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Good Friday on the Rez: A Pine Ridge Odyssey…
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Good Friday on the Rez: A Pine Ridge Odyssey

by David Hugh Bunnell

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Good Friday on the Rez is an effective combination of personal memoir and history organized around a road trip on Good Friday. Author David Hugh Bunnell, back in his hometown of Alliance, Nebraska, sets out on a visit to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, looks up Vernell White Thunder, a former high school student of his who has become a close friend . This a friendship that lasts the rest of Bunnell’s life. The drive is 280 miles round trip, and all along the way, Bunnell stops every few miles to remember his history and the history of the Indians of the area and their frequently disastrous interactions with white America.

Burnell talks about Wounded Knee, both the 1890 massacre and the 1973 takeover which he witnessed. He also was present years ago for the trial and conviction of the Hare Brothers who killed Raymond Yellow Thunder in his home town. In 1973, he was supported the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation, packing up his car with food and supplies to take to the AIM members. It was hair-raising going through both FBI and AIM roadblocks, placing himself in real jeopardy

Much of this story focuses on his long friendship with Vernell White Thunder, an accomplished man who has opened a thriving B&B with horse riding tours of the Black Hills and who also raises horses and buffalo – a venture he went into with Bunnell. Their friendship is deep, they stand with each other through hard times and grief.

Good Friday on the Rez is an enjoyable book. Bunell is more successful than most in stepping back from his whiteness and recognizing racism and its pernicious effects. He cared deeply about the Indians of Pine Ridge and Rosebud and the injustice they have endured. Nonetheless, there were times when his whiteness interfered with his understanding. For example, when AIM members were asked to come to Pine Ridge and organize resistance to demand justice for the murders of Yellow Thunder, this is what he wrote, “By seven thirty a.m., a caravan of crazed, radical Indians was on the road, headed for Pine Ridge.” Crazed?

I don’t know what reaction is appropriate when someone who was minding his own business and a couple racists beat him up, kick him in the head, strip him of his clothes, throw him in the trunk of their car and drive him to a bar to shove him inside, stripped and beaten to humiliate him and then later, go back and hunt him down and beat him some more. I think his crazed is my appropriate.

He seems to think AIM was somehow dangerous and threatening, inappropriate, and too radical. How can you be too radical in the face of racist genocide? So, yeah, I think that no matter how “woke” someone may think they are or may try to be, when white supremacy is challenged in ways that are not suitable for Hallmark cards, the “woke” go back to sleep. AIM did nothing violent in Alliance. They gave speeches, chanted, and drummed. The menace was in Bunnell’s mind, not in AIM’s actions–even with the perspective of hindsight.

This demonstrates a perceptual flaw that afflicts many of us. In most countries, the state has a monopoly on violence, but in the US, whites have a monopoly on violence. White supremacists and nationalists walk around with their open carry semi-automatics and rifles to display their monopoly. While there is no legal basis on this monopoly, we all know that only white people can do this.

Recently some white militia dominionists occupied Malheur Wildlife Refuge with firearms, damaged the facilities and used threats of violence to hold the refuge hostage. They were indicted and acquitted. The members of AIM occupied their own damn land and were, and still are, perceived as terrorists by many. Leonard Peltier remains the longest incarcerated political prisoner in the world. When LaVoy Finicum was killed by state police due to his involvement in the occupation, no one even considered felony murder indictments of his co-conspirators, though such ironic indictments happen to people of color every week as a matter of course. You break the law, someone dies, you get indicted with felony murder…unless you belong to a white supremacist militia.

But Bunnell is a good storyteller, engaging and able to condense the important elements of a story into short and effective stories. I am less convinced by the conceit of this round trip from Alliance to the reservation and back again, with stops all along the way at all these memorials and touchstones of Lakota history and his personal history. That is one long, long day. He fit a lot into that one day trip, more than seems likely. I get it, it seems a way to tell the stories of his life. I thought the frame he hung his story on was intrusive and too cute by half.

It’s an enjoyable book, but it does not break new ground. Ian Frazier’s On the Rez is much better, more self-aware. Like Good Friday on the Rez, it is a book about a white man visiting his friend from Pine Ridge. One more white friend visiting the rez memoir and we have a sub-genre.

https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/9781250112538/ ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Jun 28, 2017 |
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"Good Friday on the Rez introduces readers to places and people that author, writer, and entrepreneur David Bunnell encounters during his one day, 280-mile road trip from his boyhood Nebraska hometown to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to visit his longtime friend, Vernell White Thunder, a full-blooded Oglala Lakota, descendant of a long line of prominent chiefs and medicine men. This captivating narrative is part memoir and part history. Bunnell shares treasured memories of his time living on and teaching at the reservation. Sometimes raw and sometimes uplifting, Bunnell looks back to expose the difficult life and experiences faced by the descendants of Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull while also illuminating their courageous resiliency. Substantive and at times disturbing, Bunnell reflects back to his time on the rez during the violent 70s when he smuggled food to radical Indians at Wounded Knee. Peppered with Vernell White Thunder's spellbinding stories of growing up in a one-room log house with his medicine man grandfather, Bunnell begs the reader to join in on the poignant conversations about present-day Native Americans. Good Friday on the Rez is a dramatic page-turner, an incredible true story that tracks the torment and miraculous resurrection of Native American pride, spirituality, and culture -- how things got to be the way they are, where they are going, and why we should care."--… (more)

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