It’s always a pleasure to find an author from whom you want to read more. It was my wife who told me about Ernestine Hayes’ The Tao of Raven. We were both so taken by the book that we turned to Hayes’ prior Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir. Learning how badly the United States has treated the indigenous population of this continent is one thing. Learning how badly we still treat them is quite another. For all of that Hayes writes a memoir that is reflective and perhaps sad, but seldom angry. The stories told in Tao of Raven start here—we meet the characters who will be further developed in the next installment and become even more curious about them. The reader wants to reach out and help. To tell the government, “enough!”
The indigenous peoples of North America (and likely South too, for that is a realm requiring further learning) feel, and have always felt, a close connection to the land. Europeans see land as a resource for exploitation, not for living in harmony with. We came, we took, we destroyed. As if that weren’t bad enough, we left the original inhabitant trapped in grinding poverty, shoving them into places we wouldn’t see. Until we discovered something we wanted on that land, and then we shoved them again. The impetus to do this was, unfortunately, Christianity. I doubt it’s the religion Jesus had in mind, but then he lost control of it millennia ago. Believing in one’s divine mandate is a sure way of making unwarranted claims on what belongs to someone else. Remember “thou shalt not steal”?
Hayes’ reflective style is an honor to read. Feeling a part of a place is a rare privilege. Born into a mobile society enamored of technology, the modern American has difficulty feeling too attached to any one place. Of course, many people stay close to where they were born, but to become a “professional” you have to leave. Blonde Indian is about returning home. The land knows us. Many of us don’t know it back. It’s just a place to set our feet temporarily until a better opportunity comes along elsewhere. Being tied to no land we lose something of our souls. Our connection with nature. With the planet itself. Hayes is a gifted writer with a story that must be heard. Wisdom comes through on every page. We would do well to pay attention.