Winter Counts talks about poverty and lack of justice on the Rosebud reserve



Rarely does an author from South Dakota begin a writing career by being published by one of the National Houses, in this case HarperCollins.

More than a publisher, the national public has also taken notice, as “Winter Counts” has been on national bestseller lists for most of the last year. Granted, not at the top of the lists, but certainly high enough to raise eyebrows.

The novel is also up for one of the main prizes in the detective fiction genre, the Anthony Award, which was due to be announced on August 28 in New Orleans before Hurricane Ida called off the party.

"Winter accounts" by David Heska Wanbli Weiden, an author from South Dakota.

David Heska’s debut thriller Wambli Weiden takes place on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, just out of sight but not in memory of the Sioux Nation. An 1868 treaty with the federal government gave the Black Hills to the Sioux Nation. After the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, Congress unilaterally revised the treaty. After a century of litigation, the United States Supreme Court in 1980, on an 8-1 vote, ruled that the Black Hills had been illegally taken from the Sioux Nation. Weiden protagonist Virgil Wounded Horse certainly feels that way.

Virgil watches tourists play in the Black Hills and thinks, “Few of these people knew they were traveling to sacred land, land which had been promised by treaty to the Lakota people forever, but which was stolen after the discovery of gold in the late 1860s. ”

Adding insult to injury, Virgil observes, “Mount Rushmore was carved into the sacred mountain formerly known as the Six Grandfathers as the giant opposite of the Lakota.”

While this is the thought of Virgil and many others, it has little to do with the actual plot of this novel, other than to sharpen the edge of white-white relations. native.

The theme of this novel concerns justice in a much more everyday way. In this regard, Weiden’s hero Virgil Wounded Horse is very similar to the first famous American novelist, James Fenimore Cooper, who imposed a moral code of good over evil on the first western frontier of the United States.

Justice can be hard to come by on Native American reservations. Tribal councils have complex limits in their ability to lay charges for serious crimes, and sometimes have reasons not to lay charges. Frequently, the federal government, which has the power to prosecute crimes on Native American lands, looks away to avoid embarrassing entanglements.

Virgil Wounded Horse, a vigilante on the side of good rather than the law, often beats people for a rough approximation of justice on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Virgil is a skilled and above all sober and drug-free fighter.

The novel’s plot shifts into high gear when a tribal councilor, Ben Short Bear, offers Virgil $ 5,000 to find Rick Crow, a man who Short Bear says brings heroin to the reservation. Although Virgil’s instinct tells him something is wrong, he begins an investigation.

That investigation was suspended as Virgil’s 14-year-old nephew recovered from a suspected heroin overdose. As the teenager recovered, he was arrested for possession after his high school locker was searched and found he had enough hidden street drugs to put him in jail for years in a federal rap. Now the circumstances are serious and Virgil is concentrating one hundred percent. He wants to believe his nephew but he knows that solving the case is the only way out, whether his nephew is guilty or not.

The unnamed character on the reservation is Poverty. Almost everyone lives in precariousness. Of himself and his nephew, Virgil says: “We barely had money for toilet paper sometimes, let alone luxuries like pain relievers.”

The investigation into the pharmaceutical industry is dangerous. The reserve is a perfect place for the drug cartels to operate, because as previously stated, the reserves are in the make-believe world of justice. Virgil enlists his ex-girlfriend to help him out, and they’re both surprised by what the research reveals.

Some readers may be put off by the language and violence of the book. In this case, I left a little slack to the author because ignoring the environment and the culture of the reserve would make the plot meaningless.

Next month will be a change from the usual. I will examine the famous essay by Roman Seneca, “On the brevity of life”.

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Harper Collins Press, 325 pages, 2000, $ 16.99.

Donus Roberts is a former teacher, current advisor to the ABC Book Club, avid reader / collector of books, owner of DDR Books, and he encourages contact with readers at


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