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Native American men and women who wound up in Vietnam were very different from traditional warriors. Many had been removed from that traditional culture as many of these warrior traditions had been removed from these new societies and the old traditions had been replaced by Christian practices of various types. The sacred preparations were no longer practiced and the warriors left vulnerable and lacking pertinent knowledge. They were also lacking the homecoming ceremonies. These ceremonies would take place after the warrior was kept from the main camp for four days. In those four days they would fast and purify themselves. Once they returned to the village the warrior was given the opportunity to tell his story in a healing ceremony. His immediate family would be near, or surrounding him. Around them would be the next level of family. Around them would be the remainder of the tribe. Everyone would listen, and remember. That was their duty to him, to listen, and to remember. Each warrior was given this opportunity.
After this ceremony it was understood that this person was now different and would be treated so from then on. This “different” person was now accepted as having been permanently changed. What had happened to him would never go away. His people knew this and they would never go away either. The relationship was understood and bound.
The Vietnam “warriors” were afforded none of these opportunities. They were essentially on their own. For example, when I returned, my unit landed at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma, Washington at midnight in the winter of 1972, and released for leave; Sprung upon The World. My sister picked me up at the base and we went to downtown Tacoma and had a pizza and a several beers before going to her home. A cousin-by-marriage, whom I had met and served with In-country, was with us. We stayed with my sister for a few days and eventually I went home to Sitka to complete my 45 days leave. My cousin left for his home in Canada at the same time.
This story is repeated over and over again by most everyone that I had a chance to talk, or listen to. In many of these cases, the Vietnam Vet was released and sent home to resentment and hostility. He was not listened to and what ever was expressed was not heard. Many went home on drinking binges that started on the plane or as soon as they were off the plane. No comfort given, not a friendly ear was to be found. At most American Legion Posts beer was free for a while, but after it was determined “these new guys” were really different, the free drinks stopped. What little comfort was given was soon withdrawn.
Soon, the prisons began to fill up with the “new guys”. Violence had become the major expression of this generation of warriors. So many of these new guys were dead, or in prison, not long after their arrival “home”. It was, and still is, a national tragedy.
‘This is truly an important work. Philip Red Eagle’s two novellas under the title Red Earth capture not only what combat was in Vietnam but detail the levels of adjustment that a Native veteran of the war had to go through. In the long run, the book is about courage and healing. What it says about Native healing should be examined very carefully. In the western tradition, healers attempt to cure the body, mind, and spirit. Red Eagle reminds Native and informs western readers that Native healing practices add a forth layer—the environment—to medicine. Without the support of those around him and the understanding of his own people’s sacred geography, the Native veteran’s spirit wanders and is sometimes lost. Red Earth is about strong hearts, wandering spirits, and ultimate healing.’ —Tom Holm
‘These novellas are how I’ve always imagined indigenous post colonial literature from this continent. They are raw and painfully truthful, as well as stunningly beautiful. Phil Red Eagle has translated the depth, power and beauty of a journey from hell to paradise and back, with a point of view based in tribal realities. In his telling the spirit world does indeed live with us, and in us, despite the severe testing. I often cried as I read, recognized us on these pages. This is the real stuff.’ —Joy Harlo
‘The days of the Indian warrior did not end at Wounded Knee. However, few writers have presented us with a realistic picture of the contemporary Native American in war. Philip Red Eagle’s personal experience and his narrative gifts blend to make these stories of blood and honor, pain and spiritual renewal as searing as the flash of a hand grenade at night. The first work of Native American fiction to come out of the Vietnam conflict, Red Earth is a unique, powerful and ultimately healing journey.’ —Joseph Bruchac