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The Arts
“You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” is a story of survival, humor and wisdom
Tuesday, August 08 2017
 
Written by Deborah Locke,
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sherman-alexie-book.jpgSherman Alexie’s latest book is a memoir about his mother Lillian and a whole lot more. It’s a book that sits inside your head after you finish it, forcing you to feel what you’d rather not feel, and above all else, ensuring that you will never ever forget Lillian Alexie. Or her son, Sherman.

“You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” is the story of a family from the Spokane Indian Reservation near Wellpinit, Wash. The book centers on Alexie’s relationship with his complex, blunt mother who often comes off as the least maternal mother imaginable. According to her son, Lillian was cruel and unpredictable, oppressive, intelligent and arrogant.

In 2015, Lillian died from cancer at age 78 at the family HUD-built home. Alexie’s grief and loss permeate the book about reservation life and death even as he introduces people you wished you had known while they were alive.

If the above sounds like a contradiction – and a downer – know also that this is a story of survival, of reservation humor and irony, and of insight and wisdom. The lives unfold in word bits through a swirling narrative of prose and poetry, with facts scattered the way patches seem to be scattered on a quilt.

Yet there’s a cohesive structure to the book, the way there’s a cohesive structure to a quilt. Sherman’s mother was an expert quilter, and the income generated from the quilts she sold paid for food and other necessities. Her son Sherman showed an early affinity for written words; with time, he became famous and a best-selling author. This book stitches the mother/son relationship together with many other pieces – Spokane tribal history, Sherman’s brain surgery and recovery, grade school bullying, criticism of Donald Trump supporters, genocide, fame, family secrets, reservation abandonment, first kisses and way more.

But it’s that mother/son dynamic that keeps returning to center stage. At his mother’s funeral, Sherman looked around at the mourners and realized how he had always wanted to be beloved by them, yet he had left the reservation to attend a high school 22 miles away and never returned.

“Between me and my tribe, I didn’t belong because maybe I never wanted to belong. When everybody else danced and sang, I silently sat in my room with books…I used books for self-defense.”

Permitting her son to leave home in 1979 and receive an education in a white community was one way Lillian saved Sherman’s life, he wrote. He grew in confidence at the high school and became a class standout both academically and athletically.

Lillian also saved his life, and that of his siblings, when she quit drinking alcohol in 1973 and focused on her children’s safety. She remained a dry drunk for the rest of her life, flying into and out of rages and taking her anger out on whoever was closest to her at the time. Often that was Sherman, her “most regular opponent. I remember only a little bit of my mother’s kindness and almost everything about her coldness.”

Yet in a poem about quilting, he wrote how he missed his mother, the rebellious trickster with her inconsistent mothering. “She taught us survival with needle, thread and thimble all stained with her blood,” he wrote.

He also wrote of other important women in his life. Sherman’s wife Diane is his bedrock and by the end of the book, you wish Diane would write her own memoir. His twin sisters pop up here and there, providing comic relief and perspective for their brother. And there are small vignettes of everyday life, like doing laundry at home with Diane, where Sherman perversely refused to fold clean clothes, but happily ironed them to perfection.

It’s those little excerpts that bring humanity and lightness to the story, like the wonderful description of Lillian frying baloney that curled at the edges and rose, whose sizzle was one of Lillian’s love songs. Like the story of a kind, competent nurse who cared for Sherman after his brain surgery. Like the “Edith Whartonian social rules of the reservation” which will be immediately recognized by those familiar with reservations.

This is a book with staying power, a book that won’t leave your head soon.


Sherman Alexie, Jr. is a Spokane-Coeur d'Alene-American novelist, short story writer, poet, and filmmaker best known for the movie “Smoke Signals.” He has won the Pen/Faulkner Award, the National Book Award, and the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award. Alexie lives in Seattle with his wife, Diane. They have two sons. He will participate in the Season Opener of the Talking Volumes Series on Sept. 14, 2017 at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.  


Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces
Thursday, June 01 2017
 
Written by The Circle,
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native-american-vets1.jpgGeneral Douglas MacArthur, commander-in-chief of the Allied forces in the South Pacific, on an inspection trip of American battle fronts, late 1943. From left: Staff Sergeant Virgil Brown (Pima), First Sergeant Virgil F. Howell (Pawnee), Staff Sergeant Alvin J. Vilcan (Chitimacha), General MacArthur, Sergeant Byron L. Tsingine (Diné), and Sergeant Larry Dekin (Diné). (Photo by U.S. Army Signal Corps.)

 


The Historic Fort Snelling in Minnesota will host “Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces”, an exhibit that tells the history of the brave American Indian and Alaska Native men and women who have served in the US military. Using art, photography and essays, the show examines more than 300 years of Native people’s contributions to the U.S. military. Native peoples have participated in every major U.S. military encounter from the Revolutionary War to today’s conflicts in the Middle East, serving at a higher rate in proportion to their population than any other ethnic group.

 

Presented in 18 full-color banners, the exhibit includes additional content developed by Minnesota Historical Society about the efforts of American Indian veterans from Minnesota and the surrounding area. It will be on display May 27 to Aug. 12, 2017, and was produced by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Admission for Native American guests is waived. Historic Fort Snelling, 200 Tower Avenue, Saint Paul. 612-726-1171


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The Native American Women Warriors lead the grand entry during a powwow in Pueblo, Colorado, June 14, 2014. From left: Sergeant First Class Mitchelene BigMan (Apsáalooke/ Hidatsa), Sergeant Lisa Marshall (Cheyenne River Sioux), Specialist Krissy Quinones (Apsáalooke]), and Captain Calley Cloud (Apsáalooke), with Tia Cyrus (Apsáalooke) behind them. (Photo by Nicole Tung.)


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Left: Ernest Childers (Muscogee) receives the Congressional Medal of Honor from Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers (left). 5th Army headquarters, April 8, 1944. Under heavy enemy fire, Lieutenant Childers
had wiped out two German machine gun nests near Oliveto, Italy, killing enemy snipers and capturing an artillery observer. (Photo: Bettmann/
Getty Images.)

 

In the 1920s, a community conspired to kill Native Americans for their oil money
Tuesday, May 09 2017
 
Written by By Steve Inskeep/MPR,
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Below are excerpts from National Public Radio’s interview with David Grann, author of the new book “Killers of the Flower Moon”. Radio producer Taylor Haney, radio editor Shannon Rhoades and digital producer Nicole Cohen contributed to the story.

Ernest and Mollie Burkhart married in 1917. Unbeknownst to Mollie, a member of the Osage tribe, the marriage was part of a larger plot to steal her family's oil wealth. (Photo courtesy of Doubleday.)Generations ago, the American Indian Osage tribe was forced to move. Not for the first time, white settlers pushed them off their land in the 1800s. They ended up in a rocky, infertile area in northeast Oklahoma in hopes that settlers would finally leave them alone.

As it turned out, the land they had chosen was rich in oil, and in the early 20th century members of the tribe became spectacularly wealthy. They bought cars and built mansions; they made so much oil money that the government began appointing white guardians to “help” them spend it.

And then Osage members started turning up dead.

In his new book, “Killers of the Flower Moon”, David Grann describes how white people in the area conspired to kill Osage members in order steal their oil wealth, which could only be passed on through inheritance. “This was a culture of complicity,” he says, “and it was allowed to go on for so long because so many people were part of the plot. You had lawmen, you had prosecutors, you had the reporters who wouldn’t cover it, you had oilmen who wouldn’t speak out, you had morticians who would cover up the murders when they buried the body, you had doctors who helped give poison to people.”

How the conspiracy worked
What makes these crimes so sinister is that it involved marrying into families. It involved a level of calculation and a level of betraying the very people you pretended to love. And the way these murders would take place is that people would marry into the families and then begin to kill each member of the family. That's exactly what happened to Osage woman Mollie Burkhart. She had married a white man, and his uncle was the most powerful settler in the area. He was known as the King of the Osage Hills... and he had orchestrated a very sinister plot played out over years where he directed his nephew, who had married Mollie Burkhart, to marry her so that he could then begin to kill the family members one by one and siphon off all the wealth.

How Mollie Burkhart’s family was killed
One day in 1921, her older sister disappeared and Mollie looked everywhere for her and couldn’t find her. And about a week later, her body was found essentially in a ravine, decomposed. She’d been shot in the back of the head.

Then just a few weeks later, Mollie’s mother began to grow increasingly sick. She seemed to be almost disappearing, withering in front of her. And within two months she, too, had died. And evidence later suggested that she had been secretly poisoned.

Not long after that, Mollie was sleeping in her bed in her house with her white husband; they had a couple children. And she heard a loud explosion. She got up in panic and terror. She had another sister who lived not far away, and in the area where her sister’s house was she could see almost this orange fire ball rising into the sky. It almost looked as if the sun had burst into the night. And her sister’s house had been blown up killing that sister as well as her sister’s husband and a servant who lived in that house.

How far the conspirators went to cover up their crimes
Almost anyone who tried to investigate the killings – or at least stop them in the area – they, too, were killed. One attorney tried to gather evidence and one day he was thrown off a speeding train and all the evidence that he had gathered had disappeared. Another time, an oilman had traveled to Washington, D.C., to try to get help. He checked into a boarding house in Washington, D.C. He was then found the next day stripped naked. He had been stabbed more than 20 times; his head had been beaten in. The Washington Post at the time said what everyone at that point knew, which was there was a conspiracy to kill rich Indians.

killers-of-the-flower-moon.jpgHow authorities reacted to the deaths
It’s really important to understand back then that there was so much lawlessness. That was one of the things that shocked me when I began researching the story, that even in the 1920s much of America remained a country that was not fully rooted in its laws. Its legal institutions were very fragile; there was enormous corruption, particularly in this era and in this area. And the conspirators were able to pay off lawmen, they were able to pay off prosecutors. There was so much prejudice that these crimes were neglected.

Mollie Burkhart beseeched the authorities to try to investigate, to get help, but because of prejudice they often ignored the crimes. And she issued money for a reward, she hired private investigators, but the crimes for years remained unsolved, and the body count continued to increase. By 1924 there were at least 24 murders alone.

Finally, the Osage, in desperation, they issued a resolution, a tribal resolution, beseeching the federal authorities to help. And finally a then-very obscure branch of the Justice Department intervened. It was known as the Bureau of Investigation and it was what would later be renamed the FBI.

The FBI’s investigation
J. Edgar Hoover was the new director, and it became one of the FBI’s first major homicide cases that it ever dealt with. The bureau initially badly bungled the case. Hoover turned the case over to a frontier lawman at the time who finally put together an undercover team that included probably the only American Indian agent in the bureau at the time. They went undercover. They were able, through some dogged investigation and at great danger, to eventually capture some of the ringleaders. And those ringleaders included not only Mollie Burkhart’s husband, it also included his uncle, a man who was seen as this great protector of the community.

What the FBI missed in their investigation
The bureau was so anxious to wrap up the case that they ignored many, many other unsolved crimes and many, many other killers. When you begin to look at the documents and you begin to collect the evidence from the Osage, it becomes abundantly apparent.

I pulled some of the guardian papers and there was this little booklet that came out. It had a little fabric cover. All it was was essentially identifying the name of a guardian and which Osage they were in charge of. And when I opened up the book, I could see the name of the guardian and when I began to look at the names of the Osage under them I could see written next to many of them simply the word “Dead. Dead. Dead.” It was almost like a ledger; it was like this forensic, bureaucratic accounting.

But when you’re looking at it, you’re beginning to realize you’re looking at hints of a systematic murder campaign, because there’s no way all these people died in a span of just a couple years. It defied any natural death rate. The Osage were wealthy, they had good doctors. And then when you begin to look into each of those individual cases, you start to find trails of evidence suggesting poisonings, a murder. You start to try to trace the money and where the wealth went. And what you begin to discover is something even more horrifying than the bureau ever exposed.

To hear the interview with the author, see: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2017/04/17/npr-in-the-1920s-a-community-conspired-to-kill-native-americans-for-their-oil-money

AIMing for the Truth: the story of Native activist Clyde Bellecourt
Tuesday, April 04 2017
 
Written by Mark Anthony Rolo,
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The Thunder Before the Storm: The Autobiography of Clyde Bellecourt
By Clyde Bellecourt and Jon Lurie
Minnesota Historical Society Press
November 1, 2016
320 pages

thunderbeforethestorm.jpgAt the start of his fast and furious story, “The Thunder before the Storm: The Autobiography of Clyde Bellecourt,” the famed American Indian Movement leader is quick to point out that while his detractors may dispute historical facts, this is first and foremost the iconic activist’s own story to tell.

Told to longtime The Circle journalist, Jon Lurie, Bellecourt is clearly in a rush to tell not only his story, but the story of the American Indian Movement (AIM) from his very inside perspective. And in the light of previous published accounts of the Movement’s beginnings and influence, AIM co-founder Bellecourt’s version greatly helps in bringing this muddled narrative of Indian activism into clearer focus.

In reading Bellecourt’s story, the seeds of activism on behalf of one of the most oppressed groups of people in this country starts with his days of growing up on the White Earth Ojibwe Reservation in northern Minnesota. Bellecourt recognized early on the reality of racism, and that racial violence came in the form of the white man’s religion. In the book, Bellecourt says, “I missed a lot of church, and my hands were beat bloody. They would whack me with the metal side of the ruler and split my knuckles wide open. Of course, I started running away from that, too. If you look at my knuckles today, you’ll see they all have scars on them.”

Bellecourt’s scars have never fully healed. One can easily surmise those scars brought him into the fight for Indian rights and continue to serve as a physical reminder of why he got into that civil fight.

Beginning with the occupation of the abandoned prison isle of Alcatrez in San Francisco in the late 1960s, to the Trail of Broken Treaties to Washington, D.C., to the long standoff at Wounded Knee at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in the early 1970s, Bellecourt was at the heart of each of these storms. He credits his thunderous passion for Indian activism to his days of living on a punitive youth work farm in Red Wing, Minnesota and adult years spent in prison for burglary.

In response to his mother’s concern about his life – getting arrested, beat up and shot – she urged him to focus on the future. Bellecourt said, “Mom, if we ever forget our past we’ll never have a future – our past is our future.”

Before he would become a founding member of AIM Bellecourt found his future in an elder Anishinabe named Eddie Benton-Banai who was serving time in the same prison as the activist. Benton-Banai became Bellecourt’s spiritual mentor and life-long friend, and would be there to guide him through the challenging efforts to advocate for Indian people. But even more than that, Benton-Banai taught Bellecourt the power of the drum. And in page after page of his story, the drum beats loud through the decades of trial and triumph that have defined Bellecourt’s story.

Beyond the very public actions such as occupying Wounded Knee,  Bellecourt was fighting a private battle at home in Minneapolis. The call of constant travel to address wrongs against Indians was proving to be a crippling burden on him. For a man so proud of his sacrificial activism, he still harbors one critical heart pain, “The only thing I regret as far as the Movement is concerned is that I didn’t spend enough time with my family, taking care of my children.”

If there is one true hero in this story it is Bellecourt’s wife, Peggy, an Ojibwe woman who has stayed with the activist for more than four decades. To endure celebrity, scandal and the shame of imprisonment of her husband for a cocaine charges, this must be a testament of genuine devotion. And it is in speaking so affectionately about his wife that lends the most sympathy and sincerity to Bellecourt’s storied journey.

Despite his personal demons, Bellecourt is frank in discussing his conviction that the American Indian Movement was plagued with meddling by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. According to the activist, the FBI was at the very least complicit in the death of AIM activist, Anna Mae Aquash, and the conviction of long-time prisoner, Leonard Peltier. To read of conspiracy theories from anyone who was never at the center of Indian activism would be suspect, but Bellecourt’s direct accusations of the feds meddling cannot be portrayed as mere theory.

There will be no doubt that detractors of Bellecourt and the practices of AIM through the years will raise their voices of protest upon reading his story, especially when it comes to Bellecourt’s boast that AIM played a key role in building a Minneapolis urban Indian health clinic, apartment complex, job training program and a legal defense organization. But those dissenters should remember the activist’s words that begin this tale, “Call me what you want, but I have my own story to tell, and I believe every man deserves the right to tell his story, at least once.”

And this activist might be on the mark with that comment. After reading his story one has to give him that much because Creator knows the man has the scars to prove it.


“LaRose” is spiritually uplifting
Tuesday, March 14 2017
 
Written by Michael Tidemann,
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LaRose
By Louise Erdrich
HarperCollins

larosebookcover.jpgIn this spiritually uplifting novel, Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe) shows how one family’s sacrifice heals the sorrow of another. When Landreaux Iron accidentally kills his neighbor Peter Ravich’s son Dusty while hunting deer, a great loss falls upon both the Iron and Ravich families. After cleansing himself spiritually in a sweat lodge, Landreaux follows an ancient Native American tradition and gives his youngest – and most beloved – son LaRose to Peter and his wife Nola.

It’s neither an immediate nor easy solution. As the Raviches continue to struggle with their loss of Dusty and anger at Peter, LaRose struggles to be accepted by the Ravich’s daughter Maggie who first taunts then accepts him. The Iron family also deals with problems of their own. It’s LaRose, though, who even as a small boy goes on his own vision quest and calls upon the help of his ancestors to help mend the two families. As he tells his new sister Maggie, he’s just not any kid, he has spirit helpers. Maggie and LaRose soon become accomplices in their efforts to keep Nola from committing suicide.

Erdrich masterfully weaves two other strands into the story. One is of the first LaRose, a young Native American girl first adopted then wed by a kind but surly trapper Wolfred. Her remains are stolen after her death, cruelly exhibited, and mysteriously disappear after a break-in. Erdrich also brings into the story Romeo, once best friend of Landreaux, later a ne’er-do-well who was severely crippled when he broke his friend’s fall from a bridge. Romeo has ever since held a grudge against Landreaux – a grudge that builds to the point of his wanting to take Landreaux’s life. All three strands join in an explosive conclusion.

Erdrich  is the winner of the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Michael Tidemann writes from Estherville, Iowa. For more information, see: amazon.com/author/michaeltidemann .


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