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  4. Indian Vices  (IN THE PERSONA OF FATHER OCH) by Anita Endrezze

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By nature Indians are very lazy and sworn enemies of work.
They prefer to suffer hunger than to fatigue themselves
with agriculture. Therefore, they must be forced to do this by their
superiors. With six industrious Europeans one can do more
in one day than fifty Indians
—Joseph Och, Missionary in Sonora: Travel Reports
of Joseph Och, S.J., 1755-1767

Mining: The Indian is naked, swinging
quarter to half hundredweight steel-edged crowbars.
He climbs beams with notches set step by step,
carrying ore in plaited baskets
on his shoulders.
They are given one half-bushel of maize per week.
This is their payment unless they have a family–
then they are given two half-bushels.

Two men using a wheelbarrow could haul out
more than can thirty lazy Indians
working an entire day.

Natural resources: They are naked, with only a loincloth.
Otherwise they would steal valuable ore.
Instead they laugh
when their hair is thick with dusted gold
so that they look like ugly yellow-haired creatures.
Their hair is long and they secrete fragments
of ore there, wrapping their hair up
like a turban. You can no more trust them
than you would a Turk.

Gold and silver ore varies.
Some is very heavy, pure
silver spiked, as it were,
with silver nails.
The completely black
very heavy ores
are considered the richest.

Processing: The Indian washes his hair
several times a day, sluicing water
over his long hair, letting the silver fall
into a bowl which he then strains,
keeping more silver.
Then again, the Indian must relieve himself
and he hides behind a bush,
thereby stealing more ore
in a most despicable way.

Some can be reduced by fire . . .
or be broken up
and placed into a clay oven
. . . with molten lead,
until . . . the lead has amalgamated
with the silver.
Pebbles and slag float on top
and are skinned off
with hoes and the lead heated
with a double fire
until it becomes light and frothy
like glass.
This froth is removed in heaps;
what remains is pure silver.

The waste product: When the Indian dies,
perhaps careless at work, he is wrapped in a horse blanket.
Thread from deer or plant fiber
is used to sew him up.
It is heathen, this practice
of putting bows and arrows,
small bowls, and other things
in the grave. Instead, I pull the bell rope
and they are pleased at the songs
and lighted tapers
on the altar of the whitewashed church.
They die when they want to,
saying they are only journeying
to the next village.

They have many vices
which I have discovered
and abolished, including the throwing
of patterned sticks,
which is like gambling.
They would rather lie on blankets
in the bushes, throwing these sticks
against the rough wool to muffle the sound,
than work in the fields
or in the mines which are very near,
nor do they think of tomorrow
and the profit that must be made,
whether it is gold, silver, maize,
or their heathenish souls.

Anita Endrezze, “Indian Vices” from Throwing Fire at the Sun, Water at the Moon. Copyright © 2000 by Anita Endrezze. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.
Source: Throwing Fire at the Sun Water at the Moon (University of Arizona Press, 2000)
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  • Anita Endrezze is Yaqui on her father’s side and of European descent—Italian, Slovenian, and German-Romanian—on her mother’s. She was born in Long Beach, California, and lives in Washington. Endrezze received a BA in secondary education with minors in art and Spanish and an MA in creative writing from Eastern Washington University. A poet and short-story writer, she has written books including The north people (1983), at the helm of twilight (1992), The humming of stars and bees and waves: poems and short stories (1998), and the mixed-genre collection Throwing fire at the sun, water at the moon (2000).
    Endrezze is also a storyteller and artist whose paintings have appeared on book covers and in shows at the Dylan Thomas Center, Wales; the Electric Theatre, Guildford, England; the Poetry Library of London; and the Chase Gallery in Spokane, Washington. Fluent in Danish, she is the author of a novel for...

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