The greatest compliment you can give them is eating their food.

For Osages, there is one thing that brings us together every year; In.lon.shka. An oversimplified  explanation of In.lon.shka is that it is a dance. No pictures are allowed. It is not something to be recorded, just experienced. In that spirit I wont share much about the dance. Instead, I’ll share another side of In.lon.schka, and that it is bringing people together….around food.

Osages, like most people, love to eat, but few others probably derive as much satisfaction out of feeding others. Before every dance is a meal, and before every meal is hours of preparation around open fires, outside in the middle of an Oklahoma June. Kitchens, mostly outdoor ones, are the first place people come together during the ceremonies and the last place before they part.

Studie Blog

When it comes time to eat, there are anywhere from 20 to 300 people feed. When you arrive, the tables are set with a plate to eat from, a bowl to drink from, and a spoon to shovel with. The food is usually the traditional meatpies, steamfry, frybread and some fruit or vegetables, but what is cooked doesn’t matter as much as how it is eaten. Everyone sits down at the same time except for the cooks. While it would be more efficient, there is no buffet.  All the food is placed on the table, there is a prayer, and then the clanking of spoons starts. If a dish runs out, a cook will usually be there to fill it.  When your done, you can thank the cooks, but the greatest compliment you can give them is eating their food.

Raymond “Studie” Redcorn (Osage)
Sloan Scholar

Tumbling Toward Yellowstone Final – And of the Native American Dream…

We went to Yellowstone. We did.

But I won’t bore you with the details of that, because they’re details you could find in any tourist guide or travel book, and that’s not what’s important here.

The point is we went searching for the Native American dream, and to understand the way this twisted world and our machinations and industry on the body of the earth have changed and corrupted and re-inspired it, and where it lies today, and a path toward hope. We came looking for a glimpse of a dream, or perhaps a nightmare, and somewhere along the way, dizzy, dirty, and overwhelmed, we lost track of it.

While we were doing things like looking for fossils of ancient, esoteric sea creatures in the rugged, rocky hills on the road to Cody (and ending up chasing horny toads instead) where the sleek, brown teeth of prehistoric squid lay sprawled across the pebbles like so many seashells, or while we were standing dangerously on the edges of cliffs at Devil’s Kitchen (or Devil’s Lunchbox as Patrick often called it) where the painted canyon below us spilled out in an overflow of pastel colors and wild, jagged formations that looked like a madman’s map of Mordor, or while we were looking at waterfalls and massive, man-made dams at the edge of Yellowstone and climbing hills we weren’t supposed to, to look down at the great crowd of students we were supposed to be watching, or while we were shivering and wrapped in sleeping bags on the icy, windy shores of this great, ocean-sized lake that appears out of nowhere in the center of the caldera that is Yellowstone and greets you like the arctic sea, while we were walking amidst the hot springs and geysers that funnel boiling water from under the earth and reek of sulfur and cover the blue sky in thick, gray steam, while we were waiting for the bison we’ve been looking for for so long to cross the roads while tourists took tens of hundreds of pictures, while we were hiking along the circumference of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and gazing in awe at its walls of yellow stone for which Yellowstone wasn’t named, while we were chasing bears and hitting antelopes and herding high schoolers…

The truth is I left Yellowstone more than a month ago. We drove down to Salt Lake City in the long, restless PM, and took a plane out the next morning, and finally returned home to Indianapolis, red-eyed and sleepless, after an eight hour layover in Denver. The journey was finished, but the story wasn’t over yet. Something was missing.

So here I am, sitting in my cool, air-conditioned apartment in West Lafayette, on the third day of classes re-starting, sipping green tea and listening to music from the stereo speakers attached to my HDTV, staring at an article about how 2,000 acres of land in the Black Hills called Pe’ Sla, an area sacred to the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Arikara, and Arapahoe, is about to be auctioned off by a private owner to the highest bidder. The tribes have raised money in hopes of buying back the land once taken from them and still sacred to them, but the “property” is expected to sell for approximately eight times the value they’ve raised. The state of South Dakota will likely put a road directly through the sacred areas, and open the land for private development.

This is not the Native American dream.

On our last nights out there, in our cabins in West Yellowstone, we sat and talked in hushed tones about all the things we’d seen. The sadness. The greed. The hopelessness. The false hope. The despair. The futility. The beauty. The reaping and weeping.

We talked about Leon, the Lakota small business owner we met on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, who owns a small but popular coffee shop. He’d talked to us about his struggles on and off the reservation. His attempts to do things that weren’t designed to be done, here and elsewhere. His return to the reservation. His opening of the coffee shop. Today, he is successful. He’s writing a book. There is a glimmer of the dream.

I wonder if he knows about this auction. I wonder if he’s tried to do anything. I wonder if there’s anything he can do. (I know he can make a damn good cup of coffee.)

The stars on those nights out there were clear, but the future they foretold was not.

As I sat there, listening to my friends and compatriots on the journey, I began to wonder if we weren’t misguided from the very beginning. We came this way in search of answers, but we’ve found only scars and scar tissue and more unanswered questions. We’ve learned so many things, but we still don’t understand what they mean. We don’t understand a thing. The things we’ve learned along the way are the smoke of a distant signal fire, but where does it lead? It’s dim, and there’s a storm in the distance and a flood at our backs, but though the rain will muddy and obscure the little trail we’re on, it’s what’s needed to invigorate the earth beneath our feet. The smoke and the distant fire we see is a sign that though the path we tread may be a lonely one, there have been others on it before us, and we are not alone. We are never alone. And we need to get there, to tend the fire at the other end of this rocky path, and keep it lit, and kindle it to burn brighter for those that follow us. The people we’ve talked to are waiting for us. The dreams of so many are waiting on us.

I think maybe we were wrong — maybe I was wrong — to think that we’d find a dream of any kind out there. What we found were memories. Or maybe prayers. But maybe we needed to go out there to find the dream within us. Maybe I needed to go.

To learn what needs to be done. To learn what should not be done. To learn from the successes and failures and mistakes. To learn from the tears shed and the stories behind them. To rediscover things forgotten, but never lost. That some things we can never buy back, but some things we can change. That you can sell your soul, but never your heart.

I hope one day to return to the Black Hills and walk in Pe’ Sla, as I walked up Bear Butte, on its stony paths lined with trees with branches tied by ribbons of prayer, where no wars were ever fought and no battles ever joined, where people went for peace, and where all tribes could go to talk to the wind and the earth. I hope I can bring my children to a place that isn’t a parking lot, where we don’t need water slides to feel the rush of energy, and the stars are clear and the future is bright.

I don’t know what will happen, but I can hope.

But we know it’s not enough to keep hoping.

So we will keep working. There is a dream to be tended. Our friends are waiting.

Kyle Bemis
Sloan Scholar, Statistics

“Update: Two days after the writing of this post, the auction of Pe’ Sla was cancelled by the owners for reasons they declined to make public; the sacred land remains private property, publicly listed, and its ultimate fate remains uncertain.”




Tumbling Toward Yellowstone 5 – The Ancients Speak to Us in So Many Bones and Stones and Easily-Squandered Gifts and We Understand Hardly Any of It (i.e. the Dinosaurs, the Hot Springs, the Petroglyphs, and the Oil)

We awake to one of the high schooler’s handlers — I shouldn’t call them that — one of  heir counselors shaking our tents awake. We’re leaving soon, it seems, so we all get up and break camp and eat breakfast. Two hours later, we’re waiting around, wondering when we’re getting started. These kids move like sloths on PCP, but so did all of us at their little urchin age of testing limits, manufacturing headaches, and practicing stupidity. It’s all part of the fun. A necessary development process perfected by a million years of evolution.

After a few eons, we move out in a great caravan of cars five thousand feet long, and head to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. Inside the museum, the fossilized skeletons of millions-of-years-old beasts stand in imitation of how they stood in life, delicately placed in their poses by practiced paleological hands. Most of these are the real deal, too, and only the biggest and heaviest of them are built from casts, which is mildly mind-blowing.

Then they bus us out to the dig site. The Morrison formation, they call it, where all these sauropods and therapods are being found. It’s hot as hell, and we quickly get under the tarped, tent-like “permanent structure” that houses the dig site. It’s still technically active, but no one digs here anymore, because they want to preserve the fossilized footprints and keep a snapshot of in-process unearthing intact for education and future generations. This has more to do tangentially with just geology than Native Americans, but it’s still a pretty wild mind-screw. Under our feet here are the shadows of the bones of sixty-five-plus-million-year-old creatures who once walked right here. Only the shadows of bones, I say, because what we find is mostly rock. I wonder if we will ever be found like this, in the earth and rock, and if the future generations who find us will be able to figure out what killed us and avoid the same fate. If the dinosaurs knew what was coming, would they have tried to stop it, or would they have raced headlong toward their destruction while embracing the methods of their demise, like we so often seem to do?

I give up on that thought, and we drive to the next sites, to which I can connect more.

We drive to the hot springs. Warm water bubbles up from the earth, tired and weary, but blessed with fire, after its long journey down from the mountains we just drove over, after diving for miles and miles underground through the hot rock, before finally being forced back up here, at the Smoking Waters.

This place has strong medicine, but you wouldn’t know it from the water slides and parking lots.

“Smoking Waters” is what the Shoshone people call this place. People from all over came and come to bathe in her healing springs. But eventually, like so many of the rest of us, the Shoshone had no choice but to sign away this land in a government treaty. Unlike so many of the rest of us, they foresaw the possible future — the inevitable future.  It’s the same trick that the Three Affiliated tribes are learning up in the badlands: how to see everything under the sign of the almighty dollar. The Shoshone stipulated that the springs must be open and free to the public.

Today, you can bathe in the hot springs at Thermopolis for free. As long as you limit yourself to twenty minutes in the State Bath House. The private water parks? The water slides? The sprawl of parking lots and the man-made ponds? They’re just progress. They’re just capitalism and the free market, those great bastions of democracy. They’re just civilization and the way forward. And so we stand on the great steel suspension bridge over the Bighorn River, staring at the formations of travertine and the rumbling, warm river below us, and a snake of plastic twists its way through the water park in the background, beside the mountains we just came down. And the sickening feeling in my stomach is that no one else seems to notice anything wrong with this.

But we must move on. And we do — to Legend Rock.

At Legend Rock, the ancients are still as powerful as ever. This is where we’ve come to see the petroglyphs. There is nothing else here but horses that may not be horses, and may be something else. Patrick talks to the students about sacred sites, and then we venture down, to the narrow path of unkempt dirt in the shadow of the mighty red stone wall tattooed in light by the spirits on the other end of time.

Shapes of animals and humans, four-fingered and five-fingered, long-limbed and short-limbed, horned and winged, and all interconnected and intertwining are etched into the rock. The students are curious. My friends are uneasy. But I am at peace here.

The Navajos won’t even come here. The place is too powerful and too old. There is a nervousness and a creeping current in the atmosphere, but I don’t feel unwanted. A certain restlessness pervades the air and energy seeps from the cracks in the rocks, as if we stand at the intersection of two worlds or twin dimensions, and it would be all too easy to slip into a different existence. But in these pictures, I see the shapes of familiar spirits. Similar shapes adorn the walls of El Moro near Zuni. The thick presence in the wind is not unlike the feeling during the Night Dances and Shalako.

On the way back to the vehicles, the horses are still watching us, before disappearing.
Our one last stop for the day is as fitting as it is ugly: a pumpjack. One of those great, steal, black beasts with its long black mechanical arm, pumping oil from the ground beneath our feet. We are supposed to learn about this, but I can only think how it looks like a pimple, or a blemish, or a blackhead.

Round and round it goes, pumping, and we can see it all go full circle. The bones of the dinosaurs and their flesh and all the organic compounds of all the plants from those hundreds of millions of years of history, compressed and bound by pressure. Their gift to us is this black tea. Our mammoth caravan of dirt-shined SUVs runs on this stuff.

The first time I gave blood, I’d forgotten to eat all day. My blood sugar must have been low. The nurse had a hard time finding a blood vessel in my arm and must have pricked me a half dozen times. Finally, she got it, and the bag began to fill with my deep, red blood, the same kind my heart pushes around my body and lets me live and breathe. When we were done, I got up and started walking to leave when my vision started to fade to black, and my legs went out from beneath my body. My head filled with storm clouds and a pressure vacuum, like in the deepest parts of space. I lay down, blacked out, and waited for life to return to me. I wonder if that’s how the earth feels.

I wonder what the ancients must think of us. Are they laughing? Are they weeping?

We return to camp. We go to Yellowstone tomorrow.

Kyle Bemis
Sloan Scholar, Statistics


The streets where they live . . .

Last Friday my first excursion as a tourist took me to the Presidential Palace. A steady, but gentle rain fell all day and did not deter my plans to get out and about. I wanted to get to know Nanjing on her own terms and walking seemed like the best way to do that. With map in hand, I convinced my good friend Tomas that we could easily walk the distance from the university. Funny thing about the official Nanjing map is the scale. As we maneuvered our way, block to block, I began to doubt my directions. I did not want to pull out the map and become a spectacle to the throngs of people maneuvering the wet sidewalks, slick streets and dripping trees. But after some time and no hint at where we might be, I did pull out the map to try and reconnoiter our location. A very friendly young man offered to be of assistance and we stood under my umbrella turning the map this way and that. I think perhaps he was more interested in practicing his English than offering insight to our location. I made several attempts to point out our destination, but he seemed to be rather clueless as to how we would get there. We offered many renditions of “xie xie” (thank you) and moved further on down the road.

My instincts told me we were still heading in the right direction, but more jokes about Mao’s Long March were cropping up with each step. One of the things that amazes me is the endlessness of the city: block after unbroken block of buildings in various states of construction and decay. New buildings going up next to crumbled structures older than the United States, gleaming signs flashing advertisings with the clarity of our most modern movie theaters next to handmade posters offering goods and services I cannot translate. The old and the new, the broken and repaired line up with a thousand faces filling the stores, passing me on the streets and streaming by on the roads. There is no horizon to see, no physical landmark that in the distance that gives me a hint of the natural order of the world. The haze is to thick to allow the sun to cast a shadow, no familiar breeze coming from a direction I know. The faces so foreign I cannot read their mood or demeanor and their language is a cacophony of sounds and syllables, inflections and tones falling around my ears and doing me no good.

I am anxious and excited as I walk the streets of Nanjing. There are few non-Asian people here, so wherever I find myself, I draw some attention. I am anxious because all of the tools so easily, if unconsciously, available to me are not available. And the instinctive tool I miss the most is being able to read the faces passing me. It is easy to recognize a smile no matter where in the world we are or anger or surprise, but there is also a subtlety to facial expressions relative to the cultures we come from, or more specifically relative to the cultures we are most familiar. I do not know Chinese faces well enough to tell whether or not the smile is sincere or sarcastic or whether the scowl is from anger or exhaustion. And it’s just enough of a mystery to keep me a bit on edge. I may be reading more into it because I feel exposed when I prefer some level of anonymity in unfamiliar situations. But the more time I spend here, walking to work, going to the grocery story, catching a taxi, the more the faces become familiar. In the absence of language skills communication takes place.

I am also very excited to be in Nanjing for many of the same reasons that cause anxiousness. It is by far more different than any other place I’ve been in the world. All of my senses are challenged on a daily basis. The noise of the traffic and the mechanical conversations of a thousand horns rarely stop. A walk down any street can expose the nose to enticing combinations of spices and foods being fried, steamed and baked in the stores and stalls that are everywhere. And in the same block you can encounter the smell of garbage and sick that forces you to turn your eyes away for fear of what you might see. For the most part I am amazed that a city as big, wet, and hot, as Nanjing is not dominated by offensive odors. My own beloved New Orleans has something to learn from Nanjing. We did finally arrive at out destination, somewhat soggy, but nonetheless relieved that a combination of instinct and map-reading skills served me well.

Dr. Dawn G. Marsh
Department of History
Purdue University


Let the games begin

Haze and smog have not lifted in seven days.

Yesterday (Monday) marked the first day of classes here at Nanjing University and there were definitely a few bumps in the road, but nothing insurmountable. Since this is the first year that NU is hosting the program there seems to be a lot of last minute, not thought through, lack of experience moments. For instance even though we arrived last Wednesday we were unable to go into our classrooms and check out the equipment. Whoever held that ring of keys was not available till Monday morning. So my response is just stay flexible–I can keep it loose and fast when necessary. No problemo. Right?

Well there was one problem that I was not so happy about. Imagine a building constructed sometime in the early 1980s, a concrete 7 story bunker that has not received the best improvements over the years. Most of the classrooms have the old style wooden desks with attached seats, bolted to the floor, dingy fluorescent lighting, curtains over windows that haven’t been washed in decades (but that may just be the effect of local pollution’s monthly deposits).  Ok I can deal with that. Then we check out the projector and my laptop hook up — ok.

But there was one issue that was nearly insurmountable. The air-conditioner for my class was broken–apologies were forthcoming as were promises for quick repairs, but for nearly 90 minutes 55 sweaty students and one sweaty professor worked our way through the introductions and administrative tasks that are a part of any class start up. The second and third classrooms were only slightly cooler. Needless to say it is was a long, exhausting day.

I got back to the apartment and was just too apathetic to go to dinner. But here’s where this story has a nice ending. Haoyang, my TA called to ask if he could come up to my apartment to talk about the classes. It was the last thing I felt like doing. Well, it was a ruse on his part. He appeared at my door carrying a whole watermelon for me. He knows I’ve been eating watermelon, drinking watermelon juice . . . it’s just so good here. Made my day and really showed the kindness and generosity of the people here in Nanjing. It’s going to be ok . . . hot, hot, hot, but ok.

And for the foodie fans out there, here’s an ode to eating unidentifiable foods. On Sunday night, after our first faculty meeting they hosted a dinner at a very nice restaurant. We sat at several large round tables with a huge lazy-susan in the middle. The meal started with big bottles of Tsing-tao beer, fresh orange and watermelon juices. And then the dishes just kept coming and coming and coming. I did not try them all, just too much food and also one bowl that looked like organ meats (not doing that). We had fresh, huge crayfish, a whole fish (very white and delicate like sole) poached in olive oil, there were steamed buns, dumplings, several vegetable dishes of various kinds of greens, I did eat something that looked like an earthworm, but tasted like fish . . . I think it was baby eel. No seconds on that one. They served Nanjing duck, baked tofu, egg broth soup and tea soaked eggs. I know I’m leaving several dishes out . . . oh, yeah, mushu pancakes and very spicy pork filling. It was a feast and more food than anyone at our table could eat. It was memorable and I’m sure I ate some things that it was better not knowing about. I sat next to another faculty member who is vegetarian and we both kept convincing ourselves that what we just ate was a mushroom, right? Yeah . . . just another kind of mushroom. It was a memorable meal and there was much toasting going on with glasses of Tsing-tao. Now that’s how you start a semester.

Dr. Dawn G. Marsh
Department of History
Purdue University


Nanjing Walkabout

Ten years ago bicycles were a ubiquitous part of Chinese culture. But in less than a decade bicycles were replaced with cars, motorcycles and mopeds. Walking the streets of Nanjing is challenging and mentally exhausting. I took Haoyang’s (my TA) warnings seriously from the beginning and in a very short time my head naturally darts in all possible directions before stepping into any street, alley or driveway. The din of horns blowing is relentless and only seems to settle down late at night. Even from the distance of my air-conditioned apartment on the twenty-third floor I can hear them all; courtesy beeps, impatient honks and the long, loud blast of the police cars that seem to part the four-wheeled sea slowly, but surely. Moststreets here were not designed with a car culture in mind and the clogged intersections and traffic signals are chaotic to an outsider. I’m a driver, enjoy the road and earned my road warrior stripes from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles and beyond. San Francisco with a manual transmission? Did it! Chicago? Piece of cake (who doesn’t love quadrants??). London rush hour (I think that’s all the time) with wrong-side driving, certainly. Dusty roads of Baja Norte with a couple margaritas (not recommended) down the hatch . . . yes indeedy. But I cannot fathom any reason I would ever, truly, ever get behind the wheel of a car in Nanjing. Death wish, nervous breakdown . . . excluded. But perhaps what may have been the most bizarre observation was the skillful maneuvers of a woman with a very slow moped with large cart attached filled to maximum capacity with a wide assortment of coffee mugs. Not plastic mind you, but ceramic and glass cups in all shapes and colors. And as I watched her inch through the traffic not a single cup moved . . . I was transformed.

One more thing and I’ll move along. It’s Friday night in Nanjing so it must be poodle night. Yes, as in poodles . . . curly-haired dogs. On my evening stroll to locate dinner there were poodles to the left of me poodles to the right . . . I do not exaggerate. White poodles, peachy poodles and yes . . . even rainbow poodles.

Dr. Dawn Marsh
Department of History

A long day’s journey into night . . .

I arrived in Nanjing late last night after a journey that took me from Indianapolis to Dallas to Tokyo to Shanghai and finally Nanjing some 36 hours later. The trip was long and exhausting, but for the most part went off without a hitch. The 13-hour leg from Dallas to Tokyo was the longest flight I’d ever been on and now that I know I can do that without much problem my future itineraries will know no boundaries. We arrived in darkness and mist. The temperature was in the mid-seventies and a balmy breeze blowing. It felt wonderful—womb weather—as I call it. Made me think of Hawaii. Of course I was reminded that it is the monsoon season and the temperate climate will soon give way to much hotter and hence much muggier weather. Despite this gentle meteorological welcome, I’m expecting a New Orleans-style summer here. That means dodging from one air-conditioned haven to the next, walking at a poetically slow pace and an ever present do-rag wrapped artfully around my steaming skull.

Bao Wow!

My guide, Teaching Assistant and new best friend is Haoyang Yu. He is an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, planning a law career. So we will have much to learn from one another as the days go by. He came by this morning to give me a tour of the campus. He’s Manchurian, so he does not know Nanjing very well. He’s very friendly and I am enjoying the courtesies he extends; holding an umbrella over me while I open mine, wanting to carry my backpack for me, etc., concern for my comfort and needs. The campus is very old and some very pretty gardens. Good places to meditate. Haoyang explains that the Nanjing classrooms are not very up to date. Most of the building was done in the 1980s, so many things need upgraded. But hey, no problem for me. I teach in the oldest building on Purdue’s campus and if you hadn’t heard . . . no phone or window in my office!

It is a rainy day here, so we stopped for a late breakfast/lunch. We had traditional breakfast. Haoyang had porridge (rice, broth, some veggies) and I had cold soy milk with a crispy bread to dip in the milk. Very, very good. We also shared a basket of bao (rhymes with wow) which aresteamed buns with meat in side. Yum! Thank goodness they have pictures of food on all the menus. That way I can just point and eat! Should be interesting.

One more quick note. Haoyang told me that my three classes are the most popular. They are maxed out, seats filled. He said “You are the most popular professor here!” I asked him to explain how that could be . . . he said students find out about professors. “Chinese students at Purdue checked you out and spread the word.” Well, this should prove to be interesting. My reputation precedes me. Who knew there was a Purdue Chinese Underground!

Till the next time.

Dr. Dawn Marsh
Department of History