Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Metigoshe Reservation, Delia, ND, and elsewhere

They closed the school.

The building was sound. They had scrubbed the floors and walls; they reordered the desks. There was no earthly reason why, short of funds and short of hands, they shouldn't keep using the junior high. But in the end there were too many memories burned hard into those hallways, and the teachers wouldn't teach there, and the parents looked away, and the elementary school children, easing to the end of their sixth-grade year, cried every night of the spring term.

They closed the school and pulled it down brick by brick, and the timbers of it, they burned.


Some communities build monuments. There is a plaque in Chillicothe and a full-page memorial in the senior yearbook of a high school in Hyannis. Sullivan College in Avon, Wisconsin, holds a candlelight vigil and service every Homecoming weekend. Miami and Chicago have let it slip into anonymity; a family member or two leaves flowers every year, which are shredded, curbside, by the wind. The University of Nebraska at Omaha still does not know that it has anything to memorialize.

There is no handbook for the art of rebuilding.


Money was a problem.

The father offered money to rebuild the school, but the chairman didn't take it. Indian Affairs offered money, but the chief of police didn't take it. Blood money, they both said; Blankets for smallpox. Pittances for great sweeps of plains. There could be no reparations or settlements for this. They would have to build this school themselves.

The tribal chairman looked up the terms of the old treaties. They still had their logging rights. The unemployed men of the reservation went out into the woods with axes and borrowed rusting chainsaws to fell trees. The employed men, who worked construction and janitorial jobs and as road crew, taught their friends and wives and brothers how to use a straight saw.

They sunk the foundations in a traditional way. They raised the ceiling in a traditional way. It took time. The school year started, and the grade seven class stayed in the elementary school, displaced and discomfited, learning geography in a disused kindergarten classroom and mathematics in the cafeteria. After school, they joined their parents out in the field, squaring beams and tapping nails with small, worn-down hammers.

The grandparents told stories. When they came back to work in the springtime, muddied and greening and blinking at the sun, someone brought a radio.

A young woman, one who hadn't had family or friends or a lover at the junior high, began to sing along. On the next song, voices joined her.


Dyson Cieslewicz moves to D.C. and tends bar and keeps a tidy, tiny apartment in a neighborhood good enough not to remind him of Chicago. His tattooist, Mary Lynn, draws sigils on his skin, and slowly, they make him a different person.

Tony D'Angelo joins a band; he does it so he doesn't have to travel alone. Every time he plays a gig in New York City - and he makes himself play gigs in New York City, because his therapist says avoidance is the way the bastards wear you down - he wears dark glasses, indoors and out. He has learned to play chords, riffs, to fingerpick without ever having to look at his fretboard.

Omar Fuller has transplants. He has skin grafts, natural and artificial. They cannot save his voicebox. He learns to sign. There are good days. There are bad days. Six months after he burned, clad in biosynthetic dressings and a special hospital gown that doesn't irritate his raw and tender skin, he takes his first step.


It takes a year and a half for the new Metigoshe Junior High to be completed on the site of the razed, shattered old one. It is imperfect. The floor is a little crooked, and the windows set askew and sealed up with weatherstripping after the fact. The desks and chairs are handmade; the chalkboards donated. The lockers they ripped out and saved, and are painted over in a bright, cheerful green.

They open it as a community on a bright September afternoon.

Noah Curtis touches flame to a stalk of sweetgrass, and the lighter goes around the crowd until men and women and children are each holding a smoldering blade of green. This isn't a ceremony, but it's an apt reminder: make this space clean. Keep out harm. Bring the good things of the earth into its walls.

Arm in arm, weeping, laughing, waving smoke through the still fall air, the people of the Metigoshe Reservation, Delia, North Dakota, walk together into their school.