Thomas Doty – Storyteller
Coyote's Unsettling Story of the Settling of the West
We indigenous critters like circles and cycles ... the circle paths of the sun and moon, the circle of the drum.... Great Bear in the Sky dancing around his fire keeps the seasons circling. We like teepee circles and hogans and igloos and cozy lairs with fire rings. A big round full moon makes all my dogs bark and howl and dance! And here's the best thing: sitting in a circle around a fire listening to stories about -- wait for it -- ME! It's a good life.
So here we are at Ti'lomikh along the river, quietly doing a circle dance to honor the Salmon People, when a noisy bunch of white folks show up and start stomping a square dance! What's that about? And when they're done messing with us and our village, they head downriver and build their own village. Dozens of square houses and churches and saloons, all in straight lines along streets crammed into city blocks. Squaresville!
They sit inside at square tables playing checkers. There's enough squares on a square checkerboard to make your head spin! Now what's wrong with hoop and pole, I ask you? That's a real Old Time game! And what's with all these straight lines and squares? Crater Lake never thought about being square!
I have to hand it to them, though. When they start doing a dance called shaking in their boots, they figure out that circling the wagons is a good idea. But I'm trotting down a side path. Let's circle back to the story. My story.
Between checkerboard moves these pale folks learn to talk by giving advice to each other, and to us. "Speak the straight truth!" "Walk the straight and narrow way." "Get your ducks in a row!" I admit, I kinda like that last one.
Now the only time they consider circles is when some Indian walks past the saloon. One of the pale guys makes a circle around his ear and calls the Indian crazy because he sees the world a little differently. A whole LOT differently, I'd say.
Then one of the smarter ones who would rather play chess than checkers builds a square schoolhouse at the end of the block. After telling his students to "sit up straight!" he draws a straight line on the blackboard -- it would be 150 years before white folks would invent a whiteboard -- and he calls it history. A different kind of story, I'm thinking. He puts an arrow on the end and says, "That's where we are. Making progress. Go West young men! And don't look behind you!"
Blockheads! Most every one of them! It's enough to make me look behind ME and chase my tail round and round and round. Square dances. Hmpf!
The way I see it, their fire is burning low. Maybe they haven't noticed that the long stretch of straight highway they're barreling down has a curve coming up. And maybe there's no guard rail. Watch out, young men! Watch out!!
Back at Ti'lomikh, me and my friends build a fire and do an ancient dance, round and round. Stars circle overhead. The moon spins over the river. Salmon People swim past. When our dance is done, we sit and tell stories to remember who we are and where we've been. And we wait for the sun.