When I was young, the difference between good and bad was clear as a red thread through a field of white. The good was the U.S. — Motor of the World. It had destroyed national socialism. The bad were the Commies who were rotters. Soviet premier Krushchev was the baddest badman ever with his shoe banging and threat to bury the West (he’s now portrayed jolly in “The Death of Stalin” — how his Leninism is better than Stalinism is a mystery).
I grew up then in a time when Shoshoni language, custom, and tradition passed from the old to the young as family heritage, obligation, and responsibility and made a solid foundation for unshakeable identity. Ableness and skill made one’s standing. For old Indians there had been times of rough going and treatment but none I knew blamed others for their life choices.
My best memories from those days are of family and relatives sojourns of old-time hunting and pinenut-harvesting: canvas tent, bedrolls, blazing campfire, and starry nights to foster reminiscences and the old stories. It was a comforting ages-old normality; unknown now to younger generations. It was good too that it wasn’t permanent like for our ancestors.
Awhile back, I spoke to a room of Indian descendants only to hear that none was interested in Shoshoni spoken or about traditional leadership. Later on, I requested tribal support for archiving invaluable language materials for the vanishing Shoshoni language and got none.
Language is heritage. Disinterest could mean Indians modifying identity as Tocqueville noted. That would fly in the face of remaining speakers and efforts for Shoshoni language learning and maintenance such as that of the Apprenticeship Project at the U. of Utah (taken over by Great Basin College and now defunct), Goshute and Duckwater tribal projects, Ely Tribe’s effort through the White Pine School District, and other local projects.
Participating youth received respect, knowledge, and other benefit from their exposure to language. Barrick Gold’s corporate social responsibility support while appreciated may have, in view of its business, made language a production value commodity.
In forsaking language, people send heritage to the used-to-be junkpile, similar to the vote to OK payment for retrospective Shoshone claims that put Paid to the 1863 Treaty and its promises. The Tribe could be dissolved by vote and the reservation and its resources sold for cash.
Scholar Felix Cohen noted, “the Indian marks the shifts from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere ...” Democracy is where one’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s but Shoshone democratic practices were qualified by skill and ability. No damn fool could be a taikwani or leader — I think. Representative government changed everything. With scant knowledge about political philosophy, Indians could only mimic example, reflecting the quality of Americans around them — from solid citizen to grifter.
Cohen’s observation became real 2015-18. Tribal government was trashed by crazed, elected political outliers. They were enabled by the cunning and buoyed by the deluded and delusional. People vote their own misery and the same incredibly selfish schemers, nutters, and revengers surfaced here on the reservation. They are about nothing but negativity and tearing down.
Almost half the U.S. has gone bat crazy from a daily litany of woe, social justice propaganda and disinformation that would make Joseph Goebbels and Muhammad Saeed Al-Sahhaf shout for joy. Americans’ ignorant and untutored state on the principles of liberty and republican government is in broader scope what’s happened to Indians and heritage.