Bill, a Ho-de´-no-sau-nee descendant of the famous Hiawatha, said nothing. Bill was a medicine man and silence, he once told me, was the best medicine for the mind. I met him at his sweat lodge a good while back and over the years he grew on me – the moss of consciousness. A mostly silent type with a pre-cirrhotic liver, Bill didn’t say much except for when he told the stories of the past or philosophized. In those moments, he was unstoppable, a real force of nature to reckon with, a rolling barrel of a cosmic wave, full of foamy argumentation and preaching.
“This is Swatara,” said Bill, spitting out a wad of Copenhagen on the ground. “This is where we once fed on eels … “
“That’s what Swatara means, right, Bill, in Iroquois?” I asked catching up with him as he walked through the weeds towards a thin forest line.
“That’s what Swatara means in Ho-de’-no-sau-nee,” Bill corrected me with a sideways glance.
“We ain’t no Iroquois, that’s a white man’s term. Actually, a Basque pidgin name for my people. That’s what those Spanish fishermen used to call us in Northeast way back when.
They’d pronounce it Hi-lo-koa – the killers – the murderers … “
Bill chuckled to himself. He didn’t have to verbalize the bitter irony that prompted the chuckle –
it was self-evident, even to me.
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