An easy read for bedtime dozing off the last few weeks was Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder by Kent Nerburn. Upon me, an old white American male, this book projects a blame that is legitimate. But I am only blameworthy in the sense that I was at birth the recipient of a national property which I did not personally take or earn. My native society gave me these things as a member of their group. Blame is a quality earned by personal commission of some misdeed against some existing social moral code. But, my groups’ violation of these other humans’ personal rights happened before my existence and therefore it doesn’t seem legitimate to blame me personally. The term shame is more legitimate because it is a feeling that something I inherited is somehow a wrong acquisition.
I have been ashamed of the people who were the immediate predecessors to my paternal grandparents’ home on the Hangman Creek (the Little Spokane River). That beautiful little creek intersects the Spokane River near downtown Spokane, Washington. The river gained that nickname because of the actions of Colonel George Wright of the US Army, hanging Native Americans there. Later, in my adolescence, living in my parents’ home, directly across the Spokane River from Fort George Wright, I remember feeling shamed by my historical associations with the brutality of that important but cruel person.
Occasionally while Debbie was reading Neither Wolf Nor Dog, I would remember my remote contacts with the Spokane Indians. My father, who grew up on Hangman Creek, said he knew the chief of the Spokane Indians. He lived close by along the creek. This book is a document of Native American people’s continuing struggles and degradations created by the actions of an overpowering foreign government confiscating their ancestral land. I remember by grade school friends saying, back in the 1940s, about those people, “They didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell.” Probably it’s still an accurate description of the plight of the Indians in South Dakota, at least as described by Nerburn.
Neither Wolf Nor Dog is worth reading but be prepared to feel sad and guilty.