''Oh hum, another one ... This is another in a very long line of white people who visit somewhere in Indian country and then write a book in order to establish their literary credits and/or make money off our poverty,'' Russell Means wrote upon the publication of Steve Hendricks' ''The Unquiet Grave.''
Being a white male who will soon publish a book on the long, often anguished relationship between the Oglala Lakotas and the Nebraskans of Sheridan County, the comment has stuck in my craw. But it has also caused a little soul searching.
In 2003, I interviewed Means researching my book, ''The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder.'' At the end of the conversation, he said, ''Thanks for your interest.''
I didn't have a chance to ask him exactly what he meant, but I took it to mean ''no one pays much attention to what is going on in Indian country, and anyone who can bring some light to what is going on here is helpful.'' Maybe that's not what he meant, but that's how I took it. He was the only person to say that to me. At the time, I appreciated hearing it.
If, by his latest comments, he meant that Hendricks has no credibility because he is not of Indian blood, then I take exception to that notion. If someone declines to read my book because I'm not Native American, then there's not much I can do about it. (Although I would tell them that the work is as much about my fellow Nebraskans as it is about the Oglalas.)
Anyone who has researched a book of scope and depth knows the long hours it takes and with no promise of monetary reward. Only someone who gives a damn takes on such a project. Will I ''get rich'' off this book published by a small university press? Doubt it.
So am I a ''white male of privilege''? I do feel privileged to have been born in a country with a First Amendment that allows me the freedom to write what I please. And I feel fortunate to have attended excellent public schools in Omaha where teachers inspired me to pursue journalism. And I feel lucky to have received grants and loans to help me pursue higher education. (I received much of this aid because my single mother lived below the poverty line. So if ''privileged'' means that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, that's not me.)
Did I write this book to ''establish my literary credits?'' I had several motivations, and that was one of them. So I'll cop to that.
If anyone on Pine Ridge is worried about me ''getting rich,'' I'll be donating copies to local libraries. Readers are more important to me than buyers. So check out a copy when it comes out in September. I won't receive a dime.
- Stew Magnuson