G.A. Minutes 5-24-14
The first arrival at the CJM Memorial this evening is a solitary Occupier. As she drives up one of the regular African American businessmen of the street walks over to her car. “You fixin to set up?” he asks. She says yes, he answers, “All right then” and walks back to his post.
It’s been a pleasant, sunny day with a slight east wind. Once the sun goes behind the buildings a fire will feel good. The Occupier sets down a chair and sits to wait for others to arrive. One by one folks roll up. As we start to get things together several men sitting on the back ledge join in. They grab armfuls of chairs and put them in a circle. Things are ready to go in no time. Then all the street people leave. We are alone in the Memorial and the street is empty. What happened? Even though we have been meeting here for 3 years, some things are still a mystery.
Somebody says,” Did you hear that the Veterans for Peace are not being allowed to march in Duluth’s Memorial Parade this year? That really sucks”. Another says, “Yeah it does suck but it’s great publicity. They’re having a Memorial Day ceremony at 3pm by the bell above the Lakewalk instead. I bet a lot of people will come”. The 1st Occupier answers, “Yeah, I’m going to go just to offer support”. Someone asks if there was a March Against Monsanto in Duluth today and is told probably not but there was one in the Twin Cities and many all over the world.
We hear a beautiful melody nearby. It’s coming from a hippie guy who sells handmade wooden flutes on the street. We’ve known him for years. He comes over and says, “Are you guys going to make a fire?” We nod yes and he says, “I’ll come on through later” and goes off towards the downtown area. He goes looking for tourists that he can charm. Maybe he can sell them one of his flutes.
Along comes a skinny Native guy. He’s wearing a very strange looking set of headphones and staggering as he walks. He asks us what we are about but before we can explain much he tells he is a member of the Native Pride and his title is that of Chief of Central Hillside. He recognizes some of the Occupiers as he has seen them around the hood. He notices the smudge pot and says, “You guys smudge? You are alright!” He smudges himself. We have been told people are not supposed to smudge if they’ve been drinking. We don’t think it’s our place to remind him of this. Now he appears comfortable, sits down and begins to tell his story. Apparently, we have found our “new best friend”. The first thing out of his mouth makes us cringe. “See those 3 black guys up on the wall? What about Natives? Do you know how many Natives were killed? Why didn’t they make a memorial for Natives?” Most Native people we meet don’t say things like this but we have heard this idea expressed so many times it makes us want to scream. We start to contradict him but he doesn’t appear to be hearing anything but himself talking. He then tells us about all the fights and other things he’s experienced and all the bodily injuries he has. Then there’s a list of all his children and grandchildren. He pours some coffee and starts over again. Same stories with slight alterations. An Occupier attempts to join his conversation, but no luck. The Chief just doesn’t stop. As he goes on and on and on…….. and on, his stories change enough that they contradict the original. We look at each other and groan. We can’t ask him to leave; this is public space after all. We’re not going to leave but he’s driving us crazy. We are at our wits end.
Another guy comes walking down the hill and over to our fire. He doesn’t speak, pours himself some apple juice, sees the smudge pot and says, “Oh you smudge, thank you very much”. He sits down next to the Chief and gets an earful. He begins to calmly disagree with the Chief. Mr. Bigmouth doesn’t actually listen but he calms down a bit. He continues his rant but it’s softer now so we can hear the new guy as he tells about his brother who has just returned home from many tours as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the guy who calmed the Chief leaves, 2 women who look like middle class homemakers come walking around the corner. They are quite friendly and want to know what we are doing. We explain a bit and tell them what the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial is all about. They are out of town tourists staying with their families in a nearby hotel. They decided to take a walk around and see what they could see. The Chief says to them, “You know you women don’t look like you belong around here. You need to be very careful and be sure to get off the street before dark”. He points to the Occupiers and says, “These guys are hippies and everybody know them. They’ll be o.k.”. The women laugh and say, “We’ll back with our husbands before then. They only let us leave them with the children for short periods of time”.
The Chief then says, “I’ve been in lots of fights. Wanna see my scars?” He pulls up his shirt. The women look and say, “Oh my!” When the women leave they have big smiles on their faces. One Occupier says to another, “They’ll be telling the story of this experience to their friends for years”.
As the sun sets many people arrive. The flute seller is back, the Ho Chunk elder arrives, an older woman we have known for years appears and a black street regular man who is well known to us joins us. He brings a friend. The street regular’s friend seems hesitant to become a member of the circle and the man says to him, “If we sit here the police won’t bother us”. We were getting ready to let the fire burn out but throw on a couple more pieces of wood so the new arrivals can enjoy the flames.
The smudge pot goes around again and the Ho Chunk elder sings an Honor Song. The Chief yammers on but nobody is listening. An Occupier whispers to the street man, “We were waiting for you all to come and save us”. It seems many of the new arrivals know the Chief but no one appears happy to see him. We sit and chat and then the fire is dying. As we are packing up a former camper arrives. The woman he is with apparently is related to the Chief. She angrily chastises him saying, “What is wrong with you?!? You know you’re not supposed to be smudging when you’re drinking! You’ll bring bad energy on everyone!” Now we know we weren’t imagining things. He did have a slightly bad vibe about him.
We say good night to folks and remind them we won’t be at CJM next Tuesday. We’re going to Winona LaDuke’s “Love Water, Not Oil” 7pm at Clyde Iron. We’ll be back at the Memorial next Saturday.