Woody Kipp,
Viet Cong at Wounded Knee:
The Trail of a Blackfeet Activist

(University of Nebraska Press, 2004)

Viet Cong at Wounded Knee: The Trail of a Blackfeet Activist is not at all what I expected. I expected to read this book as a veteran and a person that has been honored as a warrior among her people. But the woman part of my brain kept getting in the way and I found myself wishing to kick my fellow vet squarely in the seat of his pants ... just as soon as I stopped laughing. My apologies to his pitifully neglected wife for finding such amusement in her plight. My Granny would suggest a cast iron skillet or stick of firewood across his head would work wonders.

First, the proper credit for his work: this book won the 2005 Writer of the Year Award from the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers. It is a brilliant piece of literary ... confession ... mayhem ... analysis of the social and political structures that breed and foster racism and discrimination throughout this country.

Woody Kipp, known as Natoos Sina (Sun Chief) in his Pikuni Blackfoot world, is a college English instructor who took the long road to get there. As I read this memoir I caught myself thinking that Kipp is the Forrest Gump of the Native American world. He was always there, but he never really seemed to be a part of it or, at times, to even know what was going on other than his latest girlie conquest and where the cooler was hidden. Yet, he was there and just being there was a catalyst for change.

Kipp grew up surrounded by racism and prejudice. He came from a family of fighters and learned to fight and drink at an early age. It is no surprise that he joined the Marine Corps, served in Vietnam, was the only Indian in his unit, was nicknamed "Chief," and encountered the rampant racism and racial wars of those turbulent 1960s. What is rather surprising is that he went walking, alone, through the jungles of Vietnam and wandered into a Vietnamese village.

After Vietnam, Kipp spent some readjustment time breaking horses and bonded with a special one. He became involved with the American Indian Movement, joined the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan to Washington and experienced the seige of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There was dissention among the members of AIM over the use of alcohol and the organization began breaking into state groups.

My favorite of Kipp's misadventures is the freeing of Kaw-liga, the wooden Indian about whom the country song was written, from his slavery at the cigar store.

Kipp's experiences in Vietnam stuck with him and came back to haunt him during the siege at Wounded Knee. Two things seem to have combined during the Wounded Knee incident that changed Kipp's entire outlook. First, he was witnessing the powers of the spiritual leaders, such as Leonard Crow Dog, and was seeing things that logic and science cannot explain or refute. Being witness to it eliminated his ability to deny that it happened. Second, his Vietnam adventures came crashing into his mind and he realized that he had become the Viet Cong of Wounded Knee. This was the turning point -- that moment of truth and clarity that creates a true activist and spiritualist.

On the final page, Kipp explains that this is the first half of his life story and his second half is a spiritual journey that began with the smoking of the Sacred Pipe. He says he will tell us of those stories "at another time." I hope he gets to it before his liver gives out. I cannot wait to hear the rest of his story.

Woody Kipp writes with an open heart and an unbuffered, uncensored mind. You know he is telling the entire truth and calling things exactly as he saw them. His honesty about himself and his own exploits produces an intense trust between yourself and Kipp. He takes you to the events of his life with picturesque writing that engages all of your senses. The story has a nice flow and keeps the reader turning pages. Kipp wisely breaks up the heaviness of the racial discrimination with plenty of humor. You are torn between whether he is one of the deepest thinkers alive or just a beer-inundated, bumbling oaf who always manages to lose his eyeglasses in the nick of time. Either way, he is a crafty storyteller with a memoir that thoroughly entertains, while leaving an unsettling aftershock.

Viet Cong at Wounded Knee is a wonderful biography.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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