Justin “Red Bear” Mudgett (Photo: Sean Cole)
Justin "Red Bear" Mudgett is planning to build an authentic Lakota village on his 40 acre bison farm in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. He says he wants to create a place where Native Americans can live as their ancestors once did. Member station WBUR’s Sean Cole reports.
CURWOOD: While the World Wildlife Society is seeking to expand the range of the wild buffalo, a Passamaquoddy Indian man who has adopted the ways of the Lakota Sioux is bringing the culture of the buffalo to New England. The Lakota believe that they share the Earth as equal partners with their animal relatives, especially the buffalo, which at one time was the central provider for nearly all of life’s needs.
Sean Cole of member station WBUR in Boston recently drove to New Hampshire to learn more about Mr. Mudgett and his vision. But there was an unexpected stop along the way.
COLE: I’m on the side of the road in Hillborough, New Hampshire and I’m outta gas. And I’m waiting for Justin Mudgett [CAR DRIVES BY], also known as Red Bear, to come and pick me up, and we’re gonna go get some gas. This is really embarrassing.
COLE: It was a beautiful day to wait for an Indian. I say “Indian” because it’s what Red Bear calls himself, calls all Native Americans, though sometimes he uses the word “aboriginal.” He arrived the way an Indian should arrive… preceded by traditional music blaring from the stereo of his black pick up truck.
[INDIAN DRUMMING MUSIC]
COLE: We had talked a lot on the phone – about why he’s starting a Lakota village when he’s descended from the Pasamaquoddy tribe, about how he’s trying to escape the cage of modern culture and literally go native on his buffalo farm. I pictured him tall and dark with a map of South Dakota on his face.
COLE: Great to meet you.
RED BEAR: Nice to meet you.
RED BEAR: Survival. Survival. If the whole system were to fall there’s not many young people that would survive that kind of a fall. Because they’ve been taught how to live with groceries and paying bills and taxes and things like that instead of how to live if all else fails. Which is what seems to be coming about nowadays. You see all this Louisiana crap.
[KEY IN IGNITION. ENGINE AND INDIAN MUSIC FADES]
COLE: Meantime I can’t even survive a drive to New Hampshire without help. I fill up Red Bear’s gas can…
[COLE: Ah, it didn’t give me my receipt.]
COLE: He finds himself in a conversation with a total stranger, a guy who says he’d seen Red Bear around and wanted to know more about the village he’s planning.
SHANE: It’s awesome.
RED BEAR: Yeah, cool. Nice meeting ya. Come up any time. The number on that card is different than…
[RUMBLING OF CAR ON DIRT ROAD.]
COLE: It’s easy to say “come up any time,” but Red Bear’s farm – the Sacred Buffalo Farm, it’s called – is at the end of a circuitous dirt road miles from the main drag.
[TRUCK ON BUMPY ROAD]
RED BEAR: There’ll probably be five or six more teepees at least in this area, spread about in this area… lot of this will be tilled.
COLE: With the dirt?
RED BEAR: Right, the dirt. We’ll collect buffalo poops and pile ‘em so have a lot of fuel.
COLE: Fuel for the central village fire that will burn day and night. This is also where Red Bear’s 14-head buffalo herd used to be. But he moved them to another part of the farm.
[KNIFE CUTS TWINE HOLDING TOGETHER HAY BALE.]
COLE: He cuts open a hay bale and throws some of it over the electric fence to them to get the buffalo moving around.
RED BEAR: Wakan is the head guy. There he is. See him?
COLE: The one with the tall back?
RED BEAR: Yeah, he’s the breeder. He’s my sacred man.
COLE: He’s the stud.
RED BEAR: Yeah, he’s my best friend. Part and parcel to the culture was the buffalo. The reason the Lakota knew how to live is because they watched the buffalo.
COLE: The Lakota are mid-western Plains Indians. Red Bear says they’re closer to their roots than a lot of other tribes. He calls them “the last fighters” which is why he wants this to be a Lakota village. We sat together in the council lodge and talked about his plans for maybe three hours. He told me he was inviting five or six Indians up here from Pine Ridge Reservation, a Lakota reservation in South Dakota, to be his tribe.
RED BEAR: What you’re sitting in right here is a tourist attraction. Okay? This is where people are gonna come to learn to tan hides, survival techniques, picking roots, different plants, different trees. But the key essential thing we’re doing, what I have been trying to get to, has been tribalizing.
COLE: What does that mean, tribalize, though?
RED BEAR: It’s almost like your family except that they’re families by choice. We tried to create a democracy of people that vote to choose who they want as a leader. Well, I just don’t personally think that that many people should be voting on that one person to lead them. I think it should be smaller groups of people who choose their leaders.
RED BEAR: Tribes.
COLE: Pooling their resources. Working for a common goal. Letting the group fulfill the needs of the individual. And that might sound naïve, or quaint, or, worse yet, cute. And Red Bear says the people who think it’s cute are the ones who’ll actually come up to see the village and listen to him.
[RED BEAR SINGING A TRADITIONAL SONG.]
RED BEAR: This is Red Bear.
RED BEAR: A long time ago when I was really young I always vowed that I was gonna save my people. And then, as I got into like eight or nine or 10, I started thinking about being in villages, living with Indians, in the village. And being a great chief, you know? Being a war chief, you know?
COLE: He tried it before about twelve years ago, when he was 18. He and his now ex-wife set up teepees and tents in the woods behind a bed and breakfast in Connecticut.
RED BEAR: And that didn’t work because I was living across from a mall. They were getting ready to build a Circuit City there, you know.
COLE: From there Red Bear worked security at Foxwoods, the Mashantucket Pequot casino in Connecticut, and attended a Powwow there where he met the famous Indian activist and movie actor Russell Means. Means encouraged him to follow his vision, to join the American Indian cause. But “Mother Culture,” as Red Bear calls it, was pulling him in another direction.
He and his wife had started a lucrative bondage and domination sex club…lucrative enough to support four kids and a fairly significant crack habit. Soon their relationship bottomed out, and soon after that he was in a horrible car crash. He nearly died – he wanted to – but he merely lost part of his memory, some of the dexterity in one hand and several important teeth. He was all alone and all he could think to do was go out to Pine Ridge Reservation…to die, he says.
RED BEAR: And what they taught me was is that I wanted to live. I got out there and there was every atrocity, every despair, every sadness, pain, heartache, happiness, laughter, joy, you know? In the most dangerous, ugly, nasty situation, somebody will make a joke and make light hearted of the whole thing.
COLE: It was at Pine Ridge that he adopted the Lakota as his tribe, and that they, eventually, adopted him. It was there, too, that he first spent a lot of time around buffalo. Not too long after that he came up to New Hampshire to say goodbye to a dying friend and he just stayed there, developing a relationship with his friend’s widow. A couple years ago ,they found out that there were buffalo farms in New Hampshire, and they decided to start one. Now they’re selling the meat at farmer’s markets and eating it themselves. But buffalo aren’t just food, Red Bear says.
RED BEAR: They’re family. I don’t ever call them its or creatures or beasts or animals or anything. I call them people. They’re my people. Right now this is our tribe at the moment.
COLE: And you walk in there with them?
RED BEAR: Yeah.
COLE: Isn’t that dangerous?
RED BEAR: Of course. But then I wouldn’t be – I couldn’t call them my people. I’m as much in a cage as they are. I can look in at them and say, I pity you, because you’re inside this fence. And they can look at me and say, I pity you, because you’re inside that fence. You know?
COLE: And Red Bear’s ultimate goal is to escape the fence, and to help everybody else escape the fence. He’s hoping that once he and the other members of the village start living the old way in earnest other people will get the message and start their own tribes.
RED BEAR: Even tourists themselves might then come and say, “Hey, we think what you’re doing is good. We don’t’ totally agree with doing Lakota so we’re gonna go over here and do our tribe and do it, uh, Celtic Druid.” And I go, boo-yah! We’ll help yah. Cool. I know a lot about Celtic Druidry.
COLE: But I was gonna say, so the tourists are really a means to an end?
RED BEAR: Yeah, a means to a beginning. What I call the “Taker Era” is over, and the aboriginal era is dawning.
[CLIP FROM “Instinct”:
ANTHONY HOPKINS: Takers.
CUBA GOODING, Jr.: Takers explain that.}
COLE: “Takers” are people who take more than they need from the earth and don’t give anything back. In other words, almost everybody. It’s not Red Bear’s word. It comes from the book “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn, which inspired the movie “Instinct” with Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
GOODING, JR.: Session’s not over.
HOPKINS: Until you say so?
GOODING JR.: Right.
HOPKINS: The taker?
COLE: Instinct is about a man who lived peaceably among wild gorillas before being ripped from their tribe by poachers – Takers. In the forest he had regained his human animal instinct, like Red Bear says he has. Like Red Bear says we’ll all need to when the project of modern culture finally fails.
RED BEAR: We’re always talking about how kids know everything when they’re born. Everybody says that, oh they know so much when their born, and then they lose it. Well, that’s instinct, they lose. We condition it out of them.
[CHILD: ELI ECK]: I saw the buffalo.
RED BEAR: Where?
ELI: I saw the buffalo in the gate.
RED BEAR: In the gate?
COLE: Red Bear’s girlfriend Diane has two sons from her previous marriage. They just had a third together, a little girl. He says he plans to raise them according to the old ways, that Diane’s oldest boy, who’s four now, has already expressed interest in being an Indian.
RED BEAR: And no other Indian in the world, I don’t care – and if they did I’d kill ‘em – but no Indian in the world is going to say you can’t be an Indian because look at your hair and look at your skin. Nobody’s going to tell him that, because he’s a kid. Well, some kids happen to be 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years old that want to be Indian, too. You can’t tell those kids they can’t, just like you can’t tell him he can’t.
[RED BEAR SINGING NATIVE SONG]
COLE: Since my day at the village-to-be, Red Bear’s put up two more teepee’s, a 16-footer and an 18-footer. His Lakota friends should be arriving by bus any day, if they haven’t already. At some point, in one of our phone conversations after my visit, Red Bear told me something that was strangely comforting. He said if, down the road, it looks like mother culture is really starting to crumble, and all the systems we’ve built are shutting down, he said he wanted me to do everything in my power to get to the village. “You’ll have a place here,” he said. And if that day ever comes, my number one priority will be to make sure I have enough gas.
COLE: For Living on Earth, I’m Sean Cole.
RED BEAR: Gave me stars in my eyes, that one.
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