Navajos on Mars

As luck (or destiny) would have it, the very next thing I chanced upon after my previous post, while reading, is the essay “Navajos On Mars” by William Lempert in the Medium web entry at, dated September 21, 2015, updated in September of 2019.
Indigenous peoples are alive and well in science fiction film There are links I will explore.
Lempert, at the time of the writing of the essay, was asistant professor of anthropology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Star Wars was the first major sci-fi feature to be translated into an indigenous language? I didn’t know that.

Cutting through white cultural stereotypes are films that I doubt will be shown at my community theater:

Nanobah Becker — The 6th World. Sacred corn pollen saves a Martian colony. The Navajo Nation says Lempert, “simultaneously [is] technologically advanced, financially prosperous and culturally strong.”

Gonawindua imagines a future that integrates technology and tradition.

Jeff Barnaby — File Under Miscellaneous. Native people painfully become white.

Future Warrior — Native Americans are pitted against an evil empire.

Wakening, The Migration, The People, Reclamation, The Burden of Being — Short films feature native technical and cultural sophistication, says Lempert.

Cleverman — Australian TV series. A “fight against cultural assimilation and for indigenous futures,” Lempert says.

The Northlander — Canadian aboriginal people in 2924 distantly remember Western societies.

Night Raiders — An allegory set in 2043 with females forced to boarding schools.

The Visit and The Cave — Explorations of nonviolent encounters of the third kind.

The Peacemaker Returns — A “Haudenosaunee visionary,” Lempert says, leads a 3025 diplomacy mission.

Black Comedy — Aboriginal humor parodies sci-fi violence.

Kindred — An Aussie short features an all-aboriginal cast to tell an alien abduction story.

Legends From the Sky — Lempert says “a young Navajo man” takes on the mystery of grandfather’s alien abduction.

Michael Becker, Delivery From Earth — First human born on Mars is a baby.

Anamata Future News — Maori television news shorts from 2018 to 2499.

Lempert also lists titles, examples in indigenous steampunk animation, others imagining indigenous youth with futuristic technologies, even virtual reality media which promise ways of reimagining indigenous futures.

We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee

In 1890 on this date, December 29, just six hours west on U.S. Highway 18 from my home in the present day, the Seventh Cavalry then took part in a massacre, another horrible event that helped define the future of the United States, the triumph of Manifest Destiny and the dwindling of the native cultures.

The 1890 slaughter of men, women and children was the logical successor of the massacre in June of 1876, when George Armstrong Custor and 200-plus men under orders were killed in the battle at Little Bighorn.

At Wounded Knee in 1890, the count of the dead Lakota hovered at 250.

The number of dead fluctuates, depending on who is presenting the story.

The superior firepower of the soldiers also took its toll on members of the military unit, as they had literally boxed in the Lakota and other native Americans ready to surrender as the cold Plains winter began to set in.

Two accounts helped spark these thoughts, the end pages of A Terrible Glory, Custer and the Little Bighorn, the Last Great Battle of the American West by James Donovan, and Letters From an American by Heather Cox Richardson, a newsletter, in the entry dated today.

Redbone’s mournful music is appropriate.

Cox zeroed in on the later massacre.

Donovan’s book takes the broader view.

I remind folks to take some time to become familiar with Pine Ridge Reservation, present day setting of the killings in 1890 and the protest of living conditions on that reservation by the American Indian Movement in 1973. It is an indicator of the success of U.S. policy for the peoples who were here before the settlers, descendants from other regions, who have taken up residence, legally or illegally (and which court of law will settle that question?).

I have a hard time looking at the events in that area dispassionately. The historical accounts are ugly.

Now the eighth-largest U.S. reservation, Pine Ridge is the poorest, with high mortality and depression rates. Alcoholism and drug abuse are overarching health problems, not to forget the effects of malnutrition and diseases such as diabetes. Unemployment is at the 80-percent level. Half the population lives below the U.S.-defined poverty level. Unemployment and poverty numbers are fuzzy, though.A little more down to earth is the fact that there are still families in homes without electricity, telephone, runner water or sewage systems.

The legacies of manifest destiny are still with us, in my case, not very far away at all.

The Things You Leave Behind

I know, this tune can seem kind of mundane, but Lenny Kaye’s song, in the spirit of punk rock, can apply to our current political situation.

It’s been one of those years
When people keeping passing
Into the past, but you’re still here.
Gotta pick up the pieces of your life and theirs,
Who gets what and why.
We all cart around
A whole lot of baggage
That would better be left by the side of the road.
Books and records, old clothes and photos
Carry a heavy load.

Dares not go there. Someone will misconstrue.

Beyond the true/false of reading of our writings is the who, what, when, where, why and how behind our life experiences, the words we hear, the images we see, the words we see on a page or on our screen.
Our brains are busy processing our experiences, minute by minute. That colors our perceptions, minute by minute. If we don’t have the time or the inclination to delve into the our context of experience and utterances, we will not fully understand.
Sometimes, that’s exactly what a speaker wishes, just a surface acknowledgment of what is experienced or uttered.
Derrick Jones writes in a January 2019 piece “Context is everything” ( “Advertisers understand the power of context extremely well. They spend billions of dollars trying to create an association between their brand or product and something with which you already have a positive connotation. Coca Cola shows happy, beautiful people drinking their soda, and your brain helplessly creates a link between happiness, beauty and Coca Cola. When you see the beverage you get a happy glow in your mind that makes you more likely to buy it. And, perhaps this link seeps into a deeper level of processing, and when you you feel sad, your brain begins looking for a way to help. It stumbles upon that association between Coca Cola and happiness. A thought bubbles up from your subconscious: ‘Maybe a Coke will help.’ You find yourself craving the drink even though you don’t know why, just like the advertisers wanted you to.”
Just a quick search of the web of the key words “context is everything” brings up dozens of references to how advertisers and influencers seek to influence our perceptions of products and ideas.
One gets the sense that it very easy to misconstrue your communications or for you to miss the point of someone else’s communication.
The process doesn’t have to be pernicious. The previous example, though it has enough power to derail the discussion already, just illustrates the importance of knowing as much as possible about experiences, images or words.
Here’s a thought:
Prior to the printing press, only those with a formal education were able to read. The mass production of books made it possible for many more people to take part in the act of reading. That opened up the process of learning to a larger group of persons. Over time, more persons were able to experience ideas through the printed word. That also caused a lot of worry about resistance among those in leadership positions, especially in circumstances where “ignorance” played a large part in keeping a social system in operation.
Fast forward to today. It appears that the original worry was a bit overstated. Even with ubiquitous media, for example, we have a sizable portion of our population in the U.S. who do not take the time to examine what they experience. A quick spin through social media reinforces that notion.
Perhaps a good portion of that population still does not have the skills required to examine carefully what others want us to embrace. People in leadership positions still make the effort to prevent valuable information and experience.
Are we willing to delve into the history of the person making an utterance? What, on the surface, is a communication saying? Underneath a first reading, what is implied in the words? Does the time when the message is given have anything to do with what is said? Where was the speaker when the words were written or said? Why are we being asked to take this message seriously? How is the message delivered and are we being given time to digest it?
“If you are not part of my tribe, you won’t understand, and I do not have the desire to understand those outside my tribe.”
Perhaps the previous sentence is overstatement, but I see the sentiment repeated over and over in public discourse, and it does a disservice to us all.
I’m feeling sympathetic towards our legislators who are trying to make heads or tails of the January 6, 2021 riot. They will be taking a look at the utterances of that time and will be sifting with all the critical faculties they can bring to bear. It’s an extreme example, but in that riot is much context to bring to bear as judgments are made. It will make an excellent case history going forward. And, there is much buried in those moments worth uncovering, as well.
The experience of the rioters and those who the target of those rioters will take time to sort out. The temptation will be to identify “the bad guys” and “the heroes,” when the reality is full of twists and turns.

Forty days on the road: Home again, jiggity jig

Heres a look at the Badlands from Buck Hill in Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

We circled around near to where we started our 50-day trip, back to the region of the Badlands.
Next stop after Little Bighorn was Makoshika State Park just outside of Glendive, Montanta.
Badlands geology abounds there, complete with fossil records of triceratops and tyrannosaurus. We hiked around the sedimentary landscape. It’s a cool place, the work of erosion sculpting shapes dependent on rock density, rain-water run-off and exposure to scouring winds.
We journeyed on to Teddy Roosevelt National Park and, fortunately, nabbed the last open spot in Cottonwood Campground. Wahoo! Later, I had an idle thought: “Boy, I sure hope we haven’t pitched our tent in a buffalo wallow.”
On the hike after arriving, we watched a colorful sunset. A contrail spoiled it for one observer, but it arrowed on, sharp, distance, into the heart of the… sunset.

Photo by Janine Calsbeek

After that Sunday arrival, on a Monday drive, our car sidled through a small herd of bison on our way to check out exposed coal veins in the area. We chanced on another herd as we got back to the park. Several were within inches of the car, which made for a good look at those magnificent animals.
Driving into the North Unit of Teddy Roosevelt National Park a day later, we couldn’t miss three massive bulls grazing close enough for individual portraits. A four-kilometer hike in that gorgeous place ended with the sighting of four elk, far away, crossing the Little Missouri.

Part of that day included a lesson in electricity. Pull enough current and wires and post connectors will get red hot. No real damage was done, other than a pretty good scorch mark and some smoke.

The 49-day sojourn got extended to 50 days (no complaints from me about the extension) while we camped at Fort Ransom State Park. It was to be one night, but turned into two because of electrical snafus with the car.
The first evening, I stepped out of the tent for a bathroom break and was greeted by a dark sky filled with stars.
The next day, we headed into Fargo to set up a service call for the vehicle. (That’s a story in itself, one for our traveling companions to elaborate.) We returned to the Fort Ransom camp ground for one more night prior to leaving for home in the a.m. Heard a rip-roaring domestic dispute in another part of the campground before dropping off into sleep.
Traveled 300 miles or so to get back to home ground. Mixed feelings on my part. The trip was such a positive experience… and… it felt good to be back home. ’Twas time to catch up on weeding and pick up an expansive swath of fallen apples. Wasps abounded.

The Last Battle

Thanks to the writer of the blog, I have been introduced to a folk singer with great chops. A good song can capture a tragic moment, and such is Bill Gallaher’s “Last Battle,” sung here by the voice and 12-string of Gordon Bok. The tune incapsulates the thoughts after a Canadian uprising failed, put down by superior force.
The Dominion of Canada, while organizing its Red River region in the late 1800s, dispossessed the Louis Riel family of land and living. The family rebelled, and killed a person in their efforts. The government sent a force to correct the situation. Riel fled to the U.S. after a gunfight and deaths.
Later, the Canadian government granted most of the rights Riel had demanded to the inhabitants of a reorganized Manitoba district.
Riel returned to Canada, helped his country in an important battle and was elected to parliament in 1873 and 1874.
Riel wasn’t permitted to take the seat, was banished and worked out his sentence teaching school in Montana, also hospitalized for a while in a mental ward.
Riel again returned to Canada and ended up organizing another rebellion as the Metis were next pushed out of Saskatchewan.
In July 1883 Riel returned to Manitoba to attend the wedding of his sister. But in 1884, at the request of the Métis of Saskatchewan. Riel and allies were defeated in 1885. Riel was tried, found guilty and hanged.
Interestingly, some histories mark the decline of the dominant Conservative Party with Riel’s hanging.

Such is the stuff of good songs.
Oh come, Riel, we’ll make a stand
Here at Batoche beside the river.
Oh never mind their Gatling guns.
If we lose this time, we’ve lost forever.

Fifty days on the road: 21

Our mid-September visit to Little Bighorn, the site of a decisive battle in 1876, got short shrift in my digital journal. Now, though, the history haunts. It deserves better.

In the morning of our day’s visit, talks by two rangers at the national memorial site brought out the personalities, peoples and penalties of the horrific confrontation along the river that gave the battle and the national site its name.

The short (just an hour or so) massacre at the top of a knoll in that buffallo grass was a clear win for the rebellious native warriors, but it marked the final stages of a free-ranging civilization. American manifest destiny triumphed through sheer numbers and technology.

Tourists still flock to the location. I was one of them.

If I am to go back again, it will be at a quieter time, so I can stand, circle slowly and try to get the sense of the savagery of cultures at war.

While in the bookstore, I spotted for sale one of the recommended histories of that battle, A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn, the Last Great Battle of the American West by James Donovan.  As is the case with a good history, the book is meticulously documented, but still drew me in, the prose setting up the conflict with good analysis of both cultures and the warriors on both sides.

As luck would have it, I read (for the second time) alongside that history, a fiction by Cormac McCarthy, based on events on the American frontier: Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness In the West.

The combination of the two books hammered home for me the grandeur of the frontier and the incredible savagery of persons drawn by the lure of riches and glory and persons who were threatened by the influx. The resulting blood-letting forever altered the cultures of those involved, and the combination of those two books drives home that lesson without mercy.

Trouble in the Fields

The Dust Bowl is never far from the minds of those who have paid attention to our history. Maura O’Connell sings a great tune in 2007 with one of its composers Nanci Griffith (co-created with Rick West). Their voices lilt and fly with the reminder.

And all this trouble in our fields.
If this rain can fall, these wounds can heal.
They’ll never take our native soil.
But if we sell that new John Deere,
And then we’ll work these crops with sweat and tears.
You’ll be the mule I’ll be the plow.
Come harvest time we’ll work it out.
There’s still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields.

Fifty days on the road: 20

I highly recommend the Classic Tour at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, especially if Brian, head maintenance person, is tour leader. Brian’s narration was superlative, and his tales included the story of a Civilian Conservation Corp worker who stayed behind in the caves on a Friday at closing time, with the idea to sneak out some of the rarer crystals.
Lantern and matches ran out, and the worker wasn’t missed until the next Monday. The unfortunate soul surviced, recovered from sensory deprevation and appeared at a reunion years after the fact to finiish the story with first-person clarifications.
In that Wednesday, first-week-of-the-month-of-September tour, Brian turned out the lights for a moment and in the blackness (It’s true. You can’t see your hand in front of your face.) asked the question. “What two things should you do if you find yourself in this situation?”
I think I passed the quiz: “Don’t panic,” I squeaked. “Don’t run.” Well, easy for me to say. I was safely with a tour group. Lights back on, we wended our way through the rest of the tour.
After millions of years of formation, the caverns are still impressive after more than a century of exploitation.
Thursday, the touring continued.
That morning, smoke from nearby (geographically speaking) fires obscured the sun, setting up a movie-set apocalyptic glow, though we were nowhere near any dangerous area.
We set out for Virginia City, and, upon arriving, ogled the efforts to preserve an 1800s Montana town. At a meal at one of the establishments in the town, we had a conversation with a couple of couples out for a ramble in four-wheeler all-terrain vehicles.
Better still, the next stop was the headwaters of the Missouri River. The Jefferson, Madison and Gallitin rivers come together to form the mighty Missouri, which drains watersheds for 2,300 miles of its length.
Friday’a agenda included booking into “the world’s first” KOA in Billings, then driving to Pictograph Cave State Park to view fading prehistoric drawings. The park was closed but we visited the site anyway.
Three shallow caves draw visitors to see barely visible drawings in areas in which peoples exercised their illustrative abilities. I’ll have to make a point to visit again. The visitor center, which was closed, has preserved images of the images.
So much to see…
So much to learn…