The fire popped and crackled outside the hide lodge. Inside, they heard none of it. The elder was playing a hand drum and singing an honor song, to express gratitude to the ancestors for all the blessings the People had received, for the sweat lodge itself and the ceremony that had been passed down for thousands of generations.
The lodge had been built in the traditional way, with eight saplings set into eight holes, in groups of two, each group facing one of the four cardinal directions. The tops of the saplings were bent down and each one joined to the one opposite, then four rows of strong, supple branches were tied onto the saplings, parallel to the ground. All the joints were made with wet rawhide, which shrank when it dried, leaving the structure incredibly stable. Tanned and smoked deer hides, sewn together, had been thrown over the frame. At the ground, the hides were held down with rocks and covered with gravel, except for a flap that could be lifted to allow people to enter, then closed when a ceremony was about to begin.
In the centre of the lodge was a pit, and seven glowing-hot rocks had been placed there by the people tending the fire. There were seven more still heating. When this first batch had been delivered and the flap closed, the elder picked up a horn cup and threw seven cups of cedar-infused water onto the rocks, sending the temperature and humidity inside the lodge soaring to astonishing levels, almost instantaneously.
By the dim glow of the still-blazing rocks and through the mist of humidity, two people could be made out; the elder, an ancient man with dark skin, lined with age, and a younger man, just as dark but with the firmness of youth. They were sitting directly opposite each other. When the elder finished his song, he held up the hand drum he'd been playing as a sign of respect, then placed it down and picked up his pipe. He packed it full of strong tobacco and lit it with a dry twig he'd ignited by placing it on the glowing-hot rocks. He blew puffs of smoke to the four directions, to the heavens and to the earth, then handed the pipe to the younger man, who did the same. When that was finished, the elder held the pipe up, then put it down. The two sat in silence for several minutes before the elder called for the remaining rocks to be brought in.
The flap was opened, a wooden plank was pushed in and the seven rocks were deposited in the pit with a pitchfork. The plank was withdrawn, the flap closed and tamped down by the people outside, then the elder sent another seven cups of water onto the rocks, this time creating an atmosphere of such intense heat and humidity it was past the point of danger for a human to sit through it.
After a few more minutes of silence, the elder spoke.
"Tell me, Morning Glory, what is troubling you?"
"The white man, Elder."
The elder laughed. "Ah, yes," he said, "the white man. But tell me more, my child. Is there something specific that has happened?"
Morning Glory was a little frustrated. Didn't the elder get it? The old man knew what was going on. Didn't he thirst for freedom and justice, the way Morning Glory and his friends did?
"Many specific things, Elder. You know that my cousin Elsie has gone missing in the city. No one cares. No one is looking for her. Last week, the cops raided two houses here on the reserve and took four young men, my friends, off to jail. They could be kept for years, Elder. None of them have been charged with a crime. They probably never will be. You know how it works. They'll keep them locked up for a few years until they think they've stolen enough of their lives, then send them home, ruined. Their families have been torn apart. None of their lives will ever be the same. The list goes on. Many of the things you know about. Some of them have happened to members of your own family, Elder. Some of them have happened to you."
The elder nodded. "When I was a young child, I was taken away from my family by white authorities and put into a residential school. When I returned, my home, my family and my community were all gone. Our entire way of life was shattered. I felt as you do, child, outraged at the injustice of it all. But I have come to realize, as my life has gone on, that the world is full of injustice. The white man did not bring injustice into the world, my child. It was built into the world when the Creator cast the universe into being. No amount of retribution or revenge against the white man will change that."
Morning Glory was reaching a point of frustration that bordered on anger. It was unthinkable that he should disrespect an elder by becoming angry at him, especially in this place, but he felt he had to say something at least a little sarcastic.
"Elder, does it not bother you to sit by and watch these things happening, our way of life being destroyed, and do nothing?"
"Our way of life is attacked by the white man, my child, but it cannot be destroyed by him because it is not based on the teachings of the white man, but on the teachings of the Little Boy. As long as those teachings are with us, our way of life is secure. Tell me the teachings of the Little Boy, my child."
Morning Glory sighed. "Love, Bravery, Honesty, Respect, Humility, Truth and Wisdom, Elder."
"Yes," the elder said, "but what do they mean to you, my child?"
Morning Glory thought, why are we wasting time with this? "They mean, Elder, that I must travel through many stages in life before I gain Wisdom."
"Yes, my child. When you speak of getting back at the white man, you are not speaking out of wisdom, but out of bravery, like a child. It is commendable that you are brave enough to want to take on the white man, but you are not being honest with yourself if you believe that you can. There are too many of them, Morning Glory. They have sophisticated technology that allows them to reinforce themselves too quickly. What could you possibly do against them of any significance? And how long before your actions send you to jail along with your friends? More importantly, how does their presence stop you from following the teachings of the Little Boy or from listening to the voices of the ancestors? Search your heart, my child. If you respect the families that have been torn apart, help them. Provide for them. Love them and nurture them. Don't hate on their behalf. All that will do is encourage them to hate. Hate is the teaching of the white man, Morning Glory. He does what he does because he hates himself and everything around him. He puts your friends in prison because he has lived in a prison all of his life. What more could you do to the white man that he has not already done to himself by living in hate?"
Morning Glory shook his head.
"You do not believe me, Morning Glory. You have invested so heavily in hate yourself that you are starting to think like a white man. You are starting to believe as they do; 'Thou Shalt Not'. This is not our way, my child. This is not the voice of the ancestors. This is not the teachings of the Little Boy."
Morning Glory shook his head again. He was hearing little of what the elder said.
"Let me tell you a story, Morning Glory. In the time of my grandfather, a group of men went out to hunt deer. They were paying attention to what was going on but were unlucky, and managed to get themselves between a very large mother bear and her cubs, who attacked the men and killed two of them before she ran off. What would you have done, Morning Glory, at this injustice? Would you have hunted her and her babies down and killed them? Would you have hunted down all the bears in the area and killed them? Would you have wiped out all the bears?"
"I don't know Elder."
"The mother bear was only doing what the Creator intended her to do, as is the white man. When those hunters came back to their village, the men who returned volunteered to look after the families of the dead men. This is our way, Morning Glory. We were here long before the white man arrived and we will be here long after he is gone. We have survived floods and fires, pestilence and locusts. We will survive the white man, my child. But we will do it only by following the teachings of the Little Boy and listening to the voices of the ancestors, not by becoming like the white man."
Morning Glory stayed silent for such a long time after this oration that the elder finally gave up and called for the flap to be opened. After he had given thanks to the lodge, the pipe and the drum, the elder crawled out of the opening, followed by Morning Glory, who dried himself off with a towel and put on his clothing. With a quiet goodbye to the elder, he walked back to his house, about three miles from the sweat lodge.
Inside his house three of his friends were waiting. Morning Glory came in and opened a can of beer from the case that sat on a coffee table, then flopped down on a couch.
"So," one of the others said, "what did the old man have to say? Did he volunteer to join our fight?"
Morning Glory sat sullenly for almost a minute before he answered. "No, he wants us to do nothing. Feed the families the honkeys have destroyed. That's it."
The others laughed. A different one spoke this time.
"I told you that's what he'd say, bro. None of them care. Those old people are so wrapped up in the past they can't see the future. So, what's it going to be, bro? We know what he's going to do. Nothing. What are we going to do?"
Morning Glory crushed the empty can in his hand and grabbed another from the table. He sat quietly again before he spoke.
"We do what we planned. Tonight. The cop shop burns."