The Saga of the Seventh Generation Trilogy, Book Three: ALL MY RELATIONS by C. J. Hotchkiss

From Chapter 12: Mexican Hat

Wigglesworth?  Sarah was sure their dad was making that name up when he told her where to find Ben, but then concluded that Harvard was simply an offshoot of Hogwarts.  Walking around Harvard Yard, she found little to contradict that theory.  By the time she could ask for Wigglesworth without giggling, she was standing in front of it.  Students passed back and forth around her, preoccupied with something else.  One finally smiled at her and she asked if he knew where Ben Stanton lived.  “You mean the Indian dude in the wheelchair?”  Sarah winced to hear her brother reduced to such terms, but nodded.  “Yeh, he’s in Entryway H.  Four doors down.”

Sarah walked to her left, feeling some of her outsider status return.  She never understood why Ben had wanted to come here.  It was far from home, cold and urban, no wheelchair sports, elitist, and only a handful of Native Americans in the whole school.  “It’s far from home, cold and urban, no wheelchair sports, elitist, and only a handful of Native Americans in the whole school,” Ben answered.  “Seriously, Sarah.  I just want to go somewhere that is the opposite of me so I can figure out what actually is me and what is my crazy packaging.”  Sarah shook her head, happy to be in the southwest where she knew who she was, most of the time.  She found a door marked H and looked at the roster inside for her brother’s name.  There was no Ben Stanton, but the room at the end of the hall was labeled “Chief”.  Sarah frowned and knocked loudly on the door.

Ben turned and burst into a big smile when he saw his sister.  “Sarah!” he exclaimed.

“Chief??” Sarah scowled.

“Oh, that,” Ben smiled.  “Yeh, I got a promotion since I’ve been here at Harvard…”

Sarah was not amused.  “You let them call you chief?”

“It’s no biggy, Sarah,” Ben answered.  “These kids were confused by a Native American named Benjamin Stanton.  They would look straight at me, then turn away and keep looking.  Harvard students don’t have many street smarts and Harvard freshmen have absolutely no sense of humor.  So I let them call me Chief and I call them the Seventh Cavalry.  I figure I win that one and most of them don’t even know it.”

Sarah smiled and gave her silly brother a hug.  She stepped back to look at him.  He still had his long ponytail and the leather beaded bracelet she had made for him before he left.  He was wearing jeans and a button down shirt that made him look like one of the Democrat campaigners that would appear on the Rez every time there was an election.   He was wearing L. L. Bean slip on boots and a red Patagonia jacket was draped over the chair.  A pair of square-rimmed black glasses completed the picture of the perfect preppy, intellectual Indian.   Or was it Native American?  Or First Nation?  What did the East Coast intellectual Indians call themselves these days?  He looked handsome and comfortable in his skin – whatever color skin that was.  Sarah was torn between being proud of her baby brother and worried that he wasn’t anyone she knew any more.

“Come on, Sissy,” Ben interrupted, sensing her fears.  “Let’s go get something to eat and you can slip in why I am the recipient of this delightfully suspicious, unannounced visit.”  Ben closed his books.  “Cyber law.  You have saved what was left of my brain fragments.”

They wheeled around Harvard Yard and looked at all the buildings and monuments that Sarah seemed to know from somewhere, though she didn’t know why.  People said hi and stopped to talk with Ben.  He seemed well-liked and relaxed in this jigsaw world.  He always introduced her as the real Indian in the family and the sister who always had his back, unless it involved poker.  “Do not play poker with this girl,” he warned.  It was a beautiful campus with humble oaks and ordinary sidewalks within its esteemed, ivy covered walls.  Ben had conquered it; he had made it his own space without losing too much of himself.  Sarah didn’t know exactly what he had lost, but he was still recognizable, full of his silly jokes and self-effacing humor.  Occasionally a conversation with a student or professor would reveal an altered intellect, not exactly unlike him, but different.   

Ben guided her to a small Thai restaurant on a side street across from Harvard Square.  He ordered for the two of them to share and smiled when she liked his choices.  It was a quiet, uncrowded place.  The Thai woman, who owned it, knew Ben and was happy to meet his sister.  “Your brother talks about you and your father all the time.  Bigger than life.  So happy to see you are human.”  Sarah smiled and the two women shared good-natured jokes about Ben.  To Ben, it felt good to meld these little fragments of his life, anchoring, for a moment, the drifting self he was looking for.  His journey had been like a kaleidoscope, fragmenting each segment into increasing factions of light, splintering into a larger and larger universe.  It felt like skiing the mountain, only the balance point was constantly shifting.  The more it evolved, the harder it was to find the center.

Sarah told Ben about her friend Chichi and how the two of them had taken up their mother’s grassroots efforts, creating a chapter of S.A.S.S while they were at CU. They were now starting up chapters in the high schools and women’s circles in some Rez towns in Arizona and New Mexico.  They had almost 2000 members in eight towns including the Gila River community, the Havasupai, Kiabab, Navajo Nation, Hopi, Mountain Ute, and Apache.  Women were showing up and speaking up.   They actively fought for tribal jurisdiction in the Supreme Court decision and had organized a class on self-defense for women in three high schools.  Ben was proud of his sister and told her so.  And he waited for her to tell him why she was here.

On the way back to Ben’s apartment, Sarah told him about Mexican Hat.  “A coalition of twenty tribes is petitioning the president to protect almost 2 million acres of land in the valley and canyons south of Canyonlands.  More than 100,000 archeological and cultural sites have been documented on this land,” Sarah told him passionately.  “As usual, oil and mining companies want to take over these tribal lands for drilling.  Rather than fight each claim in court like Mom did at Big Mountain, we are trying to get the land declared a national monument so that it is permanently protected.”  Ben nodded and listened to his sister.  “Segments of the government are talking about taking back parts of the treaty lands.”

“Wow,” Ben mocked.  “How unprecedented would that be?”

“It’s not funny, Ben,” Sarah resisted his sarcasm.  “We know how to stand up to these political pressures now and we can’t let them continue to take our lands and relocate our people.  We need educated people like you who can speak up for our legal rights.”

“Uh oh,” Ben said.  “The plot thickens.”

“Seriously, Ben,” Sarah replied.  “We need Native lawyers who can fight the legal processes that keep undermining us.  We need you, not only to speak up to power, but to show our people that we can play the white man’s game and win it.”

“I agree, Sarah.  Witness, I am in law school,” Ben replied.  “I am, however, not a lawyer yet and won’t ever be if I take off to chase every broken treaty and not attend classes that teach me how to win at the white man’s games or study for my bar exams.”

“Ben,” Sarah pleaded.  “I’m not asking you to chase every broken treaty.  We are having a major protest rally in Mexican Hat on June 16 and it would really help if you could be there and speak about the legal processes involved against us.  People would listen to you.”

Ben knew what Sarah was saying, but he resented her presumption.  “I take my bar exams in July, Sarah.  Everything I have been working for rests on this.  I have no more scholarship money to keep hanging around Harvard.  The law is not a white man’s game unless Indians like me keep giving it to them by not sticking it out.  I need to get in the courtroom where I can make a difference, not be running off to Mexican Hat because another fucking treaty is being broken,” Ben felt angry and a little defensive.  “I’m proud that you are doing what you do, but I need to do what I am doing.  I can’t give up my degree to make a stupid speech that won’t make a difference anyway.”  He knew he was hurting his sister and sounding selfish, but Ben had learned enough about law to know that it had enough loopholes to hold the whole Indian Nation.  It isn’t a game that was won on the ground and it never was.  Sarah was playing volleyball while the real game was football.  Nothing he could say in Mexican Hat would change that.

“Well, I am sorry that what you are doing is so much more important,” Sarah replied angrily.  “There are some of us who are out on the Rez trying to make a difference while you play Chief in some elite white man’s school.  You have forgotten your people, Ben, if you think the battle will be won in some jerry-rigged courtroom.  It needs to be fought in the hearts and souls of the Native people, so they can reclaim their own power and dignity.  You can manipulate the white man all you want, but that’s just to stroke your own ego.  The Rez needs people who come back and stand with them, not deserters that become elitist pets.  What good is an Indian lawyer if you’re not any Indian anymore?”   Sarah waved over a taxi and left Ben sitting in the street.

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