Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge is a compelling anthology of real-life stories that portray the social, political and spiritual aspects of life on the Pine Ridge Reservation written by Vic Glover, a former journalist and Vietnam veteran. It is comprised of 44 stories that cover everything from rez cars, commods, substance abuse, rez dogs, Indian time, family obligations, Christianity, and tribal customs and values. More often than not, you find yourself laughing, but beneath the humor and compassion there is an undercurrent of sadness and oppression. We are all too familiar with the despair and tragedies that occur on the Rez and Vic Glover is able to seriously reflect on the part that our cultural heritage plays in the way we come together to heal and move forward from past and present afflictions. At the same time, he’s able to capture the true spirit and generosity of our communities and the way we embrace humor to deflect the despair and it leaves you with a greater appreciation of the triumphs and struggles that characterize our contemporary Native communities.
The writing is bold, honest, and engaging and you’re hooked from the very beginning. In the first story, “Generosity”, Glover writes, “Indian people have given everything to America, but they hold the heart. Within that heart lies the ceremonial life, spirit, and ways of the people and within the Ways’ lies the essential nature of helping others”. Those words really stuck with me because for us, generosity is an inherent necessity and it is something that history has proved will always be taken advantage of. Many people outside of our culture think that it is foolish for us to be so generous when we are often of little means, but as natives we were raised to look out for the well-being of our family and that extends beyond blood. It is the way that we have helped each other to survive and the way that we have remained close knitted communities.
In the stories that follow “Generosity”, you are taken through a journey where you meet these amazing characters that you love because they are people we know in our circle of family and friends and it’s what draws you in and gets you emotionally invested. It makes the stories funnier, more heartbreaking and more real because we are all too familiar with the issues and circumstances they face. In one of the closing stories, “The Reason for Being”, Glover writes, “Sometimes I wonder what the hell I’m doing in Indian Country, sitting out here in the middle of nowhere on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, as opposed to to anywhere else in America that I’d rather not be”. It is a question that many of us ask ourselves as we are continually drawn back to the native communities that we call home and it is a question that many outside of our culture ask because all they know of rez life are the negative anecdotes and stereotypes of who we are as Natives. They don’t see the humor, the strength, the perseverance, the love, the beauty or the good that exists beyond our struggles. They don’t understand the power that lies in the way that native communities are able to embrace all aspects of who we are as a people, both good and bad, and make light from darkness. Ultimately, the answer that Glover gives to his own questions is, “Up here just feel right for my skin, although like anywhere you find two-leggeds, you’re gonna find that “People Thing”.
Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge is a refreshing and unforgettable work of literature. From the stories that Vic Glover shares, you get a glimpse of rez life but more importantly you get a glimpse of who Vic Glover is as Lakota man. He loves and understands the simplicity and the complexity of his community and culture and is able to convey that love and understanding in a way that resonates with native people of all ages.
Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge: Family Ties, Warrior Culture, Commodity Foods, Rez Dogs, and the Sacred. By Vic Glover. Summertown, TN: Native Voices, 2004.