My Brother is My Founding Father
photograph of the author by Eliot Duncan.
October 18th, 2019
By m.s. RedCherries
I once read “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius and the awareness that we are here momentarily, bursting forth from our mothers’ womb and into a life of un-holiness, is the pitter-patter of harsh realism that falls like micro-trash on a highway. Memoirs are something of a delicacy—a reminder that we are here for today, and we might be forgotten by tomorrow, so let us write about it. Now my pessimism is only genetic, but I believe that every good memoir should be settled in one-part wish and two-parts fictitious reality—kind of like the ‘Iliad’. My song of ilium.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
To wit, on one Sunday morning in the summertime, my mother (of-four) was comfortably nestled in a Catholic hospital patiently awaiting my birth, with a smile on her face and a resting heart rate —one-part fictitious reality. Now, my mother knew in her stomach that, despite her being a reservation woman, she did not want me to be a reservation woman. So, just after midnight, and just after the doctor announced my birth in Billings, Montana, my mother held me for three days.
sometimes when the wind hits right I can hear Tom Petty
To the south, on one Sunday morning in the summertime, my parents (newly-married) were also patiently awaiting my birth, with a smile on their face and a resting heartrate—the other part fictitious reality. Now, my parents knew in their stomachs that, despite not having children of their own, they did want me to be a child of their own. So, just after midnight, and just after my mother announced my birth from a hospital phone in Billings, Montana, my parents waited for three days.
we slept at last
One must be reminded that despite her effort and energy, my mother could not wish away her poverty. She dreamed of infinite baby formula and wrote soliloquies about pampers, but the prayers could not take away the fact that reservation living is not the life meant for a person—a child. The golden days of pre-colonialism were gone, and the land is all dried up. And my mother asks, when will I eat again?
a letter from Montana
June 23, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,
I write this letter from an empty stomach and a desert nightmare. I write so that smoke will fill my head and I do not lose sight. I have seen my five-year old niece lap warm milk from a bent spoon on a dusty floor. I have seen the tiles of my mother’s floor in my mother’s house crack when she laughs. I have not seen a shadow of my mother’s house because the sun does not shine on it. I have not seen a weed grow between the broken concrete by the front door because water does not fall on it. We have only been hungry for two-hundred years and I can now feel it. I have heard the wind blow under the windows promising that today might be the day where the world spins backward. As it turns, it will take me, and I will float, and float, and float, to twenty-three generations ago, when my grandfather was three-days old and I knew no different.
in medias res
It is a summer day in June, and I walk into my mother’s house, and see my brother. So much violence I see on my brother—scars, broken bones, and healing scabs. I see broken windows, while he looks beyond to see a sky so blue, it looks violet. I turn the corner and see my four-year old niece run to my brother because it is morning, and she is hungry. Her mother, my sister, left her here four-years ago along with her under-sized jacket because her mother, my sister, decided yesterday she is much too young to be a mother today. The fridge opens to a block of USDA cheese, and an empty gallon of milk.
I close my eyes.
The fridge doesn’t close because there is too much food in it. I see stained-glass windows, while my brother can’t see beyond them because of the silk drapes. I turn the corner and see my four-year old niece, full of IHOP, running to her new Fisher-price toy bought by her mother who is away at college studying to become a doctor because her mother, my sister, is a student, a future-graduate, and a mother today—and tomorrow. The trash-bin opens to a block of USDA cheese, and an empty gallon of milk.
My mother appears, “what do you see?”
I open my eyes.
My brother walks a stuttered step because he does not wish to wake my sleeping niece. It is a Monday, before dawn, and he walks through the two-bedroom house to survey the area in case someone came in the house at night after a party. Cousins are always welcome. Family is always welcome. The door remains unlocked. I am an hour away from arriving. As my mother remains asleep, my brother wakes my niece— “school”.
The sun is rising over the Montana trees, and I pull up. I smell dew and split gasoline. I see a tisket, a tasket, a broken green and yellow basket in the yard. A broken car too. That must be the gasoline leak. I watch a couple of mangy dogs, gentle and kind, sniff to find food. I walk up the uneven steps—leaning to the north and walk inside the stuffy door. My brother hugs me and asks me if I am hungry. I decline because I am taking him to eat in Billings. He makes my nieces lunch and gets her ready for school. Ah— “school”.
My brother asks me how I am doing in Arizona. He asks me what the buildings look like and what do the Indians look like in the south—are they shorter than me. He asks how my parents in Texas are doing and about my new shoes I got for Christmas and if it would be alright if we stopped to get him a coke on the way. Yes, brother. Yes, always yes. He asks me about school— “school”.
On a particular day, at a typical time, one summer and three days after my birth, my mother placed me in a basket of reeds, with a bottle and a pamper, and sent me down the jetstream to Texas on a United Airlines flight.
I don’t remember coughing, but I am sure I did.
I don’t remember crying, but I am sure I did.
I don’t remember…oh, but I do.
I was once told that I am the 1% of Native Americans who are still alive.
I am the surviving 1% of the Native Americans left on this planet after the events occurring on and after 1492.
I am the sum-total of my ancestors and every decision they made to keep me alive. They are both the succumbing 99% and the surviving 1%.
In one-hundred years, I will be bones. And what will become of my bones?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I have been awake for twenty-five years and been alive for a thousand.
THIS IS WHAT KAFKA REALLY MEANT WHEN HE WISHED TO BE A RED INDIAN
Every now and again, you examine the ground before you, very jerkily, because you are not on a racing horse; but behind the wheel of a Chevy Malibu on a dirt road on the reservation. You are leaning with the wind because you want your hair to cover your eyes, so you could pretend you were on a racing horse. You are instantly alert because your brother, who is driving, could hit a racing horse, or racing cow, who may be crossing the road before you. You are not wearing any spurs—you do not need reins. The racing horse will take you to a place where the land, that was once gone, is now back and your horse’s neck and head is actually yours.
It took artist, Philip Evergood, nineteen years to complete a portrait of his dying mother—it will take me a millennia.
Jokingly, my mother called me a ‘cigar Indian’ because she said I looked like the wood Indian totems in cigar shops.
Mother, will the day ever come when they will look like me?
Marcus Aurelius’ speech on the philosophy of stoicism and living as a stoic before the National Congress of American Indians regarding Indians (2018) – Washington, D.C
Chiefs of all Tribal Nations, its’ people and its’ children,
The desire to protect your culture and the desire to hold your resources is against the explicable means of human nature. While it may be an exciting formula, mixing the familiar consistency of life generation-after-generation, your continual reiterations will be lost to history. Yet, in its all fair-maiden luminosity, the beginning signals that perforate the forces that summon countless thoughts regarding the correct way to live life is morally inconsistent and idealistically irrelevant. For we are all here, stomping out the dust with little refute to settle in it, laughing and joking about as if we have forever to exist. Categorically, the benign truth is that we do not. And honestly, when I die, others will die with me. When you die, you alone will die—so I encourage you to always look presently and never in the past nor future. Your history is tired, and you must not also make yourself tired; the history has ceased, and you are all that remains.
Time is measured by a small amount, which is each of our lives. You are your own misfortune and you must be strengthened against it. In doing so, do not worry yourself into feeling any emotion, which will only consume. Instead, do not feel any emotion at all—for if you have not felt them, they cannot consume. Everything in our life is trivial. The only thing for certain is your duty to others, here and now—the only beings alive and the only beings who contrive ‘humanity’. This is what we call ‘sympatheia’. Our time is short and our morality is the only thing that should transfix us—so we must live every day is our end. Everything is much too small to have careless worry over finances, resources, cultural-preservation, or historical struggle. These actions are only temporary struggles—ones which you should not allow to affect your life, not only because of its’ brevity, but because of its transience.
You, Indians, say that you have lived for centuries because those before you have as well. I am here to testify that as Alexander the Great lived and died—no one has remembered his leading general, who was just as brave, and whom also led many victories. Akin to the decorated receipts and conquests of Scipio Africanus, who defeated, arguably, the greatest military tactician since the dawn of history—Hannibal Barca—you, Indians, soon, will have little to no memory in the upcoming generations as to who defeated who—and who defeated you. The inevitable result of life is that you can choose how to live it. You can choose to sulk in your own misfortune; which is always, and for you, historically, irreversible; and choose to waste your life—or you can teach yourself to live free of it.
I encourage each of you to refocus your attention to the present, and not the future nor the past. If you waste your life focusing on the future, you will leave an unfortunate and wasted life believing you can live forever. You should never seek heroism or external gains because they will be lost in history and futile, if not in the present, then, unquestionably, for the future.
Like an old dog, that is frail, it is this burdening voice that should remind you of your own imminent, inevitable, and unknown passing. Despite the graphs and spectacular feel of overwhelmed mourning, looming, the taste of happiness and judgment is still understood. We must live in virtue with one another, as this is the only humanity we know. Justice, courage, humility and wisdom is what each of us should ascribe to be—because that is the true key to happiness. Your aspiration to live for the future generations of your people will not gain you the happiness you can achieve. Your protection of your cultural resources so your children may benefit will not allow you true happiness. Live in the present, and not for the future. Forget the past and believe that the unpredictability of this world is matched with the predictability of our end.
The approach, to which I expel warmth and positivity, knows that life is short and dying takes a long time, for when you live you are already dead. I live the prior, envy the latter.
Chief Seattle’s speech responding to Marcus Aurelius’ statement regarding the philosophy of stoicism and living as a stoic before the National Congress of American Indians (2018) – Washington, D.C.
Nearly 600 years ago, the White Man landed on our shores and we quaked, but not in fear. We stood on the land that was created for us and we trembled because the prophecies of my people came true and the Great Spirit was speaking. That was 600 years ago, and I am still trembling, but now in fear because of your words.
I stand here today, before you, to answer your words in friendship and goodwill and tell you that your way of life is not ours. Your God is not our God and your words are not ours. Just as there are many cars on the road, grass on the prairies, and trash in the tides of the ocean, our people are filled with the spirits of our ancestors just as numerous. I have spoken before the White Man before and once again, believe that we do not share common ground. Our men and women are taught by the Great Spirit, that our religion are our ancestors and our visions are written in the hearts of our people. We will never cease to exist—as you trample on top of our tombs, hold our children’s bodies in your museums, and sell our stolen sacred objects needed for our ceremonies, which are living beings, our ancestors will never forsake us. We walk the forests, which have held themselves together against your saws and machines, and I have felt their pain. It is these wonderful trees, that have always lived between magnificent mountains for as long as my people have been alive, that also keep us alive.
Our desire to protect our culture and protect our rivers and mountains against the White Man is our destiny. Like an infant, we must nurture, remain, and sacrifice so that the infant will grow into something much stronger tomorrow; and he will do the same for his people.
You said time is short—but my people do not believe in time. Time is as mysterious and unknown as your way of thought—only the Great Spirit knows when we will all die. The old men in our tribe will never die; for when they pass onto the next world, they will continue to live forever within us. The hostilities between your culture and mine have been foretold by our ancestors and so we must accept them. We do not look at our own history through your eyes, but our history through ours. And we will never forget. We are the children of our forefathers who will become the forefathers to their children—and we will never meet our doom. The Great Spirit has never and will not forsake us. We have a duty to our children, and our unborn grandchildren to continue our way of life until we continue our journey into the next world.
Your words encourage us to forget our past so that we can live happily in the present—I do not agree because upon every horizon, when the sun comes up—it is another day to seek our common destiny—which alone makes us happy and gives us strength. From whom would our people be if not from the wisdom of our ancestors?
I once said that the dead are not powerless; there is no death, only a change of worlds. My people, who are a gift from the Great Spirit, have lived for a thousand-years. We are the past and we are the future. My people are between words; and we walk in both.
m.s. RedCherries is an indigenous writer from East Texas that was born from someone’s whim—maybe her own.