Oh yes, but the galloping across the prairies, chasing the mighty buffalo, failing to catch one again but watching your brother trampled to death beneath the stampeding hooves, the children starving in the winter. And climbing the mountain to gather herbs and eagle feathers, constantly praying for the invention of dentistry.
‘Twas a noble life, huddling round the fire in bear skins to keep warm, spending the winter stinking of dead bear. And then it was the time for Natterfather the story teller; he would light up his pipe, adopt his customary story-telling position, one knee raised above the ear, grasp the story telling beans, and tell us for the 900th time the story of the otter and the newt, or the toad and the tadpole, or some other pair of animals and always some elaborate allegorical instruction to make us behave: “for the beaver sought to leave the dam, and make his own way down to the mighty delta, but within minutes he was caught up in the rapids and he called out to his brothers ‘help me help me, I am caught in the rapids’ but he was far from the dam and no one could hear him and he was shortly demolished by an alligator”.
And when the time would come for decisions we would go before the elders. As a young man I went too, for I sought to marry Nanatchak and together we wished to see the world for ourselves. Elder Russell called an evening session in the longhouse, and all the members of the tribe assembled there, seated round the wooden walls. We were led in, two young people in love, and took our seats at the feet of Elder Russell as he sat on the Decision Log, the other elders arrayed behind him. In return for his wisdom we made an offering to him of everything we had to give: my carved antler needle and Nanatchak’s virginity, as was the custom of the tribe.
He smiled at these gifts, for Nanatchak was indeed fair of chest, and with the firelight flickering on his saggy jaw, he took a deep breath and drew deep on his reserves of pomposity. Eyes closed, he began to speak very slowly, horribly slowly, with fat pauses between each line; and the adults all nodded in agreement at each blindingly obvious thing he said so slowly, so so slowly, and of course by tribal rules we were not permitted to speak, so we just had to listen to the crushing conclusion when it finally came, and that was that we had no free will as long as we wished to remain in contact with our families and friends and we better stay right here and carry on hoeing beetroot, or fuck off and never come back, for that was the custom of the tribe in those days.
We hated all foreigners then. We were the only People who would go to heaven and dance alongside the great Otter in the sky. We were very innocent; we didn’t know that we would feel better if we had a shower and most of the itching would go away.
The old ways…”