The days are lengthening; the intense cold of the winter thus far has receded for the time being. Overnight a light snow fell, fluffy and bright, the form of snow that arrives with temperatures in the upper 20’s.
Yesterday a Six Nations friend dropped by with a film, Edge of America. I’ve been stuck at home for the past week, following some surgery, and I was beginning to feel a touch of cabin fever. I had managed to go the the university library for 45 minutes and out for a quick cup of coffee earlier in the week, but mostly I have been sleeping and reading.
I had missed the film when it played in the theaters here briefly several years ago. Then, as has been my habit for a number of years, I never got around to borrowing a copy. The plot is pretty basic. A Black man arrives to teach English on the Res, revives the high school women’s’ basketball team (they have not won a game in years), finds a home, and creates the conditions for a good deal of much needed healing. On the road to redemption he tramples all over his team, his friends, the local medicine woman, and his spirit. I sure could relate!
Watching the film I was carried back to my middle school days in rural Illinois where the world turns around basketball and agriculture. I was the manager of the basketball team; when I was in eight grade we won the state tourney in double overtime. The women of our film lose in the state finals (in double overtime) to a team that is racist and represented the very worst of the dominant culture. None-the-less, our heroines are greeted on their return home by the entire Res community. The view of people and vehicles lining the highway brought a flood of memories. (Somewhere I have a memorial book that includes photos of the victory parade. The other team had one, too.)
Just before the team arrives home they have a conversation about winning and losing. They are bitterly disappointed, working hard to resist recriminations. They have lost sight of just how much they have accomplished. The community, however, remembers and reminds them. They are winners.
They are also women. Most of our Indian cultures are women centered; healing arises from the strength and wisdom of women, just as life arose from the sacrifices of Falling Woman. We men are definitely the weaker gender. (Then there are the two-spirits but that is another story.)
Edge of America addresses the hard parts of life on and off the Res: alcohol, violence, poverty, and crushing racism, drawing connections between Indian and Black experience. It also explores the inevitable tension between the healer’s need to remain traditional while nurturing the future. And yes, there is a strong undercurrent of good old Indian spirituality. (There is a priceless scene in which the medicine woman (whose daughter plays for the team) and her friends, are listening to the women’s game on their transistor radio, in a beautiful, spacious, hogan far from anywhere. One of the players has been “witched”, has required a healing ceremony, and now must make crucial free throws. The healer switches from rambunctious fan to medicine person, does what is needed, and returns to fandom, all in maybe 20 seconds.)
So there we sat, two light skinned male Indians who have never lived anywhere close to the Res. We are well in to our sixties, reasonably affluent, over-educated urban professionals. We’re laughing, crying, and hooting for the good guys. (I remember as a kid wanting to be a cowboy so I could win occasionally.) We are also noting the racism and just plain viciousness coming from all the guys: Indian, White, and Black. No holds barred there. At the film’s conclusion I am choked with emotion.
I believe that at the very heart of human experience lies story. Sitting in my living room, wrapped in my electric blanket, gazing at the TV screen, I was blessed to be told a remarkably good story. In the process I was reminded that together a good friend, a community, and a great tale can be remarkably healing. Last night my dreams carried that notion forward. In my dreams the spirits and Ancestors came to remind me that these things are good to live and good to think about. They are indeed profoundly healing.
– Michael Watson, Ph.D.
© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved
MICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.