Coel: The Arapahos are very private people with reason to distrust outsiders. You can’t just show up on the reservation and say, “Hi, I’m here to write about you.” You must gain their trust, which takes time. I first went to Wind River when I was writing Chief Left Hand, Southern Arapaho, a biography of one of the great Arapaho leaders. Another historian accompanied me and introduced me to her Arapaho friends. Because she vouched for me, in a sense, and because they trusted her, they were willing to talk to me. Also, many Arapahos have told me how much they liked Chief Left Hand. The book was a big help in gaining their trust.
How did they like The Eagle Catcher?
Coel: Well enough to hold a celebration for me on the reservation. They wanted it to take place at Blue Sky Hall, since the hall appears in the novel. We had a feast, music, dancers and a master of ceremonies. It was great!
Can you give us another memorable experience on the reservation?
Coel: I would say all of my experiences on the reservation have been memorable. But one stands out. I was visiting with some Arapaho friends outdoors when a golden eagle began circling us. One of the women said, “The eagle is upset because we are telling you about our culture.” That was the end of the conversation. But the next day, the women came and found me. They had consulted one of the elders who reminded them that whenever the eagle comes, it is a good sign. “This white woman,” he said, “will write the truth about our people.” Since then, my Arapaho friends have explained many things that have helped me understand the Arapaho culture better. I am very grateful to the eagle.
How did your background as a history writer influence The Eagle Catcher?
Coel: It made The Eagle Catcher what it is: a contemporary mystery grounded in history. I’m fascinated by the way the past continues to shape the presentby the way nothing is ever over. The plot revolves around a kind of fraud routinely practiced against the Indians when they were moved onto reservations, and the way in which that fraud affects them today.
You were also a journalist. How does your journalistic background influence the mysteries?
Coel: It’s probably the journalist part that makes me write about real issues. The Eagle Catcher and The Ghost Walker and the forthcoming novel, The Dream Stalker, all deal with real issues facing Indian people today and how those issues affect their lives.
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