I'll quit eating meat when you get a cow out here to beat me at a poetry slam. Only so many words rhyme with 'Mooo.' I mean, yes, we're supposed to be better stewards; yes, we're supposed to take care of the earth; yes, we're supposed to honor the sacrifices made by the animals; yes yes yes yes yes, but dammit, we're in charge, and you know why? It's because of these [holding out thumbs]...Maybe you think that carrots are less important than cows. I think they're equal, especially in a sauce.
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A lot of native culture has been destroyed. So you already feel lost inside your culture. And then you add up feeling lost and insignificant inside the larger culture. So you end up feeling lost squared. And to never be recognized, to never have any power, you know, other minority communities actually have a lot of economic, cultural power.
In a sense, you're always mythologizing your life; it's always an effort to make yourself epic. At least in fiction you can lie and sort of justify your delusion about your "epicness." But when you're writing a memoir, you're trying to make your life epic and it's not - nobody's life is.
The problem is that too many adults think their kids' lives are simple, or they try to make their lives simple, when their emotional lives are just as complicated as ours. They might have a few less tools to deal with it because they're young, but the emotions are all the same, and the subject matter is all the same.
At least half the country thinks the mascot issue is insignificant. But I think it's indicative of the ways in which Indians have no cultural power. We're still placed in the past. So we're either in the past or we're only viewed through casinos. I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian.
When are we left-wingers going to learn that we are losing the cultural and political battle with conservatives because we are fractured into narcissistic special-interest groups? Why should an antiwar protestor be so concerned about her dietary identity? The political opinions of vegetarians and meat-eaters are, after all, equally important. And what does it tell us about vegetarians that it would never occur to meat-eaters to carry a sign that reads "Pacifist Pork Chop Lover for Peace" or "Backyard Rib Barbecuer for International Nuclear Disarmament"?
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Then she tells me that Jesus is still here because Jesus was once here. And parts of Jesus are still floating in the air. She tells me Jesus' DNA is part of the collective DNA. She tells we are all part of Jesus, we are all Jesus in part. She tells me to breathe deep during all our storms because you can sometimes taste Jesus in a good, hard rain.
Teenagers read millions of books every year. They read for entertainment and for education. They read because of school assignments and pop culture fads. And there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe despite the callow protestations of certain adults that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them.
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When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing. And so, laughing and crying, we said good-bye to my grandmother. And when we said goodbye to one grandmother, we said good-bye to all of them. Each funeral was a funeral for all of us. We lived and died together. All of us laughed when they lowered my grandmother into the ground. And all of us laughed when they covered her with dirt. And all of us laughed as we walked and drove and rode our way back to our lonely, lonely houses.
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Everyone I have lost in the closing of a door the click of the lock is not forgotten, they do not die but remain within the soft edges of the earth, the ash of house fires and cancer in sin and forgiveness huddled under old blankets dreaming their way into my hands, my heart closing tight like fists. - "Indian Boy Love Song #1
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Mick had once come across one of Wilson't books and was surprised to see his face on the back cover. Mick was even more surprised when he read the book. It was pretty good, although Mick was kind of tired of hearing about Indians. Still, Mick thought, Aristotle Little Hawk was a good Indian, even if he was just some character in a book. He wished more Indians like Little Hawk hung out in the bar. He knew Wilson claimed he had some Indian blood, said so inside the book. But Mick did not buy that shit. Mick's great-grandmother was a little bit Indian, but that did not make him Indian. Besides, who the hell would want to be Indian when you could just as easily be white?
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For the mentally disturbed, Marie knew these sandwich visits might be the only dependable moments in their lives. She also knew she delivered the sandwiches for her own sanity. Something would crumble inside of her if she ever walked by a homeless person and pretended not to notice. Or simply didn't care. In a way, she believed that homeless people were treated as Indians had always been treated. Badly. The homeless were like an Indian tribe, nomadic and powerless, just filled with more than any tribe's share of crazy people and cripples. So, a homeless Indian belonged to two tribes, and was the lowest form of life in the city. The powerful white men of Seattle had created a law that made it illegal to sit on the sidewalk. That ordinance was crazier and much more evil than any homeless person. Sometimes Marie wondered if she worked so hard at anything only because she hated powerful white men. She wondered if she went to college and received good grades just because she was looking for revenge.
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Despite all of the time he spent in Big Heart's, Wilson had never come to understand the social lives of Indians. He did not know that, in the Indian world, there is not much social difference between a rich Indian and a poor one. Generally speaking, Indian is Indian. A few who gain wealth and power as lawyers, businessmen, artists, or doctors may marry white people and keep only white friends, but generally Indians of different classes interact freely with one another. Most unemployed or working poor, some with good jobs and steady incomes, but all mixing together. Wilson also did not realize how tribal distinctions were much more important than economic ones. The rich and poor Spokanes may hang out together, but that doesn't necessarily mean the Spokanes are friendly with the Lakota or Navajo or any other tribe. The Sioux still distrust the Crow because they served as scouts for Custer. Hardly anybody likes the Pawnee. Most important, though, Wilson did not understand that the white people who pretend to be Indian are gently teased, ignored, plainly ridiculed, or beaten, depending on their degree of whiteness.
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Corliss wondered what happens to a book that sits unread on a library shelf for thirty years. Can a book rightfully be called a book if it never gets read?... 'How many books never get checked out, " Corliss asked the librarian. 'Most of them, ' she said. Corliss never once considered the fate of library books. She loved books. How could she not worry about the unread? She felt like a disorganized scholar, an abusive mother, and a cowardly soldier. 'Are you serious?' Corliss asked. 'What are we talking about here? If you were guessing, what is the percentage of books in this library that never get checked out?' 'We're talking sixty percent of them. Seriously. Maybe seventy percent. And I'm being optimistic. It's probably more like eighty or ninety percent. This isn't a library, it's an orphanage.' The librarian talked in a reverential whisper. Corliss knew she'd misjudged this passionate woman. Maybe she dressed poorly, but she was probably great in bed, certainly believed in God and goodness, and kept an illicit collection of overdue library books on her shelves.
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You read a book for the story, for each of its words, " Gordy said, "and you draw your cartoons for the story, for each of the words and images. And, yeah, you need to take that seriously, but you should also read and draw because really good books and cartoons give you a boner." I was shocked: "Did you just say books should give me a boner?" "Yes, I did." "Are you serious?" "Yeah... don't you get excited about books?" "I don't think that you're supposed to get THAT excited about books." "You should get a boner! You have to get a boner!" Gordy shouted. "Come on!" We ran into the Reardan High School Library. "Look at all these books, " he said. "There aren't that many, " I said. It was a small library in a small high school in a small town. "There are three thousand four hundred and twelve books here, " Gordy said. "I know that because I counted them." "Okay, now you're officially a freak, " I said. "Yes, it's a small library. It's a tiny one. But if you read one of these books a day, it would still take you almost ten years to finish." "What's your point?" "The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know." Wow. That was a huge idea. Any town, even one as small as Reardan, was a place of mystery. And that meant Wellpinit, the smaller, Indian town, was also a place of mystery. "Okay, so it's like each of these books is a mystery. Every book is a mystery. And if you read all of the books ever written, it's like you've read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you keep on learning so much more you need to learn." "Yes, yes, yes, yes, " Gordy said. "Now doesn't that give you a boner?" "I am rock hard, " I said.
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Well, " she said, "how can I be sure there aren't invisible people in the world? Scientists didn't believe in the mountain gorilla for hundreds of years. And now look. So if scientists can be wrong, then all of us can be wrong. I mean, what if all those invisible people ARE scientists? Think about that one.
That's how I do this life sometimes by making the ordinary just like magic and just like a card trick and just like a mirror and just like disappearing. Every Indian learns how to be a magician and learns how to misdirect attention and the dark hand is always quicker than the white eye and no matter how close you get to my heart you will never find out my secrets and I'll never tell you and I'll never show you the same trick twice. I'm traveling heavy with illusions.
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Last night I missed two free throws which would have won the game against the best team in the state. The farm town high school I play for is nicknamed the "Indians, " and I'm probably the only actual Indian ever to play for a team with such a mascot. This morning I pick up the sports page and read the headline: INDIANS LOSE AGAIN. Go ahead and tell me none of this is supposed to hurt me very much.
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They're all gone, my tribe is gone. Those blankets they gave us, infected with smallpox, have killed us. I'm the last, the very last, and I'm sick, too. So very sick. Hot. My fever burning so hot. I have to take off my clothes, feel the cold air, splash water across my bare skin. And dance. I'll dance a Ghost Dance. I'll bring them back. Can you hear the drums? I can hear them, and it's my grandfather and grandmother singing. Can you hear them? I dance one step and my sister rises from the ash. I dance another and a buffalo crashes down from the sky onto a log cabin in Nebraska. With every step, an Indian rises. With every other step, a buffalo falls. I'm growing, too. My blisters heal, my muscles stretch, expand. My tribe dances behind me. At first they are no bigger than children. Then they begin to grow, larger than me, larger than the trees around us. The buffalo come to join us and their hooves shake the earth, knock all the white people from their beds, send their plates crashing to the floor. We dance in circles growing larger and larger until we are standing on the shore, watching all the ships returning to Europe. All the white hands are waving good-bye and we continue to dance, dance until the ships fall off the horizon, dance until we are so tall and strong that the sun is nearly jealous. We dance that way.
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When Indian women begin the search for an Indian man, they carry a huge list of qualifications. He has to have a job. He has to be kind, intelligent, and funny. He has to dance and sing. He should know how to iron his own clothes. Braids would be nice. But as the screwed-up Indian men stagger through their lives, Indian women are forced to amend their list of qualifications. Eventually, Indian men need only to have their own teeth to get snagged.
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Did she say anything before she died?" he asked. "Yes, " the surgeon said. "She said, 'Forgive him'" "Forgive him?" my father asked. "I think she was referring to the drunk driver who killed her." Wow. My grandmother's last act on earth was a call for forgiveness, love and tolerance. She wanted us to forgive Gerald, the dumb-ass Spokane Indian alcoholic who ran her over and killed her. I think My Dad wanted to go find Gerald and beat him to death. I think my mother would have helped him. I think I would have helped him, too. But my grandmother wanted us to forgive her murderer. Even dead, she was a better person than us.
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He felt split in two, one crazy man eating hair and one rational man watching a crazy man eat hair. He chewed and swallowed the last pieces of his father's life. He felt like he was building a museum of pain, a freak show, where he was the only visitor viewing the only mutant screaming the only prayer he knew: Come back, Daddy. Come back, Daddy. Come back, Daddy. Come back, Daddy. Come back, Daddy. Come back, Daddy. Come back, Daddy. Come back Daddy...
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You must be a rich man, " she said. "Not much of a warrior, though. You keep letting me sneak up on you." You don't surprise me, " he said. "The Plains Indians had women who rode their horses eighteen hours a day. They could shoot seven arrows consecutively, have them all in the air at the same time. They were the best light cavalry in the world." Just my luck, " she said. "An educated Indian." Yeah, " he said. "Reservation University." They both laughed at the old joke. Every Indian is an alumnus. Where you from?" she asked. Wellpinit, " he said. "I'm a Spokane." I should've known. You got those fisherman's hands." Ain't no salmon left in our river. Just a school bus and a few hundred basketballs." What the hell you talking about?" Our basketball team drives into the river and drowns every year, " he said. "It's a tradition." She laughed. "You're just a storyteller, ain't you?" I'm just telling you things before they happen, " he said. "The same things sons and daughters will tell your mothers and fathers." Do you ever answer a question straight?" Depends on the question, " he said. Do you want to be my powwow paradise?
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Sometimes, she wondered what she was missing, if her life was somehow incomplete because she didn't see the reflection of her face in the face of a son or daughter. Maybe. That's what mothers told her: Oh, you don't know what you're missing; it's spiritual; I feel closer to the earth, to the creator of all things. Perhaps all of that was true-it must be true-but Grace also knew that mothering was work, was manual labor, and unpaid manual labor at that. She'd known too many women who'd vanished after childbirth; women whose hopes and fears had been pushed to the back of the family closet; women who'd magically been replaced by their children and their children's desires.
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You meet me after school right here", I said. "Why?" he asked. I couldn't believe he was so stupid. "Because we're going to finish this fight." "You're crazy, " Roger said. He got to his feet and walked away. His gang stared at me like I was a serail killer, and they followed their leader. I was absolutely confused. I had followed the rules of fighting. i had behaved exactly the way I was supposed to behave. But these white boys had ignored the rules. In fact, they followed a whole other set of mysterious rules where people apparently DID NOT GET INTO FISTFIGHTS. (65)
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Shit, " he said. "I don't know why you're feeling sorry for yourself because you ain't had to fight a war. You're lucky. Shit, all you had was that damn Desert Storm. Should have called it Dessert Storm because it just made the fat cats get fatter. It was all sugar and whipped cream with a cherry on top. And besides that, you didn't even have to fight in it. All you lost during that was was sleep because you stayed up all night watching CNN.
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Choice: that was the thing. Other people claimed that you can't choose who you love-it just happens!-but Grace and Roman knew that was a bunch of happy horseshit. Of course you chose who you loved. If you didn't choose, you ended up with what was left-the drunks and abusers, the debtors and vacuums, the ones who ate their food too fast or had never read a novel. Damn, marriage was hard work, was manual labor, and unpaid manual labor at that. Yet, year after year, Grace and Roman had pressed their shoulders against the stone and rolled it up the hill together.
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As a child, I read because books-violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not-were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life. I read widely, and loved plenty of the classics so, yes, I recognized the domestic terrors faced by Louisa May Alcott's March sisters. But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King's books. I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life. And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don't write to protect them. It's far too late for that. I write to give them weapons-in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.
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Can you hear the dreams crackling like a campfire? Can you hear the dreams sweeping through the pine trees and tipis? Can you hear the dreams laughing in the sawdust? Can you hear the dreams shaking just a little bit as the day grows long? Can you hear the dreams putting on a good jacket that smells of fry bread and sweet smoke? Can you hear the dreams stay up late and talk so many stories?
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Oh, no, no, you've got that all wrong. You're not required to respect elders. After all, most people are idiots, regardless of age. In tribal cultures, we just make sure that elders remain an active part of the culture, even if they're idiots. Especially if they're idiots. You can't just abandon your old people, even if they have nothing intelligent to say. Even if they're crazy.
The streetlight outside my house shines on tonight and I'm watching it like it could give me a vision. James ain't talked ever and he looks at that streetlight like it was a word and maybe like it was a verb. James wanted to streetlight me and make me bright and beautiful so all the moths and bats would circle me like I was the center of the world an held secrets.
I hate my country. There are so many rich people who don't share their shit. They're like spoiled little ten-year-old bullies on the playground. They hog the monkey bars and the slide and the seesaw. And if you complain even a little bit, if you try to get just one spin on the merry-go-round, the bullies beat the shit out of you.