakening. He sat up. “Guess we better get going, huh?”
“Yeah. I guess so.” Jack eyed his companion. “You’re not going to wear that, are you?”
            “I don’t know, I thought so,” said the other, poking a finger through a mildew-ringed hole that may have been made by a bullet, or just as easily a moth, or maybe a bullet that thought it was a moth. “I haven’t taken this AIM shirt off since 1973.[4] It’s lucky.”
            “It’s something alright, but I’m not sure ‘lucky’ is what I’d call it,” said Jack, who had always thought the only appropriate attire for these things was his Sunday best. He kissed his still sleeping wife, Mary, and pushed a tall black hat down over his grey hair; then the two men mounted a couple of scraggly ponies and set out from Nevada in a northeastern direction toward Minneapolis.

2.
It was an angry colonial wind that howled— a cold and calculating wind that blew long after it bent your back and snapped your limbs. It blew long after it brought you to your knees just so you could watch it carry the leaves of your children away. It was Colonel Forsyth’s[5] favorite kind of wind, coming up hard from the southeast. His face had been tucked into his double-breasted coat right to the tips of the whiskers on his upper lip, but now he looked out across the plains to watch the two young men who crossed the horizon in a four-wheeler. He followed them with the iron sights of his rifle, drawing a bead as their long black hair flowed like horses’ manes behind them. He could drop the first and then the second before either could register so much as a crack in the air, but where was the satisfaction in it if you weren’t close enough to watch the lights go out? Where was the fun for him if he could not see them see him turn the switch off? And these days, he longed so desperately to be seen.
He’d gotten used to white people not seeing him. They’d been staring through him since General Miles had labeled him a murderer of women and babies.[6] But the Indians? No, this was something he had not yet grown accustomed to, because they still saw him long after the buffalo were gone, they saw him after their television sets had given them the Eagle landing on the moon,[7] and they kept on seeing him until textbooks erased their genetic memories and the Top 40 drowned out the sounds their ancestors beat upon their ear drums. Now tourists pointed cameras in his face, quick flash bulbs blinding him like bee stings, capturing images that ignored the truth of a man like him.
            Only Sitting Bull could really see Forsyth now. He could see him out there waiting for him, but Forsyth could wait, not that the Chief lacked courage. He was just done with all of that now. He’d gone out once to meet the Colonel in the Black Hills, not to fight, but to offer him a cup of warm tea. Forsyth had accepted it without thought, mistaking Sitting Bull for another nostalgic tourist. And it was true—apart from the long braids he still wore, there was nothing left of the Chief for the Colonel to recognize, not a trace of the glory or a single breath of the nobility Sitting Bull once had.  He’d long since given away his horses and his most valued possessions, he’d given his flesh and he’d given his tears, until all that was left to give to the people was his greatness. So Sitting Bull gave it, too. Much of that greatness had ended up on postcards and in internet memes bearing quotations concocted by Seattle’s ghost writer,[8] but some of it still lived in the hearts of his people, not just the Lakota, but also the Cree and the Dineh and even the Inuit. He’d once heard rumors that some of his greatness had migrated south for a warmer climate and now lived in songs sung by the Torre Straight Islanders[9] under the stars.
No, Forsyth would not see him coming today or any other day, because it was no longer for him to carry his own greatness out onto the battlefield or into a room of diplomacy. Sitting Bull finished the last sip of his chai and set the empty cup in the sink. Looking out into the long-distant horizon through his kitchen window, he watched curiously as the Colonel dismounted a thin-withered Palomino.
Forsyth knew a fight was out there somewhere. He could smell it, as only a man who lives for fights (he knows he can win) can. He pressed his ear to the ground. “Aha,” he said, then listened again. It was not the marked cadence of hoof beats that rippled the earth, and it was not the erratic rhythm of war ponies carrying young men to count coup[10] on him that prickled the hairs on the back of his neck. No, somewhere out there Indians were doing what was forbidden. He knew it. He recognized that mix of drum beats and the sound the left foot made when it met the ground.    
He stood erect and caught the bitter taste of 1,000 nations’ hope on his tongue. He had a hankering for an old family recipe of genocide soup, and he knew exactly where to find the final ingredient. There was no time to waste. Forsyth swung a leg up over the pale US branded rump, settled into the saddle, and reined his mount’s head in tight, cutting dead east in the same direction as the four-wheeler. Somewhere out there Injuns were dancing that dance. They dared to join their hands and taunt him, taunt every progressive, forward-thinking, industrious man of ilk. He’d make those savages see him this time. They’d see him turn their switches off alright.

3.
Kicking Bear and Short Bull,[11] who’d recently gone back to their traditional names in protest of colonization, had mostly been subsiding on the powwow trail, waiting for a good Forty-Nine[12] to come up so they could relive the old glory days, the days before Forsyth and the rest of the army had sent them away to live with the ancestors. They’d marched in the South during the Civil Rights movement and danced in Baptist churches crying “Hallelujah!” and “Lord, free us from our burdens!” They’d burned bras with middle-aged housewives and thrown their military accommodations over the fence alongside John Kerry. Most recently, they’d camped for twelve years on Wall Street as part of the Occupy movement. They’d erected a tipi long before anyone could see it, and it was, in fact, still standing there next to the bronze bull, as invisible as it had always been. But this? This was what they had really been waiting for. This was the moment.
Their four-wheeler broke down somewhere outside of Albert Lea, so they jacked a Bradley off the back of an Army trailer in a Super 8 parking lot, where the boys from the 7th  Cavalry[13] had bedded down for the night.

Kicking Bear and Short Bull were five miles outside of Minneapolis by the time the Private stood with his mouth agape behind the Super 8.
“Indians,” said the Sergeant.
“Indians, Sergeant?” asked the Private.
 “Indians.”
“Excuse me, Sergeant, but are there any real Indians left?”
The Sergeant picked up some loose asphalt, sifted it through his hands, and sniffed the air. “Indians, Private. Indians, headed north.”

4.
Abe[14] sipped a strawberry frappachino as he observed the heavy horde of savages milling near the food court. Something was afoot.
 “The Natives are getting restless, it seems,” said Andrew[15], setting his phone down next to a coagulated dollop of ketchup on a green vinyl table.
“Yes, it seems,” said Abe. “Your call, was it important?”
“Oh, just my friend Stephen[16] in Canada.”
“Oh, yes. “I remember him. Bright boy. Lots of promise.”
 “Yes, yes, looks as if he is going to finally clear up all that nasty business we should have taken care of long ago. Thought for sure Teddy[17] would wrap it up, came close, too, but this boy Stephen, my money’s on him.”
An Indian in a tall black hat caught Abe’s attention. He turned quickly. “Say, I may be a horse’s ass, but isn’t that . . .”
“Why I do believe it is. Old Snake Oil[18] shows up after all.”
“Now, now, that’s a little harsh to suggest he was a con, don’t you think?” asked Andrew.
Abe looked back at Andrew, and the two normally dour and stone-faced men erupted in laughter.
“Well,” said Abe, “he did keep them quiet for us awhile, didn’t he? I mean, no one was out fighting while they were busy buying into all that hippy talk about holding hands and dancing, were they?”

From beneath the brim of his black hat, Jack Wilson saw Abe and Andrew, too, but he preferred to regard them with an over-familiar disinterest, as though they were inanimate fixtures, much like the giant plastic palm trees or the metal benches in the resting area. They were fixtures that would decay long after they had become outdated and ceased to be of use to anyone. Someday, an archeologist would unearth one from a landfill somewhere. “What’s this here?” he’d exclaim.
“That?” a colleague would reply, “Oh that’s a Jackson, a rare find. They’ve been obsolete for a few hundred years now.”
“What about this? What do you make of this here?”
“That one must be worth a fortune! It’s a Lincoln. Top notch administrative butcher, and still he managed to get into the good books of history. Many of the best politicians were actually made as replicas of this model here.”

Kicking Bear and Short Bull burst in through the automatic sliding mall doors, out of breath, having run with their hand drums all the way from the back parking lot where they’d left the Bradley taking up three and a half spots. They pushed through the thick crowd of people, nearly knocking Jack and T to the ground, jumped up on the rim of a cement planter, and began banging the drums.
Jack shook his head. “Not those two,” he said, knowing the pair were about to see a rebirth as poster children for the round dance movement.[19] They’d be AP superstar villains in no time. That would be good for at least another hundred pages each in their FBI files. Maybe the government would have to build a new room to house all that paperwork it had been collecting since 1889. Already there were four such rooms filled floor-to-ceiling with the usual incriminating evidence: john shots and pizza delivery order wire taps.
The drums called the milling crowd to organize itself into a large, looping but unjoined circle of heavy, dropping left feet and hands clasped together. Others, mostly those who called themselves settlers, who carried the genetic memory of having once been indigenous refugees in spite of Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, stood on the outside, placards waving high.
“What’s with this new Forty-Nine music, anyway?” asked Jack.
“Kinda catchy, I think,” said T.
“I like the songs from the old days,” said Jack.
“This is a song from the old days.”
“Not my old days,” said Jack. “Whose old days?”
“Their old days. But you’re the guy who griped when he had a song written about him. No one ever wrote a song about me. If they did, rest assured, I’d like it.”
“I never said I didn’t like the Red Bone song.”[20]
“Didn’t you?”
Jack sighed. “It’s not so much the music that gets to me. It’s the setting. Tell me again why they’re doing a sacred dance in a shopping mall.”
“It’s a kind of a protest.”
“Our rituals are for protests now?” He shook his head. “The dancing is only meant for us.” He pointed to Kicking Bear and Short Bull. “Remember what happened the last time those two flaunted our dances for protest? To show the outsiders our strength and the strength of our ancestors is to show them our greatest weapon. It is to call them to war. When we show them the power of what they do not understand, we invoke their fear. Fear does not produce humanity. It fosters hostility.”
T was silent a moment. “Are we going to join them or what?”
“I suppose I’ll never hear the end of it if I don’t,” said Jack, breaking in and joining hands near the lead.

5.
Abe and Andrew were thinking it was past time to call in the Cavalry when the two mall cops arrived. The one named McLaughlin[21] had a hand on his flashlight, just itching to take down a real live wild Indian. Probably shoplifters, the whole lot of them. He’d been following them around department stores and boutiques for his entire thirteen-year career, and one of these days he was going to catch one, too, catch ’em red-handed. He figured there was a reason why they called it that: red-handed. They didn’t call it white-handed or yellow-handed or even black-handed, did they? “Let’s round ’em up and hold ’em ’til the police get here,” he said as he smacked his gum loudly. “They’ll probably give us an accommodation.”
“I’m not going to give them the notoriety or the attention by dignifying their presence,” said the one named Warner.[22]
“That’s what you said last time.”
“Did I? Oh well, who could have predicted they’d dance for so many days. But that was before television. American Idol is on tonight. Who’s going to miss that? And let’s not discount Twitter and Facebook. This generation is going to be the first to get their pictures uploaded on Instagram and their videos on YouTube.”
McLaughlin agreed with his friend, but he wasn’t letting go of his flashlight, just in case. He could see it now: the mayor shaking his hand and his picture on the front page of the paper. Maybe he’d finally get a date with the girl at the Burger King stand.

Forsyth was hitching his steed to the bike rack outside when the 7th Cav pulled up in hot pursuit of Kicking Bear and Short Bull.
The Sergeant dismounted his vehicle, a Corporal and the Private in tow. He clicked his heels and snapped a sharp salute that was echoed by his subordinates and returned by the Colonel.
“Come on boys, they’re in here,” said Forsyth.
“Indians, sir?” said the Sergeant.
“Indians,” said Forsyth.
The Sergeant turned and gave a self-satisfied smile to the Private. The Corporal looked down at the spot between his spit-polished boots. He didn’t like this business, not one bit.
“Say,” said Forsyth, “any chance you boys brought some Hotchkiss guns?”
“Sorry, sir,” said the Sergeant. “Army fazed those out years ago.”
“Oh, I see,” said Forsyth. “What do you recommend?”
“Tear gas and rubber bullets are standard for crowd control these days, sir.”
“Can’t you call the CQ and find me a Hotchkiss gun? What about those RPG things they talk about on CNN, or some drones?
“Sorry, sir. It’s a kinder, gentler Army now. Can’t do that sort of thing on home soil.”
“Kinder, gentler? What the hell is that supposed to mean? You think it’s a kinder, gentler Indian now? No. They’ve probably got AK-47s under their blankets in there. They’re a bunch of terrorists bent on destroying the American way. You think these boys value baseball and apple pie? Of course they don’t. Just listen to them complain about Chief Wahoo[23] some time. Poor Chief Wahoo. They hate baseball. It’s un-American to hate baseball. This is war. Don’t you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” replied the Sergeant, following Forsyth through the automatic sliding doors.

Kicking Bear and Short Bull were now joined by many more drummers.  They had come from across NDN Country and from as far away as Africa, Norway, and New Zealand. Black Coyote,[24] a reincarnated woodcarver from Seattle,[25] led the procession of dancers, guiding them between vendor tables and water features, up the escalator, around the mezzanine, and up the escalator again like a twisting smoke signal of longing. He did so with the impeccable rhythm of one whose ear drums had never been touched by the Top 40— one who matched the vibrations of the world with his highly evolved heart drum.
As Jack held tightly to Black Coyote’s hand, he allowed himself a moment of nostalgia about the way it had been before 1890.

Abe and Andrew had switched to espresso by now, while McLaughlin and Warner bickered over whether or not things were getting sufficiently out of hand to act with aggression.
The mall manager came out from his third-floor office to see what was the cause of the racket. Oh my gawd, he thought, the Indians are taking over. This is bad for business. Soon this will be known as an Indian mall. GAP and OLD NAVY will be replaced by second hand vendors, bottle depots, and white-walled taverns. Burger King will be reduced to a bannock stand. This will ruin everything. He could see it now. It would become the kind of place where young, twenty-something hipster women like his daughter would come for a taste of wild meat. Maybe he himself would be lured into wild fornication with the woman who ran the bannock stand. No, not in his mall.
He pushed his way through the dancers and hung his head over the railing. “McLaughlin! Warner! Why are these . . . these people carrying on in my mall?”
McLaughlin shot Warner an I-told-you-so look.
“Well, sir,” said Warner, “I can’t say I can stand them or this noise much, either, but the press is sure to be all over it if we step in, and who knows which way the spin will turn. Could end badly for the mall.”
“Are you kidding me? There’s enough nouveau rednecks in these parts to keep us in American Eagle and Banana Republic for the next three centuries. Toss ’em.”
McLaughlin was a yes man, so he took the elevator to the top and stopped Black Coyote before he could lead the dancers onto the roof. Unfazed, Black Coyote side-stepped right past him and made his way toward the down escalator, leading the dancers on.
“Stop!” shouted McLaughlin.
 The wood carver kept beat with all the memories of the dancers in the chain that trailed after him, and with all the songs they had ever sung. Their songs and their stories were so loud inside of him, McLaughlin’s words drowned and faded before they were heard in his heart.
 “Stop dancing and get out of my mall,” McLaughlin said, holding his flashlight at the ready. “Get out!”
Black Coyote kept on with his left foot, leading the others into a downward descending circle that ringed the inner ascending one.
Forsyth saw this spelled trouble. “Private, go help that mall cop,” he ordered.
“Yes, sir,” said the Private.
A troop of Boy Scouts decided it was time to mobilize. They took an Indian woman from New Delhi as their POW and ran home to collect their .22s and enlist their fathers.
The Private stood nose to nose with Black Coyote, dancing along to maintain eye contact. “Get out!” demanded the Private.
Black Coyote stepped onto the next downward escalator and started the procession toward the main floor.
The Private stopped and looked to Forsyth and his superiors as they watched disapprovingly.
Not to be made a fool of by a redskin, the Private squeezed his way past Jack and T until he was again face-to-face with Black Coyote. In his enemy’s eyes, the Private saw the woman who would run the bannock stand where Whoppers once were sold. And inside her eyes he could see the glint of the knife that had stripped the flesh from his bones as he lay lifeless in the grass at Little Bighorn.  But if he dared to look deeper still, past the memory of his own battlefield death, he would find inside her black pupils the startled irises of a ten-year-old girl who gazed at the sky as he fed his cock to her. He would remember the scream on the underside of his hand as the innocence was carved from her. But he made it a point not to look into the eyes of mothers. And he did not make a habit of feeling with the underside of his hand. No, he wouldn’t let this mall become the sort of place that harbored bannock stands. He drew his Colt 45 and fired two shots into Black Coyote’s belly, then fired another two into the woodcarver’s highly evolved heart drum.
“Good one, Private Birk!”[26] cheered Forsyth.
“Why did you do that? Why did you do that?” screamed a white woman, dropping her Settler in Solidarity placard and running to the foot of the escalator where Black Coyote’s body lay lifeless.
Jack took the warm gun from Birk and held the Private’s murdering hand to his mourning heart.  The Private made it a habit never to feel with the underside of his hand.
Kicking Bear dropped his drum and rushed the soldier as he pulled away from Jack and stepped off the moving stairs, but the Sergeant raised his service weapon and let off a round. The bullet that thought it was a moth left its projected flight path to enjoy the freedom of its wings, but forgetting itself, crashed into Private Birk’s skull instead.
Pandemonium broke out. Dancers trampled each other while dashing for the exits. Women screamed, clutching babies to their chests, but a SWAT team was now on the ground. The heavily armed men repelled the shrieking dancers backward.
The Cavalry reinforcements Forsyth had requested arrived on the heels of the SWAT team with four Hotchkiss guns they’d procured from a military museum.
All around them Jack and T watched men drop, shot in the head with bottles of whiskey and pain pills ejected from the cannons— munitions so unethical the use of them in warfare had long ago been banned under an amendment to the Geneva Conventions.
Forsyth had the reluctant Corporal fetch his horse so he could have a better vantage point from which to survey the carnage. It was a good day, the Colonel thought. The kind of day a man could wait a century for.
Jack pleaded with the dancers to remain peaceful in face of the assault, but Kicking Bear and Short Bull were now wielding books they’d swiped from the Barnes & Noble. The threat of armed Indians incited the Cavalry to respond with an ever-escalating level of violence.  
“Stop!” cried Jack, jumping onto the cement planter. “Stop!” Women fell face forward in front of Victoria’s Secret, while Abe and Andrew watched with amusement. Mothers stumbled limply before the great water fountain, their babies leaving their arms like discarded pennies, like forgotten wishes, like anonymous dreams. “Stop!” Jack cried out again.
Forsyth reined in his mount. “What do you want, old man?”
“Stop the shooting. Stop harming my people. It’s me you want.”
The Colonel had to agree. Jack was no Sitting Bull, but it was the echo of his calls, after all, that had brought the people here to dance for their slaughter.
Yes, he was the man.
Kicking Bear and Short Bull were not so sure that Jack was the one. They thought the bullet in the Colonel’s chamber ought to be meant for one of them and wondered if wearing bullet proof vests made of 100 tiny diamond windows had really been such a wise choice.
“OK, said Forsyth, I see your point.” He raised a shiny Winchester. “Any last words?”
Jack threw T a mischievous look. “Yes. All people must dance. Keep on dancing! Keep on dancing!”[27]
Forsyth pierced the white of Jack’s Sunday best shirt with an ever- expanding circle of crimson.
T laughed in spite of the tragedy. He laughed and he laughed, until all that was left to do was cry.
Jack lay on the muddy, tiled floor, a smile frozen on his face.
The people at last had their martyr.
Everyone was quite satisfied now that the blood of their savior had been spilled and went home to upload their pictures of the event. Kicking Bear and Short Bull hopped back in the Bradley accompanied by the AWOL Corporal. While the Corporal drove north, the pair planned another flash mob round dance on Facebook, using their iPhones.
During a friendly, celebratory coffee with Abe and Forsyth, Andrew received a text message from his friend Stephen, saying he had just dispatched Colonel Chivington[28] to Ft. McMurray. Forsyth reckoned there would be many more wars that couldn’t be lost in the North Country, so he bid his companions adieu and headed his steed toward the Medicine Line.

6.
It was the night janitor, a Mohawk who’d long since replaced the Warrior flag above his bed with a poster of Miley Cyrus, who found the lifeless Jack below the plastic palm trees.
“You can’t stay here,” he said, nudging Jack awake.
“Oh, yes, I guess you’re right. But where do I go?” asked Jack.
“How about home to your wife?” the janitor suggested.

It was cold outside, but Jack stopped only once on the long trail back to Nevada. It was to share a quick bite to eat with his old friend Sitting Bull, who was passing a restless night in a roadside diner.
The sun was rising over Jack’s left shoulder as he reached home.
He paused in the doorway to brush off a light dusting of snow and hung his hat on a hook. Mary looked up from the stove and smiled gently at him. He kissed her and sat down at the kitchen table next to T.  Engrossed in composing an article for the Huffington Post, T, clad now in a new T-shirt that read Keep it Riel, did not acknowledge Jack’s return.
“How did it go?” Mary asked, placing a cup of tea before her husband.
Jack dropped a few cubes of sugar into his cup and shrugged apologetically. “Same as usual. I suppose it was to be expected.”

Meanwhile, Louis[29] stood shivering in the only phone booth left in St Boniface. In fact, it was the only phone booth left in Winnipeg. Perhaps, the only one left in the world. Before him he had a list of artists his friend Gabriel[30] had compiled from lists stolen from the FBI, the CIA and CSIS. He skimmed the alphabetical list, as he waited for the operator: Robertson, Sainte-Marie, Secola, Tagaq…
“Oui, Madame, collect call s’il vous plait…”





[1] Jack Wilson (c.1856-1932) was a Paiute profit also known as Wovoka. A pacifist, he was credited with starting the Ghost Dance movement
[2] A great deal of controversy exists as to whether or not Tavibo was Wovoka’s father. What is known is that his prophesies greatly influenced Wovoka’s.
[3] The year of the Wounded Knee Massacre, after which Wovoka fell largely into historical obscurity, marked the ruin of his reputation. 
[4] On Feb 27, 1973, 200 Oglala Lakota and American Indian Movement (AIM) followers began the Siege of Wounded Knee in response to tribal and federal government corruption. The siege lasted seventy-three days.
[5] Colonel Forsyth is credited as the butcher responsible for the carnage at Wounded Knee in 1890.
[6] General Miles devoted a great deal of effort to bringing attention to the crimes committed by Forsyth at Wounded Knee.
[7] When Buzz Aldrin declared in 1967, “The Eagle has landed,” upon touching down on the moon, it was believed to herald the coming of a new time of strength and power for Indigenous people, as prophesized by the Hopi.
[8]  Chief Seattle (c.1780-1866) is widely credited with many famous quotations that were actually written by screenwriter Ted Perry for “Home,” a 1972 film about ecology.
[9]  Indigenous people of the Torres Straight Islands of Queensland, Australia.
[10] Warriors would “count coup” as a display of bravery. It involved touching or striking the enemy with a hand, bow, or coup stick at close range. The reward for doing so was the right to wear an eagle feather in the hair.


[11]  The pair were credited with bringing the Ghost Dance to the Lakota people.
[12]  A style of Native American song that combines traditional indigenous vocables and drumming with blues-like lyrics (often containing English).
[13] The 7th Cavalry was prominent in the American Indian Wars. In 1876 Custer led the unit against the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho at the Battle of Little Bighorn, in an effort to claim the unceded territory of the Black Hills. He and his men suffered a crushing defeat with casualties that included Custer himself. For this reason, the battle is also known as Custer’s Last Stand. However, the unit is still active today.
[14] Abraham Lincoln approved the simultaneous execution of thirty-eight Native Americans in Mankato, MN, on December 27, 1862. It remains the largest mass execution in American history.
[15] Andrew Jackson led campaigns against the Creek and Seminole Indians. During his presidency the Indian Removal Act was passed, resulting in the death of more than 4, 000 Cherokees on the Trail of Tears.
[16] Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is well known for his anti-environmental approach, and has been charged with fostering racist sentiments and policies against the indigenous peoples of Canada. When his Conservative government passed legislation that violated treaty rights, it touched off the Idle No More Movement in 2012 which has spread worldwide.
[17] Theodore Roosevelt advocated strongly that war against Native Americans wasn’t just inevitable, but the most righteous form of war. He dispossessed Native Americans of a great deal of their inhabited territory, including the Grand Canyon and fifteen million acres of reservation land, by reallocating it for National Parks. 
[18] Jack Wilson/Wovoka was considered by some to be nothing more than a charlatan. 
[19] A healer named Wodziwob, along with Tavibo, preached that round dancing would bring loved ones back from the grave. This was the precursor to Wovoka’s Ghost Dance.
[20]  A style of Native American song that combines traditional indigenous vocables and drumming with blues-like lyrics (often containing English).
[21] McLaughlin was the Indian Agent who ordered Sitting Bull’s arrest and set the wheels in motion that resulted in the Wounded Knee Massacre two weeks later.
[22] Warner was an Indian Agent credited with saying he would not give Wovoka added “notoriety” by having him arrested.
[23]  Chief Wahoo is the controversial mascot of the Cleveland Indians.
[24] Black Coyote was a Lakota Sioux who refused to surrender his rifle. This is credited as the incident that triggered the Wounded Knee Massacre, though it is believed Black Coyote was deaf and could not understand what was asked.
[25] John T. Williams was a deaf woodcarver who was shot four times and killed by a Seattle police officer in 2010 for not immediately dropping his wood carving knife after being asked to.
[26] Birk is the surname of the officer who shot John T. Williams.
[27]  Part of the chorus of the 1973 Red Bone song “Wovoka.”
[28] Colonel Chivington led 700 men in an attack against a peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapaho, killing somewhere between seventy and 163 mostly women and children.

[29] Louis Riel was the political and spiritual leader of the Western Métis and was hung in Winnipeg in 1885. He is credited with saying, “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirits back.”
[30] Gabriel Dumont led the Métis military under Riel. 

Red Buffalo Woman



In a short fall before a long winter, there was a Red Buffalo Woman who came up lame. Day after day she pushed herself to keep pace with her herd, growing weaker with every step, so that by the time they reached the great river, she had lost most of her strength. With too much exhaustion to pay mind to her steps, she misplaced her hind leg, sinking past the hock in a deep mud hole along the river bank. She struggled to free herself with no result, and eventually her herd was forced to move on, leaving her behind.

            The Red Buffalo Woman collapsed to her knees and waited helplessly for the predators to come and pick her carcass bare. But before the wolves and the coyotes could draw near, a man came upon her. Feeling sorry for the red buffalo woman, he dug her from the mud hole and brought her home with him, and because he had many motherless children, he invited her to stay with him as his wife. The Buffalo Woman was very happy and worked hard to care for the man’s own mother and his children.

            However, soon she discovered that the man was lazy and did not like to hunt. As winter came on, his children grew thin and sick. One day, the man’s mother came to the Buffalo Woman. “You can see that my grandchildren are starving, but you are so big and fat. Could you not spare just a little for us? Just something for the pot?”

            The Red Buffalo Woman loved her family and could not refuse them. “Of course,” she told her mother-in-law, “take what you need.” And so it went on day after day that the old woman and her son carved the meat from her bones. She did not complain, because they reminded her each time that she should have died on the river bank, and the gift of her flesh was a small price to pay for the warmth of their fire and their company.

            It was a long winter that stretched past its moons, but like all winters, it finally yielded to spring. But as the buds peeked from the trees and the birds filled the skies with their songs again, the red buffalo woman found she was nothing but bones and hide. “You are no longer of any use to us,” her husband told her, and taking that hide from her, he and his family left her and set out for their spring camp.

            The Red Buffalo Woman laid down on the damp earth, twice abandoned, with nothing left of herself but her bones and her tears. The grass grew up through her rib cage and all around her skeleton, but she did not move.

            A passing Eagle happened to fly over head and looking down saw the Red Buffalo Woman who mourned her own imminent death. “Why are you crying?” he asked, swooping down to perch on her skull.

            “When I became lame and stuck, my herd left me to die. But I was found by a man, and I learned to love that man and his family so much I let them strip me completely, but then they had no more use for me, and left me also. Now, I have nothing left to offer the world. I have nothing to give and it is better I die.”

            “Nothing?” asked the Eagle, snapping one of her femur bones. “This marrow is delicious. The very best I have ever had.” When the Eagle was done his feast and had sucked her dry, he gathered the empty bones of the red buffalo woman into his talons, lifted her high into the air, and released her above a steep cliff.

            “Why have you done this to me?” she cried. “First you have sucked the marrow from my bones, and now you have dropped me to my death!”
    
        “No,” said the Eagle, “I hollowed your bones to make them lighter, and I have uplifted you so you could fly.”

            The red buffalo woman was rapidly approaching the rocks below and knew they would smash her to dust. “I will die!” she screamed.

            “You will fly!” assured the Eagle.

            Just then the wind whistled through the hollow bones of the Red Buffalo Woman, tickling the insides of them. As she shook her frame in response, great plumes of feathers sprouted from her shoulders and her back, and sharp claws sprung from the shards of her broken femur. She gave a thunderous flap of her enormous new wings, just as a solar wind grazed the underside of her belly, and rose up high above the clouds and all the creatures of the Earth, reborn in flight.


The end.