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The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows by Kent Nerburn
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“The Creator stopped being a teacher who filled the world with lessons. Instead you turned him into some kind of judge or policeman who’s sitting way up in heaven keeping track of everything. When you die, if he thinks you’ve been good he sends you to a good place. If he thinks you’ve been bad he sends you to a bad place. I don’t like that. I like our way, where the Creator was a teacher who gave us the earth to discover. I’d rather think of the Creator as a teacher than a policeman.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“THE YEAR WAS 1988. I had taken a job helping young people on the Red Lake Ojibwe Reservation in northern Minnesota to collect the memories of the tribal elders. It was a wonderful job, and tremendously rewarding. As well as working with young people, I had the good fortune to meet and share time with the elders. I sat at their tables, heard their stories, shared their laughter, and felt their sadness. It was a profoundly human time, and I valued it more than I can express.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“FATBACK’S DEAD” The words on the slip of paper struck me like a blow. “Fatback’s dead.” It was not just the news itself, though the words cut deep. It was the very fact of the note, stuck on my windshield on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota,”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“It was the very fact of the note, stuck on my windshield on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota, hundreds of miles from where Fatback had lived and, apparently, died. That, and the small deerskin pouch of tobacco that was tied to it. Fatback was a black Lab — a good dog — who had belonged to Dan, an elderly Lakota man who lived far out on the Dakota plains. Years before, as a result of a book of elders’ memories I had done with students at Red Lake, Dan had contacted me to come out to his home to speak with him. His request was vague, and I had been both skeptical and apprehensive. But, reluctantly, I had gone, and it had changed my life. We had worked together, traveled together, and created a book together in which the old man told his stories and memories and thoughts about Indian people and our American land.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“The way we see it, the Creator put his lessons everywhere. Built them right into the earth before he even put people here. Our job is to learn those lessons in the place we were given, and the way to learn those lessons is to sit still and listen.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“Grover seemed to read my mind. “Listen,” he said. “I don’t know if your grandparents came on boats or if they were a bunch of farmers. But you’ve got to understand something about the old man. His folks weren’t more than a few years from Wounded Knee. The government still shot people. It stole the kids, performed experiments on them, sterilized the little girls. If you made too much noise you just disappeared. That’s just the way it was. You didn’t make trouble.” “Sounds like the Nazis,” I said. Grover just shrugged. “I’m just trying to make you understand. This is a big thing he’s doing. I’m telling you again, he’s counting on you because you’re the only white man he trusts.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“It’s a way to turn your mind to the Creator and to make sure you’re dedicating everything to him. Get up in the morning, give thanks to the Creator. Have a chance to do some good, give thanks to the Creator. Whatever you do, make a little gesture to remind yourself that you are doing it in the presence of the Creator.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“Then, sadly, Dan died. It was a loss to me and to everyone who knew him. It seemed like an appropriate time for me to withdraw and let the book make its own way. But it was not so simple. Dan had captured peoples’ hearts and imaginations. His story had touched readers who had never before given a thought to Native America. He had articulated the feelings of many Native people who had been seeking a voice by which to explain themselves to their non-Native friends. Most important, his story had contributed in some small fashion to the reshaping of the American cultural narrative that for too long has depicted Native peoples as savages on horseback, drunks in gutters, and wisdom-bearing elders possessed of some mystical earth knowledge. People wanted to hear more from Dan and more about him. They wanted me to tell more of his story. I resisted. I was proud of what we had accomplished. But Dan was gone, and I was uncomfortable serving as a spokesman for a Native point of view and weary of trying to explain the literary method of the project we had undertaken. The book spoke for itself. There was no need to say more. But then came that chance meeting in the café. In that old man’s simple, off-handed comment, I heard the echoes of all the”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“yearning and struggle in the voices of the elders at Red Lake. They, too, had lost their identities. They, too, were no longer themselves, and it was this fate that they so wanted to help the young people avoid by sharing their stories. More than anything else I had written, Neither Wolf nor Dog had let people be themselves and see themselves. Was I breaking my own promise and abdicating my moral responsibility by refusing to tell more of Dan’s story, simply because I did not want to deal with the questions and challenges that it posed?”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“I thought of the young people at Red Lake, sitting rapt at the tables of the elders, trying to take in the truth of what they were hearing. I thought of the elders themselves, so hungry to help shape the lives of the young people with their stories. I thought of the quiet words of the man in that dusty café: “I am no longer myself. I am somebody else.” And I thought of Sitting Bull’s earnest entreaty, “Come, let us put our minds together to see what kind of lives we can create for our children.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“I had to tell it because it was the only honorable way to fulfill the promise that I had made on the Red Lake Reservation almost twenty years earlier. This, then — The Wolf at Twilight — is the fruit of that promise. It is the part of Dan’s life I had left untold. It takes us to places that for too long have been hidden in shadow and reveals truths about what has been taken from Native people and what the rest of us have lost in that taking. But it also reveals what we may all yet become if we heed Sitting Bull’s poignant entreaty and put our minds together to see what kind of lives we can create for the children. I hope you find it worthy of your time. If it opens your eyes to another way of understanding, I am grateful. If it simply entertains you, I am pleased. But what matters most is that it touches you. For it is, above all, a story of Native America, and its goal is to lodge deep in your heart.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“One day a man came to watch him work on a painting he was doing of Jesus and his disciples. The man sat there all day, and Leonardo only made one stroke the whole time. ‘You stood there all day and only made one stroke,’ the man said. Leonardo just looked at him. ‘Yeah, but it was the right stroke,’ he said.” Dan sat quietly for a second. I was not sure if he was angry or if he didn’t see the relevance of the analogy. Then, all of a sudden, he burst out laughing. “That’s pretty good, Nerburn,” he said. He reached over and pushed me playfully. “What was that guy’s name?” “Leonardo da Vinci.” “I’ve got to remember that. Leonardo Duvishhi. You sure he wasn’t an Indian?” “Might have been Wapashaw’s long-lost uncle,” I said. Dan laughed heartily. “This is a good day, Nerburn. I’m glad you came to visit me.” The hawk cut great arcs against the towering sky. The eastern horizon was filling with pinks and lavenders. “So am I, Dan,” I said. “It’s been too long.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“Grover spit expertly between his teeth. "You know, Nerburn," he said, "you're like those treaty negotiators we used to have to deal with. Always in a hurry. Sometimes there are preliminaries."
"There are preliminaries and there are evasions," I said. "Look out there." I swept my hand across the blazing, parched horizon. "We've got to get moving if we want to get up there before it's a hundred and ten degrees."
"Just relax. He's just doing it the Lakota way, by laying out the history. That's how we remember our history, by telling our story,"
"But does every story have to start with Columbus?"
"Everything starts with Columbus. At least everything to do with white people."
"But what's with the French fries?"
"He likes to get rid of the salt."
"No, the piles. First he insists on getting exactly twenty-eight, then he divides them into piles. It doesn't make any sense."
A small smile crept across Grover's face. "How many piles?" he asked.
"Four."
He spit one more time onto the ground. It made a small puff of explosion in the dust. "Mmm. Twenty-eight French fries. Four piles of seven."
He made a great charade of counting on his fingers. "Let's see. Four seasons. Four directions. Four stages of life.
"Seven council fires. Seven sacred rituals. The moon lives for twenty-eight days. Yeah, I guess that doesn't make any sense."
"That's crazy," I said. "What is it? Some kind of Lakota French fry rosary?”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“But here’s what you’ve got to understand. When you look at black people, you see ghosts of all the slavery and the rapes and the hangings and the chains. When you look at Jews, you see ghosts of all those bodies piled up in the death camps. And those ghosts keep you trying to do the right thing. “But when you look at us you don’t see the ghosts of the little babies with their heads smashed in by rifle butts at the Big Hole, or the old folks dying by the side of the trail on the way to Oklahoma while their families cried and tried to make them comfortable, or the dead mothers at Wounded Knee or the little kids at Sand Creek who were shot for target practice. You don’t see any ghosts at all. “Instead you see casinos and drunks and junk cars and shacks. “Well, we see those ghosts. And they make our hearts sad and they hurt our little children. And when we try to say something, you tell us, ‘Get over it. This is America. Look at the American dream.’ But as long as you’re calling us Redskins and doing tomahawk chops, we can’t look at the American dream, because those things remind us that we’re not real human beings to you. And when people aren’t humans, you can turn them into slaves or kill six million of them or shoot them down with Hotchkiss guns and throw them into mass graves at Wounded Knee. “No, we’re not looking at the American dream, Nerburn. And why should we? We still haven’t woken up from the American nightmare.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“Okay, let me try to lay this out straight for you,” Dan said. “I’m not saying any of this is your fault or even that your grandparents did any of it. I’m saying it happened, and it happened on your people’s watch. You’re the one who benefited from it. It doesn’t matter that you’re way downstream from the actual events. You’re still drinking the water. “I don’t care if you feel guilty. I just care that you take some responsibility. Responsibility’s about what you do now, not about feeling bad about what happened in the past. You can’t erase the footprints that have already been made. What you’ve got to do is take a close look at those footprints and make sure you’re more careful where you walk in the future.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“And how am I supposed to do that?” “You could start by speaking up a little. No one listens to us anymore when we complain. They”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
“We must stop looking at life as if we humans are at the top of everything. There’s spirit in everything, not just in people. If the Creator made it, there is spirit in it. And if it has spirit in it, it has a part to play in creation. “Here is where your people have lost the path. You have spent too much time thinking that we humans are at the top of everything. You have spent too much time trying to learn about things and not enough time trying to learn from them. You have thought too much and honored too little.”
Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows