Silent City, Silent Cries

There are places where the world holds its breath and has a strange cast of spirit. We’ve all encountered them — prisons, concentration camps, the Bear’s Paw surrender site where I’ve just spent so many hours in my research on the Nez Perce. They are hallowed in some dark fashion by the events that have transpired there.

Red Lake has a place that the elders know, called “Silent City.” It is just a field in a vast expanse of bracken — too ordinary to be called “meadow” or “prairie”– dotted by the occasional oak and alive in the summer with the buzzing of insects and the soft murmurs of the wind.

I remember when I took students to talk to the elders, how they told of hearing voices crying in that field. And they were the voices, the elders said, of the Sioux, not the Ojibwe. For it is that field that a battle was fought between the two peoples, and the Ojibwe emerged victorious.

But still, the voices remain.

Will the voices remain at the high school? Will there for generations be screams echoing in those halls?

One of the great strengths of Indian people is the power of their healing rituals. They have, after all, been forced to do much healing over the years. The elders still have authority; some of the medicine people still have power.

Analyze it as you will — and analyze it we do — there is, nonetheless, a healing force that a community like Red Lake can call upon. I know that they are calling on it now, and I know that the rituals, seen by so many outsiders as curiosities, are being invoked to call forth that healing.

Perhaps the old ways have lain dormant for so many years, waiting for just such a moment as this. Perhaps this is the moment when the old truths take root in the hearts of the young.

There is no good in murder and death, but we must lean toward the light as best we can. Perhaps the light that shines through this tragedy is the light of a past that has gone too dim, called forth now when it is the only light shining in a darkness to bleak to bear.

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