The Wolf at Twilight — Let the Journey Begin

I have remained silent for a long time about The Wolf at Twilight, even to the point of being incommunicado both on this blogsite and in terms of public speaking. It has been that important to me. Why? This is a book that tries to use most of my skills to bring an important issue to light in a way that crosses out of the “genre” issue of Native American subjects, does not lose the readers who want to be uplifted as well as educated, and honors the Native experience from which I have gained so much and to which I feel such a moral responsibility.

Unpacking this would take far more than a blog entry. But let me make a simple attempt.

Those of you who have followed my writings over the years have often broken into two camps: those who like the more spiritual writings, and those who are involved in some aspect of Native American affairs. For me the two have never been separate, because it is Native American spirituality in all its manifestations that forms the basis for most of my own personal theology and the core of my spiritual writings: honoring of elders and the past, concern for the seventh generation, seeing the spiritual in every moment whether elevated or ordinary, and a belief that there is spiritual presence in every star, stone, and human encounter.

I do not and have not ever claimed that I have access to Native sensibilities and I am deeply sensitive to issues of spiritual appropriation and distortion. But, having said that, neither have I shied away from the hard truths and unwarranted romanticization of Native America. To me, the many Native cultures are both victim and vanguard, and I am here to neither vilify nor celebrate them beyond the facts of their existence and history. What I do know is that the Native peoples have the only indigenous spirituality that was born of this land and that reflects the truth that this land reveals, and that they have been very poorly served both in their spiritual depth and historical encounter with European society.

For the moment, let me stay with the issue of Native spirituality. As I have often said, we shape our understanding of deity in some measure as a reflection of the monumental forces around us. We are the children of this land and the monumental forces it offers. It is only logical that an authentic American spirituality would reflect these forces and be best embodied in the spiritual impulses and manifestations of the people who have been born of this earth and have made their lives upon it. But I do not wish to go too deeply into this. It is a subject for another time, and one that I tried to address metaphorically in one of my favorite but most unnoticed literary children, A Haunting Reverence. That failure made me shy away from metaphor as a literary vehicle for spiritual expression and return instead to homily and narrative.

Neither Wolf nor Dog was probably the most overt blending of homily and narrative, and also the most successful. But it pretty much turned a blind eye to the darker truths that the Native peoples of America have had to endure. I have never been completely comfortable avoiding those darker truths (only Chief Joseph addressed them directly, and that book ended up gaining a separate audience and almost seeming like a separate genre altogether). I truly believe in the journalistic saw of “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.” The closer Native-oriented work comes to a new age vision, the closer it comes to the complete inversion of “comforting the comfortable.” This is not a road I wish to go down, not so long as the darkness at the core of our nation’s relationship with its Native inhabitants lies hidden or unexamined. Yet I know I lose my audience, and, thus, my effectiveness, if I write diatribes, screeds, or cries of wounded indignation. There is a place for that, but I don’t feel it is my place. At heart, I believe that we gain from seeing and embracing the bright gifts of Native culture, just as we need to acknowledge the darkness that lies in our national experience.

Enter The Wolf at Twilight. There is a horrible national disgrace that is only now coming out about our nation’s treatment of the education and re-education of its Native inhabitants. The Native people have lived with this knowledge and its scars for years, but it has not been brought into the light except within the realms of Native studies. I have been given the gift of being able to make the Native story interesting to many non-Native people who otherwise would pay no attention to Indian reality. I truly can be the bridge and ally that my Native friends have urged me to be. Neither Wolf nor Dog brought you a man (maybe even two men) who you grew to care about deeply. You followed Dan, asked about Dan, cared about Dan, and listened to Dan. Through my efforts he got your ear and, in many cases opened your eyes and hearts. It was and remains a humbling thing to see.

In The Wolf at Twilight I use your concern and interest in Dan to walk you into some of those darker corners of Indian experience. I do not hide the brilliance of his light, but neither do I hide the darkness that haunts his heart. Through Dan, I take you to some understandings you may not wish to have, but which I believe are crucial to the healing that needs to take place. Yes, Dan’s wisdom is there. Yes, the humor is there. And, yes, the lightness of touch is there. But you must be prepared to walk a bit on a dark trail, as well.

Making this work was not easy. I didn’t want to lose the spiritual seekers among my readers or those who would rather look at the light than the darkness. But I wanted to honor the darker truths and experience of my Native friends and bring that truth, too, into the light. And I wanted to honor one of Dan’s most adamant convictions: that people “learn by story, because story lodges deep in the heart.”

If you want to see what it is that has kept me from communicating for these past years and months, go to the website www.hiddenfromhistory.org and watch the video, “Unrepentant,” that can be viewed on google viewer on the bottom right of the page. Or simply click around on the page. This is what I needed to reveal in The Wolf at Twilight, focusing more on the U.S side of the border. But I had to do it with a gentle touch. As I said, making this happen was not easy. But I think I succeeded. When the book comes out you will be able to judge for yourself if I was able to blend the light and the darkness. For now, consider the darkness of www.hiddenfromhistory.org. What it reveals was happening everywhere on this continent. It will give you something to ponder.


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9 comments

  1. Eric Read says:

    I have long felt that the Native American population of the US was run over by the government and its minions. However,this is the first time that I have ever heard of genocide in Canada. The facts of what happened there need to be brought out into the open and dealt with. I will return to that site you listed and read all that I can. The video is a little messed up, but the message is quite clear. We cannot change what has happened in our country any more than we can change the mistakes we make in our lives once they have gone by. We can, however, do what is necessary to change the present and hope for the future. I really feel that President Obama made a step in that direction when he appointed Larry Echohawk to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If we work together, we can make a difference. Perhaps, in time, the nation can heal these wounds and somehow make amends. Your work is certainly a big help. My eyes have been opened like they never have before. Thanks seems inadequate, but thanks nonetheless. I cannot wait for your new book, Wold at Twilight to come out. Eric

  2. Eric Read says:

    A typo can ruin a message. I meant to type Wolf in my previous message. Sorry about that.

  3. Kim Zernechel says:

    When I visit Pine Ridge, I find it difficult to grasp how my friends live with one foot in Lakota traditions and one foot in Christian beliefs. When I read Chief Joseph and The Soul of the Indian, what uplifted me was that in at least some Indian cultures there was no hell (until the black robes showed up). My friends almost seem afraid of not believing in Jesus, just in case there is a hell. It saddens me, and perhaps some day I will be able to ask my friends why Lakota beliefs are, perhaps, not enough. Kim

  4. Anita Biers says:

    Learned something new from Kim’s comment. I should have known the Native American’s did not believe in hell and believe in Jesus because they are afraid of it. I have opened my eyes to many things lately and have made some enemies by my beliefs but I have come to realize that they mostly resemble the Native American belief and always have. The Indians did not receive a book of rules and commandments but simply lived by what they felt, honoring all life and nature even when they had to take it to survive. In a quote from a favorite film of mine “To the Indian everything is alive, to the white man everything is dead…” I found strengths in my personal beliefs even though I am considered a white person. It saddens me when “Christian” Native Americans sell their goods through white man’s resources. We should have adopted their beliefs not ingrained our “religion” on them.

  5. Bob R. says:

    I’m speachless. I never knew it reached that level or that level of deliberateness. However, in retrospect, I think I should have or could have had I thought about it.
    The complexity of it all is overwhelming and I think that this must contribute to the reluctance of the victims to speak and of basically good people in main stream society to face the issues or help. I reality, it is people like Annett that bear the burdon for us all and from whom we benefit. I certainly hope this issue does not die in Canada and we deal with our own here in the US. One of many we must face.

  6. jim says:

    the real true Lakota Way, told to me by many elders, says there are no bad Spirits, and there is no God. We are guided by the Tunkashilas, the ancestor Spirits, that is who we pray to. We are not afraid of hell, the devil, etc because there is none. My hunka Albert White Hat will answer many of these questions this fall when his book comes out on Lakota Spirituality. He told me that it will anger many Lakota Spiritual Leaders and ”medicine men” who try to preach like a white man and use the fear of the white man’s devil and hell theories.
    Kent–never heard back from you did you reach Joyce/Jim Harrison?

  7. Gary Carson-Hull says:

    I am reading your blog from Swaziland, Africa where my wife and I are serving for four months working with orphaned and vulnerable children. Swaziland has the highest insidence of HIV/AIDS per-capata in the world hence so many orphans. Much of why we are here is because of reading all of your books and developing a deeper spirtuality as a result. We have also worked with Habitat For Humanity on the Rosebud Reservation in So. Dakota which was a result of being inspired by your writings. Thank you so much and we very much look forward to your new book!

  8. Harold RITE says:

    Kent- Thanx for the great news & updates. Sorry not to have communicated for so long but like you have been quite occupied. And now you give us Hidden from History to absorb! When I’ve slogged thru that mire I’m sure there will be much I’d like to discuss with you. So til then or after I’ve digested Twilight, promise, I’ll be in touch. Stay more than well, the world needs you.
    Peace – 96arold

  9. Pam says:

    This is so very troubling.I find myself torn between selfishly wishing I hadn’t watched the video and didn’t know about any of this so that I could sleep better at night, and knowing that this is something that needs light shed upon it. It’s entirely right that I shouldn’t sleep well in the face of atrocities like these; none of us should. It’s an awareness we all need to have. If some of this awaits us in The Wolf at Twilight, it may be a more difficult read, but an important one, I think. Thank you, Kent, for laboring so long to write this book in a way that offers light as well as the darkness. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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