Monday, April 5, 2010


Tonawanda Reservation, Lucey Bowen, 2010

           Carl Carmer's chapter, "The World on the Turtle's Back," in Listen for a Lonesome Drum, is for many a beloved introduction into the world of the Iroquois in New York State. I could hardly hope to be recieved as he was by Jesse Cornplanter and the anthropologist William Fenton. Once, I studied anthropology with Anthony F.C. Wallace, who wrote extensively about the Seneca. I think about another literary observer of the Seneca, Edmund Wilson, who wrote about the Iroquois for The New Yorker in the 1950s, as they struggled with the rapacious plans of Robert Moses. 
          On a cold spring afternoon, I drive through the reservation. The hewn log houses, weathered grey and striped with white plaster, still stand, along with trailers and frame houses. What is striking now, however, is the incessant stream of trucks and cars arriving and departing from the gas stations on the fringe of the reservation. Cheap gas and cigarettes draw their white neighbors to the Indian Reservation. I remember the devastating role that rum played in the early encounters of Native Americans and whites, and think there is a certain justice in the gasoline and cigarette sales.

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