‘Winter in the Blood,’ a Review by Sonny Skyhawk, ICTMN
Osiyo. Renowned Native author James Welch (Blackfeet-Gros Ventre-1940-2003) wrote the deeply moving and profound novel Winter in the Blood (1974) which tells the story of a Native Blackfoot man haunted by tragic childhood memories, destroyed by alcoholism, and torn by the dissolution of his heritage in the bleak, isolated lands of Montana. This literary classic has been made into a film which is a winner. The following is a review by Native actor Sonny Skyhawk.
“As an actor I find it a difficult task for me to talk about another actor’s work, and I don’t presume for a minute to be good at it myself. But I am an American Indian, and I do know something about acting and film, having been a working actor for the last 35 years.
Let me start by declaring that this film and the storyline, is not only a very difficult subject to translate into film, but to define in the context of a story. The story — complex, yet simple in nature — revolves around a Native alcoholic character named Virgil First Raise, played by Chaske Spencer of Twilight fame.
I found Winter in the Blood (winterinthebloodfilm.com) difficult to watch first of all, because in my own personal life I have had to deal with being exposed to the disease of alcoholism in my family and specifically, my mother.
Watching Winter in the Blood, I experienced a kaleidoscope of visions and impressions of my own history growing up as a young Indian in that environment. This is a very difficult story to tell, but the film’s Native actors pulled it off by virtue of their excellent performances.
The casting, by Renee’ Haynes, who is always a total professional, was excellent. The film was shot in and around Havre, Montana, which had to be an experience in and of itself.
Please go see the movie when it comes to your area, and judge for yourself.” Read more…
“I would hope that Hollywood and the writing community would explore and produce more Native themed story lines in the future… Until that happens, we will continue to remain invisible adversely relegated to the same old roles — the “ugh” roles, I call them — of the Western genre.” ~ Sonny Skyhawk~ Native Actor
There are many legends about how the Indians learned about the Talking Feather/Talking Stick. Here is one of them…
Long years ago, when gods walked this earth and the land beyond, Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei, were together enjoying the warm summer day. It was a day when the crickets chirrupted in the waving, green grass,when they noticed a figure moving towards them.
As the figure approached closer Kanati said “Look, that woman is crying, what could be the matter?” “I can not imagine why anyone would cry on such a glorious day.” Replied Asgaya Gigagei. “Let’s ask her.”
As the woman drew nearer, they could see her buckskin was decorated with beautiful designs and colors. She carried a bundle filled with leaves, sage, and colorful stones and feathers. They knew immediately this woman was a holy being.
Kanati asked her “Holy mother, why are you crying so?” The woman looked up in wonder, because she had been walking with her head down. “I’m crying because the men of my village are fighting constantly! Each thinks his ideas for leading the tribe is the best!” Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei glanced at one another, in perplexity. “Why, if there are so many good ideas for leading your tribe, why are the men fighting? And why aren’t you and the other members happy!” The poor woman shook her head sadly and replied, “Yes, you are right, the men do have very good ideas, but every man wants to speak his own ideas, and not listen to anyone else. They all shout and scream at one another so loudly, that it frightens the children who run and hide behind their mothers. The women are sad because their husbands come to the house upset and angry. Furthermore, the tribe is suffering, because no one can seem to make a decision.” Just then a beautiful Eagle was soaring overhead, Kanati called out “Brother Eagle, may I have one of your feathers, there are poor humans in desperate need!”
Bother Eagle replied “Yes” and shook himself until a single iridescent, large feather fell to the ground. “Many thanks and Blessings on you” said Kanati. Kanati made secret signs and prayers over the Feather. Asgaya Gigagei helped him with the blessings. Kanati then said to the woman “This is the sacred Talking Father, it holds great power for the one who holds it. Go back to your people, hold this feather up in the air, all who see it will fall silent, and listen to what you have to say. Tell all who listen that from now on, who ever holds this feather, all present within the Circle Council must listen to his words. The feather must then be passed on to the next speaker.”
The woman thanked Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei and hurried back to her village where there was total chaos!. Everyone was talking at once, children were crying, men were screaming at each other. As soon as she held the feather over her head, all became quiet! No one could utter a sound! the holy woman proceeded to give the directions given to her by the gods. She then passed the feather to the first man. He called the Talking Circle together, and each man had his say as he held the feather. From that time on that tribe flourished because they now had direction, and each person could hear and understand what their peers said. The people worked together, to build a great nation. Along the way, they shared the wonders of the Talking Feather with other tribes they met. “And that my friends is the true story of how the Talking Feather came to be!”