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War Is...: Soldiers, Survivors And Storytellers Talk About War ((NEW))

Rick Atkinson talked about his book, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe 1944-1945, the final book in his Liberation Trilogy about the Allied triumph in Europe during World War II. He spoke at the 2013 National Book Festival, held on September 21-22, 2013 by the Library of Congress on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. close

War Is...: Soldiers, Survivors and Storytellers Talk about War

GROSS: You know, in talking about the influence of pop culture on the characters, on the young characters in your show, on some of the older characters, too, the younger characters are so influenced by Black pop culture, by rap, their style of speaking. I found that very interesting. And I'm wondering if there were many Black people where you were growing up.

GROSS: You know, we were talking about how many funerals you attended growing up on a reservation. I'm wondering about suicide. You know, one of the pivotal parts of the story in "Reservation Dogs" is one of the teenagers - one of this group of teenagers' dear friends, you know, died by suicide. And they're all totally shaken by it. And it disrupts - it just changes their thinking about everything. Did you know - and I know that there is a pretty high suicide rate in the Native population, in part, I think, because of poverty and of all of the, you know, generations of oppression. So I'm wondering if you had to deal with a lot of suicide and how that was different from dealing with other forms of death.

HARJO: Yeah. I mean, I think that, you know, in our community, sometimes suicide can be very taboo. And it's - you know, like in a lot of communities, I think that, you know, it's sort of not talked about as much. But the rates are very high within Native communities. And I think that with this show, you know, we took a lot of care in how we talked about it. But in the show, it's kind of like, you know, not talking about it is not working. Like, we need to talk about it. And we need to find the right way to talk about it. And so in this show, you know, I made sure that it wasn't sort of shock factor. I wanted to unfold what happened to him very slowly in the episode so people were prepared for it when it happened.

And, yeah, I mean, I've dealt with it personally, you know? I've known friends and people in the community that have committed suicide. And most Native people do, you know? I mean, we were doing this scene in the first - in the pilot where all the kids were having a memorial, a sort of a makeshift memorial for their friend who had died. And before we did that scene, I had all of the actors just with me. I cleared the set. And we were all talking. And we talked about the real people that we had lost. And almost every one of the writers and directors and the actors, all of us have a Daniel who where that has happened to, you know?

HARJO: Right. And, like, we all have one or two or three. And so when I brought those kids together, the actors together, and we were talking, we told stories about the real people that we'd all lost just to kind of put us back to, where are we? What are we trying to do? Yeah, this is a comedy. But it's also - we're talking about something that is very heavy and very dramatic. And the comedy is how we can talk about it and how people will enjoy watching this show. But we are talking about something serious that affects our communities.

When we left off, we were talking about the traditions surrounding death and mourning on the reservation where Harjo grew up. One of the episodes takes place as Elora, one of the teenaged main characters, is at home where the community has crowded together. Everyone has come to say goodbye to Elora's grandmother, who raised her and is on her deathbed. As everyone says their goodbyes to the dying elder, they sing, tell stories, cook and eat together. In this scene, Elora asks her friend Cheese, another one of the teenaged main characters, to say a prayer before they start their meal. Cheese is played by Lane Factor. Elora is played by Devery Jacobs.

GROSS: When he says that to people, they mostly have no idea what he's talking about. And I just think that's - you know, it's just really, really funny. Can you talk to me a little bit about that, about having him say that and why you did that?

I do see the issues in that now, you know? Like, I have to explain to my kids why they can't watch "Peter Pan," you know? And if there was a Western on, I would have to explain to them, you know. Like, everything, it all of a sudden becomes a lecture, you know, where I'm having to talk about film analysis with my children. And, you know, it has an effect. I mean, I'd like to think that it didn't, but it does have an effect, I believe.

HARJO: Right. I didn't have that, you know? And it might have made some sort of difference if I had. I didn't have that, you know? But I did - what I did have was the best storytellers in the world sitting in my grandma's kitchen, telling me stories about these amazing characters that were real and - or not. And I just try to transfer that to this show and to all my work.

HARJO: For sure. I mean, I feel that. Like, you know, listening to, you know, like, second-generation people talking about their parents being immigrants and coming over, a lot of very similar things between the two, you know, between our families and trying to - you know, trying to fit in and get along in a country that is - that they were actually from but had been colonized and taken over. And, you know, like, there's a lot of complication. I mean, my grandfather fought in World War II, you know? He was a full-blood Indian. And he wasn't even considered a citizen of the United States, you know, like, he - at that point. But he fought in World War II, fought - you know, got a Purple Heart, was injured in Italy.

HARJO: No. I mean, it was all mixed. And, you know, he was a hero. He was - he found this place. It wasn't until I got to college, really, that I - you know, and read "A People's History Of The United States" and also had a teacher that talked about the real stories, you know? Like, it wasn't until then - I was like, wow, like, genocidal maniac, you know? Like, how did that history get written so drastically wrong? And, you know, driven by money, of course. But, like - so I don't know. Yeah. I was - it's been a - it's a very complicated thing, Terry, growing up Native. You know, you swallow things, and then some things you let go, and then some things you absorb and take head-on, which I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Synopsis: Ahhh, flashback. Ryan is with the Vs, hunting John May, the first resistance leader of the V. They fight and then Ryan gets caught in a bear trap (a bear trap? Really?) so they have a breathless conversation about the power of human emotions. Ryan would probably rather talk about the power of the bear trap. John May has a chance to kill Ryan, but runs instead.

Eleanor Louise Jackson stood inside the plain steel box of the time machine. It was about the size of an outhouse, but without a bench or windows. She clutched her cane with one hand and her handbag with the other. It felt like the scan was taking far too long, but she was fairly certain that was her nerves talking.


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