There is one book that for some reason I am compelled, every so often, to return to. I don’t fully understand why – I just know that it must somehow connect with something buried somewhere in my subconscious. I’m not talking about a familiar book that gives me pleasure, I mean a book that creates a disturbance in me.
It’s a short book and it’s called Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, authored by a social scientist and philosopher named Jonathan Lear. He tells the story of the disappeared world of the Native American Crow nation, through the recollections and reflections of the first nation’s last great leader, Plenty Coups, who died in 1932 in his native Montana at the age of eighty-four. A few years before his death, Plenty Coups was interviewed at length by journalist and politician Frank Linderman, who devoted most of his later life to recording stories and memories of Native American Indians. Linderman turned the conversations into a biography, Plenty Coups: Chiefs of the Crows (1930), which is regarded as a classic. Plenty Coups’ life spanned the nomadic freedom of his plentiful ‘Buffalo Days’ to the time when what was left of his people were corralled into reservations and all that happened in-between. In a note at the end of his biography, Linderman tells the reader that he was unable to get Plenty Coups to talk about anything that happened after the Crow were confined to a reservation. ‘Plenty Coups refused to speak’, he writes, ‘of his life after the passing of the Buffalo, so that his story seems to have been broken off, leaving many years unaccounted for. “I have not told you half of what happened when I was young”, he said when urged to go on… “But when the Buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened”’.