What is “The Canon of Indian Country?”
Those stories that are recited in schools, the ones most young people know by heart, tales of valor, excellence and an optimistic future.
We do have great modern stories to tell.
How leaders like Joe Garry or Lucy Covington out maneuvered Congress and put an end to the nonsense called termination. Or how Taos leaders patiently pressed the United States for the return of the sacred Blue Lake, even though that effort that took nearly seven decades. Or how a summer program in New Mexico helped create an entire generation of American Indian and Alaska Native lawyers.
But there is no canon. So important stories drift about in individual memory, forgotten far too easily, instead of being told again and again.
The story of Forrest Joseph Gerard is one that ought to be required in any Indian Country canon. He died on December 28, 2013, in Albuquerque.
Forrest Gerard was born on Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation on January 15, 1925, on a ranch near the Middle Fork of the Milk River. He told me that his “childhood I had there would have been the envy of any young boy in the United States. We had a horse of our own. We could walk maybe 15 or 20 yards have some of the best trout fishing in northern Montana. We had loving parents. We had love, support and discipline. And this was my universe, this was a world I knew.”
That world he knew changed many times in his early life. During the Great Depression his family moved into the “city” of Browning so his father could take a job. After his high school graduation, Gerard was eager to join the military and enter World War II. He was only 19 on his first bombing mission on a B-24 with the 15th Air Force. “We were forced to face life and death, bravery and fear at a relatively young age. That instilled a little bit of maturity into us that we might not under normal circumstances,” Gerard recalled. The military also opened up access to the G.I. Bill of Rights and a college education, the first in his family to have that opportunity. (more…)