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Book Review: Neither Wolf nor Dog

Given the recent road blocks by fake Indians (No, not presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, but other white fake Indians inspired by her) in Canada, we have here a timely opportunity to look at a book about American Indians and the Caucasian people who purport to love them.

This is a Book Review of Neither Wolf nor Dog, about 1990s  life on the rez, something I know a fair amount about, having seen it myself.

Kent Nerburn’s Neither Wolf nor Dog was kindly given to me as a gift by someone who knows I have a strong interest in American Indian history and welfare. And so I dutifully plowed through all 343 pages of this 1994 publication (reprinted in 2007 and 2017), a mysterious road trip set in the Dakotas. By the end of this book I felt like I, too, had been on a long, slow, arduous, winding trip. In fact, I felt sick from sitting in the back of the car.

This book does have some artistic merit. For example, the description of the lone Indian’s hands as “axe heads” at the end of his long, slender arms, actually conjures up some interesting images that ring true with some rural lifestyle body types. Here and there some creative writing exemplifies a writer trying to achieve more than racist propaganda.

At first I was intrigued by Nerburn’s first-hand narrative writing method. It sounds real enough, like this book is not fiction. But as he repeatedly decried other writers who falsely ascribe great mystical powers and innate supernatural wisdom to American Indians, Nerburn himself writes a book that is devoted to repeatedly ascribing great mystical powers and innate supernatural wisdom to American Indians. While openly mocking the contemporaneous movie Dances with Wolves for its many alleged trespasses against Indian history and culture, especially with Kevin Costner as the white liberal savior, Nerburn takes 343 pages to solidly present himself as the white liberal savior of the Lakota Sioux and of all other American Indian history, culture, and interests. A kind of keeper of the fire, he thinks. It is open hypocrisy, but for a meritorious  purpose. Because his intentions are good…..

This method did not bother me at first, because I was certain that a writer so clearly violating his own red lines in the sand would surely have enough self awareness to not do it so blatantly himself. But as the pages plodded on and on, and the ‘Wise Sage Old One’, Dan, drones on and on in a preachy and accusatory voice, and with way more words than I have ever heard any Indian speak, I realized Nerburn was as one-dimensional as he appeared to be. Nerburn has just put his very white liberal guy words in the mouth of Dan the Lakota. And no un-truer words were ever spoken.

The writing problems here stem from Nerburn’s commitment to the publicly failed notion of “white guilt” and multiculturalism, that idea that everything Western and European is automatically bad, and that everything else is automatically good and legitimate, even cannibalism and violent criminal behavior.

To wit: ‘ “Forgive me.” The words passed from me like stones – hard, evil little balls of an illness that had stricken my soul, suddenly flung free, releasing me from years of torment. That was why I was here — not to help, but to earn forgiveness, to earn forgiveness for the shame in my blood.

“Forgive me,” I said again, confessing to unknown sins and transgressions , to my desire to leave, to my sense of righteousness and superiority, too my whiteness.’ (Page 135)

Multiculturalism celebrates the differences among Americans, instead of what unites them, while simultaneously trying to eradicate any sense of American-ness  and painting as evil anyone here with “white” skin.

“...the shame in my blood…”? Who else carries a blood-guilt over generations that cannot be eradicated, hmmm? It’s nonsense.

Anyone trying to do something similar in say Poland, Russia, China, Zimbabwe, or Bolivia would be laughed out of polite company by the natives, who are quite proud of their own nations and histories. Only in a society as open and welcoming as America has the enticement to virtue signal at the expense of the nation been pursued and realized by people like Kent Nerburn.

For multiculturalists like Nerburn, history begins in 1509, when Europeans migrated to the New World. Neither Wolf nor Dog has history beginning in about 1889, and before that, it seems, the American West was a pastoral Eden full of peaceable Indians sitting around smoking sacred tobacco, beating drums, and occasionally having deep spiritual chats with bison before killing and eating them.

More nonsense. Indian violence, genocide, migration are ignored.

To multiculturalists, the human migration from Europe is a very bad thing, because it upset the inhabitants who had simply migrated there beforehand. Not to belittle the many crimes and grand thefts committed by the Conquistadores, the Portuguese, the Italians, the Catholic missionaries, or the US government in Washington, DC. But let’s be honest, the American Indians from the farthest reaches of the Arctic Circle to lowest temperatures around Tierra del Fuego did precisely and exactly the same violent things to each other, for far longer than the Europeans did them. And they did it without any remorse.

For example, the Cheyenne (Tsi Tsi Tas) took no adult male prisoners. Wounded enemies were summarily killed by Cheyenne warriors on the battlefield. Other Western tribes were much less merciful, and like almost all of the Eastern tribes, they made a great happy spectacle of slowly and sadistically torturing their captives to death.

The Aztecs and Mayans committed great acts of mass human butchery, to satisfy their gods’ bloodlust. Using captured slaves to build their cities and religious monuments, the great South American Indian cultures all raided, enslaved, massacred, and sacrificed one another for a long time. The Indians of North America also massacred, raided, murdered, and tortured one another for a very long time. That is, after they had all invaded, I mean migrated to the New World from Asia.

But to multiculturalists like Nerburn, none of this matters; because of “white guilt,” time and history artificially and inexplicably begin only when Europeans arrive in the New World. And so Neither Wolf nor Dog deals not in actual history, but in massive quantities of silly feelings over a very short amount of time. Sadness, shame, remorse, anger, and so on, all of it aimed at “white” people. It turns out that “white” people are greatly guilty. All of them, regardless of where or when they were born, lived, or did for a living.

If there is one theme that just repeatedly bangs the reader over the head in this book, it is that “we” “us” and “you” “white” people carry some great burden of sin, a terrible guilt, which can never be cleansed. Even if one is an Irish, Italian or Jewish American who arrived at Ellis Island by steamer in 1898 or 1910, without a buffalo nickel or Indian Head Cent in their pocket; or the descendant of one or all of these ethnicities. Pushing collective guilt of all “white” people is the primary purpose of this book. Even if your “white” skin carries the olive hues of the Mediterranean, or the pasty white of Europe’s lowest and most mistreated ethnic group, the Irish.

So in the name of being against racism, white guilt is a trans-generational racial culpability, not an individual crime committed on the Plains in 1876. It is the flip side of the white supremacist coin, and just as nonsensical.

What is wrong about this book is that it is possible for Americans to strongly support Indian treaty and land claims, and to relate to their bad feelings, without buying into the whole white liberal shame and guilt nonsense.

In real life, an animal that is neither wolf nor dog is a coyote. All of the Plains Indians regarded the coyote as the embodiment of crafty, sneaky dishonesty.

Cheyenne warrior George Bent relates first-hand one of General George Custer’s last personal encounters with Indians before he got his just desserts in a very real and up-close-and-personal encounter in 1876, was when he sought to entrap a number of Cheyenne to use as hostages in his negotiations to push the tribe onto various reservations.

Custer had invited the Cheyennes to meet and talk, supposedly, and as his troopers clumsily sprang their trap, most of the assembled Cheyenne jumped on their horses and fled. A few remained, foolishly trusting Custer to be a man of his word (they were all murdered in cold blood), but one brave rode his horse right up to Custer and waved his quirt in Custer’s face.

“You are nothing but a coyote,” said the young brave to Custer’s face, before galloping off to safety.

And I would say the same thing to Kent Nerburn: You are neither wolf nor dog, Nerburn. You are neither a strong, noble predator, the wolf, nor a useful, loyal friend, the dog. You are a coyote, Nerburn, like Custer and the government in Washington, DC. You have reduced these great Indian warriors to perpetual victim status, pathetically beating their symbolic drums and walking around with their heads down. Just like white liberals did to American Blacks – perpetual slaves, and victims, can’t help themselves, who must always be rescued by white liberals.

Talk about doing a disservice!

So there, I read this book for you. So you don’t have to.

PSA: Please Keep Pets Inside

A pet is an animal that lives in a house.

Pets that are allowed to run freely out the front or back door, to cavort, chase, defecate, and frolic off its owner’s property and in Nature’s wide open beauty, are by definition feral.

Once out of the house or off the leash, these feral animals become capable of great destruction and usually accountable to no one.  They also can easily be eaten by other feral animals and by coyotes, foxes, owls, and hawks. Or hit by a car.

Cats and dogs can get into traps set for fox, raccoon, coyote, and other furbearers.

Some of these traps merely restrain the animal by the foot.  They do not break bones or cut skin.  But other traps, like Conibears, will crush whatever sets them off, including a cat’s body or a dog’s face.  If this possibility bothers a pet owner, then think of your animal’s safety, and do not let it run on someone else’s property; keep the pet under control at all times.

Audubon International estimates that feral cats alone wreak terrible destruction upon native songbirds, already under pressure from excessive populations of raccoons, skunks, and possums, killing hundreds of millions of colorful little birds annually.

Feral dogs bite people, chase wildlife, and poop on others’ property.

In most states, a dog seen chasing wildlife is subject to immediate termination.  In fact I lost my favorite pet, a large malamute, after he broke out of his one-acre pen and a local farmer witnessed him gleefully chasing deer.  Months later the farmer deposited the dog’s collar and name tag in the back of our pickup truck, told my dad where the carcass was buried on the edge of his field, and walked away.  I was already heartbroken, but what could we say? Our dog had broken the law.

No responsible adult allows a pet to become feral.  When it happens, it means the owner no longer really cares about the animal.

If you are a pet owner, please show that you care by keeping the pet safe inside your home. Everyone will thank you for it, especially your precious animal friend.

Wile-y Coyote, knows the way

On my way out the door this morning, a call came in: “I think you have a coyote,” he said.

Knowing how wiley those coyotes are, I was skeptical and hopeful.

Surely enough, when I arrived the sets were undisturbed, and a second call went like this: “Yeah, we figured out he was mousing, you know – pouncing on mice under the snow,” and then eating them with great pleasure.

So what had appeared like one behavior was in fact something else, entirely.  The coyote had not been trapped, but rather had merrily and quite freely zig zagged his way across the snowy field, chasing tasty mouse morsels.  Human perception has misunderstood things of far greater consequence before, and will again, but the symbolism was instructive.

Once again I am surprised to see how entrenched most people are in a single perspective, as if their own living place, their own community, their own home, their own food, whatever surrounds them, is in fact (and must, must be) a true reference point for everyone else.  As if rural citizens relate to land the same as city slicker flatlanders, whose use for open land is a place to casually watch for deer as they serenely drive to their next appointment.  As if the flatlanders exist for the sole benefit of the rural folks….

How often do we hear activists and religious leaders invoke “peace,” as though what they are doing will actually bring peace, or that they would even know what someone else would call peace.  The take-away for me today was how entrenched in self most individual people are, and how they often (mistakenly) believe that their world view is dominant, “normal,” and correct.  And I’d say that this applies across the board, to all people, and most assuredly to me.