BROKEN FEATHER'S LAST STAND
ROBERT J. LEWIS
Sioux or Crow,
LIttle frosty Eskimo,
Little Turk or Japanese,
O! don't you wish that you were me?
Robert Louis Stevenson
of the fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
they speak to me.
And my heart soars.
Chief Dan George
me die, it not matter. If you die, it plenty bad."
Tonto to the Lone Ranger
There is no accounting
for it unless it is the Canadian Indian’s not-so-secret
death wish: the epidemic of gas and glue sniffing, spousal
abuse, acute alcohol dependence and a suicide rate that bends
the mind and chills the heart.
once had a home and native land. It was taken away from him,
and he’s been on a non-stop downward spiral ever since.
He now finds himself at the precipice contemplating an empty
appease-pipe and a break-away trail of feathers riding the
eddies above the abyss.
the Mesoamerican Indian looks back (circa 700 A.D.) to the
glories of the past, he swells with pride before the magnificent
Aztec and Mayan temples in Coban, Tikal, Uxmal and Teotihuacan.
the North American Indian looks back he cowers in shame beneath
the quavering shadow of his teepee -- bison hide on a stick
against a hail of bullets. When the Indian was performing
his morning ablutions in a hole in the ground, the Romans
were constructing spectacular aqueducts which still stand
today, two millennia later. When the white man was making
his Industrial Revolution, the Indian was chipping flint for
fire and turning the smoke into a medium of long-distance
Where there is
no avoiding the hulking mountain range of facts and arguments,
it should be self-evident to both insiders and outsiders that
to be born Indian is to be born without hope, without a future,
into a life-long inferiority complex; and that no rewriting
of history (or anesthetizing the brain) can remedy the hard
facts of the past: the bow and arrow were no match against
the white man’s superior firepower.
From their first
exposure to the teepee – a dwarf structure next to any
cityscape – to serialized portrayals of very dense and
doomed Indian braves defiantly circling the white man’s
wagon train, to the on-going fragmentation and collapse of
one community after another into a heap of self-loathing against
which all the money in the world is as effective as the Iroquois'
war cry against the march of progress, the young are initiated
into the downs of negative self-esteem before they have learned
to walk and talk.
But the Indian,
refusing and/or unwilling to make a clean break with his dead-end
culture and traditions, instead fatuously romanticizes it,
offering up a myth that tells of a golden age of hunting and
fishing, and that the Indian (impositioned between the two
competing cultures) merely has to commit himself to the past-perfect
and he’ll find his way to the sources of his ancient
pride. But it is not happening. The young only have to observe
the depraved, despoiled adult world around them and they know
it’s all a lie, that the myth is just another drug on
the corner, that at the end of the day there is no cure for
being born into humiliation and defeat. In the great clash
of civilizations, the Indian was found consummately unfit.
So why does he
stubbornly cling to his loser’s ways, why has he refused
to renounce his culture -- the dead-weight that ensured his
initial demise and subsequent abjection? If the underlying,
evolutionary purpose of envy is to actuate a recognition of
an advantage we should want for ourselves, has the Indian
been short-changed of that vital emotion or has he refused
to act on it?
After having given
it his best, it is one thing to lose everything (all the wars
and self-respect), but it’s altogether another matter
when a self-loathing, complex-ridden people choose to refuse
to let go of a defeatist mentality whose empty promises are
tantamount to a death-wish. If, without any education or marketable
skill, I lose my job and the respect of my wife and children,
I regain what has been lost by returning to school and learning
a skill. I do not cling to or defend my past ignorance, or
the environment that nurtured it, nor do I wallow in self-pity;
but answer to the best of my ability the challenges of survival.
But this simple lesson has been lost on the Indian, and, it
must be added, with more than a little help from a succession
of irresponsible Indian Affairs administrations that have
been pumping billions of dollars into a causa perdidit.
Notwithstanding centuries of catastrophic decision making
for which the Indian is solely responsible, Canada’s
political class has been unable and unwilling to speak the
truth to the Indian: that turning your back on your language,
traditions and identity (your Indian-ness) is a sacrifice
none too great when survival is at stake.
According to a
Institute report, spending on First Nation’s
people rose from 79 million in 1947 to 7.9 billion in 2012.
And what has this incontinent spending produced? An on-going
suicide contagion and 24/7 lineups at the local gas station.
According to every
available index as it concerns life expectancy, education,
single parent families, depression, percentage of young girls
entering prostitution and the incarceration rate, the living
conditions of life on the reserves are worsening. Meanwhile,
both sides refuse to acknowledge that largesse and best intentions
have had and can have no positive, salutary effect on a people
ensnared in a hermetically sealed, self-perpetuating circle
of shame and inferiority.
school system that sought to “kill the
Indian in the child” failed
because it was mandated and not voluntary. First Nations’
community leaders and councils refused to acknowledge what
should have been self-evident to the least astute observer:
that being born Indian is a syndrome that has rendered him
wholly unfit for life in the modern era. In an either/or crunch,
the Indian parent failed to grasp what was required of him
to save his children: that he beg, borrow and persuade them
to become non-Indian. As to the widespread, unforgivable (criminal)
abuses suffered throughout the residential schools, it could
be argued that it was tantamount to trading one hell on earth
for another: being born First Nations is already a life sentence.
For the long list
of historical injustices done to the Indian, all government
apologies and restitutions are lies because there can never
be an apology adequate to winning a war and decimating a people.
What hasn’t occurred to policy makers on both sides
of the divide is that apology is beside the point next to
How bad does it
have to get before First Nations’ people (a de facto
nation of the walking dead) begin asking of themselves what
difficult choices must be made in order to gain admission
to the winner’s circle?
I save if my house was burning down?” asks the poet
Andre Breton? “I would save the fire.” Short shrifted
in the Indian’s anxiety over the loss of his sacred
culture and traditions is his apparent indifference to the
survival and transmission of his genes.
An Indian who fully integrates himself into modern society
will surely lose his culture, his Indian-ness, but his genes
will survive and mix with genes that are well-fitted for the
challenges of life in the modern era. Should not this be the
matter that matters most?
The Osoyoos Indian
Band in British Columbia escaped the deprivations and degradations
that consumed other tribes because they sagaciously adopted
modern and proven entrepreneurial and agricultural business
models. And when meeting and dealing with them in person it
occurs to you that they don’t seem Indian, that is exactly
the point. They have made a choice, they have disbanded, abandoned
their ways, and are now fully integrated into the 21st century.
from his physiognomy, nothing is left of the Osoyoo Indian;
he has made himself of his own free will into an interchangeable
unit with the new world he has embraced. That he is irrevocably
estranged from his language and culture is a small price to
pay since his genes (his children) will enjoy a robust future.
In consideration of the pluses and minuses that come to bear
on every decision, there is no better indicator of a child’s
future than being born into a community that is thriving and
parents, sub species aeternitatis, owe their children
are the means and tools to ensure their survival, which makes
the Indian’s centuries-deep betrayal of his children
an indictable offense. His crimes against the young stem from
an ignorance born out of a twisted sense of romanticism that
has been enabled by the white man whose lack of vision and
gutless policies have conspired to keep the Indian in a permanent
the on-going blame game, it’s anyone’s call: the
Indian refuses to speak the truth to himself and the white
man refuses to speak it to him.
With the hourglass
running on empty, and the second edition of the Indian Book
of the Dead overwhelmed with new applicants, we wonder out
loud when First Nation’s people will finally find the
wherewithal to look into the mirror, make peace with what
is there, and then turn their backs on what they see for all
time. Anything less is a dead-on-arrival promissory.
one's personal views on the role of irony in history, the
white man decimated the Indian who must now decimate himself
if he is to survive.
Bent over truce
and fallen teepees
the land surveyor pens another community.
Paper maps create
We will settle the west with our best.
deeds and a charge of weeds
annoint the sacred grounds.
Hopes of a young braves
race crazy raging rivers
in birch canoes tried and true.
At the broken neck of dawn
bloated bodies on the dew.
in a ceremony of tear-brine and chyme.
Smoke and ash are the remains of the clash.
drops coins in the box
then aims at his feathered friend’s wife.
"Now I’m ready.”
He loads up his shotgun
pulls up his pants
and says “dance.”
Triggered in her tracks
the squaw falls dead.
On the surface you make a convincing case, but it's from
the outsider looking in. However disadvantaged or trapped
you feel in your culture, it's almost impossible to give
itup even though that might be the logical thing to do.
Our connection to land and culture is almost as deep as
an instinct, so by asking of First Nations People to give
it all up is asking them to make a logical decision when
logic has nothing to do with it. In a way you're asking
them to do the impossible. Let's pretend you are a coffee
drinker and your doctor orders you to stop. It won't be
easy, will it, so imagine giving up your entire culture.
If there's a problem with First Nations people adapting
to the modern world, you haven't helped them, you haven't
shown them the way in any way at all.
Congratulations for your gutsy essay about native Indians.
You really nailed their plight -- and passing on wiser
is a solution that I have discussed with my students.
And yes, I was accused of being a "racist" too
when I claimed that Inuit throat singing, for example,
is a disgusting practice. Getting rid of it wouldn't hurt
civilization as much as losing
Bach's Mass in B Minor.
Unlike the buffalo jump, the Indian jump has allowed aboriginal
people to land successfully on their feet. Pauline Johnson
would recite her poetry in two acts: one wearing European
clothing, and in the second half, her native Mohawk dress.
And readers all over the English-speaking world continue
to enjoy her wonderful poem "The Song My Paddle Sings."
And we, white folks, have also sacrificed language and
cultural ties in a process of adaptation to a changing
world; be it the Highland Clearances, the Holocaust, or
the Gulag. I married an Asian wife, a Filipina. She respects
my Lithuanian tradition of "Kucios" at Christmas,
and I respect her Flores de Mayo celebrations. Marriage,
music, food, are great unifiers. Each individual native
Indian needs to rework their concept of sacred land, and
being a "brave."
You speak in broadest terms, in one brush stroke, which
makes you an ugly racist. You only see what you want to
see to make your argument -- a very hurtful, unproductive
That was a brave piece and I applaud you for taking on King
Kong. Few have the courage to stand up to the giant progressivist
ape that dominates the scene with threats, lies and slander.
A few quibbles—I don’t think victory has to
be apologized for; J. Fiamengo, for one, is not as upbeat
as you are about the Osoyoos Indians. As a native of BC
familiar with the region, she knows how they have cleverly
profited from their status. They haven’t given up
being Indians, they just know how to play the game. But
be that as it may, you’ve spoken a powerful truth
and will reap your reward in calumny and exclusion. Which
means, as the old saw has it, that you’re over the