About Coyote Warrior
Into the Looking Glass
Into an Unmapped Wilderness
by Paul VanDevelder
Before the first word of COYOTE WARRIOR was written,
my editor and I shared a secret. We knew we were stepping off a
well-traveled path into an unmapped wilderness.
As the story began to shape itself out of the research,
I realized that I was looking at a 'mother lode' of Americana.
This was ore that had never been mined and brought to the surface
of our collective consciousness. Yet without it, our story, or
collective narrative as Americans, was less than whole. After all,
since many of us were school children, we have taken Lewis and
Clark to be the beginning of the larger American narrative, the
one that had dictated our history for the past two centuries. But
who knows more about that story than the Cross family, the people
who were there when the canoes and priogues came up the river.
And what does their story sound like?
By using the Cross family as a lens, we could pull
a new thread through the tapestry of the American narrative, a
thread that changes the entire look and sound of everything that
had happened since that fateful October afternoon, in 1804, when
Cherry Necklace welcomed Lewis and Clark ashore at the Knife River
Villages. Yet the point of origin for that narrative was not 1776,
or 1787. To tell it properly, I had to start it way earlier than
that, at a time when the European story, and the Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara
story, were still far apart.
That time of beginnings was the first years of the
13th century. As the Mandan were establishing their first semi-permanent
settlements on the upper Missouri river and becoming master horticulturists,
seven thousand miles away, Pope Innocent III was pacing the hallways
of the Vatican with a vexing problem. Muslims had taken over all
the principle holy sites of Christendom in Palestine. He needed
to come up with a legal principle, based in Natural Law, that would
allow him, as the anointed keeper of Christ's earthly flock, to
raise a secular army to cast out the Muslim infidels and reclaim
their land holdings. That principle, which launched the 4th Crusade,
came to be known as Quod Super His.
As the Mandan's expanded their trading territory
to Meso-America and continued to thrive on the upper Missouri,
scholastic thinkers in Discovery Era Spain reasserted the primacy
of Quod Super His as their justification for genocide among indigenous
peoples in the New World.
Quod Super His would be adopted by courts in Elizabethan
England to establish the Crown's prerogative over discovered lands.
Two hundred years later, in the village of Philadelphia, this Doctrine
of Discovery, the direct descendant of Pope Innocent III's Quod
Super His, would become the legal fulcrum for dispossessing tribal
peoples of their lands west of the Appalachian's under the new
republic's assertion of eminent domain.
When the U.S. Federal government invoked eminent
domain in 1949 to build the massive Garrison Dam in hopes of taming
the Missouri River, the two story lines met. The land the Mandan,
Hidatsa, and Arikara nations had lived on for nearly a thousand
years, disappeared beneath the rising flood waters of Lake Sakakawea.
Standing at the point of intersection of those two stories was
a young Mandan, Hidatsa tribal chairman named Martin Cross.
From the beginning, I saw this as a 'people story'
about the law, not a legal story about people. COYOTE WARRIOR explores
the architecture that supports our republic's most sacred laws,
foundational laws that were put in place to hold the most powerful
citizens of society accountable to a code of morals which, from
time to time, would run counter to their economic self interests.
When conflicts inevitably arise between the protection
of civil liberty and the acquisition of wealth (or the consolidation
of power), which of our most sacred founding principles are at
stake: Equality? Personal Freedom? Pursuit of happiness? What price
tag do we put on these, and what is given up for the unborn generations
when the deal is struck? Certainly, over the past fifty years,
the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes, the Sioux and Cheyenne
and Crow and Arapahoe, and the people of North Dakota, South Dakota
and Wyoming and Montana have researched that question first hand.
Ultimately, the Cross family story gives us a way
to examine events on an ethical battlefield where world views collide
in mortal conflict; where the founding principles of nationhood
are pitted against the politics-of-now and quick profits. The 2003
bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark's expedition came
at a time when battles over natural resources and endangered species
are more expensive, more culturally threatening, and more fiercely
fought, than ever before.
As an author, and friend, and student, and listener,
my most enduring memories of this journey will be those made by
people whose grace and generosity pointed the way through that
unmapped wilderness. I stepped into their lives a stranger and
was sent on my way as a member of their families. I loved walking
the hills with the elder women, digging wild turnips and picking
berries in early summer, and hearing the stories of the elder men
on long winter nights.
It is an unspeakably beautiful land, that short grass
prairie of North Dakota. The people who have called it home for
the past thousand years will never know how deeply they have marked
me. This story is theirs. The unvanquished. I pray that I have
been faithful to their trust.
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