There is a scene in the documentary film Jane Goodall's Path in which an elder living on Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota is interviewed. Looking directly at the camera, the elder tells how he lost his sixteen-year-old son to suicide. His bewilderment apparent, he tells how many other young people living in Pine Ridge have killed themselves, too. He reveals that the rate of alcoholism is 90%. The elder explains that he brought Jane to the reservation because he believes she can help the young people living on the reservation find hope. And then he cries.
The absence of hope. This is the penultimate insult of colonialism -- second only to rape. I don't argue that a lack of hope is second to death, because a lack of hope is death -- a different brand of death, but death all the same. It is a slower kind of death than dying by alcoholism. It is a preamble to suicide. If an absence of hope is the harbinger of colonialism, then perhaps an abundance of hope is necessary for decolonization.
We, the People.
At the core of colonialism is a belief that it is necessary to subjugate a people, on the one hand, in order for exploitation to occur, and on the other, for their own good. The manner of life, their degree of economic development, their religious beliefs, and any number of other attributes of a people -- whose land and lives have been invaded -- are used to excuse the subjugation and imposed sovereignty that turns the wheels of colonialism. Decolonization is much more than just restoring things back to what they once were. One reason for that is because it can't be done. Some damage can't be undone. People can't be refurbished the way that a painting is restored -- by a careful scraping off of the old paint followed by applications of new paint. A toggle that reads colonize / decolonize doesn't exist.
The Pouch in the Wall, the Whisper in My Ear
There are issues of memory and generation, as well. Lena Coulter experiences directly the impact of memory on one's ability to recall and understand the past. She has as a crutch the clutch of letters from the pouch in the wall of her home. She learns about Hope Little Leader -- one of the greatest pitchers the Choctaws ever knew -- and she learns from him. Her learning is based on his memory some 60 plus years after his pitching years.
Ezol Day, Choctaw postal clerk living in the early 1900s, fell in love with Hope Little Leader, the star pitcher on the Miko Kings, a Choctaw baseball team that dominated the Indian leagues and even defeated the Seventh Calvarymen from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. This was more than just a symbolic win -- the game was played at the time when Whites were working to convert Oklahoma Territory to Statehood.
Lena can't rid herself of the past anymore than Hope can, with his fading memory and burnishing of what he does remember. Lena has traveled all over the world without finding her home. She longs for a sense of being centered and connected to her people and to a place. She strives to pull her own story into the Choctaw stories, but the more she tries to shape it, the more it breaks into fragments. Lena searches for reasons for her feelings of rootlessness, and toward the end of the book, reaches out to Ezol for explanations. Ezol tells her, "Because when your mother died, you had no other real ancestors to turn to . . . I may not have been your blood grandmother -- but I should have been. And I have always been with you in spirit. That is the true story I came to tell" (221).
I use the word hope with some trepidation, fearing that the reader will connect the larger concept of hope with the Hope Little Leader, thinking that I am unaware of being trite or that I think myself very clever to establish such a conceit. It is nothing more than coincidence that I use the word and that the word fits the man, as well as my purposes.