The first time I moved to Montana, I was a naive 20-something originally from the east coast. I’d grown up on early “westerns,” and thought Tonto and Mingo were cool. At seven, I had decided I was either going to be a cowboy or an Indian when I grew up.
So I moved ever westward, finally to Billings, where I had a one-year gig teaching in a college. One of the first opportunities I had was to invite young Native Americans into the classroom to talk on a particular day. I was all over it.
My students hated it.
Although I’d grown up with the tension between blacks and whites in the inner cities, it never occurred to me that racial tension would exist elsewhere. With seven reservations within the state, there are ample opportunities for cultural differences and arguments to arise. And, like the conflict with which I was already familiar, stereotypes and repeated phrases often took the place of real communication and truth.
The college stint was followed by three years actually living on a reservation. Did my perspective change? Of course. Everything on our life’s path affects our perspective, in my experience.
Montana is an ever-changing place that never loses sight of what it is — high granite mountains west, rolling plains to the east. As I drove the country to see my family most summers, I learned there was solitude, spirit, good people, bad, and everything in between. When I was younger, the battlefield near the Little Big Horn was known as Custer Battlefield National Monument and was dominated a huge white obelisk.
When I took my kids there a few decades letter, the place had been renamed to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and the native peoples were part of the experience.
The place reverberates with the spirits of those in the past. Drive past the main site and you can see wild ponies dotting the fields. The enormity of the landscape matches the big sky.
In the summer the tourists come. Other seasons, visitors are sparse, like the number of people in Montana.
That’s why it was the perfect place to begin my story, Love on the Wind, a romance between a native man and a white woman.