At one time I never marked the Alaskan/Native American box on forms. I felt no one would believe me, I didn’t want to be seen as a fraud. 25% didn’t feel Indian enough. I’d hang my head when someone asked me if I was Native, I’d respond with a quiet yes.
I lived this way until I went to college. Gary took one look at me and said “you are enough. blood quantum was created by the government as a means to shrink the tribes. Doesn’t matter if you are whole, half, a quarter or even 10%, it’s what’s in your heart and how you live in the world that matters.”
Gary taught me about my culture, my history, and my religion. He gave me back something that was taken so very long ago, he gave me my heritage back. Through Gary’s mentoring I thrived. He saw my potential before I ever did.
Gary took me under his wing and would help me with my projects and proof reading my essays to ensure I stuck the landing. Gary’s lessons extended beyond the classroom and into the reservations around us. He would bring myself and a group of student to different conferences throughout the semesters to further enrich our learning of what issues are currently being faced in Indian Country.
I remember at one particular conference which was held in a casino he knocked on our door late at night, “there is a live band. Do you want to go see it.” So there we were in the middle of a casino watching live music with our professor who quickly learned that dancing is not my strong suit. We cannot all have gifted feet. The easiest possible dance one can dance at a Pow Wow is the round dance. Gary taught the dance to me that night on the dance floor so I wouldn’t have to awkwardly sit in the stands alone at Pow Wows.
To this day I can still picture the look on Gary’s face when we all sat down to dinner and I quietly asked him “psst Gary some dude asked me if I want to “snag” later. What does that mean.” My secret question was no longer quiet as he gave it away to our table mates when he roared with laughter. “oh kid that means he wants to take you back to his room!” The look on my face must have said everything he need to know as he squeeze my shoulder with a smile. I felt half mortified and half “damn I must be pretty fine to be asked that question by a random stranger.” Gary never let me live that one down, it became our inside joke that went way beyond my college years.
Gary was in his element on LCO. He’d bring groups of students to his reservation to teach us about culture, legends (but only when snow was on the ground), history, and religion. In the woods on LCO I learned about the little men that lived in this random bolder. He brought us to the pipestone quarry and explained how it was harvested for pipe making. Windegos, his story of windegos still makes me shudder and not look a deer on the side of the road in the eyes to this day. He explained the hardships, relocation, and assimilation in such away that it angered your soul and you felt this fire within in you to right the wrongs of the past. He knew the laws like the back of his hand, this man rarely taught from a book. And I’ll forever link the Daws act to a checker board.
He believed in my dream of going to law school and coming back to practice tribal law. I still remember the day I told him “I’m not going to law school.” He was so mad, I think he was more mad than my own dad. He told me “just make a difference, ok.” I kept my word, a difference I did make.
I’d give anything to be sitting in his office again just talking about life and treaties. Or just sitting on his deck listening to his stories. Gary’s mentoring didn’t stop on the day my degree was handed to me, it continued and grew into a friendship that can never be replaced. I will miss his advice, stories, and the way he picked on me for not knowing what snagging was. He was one in a million and he changed this world one student at a time.
Rest in POWER my friend❤️