Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tomah I (Myrna Loy Center Show): Introduction

My one-man art show at the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing Arts in Helena, Montana, was up for the month of October, 2007. The show was part of the "Grants to Artists Award" I was awarded earlier this year. The Center occupies the old County Jail, a fortress-like building. Myrna Loy, of course, was a famous and beautiful film actress, who was from Helena. That's the Center on the left, Myrna on top right, and a nice bust of her at the Center at below right.

My show was called "Tomah I" and focused on the sacred landscape of the Helena Valley. The Helena area was considered a "game pocket" or "game cache" by the indigenous Salish, Kootenai, and Piegan (Blackfeet) tribes. A "game pocket" (Blackfeet: Tomah) is a place where game may always be found, even in times of scarcity elsewhere. I was raised in the Helena Valley. Things were different then. People were different then. I am Indian (yeah, mixed-blood), and my ancestors had to go through this before, seeing the land and buffalo disappear. Now I am going through it myself, seeing the end of the world I knew. Grief is in my blood; I cannot escape it. I shake in grief. I joke a lot, because if laughter does not fill my heart, grief rushes in like a madness.

In the late 1990's, Helena was "discovered" by people from elsewhere, with more money than anyone I grew up with ever thought possible, crowding here in ever greater numbers. Such things have happened previously in places like Kalispell, Missoula, and Livingston. These folks have moved here from all over the U.S., seeking "The Last Best Place," and driving up housing prices and crowding the valley and hills. Sucking the valley water table ever lower. Unfortunately, all the little houses and ranchettes they have built "in the woods" have driven the deer from the hills into town. Deer coming into town was unheard of when I was growing up here. I was shocked at seeing so many people on the Missouri River compared to the old days. I know Norman MacLean, author of "A River Runs Through It," was heartbroken when he saw the onslaught and decimation of the rivers. He said I never would have written that book if I would have known this was going to happen as a result.

No use crying over spilt milk. What's done is done, and there's no going back. But it is important that these new folks understand about this place, the Helena Valley. What makes it special, the sacred places, the history, and the dangers. Before they devour it and turn it into the thousand-other-same-places of Starbucks and Malls that the madding crowds have left elsewhere, speckling the land like pigeon dung, jumping about like locusts from field-to-field. I am not special-cussing out people who are new, because we are all strangers somewhere. I just think you need to do the best you can to fit into a place, and not just rip it to shreds. And the developers from here are worse than the newcomers...those developers and realtors who just care about buying another sleek SUV and fattening their bank accounts are the ones who really will have a special place in hell. I mean, for Pete's sakes, this is MONTANA...we have four-wheel drives, not SUVs! We used to make FUN of rich people in Montana, and now we wag our tails like a bunch of whipped pups!

Yeah, I reckon I like people as much as the next persnickety old cuss, but I don't like crowds. Drives me nuts. I sure as hell don't like people who come in and who destroy things they don't understand. I'm gonna have to learn to deal, because that's how things are now. Maybe someday you'll understand, if you are new; and you already know, if you are from here. Now that you know how grouchy I am, you probably know I am not good at being a salesman! But at least you know when i smile at you, it is real, and I won't be smiling and stabbing you in the back at the same time ;-)

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