"We all know people, Indian and non-Indian, who have no soul," says Native American author MariJo Moore, a WNC writer with more than a dozen titles and numerous literary awards to her credit.
"People," she continues, "who have destroyed the lives of others, and continue to do so, by making greed-based decisions that will affect untold thousands for many generations to come.
"We need to know ourselves as well as we know our enemies," she emphasizes. "The best way to know indigenous people is to understand how they know themselves: through their own history."
Moore edited the new anthology from Thunder's Mouth Press: Eating Fire, Tasting Blood: Breaking the Great Silence of the American Indian Holocaust. In the introduction, she writes: "For five centuries -- from Columbus's arrival in 1492 to the U.S. Army's massacre of Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in the 1890s, to the renewed assault in the 1970s -- our continent's indigenous people endured the most massive and systematic act of genocide in the history of the world."
In Eating Fire, Tasting Blood, 40 established and up-and-coming American Indian writers from disparate nations and tribes offer stirring reflections on the history of their people. This is not a collection of essays about Native Americans, but rather a collection written by Native Americans -- the story of native holocaust on a tribe-by-tribe level as told by those few who have been fortunate enough to survive.
"This was an extremely difficult book to edit," Moore admits. "But I feel it is timely and an absolute necessity. I personally invited writers whom I thought would best relay the truth of the American Indian holocaust. I wanted to give their voices an opportunity to be heard. And when I chose the titles of each section, I wanted hard-hitting, eye-opening silence disrupters. One example is 'Manifest Destiny: Greed Disguised As God.'"
The book is woven with the beauty of intricate and colorful beadwork, along a ghastly premise that stitches together distinctive voices with a taut thread of spiritual solidarity. The authors' words criss-cross generations to articulate the painful account of a horrific history still in the making.
"John Oakes, publisher at Thunder's Mouth Press in NYC, asked me to put [this book] together," relates Moore. "He wanted a history -- [but] I decided to bring the past into the present, and to show how some indigenous people are thriving, regardless of what has happened.
"For those who are interested in the truth from an indigenous point of view, this is the book to read."
The subjects are decidedly grim, including: women denied the opportunity to practice their religious rites while they scratch out a life for themselves within the modern prisons of the United States; young Indian mothers who witnessed the epidemic extermination of all of their children through smallpox imported by white settlers; entire communities forced along starvation, torture and death marches to so-called "removal reservations"; the brutally calculated attempted genocide of entire tribal nations such as the Monacan, Powhatan and Choctaw.
"My mentor, Vine Deloria Jr., passed to spirit last year," Moore says. "So I am grateful to have included him."
Other contributors include Linda Hogan and Paula Gunn Allen, described by Moore as "two of the best American Indian women writers alive today." "A Flood of Tears and Blood: And Yet the Pope Said Indians Had Souls" is from Eduardo Galeano, one of Latin America's most distinguished journalists. And Kimberly Roppolo and Eugene Blackbear Sr. -- who is the oldest living Cheyenne Sundance Priest -- have a fascinating essay titled "Washita, A Slaughter Not a Battle: A Cheyenne Survivor's Perspective."
Lesser known writers get their say, too: young talents such as Nakesha Bradley (Eastern Band Cherokee), Mary Black Bonnet and Joel Waters (both Lakota), Yufna Soldier Wolf (Northern Arapaho), and Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert (Hopi).
Positioning new voices next to legends like Galeano may be Moore's way of keeping the topic fresh -- along with every fresh insult of "war, injustice, economic deprivation and senseless slaughter," as she enumerates.
"We need to be aware of what human beings have done to each other," Moore says. And, perhaps even more importantly, what they "are still capable of doing."
[Tom Kerr is a freelancer writer based in Asheville.]
MariJo Moore will read from and sign books at Malaprop's (55 Haywood St.) starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 8; 254-6734. On Sunday, Sept. 10, she will sign books from 1-3 p.m. at Barnes & Noble (89 S. Tunnel Road; 296-9330).