Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads With an Indian Elder

by Kent Nerburn

I won this book in an BookObsessed’s swap, which begets the question: if I stole neither wolf nor dog, what did I get? A coyote? A German Shephard?

Against an unflinching backdrop of contemporary reservation life and the majestic spaces of the western Dakotas, Neither Wolf Nor Dog tells the story of two men, one white and one Indian, locked in their own understandings yet struggling to find a common voice. Each of the men is just one individual, yet each is very aware that he is the representation of the race, and every word, every action, every mistake, is magnified as a stereotype. With the bloody history between the two races, a history still young, the scar still unhealed, this is indeed some very thin ice the author is treading on. He is really brave in undertaking the writing of the book, and baring so much of himself. I hope Dan and his granddaughters, and Grover are happy with the book. I suppose they are happy enough to let it be published, but I am curious what their comments are. I try to imagine… just a non commital grunt? A smile?

Being someone of neither race, I am able to observe the interaction from a more removed standpoint. It is easy to share the sentiments Dan (the Indian elder) expressed about white men and their treatment and discrimination of other races.

I hope by quoting Dan’s words I am not reducing him to an Indian elder spurting mystic wisdom while smoking a pipe, but when I read the book, sometimes his eloquent words move me so much I just have to bookmark the page, so I can copy down the words to be treasured.

“…anger is only for the one who speaks. It never opens the heart of one who listens… The enemy is blindness to each other’s ways.”

“There are leadres and there are rulers… When our leaders don’t lead, we walk away from them. When they lead well, we stay with them… How can a calendar tell us how long a person is a leader? That’s crazy. Aleader is a leader as long as the people believe in him andas long as he is the best person to lead us. You can only lead as long as the people will follow. In the past when we needed a warrior wemade a warrior our leader. But when the war was over and we needed a healer to lead us, he became our leader. Or maybe we needed a great speaker or a deep thinker.”

“The most important thing for white people is freedom. The most important thing for Indian people is honor. But the Indian has always been free. We have always been freer thnthe white man, even when he first came here… Your world was made of cages and you thought ours was, too… Your turned the land into cages… You made all the cages then you wondered why you didn’t feel free.”

Published in: on May 21, 2010 at 3:21 am  Leave a Comment