Just like with any culture, to understand Natives, a person must understand those queer, quirky cultural institutions.
In the past month, we’ve been doing the pow-wow/see-family thing really heavy every weekend.
One thing that happens when you go to a lot of different reservations is that you begin to compare and contrast differences. Sometimes there’s not a whole bunch to do, so you begin to compare minutiae—Indian I-Spy. “Oh, this reservation has 16 more outhouses than the last one.” or “I’ve seen an entire 4 white people here today.” Cool game—I’m thinking about packaging it up and trying to sell it.
One game that we also enjoy playing is “Rez Dog Quizzo.” Before I discuss much of the details of the game, let me first say that I unabashedly love wild rez dogs. See, we grew up with rez dogs our whole life—in recent times, I actually got a dog that was only one breed, and that almost got me disowned from my family. We enjoy not being able to explain the many components and breeds that went into the dog, and thus the dog’s first name became all the explanation that it needed. Like Madonna.
“Well he kinda looks Pekingese. But he has a pit-bull head. And a long body, like he might have some wiener (not Anthony) dog in him. Yeah, his name is Per Cappuccino.”
That’s all you needed to know. Now, Per Cappuccino now had his own “type” of dog—he was as official on the rez as AKC papers for a pureblood German Shepherd.
Now make no mistake: Per Cappuccino (and all rez dogs) are the smartest dogs in the world. Rez dogs represent case studies in natural selection—Charles Darwin could’ve come to the rez instead of the Galapagos islands to find out about evolution. That is, on the rez there is extreme competition for food/warmth/shelter. Therefore, the survival instincts that these dogs develop are incredible—feral dogs, many times, they are simultaneously suspicious, fraternal (travel in packs) and brilliant. For example, I was doing a little bit of experimentation with some beef jerky—trying to feed various dogs, that live amongst a lot of people on reservations, pieces of beef jerky to see how they took to strangers. The vast majority of dogs sent a “recon” (see: sacrificial) guy to reluctantly take the jerky before the others decided to take some, just in case some creep decided to put anti-freeze on the jerky to keep rez dogs away.
Just like a royal taster—rez dog packs have hierarchies and specific job titles. I wonder—if that jerky turned out not to be poisonous, did that recon dog at least get the biggest chunk? If not, I’d probably ask for a transfer.
Also, some of the evolutionary stuff includes thick coats of fur as compensation for no shelter. Much intermixing to strengthen the immune system—these dogs are designed to survive nuclear holocaust because “surviving” is all that they know. Promise: they will be here long after “civilization” because they’ve already shown an ability to adapt to the harshest of conditions. Mark my words, one day rez dogs will rise up against all of you white tourists who come to the rez in sandals and socks and don’t feed them beef jerky, and they will lock all of you up in cages and tease you from the outside. Genetic memory—it might not be your descendants who treated them badly, but they remember what your people look like.
REZ DOG QUIZZO
Anyway, in the game Rez Dog Quizzo (patent pending), a person has to guess the most recent 4 breeds of dogs that went into this particular mutt. Then (thank the Creator for technology), we go to google images and try to match up features—“Ok, you’re right. It definitely has a doberman’s butt.” Finally, whoever makes the most persuasive argument concerning the dog’s composition wins—the other person has to cook hot dogs for them! A sign of ritual sacrifice—those (hot) dogs pay the price for the many dogs it took to naturally select these genetically superior rez dogs.
It takes skill—many of them are completely unrecognizable as anything other than a “rez dog.” Still, that’s fine; they’re beautiful, strong and incredibly adaptive—all of you suckers who pay for AKC-registered and “papered” dogs are missing out on the smartest dogs in the world.
Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also belongs to the Suquamish Nation. He wrote a book called Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways) which you can get at DKMAI.com. He is also co-authoring a new book with Robert Chanate coming out in the Summer of 2012 appropriately called The Thing About Skins, and the website and publishing company for that handy-dandy book is CutBankCreekPress.com (coming soon). He also semi-does the twitter thing at twitter.com/BigIndianGyasi