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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A BLACK HILLS FOOTNOTE 

Hey Jack Random,

Reading your post "The Wounds from Wounded Knee" (http://www.counterpunch.org/random02262005.html), I thought you might like to know a small footnote in the Paha Sapa/Black Hills story. Once upon a university...

Back in 1988-89 i was t.a.-ing a big intro. anthropology class at Tufts (near Boston), and the department received a letter out of the blue. Eventually they handed it to me: introducing Phil Stevens, nuclear engineer and Indian Chief, ready to make a presentation on the pending Bradley Bill (U.S. Senate) and the Black Hills mineral rights. No fee, and he would pay for his own plane fare and room at the Marriott. Interested?

At the same time it happened that I was advising an undergrad anthro. student at Harvard: Judy Rabinowitz, daughter of a progressive judge and with Native American heritage herself. Judy, check out this letter, who is this guy in the fancy dance outfit? She sent me to the Harvard American Indian Law Students Association, in the person of Steve Emery. Steve said, yeah we know the guy, he's a shill trying to sell out the sacred lands, but go ahead and invite him, then say there will also be a student presentation, and our group will invite a speaker from the other side, Mr. Gerald Clifford of the Oglala-Lakhota Black Hills Steering Committee. But hey, it's gonna cost something to fly Gerald here, how can we raise the money? I suggested a benefit concert, and Steve said he could sing and play Hokha Wichasha (Lakhota music), let's try. So we rented a church hall in Harvard Square for 80 bucks and I postered all around, advertising Steve paired with Nurudafina, a good friend of mine who plays and teaches Afrocuban rumba in the Boston area. Sliding scale. About 10 paying customers showed up, and we ended the evening dancing in a circle with Gerald. (I have a tape, and man, Steve can sing, and talk too.) When everyone left, the hat contained about 80 bucks; I gave the whole thing to Steve (and defaulted on the church--they didn't fuss too much). Steve suggested we should keep a video record of the forum the next day, and one of the non-paying customers promised to bring a video camera. I borrowed another handycam from a classmate just in case.

Three nights later at Tufts, the department had reserved the main hall in the diplomacy school, and when our team arrived, there in the front row sat Dr. Jean Mayer (college president, Republican, now late) and some "cigar store" stereotype in red makeup and the full Hollywood regalia. I introduced Stevens to the audience (mostly comprising the students in that intro. class), then announced a cultural presentation before the Chief's special talk and slide show.

Steve took the stage with a big drum in hand.

"Before we begin, everyone stand for the Lakhota National Anthem..."

Wow, with the first notes everybody's hair was already on end.

He followed right up with a welcome song to Gerald, but before handing over the stage, said he had a short folk story: about the Duck People. One day, the Fox came by and told them he had a new drum to play, but in order to dance to it you have to close your eyes. So they did, but as each dancing Duck Person passed the Fox, he'd grab it by the neck and stuff it into his gunny sack. Then the next one and the next one until... as Steve illustrated Fox's actions, each time he'd swing his big right arm a little closer to Stevens' delicately coiffed head. ...until a little Baby Duck disobeyed the rules and opened up his eyes. Hey everyone, the Fox is killing all of us! So they chased the fox away. Don't dance with your eyes closed.

Then Gerald Clifford gave a basic intro to law and politics on the res, and described how Stevens was not the first outsider to tell different stories depending on who was listening, or to throw around lots of cash to rig the votes and sell off resources like uranium.

Lastly Stevens got up, his voice not so firm as before, and ran through a slick slide show: self-promotion, Stars & Stripes, nukes for energy independence from those Arab Sheikhs, blah blah blah, but his heart wasn't in it for sure.

With the last slide, questions please? The hall erupted in recriminations, accusations, and order rapidly broke down, class dismissed. One student (fellow Italo-American, sad to say) stands up and calls me a damn commie. I reply that at least I'm no Bluecoat like Stevens. Mayer hustles Stevens out of the room. The End (almost). Not bad educational value for one evening, total cost 80 bucks, not a dime from the university. Some nice term papers came out of it too, if I remember.

Epilogue: theory meets praxis. One of the two videos (not mine) came out pretty good and Steve arranged for it to be seen in Rosebud and elsewhere back home. Stevens' cover is thereby blown and his anti-Bradley operation fades away. Probably more to that part of the story, but anyway there was feedback/blowback/other unintended consequences from the p.r. job. Not that anyone had been dancing with their eyes closed...

Next spring, Steve Emery graduated and drove his van back west. I heard from him indirectly once or twice before disappearing into my dissertation (on Southern Nigerian languages). Years later while browsing in a 1960's photo book about Lakhota culture, Steve's Picture jumps off the page: a skinny teenager, caption: "well known, up and coming singer" or words to that effect. No kidding.

Just a small footnote in a very long story.

Best regards,

Victor Manfredi

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