A Loss Indeed
Gustavo had come a long way from the jungles of Brazil where his Indian tribe lives. From a very young age, he was groomed by his grandfather to be a tribal medicine man and he knew the flora and fauna of the forest intimately. But as fate would have it, at the age of 12, the boy lost his father to poachers, his mother re-married, and on his fourteen’s birthday, Gustavo ended up moving to the land commonly known as the United States. The initial few years in the US were very hard on the family. But Gustavo persevered, working full-time during the day at a factory and attending college during the evenings. After graduation, he was accepted by a medical school. When Gustavo was in the final stages of his MD residency, he was lured by hospitals all over the US and Canada with very attractive offers. The most lucrative offers were from Massachusetts General and the Mayo Clinic. However, what excited Gustavo was a job announcement by a tribe. The tribe was only about 200 miles away, a short train ride for Gustavo, and was actively seeking to hire a physician. For 36 years, the Hurraye tribe had been unable to lure any doctor to join their clinic, which was currently inadequately manned by a nurse practitioner. It sounded like the perfect opportunity for Gustavo to give back to the Indian people and he took the train down to the tribal lands to explore the rez.
The reservation seemed pretty modern, like the Hurraye Indians themselves. There were no stray rez dogs loitering around. Instead of cracked mud and barren land, there were well-laid cobblestone paths. No junk cars. No run-down tents either; thanks to their casino wealth, the Hurrayes lived in suburban-type homes with neatly manicured lawns. The ubiquitous smell of frybread was absent on the rez but there was a cute donut/bagel store instead. The tribal clinic itself had a Gemütlichkeit quality to it. But despite the modernness and affluence on the rez, no doctor was willing to join the Hurraye tribal clinic because the pay was just not worth it. For 36 years the tribe was without a doctor. The tribe was desperate to lure a physician this year, and Gustavo didn’t care for the money because he wanted to work for his Indian people.
After walking around the rez, Gustavo headed for the tribal clinic to introduce himself. There was a shiny bus leaving outside the clinic building.
“Hey, we still have seven spots left. Do you want to join us?” yelled someone from the bus.
“Sarah Knott is going to teach us how to make Shoshone-style cradleboards,” yelled another passenger excitedly.
“I am not Hurraye but another kind of Indian,” replied Gustavo.
“Doesn’t matter. It’s open to everyone,” said Sarah Knott herself. Sarah was the Tribal Governor. She saw herself as an American first and a Hurraye Indian next. She was a pretty lady with an authoritative demeanor about her, slim, quite coquettish, with her naturally-blond hair making her look even prettier. While Gustavo was intimately familiar with making cradleboards, he hadn’t seen a Shoshone-type cradleboard being made. So he hopped on the shiny blue tribal bus. The bus drove for an hour into the deep woods. There was a river there where the willows grew. Everyone stepped out of the bus and set up temporary camp by the river.
Instead of beginning with a traditional Indian prayer, Sarah got to the point right away. “We Hurraye Indians have lost our way of making cradleboards for a few hundred years, so today I am going to teach you how to make Shoshone-style cradleboards. I myself learned to make Shoshone-style cradleboards from the internet.” Within an hour everyone in the group was cutting willows and trying to make cradleboards. Gustavo pretended to struggle, not wanting to embarrass his hosts with his polished and refined cradleboard-making skills. Unlike Sarah, he didn’t need twines purchased from Walmart to make his cradleboard either.
Suddenly Gustavo stiffened and listened intently. He could hear a raven in distress.
“What are you doing? You are not working on your cradleboard!” said Sarah, her voice sharp with disapproval.
“I was just listening to that noise.”
“There is nothing to listen to. It is just the forest. I can’t hear anything. Just finish up your cradleboard!”
But the raven is sacred to Indians from most tribes, so Gustavo slipped away when Sarah had her back to him. The raven was drowning in the river. Without hesitation, Gustavo strode into the river and rescued the poor bird. He crushed some Juniper bark in his hands and dried the raven with the bark. With the fragrant smell of Juniper in the air, Gustavo turned to face east. Then he kneeled down, said an Indian prayer and released the sacred raven into the wild. Then Gustavo went back to join the rest of the group.
“You were supposed to be working on your cradleboard but you slipped away to go for a swim instead! And what tribe are you again?”
Gustavo tried to explain himself but Sarah interjected, “I asked you a question. Just tell me the name of your tribe!”
When Gustavo told Sarah the name of his Brazilian Indian people, she whipped out her iPad and looked at the list of US federally recognized tribes.
“I don’t see your tribe on the list of federally recognized tribes. Is your tribe federally recognized?”
“No ma’am, it is not recognized by the US government. But that is because my people…”
“No but’s!! We don’t want excuses here. This workshop is open to everyone, even white people. But you are a f___g wannabe. And we don’t want wannabes here! I suggest you leave this group immediately and find your own way back,” said Sarah angrily.
Someone in the group pointed out that if the young man was made to leave, he could get lost in the woods and maybe even die because they were an hour’s drive away from civilization.
“Serves a wannabe right then! There’s nobody I hate more than wannabes!” said Sarah. “Let’s all vote on it like our constitution says. The constitution was designed for us by our US government. So, how many of us want this wannabe here to leave the group right now and find his own way back?”
All hands were raised because nobody wanted to offend the Tribal Governor.
Gustavo sighed, and intuitively realized right then that he would be spending his next few years at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital. He made his way deeper into the woods but he did not choose the path the bus had arrived. That would take too long for him to reach the train station. He sniffed the air through his nose as well as his mouth like his ancestors had done for centuries; and he knew that it would rain enough to keep him cool throughout the journey through the forest. Then he looked up at the sky and quickened his pace a bit. If he kept up the pace, he could still catch the 9:15pm train back to his medical school; if not there was another train leaving at 10:45pm anyway.
As the Hurraye Indians watched Gustavo’s fading figure in the distance, Sarah Knott said to the rest of her group, “Well, somebody sure lost out on a great opportunity today!”
Amy Moore is passionate about saving Indian languages and culture; Mike Taylor hopes to work as a physician on Indian reservations.
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