During the April conference marking the history of encounter among Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Mennonite populations in Oklahoma, Southern Cheyenne tribal members ritually opened a new regional cemetery for the return of unidentified Native American remains as one significant enactment of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 [NAGPRA].
Conference attendees stood on the new concrete pad for a building to be dedicated, looking out at the surrounding Oklahoma pasture where bones will be buried while a federal NAGPRA representative spoke and then Southern Cheyenne chiefs blessed the four Cheyenne directions: it was a powerful experience to be out in the Oklahoma landscape while meditating on land, home, bones, and history. We had walked through the Washita massacre site and had a strong sense of the unresolved lives and responsibilities of the massacre, and had a strong sense of the historically important role of the peace chief killed there, Black Kettle. We read in our conference-provided book that Cheyenne skulls from the Sand Creek massacre of the same period had been taken as anthropological artifacts and thus never buried; while the book did not follow the later history of the bones, another source indicated that those historically significant 1864 remains are among the remains that may be brought to this repatriation site, although that issue is not yet settled.1
These conference experiences brought to me an increased sense of the importance of a strain of novels about the repatriation of tribal artifacts and human remains. I gained a renewed sense of how strongly a body of contemporary fiction speaks to the processes of "inter-cultural definition and negotiation" that are central to the many issues currently being worked out among museums, university holdings, and tribal and federal governments.2 Fiction dealing with repatriation issues stresses the long period of time that bones have spent in museum collections, and how long the period of negotiation has stretched. When the novel The Ghost Singer3 ends in the 1970s, unidentified human remains from nineteenth-century collection practices and violence still exist in a Washington, D.C. museum: the novel emphasizes a high level of difficulty in historically tracing unidentified bones from multiple sites of violent histories, including the selling of Navajos into slavery in the southwest. The Ghost Singer, among other novels that tell narratives of repatriation, argues that open conflict and destructive forces remain actively at work when human remains are not brought to a meaningful home.
Similarly, Louise Erdrich's 2005 novel The Painted Drum centers its plot structure in repatriation issues and the meanings of artifacts and human bones: such a novel's recent subject matter suggests that issues and processes central to the 1990 repatriation Act continue to be of great concern fifteen years later. The Painted Drum is part of a body of current Native American fiction offering plot structures and oral histories in relation to a context of debate in the sciences over NAGPRA; thus, it is important to understand Native American fiction as participating in a major intercultural dialogue. This essay offers a sense of that dialogue by first exploring narratives of intercultural negotiation within fiction concerned with repatriation; then, as a way to think about further dialogue, an exploration of narratives of intercultural negotiation within the conference experience as a set of tentative afterthoughts follows.
Narratives of repatriation in contemporary Native American novels
Narratives with artifacts and bones in their plots show us how to reread bones and see them not as the end, the death, of tribal identities and ways of life, but as ongoing presences in a profoundly different view of the relationship of past and present.4 Six novels by Native American writers under discussion here center the meanings of bones and the treatment of bones as subject matter. I understand these novels to be directly addressing academics and archivists like me, who are predominantly Anglo, insistently questioning the group who live in academia, a site that has sometimes seen itself as an archive of texts. Whether those texts are words, bones, cultures, or open discursive fields of study, some risk of objectifying that text in order to study it exists in academic methodologies. Instead of allowing readers like me to continue to understand bones as objects to be studied, these novels tend to present bones as significant community-shaping, plot-driving causes and effects.
In order to set up a contrast, I begin by laying out a way of reading the meanings of bones according to novels and discourses not in Native American contexts, and then I shall turn to the Native American novels.
Academic Anthropologists Reading and Writing "Bones-as-Truth": bones as scientific evidence in human rights investigations
A significant recent novel on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka is Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje.5 In it, a forensic anthropologist M.D. is a researcher working for an organization much like Amnesty International, and she views bones as material evidence that can speak what dead victims of great historical crime cannot voice. It is this perspective that makes readers surprised that Native Americans would not want the bones of their dead to be studied in order to find the often governmental perpetrators of their murders.
In this view, bones speak justice: and there is a strong current of readerly desire to turn to bones, as Antoinette Burton argues:
The recourse to the materiality of human history is a fairly predictable response to the unprecedented havoc and destruction wreaked by twentieth-century wars, whether in the form of local hostilities or the global conflicts entailed by them. What is left in the wake of Auschwitz, Vietnam, Srebrenica, Ayodhya, Colombo, Basra, 9/11, and Tora Bora, is effectively, the detritus of history: fragments and shards, ashes and dust, rag and bone. From these unspeakable remnants forensic scientists have laboured to extract the kinds of testimony that living witnesses often cannot provide , despite and of course because of the pathos of their memories: objective and verifiable evidence of criminal intent, which becomes, in turn, the basis for the pursuit of justice in local, national, and international tribunals.6
This commentator goes on to note that this view of bones is so compelling that it drives a popular genre outpouring on TV of shows such as CSI and Cold Case: to have bones speak of truth and justice has gripped the "imaginations of the late twentieth century" and the millennial century, which appears to be attempting to catch up with 20th century kinds of historical governmental crime and trauma.7
So what is wrong with this commitment to bones speaking out to public history? Who could resist this value? Why don't Native American plot lines go in the forensic direction?
Native American fiction calls attention to how archives of bones have been collected over the years, and not necessarily used to diagnose the causes of genocide, but to advance the sciences: As one anthropologist suggests,
[m]odern anthropology was built up in the face of colonial and post-colonial genocides, ethnocides, population die-outs, and other forms of mass destruction visited on the [indigenous] or `non-Western' people whose lives, suffering and deaths provide the raw material for much of [the science of anthropology].8
The field of anthropology seems to be in the process of much self-examination, which results in an increased sense of the importance of participating in intercultural dialogue for the field. It seems to me that it is valuable to consider current Native American fiction as existing partly in relation to this context of debate in the sciences as a result of NAGPRA, and thus understand Native American fiction as part of an important intercultural dialogue.
So far, I understand Native American novels to be developing a kind of dual task: one task documents the history of genocides and expanding understanding thereof by including narrativized oral history, for example. Two, they also take on another dimension that refuses to privilege the death and specimen-based definition of bones and other remains: the novels tend to plot bones to develop a narrative of the ongoing survival of meaningful, significant tribal identities; the narratives with artifacts and bones in their plots show us how to reread bones and recontextualize them in meaningful ways, just as the characters must find out how to find and restore bones from their displaced environments to meaningful homelands. Readers come to understand bones not as signifying the death of tribal identities and ways of life.
The narratives with artifacts and bones in their plots show us how to reread bones and see them not as specimens or as signs of the death of former tribal identities and ways of life, but as ongoing spiritual presences in ongoing, transformative, often hybrid culture groups whose tribal consciousness works via a profound relationship of past and present. The novels tend to plot bones to develop a narrative of the ongoing survival of meaningful, significant tribal identities. For cross-cultural and cross-blood readers, bones are plotted into these narratives in ways that raise questions of comparative worldviews and epistemological views in a strong sense: to read a bone plot involves being set in a cross-cultural nexus, comparing
- secular and spiritual views of the nature of the body;
- evidential and spiritual views of the body, and/or death;
- oral history and material history;
- the past-as-past and the idea of past and present interpenetrating; past violence continuing to shape the present and elders continuing to influence living persons after their death;
- the dead body in the Christian tradition and the body in various tribal traditions having relationships to ongoing, very negative and forceful spiritual presences.
Overall, the question I am exploring is whether plots involving the repatriation of bones issue become a central axis in a novelistic structure, linking fiction to the intercultural negotiations that have a wider political and social presence right now, as well as having a storytelling set of connections, creating a narrative shape structured by comparative cultures.
Plotting bones: bones of plots
In Anna Lee Walter's [Pawnee-Otoe] 1988 novel, The Ghost Singer, archivists who work with a large collection of Indian remains whose origins have not been determined are dying in the 1960s Natural History building of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.. They tend to argue that the specimens are of an extinct culture. The archivists then come to feel they are becoming mentally ill when they see figures from history `haunting' the collection, but they do not connect the powerful objects and bones to the spiritual `ghosts.' The reader is shown that the archivists have been killed by the spirit presences, but families and authorities assume the archivists have committed suicide. Finally, an archivist realizes he needs input from various indigenous persons, who figure out some of what is happening through oral historical sources in various ways.
The novel then moves into a plot structure of intercutting multiple representatives of multiple tribes and ways of being `Indian.' A Navajo oral history source has a life history plot that directly challenges a white documentary historian; another southwestern Latina almost comes to figure out that she is a descendent of what was actually legal slavery of Indians in the Southwest through mid-late nineteenth century, but she resists following the historical clues in her life and resists finding out her Indio heritage. More figures of Kansas-Oklahoma Ioway and others who live lives with urban elements and traditional elements of ceremonies of healing have intersecting plots.
The many indigenous sources point out that the idea of archivists dying off from their studies of `specimens' has some provocative resonances: Anglos end up being hurt in the long run by a history of genocide of others; genocide is not unidirectional. Genocide cannot be put to rest until the remains are: people and history must be known and made whole somehow. The novel ends in extreme anguish after bones are left in the museum when there is no way to find out whose they are.
If form equals content, the novel constantly asks and never answers how to think about the collection of bones and history: the structure of the novel is jagged, unresolved, constantly intercutting plots and genres: murder mystery; ghost story; historical fiction set in 1830; meta-history scenes featuring a white academic historian considering hiring a Navajo oral historian as a source, but then giving up. The novel does not give final answers probably because these genres and the epistemologies they are based upon apparently are not adequate. Written accounts that address origins do not exist; oral histories might be the best way to trace the bones, but the communities and families of origin have been disrupted. Communities that would preserve the knowledge orally may have been largely destroyed. There are hints in other plots in the novel that the author is concerned about loss of heritage information within family knowledge over generations.
At the end of the novel, tribal communal healers come to the collection in the museum. They are horrified; they see the danger and the power of death-spirits' anger and loss and ongoing hurt. There are mummified children in the collection, held in boxes as specimens; there is a cloth bundle containing the bones of an infant, without any notes of origin of home tribe or place. The healers know that a ceremony will not heal the situation or the spirits. The novel's end suggests that history has not been resolved; the novel is set in the years leading up to NAGPRA and clearly shows why NAGPRA is needed for an eventual coming to terms with history.
The past is the present: the spirit-figures are harmful and exist because the history that killed them continues to exist. Critic Catherine Rainwater calls attention to the novel because its intercutting structure enacts a kind of disrupting of "epistemological boundaries" or kinds of knowledge: Indian and non-Indian time.9
Walters' novel offers the most direct fiction calling for the establishment of NAGPRA; it features the most direct conflict with the academic sphere, which then assumed the ‘extinct' nature of tribal identity, instead of noticing that tribal lives are a continuing part of national life in multiple manifestations.
Louis Owens, of Choctaw, Cherokee, and Irish descent, published The Sharpest Sight as a novel in 1992, although sections appeared as early as 1986, 1988, and 1990 (the years immediately leading up the 1990 Repatriation Act).10 The novel's plot is built upon the quest of repatriating a brother's bones. A brother must find the bones of his brother, a murdered Vietnam veteran unable to function after returning home. To develop the skills to find the bones requires tracking his history and understanding his community and drawing strength from tribal knowledge. To be able to address any of those dimensions of his life requires attempting to come to terms with his own cross-blood culture, and come to understand more of, and inhabit, and perhaps even change a Choctaw belief system and way of living of his older relatives. To a much greater extent, the bones become a marker of self-family and self-community relations. To not find them will mean leaving his brother's spirit in alienation from family.
The most extreme, explicit threat made against the worldview of Choctaws is by an FBI agent who threatens to have the bones put in a museum. The agent knows that to do so is the expression of maximum alienation.
In 1994, Owens published Bone Game, a title that emphasizes bones as subject. This novel continues the characters and life developments of those in The Sharpest Sight, set 20 years further along. This novel has a historical dimension whereby the brother in the earlier novel is now a professor of English at a university at Santa Cruz, and is having nightmares about the mission of 1812; the novel suggests that mission history continues to play out in living racism in present time in California. The novel calls upon a full-blood Navajo assistant professor of anthropology to figure out that the language of the mission, in Spanish, is occurring in the dreams as a language of oppression: the language of oppression – even though not even literally understood by its dreamer — transmits itself over time.
Thus, history is capable of haunting the consciousness of someone who, as a result of his work on connecting himself to his Choctaw family, feels the relationship of past and present. This novel also makes conflict with academic views of knowledge and history central to its plot: the campus is the site where conflicting views of history seem to be embodied in the violence of serial murders occurring in the novel's present time.
"They're not going to give me tenure," Alex said. "They don't want an Indian in their department unless he's in a museum, like Ishi. It makes them uncomfortable to have a live Indian around when they want to go dig up Chumash bones."11 Note the "live Indian" reference; Alex feels that the current culture still tends to view Indian cultures as past. Thomas King, Native American novelist from California, now teaching and writing in Canada, dates the view of the dying Native American to the romantic "imaginative construct" of the noble but vanishing race that Edward Curtis created with the help of props in his photographic tour of the U.S. in the early nineteenth century. King points out that the 1830 Removal Act, pushing thousands of Indians off of their lands in order to give the land to settlers, showed that Indians were not dying out despite high levels of intercultural warfare and decimation by disease.12
Owens' novel directly calls for the importance of the persistence and transformation of Native cultures and affirmation of the ability to survive despite centuries of violence against Indians and even a romantic narrative about the supposed death of the Indian:
She cut him off gently. "It's not wrong to survive. I see Indians all the time who are ashamed of surviving, and they don't even know it. We have survived a five-hundred–year war in which millions of us were starved to death, burned in our homes, shot and killed with disease and alcohol. It's a miracle that any Indian is alive today. Why us, we wonder. We read their books, and find out we're supposed to die. That's the story they've made up for us. Survivor's guilt is a terrible burden, and so we feel guilty if we have enough food, a good home, a man or woman who loves us.13
Part of the survival narrative of Bone Game, The Sharpest Sight, and The Ghost Singer is to preserve Indian narrative by experimenting a bit with crossovers of postmodern and tribal narrative structures: there is a strong, playful sense of crisscrossing earnest recoveries of tribal histories and stories of tribal lives with stock plots and figures from genre fictions: the FBI agent, the murder mystery, the ghost story in the archive: settings and subjects involve colliding conventions. The "postmodernism" of these texts can be understood as the embedded "tribal" nature of the narrative: the generic instability of postmodernism is in these texts a very sharp-sighted incorporation of murder mystery and ghost story genres into a larger view of oral discourse; that orality coming from a tribal perspective could then be viewed as a larger genre under which murder mystery is a subset is a wonderful and—to an Anglo academic—a humorously subversive reminder. For example, in Anna Lee Walters' Ghost Singer, the ghost story genre comes into play because of a tribal view of the reality of spirit, as well as the notion of an ongoing revolutionary ghost dance that is not confined to a historical past, but rather part of the violence of the archivists' work.
Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan published Mean Spirit: A Novel in 1990 about Oklahoma territory in 1922-1923. This historical novel documents a high level of looting and reselling funerary remains and violence over oil revenues on Indian lands. The plot details the 1906 dispossession of Allotment lands. The plotting of bones in this novel sets up a vivid understanding of the need for the reclamation of bones, and a critical analysis of how living Osage Indians are treated in the present time of the novel's Oklahoma:
The bodies of Indians were at a premium for displays across the country and in Europe, so it was likely that the same grave-robbers who'd stolen poor Grace Blanket's human remains had also auctioned Stink's body off to one of the museums in Kansas City or Columbus, leaving his unhappy spirit to wander the land, still smoking a cigar.14
The interweaving of the narrative events suggests that what happens to dead Indian bodies is analogous to what happens to living Indians and how their bodies are subject to manipulation and displacement: white school officials and social workers come to get a child back into a school who witnessed her mother's murder, and whose family does not report the murder because the child would be in danger if it were known she were a witness with no understanding of why the family kept her home, and blamed the family for any problems attributed to the child: "These people had no sense of the danger that surrounded, even suffocated, the lives of the Indians. Why should they, Belle thought, their lives were not at stake."15 This plot event is narratively placed right after the discussion above about the selling of Indian remains: the juxtaposition implies that the treatment of children is roughly equivalent in the community to the treatment of Indian bodies and artifacts.
In another plot related to the excavation of bones, a living man thought to be dead is buried by mistake. He manages to get out of his grave and the opened grave is thought by the Osage community to be evidence that his body was stolen. So when he is seen in the area, the community assumes he is a ghost out of their sense of the living, ongoing quality of the past.
Louise Erdrich's [Turtle Mountain Chippewa] 2005 novel, The Painted Drum directly concerns current issues in the world of artifact repatriation, and also suggests the interpenetration of past and present. The premise of the plot is that a current-day Anglo real estate sales person finds a collection of Native American artifacts in the house of an old man who dies in her area in North Dakota. She sells the collection to a Cincinnati museum on behalf of the estate, except that she feels a very special connection to a large painted drum. She does not record it for the estate, but in effect steals it, taking it home and taking care of it. She apparently knows various traditional Ojibwe ways of caring for drums and she knows it is special:
A painted drum, especially, is considered a living thing and must be fed as the spirits are fed, with tobacco and a glass of water set nearby, sometimes a plate of food. A drum is never to be placed on the ground, or left alone, and it is always to be covered with a blanket or quilt. Drums are known to cure and known to kill. They become one with their keeper. They are made for serious reasons by people who dream the details of their construction. No two are alike, but every drum is related to every other drum. They speak to one another and they give their songs to humans. I should be careful around the drum.… I do not believe of course that the drum itself possesses a power beyond its symbolism and antiquity.16
Indeed, the voicing of the novel eventually becomes formed by the drum's history and therefore narrators of the novel speak as a result of this drum's song, in a sense. Eventually the artifact dealer takes it to persons in her community who might know about its origins and eventually the drum finds its way to the family of its origin. The narratives of the novel are ordered in such a way as to suggest that the voices can only come into historical voicing because the artifact goes home; families begin recovering oral histories because of it. The important stories would never have been put together and shared otherwise.
The speaker of the story at this point has become one of the historical voices speaking in the present tense of a past made present: this voice tells the reader that the person who made the drum came to it after his daughter dies terribly in the early nineteenth century. She is nine years old and is leaving in a wagon with her mother to go to another man's household; the mother is leaving the girl's father out of love for another. It is a harsh North Dakota winter and wolves attack the horses and wagon. The father finds the bones of the girl later. The father thinks for a long time that his former wife threw their daughter to the wolves, but at some point it occurs to him that the little girl may have sacrificed herself and thrown herself out of the wagon to save her mother and an infant sibling. As a result, the father goes through years of self-destructive grief. Eventually the spirit of the daughter begins speaking to him and through his communication with her spirit, he changes his life and decides to survive his grief, and begins to make the drum:
But he heard, behind his head, which was pillowed against the birch, a small rustling and whispering. He heard the bones click. Then he turned and saw that two long, graceful, curved bones had crawled from the nest.
Well, maybe an animal had pushed them out, he thought, but he was sure he hadn't seen them before. He picked the bones up, cradled them in his hands. Then he knew what his daughter meant and why she'd visited. He knew what to do.
So that is why the drum that now sits in this room was made with the little girl's bones. They are strung inside on a piece of sinew anchored to the east and west, for the drum has its directions and should always be aligned. The little girl's voice gave the drum its voice. Everything else about the drum, all you see, was long considered, and the meanings debated by all those who would learn its songs and take care of it. But the bones were my grandfather's secret.17
The last plot in the novel features a nine-year old girl in charge of her siblings during the dead of winter 100 years later. She hears that same drum beating and follows the sound to safety one night after her house has burned down and she and her siblings are trying to find the neighbors' house a couple of miles away through snow and cold. No one else hears the drum that night, but the girl says that's what woke her up out of a hypothermic sleep in the snow and helped her keep going.
Erdrich's novel, in conversation with the novels discussed above, shows the importance of intercultural dialogue through NAGPRA over repatriation of bones: bones are an active part of meaning-making and history reclamation and the voicing and resolution of lost histories in communities. In the world of the novel, the dead little girl helps a hungry little nine-year-old make to safety with her younger siblings via the drum; the bones must have helped to reverberate and speak the hungry girl to safety: the implication of the novel in a larger sense is that the repatriation of bones is a story of the long term survival of tribal people and cultures.
The fact that a new novel in 2005 is still trying to teach what bones mean and what artifacts mean across a cultural divide in a capitalist culture is important. What the novel is teaching is something different than the value of antiquity and past views in traditional worlds. The novel is arguing that artifacts and bones continue to actively interact with lives, perhaps more so than the stone sculptures of a contemporary European-derived artist whose creativity is blocked. Perhaps that contrast is too convenient: nevertheless, to repatriate bones and artifacts from Native American communities is to empower future creativity and meaning-making.
Afterthoughts: Reading the narratives in
Journey from Darlington, or the internal dialogism of a conference
I want to think about the literature of repatriation in relationship to the experience of the conference, because of the intercultural concerns and tensions central to both. The title of the conferences appears to index cultural dissonance: Cheyenne, Arapaho, Mennonite: Journey from Darlington (March 31, 2006) in Clinton, Oklahoma. The website text reads as follows:
This conference will celebrate and review the historical relationship and interconnected faith stories of the native tribes and the very first Mennonite mission begun 120 years ago when Mennonites were called as educators to the Darlington Agency in Oklahoma.18
The title indicates the conference traced the inter-cultural encounters of a missionary project that was the first for American Mennonites, and thus foundational in denominational history and the building of higher educational institutions for Mennonites, since many early participants in the Darlington mission then became significant leaders in Mennonite higher education and church structures.19 The first mission indexes growth and founding narrative for American Mennonites; the first mission for Cheyenne and Arapaho is an early point in colonial encounter. The conference attendees were majority Anglo, Mennonite-institutional connected academic speakers, who would share Philip Deloria's concerns as follows, but may also have an investment in looking for Mennonite cultural transmission through time as well, and a bias toward apologetics for Mennonite missions:
Native people have always acted from imperatives formed in the meeting of tribal cultures and the social, political, economic, and environmental wreckage and opportunity generated by colonial encounters. Yet Native actions have all too often been interpreted through the lens of Euro-American expectation formed, in many cases, in ways that furthered the colonial project.20
On the one hand, Anglo academics, including me, were there to try to understand the fuller complexity of all the forms of wreckage that according to Deloria would have been part of the Darlington history: an element of self-examination on the part of the contemporary denomination was clearly present. On the other hand, the lenses for looking were primarily from the Mennonite institutional apparatuses, and tended to privilege an angle, in Philip Deloria's words again, that missions-Indian contact can be studied as "continuous fusing of diverse worlds, continual transformations of cultural practices, instead of a metanarrative of decline of Indian culture."21 Similarly, Lawrence Hart's cemetery project offers a lens that is contested but intentionally collaborating, complex group involvement—creating coalitions out of that history.
Not surprisingly, the conference itself can be read in terms of its own contesting narratives: the value of early church missions as foundational in the growth of the denomination (a positive narrative) vs. the possibility of culture and land loss of the Cheyenne and the Arapaho (a negative narrative), vs. the inter-cultural adaptations, channeling of Cheyenne culture into hybrid expressive forms, and peace-building of this particular cultural encounter (a hybrid narrative, loaded with cognitive dissonance between good and bad connotations). In addition to the opening of the cemetery with the presence of a federal representative, a Mennonite-affiliated college museum declared its collections open for tribal examination,22 and a historian noted evidence of artifact-selling by an early Mennonite missionary.23 Lawrence Hart, a significant figure who has persisted in negotiating with the federal government and various tribal groups over several years to make and open the regional cemetery also was a primary organizer of the interdisciplinary, intertribal, and interdenominational conference that became the context for the opening of that cemetery. Congressional testimony shows that Lawrence Hart is a contested figure in Indian country, partly because of the cultural hybridity of his personal history and in his cross-cultural coalition building.24
Yet to Bethel College, a Mennonite institution, Lawrence Hart perhaps represents the college's own progressive intentions and transformational potentials. He was a Cheyenne who attended the college in the 1950s who argued against the pacifistic ideology of the college and afterwards became a fighter pilot during the Vietnam era. Later, he transformed into a peace chief, responding to Cheyenne tribal needs and experiences, but to Bethel College, embodying the Mennonite/Anabaptist idea of growing as an adult toward a chosen pacifism.
I can understand how various tribal persons could have a range of concerns about the inter-cultural nature of the conference, and it is hard for me not to worry that conference such as this ends up in effect ‘using' a figure such as Lawrence Hart as evidence for its good intentions rather than fully taking responsibility for denominational participation in a history of colonial encounter. Meditating on the history of land, home, and bones in Oklahoma involves meditating on intercultural negotiations: the majority of conference attendees were Mennonite and were literal or academic descendants of mission workers or settlers from the Oklahoma area acknowledging their historical embeddedness in colonial American histories and wanting to find some way to meaningfully form a connection of solidarity with Cheyenne cultural survival, while also claiming value for the church history therein. A further complication is that the Cheyenne attending would also be Mennonite with a mixture of points of view toward the value of and points of difficulty within church history.
The Anglos who were present spoke of their desire to recognize historical and cultural responsibility. At times, I felt an embarrassed sense of an Anglo lack of cultural competence in myself. Even so, surely this event could be a valuable example of an intercultural encounter led by tribal, not Anglo, persons: intercultural transformation was a desired goal.
Was the blessing of the new cemetery improvisational, transcultural, coalition-making, or was it primarily Cheyenne? How should Native American leaders such as Lawrence Hart go about building coalitions and developing meaningful rituals that cross tribal boundaries? How can various Anglo populations and culture-groups meaningful build coalitions in support of Native American cultures and prerogatives? Hart's vision invokes inter-cultural caring for and responsibility for groups not from one's own origins, rather than offering a historically pure ritual.