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In this book of creative non-fiction essays Gills tells us stories from his life. The title piece, White Indians, is a “visionary memoir” that recounts Gills’ experience as a participant at a Native American Sundance ceremony on Zuni Territory, New Mexico during July 2005. The ceremony unfolds on a wolf refuge and at night, tending fire, the howling is startling music that informs this text throughout. Sixty men and women dance and pierce themselves during four days, offering flesh to a ninety-feet tall cottonwood, wrapped and glimmering with thousands upon thousands of prayer ties. The breathtaking pageantry of the dance is offset by the shock of seeing flesh offerings taken in the splendor of elaborate costumes and the continuous drumbeat and singing under an enormous sky.
As firekeeper, the narrator is responsible for heating stones for the sacred inipi. Later in the dance, a scarred old heyoka (backward/forward man) ushers him into the arena where for some time he moves among the dancers under the tree. His perspective is an insider’s, riveted by every detail. The result is the first of a two-book work, seldom if ever seen in American Literature, that places this ceremony in the larger context of Native American prophecy—the return of lost white brother, and the end of the fourth world.
What are they saying about White Indians
“Gills’ beautifully written prose in White Indians combines his warring natures—the daring macho infused crazy man with the earth-reverent husband and father. This book is a reminder that we Americans still live on a continent that recently was a wilderness, and that we all possess an atavistic need to interact with it. For those of us not so good as Michael Gills at camping, hiking, and white-water rafting, he’s offered us a thrilling armchair version.”
—Diane Wakoski, author The Diamond Dog
“Each word is a spark, every sentence a sizzling fuse. The whole of White Indians is a sun-white conflagration, cleanly and cleansing. The intensity of this visionary memoir is the core of its message. Michael Gills sojourned in the heart of light and he has returned to his home world with that light still clinging to his every utterance. I shall never be the only reader grateful for his revelations—and a little frightened of them.”
—Fred Chappell, Ancestors and Others: New and Selected Stories