They used to come for the children. The white men with a station wagon. Come and take the children away. People seem shocked about that now. How could that kind of thing happen in this country. People don’t know their country very well.
My grandfather told me in those days there weren’t so many cars out here. When people heard a car coming up in the road, the children were hidden. The people in the car couldn’t see where children could be hidden. They saw only flat. The children knew all the places where they could disappear into the tall grass. Hide in the reed by the ponds like nesting birds.
My father was never afraid of any man. A brave warrior. He fought in the war, Viet Nam. Came home with medals, a hero. He wasn’t afraid of the men with the station wagon, either. He wouldn’t hide, he told my grandfather.
They took him away one summer. A school down in Kansas. There were boys and girls from many nations, but they were forbidden to use their own language. They had to speak the language of the white man, a language they didn’t know. A language in which it was difficult to learn. I teach students know. What if these high school students had to talk history in my grandfather’s language? They were shamed into submission.
Most of my father’s story isn’t told. He has wandered. I saw him a few times growing up. He is a wanderer, my grandfather said. He’s brave. He came to town when I was twelve and stayed awhile. I was playing basketball then. He had learned basketball at school, he told me. It was the only time he mentioned the school. Everything else I learned from my grandfather. I think he thought he would beat me easily. He defended the paint like he was guarding a fox-hole. I could spin and fly around him like a bird. It wasn’t close.
I could see that he was frustrated. A determined fury. He came at me harder. I was over him, finding the ball in the air, taking it away. We stopped. He was so full of fury I was afraid he would strike, or shout. Then he laughed.
We went fishing almost every afternoon that summer. He said, “You should play, on a team. A team that plays other towns.”
There were arguments that summer. My grandfather, my aunt were uncomfortable with him around. He brought home cases of beer in the trunk of his old car, one of those big long sedans they used to make. It had a trunk three or four kids could hide in. It could hold a lot of beer. A few nights while I slept I heard raised voices in the other room, my father’s and my grandfather’s. My father said I should go to a school in a town off the rez, where I would play against white teams. Where I could beat them. My grandfather said he should stop fighting old wars.
My father left later that summer. I never saw him again. A year later, maybe, we heard that he had died in California. We did not know the story, just that he had died. His body was banged up. He had been found under a bridge. No one knew what had happened to him. The police in California said they did not think it was suspicious. It was easy not to be suspicious, I guess, when there is a dead Indian that nobody knows.
My grandfather said that the white man’s culture has too much power, that it pulls us away from who we are. But I remembered my father. He had started a story, about me. I could play this game, and I could win. I wouldn’t be beaten, as he had been. My aunt had talked about moving into a town, trying to find work. Couldn’t I go with her. Go to school and play basketball. My grandfather said, I don’t want to lose another man. I told him I would choose this. I would win. No one was coming to take me. I would go on my own and I would beat them. And I did.