My name is Gerry Robinson. I am a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and was born and raised on the reservation in southeastern Montana. I have written and am preparing to publish my first book The Cheyenne Story: An Interpretation Of Courage. That, of course, makes me a writer and not yet an author, but I use the word now as a way of easing myself past the anxiety of knowing that the product of a passion I’ve nurtured for 15 years will soon be “out there.” Prior to this I have had various articles, poems, and short stories published.
I grew up in the heart of our reservation in Lame Deer. In my early years, our family had intermittent electricity, but no running water in the house. My father had shoved two sheds together, cut a hole between them, put a porch on one, and became a homeowner. Ten of us lived there. The outhouse was in back, down toward the creek, and the hand-levered water pump was across the road in front.
The two oldest girls had married young and moved away by the time the folk’s tenth child was born, otherwise, there would have been twelve of us living there – three girls, seven boys and the folks. I was number eight of the bunch.
I have clear, vivid memories of life in and around that house. Life on the reservation was hard, but so many had it much harder than we did.
Both of my parents were raised in poverty but were bright, hardworking and resourceful; traits they passed along to all their kids, though I was usually late getting in line.
The folks wanted more for us, and they did their best to provide it. Between their hard work, God’s grace, and good timing, things got better. We moved first to the “Agency House” (with real linoleum, a coal furnace, and a flush toilet) when I was five. Ten years later, via the benefit of having a large family when the tribe issued a per-capita payment from a tribal timber sale, we were able to move over the divide to the Tongue River, north of Ashland. There my father built a ranch from the ground up, albeit with the help of what I felt at the time was teenage slave labor.
It was here where life became more complex, as it does with most of us during our teenage years. I struggled through conflicting emotions while growing up in a world I didn’t understand, yet was convinced I knew more about than anyone else. I wrestled with the paradox of both loving and hating all facets of my mixed heritage. I felt stuck with, yet separate from, everyone and everything around me. I lived in a place that I thought was on the outside of everything; at the edge of the world.
I would not begin writing for another twenty five years, but, it does not surprise me that so many of my stories are about this place. The Cheyenne Story is also about this place.