Night Storm

The Ditch in Winter

Ditch in Winter

LAKE MACBRIDE— Just before running my mobile phone through the washing machine, I searched the Internet for Hyemeyohsts Storm.

There were a few search results— what little information there was full of controversy. It was 2 a.m. and I hadn’t turned the lights on.

The year Seven Arrows was published, Chuck Storm was a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Iowa, where he taught a course titled, “American Indian Signs and Symbols.” His wife Swan accompanied him everywhere he went, and would roll cigarettes for him as he told stories once a week for a couple of hours. That was before smoking was banned in classrooms.

I got an A in the course. Everyone did. Storm confronted the administration and made a case for the grade, and got his way. A lot of people who attended the classes weren’t registered. To call it a “class” was a stretch, as the curriculum was disjointed and sometimes incoherent, if one existed at all. What happened each week just happened, and I suppose that was part of the learning.

Storm welcomed us to visit their apartment, and one evening I did. Unannounced, and perhaps a little rude, I appeared at their door, and Swan welcomed me in. They were working with someone who had a issue with film. He was wrapped in celluloid from which he broke free. Afterward, Swan used a hand sweeper—the kind I use to pick up pine needles after the Christmas tree is removed—to clean the carpet, then we dispersed for the evening.

Seven Arrows was a work of fiction, and as such, it was easy to accept. While it claimed to be “the first book about the Ways of the Plains People to be written entirely by an Indian,” it was sometimes uncertain which stories were part of oral tradition, and which were fictionalized.

A number of modern writers have called Storm a fake Indian.

“Hyemeyohsts Storm, whose first name is hard to spell and to say, was another faker who made a minor fortune with his fake Indian book, Seven Arrows,” Dr. Dean Chavers wrote in the Native American Times. “It tried to be a genuine representation of the ceremonies of the Cheyenne people, but it came out as hippie mish-mash, just right for the 1970s.”

Storm has been accused of exploiting native traditions, of selling spirituality, and of being a plastic shaman and plastic Indian. I don’t know about that, and when I knew him he seemed genuine enough—as genuine as any writer I met during my undergraduate studies.

Why life would lead me here is uncertain. A whim from the beyond, as Meyer Baba might call it. What I know is I wasn’t ready to replace my mobile phone, or to consider negativity clouding the view of life as I knew it four decades ago. Perhaps it was just a night storm.

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