I try not to be too much of a “name-dropper,” but I will do so here shamelessly. This name-drop story involves one of my heroes, someone who was not my friend (I wish!), but still someone who shaped the way I think, write and believe.
Vine Deloria, Jr. was a cool dude. Now, of course we know that he was an icon, legend, scholar, genius, etc., etc. But…in addition to all of those absolutely appropriate titles—he was also a genuinely cool dude. Let me tell you why:
I was not a huge reader as a kid. In fact, During my teenage years I really had an interest in reading only a few things. I read comic books (Thor and one called “Groo the Wanderer” were my favorites), True Story Magazines (long story) and Vine Deloria books. In fact, I probably got a good 97% of my classroom rhetoric as a college student from Custer Died for Your Sins and God is Red. Vine successfully put some science behind the Creation story “myths” that my grandpa and others taught me as a kid—gave me fodder to argue the empirical viability of Native ways in anthropology classes.
So he was essentially a god to me; a Native nerd’s man-crush.
In college, I happened upon Vine’s email address. Wow! I felt like the nerd in “Can’t Buy Me Love” when he knew that Cindy actually liked him! I had power in my hands…
But how do I randomly send Vine—my hero—an email when I had nothing to talk about? This was a real conundrum—there was no real “smooth” way to say, “I stalked you and managed to somehow find your email address, and although I don’t know you, I just HAD to talk to you.” Seems a bit weird. I did that same thing once, (in a completely different context)–tried to do the old “stalk and conversation” technique: while walking, I followed a hot girl into a Victoria’s Secret to try to make conversation in a way that seemed “natural.” Since I just blindly followed the young lady, I didn’t realize that I was in a Victoria’s Secret store until I casually bumped into the 50% off polyester teddy section. It was painfully bad.
Me: >acting like I’m looking at some strawberry body wash, happened to turn to the hot chick< Oh, HI! Hey…um, do you think that this stuff would make a guy smell too, um…fruity?
Hot Chick: >Looking Disgusted At Me< Ew. You really want to wear that? Are you really shopping for yourself here? >Fiddles through lingerie<
Me: >sneaking out the store like a 6’4” bushy-haired and pigeon toed gardner snake< …er, exactly?
So as you can see, the “awkward first conversation with my crush” thing hasn’t worked out so well for me. Maybe I need to try banana body wash next time?
But I digress.
Anyway, after a few years (probably 4) of deliberating this prized email address—not wanting to blow my first impression with my hero—I finally found the perfect conduit to break the ice. See, I read a book called “The Ecological Indian” in 2000; the premise for the book was that Natives were not, in fact, the hyper-earthy ecological types of “The Crying Indian” fame, above. Instead, the author asserts that it was because there were simply too few Natives to have made much of a difference on this continent before European contact.
So here I am, a nobody, living in a 200 square foot apartment and barely enough credentials to fill out my FAFSA application (I’m still a nobody, by the way, but at least now I don’t have to fill out those applications anymore). And I’m sending out emails to my hero–the dude who, if he said “the sky was purple,” I would’ve probably noticed a purple tint to it. In the email, I wrote that “I think that Krech (the author of “Ecological Indian”) is wrong in his analysis, but I think that Natives have to be just as cognizant of the “good” stereotypes, like our enviromental-friendliness, as we do about our “bad” stereotypes, like concerning alcohol.”
I mean, I definitely didn’t agree with Krech, but I THOUGHT that I understood where he was coming from. I was diplomatic–playing the middle of the road. And I thought that I made a good point–“perhaps we weren’t quite the conservationists that I thought that we were.”
Vine tore me a new one.
Apparently he was working on a response to Krech, and I think that I messed with him in the middle of writing mode. He worked on his best responses/material with me, pummeling me with journal citations, historical documents and anthropological writings. Ouch. Not only did he beat me up, but he beat me up and I also couldn’t really understand most of the words coming at me. But I DID understand a few of his more, how shall we say, “colorful” words…of course, I won’t write his reaction in full detail, but I will post his “official” response:
“It’s nonsense…the Indians did not make any appreciable dent in buffalo numbers in the Northern Plains. It’s anti-Indian stuff…”
He told me that if I defended Krech’s point of view, since he’s writing “anti-Indian stuff,” that I must be anti-Indian. Of COURSE we Natives took care of the Earth. She’s our mother.
Ouch. But you know what…?? I was so flattered. I was thankful that he–my hero–took the time to kick my butt. A nobody’s butt (does that = “no butt?”).
And we argued via email for years. About George Bush. About Shepherd Krech. About Richard Nixon. And even though I only met Vine twice, and I doubt that he put it together that I was the guy that stalked him so that he could argue with the great Vine Deloria, Jr. (why would he–who was I??), I felt special, because one of my heroes took the time to respond to an email or two.
The reason I’m writing this? Well, for one, it’s a Sunday evening and a rerun of the Family Guy is on, so I felt like writing. The other–Earth Day’s coming up. I know we all laughed when we saw the image of the “crying Indian” in the youtube video above. But the truth is that, from what I can see, we AREN’T the stewards of our environment that we paint ourselves to be. If the Earth is our Mother, as many of our creation stories say, we treat our mothers pretty badly. I see the way we leave our yards in complete disarray (mine included). Sometimes I understand what Cooch meant in “Thunderheart,” “They want all of America back but they can’t even keep the garbage out of their own front yards.”
We can and must do better. We are the original stewards of this land.
Therefore, just some Earth Day 2010 food for thought: pick up some trash around your house. Don’t run the water the whole time you’re brushing your teeth. Little stuff makes a big difference. Teach your children that “waste not, want not,” because as Vine taught me (in very colorful language)–taking care of the Earth is in our blood.
Thanks Vine, for being a cool dude. Happy Earth Day.