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Earthdivers: Tribal Narratives on Mixed Descent

Gerald Vizenor
with illustrations by jaune Quick-to-See Smith
Copyright Date: 1981
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Earthdivers was first published in 1981. In traditional tribal creation myths, the earthdiver brings up dirt from the primal water to form the earth. The contemporary earthdivers in this collection of stories are mixed bloods, in the author’s words “the mournful and whimsical heirs and survivors from that premier union between the daughters of the woodland shamans and white fur traders.” Now they dive in unknown urban areas connecting dreams to earth in the same way that these stories connect metaphor to realities. The characters presented here are funny, bawdy, charming, and sad. Mouse Proof Martin earned his name from the first words of English he learned sitting under the organ in a federal boarding school; Captain Shammer, a larger-than-life tribal trickster, served as chairman of, then auctioned off, the department of American Indian studies at a large university; Touch Tone is best known for his long-distance phone calls back to the reservation; thirteen-year-old Dane Michael White was held in jail for 41 days before hanging himself on a shower rod. Characters and events, real and imagined, float across time and space. Puns, word plays, and a wild imagination in the tradition of the tribal trickster creates a magical world that defies analysis but offers perceptive insights into modern tribal culture. Scholars have defined Indian identities that are meaningful to outsiders but they are unable to explain the intuitive oral tradition of tribal consciousness. These stories attempt to convey a sense of that tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8177-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xxiv)
    Gerald Vizenor
  4. Earthdivers in Higher Education

    • The Chair of Tears
      (pp. 3-30)

      General George Armstrong Custer was hospitalized for observation in a mental ward three weeks after he was killed at the battle of the Little Bighorn when a mule skinner found him alone in the hills under a whole moon browsing with several ruminant mammals.

      “General, sir, what are you doing here?”

      “Seeking my ultimate vision.”

      “But, sir, not with these sheep.”

      “Soldier, there are simple sheep and there are superior sheep, but you are talking to a presidential supersheep,” said the general as he unbuttoned his bloodstained uniform and exposed his bare rump and chest.

      “But, sir . . .”...

  5. Bloodline Tribal Survivors

    • Sand Creek Survivors
      (pp. 33-46)

      First Lieutenant James Cannon testified at the hearing on the Sand Creek Massacre that the tribal bodies he saw after the attack were scalped and butchered by federal troops, “and in many instances their bodies were mutilated in the most horrible manner. . . . I heard of one instance of a child a few months old being thrown in the feed box of a wagon, and after being carried some distance, left on the ground to perish. I also heard of numerous instances in which men had cut out the private parts of females, and stretched them over the...

    • Retake on Colonialism
      (pp. 47-64)

      The Conference on Indian Tribes and Treaties was convened on April 23, 1955, at the University of Minnesota. Julius Nolte, Dean of Extension, welcomed faculties and participants, which included public officials, anthropologists, and tribal representatives from various reservations. Helen Parker Mudgett, Assistant Professor, organized, recorded, and published a transcript of the reports and discussions on the current interpretations of tribal rights and treaties.

      “I firmly believe the Indian people have been the forgotten people for many years while other groups have been vocal, and some of us who are not minority people have been quite vocal. . . .” said...

  6. Tribal Tricksters and Shamans

    • Blue Moon Ceremonial
      (pp. 67-76)

      There we were, eight mixedblood scholars from various tribal times and places, stacked in silence like the mountains around us, shoulder to shoulder on the cold plastic seats in the airport limousine.

      More than a hundred tribal scholars, never mind how we were found and selected, had been invited to attend the Convocation of American Indian Scholars. We arrived in Denver; then, with fashionable blond skiers, we flew to Aspen, the first academic intersection between the mountains, where we boarded the limousine for the slow drive to our three-day meeting at the Aspen Institute.

      Our silence seemed to be a...

    • Mouse Proof Martin
      (pp. 77-87)

      Mouse Proof Martin mounted the round wooden swivel perch in the center of the classroom, removed his mauve beret, smiled, a thin smile that curved like a slice of melon, and then he reached into his leather pouch and tossed various unmatched high-heeled shoes, plastic sandals, worn steel-toed boots, and a few broken slippers with ribbons and bows, to the students seated in a course on race and culture.

      “Shoes are common cultural shrines. . . . Examine with care these special single shoes,” said the special lecturer to the students as he turned on his perch. “Consider the construction,...

    • Natural Tilts
      (pp. 88-94)

      Erdupps MacChurbbs, the shaman sprite from the tribal world of woodland dreams and visions, shinnied up a sumac shrub and tiptoed out on a branch to watch the sun rise one more time over the river. Standing at his side, in the tall cool weeds, Mouse Proof Martin talked with the tribal trickster about the weather, the sun, the death of the river in the cities, and then he turned the discussion to half-cocked appearances oftekosid,or little people, in worlds with natural tilts.

      Mouse Proof Martin told him that he seemed much taller, much less foolish, than the...

    • Paraday Chicken Pluck
      (pp. 95-104)

      Mixedblood women are no more accountable for the craziness and lunancies of tribal men than are the beaver to blame for diversions in headdress and troubles in the fur trade.

      “Still and all,” said Happie Comes Last Screamer with her head cocked to the right, “we do get blamed and blamed and blamed.” Her fancies are avian motions, common chickens in a pinch or pluck, rather than fur bearers.

      Happie bears no blame for the beaver or the fantasies of fur traders. Her troubles are over dark tribal men. The unrest started like the fur trade, solemn totemic ceremonies to...

    • Rubie Blue Welcome
      (pp. 105-112)

      What the new tribal world needs is a better puppet to balance the tense distances between reservations and cities, a satirical puppet to modulate the differences between men and women, mixedbloods and others. Not the human varieties of puppets who are invented and manipulated in the white world, but the handanimated characters with real hollow heads.

      The following imaginative confession comes from a tribal graduate student who once served as an informer for several covert intelligence agencies. Cedarbird is his name, his personal and his code name, and he wrote this in his secret notes and later in a satirical...

    • Sorrie and the Park Fountain
      (pp. 113-124)

      Doctor Peter Fountain, the evertribal natural invention and professional dissimilation in the new urban world, called a press conference at a fastfood restaurant to announce that he was a serious candidate for the San Francisco Park Commission.

      “To sleep in a park is to love a park,” he said. “Parks are sacred places where people come to restore their connections with the earth, and a few women now and then.”

      Fountain lectured about the need for park reform to fastfood strangers in the burger row, and a few of his tribal friends, but his announcement was lost when the french...

    • The Decembers
      (pp. 125-138)

      Solomon December is an artist who paints tribal people.

      Solomon is remembered as December, the realist painter from the reservation who sells his watercolors in barber shops in the suburbs. He never finished art school. He is an instinctive artist, a shaman with a brush, and his work has been named new tribal realism.

      December works at the kitchen table, his studio.

      The theme of most of his watercolors is labor, tribal people at work with strong arms and necks, and with round blithe faces that seem connected to the earth and water. New tribal realism is the critical matter...

  7. Earthdivers at the Indian Center

    • The Sociodowser
      (pp. 141-162)

      Father Bearald One rolled back in the clover, spread his arms wide behind his head, stared through the flashing poplar leaves, and pictured in his mind the semitrailer truck that contained the two tribal vans impounded by the state revenue commissioner.

      The ignition switches were pulled at high noon, while the drivers were at lunch, the wires were crossed, and then the tribal vans were impounded for unpaid taxes and driven under guard into a wide aluminum trailer and stored at a secret location.

      Father Bearald One, a well-known shaman dowser and urban trickster, was summoned to locate, through his...

  8. Earthdivers at the Word Cinemas

    • Spacious Treeline in Words
      (pp. 165-191)

      Holding forth at the spacious treelines with the bears and the crows, the best tellers in the tribes peel peel peel peel their words like oranges, down to the last navel. Mimicked in written forms over winter now, transposed in mythic metaphors, the interior glories from oral traditions burst in conversations and from old footprints on the trail.

      “The text you write must prove to methat it desires me,”writes Roland Barthes in his bookThe Pleasures of the Text.“This proof exists: it is writing. Writing is: the science of the various blisses of language. . . ....