The unexplained advent of a white turkey marks a turning point in the lives of a Lakota medicine woman and her granddaughter, in the latest from Washburn (American Indian Studies and English/Univ. of Arizona; Elsie’s Business, 2006).
It’s 1963, and Hazel Latour’s granddaughter Stella, whom she took in after her mother died, is about to turn 13. On Easter Sunday, Hazel and Stella find a white turkey scratching at their door. Their farm, on the Lakota reservation in South Dakota, is so remote that the turkey’s provenance is a mystery. The fowl’s appearance lends even more cachet to Hazel’s practice as a medicine woman. Her clients, who come to her for spiritual as well as medicinal healing, leave gifts in the form of staples, which supplement the meager income Hazel earns from selling eggs, cream and vegetables and from leasing out much of her acreage to a white farmer. As the annual midsummer Sun Dance approaches, Hazel’s schedule of consultations is packed as she prepares her clients to participate in the grueling three-day dance, during which some dancers are connected to a pole by rods piercing their chests. When Stella catches tribal official George Wanbli, Hazel’s rival shaman, skulking around the house, she suspects he’s after the white turkey, considered wakan—sacred—by the community. After the Sun Dance, Hazel and Stella return to the farm to find that someone has massacred their chickens. The white turkey has been crucified on the front door, but, miraculously, she survives. Hazel suspects George, and will later learn that her small family is in even more danger after she stumbles on evidence that George and other tribal leaders are skimming thousands off the top of farm leases, like Hazel’s, that they administer. Would George resort to kidnapping to protect his embezzlement scheme? If not, why did Stella’s best friend Avril, wearing her orange cap, disappear during her birthday picnic? Hazel’s pluck and resourcefulness, and Stella’s brashness and fierce loyalties, are lovingly portrayed against a backdrop of appreciation for the land and its bounties.
A small gem.