Thanks, People

     I spent six of the best years of my life on the rez, and on Thanksgiving I thank them.
     I’ve never met people who were more welcoming, more free from prejudice, more spiritual, or who enjoyed a joke as much as my friends on the rez.
     I lived on the Tohono O’odham reservation, west of Tucson, some 30 years ago. It’s the second-biggest reservation in the United States – 3 million acres – the size of Rhode Island.
     It’s the only tribe in the lower 48 that was never at war with the United States, never was displaced, and still lives on its ancestral homeland.
     This is partly due to the fact that the O’odham’s traditional enemies were the Apaches – the O’op – and the first time the O’odham met white men who were not friars, the white men were making war on the Apaches.
     “Cool!” the O’odham said, or words to that effect.
     So the white man left the O’odham alone in their desert – the most beautiful, perennially blooming desert in the world.
     I taught high school there and coached track, in Sells, Arizona. I saw some amazing things. For 30 years or so, I’ve refrained from talking or writing about it because Indians feel, for good reason, that white men are always trying to steal their secrets. I don’t want to do that. But I think The People will forgive me if I tell a few tales about the rez.
     A few weeks before the state cross-country meet, one of my top runners twisted his ankle. It blew up to about four times its natural size. He limped in from the desert and showed it to me.
     I’d coached long enough, with help from a top-notch sports podiatrist in Tucson, that I knew his season was over.
     But this runner, whose name I will not mention, told me he would see his medicine man.
     He showed up for practice the next day and his ankle was cured.
     I mean, it was normal. I’d never seen anything like it.
     “What … ?” I asked.
     He told me that the medicine man told him that one of his ankle bones was in backwards. He said the medicine man took it out and put it back the right way.
     “You saw him do it?” I asked.
     He assured me he did.
     I have no opinion about this.
     My guy told me the medicine man said he could run like usual that day, but I doubted it. I told him to run easy figure 8s in the sand of the wash. He did, then he ran several miles in the desert on his own account. His ankle was fine.
     He was our fifth man when we won the state meet.
     I still have trouble believing this, but I saw it. It happened.
     Lots of other cool stuff happened to me on the rez, but I don’t want to talk about it.
     After I left the rez and became a newspaper reporter, I was asked to talk to a conference about Indian Issues. I told the people assembled what still is true today: that there are no Indian Issues. The only time there is an Indian issue in this country, it’s because a bunch of white people moved in next to the Indians. And the white people want something. A little bit more. Just this once.
     Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
     Let’s not forget what it’s about.
     It’s about Indians pulling the white man’s butt out of a sling. And the white man deciding, just this one time, in 1610, to thank the Indians for it.
     That was quite some time ago.
     Thanks again to all my friends on the rez, for everything they taught me – not didactically, just by being who they are. Wish I could be there today.

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