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My interest in the Native American presence in the nineteenth-century state of Missouri led to the heartbreaking read, The Ioway in Missouri by Greg Olson, the Curator of Exhibits at the Missouri State Archives: heartbreaking because of the spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical dissolution of the Ioway tribe, between 1800 to 1837. 

Central to this dissolution was the Supreme Court’s 1827 adoption of the Doctrine of Discovery, found in international law and first practiced by the Crusaders taking over lands of vanquished Turks, perceived as pagans and unfit. In the fifteenth century, this precedent was published in four Papal bulls. Thus protected, American and European settlers headed west, especially following the1803 Louisiana Purchase. No matter that Native Americans were already there. “They’d have to change, be like us.”

From the mid 1700s, however, the Ioway tribe enjoyed a rich presence in and around what constitutes the state of Missouri. Their rituals, tradition, and practices bound them to the earth, perceived as sacred, and to their ancestors in the afterlife from whom they were influenced. From sunup to sundown, theirs was a predictable world, when not warring with another tribe, usually over hunting rights.   

Greg Olson’s use of primary sources, accompanied by photos and maps, makes those thirty-seven years bleed. Misunderstandings, language differences, the violation of multiple treaties, greed, dishonesty, and impatience justify the most stinking aberrations. In 1837, the government removed the Ioway to the Great Nemaha Reservation in the state of Oklahoma, a barren stretch of land where extreme poverty and alcoholism enervated the Ioway even more.

Yet, The Ioway in Missouri concludes with an inspiring epilogue. The Ioway still survive in Kansas and Nebraska and preserve their traditions.

The sound of a grating motor from our court drew me toward the front window. A swarthy site worker, wearing a white hard hat and a yellow vest with orange stripes, was guiding the long nozzle of the sewer cleaning truck into a twelve-inch hole near the curb of our street. There was a problem, a big one.

Years of runaway waters from torrential rains had left the walls of the storm sewers mashed with residual debris, and in need of replacement. No longer was there space for additional waters to flow. With St. Louis based Fred M. Luth Contractors awarded the contract, no longer will flooding basements and standing water irk the residents—Start-up, to begin next month.

This image gave me considerable pause. Erratic weather patterns, worldwide, speak of trickster gimps riding roughshod over our land, leaving the unsettled, grossly unsettled, with more government expenditures from the already empty pot.

Aside from the noise and inconvenience of our court’s storm sewer replacement, Luth’s response will, at best, be temporary, given the continued weather aberrations over which there seems little control.

Nevertheless, the replacement of the storm sewer will go ahead, and vagabond waters will no longer destroy property, at least for now. That’s a plus!

Wrapping story around horrific events disseminates their skeletal outlines into bite-sized pieces for readers’ assimilation and learning.

Such an event occurred the night of January 30, 1945, during a freezing snowstorm upon the Baltic Sea. The Soviet submarine S-13 torpedoed the German transport ship, the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, nine hours into its passage. On board were 10,000 refugees fleeing from the Russian and Allied offensive. Only one thousand survived.

For three years the author Ruta Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee from World War II, researched this disaster until, in her imagination, Salt to the Sea (2016) was conceived. The story unfolds, piecemeal, through four characters: Joanna, a twenty-one-year old Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a seventeen-year old East Prussian preservationist and restorer of works of art; Emilia fifteen-years old, Polish and eight months pregnant; and Alfred, a seventeen-year old delusional German seaman assigned to the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Like a skilled minimalist painter, Sepetys reveals more by what she leaves out. Her precise words have dropped depth charges upon this reader’s psyche, its rumble evoking a slow burn and profound feelings for the characters.

Salt to the Sea, an historical novel, also leaves me with questions. In seventy-five years, will anyone be writing of today’s refugees caught within the cross-hairs of global politics? Since when has it been all right to minimize the losses of the poor, even their lives?

All of this cries out to God—And it does.

 

Available on Amazon

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