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Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley

When I first joined the People of the Red Valley all those years ago I was glad to share water. I had been in Fathers of the Blue Sky and Sons of the Lion but I did not feel welcome in either family and I could tell that the People of the Red Valley were serious about creating a tribe that would provide me with a high quality of food, shelter, and opportunities for mating. And for a long time I was happy in the Red Valley. I ate of the food and would partake of the shelter, and married well more than once.

Yes, for a long time it was good. During the hunt for the Great Fox, five chiefs and twenty warriors—including myself—traveled for six days towards the night sun. There we found the sleeping Great Fox and encircled him in silence and woke him all at once with our roar, and pierced his side with our spears, and where the blood touched the ground there will grow a mountain. I felt that we had truly built an effective community that could accomplish anything, a community where my contributions were valued.

I remember a time when we respected each other. Recall when Rain-on-Winter-Grass wrestled a ghost bear by the Five Trees River and had to be pulled away by all of us before the Woman in the River could turn him to tears and take him as a husband. That night I wiped his tears with my war shirt, until the Woman in the River gave him back to us.

But then things began to change.

First, when I proposed that we go to war against the Fathers of the Blue Sky I expected there to be a discussion, but I didn't expect the Five Chiefs to insist that I retract my proposal. Yes, I understand that the laws of the People of the Red Valley say that we will raise arms against no other people, but who gets to decide those laws? If no one questions the Five Chiefs are we any better than slaves?

Then, few seasons later I saw that some of the chiefs had taken too many wives. Some of the mother-chiefs even took more than two husbands! And yet when I wanted a third wife and a larger cave, the Five Chiefs took pains to point out that I was not born a Red Valley Person and made so bold as to say that I had not earned the “large” cave in which I lived—not only that but I had not shared a deer in three moons. Now, that would have been fine and fair if I had known the policy on deer-sharing, but nowhere was it clear how many deer I would have needed to share in order to move to a larger cave.

Finally (and this was the last straw) in the fall, when there was the smell of snow, we allowed six men and a girl-child of the Waterfall People to enter our home, all seven hungry and weak, and I was asked if I could shelter two of the men in my already very-crowded cave, as if it was suddenly my job to teach strangers the ways of the Red Valley People, and asked to share my smoked deer meat—even though it was never made clear to me exactly how much smoked deer I should be giving to the People. That's when I began to wonder exactly why I had come to the Red Valley.

And now the famine has come and the crone who tends the heart-hearth has been eaten by lions in the night. And don't get me started on the council's attempts to find the next crone, which was proof of the fact that our chiefs don't care about anything but themselves. Yes, there was a time when I was very proud to say that I was a Red Valley Person. But that time is over. There was a time when I would have shared my smoked deer meat with all of you, but that time is gone. I hope one day the People can regain their communion with the Sun, but I doubt it.

Goodbye, People of the Red Valley. I guess I'm once again a Father of the Blue Sky.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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