Gyasi Ross: Lessons learned on Blackfeet Nation in Montana

Gyasi Ross on coming of age on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana:
We will call her "Lydia Bearback." Lydia Bearback and I were elementary classmates on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in a town called Browning, Montana. Browning is a small town in Northern Montana with a population of a whisker over 1000. Like most Indian reservations on the Great Plains, the Blackfeet Reservation was governmentally engineered to be poor, and my family was poorer than most. Destructive public policies have decimated Indigenous economies. These policies, combined with utterly remote geographic location, have led to 70 percent unemployment for decades. "Let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffalo is exterminated," General Sherman said, "as it is the only way to bring lasting peace and allow civilization to advance."

I was a big-headed, shy kid who didn’t interact too much with girls or boys. My single mom and two older sisters raised me and I was pretty much left to think that my new sexual urges and alleged wet dreams were weird. This was decades before Google and, as in many Native families in the nation, there was no man around to help me make sense of what was happening to my body.

I was not an exceptional kid in too many ways. I was a nice kid and I was pretty smart. My shoe size generally matched my age. I was very much unlike most of the boys in my class who thought that every girl liked them. I felt inadequate and ugly but Lydia Bearback made me feel worthy. She teased me. I teased her. She flirted me. I tried to flirt back. To paraphrase Edwin Arlington Robinson, “She was always human when she talked.” Lydia Bearback was sweet to everyone, but I knew that I was the only one she really liked.

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Gyasi Ross: Lessons in the Darkness: Young Life Unsupervised in Montana (Gawker 5/25)

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