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Honest Injun

I recently discovered this in the blog archives—I felt uncomfortable publishing it almost a decade ago, but I am publishing it now.


May 9, 2016

I am writing to a poet friend. I wanted her to know that I really liked her poem and I wrote “Honest Injun,” and I spelled it that way too. Then I thought that probably wasn’t a respectful thing to say. Honest Injun, what does it mean? There is the European sense à la Rousseau of the innocent primitive, recently discovered in the brand new Americas, untouched by the sins of civilization, though Shakespeare with his Caliban certainly took a different take on that.

I think in the American sense, in the sense of the settler looking for land, and looking to expand, that a Native American was a nemesis, and was probably considered so dishonest (drunk and on the war path) that when one said “Honest Indian” it meant that what one was saying was absolutely without question the truth, like crossing one’s heart and hoping to die, because to be an “Honest Indian” was a very rare thing. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever said or written “Honest Injun” in my life—Where the heck did it come from? Honestly, I don’t like it. And I’ve deleted it now.

Hillary Clinton over the weekend said that Donald Trump “had gone off the reservation.” I heard her say it, and as soon as I heard her say it, I thought to myself, Hillary, you are going to regret this. And here we are Monday morning, and she is getting it from Donald Trump, suddenly Mr. Political Correctness. And Native American organizations are giving her hell as well. I am all for no more Atlanta Braves, no more Washington Redskins. But it is tough. You grow up in one time and then that time becomes another. It is American. I am an American. That means that I am free to re-evaluate and change.

When I was a kid, in the early 1950s, my grandmother had little licorice candies that she called Nigger Babies. I am sure I must have asked her many times, “Grandma, can I have some Nigger Babies?” She was married to a labor organizer who supported civil rights. And in the parlor on the piano she sang, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, black and yellow, red and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” And I sang along with her. Grandma grew up hearing a word and that was so. By the early 1960s—certainly Martin Luther King had something to do with this—nobody said Nigger Babies anymore. They just vanished into the ether as if they had never been there. I believe they are called Licorice Bears now if they exist at all.

I am watching the Lone Ranger with my father. When Dad was a boy he hurried home after delivering his papers to hear the Lone Ranger on the radio. Tonto and the Lone Ranger inspired my father in the 1930s to be a good guy, they made him want to go to Spain and fight Franco, and my father did enlist as soon as he could, the day after he graduated from high school, to go fight the Japs in the Pacific. I have just said “Japs” here in the historical context of saying it. Through the early 1940s Eleanor Roosevelt herself said it, and my Dad still says it although I know he stopped hating the Japanese a long time ago.

We are watching Tonto on the television discovering a path—What do you mean “we” white man?—and I am thinking, “Damn, Jay Silverheels was handsome. And what an excellent voice that man had, a voice that could have recited Shakespeare. Why him talk like Tarzan?”









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