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Star Quilts and Fire

Both of my grandmothers: Diné and Dakota, a rug weaver and a star quilt maker (via @jfkeeler Instagram )
The month began with a phone call informing us our storage unit had burned down. Picking through the remnants, I found the star quilt my grandmother had made for me when I graduated from high school. I had spent hours in college, wrapped in it to protect me from the cold New England forests far from our homeland in the Great Plains. 

Star Quilt in similar colors to mine (MSU Museum)

Later, when my grandmother came to my graduation, she fretted about not being able to see the horizon And so, we climbed Bartlett Tower but when we got to the top hoping to see more, the trees still owned the vistas, and all we gained from our perch was a view of the unending canopy with an occasional white spire poking through. We said nothing. I recall a bit of a catch in her breath as we gazed, the only expression of an oddly bitter disappointment we both felt. It was then that I realized we are big sky people. People of the Plains, we have long been accustomed to sending our spirits out in all the directions almost as a prayer or even, an extension of ourselves. Hemmed in by the dark green we were only able to send our spirits up to a tiny patch of blue. It felt we like we could not breathe. 

But just as I prefer to remember my grandmother as she was then, still alive, her curiosity about the world a companion to my own, and, despite the story above, she was generally a cheerful person, I prefer my memories of the blanket as it was whole. Standing in that burned out unit, I found myself unwilling to take a brightly colored scrap of triangles smelling of smoke and blackened around the edges even as the man who worked there badgered us to take the things we wanted before they cleaned it out. 

Lakota grandmother hand quilting a star quilt. (Co-nnect.Me)
As a child, one of my earliest memories is of climbing the steep stairs to her workroom where she kept a large wooden frame she used to stretch out her quilts and hand stitch them. As a child as I emerged at the top of the stairs which smelled strongly of the hard industrial rubber that covered it to prevent slipping and combined with the smells of my grandmother's cooking wafting up from the kitchen below,  I wobbled amazed at my discovery of this magical place. A place that in my childish mind was one of mystery and power with star quilts in many colors draped and in various states of completion. 

But I know fire can be purifying and can carry our prayers. When I was executive director of the California Indian Basketweavers Association, I learned how the tribes there used to burn the forest to keep it healthy and giving the roots and shoots necessary for basketweaving a chance to grow. So, I felt inclined to give up these material possessions to the fire and hope for new shoots. 

In my heart, the blanket is with my kuŋ´ŝi now in heaven where her laughter can be heard over the camp circle of our ancestors' tipis enjoying a sly joke with her relatives. My mother used to describe her mother-in-law’s laughter sounding like the “tinkling of bells.” So I find myself when I think of the bit of star quilt left in this world, stopping and listening for her laughter and feeling fortunate to be her granddaughter.
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Constitution Day: George Washington, World War Zero & "Taxation Without Representation"

For Constitution Day, September 17, 2018, an Indigenous Reading of History:

   Some history behind the Revolutionary War phrase "taxation without representation." Britain taxed the colonies to pay for the wars they were starting on the frontiers trying to take Indian land. 
A young George Washington.
   This was the impetus for the Seven Years' War (known in US history books as the French and Indian War) that was actually begun by a young Virginia officer named George Washington who signed an admission in French (which he couldn't read) after being defeated by the French in an engagement that said he executed a French diplomat. This began the first World War and spread far beyond western Pennsylvania to the Caribbean, Europe and even Southeast Asia. 

   Historians often call it World War Zero. It doubled the British national debt (and laid the foundations for the British Empire
Washington was the father of two great nations), hence the tax on the colonialists. It was due to their own land lust. 

   And if you read the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson lists amongst the colonists' grievances King George III's siding with the tribes ("merciless Indian Savages") and his protection of their lands through the Proclamation of 1763 which forbade colonists settling west of the Appalachian mountains. 

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Yellowstone: Taylor Sheridan's Western of Nietzschean Supermen

Kevin Costner and his branded cowboys (Courtesy of Paramount Network)

Mini-review of Yellowstone and answers to questions put to me by radio show:

Dear Radio Host:

    Well, I watched a bit of the series. Wow. It was pretty bad.

    I understand this series, although it only has a 51% Rotten Tomato score, was a hit with the Trump crowd. Not surprised. The series really reminded me of that Sidney Sheldon book Master of the Game about a wealthy and similarly crazy white family in South Africa dealing with Bantu uprisings (they made their money off of diamond mines) and the Boer War and maintaining a 20th-century power base. Some tv critic compared it to The Godfather but that is about ethnic marginalization in a white, Protestant supremacist nation of which this Yellowstone family are the obvious beneficiaries of.

Answers to your questions:

Which cultures lived in the Yellowstone area?

Although the tribe is fictional, I found the name of the reservation offensive. Was it Broken Stone or Broken Rock? An obvious reference to Standing Rock but diminishing the strength that lies in our traditional homeland communities by adding the descriptor “broken”. However, the casino is called the Apsaalooke, which is what the Crow people call themselves. The Crow are the traditional enemies of the Lakota and fought on the side of Custer during the Battle of Greasy Grass. And when Gil Birmingham’s character is being “crowned” is his incredibly offensive “coronation” scene in his office his headdress clearly has the distinctive blue and pink beadwork that Crow people use.

Is there an environmental significance of Grandmother Earth in that area?

Of course, but that wasn’t the point of the show, was it? It was about the right of white Nietzschean Supermen (Costner and his sons) to rule unimpeded the landscape because they are really the best suited no matter their methods.

What is our perspective on the invasion of the white man into this particular area surrounding the super volcano in Yellowstone?

I think the perspective of occupation and colonization is always negative and the statistical outcomes of most Native people are a testament to that (highest suicide rates, highest rape and murder rates, highest death by police rates bar none). But the tv show Yellowstone is largely about what a white man, Taylor Sheridan thinks about the world. And it’s a mishmash of white male Ubermenschism and a very limited and awkwardly-introduced knowledge of Native sovereignty and issues.

How much horrific dirt must John Dutton's family have done to acquire all of that land in Yellowstone?

The same that took and continues to militarily occupy this land.


So, Radio Show doesn't want to talk about Kevin Costner but about Yellowstone volcano sacredness and Native cultures around there? My response:

    Sure, but I don’t want to give Yellowstone publicity (and viewership) solely focused on content it does not provide and, indeed, subverts. 
    I am willing to look at the characters but Yellowstone the tv show exists largely in a fictional landscape. Real white cities in Montana are mentioned like Bozeman and Helena but most of the Native references are clichéd and not worthy of saddling any actual tribe in the area with.
    I can provide a distinction between the reservation as envisioned by Taylor Sheridan and the actual realities he misrepresents. But I do think the white men who have access to millions to stage this misrepresentation should be named and taken to task. Otherwise, more white folks will do the same and think that because they have more access to our spiritual traditions and such they are not actually doing the same thing. 
    The issue is White Supremacy and how it structurally creates this misunderstanding. I’ve seen plenty of white folks write whole books on our histories and participate in our ceremonies then turn around and think they can supplant us or be us. Pretendianism arises out of the centering of the experience White Supremacy provides white people in this country—no matter where they reside on the political spectrum. It was a problem at Standing Rock and is the central problem posed by Yellowstone. Taylor Sheridan is a filmmaker who ostensibly has received a great deal of education, both political and personal, about Native issues and from Native people and he is well-meaning. Yet, he still gets it wrong. More historical knowledge is good but White Supremacy is an algorithm that will always garble the result towards the centering of people who perceive themselves as white. That’s what’s going on here. 
    That’s the lesson of Yellowstone.

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