Stick Houses In Peshawbestown

AuthorMatthew L M. Fletcher

    Matthew L M. Fletcher:Assistant Professor, University of North Dakota School of Law. Director, Northern Plains Indian Law Center. Member, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Appellate Judge, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. B.A. 1994, University of Michigan; J.D. 1997, University of Michigan Law School. The opinions expressed in this piece are the author's only, do not represent any position the Grand Traverse Band or the Pokagon Band may take or has taken, and may not be attributed to the Grand Traverse Band or the Pokagon Band. Though this piece is based loosely on actual events, the characters are entirely fictional. Chi-migwetch to John and Eva Petoskey, Wenona Singel, Myriam Jaidi, Dennis Garcia, Nancy Robinett, and Corinne Vorenkamp for their encouragement and inspiration (and their stories). As Sherman Alexie wrote, "These Indians you write about are helping you every day. Each and every one of them. Every house, every story, every poem, they're helping you." Sherman Alexie, The Business of Fancydancing: The Screenplay 101 (2003). This piece is for my nephew, Nolan Patrick Mugwa Fletcher, the newest member of my family, and for my mother, who always keeps us coming home.

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There are many stories here. And, there is much to learn for the future. For all the pain and heartache we have felt, there has been and will be an equal amount of joy. That is how everything works. There is always a struggle to maintain the balance.

-Winona LaDuke1

It is undoubtedly true that Indians may be easily led to make bad bargains, and, when made, usually stick to them. -Kobogum v. Jackson Iron Co2

M-22, Leelanau County, 10 A M

Parker Roberts turned her head to the left for just a moment and crossed the yellow line. Our Honda sideswiped an oncoming Explorer and knocked it into the ditch. We spun out violently, sliding off the road and over the snow bank, through the air between scraggly trees, and onto the Grand Traverse Bay, covered in ice. We stayed there for four hours.

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Parker liked to drive fast, like her grandmother, a traveling Powder Puff driver back in the thirties and forties. She didn't fly past other drivers or routinely collect speeding tickets, but on the highway she would set the cruise about fifteen over the limit. She drove fast enough to make a cop think about pulling her over, but not fast enough to make the cop's decision an easy one. She drove with enough latent talent to relax her passengers even as she pushed the envelope into legal recklessness. She was good enough to make us feel as though she drove defensively. She was smooth.

The ice cracked underneath us. Not right away because the west bay had been frozen for several weeks, but it was March and over forty degrees for the second day in a row. The mist over the bay was impenetrable and there was about two inches of water on top of the ice. We slid and slid over the bay, pushing a wave of water ahead of us as we spun out. I remember clenching my body, afraid that if I moved while we slid that our horizontal inertia would fail and we would sink. I knew cars should not be riding on the ice.

We did stop after a few seconds, leaving us in a blinding white room, our car surrounded by the curtain of fog. I couldn't see the road, the shore, the trees, or even the sun's outline through the glass in the sunroof. The trail left by the car instantly faded as the water lapped up against the tires. I looked all around, trying to remember the stories my father told me about the North Star, the Northern Lights, or which direction the sun rose, but I could not see any of those signs that morning through the mist rising out of the ice.

I don't remember my father's face except through pictures now. Someone had to die in the second Gulf War and he was one of the unlucky Americans. My mother, an undergraduate student at Central Michigan, vigorously protested the war before Strickland's call-up, mostly complaining about American imperialism and Iraqi civilian casualties. Though she did not express it in her letters to the local Members of Congress, she wrote in her diary that she feared being a war widow. She feared her son would be a half-orphan and that she would be a single mother. She would feel responsible for actions taken by her government in retaliation for her family's loss.

After Strickland accepted orders to travel to the war zone, Parker dropped out of college and came home to Peshawbestown. Gramma raised me, her duty as a grandmother according to the old Indians, while Parker took a job at Leelanau Sands and then at Eagletown Mar-Page 191ket when a cashier position opened. She rented a small apartment across the street from a pizza place in Suttons Bay and bought a used Civic from her cousin. Parker hated American cars as much as she hated American wars. She explained her foreign car purchase to the local patriots on the basis that the Civic got better gas mileage. She worried about greenhouse gases too, and the fact that the bay never really froze over anymore.

But in February and March 2003, the bay froze and the ice both saved and doomed us at the same time. They explained to me later that Parker probably hit her head on the steering wheel either at the time we hit the SUV or when we hit the ice. I remember her leaning backward in her seat, sleeping peacefully, as we sat on the ice. She talked in her sleep. That day, she said Strickland's name several times, pronouncing every syllable, every consonant, carefully, as though lecturing him from her dreams. I closed my eyes to mimic her. I wanted to sleep too. I thought we were already in heaven. I may have even nodded off-it is so easy for the young to drift off-but Parker moaned in agony from the depths of her trance and woke me.

Parker loved to sleep. She worked the afternoon shift at Eagletown so she wouldn't have to get out of bed until after ten or eleven. I woke early and snuck into her room to watch her sleep. After we left Mt. Pleasant, Parker slept more and more, going to bed earlier and waking later. I watched over her because she was my mother and because she named me after the eagle. Gramma explained that I was supposed to watch over Parker, because that's what eagle does. In the mornings, I would stay as quiet as I could for a long time and watch her eyes for signs she might wake. Sometimes, she woke suddenly and I would run from the room, startled, while she laughed at my escape. We spent the most time together in her bedroom while she slept because she worked during the days and I'd be sleeping when she came to pick me up from Gramma's at night.

I tapped Parker's shoulder, but she didn't stir. I pushed the parka she wore until I felt her bony shoulder, but she still did not stir. I kept the seatbelt on and reached for the radio. I knew we rested precariously on ice, so I moved slowly and deliberately, lest my sudden movements send us crashing to the bottom of the freezing bay. The car had stalled in the accident, but I knew the radio would still work. The morning talk deejays had left for the day and the news was on. A couple of snowmobilers drowned in Long Lake a few weeks before and the policePage 192had called off the search for the bodies until the ice melted completely. They said it wouldn't be long-a few days maybe.

"Mom, wake up," I said.

I heard sirens and cars approaching. I heard adults talking urgently, some very scared, and I listened for someone calling for the Jaws of Life. I imagined the fire engines and ambulances that sometimes raced under our windows at home had stopped to help us, but I wondered how they would be able to drive out over the ice to collect our little car. I shut off the radio and rolled the window down (ever so gently) to hear them better. It was very cold on the ice and I immediately felt chills.

"Mom, wake up," I said again. I pushed her as hard as I felt the ice could stand. "Listen."

Parker did not move.

I listened to the authorities deal with the Explorer and its occupant, who suffered a strained neck and concussion caused by his stubborn refusal to buckle his seat belt. There was little injury to his vehicle, just a large scrape of red paint down the side and the alignment problems caused by going into the ditch. I learned later that the police treated the accident as routine. I began to worry that the police would forget about us.

"Parker," I said, repeating Gramma's mantra, "you sleep too much." It was too cold so I rolled the window back up and to wait for rescue. Instantly bored, I turned the radio back on.

I don't listen to the radio anymore. It reminds me of that day, how people can be so close but still too far. Sound creates the illusion of proximity. It lies.

I remembered something then. I reached over and gently pushed the orange triangle button on the dash, the button Parker told me signified emergency. I relaxed, knowing that the emergency lights would assure our rescue. I began to worry about how much it would cost to fix the car once they towed it off the ice-//"they could tow it ofif the ice.

I Tattered Indian Skins

One absence of truth

One horrible thing you saw

What you truly wanted to become


In this hole we have fixed

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We get further and further Further from the world

-Chan Marshall3

The Indian Health Service doctor in Albuquerque took Mariana's baby in the fourth month at Mariana's request. Stephen Thunder wouldn't be coming back to her and Mariana did not trust herself to raise a child alone. She lied about her age-she was only fifteen-and the nurses knew about it but didn't care. She was an ordinary...

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