The Road to Oceti Sakowin Camp: Stories From the Lines

His voice is heavy with the weight of struggle, yet stands tall with determination and will. His name is Christopher Francisco, a proud Navajo Diné brother who was one of the last to feel the effects of the Indian boarding school system and its manifesto of ‘kill the Indian, save the man’. Christopher is a strong and solid soul who cares very deeply for the Earth and his People and has been very active in defending their Sovereignty.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0216.JPG We have become fast friends and I have learned a great deal from his wisdom. We have started working together on story gathering projects here at Oceti Sakowin Camp during this time of struggle against the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

Listen to his Story.


Mr. Bojangles and the Spider.

I am not sure where he fell from. Some would say it was from heaven, others would say bridges and slums and vans that sleep many lonely nights in impound yards.Spider pointing towards Canada

Spider is his name. Born in 1948 and raised on the promise of a great America- he grew restless and left the dream. He wanders with a purpose but the wind steers him off course easily and the bottle has laid a heavy anchor on his heart. He says that he is on his way to Port Townsend, Washington to see his grandson, who has just turned 15, and to take him fishing, or surfing. He says that he is on his way to a new journey and often mentions the ‘bucketlist’ and point blank says he is ready and at peace to die. This all may sound heavy but there is a joy and innocence to his demeanor. He suffers from late stage alcoholism and often forgets where he is at or who you are, but always remembers songs and tends to communicate best through his minstrels. Today, I take him to detox, where he is going to ‘try on sobriety again’, because, he said, ‘I miss living.” His van is for sale, he says he wants to sell it so he “can get some wings, eh?”

Mapping the universe.

Mapping the universe.

I sat with the old timer for several hours a day, recording his music and stories, hanging on to his words like air itself. I became very attached to the old tramp. It was strange. I felt like I was visited by an apparition, a ripple in the matrix. We connected like kindred and he reminded me to breathe and create and would say, ‘don’t do what I done..” Mr. Bojangles dances down the avenue of life, and I know our paths shall cross again. Thank you Spider, may the wind now be at your back!

A snippet of our visit together:

The Journey has just Begun.

For the last several months I have been deeply steeped in book and print research, but this is not where my passion lies. I wish to be out and about with my recording gear, searching and digging for more knowledge and just sitting with the sound of the rivers and winds. It really is gathering many stories to piece together one story. The very question that started this whole journey was: “Who were my Ancestors?’ and from that one question, come many tributaries. And still my thirst grows.

Auntie Virginia Miller's Canoe. Edward S. Curtis photo

Auntie Virginia Miller’s Canoe. Edward S. Curtis photo

I am about to fully step into the initial aims of this project of documenting what is left of our Stories, meaning, more living persons oral histories. Some of my Watala/Cascade cousins are looking at dis-enrollment from the Grand Ronde tribe (read more here) and fighting for what it means to be ‘Indigenous’. The honest truth is, we are becoming ghosts and I wish to honor a memory, fully and honestly. I want to know what our traditions were. I want to know why Wind Mountain was so Sacred to us and I want it to become sacred again, before we are all gone. I want to know how the landscape shaped our myth and our traditions. Why did we flatten our foreheads? I don’t want to be co-opted into the generalization of the ‘plains noble Indian’, for we were our own People and we are our own People.

BUT….yet, I am the Immigrant carrying goods upriver and I am the hands that would build the dam that would silence it forever. I am of many stories. And giving the way the modern world is swallowing our sense of belonging to place, we too, and our stories, are becoming ghosts.

The journey has just begun.

Better than all the fame in heaven.

The night I Met Jesus at the Sidetrack Tavern,
May 1997

“Anonymity among men is better than all the fame in Heaven..”

Jack Kerouac

I once saw Jesus drinking whiskey in a smoky bar, observing the last supper of bad livers. His beard finely groomed awash in ash and too drunk to notice the drool.

He stands a stumble, catching himself on his barstool and meanders awkwardly to the angelic jukebox. A fire of light IMG_20130209_195732 shadows across his ancient face- he baptizes 2 quarters to the soundtrack of sadness. Alone he dances with himself to the blues of heaven, unaware of flesh, tempted in a purgatorial trance, bumping into tables on his way down to the soiled bar room floor.

‘Anonymity among men is better than all the fame in heaven”, he shouts out loud the words of keurouc and “right now i am making an ass out of myself’ he continues as he makes his way back to uneasy feet.

Twitching angelic and nervous he walks out the doors of the florescent illuminated purgatory.

it was the strangest night…….

The Day I Met Coyote.

He came into my life the same way he departed, mysterious and quick.

Monday night Bingo at thee Pe Ell Pub.

Monday night Bingo at thee Pe Ell Pub.

Last night on my way home from Bingo, a light flashed on the side of the road, I slowed and looked to see it was a hitch-hiker. He was an old looking chap carrying a plastic garbage bag with clothes and various other implements of living… I asked him where he was headed.. “Home”, he replied.. I asked, ‘Where is that”… ‘I dunno, but Raymond would work.” he replied in a slow southern drawl. He got in the car and introduced himself as Robert E. Love and that he served in Vietnam. He said he was ‘leaving his ol’ lady because she like the needle and bottle more than life itself’.. and that he could not save anyone.. “I am not Jesus, Right?”… he was from Arkansas and was headed back home after not seeing his family for 20+ years, and when he spoke, tears streaked his weathered face. I drove him all the way to his Sisters front door.. he told me, ‘live life fully, because, before you know it, it is too late’…. I asked if we could sit and have coffee before he left for Arkansas. He said, ‘yes, come on back tomorrow and I will tell you some stories.”

Artist unknown

Artist unknown

I showed up at the Senior housing Apartments in Raymond and proceeded to apt. 206, where Robert E. Love told me he  was staying with his sister. I knocked and could hear the slow stopping creak of a rocking chair behind the thin apartment door. I felt excited to meet his family and hear some more stories. The handle slowly turned and opened. There stood a spritely old lady named Mildred, I said..’Hello Ma’am, my name is Si and I am looking for a man named Robert E. Love, he said you were his sister and that I should come here to have coffee with him..”.. there was a silence that ticked in slow seconds with the metronome of the grandfather clock behind her short stature.. and then said, “I don’t know no Robert Love, and why are you looking for him.” I told her the story of picking him up after a game of Bingo in Pe Ell and driving him to Raymond, the whole time telling me stories of strife and love and the want for Home. She said, “I wish I did know a Robert Love, he sounds like a most interesting fellow.” I nodded, and told her if she heard anything about this man to give me a call and then gave her my card.

I picked up Robert E. Love at the very place I always spot Coyotes and last night they were a howling, and have been since that first night I met Robert E. Love. Maybe I was tricked?

CameraZOOM-20131015170036315So long Robert E. Love, may the wind always be at your back and may the path rise up to meet you where ever you end up. I hope you find your Home. I have learned many things from the most craziest of Prophets and I am grateful for the lessons… even if it was Coyote. So, remember, always be in the moment and ‘live life fully, because, before you know it, it is too late’. Thank you Robert.

Unknown Soldiers: In Honor of Veterans.

In observance of Veterans Day, I would like to take a moment to share two stories of two Warriors who served their country in the Vietnam War. Two people who lives were transformed forever after their experiences of war. Two people who are very different but share one common thread, one of pride, the Marine Corp. The first interview and segment is about a dear old close friend who passed away several years ago named Bob Cupit and the second segment is about a new friend, Jim Campbell. I will be posting more Vet related stories in the future, because, their stories need to be heard. Thank you to all those who came before. And Thank You Brothers for your service!

Bob Cupit.

Bob Cupit.

I first met Bob Cupit in 1996 at a local open mic at the Side track Tavern in North Bonneville, WA. We became instant friends and he told me some great stories over the years. He was a grand song writer and poet. The Vietnam war had left a mark on him forever, and he wore his Marine Corps career upon his sleeve. The war had awakened him to the unjust ways our government does war, pushing him into being pro-militia. His politics were infused deeply in his writing carried through with wit and sarcasm. Bob passed away in a car crash in 2010 near Parkdale, Oregon. He will never be forgotten!

Unknown Soldier
©Bob Cupit

The old Regiment regroups
as the evening shadows fall,
on a dead end street underneath the Burnside bridge.

Where they talk like ghost and whispers,
about some battles they recall,
and some friends they left out on some nameless ridge.

And they have learned to keep their distance,
and they have learned to keep their peace
as they meet out on the lonely outpost on the brink.

Where the man down at the pawn shop
has been taking Silver Stars,
and a purple heart won’t buy a man a drink.

And there’s no marble monument for the wasted, walking, wounded.
We offer them no glory or acclaim,
Some folks call them heroes once,
and some folks call them bums,
but nobody ever calls them by their name…
and they’re the Unknown Solider just the same.

Verse II:
You can see them on the corner
of almost any city street.
To proud to beg
and still too strong to fall.

Look how people turn away
afraid their eyes might meet
those of man whose name belongs up upon the wall.

And what could they know of men,
of such pride and discipline,
that they paid the price and never asked the cause.

They just don’t seem to know,
that a Solider just can’t go,
Home, until after the war is won or lost.

And there’s no marble monument for the wasted, walking, wounded.
We offer them no glory or acclaim,
Some folks call them heroes once,
and some folks call them bums,
but nobody ever calls them by their name…
and they’re the Unknown Solider just the same.

Verse III:

On the rolling green of Arlington,
a hundred thousand strong,
White crosses glistening in the morning sun.

And on the hillside a bugle boy,
plays that sad old song,
for the mother weeping for her fallen son.

And yonder stands a statue
of a man in uniform
forever guarding his eternal flame.

And standing at the flame,
are Veterans trying to stay warm,
No, we don’t treat all our Unknown Soldiers just the same.

And there’s no marble monument for the wasted, walking, wounded.
Who gave up more they could ever claim,
Some folks call them heroes once,
and some folks call them bums,
but nobody ever calls them by their name…
and they’re the Unknown Soldiers just the same.

Jim Campbell.

Jim Campbell

I have just recently met Jim, but it feels as though we have been friends for a bit. He is a soft spoken fellow who moved here to Pe Ell, Washington a couple years ago to homestead and live self sufficient. He, like Bob, was greatly transformed by what he saw in Vietnam and it has shaped him for the rest of his life. I wandered over one rainy day to his homestead to ask him about his experience.

Skookums and a search for God

Skookum stories are found among the Natives of the Pacific Northwest. The legends existed prior to a single name for the creature. They differed in their details both regionally and between families in the same community. Similar stories of Skookums are found on every continent except Antarctica. An Ecologist argues that most cultures have human-like giants in their folk history: “We have this need for some larger-than-life creature.”

My family had no shortage of Skookum stories growing up. My Grandmother, Shirley Amos, would often tell this story as my neck hairs stood on end, hanging on to her every word.

As a youngster, I would roam through the woods near my home, with my bow draped across my shoulders, my ears perked and my nose to the path, on edge, looking for Skookum. My Uncle, Gary Amos, had a similar but different story he would tell of the Skookums and the call it would make… once again, my neck hairs would stand on end as I hung on to every word.

Artist unknown.

Artist unknown.

This need for some ‘larger-than-life creature’ has always fascinated me. I grew up a jehovah’s witness and was fed the ideology and imagery of a ‘larger-than-life’ God from the time of birth. A god of fire and brimstone, but it all seemed so mythical and scary to me. Something that kept me in line because of fear. I would hear these stories of Skookums (ironically told by strict jehovah witnesses), and for some reason, that felt more like God to me. It was a tug a war of spiritual information when I was a child. My Grandmother would tell these Ghost stories and Stories of the Land, but in the same breath, tell us that they were wrong and did not have jehovah’s guidance. This always confused me. How could we have forsaken this land and it’s rituals for some imported mono-theistic ideology, yet I felt a guilt for thinking such thoughts. Then something happened to me on May 18th, 1980 that would change my life forever.

Loowit, May 18th 1980

Loowit, May 18th 1980

I was six years old and bewildered by what I saw and felt that day. I could hear so clearly the call of my Ancestors and the Call of the Land. This was God, this was the true power of God. On this day, I became an Animist. But what was I to do with this new and powerful Spiritual knowledge. Where was the Ceremony? I spent the next 20 years frantically searching for my ‘Ceremony’ in every portal that would open. I became the Volcano, I became the calm and I became my own Skookum. I had to listen for the Ceremony, I had to learn to accept that the Ceremony was right underneath my feet and I had to learn to accept the Skookum inside of me.

These stories I would hear growing up, seem at times, like a code. A code for living that would end up having profound teachings to me. I had to stop and listen long enough to hear what my Ancestors were telling me. I had to stop and listen to what the winds were telling me. I found God here.

All My Relations.

A Reconciled Apocalypse: for Grandma Shirley

Grandmother was born on the threshold of a new age.
Assuming the role of a Father’s neglect
and a savior of a generation left with no shrine
So I build this altar of memory.

I remember her smell
Of prime rib and perfume-
Chasing me around with sinister dentures
And telling Skookum stories-
Scaring me from flesh
And finding my heart.

She dreamt and had visions
But kept them to herself-
Yet I could see them
In her eyes.

Her wrinkles ran like Gorges-
Where the tears would
Often flow.

She struggled-
And the struggle
Was her life
That she would

Rites of passage transformed
In cigarettes and Patsy Cline
And looking for love
In all the wrong places.

We are all children
Of a
Reconciled apocalypse.

I lay a feather on this altar
And hear the wind sing-
“Fall to pieces.”