Steve Heinrichs, ed. Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together. Herald Press, Waterloo, Ontario, 2013. 360 pp. $24.99. ISBN: 9780836196894.
As I finished reading Buffalo Shout, I immediately headed outside for a walk. I live at the base of Tiger Mountain, the easternmost of what locals call the “Issaquah Alps,” a string of three mountains perched at the margin of the Puget Sound metropolitan area, halfway to Snoqualmie Pass, the border between eastern and western Washington. “Issaquah” was the name of the people who inhabited this region for thousands of years before the settlers arrived. Interstate 90 winds from here up to the Pass, following the now submerged path of the Snoqualmie River, where the Snoqualmie people lived in abundance.
At once, my walk confronts me with the reality disclosed so devastatingly in the book: native ferns and salal bushes are encroached on by English ivy and holly. One native cedar or fir can be covered with more than a ton of ivy. When the wind blows in a winter storm, the ivy can capture the wind and cause the tree to topple.
On this early fall day, soft white and grey clouds glide gently eastward against the blue sky, backlit by the late afternoon sun, as they have done each year for time immemorial. Birds flutter in the leaves. A bunny crosses the trail. The squirrels and black bear are gathering what they need for the long, dark winter. I walk these trails every day, all year long, and often bring to mind the Issaquah people whose land this was. There are no longer Issaquahs. In fact, I’m not aware of a single marker of their presence anywhere in the town. All that is left is their name, like a suburban subdivision named “Fox Run” or “Salmon Creek.”
Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry is a necessarily painful book to read. The range of voices from Indigenous and settler cultures, from across the region we call “Canada” and its southern neighbors, speak what needs so desperately to be said but which few dare to hear. The pages cry out from the beginning of time to the end, as the clash of two, diametrically opposed lifeways wrestle with each other. In argument, poetry, personal reflection, and pieces that break all rules of writing, the book utters a guttural cry as deep as a woman in labor, as piercing as coyotes howling in the night.
I was not raised in the Christian world. My first sense of anything beyond myself that I might refer to as “God” came on a hike in the Marin County, California hills of Mt. Tamalpais (a coast Miwok word) while a college student in the early 1970s. It occurred to me then that there was only one real question facing humanity: are we all in this together or are we in a death-struggle competition for survival. My experience in creation filled me with a deep certainty that all things are intertwined in the cosmic web of matter, energy and life that is our uni-verse. I eventually chose to walk my life journey in the Christian tradition, but not without the ambivalence born of my Jewish childhood and my awareness of the hideous history of “Western Christianity.”
Many years later, my long personal and intellectual journey resulted in my book, “Come Out, My People!:” God’s Call Out of Empire In the Bible and Beyond (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2010). I laid out therein the battle within the Hebrew Scriptures between two “religions,” two opposing ways of binding people together: the “religion of creation” and the “religion of empire.” Jesus proclaimed and embodied the religion of creation as the authentic Way of the One Who Is, and denounced the religion of empire as a demonic counterfeit. Of course, we know the outcome of that confrontation: not the seeming “final solution” meted out by the upholders of the religion of empire, but the Standing Again or Uprising (Greek, anastasis) of Jesus by the power of the God of creation.
Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry raises up its many voices in this ongoing battle between the two religions. It refuses to romanticize indigenous peoples, even as it prophetically denounces the devastating legacy of “Christianity.” It will not settle for easy “dialogue” or facile solutions that salve consciences while creation continues crying out in wrenching pain. This is not a book to “read” and “think about.” It is a multistranded manifesto, to which no reply is sufficient short of complete commitment to a lifelong struggle in solidarity with all who are truly yearning to live in shalom with All That Is.
I urge you to engage the voices in these pages in community rather than alone, just as the book itself is a community expression. Do it in prayer. Do it in the sun. Do it with the wind or rain blowing on you. Do it barefoot and bare-souled. But do it. Please. Before it is too late.
Wes Howard-Brook (Issaquah, Washington) is a member of Seattle Mennonite Church and instructor of Theology and Religious Studies at Seattle University