Simon J. Ortiz
September 26, 2009
A Love That Thrives
Soon after we met, a number of summers ago, the late Marlon Evans told me what he really wanted to do. Write a story, write a script, and make a movie about Ira Hayes. In fact, the true story of Ira Hayes. Ira and the Akmiel O’otham community. “Not that drunk Indian story, not that Tony Curtis b.s. movie Hollywood shit,” Marlon said. As you may know, Ira Hayes was a hero to his people, the Pimas. The people were usually called Pimas although their traditional tribal name is Akmiel O’otham in the traditional language. “The true story, a real Ira Hayes story,” Marlon insisted. “Sure, he was a war hero, that’s true. But the story is more than just about World War II and about him. It’s about the Pimas, the culture, the community, and the land.”
With conviction and passion, that’s what Marlon said. And with an edge of urgency. Just lately, he had begun to write. Although like others, especially other Indigenous people, he’d probably been wanting to write for years. That summer, I was teaching an American Indian Development Institute (AILDI) course at University of Arizona. Over the years, I had acquired a “name” for myself as a writer and poet. So I was teaching an AILDI course on Indigenous literature. And a portion of it was devoted to creative writing. That was why Marlon had signed up to take the course.
The public needs heroes. In the Indigenous American community, heroes are regarded big time. They’re sought after as role models. As people to emulate. Men and women. Athletes, singers, dancers, painters. To be like them and to do what they do. Writers and poets too. Actors nowadays. Teachers. Tribal leaders. Lawyers. Today, they’re sometimes public figures. Generally, seeing heroes as role models is a positive behavioral trait. As a Marine, Ira became a war hero because he, with others, raised the national flag at Iwo Jima. And because of a photo depicting the flag raising, Ira became an instant public figure regarded as a hero!
We need role models. Marlon wanted to write; and he felt the need to speak. It was important for him to express how he felt about the public adulation of Ira Hayes. In a sense, Marlon wanted to emulate Ira Hayes, the heroic figure who was adulated. His desire to write “a true story” would probably have been to portray the love an Indigenous community has for one of its own. Over the years, Marlon had acquired skills and training to do what he really wanted: to write a story—a true one–of a Pima warrior who loved his people, land, culture, and community. And whose people, land, culture, and community had loved him in turn. Marlon’s dream may not have materialized but the love he had—like Ira’s–for his people, land, culture, and community thrives, and it will continue to thrive.
Simon J. Ortiz is an Acoma poet, fiction, and creative non-fiction writer, and a professor at Arizona State University in the Department of English and American Indian Studies. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, fiction, essays, and children’s literature; they includeWoven Stone, Out There Somewhere, from Sand Creek, Beyond the Reach of Time and Change, The Good Rainbow Road, Earth Power Coming, and After and Before the Lightning. His Indigenous heritage is Acoma Pueblo, and he is an advocate of Indigenous liberation and de-colonization.
While I was teaching one summer in American Indian Languages Development Institute (AILDI) at U. of Arizona in the early 2000s, perhaps 2002 or 2003, I met Marlon Evans. I immediately liked him. Even though I felt a bit self-conscious when I realized he regarded me as a role model! I was practically a hero to him, for crissakes! Because I was a writer! Because I wrote and published poetry and stories featuring Native people he identified with. Rural people struggling, urban people having a hard time, urban street people. Indigenous people sometimes jobless, neglected and moneyless. Luckless, having trouble with the law, with booze, with poverty. Marlon enrolled in a course on Native fiction in which I had students write essays related to the literature we studied. I had them relate the stories we studied to their own lives, the stories they lived. Right away I noticed Marlon always wrote papers that spoke closely of his life, culture, experience, and his identity as O’odham. He always identified so closely with his land, culture, and community as an O’odham person, and that was really the basis of my regard and respect for him. And I shall always remember Marlon speaking several times of his dream “to write the real story and make the real film of Ira Hayes,” the O’odham who was the WWII war hero for raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, “not that Hollywood shit about a drunken Indian played by Tony Curtis!”
Photo by David Burckhalter, courtesy of the University of Arizona Press.