Prairie Mary (Main blog, daily posts)
Heart Butte School, Montana (Non-fiction, the school and its community.
Valier Infrastructure: non-fiction as it happens.
Robert Macfie Scriver and Art: An archive.

Alvina Krause: method acting.
The Silver Comb: also method acting.

Swan River, Manitoba: Family history.

The Bone Chalice: worship theory.
Holding Open the Universe: also worship theory.
Eagles Mere -- the Playhouse Books by Mary Scriver
ON AMAZON: "Bronze Inside and Out: a biographical memoir of Bob Scriver" and "Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke: sermons for the prairie."

Friday, April 17, 2015


Medpage reports that a Diabetes Drugs investigation revealed some chilling things about 30 approved drugs.  Below I’m quoting their “Five Takeaways” from the studies.

1.  Diabetes drugs improve lab tests, but not much more, particularly in pre-diabetics.

2.  Physicians and drug makers have reported diabetes drugs as the “primary suspect” in thousands of deaths and hospitalizations.  (3,300 deaths/20,000 hospitalizations since 2004.)

3. Diabetes drug makers paid physicians on influential panels millions of dollars.

4.  Risk of a risk now equals disease  (exaggerating the danger of danger of scores by lowering the limit).

5.  The clinical threshold for diagnosing diabetes has crept lower and lower over the past decade.

This post includes lists of the drugs and many charts and facts if the subject interests you.  The truth is that everyone is confused about diabetes at the moment.  It appears more than a “sugar disease” but rather the result of deep metabolic forces that also affect high blood pressure and heart disease.  Most baffling is the recent discovery that “brown fat,” which is visceral rather the white fat just under the skin and insulating the nervous system, appears to control blood glucose somehow, both up and down.  Things are moving very quickly but produce as much puzzlement as they resolve.

A friend in the Netherlands (a nurse) and I have been following ebola developments very closely.  Today a story ran about the difficulty of perfecting an ebola vaccine.  There are various approaches -- including using elements of the blood of survivors who now have immunity -- and some early tries look good in nonhuman tests, animals or test tubes, even in the few human instances tried in emergencies.  But the bottom line is ALWAYS what is noted above in the case of diabetes.  Until thousands and hundreds of thousands of people have taken the drugs over a period of years, there will always be minority numbers of people who have bad reactions, possibly lethal.  An example may be the recent case of a woman evidently infected by a survivor.  Residual “live” ebola virus had survived in his scrotum.  No one had predicted this.  Doctors are saying six months must pass before intercourse is again safe.  They're guessing.

Even getting to the level of testing where a defined and scrutinized group of volunteers can be vaccine guinea pigs is problematic.  It takes enormous courage to volunteer.

What my friend and I see clearly is that the human element, the EMOTIONAL element, is crucial.  And I get emotional over the confusion about diabetes:  first the doc I had said if I didn't keep my glucose numbers very low, I would go blind and have my feet amputated in a matter of months.  I was terrified.  Then they said that was over-reacting, but I had to test at every meal, then they said once a day, then they said the government would only pay for twice a week, and then they said blood tests like those above were worthless and we should all go to A1C tests.  I stand there scratching my head, forget what I'm doing, and walk off.

My friend and I discuss the other news-maker, Ebola.  I've ordered "The Chimp and the River", David Quammen's latest book.  For decades I've read his work and trusted it.  This one is supposed to discuss -- compare and contrast, I suppose -- these two scary diseases, though we don't even know whether diabetes is a virus.  Probably it will turn out to be like cancer: a response to the molecular code in the cells -- not a bit of transmissible DNA code separate from cells, which is the definition of a virus.

In another Medpage article, "Ebola Vaccine Trials -- Lest We Forget"  by  Rossi A. Hassad PhD, MPH, Dr. Hassad asks
"More than ever, public and media pressure are warranted to demand that common sense and good conscience prevail."  He hopes.  But I think paranoia is justified.

"As Anthony Fauci, MD, Director of NIH-NIAID has aptly noted: "Until a safe and effective vaccine is available, the world will continue to be underprepared for the next Ebola outbreak."

"That is, the apparent deliberate delay in the initial coordinated response by local and international health authorities resulted in a catastrophe of more than 25,000 cases and 10,000 deaths to date, and now, needless bureaucracy is stalling effective evaluation of candidate Ebola vaccines in the NIH (National Institutes of Health) clinical trials."

"We cannot be conclusive about the effectiveness of this NIH candidate Ebola vaccine unless the phase II/III clinical trial is moved or expanded to where there are people who are at risk of becoming infected."

"One bit of encouraging news comes from the government of Guinea, which now seems open to accommodating the NIH study, if the design, a three-arm randomized, (placebo-controlled) trial can be modified to remove the placebo arm. They are opposed to administering a placebo to anyone at risk of becoming infected with the Ebola virus. Guinea is where the epidemic is now most active, and hence the ideal location for this trial; however, the NIH is apparently resisting this compromise and remains adamant, at this time, that the full randomized, (placebo-controlled) trial is absolutely required.
In my view, the NIH has not made a convincing case for the use of randomized, (placebo) controlled trials (RCT), nor is such a design justified in this context. In fact, giving a placebo to someone at risk of becoming infected may be deemed unethical given the deadly nature of this virus and the fact that the other two arms of the NIH trial are candidate vaccines that have been shown to be safe with very favorable levels of immunogenicity in earlier trials."

"Rather, historically controlled studies (HCS) should be the preferred design. For an HCS, the comparison is not based on concurrent "control" data but on previously collected epidemiological data from a similar group that did not receive the candidate vaccine or other interventions (and such data are available). Indeed, the RCT allows for ease in discerning internal validity; the extent to which causal inference can be concluded, however, it is fraught with ethical, political, and feasibility concerns. Specifically, the ethical dilemma of assigning a placebo control is avoided with HCS, and some concerns about confounding can be addressed statistically with stratification and regression modeling. Therefore, to slavishly conform to the RCT (placebo-controlled) paradigm simply because it is conventional is to defeat the plan to quickly identify a safe and effective Ebola vaccine."
Rossi A. Hassad, PhD, MPH, is an epidemiologist and professor at Mercy College, in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. He is a member of the American College of Epidemiology, and a fellow and Chartered Statistician of the Royal Statistical Society, U.K.

After digesting all that, one must begin to think about how UNseparate we are from everything else.  Evidence of evolution is now demonstrating -- disconcertingly -- that some of it is change “sideways” between creatures or even coming into creatures from plants.  We didn’t know that falcons and parrots both evolved from the same genome, responding to different environmental pressure.  We’re only beginning to understand what genomic complex potentials are constantly responding to the forces around them, the susceptibilities they carry possibly being advantages that confer survival, like sickle cell anemia that prevents against malaria.  If bats turn out to be the ebola reservoir and therefore we kill all the bats, we have no idea what the ecological consequences would be.

Medicare just sent me a questionnaire.  It is very similar to the one the Nurse Practitioners used to give me a “do-not-touch” checkup.  Their computer questionnaire wanted to know whether I used my seatbelt, whether I had a nightlight, whether my throw rugs were stabilized.  They are worried I will fall.   If I do, it will because of the stack of reading material by my reading chair.  They did not ask me about that.

This mail questionnaire doesn’t ask me about my sex life.  (Those two nurses and I got a little ribald.)  They wanted to know whether I were happy.  There was no way to say I was "trans-gender" -- I’m not, but how do they know, if they can’t tell whether I’m male or female without me checking the box.  There were maybe twenty options for ethnic self-identification but “black” or “African” was not on the list.  Instead there were more than ten kinds of Asian.  So once again, people think they are doing research when all they are doing is confirming their expectations.  

How long before we are required to mail in our genome which will be interpreted by a robot computer that will ORDER us to do something thought to be an effective compensation for bad genes.

Quite likely what comes next will be totally unexpected.  We didn’t expect diabetes on today’s scale, we didn’t expect ebola to go anywhere, we didn’t expect HIV, and we didn’t expect doctors to be replaced by nurses.  What we expected was for some heroic doc (possibly played by Robin Williams) to find a magic vaccine.  But Robin Williams is dead.  We didn't expect that. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Off the Path Vol.2 is, as Adrian Jawort promised, even better than Vol 1.  What really struck me this time was that writers are all young -- I suppose maybe “Millennials” -- and they are totally different than the kids I taught, who were not much younger than myself.  They were “Boomers”, the bulge caused by returning soldiers, and it was a hard time, as much struggling with alcohol and PTSD as now, but without meth, HIV or computers.  "Indians" are not the same from one generation to another.

The most major change is their willingness to just tell it straight, no backing off, not even the obsession with what an indigenous person really is -- how to face the stigma, the ambiguity, the targeting.  The aching for true intimacy is still there, about the same, but the casual sex is taken for granted.  And these characters talk about college, which didn’t turn out to be so hot -- nor the military either.

Reservations are hotbeds of both telling secrets and always hiding the truth.  The forces interlock with each other so that an Indian’s first automatic response is to claim to know nothing.  Then the Stick Game begins.

East Glacier, MT

There are many old rivalries that show up in NA anthologies.  Not across the Pacific Ocean, of course, but within those communities as well as within the Montana tribes -- different styles, different goals.  For people at what used to be the marriageable age, the “Jane Austen” considerations show up more than ever, because the future is on everyone’s minds and the older generations know how much a partner will affect it -- sometimes they demonstrate what not to do at a horrific level as these stories show.  Then what do you do with the love for them.

I’m surprised to see that I know three of these writers’ family names.    Wetzel is an important Montana political name, partly because outstanding basketball players often find they have the name-recognition to make them viable in elections.  I briefly knew Russ Redner when he was in Portland working his way through an AIM case.  

Cut Bank bull riding

The third person is using a pseudonym, but I won’t reveal his true name because that way of thinking is nonsense -- should some urban white reporter track down the true identity of an Indian writer?  As it happens, this individual has more and fancier degrees than any of the other writers, though in my book an MFA is more of a handicap than an advantage.  Still, it was fun to swing around the rez with the story and giggle at the new names he gave the places.  He grew up in one of the three “resort” towns on the rez, which gives him a lot of “attitude.”  He’s mingling with the luxury rich.  Both of his parents come from families with artistic people in them, but they could not have had MFA’s -- not because the resources weren’t there to pay for them but because there was no such degree at that time.

People read fiction because they hope to feel something.  The story can be a way into information and point of view, but the real hope of the reader is to make a strong empathic connection with another human being. The big advantage of autochthonous writers is that they have access to so much strangeness and familiarity at the same time -- which is a great “palette,” to use a painters’ term. 

The "Big Hotel" in East Glacier

Roman a clef means story with a key -- that is, a real life account but fictionalized so that only the people with the “key” know what the real people and events were.  Adrian’s story is an example.  To some people, finding and using that key, like figuring out all the real places in Sterling’s story, is more interesting than participating in the feelings of the character.  But "Blood Sport", his story, is so preoccupied with the abstract issue of blood quantum as is currently obsessing a certain kind and class of young people on the Blackfeet rez that it risks becoming an essay that only uses the characters to explain and defend a political position.  

I have to confess that my whiteman reflection on the issue is far more complex than Sterling’s.  I see that it starts with Columbus thinking that “Indians” were a different species who COULD NOT produce children, and continues on to issues like the medical uses of genomics in pursuing the cause of extreme obesity, the relationship to the foundational Asian genome, how it has been transformed by tribal ecologies, and what vulnerabilities of the People mean in terms of diseases.  

This last has meant trying to get blood samples from indigenous people to analyze and has aroused realistic fears of exploitation (using this knowledge in copyrighted ways to benefit others, never sharing the profits with the people) and even more fantastic fears of vampirish uses.  Ebola equals smallpox in some minds.  That brings up the unexplored relationship between blacks and Indians, an ambivalence rooted in political power, romantic claims, and the fact that the sheer numbers of urban blacks overpower rural reservation Native Americans.  You see that I’m a bit obsessed myself, but the advantage of a blog is that I can make a separate post.

K. M. Harris, Maori

In short, Sterling’s story might benefit by spinning off some of the politics, keeping only enough to show the impact of the issue on his characters and how it affects their behavior in a race-ambiguous place where the same basic quantum can be an advantage in one place and not down the block, let alone the problem of a family where one sib qualifies for resources and the other one does not -- a sort of Cain and Abel problem.

Cinnamon Spear, Northern Cheyenne

The mating years sustain the plot line of a number of these stories and keep us wanting to understand more.  The same subject can be treated quite differently, so that Wetzel’s rodeo story, an elegant little weaving of bull-riding and exploring the “labyrinth” over by Kalispell into the trope of a “bruised heart” is simple.  But there is enough energy to do some fancy playing with roman a clef sorts of issues -- was the girl at his side as he lay in the dust of the rodeo arena or not?
Ellen van Neerven, Queensland, Australia

Kari Lynn Dell, who is also a highly skilled storyteller and a Blackfeet, is not in this collection of stories but has chosen a whole different approach for her novel, using calf roping as her trope for finding a match.  She identifies with the genre of Romances rather than “indigenous writers,” partly because she does not do the “Gothic” or X-rated styles that some Indians and a lot of wannabes use to spice their stories.  She doesn’t do “clown” which a lot of writers have used to deal with drunkenness, poverty and abuse.

In fact, the “clown” makeup is left behind in most of these stories.  They address the misery frankly and let you see their bruised hearts.  This is new and old at once.  It was the break-through that everyone praised in the early Jim Welch stories and then abandoned for the more conventional “Fool’s Crow”, which didn’t press them to think about issues like Sterling’s problem with blood quantum.

Bill Wetzel, Blackfeet

David L. Moore, a professor at the U of Montana, wrote an excellent review of Off the Path Vol I.  You can find at  A longtime supporter and teacher of Native Americans, he will probably review Vol II as well, though it will be more problematic to think about writers from New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii.  I wish Darrell Kipp were still here, since he knew some of those people pretty well.  (He never passed up a pretty girl!)  They were major reasons for the success of Cuts Wood Blackfeet Immersion School in Browning, because they pioneered so much of the movement and were so gracious in sharing what they knew.

Moore and his wife also discussed the books at  Lisa Simon is also a U of M prof.

Sterling Holywhitemountain, Blackfeet (barely)

The reservation can be a trap, but not if people realize it is only a bubble, an illusion that could be left.  There is much more world out there, often interested in making empathic connections with people we so stereotype that we can’t see them anymore.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Kwaikiutl potlatch container -- maybe eight feet long.

“There is far, far more freedom in creating stuff no one reads versus 
most of the garbage Americans are addicted to.“

Our culture is shifting -- ALL the cultures are shifting -- and, like the glaciers pulling back and the islands being swallowed up and the old oceans thawing and industrialization breaking down even as the resources that make the machines and the fossil fuels that run them are running out, the elements of human life are rearranging.

My great focus, as I look back, has been how meaning emerges from ecology so that the prairie makes one kind of person and the sea coast makes another.  I think about my fourth grade Chinook-elder teacher explaining ON HER TERMS the artifacts of the Kwakiutl in the Portland Art Museum.  On EQUAL terms with a huge Monet waterlilies painting as big as a billboard.  That’s also where I saw Caravaggio’s painting of a naked curly-headed boy, thought to be his intimate, laughing above a clutter of cultural symbols.  I was not yet adolescent and no one explained, but I understood anyway.  

Fancy overlays of interest in Indians come from anthropologists, often prurient (the giveaway is that they suddenly start writing in Latin), or maybe with the German romantic literary love of the “natural person” who is without blame -- which progresses from Madonna worship (the Dear Mother) to ideas about Gaea (the planet that loves us and will save us, even in spite of the gyres of garbage in our seas.  And then there’s the compassion industry:  “Send us $5 or we’ll kill this puppy,” becomes “Send us $5 of we’ll kill this Indian.”  Well, actually, more like, “We’ll let him die.”  But Indians are great material for stand up comedy.  And extortion.

Everyone with their prying fingers that smell of commodity cheese wants to know the real truth about Indians.   What are they really like when they walk around naked and beaded.  (Of course, they don’t do that!)  Now that the cultural taboos are fading -- actually, they sort of went over a cliff in the Seventies -- we can see that it’s a “spectrum disorder” -- some are as middle-class and respectable as anyone and then -- across the span -- there are the distorted, predatory numbskulls.  Some talk about tricksters, but these are NOT the tricksters, who are smart, greedy and resourcefully projecting the image of the staggering smart-alecks in front of Icks.  (Liquor and powder.)  They really enjoy stigmatizing and patronizing other people, because it turns off their consciences.

Now I’ll begin to tell stories.  Bob and I did hard physical labor in the foundry all day.  At suppertime we went to Joe Lewis’ cafe, the nicest in town -- they had booths.  The waitress was an older woman with hair dyed flat black and highly rouged cheeks.  She was a sweetheart, a little old to be on her feet all day.  Joe Lewis himself, usually sat at the end of the lunch counter, nursing what I now suspect was coffee with an “augmentation.”

Our crew was mostly local Indians of one sort or another because American reservations have a mixed population, magnetized by the opportunities offered by confused jurisdictions and states that didn’t give a damn.  We usually hired our helpers off the street because when they were sober, they were competent and willing.  When they were drunk -- well, that’s the story.

A slobbering, staggering, urine-smelling man came in and made a bee-line to Bob, hoping to beg some money.  This shows he was really out-of-it because anyone who thought he could borrow money from Bob was fantasizing.  Maybe he thought he was talking to someone else, but since Bob was the city magistrate and sentenced this bozo for public drunkenness often enough, I think he just got the idea of money (fines) upside down in his head.  He leaned over the table and drooled into Bob’s meal.

Bob’s reaction was to silently stand up, throw the plate -- food side down -- onto the floor hard enough to shatter the plate and to stride out and drive off.  The drunk staggered on, Joe Lewis had disappeared, the waitress was looking for something on the bottom shelf behind the lunch counter and I don’t know what the other customers were doing.  I was trying to figure out what I should do.  I was hungry.  What did I have to eat at home?  Bob always paid so I didn’t have money on me.  I wasn’t stranded since the town was only ten blocks across in those days.  The drunk didn’t drool into MY plate!

That was the place that became Ick’s after Joe Lewis had died.  Al Racine, woodcarver and sign-painter, had painted his trademark “Napi” trickster on the side of the building, eating a short stack.  It had later been altered to show a different kind of consumption, but his big black Sundance hat, his wide smile, remained.  The bear he rode, his pack-cougar, and the rattler he used for a whip weren’t there anymore.

I doubt that the drunk even remembered what happened, but others must have told him.  I didn’t see him for months.  He probably went to a different rez for a while.

Our best employee, about my age, was Carl Cree Medicine who also came around to borrow money when he was drunk.  Technically he was asking for payday loans.  He and his wife fought and at least once she defended herself with a knife, so that time he came staggering in the door bleeding from the groin.  He’d been to the Indian Health Service but he hadn’t been properly bandaged.  They didn’t divorce and Carl finally got a grip on sobriety.

He stayed employed by us for a long time and eventually his son became Bob’s foreman, almost a member of the family.   He was skilled and dependable and in Bob’s last years when he was often bedridden, it was this young man who helped him, supporting or carrying him.  When Bob died, Lorraine -- the widow -- gave the young family the house next to the museum. 

Carl himself produced art and sold it.  But his real creativity was organizing and running a “lodge” for street alcoholics so they could settle on benches and chairs in an old Government Square building, cigarette in one hand and coffee mug in the other, continuing the testimonies and brags that they normally exchanged in the back alleys where on warm days they sat on logs with their backs against the tall plank fences, soaking up sunlight.  In winter the shelter saved lives.  Carl is dead now.

One day I recognized a man who had just deserted his family in order to take up this life.  I waded through the weeds and just flat asked him why.  He said it was because he was free on the street.  No one nagged him to do what THEY wanted, scolded him about his behavior, made him feel bad all the time because they wanted to control him.  He couldn’t find a job.  He wanted to sit and remember better times.

So that’s sort of my literary pattern, staying broke and getting my back up against a sheltering fence where I can sit and remember.  The difference is that I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I never slobber in anyone’s food.  I’m solitary rather than tribal.

My cats say that’s a lie.  There’s them, for one thing, but what about Tim and HIS tribe?  And I NEED to be solitary, because I need the time for thinking.  About what?  About the blunt fact that as the culture recedes and morphs, it reveals all the things taboos and willful disregard have covered up.  Who realized how many boys were sexually assaulted?  Who understood the amount of violence just outside the limits of suburbia and often perpetrated by the law enforcers meant to stop it?  Why has wealth become a scandal?  What do HIV and Ebola really mean?

What happened to the insights and progress of the Seventies?  We thought we had freedom.  Were we bought off?  Or was it that industrialization itself made brutes of us?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


When I started looking for items about Ivan Doig, I was a bit shocked that when I opened cupboards and drawers, moths flew out.  They had left holes.  So I sent out some email queries, but the only one who bothered to respond was Ken Egan, the executive director of the Montana Humanities program and Richard S. Wheeler, whose wife Sue Hart -- when living -- was an expert on Montana authors.  The more we talked and named names, the deeper into the quagmire we got.  Lists were a decade old and incomplete, whole categories of writers had been left out, the “map” of writers was only finished on the west side of Rockies, no thought had been given to the new medias (ebooks, long-form blogs, photo picture books, audible books) and it was hard to name people like professors of literature or reviewers who were actually searching and winnowing.  

Watch out -- here comes a list:

Sterling Holy White Mountain.  I taught both his parents. 

1.  One source said, “Montana writers are a group who were prominent at the end of the 20th century.”  Evidently in 2001, they all packed up and moved to Portland.  That may actually be true.  Earlier, an editor at Falcon and then Pequot had said that he only had to put on the cover of a book that is was about Montana, and it would sell like flapjacks.

2.  Because Montana is "cowboysandIndians" country, it seems to be unconsciously assigned to youngsters, though the actual content of these books is often hardly for kids.  It’s something like the fascination classy businesswomen in Great Falls and over-the-hill male historians have for 19th century bordellos.  Though something happened that  caused Jay Moynahan to break up his collection of “Soiled Dove” stories.  He’s in Spokane, but he has imitators and fans in Montana.  "Book lovers" are forever urging children to write short, shallow, admiring little essays about Montana writers.

Patricia Nell Warren daughter of the Conrad-Kohrs ranch in Deer Lodge. 

3.  An excellent writer and publisher, Patricia Nell Warren, could not be more a part of Montana history since she was born in Deer Lodge, part of the Grant-Kohrs ranch family, but she has been excluded because she writes about gays -- very well indeed.  “The Fancy Dancer” is beloved by many straights.  Prissy Montana must be related to those women who won't let their husbands move here.

Peter Rutledge Koch, another historic son of Montana, censored by the U of M

4.  Similarly, “Montana Gothic”, an underground favorite, has been left out, along with the author, Dirck Van Sickle.  (That really IS his name.)  Peter Rutledge Koch, his good friend, also goes unrecognized though he is one of the finest hand press printers in California and collaborated with Debra Earling on the fabulously elegant “The Lost Journals of Sacajawea.”  She’s on the list of authors but he is not.  

5.  As nearly as I can tell, there is no list of pictorial authors, despite the Montana concentration on geography, geology, and travels in wilderness, packed with photos.  (Bob Scriver composed three about his sculpture and artifacts:  “The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains,” “An Honest Try,” and “No More Buffalo.”)  

Kipp and Kapilow -- did you sing something? 
6.  No videos are considered to be “written.”  Neither Hollywood nor Montana video essays are seen as texts.  Maybe this is because of the parting-out of the humanities into various disciplines, which means some fall between categories.  Where to put the libretto that Darrell Kipp wrote for an “opera” about the coming of Lewis and Clark?  Something similar happens to journals and letters of all sorts. 

Barbara Richard, survivor 
7.  Incredibly painful books about child sexual abuse are allowed to quietly disappear.  Barbara Richards agonized books about her ferociously deranged father are more relevant today than ever (he was only fueled by alcohol -- not meth) and maybe one of the contributing factors to ongoing abuse is that we turn away from books like Barbara’s.

8.  In general, partly because the white historical books are about people we descended from and are related to, there’s been a sanitizing of many things so as not to embarrass anyone, which throws a saintly aura over rascals like Charlie Russell and makes too many Montana books into accounts both sentimental and smug.  (They DO sell!)  This is fertile ground for politicians of every stripe and those who have no defenders are not immune from demonizing.

Ward Churchill -- not from Montana and not an Indian either. 
9.  The politics of Native American history, stories, and powerful opinions -- not to mention money, water and schools -- has been pretty much sequestered according to political goals.  Genetic NA’s don’t always get to the educational level that publishers want to deal with and, anyway, publishers don’t like trouble because it doesn’t make money, so they soon lose interest.  Universities have had the same problem, so Ward Churchill was a big sign of liberal justice, until the winds changed and he became a wicked opportunist who was fired.  (I haven’t heard how the lawsuit over that ended.  If it has.)

But there is a secondary literary camp that is generally built around attacking other whites over the proper approach to Indian life and thought.  Much of it is based on French post- this or that, often insufficiently digested -- just part of the rhetorics of ressentiment and suspicion.  And a third camp, both material and literary, could be unjustly called “Germans trying to be Indians.”  Sometimes middle Euros go so far as to marry American Indians, creating some remarkable families, as Adolph Hungry Wolf has.   Or the Bruchacs

Adolf Hungry Wolf,  father of Blackfoot, dweller in Blackfoot Country 
10. Another phenomenon that has helped to drop me from the list of Montana writers (both as list-fodder and as a person self-identified with “Montanans”) is the greatly increased consciousness of ecological categories instead of political categories like state-boundaries.  I’ve lived and worked on both sides of the 49th parallel and consider myself as belonging to the East Slope of the Rockies, the High Prairie, the old Blackfeet range -- from Edmonton to Yellowstone, from the Rockies to the Black Hills.  

But the dilemma is not unlike that of tribal people.  The folks who read and write, who are educated enough to know what they are doing and make the necessary contacts with agents, editors and publisher, are likely to be in the larger towns.  (There are no cities -- over a million people -- in Montana.  The whole state of Montana has a population just shy of a million.)  Many people live outdoor lives that are not conducive to coming home to write in the evening.  They already get up before dawn to do the chores.  Nevertheless Kari Linn Dell managed a decent book about her life and finds that the “horizontal” community of mostly female Romance writers is so hungry for content that they quickly embrace her with support. But her next story is set in Texas. 
Kari Lynn Dell on branding day 
The internet makes a difference if you have learned the skills and are within range of a relay tower or dial-up.  The Romance writers aren’t sure what to think about “Fifty Shades of Gray” though judging by the covers they are in favor of flirting with porn.  (Men who never wear their shirts.)  But others advertise that they are “clean” romances, like Christian romances or Amish romances, enormously popular.  There’s a genre of female-rangers-who-solve-mysteries, a little like Peter Bowen’s Metis books but with less cussing.  Publishers seem to like all these ladies’ books.

Female Montana Writers 
I’m not paying attention to publishers.  I’m not trying to publish, I don’t care whether I’m trying to write books.  I just put in my stint of blogging every morning.  In another ten years, if I’m still alive, I’ll see who’s paying attention and what they did about it.  Doig made a good living.  I don’t know how much he wrote what he wanted to write, which is my goal.

Jim Whilt, Poet of the Rockies.  He was still around when I first came. 

Monday, April 13, 2015


Ivan Doig's parents about three years before his birth in 1939.

Obituaries for Ivan Doig were few and mostly weak.  This one by Jeff Baker is closer to satisfactory.  It was in The Oregonian.  After all, Portland has Powells and is one of the places Montana writers go “next” when the winters get to be too much.  In fact, sometimes I think the Montana writers have disappeared from Montana and re-grouped in Portland.


Ivan Doig always cared about getting it right. The Seattle writer, who died Thursday of multiple myloma, was a stickler for the right word and the right detail in every sentence of his 16 books. Close enough wasn't good enough.

One of Doig's early jobs was for the timber industry.

Doig's first book, his memoir "This House of Sky," was a finalist for the National Book Award. Doig said in a 2006 interview that he stopped his freelance journalism career to devote himself to the book and that he rewrote the first two pages 75 times, reading them aloud to get the rhythm just right.

"I wanted to work with the boundaries of language," he said. "I'm never going to be Yeats, where he has everything working just right in a poem, but I was determined to try to get that feeling in prose."

He got it. Here's the first two paragraphs of "This House of Sky":
"Soon before daybreak on my sixth birthday, my mother's breathing wheezed more raggedly than ever, then quieted. And then stopped.

"The remembering begins out of that new silence. Through the time since, I reach back along my father's tellings and around the urgings which would have me face about and forget, to feel into these oldest shadows for the first sudden edge of it all."

A book about adventure, like soul-searching.

Doig's next book, "Winter Brothers," is my favorite. He used the journals of explorer James G. Swan, who came to the Northwest from Boston and spent much of his life on the Olympic Peninsula, as the basis for his own explorations. Doig called the book "a journal of a journal" and a book about memory and finding a place to invest your life.

Doig turned to fiction and had one success after another: "The Sea Runners," the trilogy about the McCaskill family that began with "English Creek" and concluded with "Ride with Me, Mariah Montana." He wrote a second memoir, "Heart Earth," and returned to the Montana he loved often in his last few novels. His publisher said there's a completed novel, "Last Bus to Wisdom," that will be published in August.
-- Jeff Baker
This was the book that struck the chord.

Mr. Doig passed away while living in Seattle, but he was Montana through and through. He was part of the wave of Big Sky writers who left their marks on American literature in the late 20th century: Norman Maclean, Tom McGuane, Doig, Wm Kittredge, and native son Wallace Stegner. back in the day, "move to Montana and write a novel" was on some folks' bucket list.

I’m going to piggyback on these quotes.  I remind you that I’m living in Valier where Doig went to high school with my step-daughter and that we both attended Northwestern University 57-61 -- he in journalism and me in theatre.  I’ve briefly chatted with him over the years but we didn’t really know each other.

Though Doig wrote a lot about Montana, he got out as soon as he could.  He shared the values of his high school teachers and in those days, growing up in Portland, so did I.  He wanted a dignified, scholarly life and he got it, partly due to the support of Carol, his wife.  But adjustments had to be made, as is necessary for any writer dependent on sales.  In that sense he did well enough to build a nice home near Shoreline Community College, not in Seattle Proper.  Through his last years his eyes gave him a lot of trouble but -- like everything else -- he stubbornly worked on through such obstacles.  I admired him and his work and enjoyed some of the books I rather disrespectfully called “pinafore epics.”  That is, classroom hi-jinks played off against 19th century small town developments, mostly the industrialization of the West.  He did them well. 

About music and a black singer.

“Prairie Nocturne” was more my speed and, of course, “Winter Brothers.”  When I got to the last page of “This House of Sky,” I called him at home -- as one could do in those days -- with a trembling voice and wet face.  He was very kind.  It is the book that will endure because it is so real.

In pursuit of Doig reviews, the logical place to begin is his own website, of course, but I also looked at some of the various lists that used to be maintained by people like Sue Hart and Annick Smith.  I find them a bit shocking -- many deserving people missing.  I’ll follow up on that tomorrow.

Doig had a popularity that is interesting to think about.  When he did a reading at Powells in Portland, I challenged him about why he didn’t write about Blackfeet.  After all, the life-changing “sheep stampede” happened just out of Heart Butte a ways.  He was startled but quickly recovered, saying that his friend Jimmy Welch was covering that subject.  

Doig was quite like Norman Maclean, whom I knew just briefly when I went back to the University of Chicago.  In fact, you could make a case that Doig was born old.  But as a writer he had the same experience as Jimmy Welch -- that he would NOT be able to write profitably about anything except the first category he was put into.  And the story would always be about the author, not what the author saw and thought.  This has been especially hard on women writers.

Ivan Doig

If books are published according to the publisher’s opinions of what would sell, which is often influenced by whether the writer promises to promote, then they will drift to commercial standards.  Sex, drugs, violence, and Butte.  Doig would do Butte.  He would promote.  He would stay in the profitable category.

My own albatross has been Bob Scriver, because he fought the hidden forces that corrupt Western art -- pretty much the same ones that corrupt Western literature.  His reputation overwhelms mine.  The big advantage of that is that no one knows much about me and has no suspicion of what I actually write -- not even the ones who read my “lead” blog, “prairiemary.”  I do not “do” Butte.  Among other things, I do East Slope, High Prairie, sex and neurology.  But I don’t publish.  To the people of Valier, that means I’m only an old lady they see at the post office, which suits me fine.

Butte, Montana

I reflect on what Ivan would have written if he didn’t have to sell.  Maybe in fact he did have another body of work stacked up somewhere.  I’m pretty sure that one of the things we shared was the belief that writing should be saved on paper.  People in the PNW are a little cavalier about using up trees since there are so many.  (Maybe that’s true of writers as well.)  He did have the poetic impulse and came close to poetry in his prose. 

My idea of Montana writers, like “Old Mac Maniac”, is Norman Maclean, Tom McGuane, Doig, Wm Kittredge, and native son Wallace Stegner, though I tend to think of Richard Hugo before Wm. Kittredge, whose roots  are in Eastern Oregon.  But I don’t discard the women writers nor the Gothic writers nor the genre writers.  I resist some of the contemporary “romance” novels but not people like Kari Lynn Dell, who knows rodeos from being in them.  Among the privately published books are some powerful stories, some about frontier sexual abuse of female children that might disenchant those businesswomen in Great Falls who are so enamored with playing brothel.

Ivan and Carol Doig on the right.

September, 2007.

Each year, the Center of the American West presents the Wallace Stegner Award to an individual who has made a sustained contribution to the cultural identity of the West through literature, art, history, lore, or an understanding of the West. This year, the Center bestowed this award on Ivan Doig, the acclaimed author of This House of Sky and eleven other internationally acclaimed books. During his visit to the University of Colorado campus, Mr. Doig demonstrated the hardworking, attentive qualities that made him a National Book Award nominee and the ideal candidate for this award. He engaged students, faculty, and community members on a wide range of topics, balancing insight with wit. His visit culminated in an award ceremony that featured a conversation with Patty Limerick and Charles Wilkinson before a packed house at the University of Colorado Wolf Law Building. Mr. Doig talked about writing: its craft, its demands, its inspirations, and its rewards. Along the way, he commented on the West as a literary backdrop. As Mr. Doig noted, "If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it'd be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life."