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.Posted on: July 23, 2009knerburn