Racism: Call Me Mark, Part 2 pre-Toy Factory Years

    One reason, I moved to northwestern Minnesota was to get away from all the hatred and violence that was happening all over the country. I was tired of living under lock and key; tired of watching riots and demonstrations on television; just fed up with society at large. Northwest Minnesota seemed just the place to go where there wasn't any of all that. No racism, no prejudice, everybody is happy, yada yada yada. What a dope!
   I had spent a few winters laid-off from various jobs I had and began writing journals, reading and studying American history. I've always been bookish and possessed a penchant for reading and writing versus watching TV or whatever the rest of the world is doing in their spare time; I don't mind isolation or quiet places. Outside stimulation, like video games, is out: a brilliant display of the northern lights is in. I lean toward the natural, fade from the artificial, that sort of thing. 
    I learned years ago, that saying something positive about Indians was akin to saying something positive about timber wolves: either way you're a marked man. 
    Our part of true-north Minnesota has long had a large population of gray or timber wolves, some of which wreak havoc among the turkey, sheep and cattle here and aren't popular animals by and large. In the early 1980s, I had worked for a local cooperative for just a couple weeks, when I happened to be in the vicinity of conversation between a salesman and the boss talking about timber wolves. The salesman had paused in their conversation, and was searching his memory for something he had read about gray wolves, when I filled in the blank for him. We three talked briefly, and I left the building. At the time of this conversation, gray wolves were on the Endangered Species List.
    When I came back for break period, all my co-workers and the bosses were there; the workers in chairs around the perimeter of the room and the bosses in the doorway of their office, when the boss, with whom I had talked earlier with the salesman, pointed vehemently at me and angrily said, "WOLF LOVER!"
    Smiling, I closed the door behind me, and pulled up a chair in front of it. We were there well over the fifteen minutes we were allowed. I confirmed his/their opinion of me when he asked if I would shoot a timber wolf on sight, and I said, "No."
    I said I'd shoot one in self-defense or if it endangered one of my family, but 'no' I wouldn't shoot one simply because we crossed paths in the woods as my mother had, when she was a small girl, and lived to tell the tale. She screamed and they both ran opposite directions. 
    Outside the building, one of my co-workers said he agreed with me one hundred percent, but just wasn't stupid enough to express it.
   However, I'm not naive. Wolves are opportunists and large predatory animals, that travel in packs and alone. I've had close, knowledgeable, friends whose ideas about gray wolves have changed because of close-encounters they've had with the beasts not too far from here. And yet, there are people up here, who've lived here all their lives have never seen one. I've seen several over my 35-year tenure; I look for their tracks and scat, hear them howling on cold winter nights, a chilling yet strangely beautiful sound--(unless you're a deer....)
    In 1972, I purchased the book, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," by Dee Brown. It was the first book I had ever read about Indians and their role in American history. I was floored by its content; it really made me think. In the 1990s, I published a biography about a Civil War veteran who is buried in a cemetery on the corner of my farm and whose obituary I researched extensively. It started me down the long arduous trail of his role as a cavalry soldier in the Civil War, 1861-1863, and Indian Wars of 1864-1865. His story jump-started my interests of both subjects, and how my own ancestors were perhaps involved, in either.
    In one such case, again 'not too far from here', a small band of Indians were traveling overland on foot when they stopped at my great-grandfather's homestead on the Roseau River and asked to sleep in his barn overnight. A man known for his impatience and severity raising his own kids (my grandfather was his eldest son), reportedly, said, "No. The barn is for animals. You can sleep on the floor in our house."
    By thinking differently and expressing those views, either verbally or in writing, striving to be my own person, cast me in an odd light in comparison with others in the community. I often became the butt of derision by the more expressive of those groups. When I respond, I try to be objective, not emotional. I try to understand their viewpoint and how they arrived at it, knowing how ludicrous my opinion must sound to them, despite the facts behind it. Rather than insisting, "I'm right and you're wrong," I try not to take the outcome personally, hoping instead that our conversation made them think a little, maybe see things in a new light if anything. 


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