(All content fictional and © the F.I.S. Project.)
2007, on the reservation, in a little "health services" office affiliated with the B.I.A. No one's showing up for appointments since it's only a little past nine, thousands of dollars of theoretical hourly billing for the residents are going to waste playing phone-games, and I'm listening to this dude explain why the world sucks. He's mad because his government job pays a little over $42K/year, and he hasn't been made a manager yet, despite less than ten years experience, because D.C. is cruel and unfair and saves all the best jobs for "lobbyists," whatever the hell that means from that perspective. Probably he hasn't made "manager" (some kind of higher-level office functionary with little-to-no power) because he misses one day out of five every week, but he also hasn't been fired since he's a tribe member.
So there he is, in his little chair, about to break the squinchy black plastic back off of the thing, complaining about "only" getting $42K a year, plus full benefits, plus full retirement at some envious age before sixty (based on "years served"), including full medical and dental and vision and pharmaceutical overages once Medicare kicks in. He's not a doctor or a nurse or even a "scheduling associate" or whatever they call it; he's some kind of alcohol abuse counselor, which means, of course, that he's a theoretically-former alcoholic who can share his wisdom with the tiny percentage of people who don't skip their counsel-mandated appointments (without punishment, because this dude would have to proactively file paperwork and follow up in order to ensure the delinquencies ever got noticed, and he's merely one step in a similar process) to meet with him after having backed into a tourist's stroller at the yearly festival. He's pissed, he wants manager, and he could've been an Olympic athlete.
But before that, there's the yearly per capita. What's a per capita? If you haven't been on the rez often, it means blood payout; every tribal member is eligible for it, and the tribe is run sort of like a democratic communist corporation, where every tribal member gets a yearly cut of the tribe's profits, less the cuts for the more prestigious on-reservation jobs that go to the shaman/chief families, and the payouts to local U.S. state governments that enable outside tax dollar redirection, which mostly ends up with shaman/chief and associated outsiders anyway. So, for example, say the tribe nets $14 million as part of a casino venture, which is technically owned by "the nation" but which is in amazingly obscure levels of invisible yet punishing debt to some outside financial interest which trades a certain quantity of B.I.A. jobs and advertising in exchange for the use of reservation land and independent-nation status for its own investments which might otherwise object to Congressional oversight. The tribe pays out a few million to its creditor-partners, then divides up the rest based on the total number of members, e.g., ten million dollars profit and a ten thousand members means every member gets a $10,000.00 tax-free (or extremely low tax, depending on how powerful the tribe's outside planning firm is) payment each year, which usually goes right back to the tribe's banking partners as payment for big individual outstanding loans that never get paid back anyway.
So, $42K plus the tax-free per capita and the lifetime benefits, along with doubleplus race-victimism because, like the majority of his tribe and probably all tribes, he's part white, which sometimes makes him proud and other times vicious and accusative. If you haven't seen these guys go at it about who is how much what, you just don't know; it's so many degrees of science plus feelings plus disbelieving science plus visions plus the internet that it'll make your head spin. Yet it's relevant, very relevant, and you can lose your per capita and even membership if the wrong person decides that the wrong person on your family tree was lying.
The wood: dark brown and splintery, not like a log cabin, but like a panel cabin, smelling like firewood and smoke and dusty file-folders. There's always a dog somewhere: a mutt with really short off-brown hair whose flies leave with it when it goes. The door is never all the way shut and the fireplace is never entirely out. And the newer sections of the buildings, built in the 70s, with four-inch-high blue rubber baseboards that peel away from the paint like they want to fall over and die already.
Anyway, the Olympics. Besides getting screwed out of the "manager" "job," big dude also got screwed out of the Olympics. I honestly couldn't figure out why at the time; it actually wasn't the white man or racism, but something to do with someone's cousin. See, he used to run the mile in about three minutes, which is clearly Olympic speed, but he wasn't allowed to go to the trials because of some kind of internal politics on some other reservation out west that somehow prevented him from being invited to the trials or going to the trials, but which somehow didn't rise to the level of kidnapping despite involving him being physically prevented from going to the trials. Funny thing is, I've actually heard that story before, from an American Indian, in high school, who told me that his old track coach used to time him running the 100 meter dash in some unbelievably low time, like between 7-8 seconds, and how he could've gone to the Olympics at 17 and won it, but the track coach at his former high school "wouldn't let him" for some ridiculous reason that, amazingly somehow, didn't involve either racism or kidnapping.
The funny part is, the manager makes less. What he refuses to acknowledge, even when an older woman (who currently is the manager) tells him, is that the manager hires the secretary and calls maintenance when something breaks, and only makes like $37K. Why would anyone want to be the manager? I mean, yeah, plenty of people in the real world would, especially with those benefits, but on the rez, it's a step down from whatever title of substance counselor the dude already is.
Just an anecdote, just a story, just two dudes and four residents and twenty-five out of thirty missed appointments and one old woman who knows how good she's got it.