THE LIZARD LESSON
Dreamed 1996/12/12 by Chris Wayan
I'm an observer at the first All-Native Conference. Forerunner for a Native legislature? It's held in an awkward L-shaped room. The tribes of northern Canada are disproportionately represented--especially the large contingent of Ravens. In the elbow-center, where I sit, several teenage girls are discussing the numbers, counting the empties. Not a lot, but most of them are around us, in the middle; both ends are packed. Are things polarized? There are a lot of polar delegates...
But they're not telling our story. I am. Here's our story:
An eccentric white woman who wants to live alone in the woods buys an old cabin, and moves in. But a Native man, a delegate from the L-Shaped Conference, realizes he can take advantage of her isolation. He dresses up in a green lizard costume and skulks around the house. If he can scare her out, he can claim the house under an old, broken treaty.
Just a cheesy lizard suit, but it works: she panics and flees!
So I show up. As a shaman I have an obligation to keep the balance, and he's tipped it too far in revenge: the tribe has a collective right to reparations from the whites who stole our land, but this woman DIDN'T steal that house; he can't just terrorize her and take it. No better than 19th Century whites!
He doesn't want to listen. So I become like him--a green lizard man--and threaten to fight him if he doesn't give the house back. He doesn't think I can win--why, just because I rented the same costume he did?
Only I didn't. I'm the real thing. Real teeth, real claws. He won't believe it. "This is the modern era. No one can do that! It was all a myth..." Says it to me as my tongue flicks out, tasting his fear on the air... But he blusters, trying to cover what I can taste.
In the end I have to show him the painful way. Shred his fake hide, while he scrabbles against my scales with rubber claws. I try not to hurt him too much--but a little. Enough so he'll have a scar or two, so he'll never again deny such things are real. Fierce, ancient, impossible things--like shamans, and dinosaurs, and justice.
I'd like to end the story there, but I can't, because his daughter or niece is kind of a shaman herself. She lives in a woven brush hut, a wattle dome. She's skinny, with long black hair, a slightly tricky foxy face. Attractive, I guess, but sneaky. Well, she sets out to get a house for HERself too! And she knows the family game--she puts on a party outfit and fakes a transformation too, and scares someone out of their house--maybe even the SAME house! I have to go in and confront her, tell her she has a legitimate claim to a decent home, but not the right to terrorize innocents. And she mocks me too, refuses to believe me; so I must turn myself into the creature SHE pretends to be... and drive her out.
In white stories, things like this usually come in threes. In our tales, it's usually four. Or, of course, once. Some folks learn fairness the first time. But a tale that goes in two? You never hear tales with two. So I kept waiting for crisis number three, and maybe four. All day I wait. Sitting in the L-Shaped Room, watching the conference, I wait.
But three and four never come. The trouble's over, as suddenly as it started. They learned their lessons, and show up the next day as delegates, scratched and limping and very very polite delegates, not wearing big rubber animal suits.
The end. I guess.
And I'm still trying to figure out just what the hell this teaching-story was trying to teach ME.
NOTES NEXT MORNING
I dreamed this before Nunavut won autonomy, before the Native legislature convened, before there was any coverage of the issue at all, down south here, where I live. I did think the dream was from the future, but a future generations ahead. Not months!
Maybe that's the lesson. Things you're sure will take forever, battles you're sure will come up three or four times, wars you're sure are only half over... sometimes those things can change. Fast.
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