‘Winter Counts’ offers insights, excitement

Metro State professor’s novel takes place on Rosebud Reservation


With a tough-guy narrator, Virgil Wounded Horse, who functions as an enforcer/vigilante on the Rosebud Reservation, south metro Denver area author David Heska Wanbli Weiden leads a reader through a number of story lines and offers insights on contemporary reservation life and politics that educate and dismay — as well as entertain ...

The just-published book, “Winter Counts,” is available at Denver bookstores now and will appeal to a variety of readers — Native and non-Native ... (Tattered Cover lists it as a Book of the Month for September).

Well-defined characters include Virgil; his teenage nephew, Nathan, whose care Virgil assumed when the boy’s mother was killed in an automobile accident; Marie, his creative former — and again — girlfriend; interesting elders, including Marie’s father; crooks who want to get the youngsters hooked on drugs; a medicine man; and more.

The author weaves in talk of foodways, laws that govern the reservations, limitations on by whom — and how — infringements of the laws are/can/cannot be handled, tribal police powers, drug and alcohol abuse, education.

Scenes are well-depicted, so a reader can envision, hear, smell and otherwise experience Native life, as well as experience Native frustration over limitations.

Weiden, a tenured professor of Native American studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver, is a member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation. He grew up poor in Denver’s Swansea neighborhood, expanding early horizons through reading many, many books from the bookmobile that visited his school weekly. (There was no neighborhood library available.)

With his mother, he spent times during the summers on the reservation, where there were lots of cousins — and there is at present 85% unemployment. His parents had moved to Denver in the 1950s and later divorced.

Weiden’s uncle is vice president of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, which may have offered extra insights to this writer, as he crafted his fictional version of reservation life.

He first graduated with a law degree and practiced for a number of years, but realized he “wasn’t having the impact I’d hoped to have,” as he told a Los Angeles Times reporter. So he returned to school for a Ph.D. in political science and has been teaching for more than 20 years — first at Hofstra in New York and at Metro State University since 2013. He also teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where he recently did a reading with veteran author Craig Johnson (Longmire series) and he donates time and legal expertise to the Denver Indian Resource Center, with an interest in Indian child welfare.

The title, “Winter Counts,” refers to the pictorial calendars created by a number of American Indian tribes to record their history. Probably readers have viewed them, often painted on rawhide, in museums in this area or elsewhere. The title is appropriate here as we experience a series of scenes that make up a whole.

Virgil Wounded Horse first appeared in a short story in the Yellow Medicine Review in 2011 and we’ll hope to see him resurface in about two more years in a sequel, tentatively called “Wounded Horse.” Weiden, who says he “thought more could be done with the story character,” started working on “Winter Counts” in earnest in early 2017. He has a two book contract with Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publisher.

His routine has involved getting up at 4 a.m. and writing for two hours. Then, teenage sons head out for school and Weiden starts a day of teaching Native American studies, political science and some undergraduate law classes at Metropolitan State University.

Readers will want to get acquainted with Virgil Wounded Horse and David Heska Wanbli Weiden ...


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