As the threat of the logging industry and Western culture encroaches on the Anishinabe reservation, the Native American traditions most closely tied to the landscape are also threatened. Without the land and wildlife that the Manitou spirits (or fundamental life force) are said to inhabit, the culture of their tribe is similarly endangered. Detached from the natural world that used to provide the tribe its sustenance in the form of animals to hunt and vegetation to be picked, the tribe is forced to participate in monetary exchange with the Agent for what they need. As their land is sold and harvested by the bank and the lumber companies, the tribespeople lose their tether to the way they know how to live, their cultural traditions, and the gods that have sustained their hope in times of trouble.
Nanapush is old enough to remember a reservation that was much bigger and more vibrant, with a herd of wild buffalo that provided well for the tribe before the arrival of white civilization. This is no longer the case, as the buffalo have long been killed off, their last remnants decimated by a single hunting expedition of white men who took only the buffalo’s hides and tongues, leaving the rest of the pieces to rot. This indifference towards the limits of the natural resources shows a crucial disregard for how much the tribes rely on the natural world for their survival. The last of the bears, too, has been shot. The only animals left to be hunted are moose and deer, and even those are harder to find in the shrinking forest, forcing the people to eat animals like gophers, despite their poor taste. If white men had not appeared in the area, the animal populations would not have diminished so rapidly with such a high percentage of waste, and the deforestation would not have resulted in the lack of habitat for the animals (as well as the people), allowing the Natives to survive using their old ways of life for longer. Secondary to this, the physical animals and trees are necessary carriers of the Manitou spirits, and so without those creatures, the strength of the Native spirituality is also diminished.
Despite the fact that Fleur’s cabin is so far removed from the other members of the tribe, she insists on living on the land that was home to her ancestors, where the lost members of her family are buried, showing the strong ties that Fleur has to the natural environment, even over interpersonal relationships. The location of the cabin on the shores of Matchimanito is important because of Fleur’s supposed relationship with Misshepeshu, the lake spirit who protects her. It is assumed that Misshepeshu is the one who harms the loggers that visit Fleur’s land, and that her union with Misshepeshu is what ensures her survival, even when living alone in such a hostile environment. While Misshepeshu is believed to be a literal spirit, the lake also provides a physical barrier between the Pillager cabin and not just white civilization, but also the other Natives who are assimilating to the white culture more quickly than she is. Thus, it is all the more threatening when Fleur is forced to leave the land, separating herself from the spiritual and physical protection of the lake.
The threat of the loggers indicates the destructive nature of white America’s relationship to the earth. Rather than living off what is available in one’s immediate surroundings and carefully choosing one’s resources so that those resources might regenerate, the book’s white characters foolishly clear-cut these trees, changing the essential nature of the landscape and reducing the likelihood that the land can continue to be used for the same purposes. This destruction of nature forces the tribe members to take drastic action to ensure their survival, now that they can no longer rely on the land. Many Natives sell off their land at a low price in a frantic bid for immediate survival, and even Eli, an Indian who is more closely tied to traditional Anishinabe culture, takes a job with the loggers so he can earn the money he needs to survive. It is also important to note that the loggers approach Matchimanito from the West, the direction the Anishinabe associate with death. The approach of the loggers then stands as a symbol of the way that removing the natural world contributes to the destruction of the Anishinabe people.
The Importance of Nature in Indigenous Life ThemeTracker
The Importance of Nature in Indigenous Life Quotes in Tracks
But he scorned me when I would not bead, when I refused to prick my fingers with quills, or hid rather than rub brains on the stiff skins of animals. “I was made for better,” I told him. “Send me down to your sister.”
Land is the only thing that lasts life to life. Money burns like tinder, flows off like water. And as for government promises, the wind is steadier.
Talk is an old man’s last vice. I opened my mouth and wore out the boy’s ears, but that is not my fault. I shouldn’t have been caused to live so long, shown so much death, had to squeeze so many stories in the corners of my brain. They’re all attached, and once I start there is no end to telling because they’re hooked from one side to the other, mouth to tail.
It didn’t occur to me till later to wonder if it didn’t go both ways, though, if Fleur had wound her private hairs around the buttons of Eli’s shirt, if she had stirred smoky powders or crushed snakeroot into his tea. Perhaps she had bitten his nails in her sleep, swallowed the ends, snipped threads from his clothing and made a doll to wear between her legs.
I am a man so I don’t know exactly what happened when the bear came into the birth house, but they talk among themselves, the women, and sometimes they forget I’m listening. So I know that when Fleur saw the bear in the house she was filled with such fear and power that she raised herself on the mound of blankets and gave birth. Then Pauline took down the gun and shot point-blank, filling the bear’s heart. She says so anyway. But she says that the lead only gave the bear strength, and I’ll support that. For I heard the gun go off and then saw the creature whirl and roar from the house. It barreled past me, crashed through the brush into the woods, and was not seen after. It left no trail either, so it could have been a spirit bear. I don’t know.
In the morning, before they washed in Matchimanito, they smelled like animals, wild and heady, and sometimes in the dusk their fingers left tracks like snails, glistening and wet. They made my head hurt. A heaviness spread between my legs and ached. The tips of my breasts chafed and wore themselves to points and a yawning eagerness gripped me.
I didn’t understand until Lazarre slouched and Clarence stood before Margaret, that this had to do with everything. The land purchase. Politics. Eli and Sophie. It was like seeing an ugly design of bruises come clear for a moment and reconstructing the evil blows that made them. Clarence would take revenge for Eli’s treatment of his sister by treating Eli’s mother in similar fashion.
“I’ll take my twenty-two,” he said. I told him that was too much of a store-bought revenge to satisfy an oldtime Anishinabe warrior, a man, which he would become when this business was finished. We’d find a method.
As a young man, he had guided a buffalo expedition for whites. He said the animals understood what was happening, how they were dwindling. He said that when the smoke cleared and hulks lay scattered everywhere, a day’s worth of shooting for only the tongues and the hides, the beasts that survived grew strange and unusual. They lost their minds. They bucked, screamed and stamped, tossed the carcasses and grazed on flesh. They tried their best to cripple one another, to fall or die. They tried suicide. They tried to do away with their young. They knew they were going, saw their end.
I mixed and crushed the ingredients. The paste must be rubbed on the hands a certain way, then up to the elbows, with exact words said. When I first dreamed the method of doing this, I got rude laughter. I got jokes about little boys playing with fire. But the person who visited my dream told me what plants to spread so that I could plunge my arms into a boiling stew kettle, pull meat from the bottom, or reach into the body itself and remove, as I did so long ago with Moses, the name that burned, the sickness.
What I told them to do, then, they accomplished. My fingers closed like hasps of iron, locked on the strong rosary chain, wrenched and twisted the beads close about his neck until his face darkened and he lunged away. I hung on while he bucked and gagged and finally fell, his long tongue dragging down my thighs. I kicked and kicked away the husk, drove it before me with the blows of my feet. A light began to open in the sky and the thing grew a human shape, one that I recognized in gradual stages. Eventually, it took on the physical form of Napoleon Morrissey.
The moment I entered, I heard the hum of a thousand conversations. Not only the birds and small animals, but the spirits in the western stands had been forced together. The shadows of the trees were crowded with their forms. The twigs spun independently of wind, vibrating like small voices. I stopped, stood among these trees whose flesh was so much older than ours, and it was then that my relatives and friends took final leave, abandoned me to the living.
Margaret and Father Damien begged and threatened the government, but once the bureaucrats sink their barbed pens into the lives of Indians, the paper starts flying, a blizzard of legal forms, a waste of ink by the gallon, a correspondence to which there is no end or reason. That’s when I began to see what we were becoming, and the years have borne me out: a tribe of file cabinets and triplicates, a tribe of single-space documents, directives, policy. A tribe of pressed trees. A tribe of chicken-scratch that can be scattered by the wind, diminished to ashes by one struck match.