The Wolf at Twilight — the overlooked middle child of the “Dan” trilogy

I just want to say a kind word about The Wolf at Twilight.  It is less well-known and less frequently read than Neither Wolf nor Dog and The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo, but, in some ways, it is more important. 

I was reminded of this when I saw a fresh review of this literary middle child of mine on Amazon, where a woman named Laura called it her favorite of the trilogy.  I was pleased to read that, because, if not my favorite (one dares not have a favorite child), it certainly carries the most moral responsibility of the three.  It takes you inside the Indian boarding school experience, which is central to an understanding of the contemporary Native experience and is something every American needs to know about.

Consider: up to 100,000 children, removed (often forcibly) from their homes and families, shorn of their culture and language, and raised in an alien environment without the love of parents or the comfort of their own beliefs.  This impacted Native life and continues to up to this day.  It is a miracle that the Native people have survived the wreckage this governmentally-supported policy created.

I hope more of you will pick up The Wolf at Twilight and respond on Amazon.   I think you will find the story powerful and well-told.  My editor, who loves it deeply, says it reads like a mystery novel.  That is what I hope you all feel as you take this journey inside the world of the Indian boarding schools.  You will learn something about America that few others know.

Indian people who are the inheritors of the effects of this policy and these institutions have thanked me for what I did in this book.  If you want a good read, a good story, and a chance to broaden your understanding of our country and one of the most important but least understood chapters of our history, please pick up this quiet middle child of my “Dan” trilogy.

I assure you your eyes and heart will be opened.

 

 

21 comments

  1. Marlin Henjum says:

    I read and enjoyed all three immensely. It appears something similar to the boarding schools is still happening in SD per a report in today’s MPR News:
    http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/03/31/npr-south-dakota-tribes

  2. Gregory Marto says:

    Kent, I am currently reading The Wolf at Twilight. It is my favorite. Hope you don’t mind but I shared this on my Facebook status this morning to maybe help promote the book. I quoted from chapter A Clock in the Head. “We are all fingers on the hands of the Creator. We must learn to work together to make this a better world. We must learn to work together to be the Creator’s hands here on Earth.”
    <3 ←↑↓→ <3

  3. Shawn Gilbert says:

    As a voracious reader for almost three-quarters of a century, I have recommended books beyond count to friends/readers. However, I’ve never recommended anything as often and as highly as I’ve recommended the Dan trilogy, and I always insist that they must be read in entirety and in sequence. I cannot imagine one without the others.

  4. knerburn says:

    Proud and honored.

  5. Lisa Gavin says:

    I read all three and they were essential to my own growth and spiritual awakening! I can’t imagine missing “Wolf at Twilight”.

  6. I read all three books in order. The Wolf at Twilight was challenging emotionally as it opened doors that we, as a nation, must hold the shame for allowing. The trilogy was a wonderful read, I was disappointed when I ran out of pages to read. I found the books to be meritorious and have repeatedly recommended them.

  7. Barb Pegg says:

    I read it immediately following Neither Wolf. Being native, I’ve heard similar stories many times, but not in much detail. From grandparents, to parents, to friends, their experiences point to a softening of the initial harshness with the passing of each generation. Still, removal of a child from his family and his beliefs is a cruelty that can be likened to a living death.

  8. knerburn says:

    I agree, Barb. I had students at Red Lake who went off to Flandreau and enjoyed the experience. Likewise, I know people who went to Red Cloud and liked it. I think the reality is changing, but the residue is still there, as are the wounds.

  9. Zan Jarvis says:

    Trying to select my favorite would be like trying to say which child you like best. I read them in order and loved them all. Being a fan of bright futures, I must say The Girl who Sang… resonates with me. However, if you write another I might change my mind. After all I loved each one in order. My heart’s big enough for one more. Come on.

  10. Nancy Schupp says:

    I think you and Joseph M. Marshall III are running neck and neck as my favorite authors. Just finished reading Returning to the Lakota Way and working on To you We Shall Return: Lessons on our planet from the Lakota. Your book The Wisdom of the Native American is on its way to my house. Have read so much on the Native American over the last twenty years plus. Some one asked me recently for books on the Lakota. Went to my library Amazon.com to check which one of Marshalls for them to read which was The Lakota Way and yours was next in line. So much to read, but the best is that had cataracts removed and do not need glasses to drive and reading glasses only a +2.00 so old eyes getting new life.

  11. knerburn says:

    Seeing with new eyes. That’s the way to do it, Nancy. Thanks for the kind words.

  12. rich aulie says:

    Kent-
    I am the musical director of the Great River Strings Orchestra based in Aitkin and Crosby MN. We are planning an ambitious program for the spring of 2016 based on Native American music and composers. I want to commission three pieces based on excepts from “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” and “The Wolf At Twilight” to be composed by native american composers. If you are still living in Bemidji, I wonder if we might meet for coffee sometime soon to discuss those excerpts and also discuss contracting you for a speaking engagement in conjuntion with our concert? I would be willing to drive to Bemidji if that would work. Looking forward to your response.

    Rich Aulie
    Great River Strings
    218-838-2899

  13. Robin says:

    It is most certainly not a forgotten middle child for me, Kent.

    I am in the middle of championing NWND and WAT with our First Nations Peoples and Partnership branch at my Dept of Education (we don’t have Boards of Education in the Yukon, we just don’t have enough kids and schools, so we are one large “board” under the Dept / Ministry), to ok me to use them in teaching English First Peoples 10 next year. I have two sections, one each semester.

    As of next year, teaching about Residential Schools in Grade 10 is mandatory in all Yukon schools. FNPP has been working very, very hard to develop community specific materials for each of our communities, so that each school has material specific to the local Nation, the local experience, and in the local First Nations language, allowing the work to be cross curricular in Socials, English and First Nations courses, at the very, very least.

    I have asked that The Wolf At Twilight be added, along with a couple of other books (for instance, Canadian journalist and author Mark Abley’s Conversations with a Dead Man, a fictionalized conversation with Duncan Campbell Scott about his policies and work on Canadian Residential Schools).

    I particularly wanted your books in my ‘tool kit’ in part because (a) I want to remind my students, and frankly my colleagues, that the Residential School horror was not only a shame on Canada’s history, it was a pattern of systemic racism and cultural violence practiced against First Nations people across the continent, (b) that education has been and remains one of the main vectors of social values and mores, both in the capacity that it was used in Residential Schools, as a tool of the official policy of aggressive assimilation, but also as an environment in which what is taught about the dominant culture and other cultures can influence how kids will interact with members of those cultures, unintentionally or otherwise.

    As a non-Aboriginal woman teaching in an area where many, many of my students are of Aboriginal ancestry, in a country facing an election in which the incumbent in the seat of the Prime Minister’s office has said of the hundreds of missing Aboriginal women who are missing and murdered in our land that despite the clear disproportion of their numbers among women who have experienced violence both domestically and possibly at the hands of strangers, that establishing an investigation “isn’t really on our [sic] radar”, and after years of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has travelled back and forth trying to gather just a slice of the experiences our First Nations peoples went through while in Residential Schools, and what their children and grandchildren continue to experience through intergenerational impacts of trauma, I am often left stuck between my frustration and pain at what I have observed and heard and my fear of stepping out of line.

    How do I “be an ally” without being a bull in a china shop? How do I honour the stories and voices of Aboriginal people without speaking for them (after all, I cannot have them all in my classroom, as delightful as that would be!). I have no desire to have any of my students pity the Aboriginal peoples of Canada or the United States. I do not think that pity is called for – for some reason when I see Truth and Reconciliation, I always read it Truth and “Resilience”, a sort of persistent Freudian slip on my part. In a grim sort of way, I am often reminded of the moment in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, when the son tries to dump his father in the cart toting away the plague victims: “I’m not dead yet!” No matter how hard the decedents of the European settlers of North America tried to kill off that which made the First Peoples of this continent unique, which in turn was often unique to each nation, no matter how much it was rationalized that they would be gone soon, or assimilated soon, or the “problem” would be dealt with soon, they never stopped asserting “We’re not dead yet!”

    All three of the books you wrote about your interactions with, relationships with, learning with, Dan, Grover, Jumbo, Orv, and so many, many others, offer the unique perspective of a non-Aboriginal person who is struggling with the dialectic of wanting to respect and honour individuals and their cultural traditions on one hand, while both being frustrated with many aspects of modern North American culture but not wanting to feel like those things you love – your home, your family, the things you have learned and value – are automatically invalidated in the process.

    It took incredible courage for Dan and Grover and Jumbo and Wenonah and Orv, Pauline and Benais and Danny and others to let you into their homes and lives. It took incredible courage for you to go on those journeys, because they were so much further in spirit than they were in tire rubber, or at least that is how it felt to me, reading them.

    My students, particularly those who are not of Aboriginal ancestry, they need to know that they can be both sympathetic and confused. They need to learn about really hearing someone’s anger and pain, and feeling it, without owning it themselves, but also understanding that they may have a role to play in preventing something like it occurring in the future. My students who are of Aboriginal ancestry deserve to hear the voices of people who are just as varied and real as they themselves are – I want them to hear Dan be wise but also sometimes impish or impatient. I want them to sometimes read about Grover being gruff or even a bit mean spirited but also tender and respectful of Dan. I want them to see more to Jumbo than size, to see and hear his pride in rediscovering his heritage. To “meet” Orv and both Danny and Shitty. To know that there can be hope and love, even when others have perhaps given up on you, or to know that other kids, somewhere far away, other First Nations kids, also have dreams, also see beauty in something that hasn’t yet been uncovered. (We have a cultural carving program here in Whitehorse, actually, and a lot of at risk kids have found at least a toe grip on something meaningful participating in that group.)

    The Wolf At Twilight encompasses so much – like Neither Wolf Nor Dog before it, you deftly weave a story of history, individual histories, and sociology with painted vistas and personal growth, but you do it without being virtually inaccessible to some of my students, and you do it about issues that are relevant to their world, and that of their parents and grandparents, especially since the borders of the USA and Canada were not relevant to most First Peoples. The Lakota were not “American” or “Canadian” anymore than the Mohawk or the Oji-Cree where I’m from in Ontario, or the Tlingit in this area.

    Nancy, above, made the comment about “seeing with new eyes”; perhaps my work is asking new eyes to see, to open and to question and to not take things for granted, either about themselves or about their neighbours, or about what they hear and see in media. Your books, very much including The Wolf at Twilight, are, I feel, an important part of that work.

    Thank you for writing them, for sharing so generously of what Dan and the others offered you, and for doing so in such a way that you protected their privacy, while sharing their legacy. That was no mean feat, and you have, in turn, crafted a legacy of your own for which many of us are immensely thankful.

    In the words of all of my peoples – Thank you, Merci, and Miigwetch (As Dan would surely laugh to hear, I have the obligatory great-great-grandmother who was First Nations. If it makes it any better, she wasn’t Cherokee. As far as the records show, she was Mohawk from Kahnawake, but I have reason to believe that she was actually Algonquin – from the Mattawa area nearer North Bay, long story…) I am on the Land of the Kwalin Dün people, who would say Shä̖w níthän (thank goodness for copy and paste because I do not have the correct keyboard configuration!)

    In any language, know that none of your books will be forgotten for as long as I have breath and a teaching certificate!

    ~ Robin (also on GoodReads)

  14. knerburn says:

    Sadly, Rich, we moved from Bemidji to Portland to be closer to grandchildren and to keep me off roofs during snow and ice dam seasons. I miss the north, but it was time. I would love to have you commission works using excerpts from Neither Wolf nor Dog and The Wolf at Twilight. You might also want to look at the last book, The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo. There are some worthy passages in that, as well. I’d love to come back for a speaking engagement if we can work it out. Why don’t you email me directly at knerburn@kentnerburn.com and we can discuss this further. Thanks for the compliment of considering my work for a musical interpretation.

  15. knerburn says:

    Robin, you are a true gift to me with your insights and observations. Have you read Rupert Ross’ Dancing with a Ghost? From what you have written and shared with me, I would guess that Ross’ book would be a treasure for you. I hope the folks in your Department of Education have some appreciation for what a rare and valuable asset you are.

  16. Krystyn (Rose) Knights says:

    Who knew back in those younger years when the kids hung out with each other, that you would be such an esteemed author in the very field I love so much, the Native Americans. I have read all three of those books (thanks for autographing them for me) twice already, and I am sure I will read them again. It was both heartbreaking and hilarious as to how you ‘fit in’ when you were taking the ‘old man’s’ history, I can imagine the awkwardness of it, really awkward! Good luck to you in getting this film out for everyone to see, but I know it won’t be as good as these prized 3 volumes.
    Rose

  17. Robin says:

    Thank you, Kent, for your kind and encouraging words. Upon reading your recommendation, I immediately looked up Ross’ book. It was not available on either of the two major Canadian online retailers – or at least, it was not at all available on one, and the other assured me it would take one to two months before it might ship. I had, had, however, that prickling sensation in my thumbs, that this might be one of those times when our fabulous little local bookstore, which is of course not able to compete price wise with these corporate giants, but which being a Northern gem, has a Yukon-specific section and two whole cases devoted to First Nations studies, might just…..

    Happily, when I poked around on Mac’s Fireweed Books’ site, they did, they DID have a copy of Dancing with A Ghost. Not only that, but they had both of his other books, Returning to the Teachings, and Indigenous Healing.

    It just so happens that in addition to teaching English First Peoples 10 next year, I am also teaching Socials 9, which here covers the era of First Contact. In one of our online courses, purchased from B.C. there is an old, old film that features the line: “The explorers and their Indian allies….” *groan. face palm. gag.* I am also teaching Law 12. To learn that Ross was a Crown Attorney, and elements of these books dealt with justice and with Residential School….?

    I must admit to doing my own little happy dance, which frankly looks and sounds a lot like excited chimpanzee hooting.

    I must then admit that, in the name of educational necessity (after all, as far as I could tell, this was my one chance to snag at least the Dancing with a Ghost!), and with immense gratitude that at the moment, I have an office job, I decided that the best way that I could honour the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings yesterday, was to set forth immediately for our little bookstore.

    So I did.

    While I was there, not only did I gleefully and probably greedily grab up all three of the Ross books, but I grabbed two others also on my wish list at one of the web-monsters, Canadian actor and media personality’s Darrell Dennis’s recent book, Peace Pipe Dreams, which I would characterize as a more tongue in cheek and less academic approach than Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian to many of the same issues, and Unsettling The Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling and Reconciliation in Canada by Paulette Regan, who just so happens to have been the Director of Research for the TRC.

    While I was there, I also picked up Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, an examination of modern medicine and our obsession with life at all costs. Gawande, a practicing surgeon as well as someone who has written before, examines different perspectives. This book, too, has been on my list for quite some time – my mother was getting her Masters in Social Work specializing in palliative care during my childhood and adolescence, so talking about death as part of life was never strange to me. While I was standing there with Dan on my mind, and Rupert Ross’ books on healing in my hands, the quote on the inside of the jacket struck me: “… Being Mortal shows that the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life – all the way to the very end.”

    At that point, I accepted the fact that it will be ramen noodles and bolonga for the next week or so until pay day, but that to leave our little bookstore with these invitations to intellectual and emotional adventure in my arms was worth it. All day they have sat on my desk at my elbow, and although they are not precisely what you might call a ‘spot of light reading’, I have enthusiastically shared them with staff in our FNPP division today, and frankly, with anyone who’d take the time to let me play show and tell. (More than one person was dismayed to hear that I may have gotten one of what might be a handful of available copies in Canada of Dancing with a Ghost – am I evil to grin a silly grin about that?)

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to respond and to offer me the recommendation. I have found three new books full of new information, with pages and pages of notes and references I can dig into —- just in case I run out of reading materials in my packed bookshelves at home!

    I appreciate it more than I can express that you very obviously took in what I wrote, that you thought about it, and made an insightful recommendation based on what you ‘heard’. I will do my best to honour the gift of your time by sharing what you have helped me to find with my students and colleagues.

  18. knerburn says:

    This all makes me very, very happy. Thanks, Robin.

  19. Damir says:

    I used ´´the wolf at twilight´´ in one of my presentations on what I consider to be a good teacher (I’m currently a late teacher in training). I used the chapter ´´bilble and broomsticks and then the part where Dan makes you kneel on the broomstick. My explanation on why I thought Dan was a good teacher in that situation was that he took his task seriously and that he was prepared to do what he thought was necessary in helping you to understand the seriousness of the lesson that needed to be learn.
    Though it´s the only time when reading the three books that I felt real bad about him doing that to you, I understood the reason.

    The three books are one, to not pick up the second book is like ordering a icecream of three.. you know whatever you call them round balls of icecream and then while eating your icecream you eat around the middle one.. in truth you won’t be able to escape the middle one no matter what you do.. well ofcourse you can throw your whole icecream away, but who does a thing like that?

  20. Meredith says:

    yep, time to re-read these fantastic books

  21. Glenn Simmons says:

    I read and read again Neither Wolf nor Dog thinking how in the world could it ever get better? But it did. It got deeper ,stronger and fuller. Different dimension but at the same time a natural extension. That was Wolf at Twilight. And while I’ll shy away from choosing a favorite child, then came Buffalo. The icing on a perfect cake. Who wouldn’t want more? But I am content to re read and find things I had missed. And to let it all resonate deep in my spirit. Mvto

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