Nerbern, Kent. Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder. New World Library, Novato, 1994.
(47) These strangers shot animals just to kill them. They left them lying in gullies. They made paths through the lands that were heavier than our paths. These people became like a river through the land.
We had never seen the kind of things they did. For us, the earth was alive. To move a stone was to change her. To kill an animal was to take from her. There had to be respect. We saw no respect from these people. They chopped down trees and left animals where they were shot. They made loud noises. They seemed like wild people. They were heavy on the land and they were loud. We could hear their wheels groaning in the next valley.
(49) Your religion didn’t come from the land. It could be carried around with you. You couldn’t understand what it meant to us to have our religion in the land. Your religion was in a cup and a piece of bread, and that could be carried in a box. Your priests could make it sacred anywhere. You couldn’t understand that what was sacred for us was where we were, because that is where the sacred things had happened and where the spirits talked to us.
(50) To us the land was alive. It talked to us. We called her out mother. If she was angry with us, she would give us no food. If we didn’t share with others, she might send harsh winters or plagues of insects. We had to do good things for her and live the way she thought was right. She was the mother to everything that lived upon her, so everything was our brother and sister. The bears, the trees, the plants, the buffalo. There were all out brothers and sisters. If we didn’t treat them right, our mother would be angry. If we treated them with respect and honor, she would be proud.
For your people, the land was not alive. It was something like a stage, where you could build things and make things happen..
And here is what I wonder. If she sent diseases and harsh winters when she was angry with us, and we were good to her, what will she send when she speaks back to you?
You had better hope your God is right. That is all I have to say.
(65) We Indians know about silence. We aren’t afraid of it. In fact, to us it is more powerful than words. Our elders were schooled in the ways of silence, and they passed it along to us. Watch, listen, and then act, they told us. This is the way to live.
With you, it’s just the opposite. You learn by talking. You reward the kids who talk the most in school. At your parties, everyone is trying to talk. In your work, you are always having meetings where everyone interrupts everyone else and everyone talks five, ten, or a hundred times. You say it is working out a problem. To us it just sounds like a bunch of people saying anything that comes into their heads and then trying to make what they say come around to something that makes sense.
Indians have known this for a long time. We like to use it on you. We know that when you are in a room and it is quiet, you get nervous. You have to fill the space with sound. So you talk right away, before you even know what you are going to say.
Our elders told us this was the best way to deal with white people. Be silent until they get nervous, then they will start talking. They will keep talking, and if you stay silent, they will say too much. Then you will be able to see into their hearts and know what they really mean. Then you will know what to do.
[White people] don’t like silence or empty space. They like to argue. They don’t even let each other finish sentences. They are always interrupting, and saying, ‘well, I think…’
To Indians this is very disrespectful and even very stupid. If you start talking, I’m not going to interrupt you. I will listen. Maybe I will stop listening if I don’t like what you are saying. But I won’t interrupt you.
When you are done I will make my decision on what you said, but I won’t tell you if I disagree with you unless it is important. Otherwise I will just be quiet and go away. You have told me what I need to know. There is nothing more to say.
But this isn’t enough for white people. They want me to tell them what I think about what they are thing, and if they don’t agree with me, they want to talk more and try to convince me.
You don’t convince anyone by arguing. People make their decision in their heart. Talk doesn’t touch my heart.
People should think of their words like seeds. They should plant them, then let them grow in silence. Our old people taught us that the earth is always speaking to us, but that we have to be silent to hear her…
Do you hear the sound of the prairie? That is a great sound. But when I’m talking, I can’t hear it.
- constant state of nervousness/anxiety is considered the normal state in the modern urban western world
(69) That’s why the grass is green. Our brother prairie dog digs under the ground to make their homes. They dig up the earth so the rain can go deeper and the roots of the grass can grow stronger.
Where the grass is richer, the bigger animals come to feed. If we sit here quietly, in the morning, when the antelope are hungry, we will see them and we could hunt them. It is all because of the prairie dog. Where he lives, we can live.
(76) Owning things is what white people’s lives are about. I watch TV, and every ad I see tells me something is ‘new.’ That means I should get it because what I have is old and this is new. That’s no reason to get something, just because it’s new. Your way teaches people to want, want, want. What you have is no good. What you don’t have is new and better…
You build fences around your yards and pay money for people to measure the ground to tell you if your neighbor’s fence is one inch too close to your house. You give nothing away unless you can get something in return. Everything is economic.
Your most powerful people don’t even hide their thinking on this. If you ask for something, they don’t ask whether you need it; they say, ‘what’s in it for me?’
(80) All you care about is keeping things clean. You don’t care how they really are, just so long as they are clean. You see a dirt path with a pop can next to it and you think that is worse than a big paved highway that is kept clean. You get madder at a forest with a trash bag in it than at a big shopping center that is all clean and swept.
(126) White people have an endless hunger. They want to consume everything and make it part of them.
- the anxiety of progress
- “the lust for possessions is a disease among them,” Sitting Bull
(133) "You think too much about time," he gestured toward my wrist. "I don’t didn’t think you were like that when I first met you. You don’t wear a watch."
"They feel heavy on my wrist."
"They are heavy. They make every minute weigh more than the whole day."
(138) I went to my hill and spoke to my grandfathers. They gave me that song. They gave it to me in the wind. They said I had too much anger to speak. They told me that anger is only for the one who speaks. It never opens the heart of one who listens.
(142) Our people tried to welcome your people once before. But you destroyed that welcome. You destroyed it with crosses and diseases and whiskey and guns.
(146) This ain’t nowhere, Nerbern. This is Indian land. Just because you don’t see a house or a road doesn’t mean that we’re in the middle of some goddamn ocean.
(150) I know you’re trying to learn. White people like to learn by asking questions.
(156) The most important thing for white people is freedom. The most important thing for Indian people is honor.
But the Indian has always been free. We are free today. We have always been freer than the white man, even when he first came here. When you come to our shore your people wore clothes made of chains. Our people wore nothing at all. Yet you tried to bring us freedom.
The white world puts all the power at the top. When someone gets to the top, they have the power to take your freedom. When you people first came to our land they were trying to get away from those people at the top. But they still thought the same, and soon there were new people at the top in the new country. It is just the way you were taught to think.
In your churches there is someone at the top. In your schools, too. In your government. In your business. There is always someone at the top and that person has the right to say whether you are good or bad. They own you.
No wonder Americans always worry about freedom. You have so damn little of it. I you don’t protect it, someone will take it away from you. You have to guard it like a dog guards a bone.
- Marx, Marcuse
(157) When you came among us, you couldn’t understand our way. You wanted to find the person at the top. You wanted to find the fences that bound us in - how far our land went, how far our government went. Your world was made of cages and you thought ours was too. Even though you hated your cages, you believed in them. They defined your world and you needed them to define ours.
Our old people noticed this from the beginning. They said that the white man lived in a world of cages, and that if we didn’t look out, they would make us live in a world of cages too.
So we started noticing. Everything looked like cages. Your clothes fit like cages. Your houses looked like cages. You put fences around your yards so they looked like cages. Everything was a cage. You turned the land into cages. Little squares. [As seen from any flight taking off in the midwest].
Then after you had all these cages you made a government to protect these cages. and that government was all cages. All laws about what you couldn’t do. The only freedom you had was inside your own cage. Then you wondered why you weren’t happy and didn’t feel free. You made all the cages, then wondered why you didn’t feel free.
We Indians never thought that way. Everyone was free. We didn’t make cages of our laws and land. We believed in honor. To us the white man looked like a blind man walking. He knew he was on the wrong path when he bumped into the edge of one of the cages. Our guide was inside, not outside. It was honor. It was more important for us to know what was right than to know what was wrong…
If you take an animal from the woods or the prairie and give him a house inside a fence, is that giving him freedom? No. All it is doing is taking away his honor, because if he accepts it, he is no longer free.
- Shepard, Tender Carnivore, psychology of captive animals vs wild (i.e. “free”)
- flips Hobbes’ “state of nature” as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short..”
- Fromm, Escape from Freedom
- Prucha and Locke for “private ownership” as the foundation of civilization, which is, of course, what causes true “solitariness,” by destroying community, and pitting individuals against each other to see who can get more than the next person
(161) I grew up speaking the language of my people. It wasn’t until school that I had to learn English. They just marched us into the classroom and started talking in English. We had to learn.
I remember how funny it sounded when I first heard it. There were so many words. The teacher could talk for an hour and not even stop. She could talk about anything. She didn’t even have to move her hands. She just talked. Some days I would sit and watch her just to see all the words she said. One other boy once told me he thought she said as many words as there are stars in the sky. I never forget that.
When I learned English I realized it was a trick. You could use it to say the same thing a hundred ways. What was important to Indian people was saying something the best way. In English you had to learn to say things a hundred ways. I never heard anything like it. I still watch white people talk and I’m surprised at all the words. Sometimes they will say the same thing over and over in different ways. They are like a hunter who rushes all over the forest hoping to bump into something instead of sitting quietly until he can capture it.
(161) Whenever the white people won it was a victory. Whenever we won it was a massacre. What was the difference? There were bodies on the ground and children lost their parents, whether the bodies were Indian or white. But the white used their language to make their killing good and our killing bad. They ‘won,’ we ‘massacred.’ I don’t even know what a massacre is, but it sounds like dead women and little babies with their throats cut. If that’s right, it was the white people who massacred more than we did.
(163) You teach about the frontier. You talk about the wilderness and how empty the land was, even though to us the land was always full. You talk about civilization like we didn’t have any, just because we didn’t try to haul big chairs and wooden chests across the desert in a cart.
- “animals are only dumb to our dull perceptions” J Robbins
(165) To us, american history is how the big sea became little ponds and whether those are going to be taken from us or not. It doesn’t have anything to do with the thirteen colonies and some covered wagons going west. Our land was taken from us in every direction. We can look at the same facts as you and it is something completely different. But you build your history on words like ‘frontier’ and ‘civilization,’ and those words are just your ideas put into little shapes that you can use in sentences. The big ideas behind them are weapons that take our past from us.
- “All armed prophets have conquered, and the unarmed ones have been destroyed.” Machiavelli
I think that’s a lot of where our people went wrong with your people. We didn’t see the big ideas behind the words you used. We didn’t see that you had to name everything to make it exist, and that the name you gave something made it what it was. You named us savages, so that made us savages. You named where we lived the wilderness, so that made it a wild and dangerous place. Without even knowing it, you made us who were are in your minds by the words you used. You are still doing that today, and you don’t even know it.
- Beyond Geography, Errand into the Wilderness, Religious Origins of the American Mind
(183) Now a hundred years later you’ve got us to lift our floors off the ground and our beds off the floors and to shut out nature and to get our food in cellophane wrappings. You tell us that we are victimsif we don’t have all those things. Then you go out and go camping and sleep on the ground and say you are living like the Indians did. It is just another way of taking our culture from us. You try to make us feel sad about what we don’t have while you try to claim what we do have for yourselves…
Think of that Thoreau fellow. I’ve read some of his books. He went out and lived in a shack and looked at a pond. Now he’s one of your heroes. If I go out and live in a shack and look at a pond, pretty soon I’ll have so many damn social workers beating on my door that I won’t be able to sleep.
(185) The people who see us all as wise men don’t care about Indians at all. They just care about the idea of Indians. It’s just another way of stealing our humanity and making us into a fantasy that fits the needs of white people.
You want to know how to like Indians? Live close to the earth. Get rid of some of your things. Help each other. Talk to the Creator. Be more quiet. Listen to the earth instead of building things on it all the time.
- Going Native: Indians in the American Cultural Imagination, S Huhndorf
(200) There are leaders and there are rulers. We Indians are used to leaders. When our leaders don’t lead, we walk away from them. When they lead well, we stay with them.
White people never understood this. Your system makes people rulers by law, even if they are not leaders. We have had to accept your way, because you made us Indians make constitutions and form governments. But we don’t like it and we don’t think it is right.
How can a calendar tell us long a person is a leader? That’s crazy. A leader is a leader as long as the people believe in him and as long as he is the best person to lead us. You can only lead as long as people will follow.
In the past when we needed a warrior we made a warrior our leader. But when the war was over and we needed a healer to lead us, he become our leader.
(236) …the great silence of the open space did not encourage idle words.
(264) [on race] White is a weak color. Think of paint. You add one drop of something else and it’s not white. You can add white and white and white and you’re never going to overcome that one drop of the different color. That paint will never be white again. That’ what you’re afraid of.
(270) Your Abraham Lincoln kind of history, the kind you teach in schools, is not good for Indian people. It is a funny kind of history, were the most important thing is what happened. You want to know everything about what happened, like many people were somewhere, what they wore, what they were thinking. That’s all important to you. The more you know, the more history you think you have.
This isn’t good history. It isn’t Indian history. It’s like studying all the parts of the body and then saying you understand about life. It is just facts.
- “scientific data is a series of anecdotes,” Montaigne
- “Science has nothing to say about what we are doing right now – only about the mechanisms that are involved in it, not about how we do it. About that there’s nothing to say, except you can write poems.” He goes on to talk about how in neurophysiology, people are studying a simple organism, a worm called the nematode. They know its entire neuron system and its entire gestation period is known, in short they have a complete physical map of the creature, “but still, nobody can figure out why the stupid worm does whatever it does – I don’t know, turn left or something…it’s just too complicated, too many things going on, too many chemical interactions,”(Chomsky, Understanding Power, 220).
(272) [treaties] You had them sign things they couldn’t even read, and because it was written down, you said it was true, even though there wasn’t an Indian in the world who knew what it said. Then later, when you tried to divide up our land and give us little pieces, you tried to make us have last names and marriage certificates, like we were white people. You wrote it all down. Some of our people thought it was so stupid that they would give you different names every time they talked to you. So you got everything confused and wrong.
By the end, everything was wrong and a lie. But it was written down, so you said it was true and you taught it to your children like it was true.
That’s what your white history did for us.
But it did something worse, too. It took away all of our history from before the time you came here to our country. It’s like before you came here, we didn’t exist. You won’t believe anything we tell you unless you can dig up some pot or an arrowhead. Then you put it in a lot of machines and put chemicals on it so you can know when it was made, and then you say, ‘now we know about it. now we know what happened.’ Then the man who did the tests writes down what he found out and other people write down what they think about what he found out, and you call that history.
I can come tell you what what my grandfathers told me, and that’s not history unless the chemicals told you the same things…
All it really means is there wasn’t anyone with a book writing things down. It doesn’t matter that when your people came with books and wrote things down, they wrote lies. All that is important to you is that they wrote something down. Once it was down, then it was truth. Then there was history.
- Skulls Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity, D A Thomas
(274) The reason my people listened when you talked about Jesus was because we could understand how you were thinking. It was like what happened to Jesus then is important now, the same as it was the day it happened.
We could understand that, because that’s how we learned about our past. If my grandfather’s grandfather made the buffalo turn away from the village one time, then that was how I knew the year. It was the year the buffalo turned away from the village. It was the year my grandfather gave me the power to turn danger away from our people. I still have that power, because he gave it to me by what he did.
That’s how you taught me about Jesus. He was alive a long time ago, but he gave you power to do things today. But when you wanted to learn about my grandfather’s grandfather, you don’t believe he gave me power. You just want to know how many buffalo, and what year it was.
- sacred history vs academic history. all history is sacred history to non-writing cultures, and it is “living history,” non linear, eternal return
- the sacred and the profane, Eliade
(275) But your mind lives in two worlds. In one of those worlds, things that happen always have power, like Jesus. In the other world, things only happen once, and they only have power when they happen, and you have to get a perfect picture of it, with how many people were there and all the things that were there and all the things that lead up to it and all the things that happened because of it. That’s the only way you really understand it.
(276) You teach about Abraham Lincoln like he’s a dead man. He’s not like Jesus to you. He’s not alive to you anymore. So you make children learn when he was born and where he was born and everything about him. You make them learn like he was a stuffed bear in a museum. This is your mistake.
Why don’t you say that he is still alive today in the hearts of your people? Why don’t you teach your history so that your children have to keep him alive in their hearts and make that more important than knowing how tall he was and where he was born?
You teach your children that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Why don’t you teach them that he made you all slave-freers and that you are now his children and must uphold his honor? But you want your children to pass a test about when he signed some piece of paper that freed the slaves. If they know that, then you say they about Abraham Lincoln. It makes your history thin and ugly because it puts things in boxes on shelves to be taken down and examined instead of keeping them alive. I think our way it better.
(277) For us, the story of our people was like a song. As long as somebody could still sing it, it was real.
(278) Your words are all full of sharp edges that cut us. But we have been bleeding for so long we don’t even feel it anymore.
- connotative language of oral cultures vs denotative (sharp edged) language of writing cultures. mythopoetic/cyclical, living history vs linear, dead/‘shelved’, academic history. In Search of the Primitive, S Diamond.
(278) It is why you wasichu are in trouble. For you nothing is wakan. You have taken the power out of the Earth and the sky and the things that live there. Everything is a fact. You will drown under your facts.
- mechanistic model of the universe since the scientific revolution. Death of Nature, C Merchant. Adverse Effects of the Scientific Revolution.
(291) You can tell us time has passed. You can say the world has changed. But the bones of my fathers still cry. My son is buried in a conquered land.
(292) There is Indian alive who dares to think too much on the past. If we looked too long at the past we would be too angry to live. You try to make it up to us by making us into heroes and wise people in all your movies and books. That’s fine for you. But I can still go to a museum and see my grandfather’s skull in a case and hear someone talk about it as an artifact.
…all the wars between my people and your people. Those white men that fought us were men without any families, lots of them. They were young men out in the west making money. Some of them were convicts. Some of them were still blood drunk from the Civil War.
They weren’t your best people. Many of them were brutal and stupid. The did terrible things because it was fun. Not all of them, but they were soldiers and it was their job to kill people. My people never had a chance. We were families. We were in our homes, with our old people and our babies. And the soldiers attacked us. They attacked our homes and killed our elders and our children.
The government sent men who didn’t have anything or didn’t fir anywhere, and gave them guns and put them on horses and told them to go out and attack the villages where we had our women and our old people and our little babies. There were little girls playing with dolls and little boys just learning to walk. The soldiers killed them all.
(294) We lost everything. Your government sent heartless, greedy men to keep us under control and they lied and raped and stole from us and they could kill us for any reason and it was okay…Your soldiers hunted us in that way your people hunt things where they kill as many as they can just to see them die or to count them and say they killed more than anyone else. It’s something I can’t understand. You even have to have laws saying how much of something you can kill or your people would kill everything.
(296) Sometimes I think I would like to go into one of your cemeteries with a bulldozer and knock over all the headstones and plow up all the coffins. Then I’d take all the bones and put them in plastic bags. I’d put them all in the window of a store with a sign that said, ‘White People’s Artifacts.’ Then you could come down and point at a bag and say, ‘that’s my grandmother.’ If you were lucky, I might even have the measurements of her skull on a little card on the bag.
If you wanted the bones back, I’d just laugh. I’d say they were part of an exhibit and that we were treating them with respect. I might even charge you a dollar to come in and look at them. But I’d let your children in cheaper because I’d say they should learn about their past and how sacred it is. Then I’d take their money and show them the bags.
(316) Your people must learn to give up their arrogance. They are not the only ones placed on this earth. Theirs is not the only way. People have worshiped the Creator and loved their families in many ways in all places. Your people must learn to honor this.
It is your gift to have material power. You have much strength not given to other people. Can you share it, or can you use it only to get more? That is your challenge - to find the way to share your gift, because it is a strong and dangerous one.
It is my people who must stand as the shadow that reminds you of your failures. It is our memory that must keep you on the good road. It does you no good to pretend that we do not exist, and that you did not destroy us. This was our land. We will always be here. You can no more remove our memory than you can hide the sun by putting your hand over your eyes.