Tenille Campbell // writings & ramblings » personal blog for writing, academics and life

I’m heading to Vancouver early next month for the Converge Con, which is “a gathering about sexuality, relationships and activism; a place for conversations that inspire us to take action and effect change in our own communities.” And I’m pumped, I’m extremely excited. This is something that I never thought would happen – the whole presenting on my own, as a somewhat ‘expert’ (ha) – but that brought me into my favourite dilemma: what business card?

Stationary, to me, is hella important.

I have some amazing and beautiful cards for both my sweetmoon and tea&bannock sides – they are niche markets, and my cards reflect my branding on both. But after attending a few conferences and not having anything for myself as the academic (and now *blushing* as the writer), I knew this was something to have.

And this is fun for me, I’ma nerd that way. Branding is fun.

I made my way through my archives, and picked images that relaxed me, made me sigh with happiness, and made me grin. I used images from my northern Dene lands to the farm, on my Metis side. I wanted to represent. I used images from the fields overlooking the valley where I grew up, and I used a few from behind the scenes of secret sessions. Turns out I am thisclose to becoming a nature photographer.

I ordered from Moo, and they should be here by the end of the month. It was interesting to think about what I should put on there, as ‘labelling’ myself is awkward. Poet – yes, but I do more than that, I think. Storyteller was my first choice, but what I do isn’t traditional storytelling, and I didn’t want to confuse people. And ‘academic’ -well, I am somewhat of one, and will be done my comps (fingers crossed) and be a PhD Candidate by this time next month, so here’s hoping. And photographer… natch.

I’ve got my plane ticket, my hotel booked, a few creative sessions ready, and a few coffee dates set up. I work to keep my nose in Vancouver, as I hope to end up there again for a year or two after my PhD is done. It’s overwhelming to think of “when PhD is done” because for so long, this has been my goal, and now that I’m within years of it, I don’t know what now. Do I write more? Give that a go? Do I teach, see if I’m suited for that life? Do I a make sweetmoon a full time thing? Or do I keep doing what I’ve been doing, carving out my creativity when it suits, and making a living trekking out that way?

I have no answers. But I do have business cards.

Plot:

Part I: The Longhair

House Made of Dawn begins with the protagonist, Abel, returning to his reservation in New Mexico after fighting in World War II. The war has left him emotionally devastated and he arrives too drunk to recognize his grandfather, Francisco. Now an old man with a lame leg, Francisco had earlier been a respected hunter and participant in the village’s religious ceremonies. He raised Abel after the death of Abel’s mother and older brother, Vidal. Francisco instilled in Abel a sense of native traditions and values, but the war and other events severed Abel’s connections to that world of spiritual and physical wholeness and connectedness to the land and its people, a world known as a “house made of dawn.”

After arriving in the village, Abel attains a job through Father Olguin chopping wood for Angela St. John, a rich white woman who is visiting the area to bathe in the mineral waters. Angela seduces Abel to distract herself from her own unhappiness, but also because she senses an animal-like quality in Abel. She promises to help him leave the reservation to find better means of employment. Possibly as a result of this affair, Abel realizes that his return to the reservation has been unsuccessful. He no longer feels at home and he is confused. His turmoil becomes clearer when he is beaten in a game of horsemanship by a local albino Indian named Juan Reyes, described as “the white man.” Deciding Juan is a witch, Abel stabs him to death outside of a bar. Abel is then found guilty of murder and sent to jail.

Part II: The Priest of the Sun

Part II takes place in Los Angeles, California six and a half years later. Abel has been released from prison and unites with a local group of Indians. The leader of the group, Reverend John Big Bluff Tosamah, Priest of the Sun, teases Abel as a “longhair” who is unable to assimilate to the demands of the modern world. However, Abel befriends a man named Ben Benally from a reservation in New Mexico and develops an intimate relationship with Milly, a kind, blonde social worker. However, his overall situation has not improved and Abel ends up drunk on the beach with his hands, head, and upper body beaten and broken. Memories run through his mind of the reservation, the war, jail, and Milly. Abel eventually finds the strength to pick himself up and he stumbles across town to the apartment he shares with Ben.

Part III: The Night Chanter

Ben puts Abel on a train back to the reservation and narrates what has happened to Abel in Los Angeles. Life had not been easy for Abel in the city. First, he was ridiculed by Reverend Tosamah during a poker game with the Indian group. Abel is too drunk to fight back. He remains drunk for the next two days and misses work. When he returns to his job, the boss harasses him and Abel quits. A downward spiral begins and Abel continues to get drunk every day, borrow money from Ben and Milly, and laze around the apartment. Fed up with Abel’s behavior, Ben throws him out of the apartment. Abel then seeks revenge on Martinez, a corrupt policeman who robbed Ben one night and hit Abel across the knuckles with his big stick. Abel finds Martinez and is almost beaten to death. While Abel is in the hospital recovering, Ben calls Angela who visits him and revives his spirit, just as he helped revive her spirit years ago, by reciting a story about a bear and a maiden which incidentally matches an old Navajo myth.

Part IV: The Dawn Runner

Abel returns to the reservation in New Mexico to take care of his grandfather, who is dying. His grandfather tells him the stories from his youth and stresses the importance of staying connected to his people’s traditions. When the time comes, Abel dresses his grandfather for burial and smears his own body with ashes. As the dawn breaks, Abel begins to run. He is participating in a ritual his grandfather told him about—the race of the dead. As he runs, Abel begins to sing for himself and Francisco. He is coming back to his people and his place in the world.

Main Characters:

Abel –  … a young Native American man… grew up in Walatowa, New Mexico, under the care of his grandfather, Francisco … Abel has just returned from war…he is often drunk.

Francisco –  Abel’s grandfather… a farmer, remembers how different life for the area’s Indians in 1945 is from how life used to be years ago. Francisco raised Abel and his brother, Vidal, the way his ancestors raised him, telling them the stories of his tribe and the stories of the land around Walatowa.

Ben Benally –  A Navajo, lives in Los Angeles… does his best to help Abel adjust to city life in Los Angeles when he first meets him on the job at the factory. The novel’s third section, “The Night Chanter,” is written primarily from Benally’s point of view… aware of his Indian heritage but aspires to many of the amenities of the modern American lifestyle.

 


buy the book: House Made of Dawn 

Intro: “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, published in 1993 by Atlantic Monthly Press, was Sherman Alexie’s breakthrough book. Composed of twenty-two interconnected stories with recurring characters, the work is often described by critics as a short-story collection… The book’s central characters, Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, are two young Native-American men living on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and the stories describe their relationships, desires, and histories with family members and others who live on the reservation. Alexie fuses surreal imagery, flashbacks, dream sequences, diary entries, and extended poetic passages with his storytelling to create tales that resemble prose poems more than conventional narratives.” – Wiki.

Characters:

  • Victor Joseph – used to be a good ball player, gets sober as an adult, has an epic trip with Thomas to pick up his deceased dad’s body
  • Thomas Builds-the-Fire – young, always telling stories, two braids, most Indian bro ever, likes to chat with people,

Quotes:

  • “Re-reading them, I suppose my critics have a point. Everybody in this book is drunk or in love with a drunk. And in writing about drunk Indians, I am dealing with stereotypical material. But I can only respond with the truth” (xxv)
  • “…Victor’s mother would rise with her medicine and magic. She would pull air down from empty cupboards and make fry bread. She would shake thick blankets free from old bandanas. She would comb Victor’s braids into dreams” (5)
  • “It was summer. Hot. But she kept our shirts on to hide our beer bellies and chicken-pox scars. At least, I wanted to hide my beer belly” (44)
  • “A reservation hero is a hero forever. In fact, they status grows over the years as thee stories are told and retold” (48)
  • “She and I never tried to hurt each other physically. I did love her, after all, and she loved me. But those arguments were just as damaging as a fist. Words be like that, you know?” (185)
  • “One Indian doesn’t tell another what to do. We just watch things happen and then make comments. It’s all about reaction as opposed to action” (216)

buy the book: The Lone Ranger & Tonto…

Main PlotKiss of the Fur Queen begins with the champion dog-sled racer Abraham Okimasis and the story of his two sons, Champion and Ooneemeetoo Okimasis from Eemanipiteepitat, Manitoba. Both brothers are taken from their families and sent to a residential school where they are unable to speak their language, forced to cut their hair, and renamed to Jeremiah and Gabriel. In their residential school experience, both brothers are physically and sexually abused at the hands of the priests …. The residential school is also the time that Gabriel meets the Fur Queen or better known as the trickster who watches over them throughout their lives. When he returns from residential school, Jeremiah moves to Winnipeg to pursue his interests in music…. Gabriel decides to join his brother in Winnipeg to continue his passion for dance. He embraces his homosexuality at a time when it was not safe to do so publicly, and self-medicates with drugs and alcohol. He turns to prostitution and endures vivid flashbacks of the abuse he suffered at the hands of the priests. Both brothers have troubles reconciling their two identities… (Wiki)

Main Characters:

  • Jeremiah Okimasis, piano player, the oldest brother, first winner of a big piano concert
  • Gabriel Okimasis, ballet dancer, two-spirited, abused as a youth, dies of AIDS

Themes/Conflicts:

  • residential schools – this was hard to read, but important
  • religion and northern indigenous people – seeing and reading about the strong grasp that catholicism has on northern peoples as well as how the old traditions are/were beaten out
  • sexuality  the boys not being allowed to grow their sexuality in positive way – instead having it be molested and abused against  their will -and how their later coping mechanisms harmed them
  • art – as a dancer and as pianist – often in conflict with their traditional upbringings – “how do I say….” they often asked
  • kinship – the relations they had with one another and the only other brown girl in class, as well as other indigenous people

Quotes:

  • “He had sworn to his dear wife, Mariesis Okimasis, on pain of separation and divorce, unthinkable for a Roman Catholic in the year of our Lord 1951, that he would win the world championship just for her: the silver cup, that holy chalice was to be his twenty-first anniversary gift to her” (4)
  • “a young woman so fair her skin looked chisel out of arctic frost, her teeth pearls of ice, lips streaks of blood, eyes white flames in a pitch-black night, eyes that appeared to see nothing but the caribou hunter alone” (10)
  • “And then, Mariesis saw her sons, perched atop the large grey rock, glowing with triumph, Champion and Gabriel Okimasis, laughing” (47)
  • “The plane would rash and Champion would swim back and be home by sunset, Gabriel insisted. He would be very hungry” (48)
  • “We didn’t have much choice, he would have added, if the language had been his” (70)
  • “No, Jeremiah wailed to himself, please. Not him again. He took two soundless steps forward, craned his neck” (79)
  • “He could already taste the Cree on his tongue” (88)
  • “He had worked so hard at transforming himself into a perfect little “transplanted European” – anything to survive” (124)
  • “Beat by beat, step by step, the dance had seduced and then embraced Gabriel” (144)
  • “How, for God’s sake, did one say “concert pianist” in Cree?” (189)
  • “You try too hard. At everything. You an those lil-white fingers. That’s what you want, isn’t it? To become a whitman.” (207)
  • “And should the collar of his rented black tuxedo choke off his windpipe, so be it; hands on the keyboard, dressed for the casket, he would die a Cree hero’s death” (267)
  • “Rising from his body, Gabriel Okimasis and the Fur Queen coated off into the swirling mist, as the little white fox on the collar of the cape turned to Jeremiah. And winked” (306)

buy the book: Kiss of the Fur Queen 

Plot Outline:The Lesser Blessed tracks the exploits of Larry Sole, a Dogrib teenager living in the small Northern town of Fort Simmer. After losing much of his memory in a violent accident, what he loves more than anything is reading, hearing and collecting stories. With no interest in booze or sports, he floats on the edges of high school life, sustained by his love of Iron Maiden and a hopeless passion for school hottie Juliet Hope. When good-looking, trouble-seeking Johnny Beck moves into town, he shakes up Larry’s dreamy existence and leads him into a life of sex, drugs and violence, bringing him face to face with memories that he’s done his best to lose.”

Main Characters:

  • Larry Sole, Dogrib teenager. In love with Juliet, as much as he thinks it’s love, and tentative new friend of new kid, Johnny
  • Johnny Beck, Métis, new kid, older brother with a younger brother who has to pay into a swear jar. His mom is not around much, but is also a student where Larry’s mom is a student
  • Juliet Hope, non-indigenous. Local beauty/local girl who sleeps around. Hooks up with Johnny. Gets pregnant. Leaves town.
  • Darcy McMannus, non-Indigenous, bully. Has a weird relationship with Larry because he once beat him up and Larry didn’t report the beatdown, so he feels like he owes Larry one
  • Jazz the Jackel: non-indigenous, I think, also a bully, first big fight that Larry gets into

Themes + Conflicts:

  • Teen Pregnancy
  • Abuse (sexual/mental/emotional/physical): Larry is raped by his father, and sets a fire. The constant physical fighting between the boys for power.
  • Alcoholism
  • Sexuality: Juliet has a reputation as easy, Larry is obsessed with doggy-style, grade 8 girls notice big dicks, etc. Sexuality and the awkward and harsh exploration and dominance of it is permeated throughout the novel. It doesn’t feel innocent or sweet but rather something to use to gain power, to push your own power. Until you get knocked, that is. – but then, Juliet’s last scene with Larry, she uses it a a healing, a remembrance of what sex could be like with a ‘kind’ boy, you could say
  • Friendship: The friendship between alpha Johnny and Larry is born out of necessity an humour – Larry cracks the jokes and Johnny defends him, and they provide entertainment and protection for each other.

Quotes:

  • “I remember. It is the summer of my crucification. I try so hard to be pure; I take two baths a day” (1)
  • “Juliet Hope was white and pure” (27)
  • “I think in another life I was a great Dogrib hunter who has Juliet in my sights. She was a white caribou, pure. I believe I let her go out of respect and awe” (29)
  • “”What’s it like?” I asked. My mouth betrayed me. I wanted to take it back and act like I knew” (43)
  • “I remembered my dad taking me in the shed to teach me how to play the drum. I got a chill in the expanding second and scrambled to divert the attention away from me” (68)
  • “The tear duct my father had destroyed would never work again, so even though she made the sounds of crying, nothing came” (82)

buy the book: the lesser blessed