In 1973, I visited the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Lame Deer, MO, drawn there by a character in a story I was writing who was half Cheyenne. Forty years later, after endless rewrites and title changes, Avenue to Heaven is finished. Back then, I’d thought I’d done a lot of research but learned within moments of stepping inside the reservation trading post how phenomenally ignorant I was.
A lady behind the counter greeted me without words. Her stance was familiar from all I’d read about Native Ameican cultures. (A teacher at the grim parochial schools Indian children were forced to attend wrote of how disturbing it was to speak to a classroom of the tops of bowed heads.) I accepted that I was wicaśaśni, one of the takers, and a stranger on her land, and browsed, bought a lovely wristband, and mentioned that I loved the book on display, Cheyenne Memories by John Stand in Timber. She warmed a bit and pointed at a newspaper with a headline about the AIM movement at Wounded Knee, worry apparent in her subtle gesture.
I couldn’t stop myself from asking why the tribal council had allowed the harvesting of the surrounding hills. Trees had been completely scraped from the hillsides; the exposed red soil looked like a bloody wound. She answered that the government never asks. They come and take. That was when I discovered the vastness of my ignorance.
Indian nations were told they owned reservation lands but the fact is, they are leased, can be pillaged and left polluted, like the uranium mining on Navajo lands in WWII. The problem is that most Americans are too self-satisfied and bent on “affirmative bias” to accept reality, blissfully unwillng to acknowledge that what we’ve done to our native peoples is almost as heinous as the Nazi solution for Jews.
Fortunately, there are some who are gifted at getting the point across without stepping on ego-fragile toes. Wind River is a beautifully crafted film with satisfying twists at its end. It was a delight to see so many of my favorite Native American and Canadian actors in the cast, especially the delicious Gil Birmingham, the jovial snarkiness of Graham Greene, and always intriguing Tantoo Cardinal. Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the screenplay and directs, created a story to bring attention to missing Native American women—the TV series Longmire did an episode about forced sterilizations—and Sheridan gets his message across without sermonizing his theme. The winter setting is a perfect choice, bleak and beautiful, stark in its reality.
It is never too late for truth. We must jettison past romanticism of the West, look beyond the slop of government rhetoric and lies. If our leaders are culpable, so are we. The loathsome Andrew Jackson murdered the southeastern tribes with the Trail of Tears, and did it after the Cherokee helped him win in battle. His plan to eradicate Native Americans and steal everything they owned is alive and well today. The raping of the Indian cultures and lands goes on. The Northern Cheyenne have had to move legally to stop the Trump administration from coal mining on reservation land, adding to the travesty of a pipeline for fossil fuels we will no longer be using in the future. Makes no sense, so it must be political.
Sorry this was not an uplifting blog, but here is something that is. My books are always HEA. No release date yet and it’s is part of a Kindle Scout campaign.
(WARNING, you are approaching the shameless plug portion of this blogpost.)
Please click on the link below and vote in the blue box for Avenue to Heaven, a book dedicated to Marlane Sturm, who saw a need for her friends at Bear Creek and supplied it, not out of charity, but by the call of her faith.
Please visit my website: www.MLRigdon.com