Northern Valley Beacon

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Sunday, January 15, 2006


How Pine Ridge became the cultural capital of the world

A photo from Pine Ridge on Marty Stuart's concept album Badlands.

We avoid posting matters about art and the higher aspirations of humankind on this web log. Blogs have become the medium of choice for the venting of scurrility and malice, and we think that the better matters of human endeavor, even though meriting some criticism, need to be protected and preserved from opinions that are uninformed and ill-intentioned. However, important things are happening on and around Pine Ridge that have deep and hopeful political implications. Art has better prospects for Pine Ridge than does anything political.

Six years ago, we presented an essay before an academic group titled "When will Pine Ridge Become the Literary Capitol of America?" The title was framed in ironic exaggeration. The essay traced how Pine Ridge had become a very important place in American letters. Six years ago New Yorker writer Ian Frazier's book On the Rez, which is about Pine Ridge, was on the best-seller list.

Walt Whitman alludes to Pine Ridge in his mentions of the Dakota Territory, but a number of native American authors either worked there or incorporate the land into their work: Charles Eastman, Nicholas Black Elk, Luther Standing Bear (born on Rosebud but residing at Pine Ridge during his last years of work), to name the most prominent authors. Stephen Vincent Benet established Pine Ridge as a literary setting and reference point with the poetic line "Bury my heart at Wounded Knee." Peter Matthiessen explored the legacy of Pine Ridge in the American Indian movement of the 1970s with In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. Many books and works were inspired by Wounded Knee II, and many authors have contributed literary perspectives to the place.

Adrian Louis has set works such as Skins and Wild Indians and Other Creatures on Pine Ridge. The paperback version of Dan O'Brien's novel The Indian Agent came out this month. It is a novelistic exploration of the relationship between Red Cloud and Valentine McGillycuddy, an early Pine Ridge agent and the first president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The story of Pine Ridge is essentially the story of the United States, and it is told and retold in American letters. Treaty violations by white America have never been resolved and are still on the table and before the councils.

Pine Ridge has registered on another artistic level in a CD album by Marty Stuart titled Badlands. Marty was interviewed last night and selections were played on the Steve [King] and Johnnie [Putnam] Show on WGN Radio in Chicago. Steve and Johnnie have had an all-night show in Chicago for many years that has kept alive a tradition of informative, entertaining, and civilized kind of of talk radio. All the songs on Badlands are written by Marty Stuart and are about Pine Ridge--a place introduced to Stuart by the late Johnny Cash.

Those readers who know I am not particularly enamored of country music and know that I found Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker to be musical deities may wonder about my promotion of Marty Stuart. Well, first of all, he is a musician who, as Steve King put it, is not confined by any musical boundaries. If musicians are good enough, it doesn't matter what style they play; the music lifts the heart and soul. Marty is that kind of musician.

He will be featured on the Don Imus show (MSNBC from 6 to 8 a.m. CST) later this month.

He adds another important dimension to Pine Ridge and the story of the Lakota people.

Take note. Pine Ridge is a cultural center and continues to grow as a signal place on the American cultural landscape.

Wouldn't it be great if the Brown County Fair, one of the most successful venues for music in South Dakota, booked Marty Stuart?

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