Cover image for Reservations
Meyers, Harold Burton, 1924-
Publication Information:
Niwot, Colo. : University Press of Colorado, [1999]

Physical Description:
287 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Reservations tells the story of US Indian Service teachers Will and Mary Parker, both of whom are banished with their son Davey to Red Mesa -- an isolated day school on the big Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona and New Mexico -- for their opposition to the pro-boarding school policies of the Hoover Administration in far-off Washington. In their exile, Will and Mary encounter Hosteen Tse, a great Navajo leader and fount of tribal lore who pleads for aid for his starving people. Will and Mary do what they can to help, which is little in a time when banks are failing and old friends are turning to thievery.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Activist teachers, expelled from their positions for supporting suffragists, arrive at a Navajo reservation in Arizona with their son, Davey. Will and Mary Parker have been assigned to this outpost because of their outspoken rejection of the policies of the U.S. Indian Service. They object to the practice of sending Indian children to boarding schools and, instead, support day schools on the reservations. The Parkers win the grudging respect of Hosteen Tse, the Navajo leader whose memory reaches back to several generations of broken treaties, but the Parkers remain outsiders. Mary fills the isolation with efforts to provide solace and support to other teachers, mostly single women who teach at nearby reservations. Will continues his crusade to improve the schools and their position in the bureaucracy, in hope of getting out of exile. Their son, Davey, is left to carve a lonely existence in the poverty and isolation of the reservation. An interesting view of reservation life from a white perspective. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Meyers (Geronimo's Ponies) tackles one of the most complex and important eras in modern Native American history in this forceful tale of a family's tenacious commitment to justice and social change. Will and Mary Parker are teachers for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the early 1930s, serving a school in Arizona, to which they have been banished for their opposition to the government's pro-assimilation policies for Natives. They witness first-hand the depredations visited upon Indians by such policies, but they feel powerless to give much more than sympathy. Their situation, and that of the Natives, changes dramatically when new president Franklin Roosevelt and his reform-minded Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier, institute the "Indian New Deal." Will and Mary feel vindicated and empowered to make moves (such as Will's attempt to bring education to remote reservation areas) to foster Native self-reliance and cultural survival. Told from the points of view of Will and the Parkers' son, Davey, the novel recounts in very human terms this epic story of changing times. Meyers, himself the son of U.S. Indian Service teachers and raised on a reservation, knows his turf. Though focused on the white teachers, the novel never allows the Native characters to move from center stage, presenting realistic and rounded portrayals of Indian life before WWII. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One At Zuñi in the spring of the year I turned five, Mrs. Wewha took Andrew and me across the flooding river to the place she called Hepatina, the Middle Place, the center of the world. Our feet drummed on loose planks as we crossed the bridge. We looked through the cracks and saw muddy water swirling and rushing. An old man passed us, riding bareback on a donkey. His legs dangled almost to the ground. He was dressed all in white and had thick white hair, bobbed at ear level like my mother's. A red bandanna, rolled and tied around his head, held his hair in place. I called him Donkey Man and made Andrew laugh. Mrs. Wewha said he was not someone to laugh at. The mart was a rain priest and her uncle, Andrew's grandmother's brother.     Mrs. Wewha did not have any children of her own or any husband that I knew of. She took care of Andrew and me while my mother and father taught at the government school and Andrew's mother was busy in the school's kitchen preparing noon dinner for the Zuñi children. Andrew was my best friend.     On the other side of the river, we passed the eagle pens. Mrs. Wewha said that when a Zuñi man needed an eagle feather for a prayer stick or dance costume, he pulled it from a caged bird. The eagles were big, but the pens were small, built of old boards, tree limbs, and rusty chicken wire. They smelled bad. I held my nose and made throwing-up noises as we drew near. Andrew started to laugh and I laughed with him, but again Mrs. Wewha made us stop. She said the eagles were messengers of the gods and deserved respect.     They shrieked, flapped their wings, and poked their heads through the holes of the chicken wire, trying to get at us. They had staring eyes and vicious sharp beaks that snapped open and shut. Mrs. Wewha said she had seen an eagle strip the meat from a man's arm with one swipe of its beak. We stayed far from them and gripped her hands tightly as we passed on the dusty road.     We came to a field fenced with barbed wire that sagged between rotting posts. Only weeds grew in the field, but a mound of stones and logs marked the center of it.     "There," Mrs. Wewha said, pointing at the mound. "Hepatina. The Middle Place. There."     Andrew stood on one side of Mrs. Wewha and I stood on the other, clinging to her hands, while she told us about Hepatina. I was hearing the story for the first time, but Andrew already knew about the old days when Zuñis had tails and webbed feet and lived in darkness deep inside the earth. That was before they climbed into the sunlight, became men and women, and wandered the earth in search of the Middle Place, where the gods had told them to go. At last the Rain God of the North spread his legs and told them that they would find Hepatina where his water struck the ground.     "There," Mrs. Wewha said again, pointing. "Hepatina. That is where his water fell. There. The Middle Place"     I broke away and crawled under the fence to get a closer look. I was almost to the mound when Mrs. Wewha caught me by my overall straps and hauled me back behind the fence.     "This is holy place" she said. "You got to be Zuñi and carry prayer stick to Hepatina. Terrible things happen if you don't take prayer stick."     Mrs. Wewha took us home across the bridge. Andrew told her he didn't feel good. She felt him and said he was feverish. She put me down for my afternoon nap, but instead of putting Andrew down beside me, she took him to my mother to find out what was wrong with him.     That night I told my father I had been to the middle of the world, where the Rain God of the North peed.     "I have reservations about that," he said.     I knew what reservations were. Places apart, areas set aside. I had lived on reservations all my life.     When my father explained his use of the word, which was new to me, I was astonished at his disbelief. After all, it was Mrs. Wewha who had taken Andrew and me to the fenced field and told us we were looking at Hepatina, the Middle Place. How could he doubt Mrs. Wewha?     But he insisted that the shrine Mrs. Wewha took Andrew and me to was not where the Rain God of the North's water fell. That place was deep inside the pueblo, my father said, and so sacred that the Rain Society had built a great kiva on the spot. No one but members of the society knew exactly where inside the pueblo the kiva was or how to get to it. Only the rain priests were allowed even to speak of it. What I had seen, my father said, was a stand-in for the Middle Place--an ordinary shrine for ordinary people, a place Mrs. Wewha and other Zuñis could take their prayer sticks, a place they were allowed to point out as the center of the world to outsiders like me.     I did not think of myself as an outsider. I felt as Zuñi as anyone. If I wasn't already Zuñi, I saw no reason why I should not become Zuñi. My father said that was not the way it worked.     Andrew came down with diphtheria and died. I had been inoculated and stayed well.     Mrs. Wewha and my mother leaned against one another, crying.     "It was me took him there," Mrs. Wewha said. "I took him to Hepatina, but no prayer stick."     "That wasn't it" my mother said.     Mrs. Wewha lifted her head from my mother's shoulder. She had a round face with smooth brown cheeks that felt dry and cool when she pressed her face to mine. Usually her expression did not change much. She did not smile often, nor did she frown, but always seemed the same, alert and attentive, yet serene and somehow far away. Now her cheeks were shiny with tears and her mouth was twisted like she had bitten into a crab apple. I hardly knew her. She was looking right at me but did not seem to see me. My mother looked at me like that sometimes, as if she were seeing not me but someone else. Mrs. Wewha had never looked at me like that before. I knew she was seeing Andrew.     That afternoon, when I was supposed to be napping, I slipped out my bedroom window. At the woodpile I found a small cedar stick. It was reddish brown with a golden streak running through it. I rounded and smoothed the wood with sandpaper from my father's toolbox. To make a prayer stick I needed eagle feathers and a piece of string to tie them to it. I had string in my pocket and knew how to tie knots. But I did not know how to get the feathers. I was afraid to go near the cages outside the pueblo, where eagles waited to tear the meat from my arm.     I decided chicken feathers would have to do and went to the henhouse in our backyard, where my father kept Rhode Island Reds. I was almost as afraid of the big old rooster as I was of the eagles, but I had learned long ago that if I picked up a rock before I went into the henhouse to gather eggs, he would keep his distance. My father said the old bird was no fool and would not attack an armed man, though he might make a show of flapping his wings and thrusting his head back and forth just to impress the hens with his bravery. This time the rooster was off scratching in the road and did not interfere as I picked feathers that looked like dried blood off the ground.     I crossed the bridge all alone and found my way to the fenced field where Mrs. Wewha had taken Andrew and me. Crawling under the barbed wire, I ran through the weeds to Hepatina. I got down on my knees to look through a small opening into the mound of stones and logs.     In the gloom inside, I made out a shallow depression littered with eagle-feathered old prayer sticks, lacy bits of tumbleweed, and a shiny Juicy Fruit gum wrapper that had blown in. I was disappointed. I had supposed I would find a bottomless pit, but I had dug deeper holes myself many times.     A shadow fell over me. It grew larger and darker and swallowed the prayer sticks, the bits of tumbleweed, and even the Juicy Fruit wrapper. I was looking into a void, seeing nothing. I stretched my arm into Hepatina and dropped my prayer stick.     "I'm sorry, Andrew" I said.     Someone lifted me by my overall straps and held me in midair like a valise. When I tipped up my head, I saw the old man I had called Donkey Man.     Keeping a grip on me with one hand, the old man knelt and reached into Hepatina to pull out my prayer stick. He carried me from the field, stepping over the fence like it wasn't there. He set me on my feet.     "Go!" he said. He struck my shoulders with the feathers of the prayer stick. "Go!"     I ran as fast as I could. The old man followed right at my heels, cackling like a hen, crowing like a rooster. The planks of the bridge shook and clattered as I raced over it.     I could not hear footsteps behind me. I looked back. He was right there, just a step behind, but his feet made no sound.     "Go!" the old man said.     I rushed on, out of breath but staying ahead of him. I reached our yard and struggled to open the gate.     The old man seized my shoulder and turned me to face him. His fingers were sharp as an eagle's claws. He brushed my cheeks with coppery red chicken feathers, first one cheek and then the other.     "You are not Zuñi," the old man said, "and can never be."     He dropped my prayer stick on the ground and danced around it, kicking dust over the feathers. He cackled and crowed and flapped his arms. After a while he leaped high into the air and flew away on eagle wings. Copyright © 1999 University Press of Colorado. All rights reserved.