S. Thompson ♦♦ Pierre
Berton ♦♦ Gary Webb
♦♦ Peter McWilliams ♦♦ Stephen Williams
♦♦ Sister Helen Prejean
Compassionate voice for the disadvantaged
This page is dedicated to the life of Michael Dorris. Reading his
work gave me many hours of pleasure and enlightenment.The world
is a much poorer place without him. I grieve his passing. Read
A Yellow Raft in
Blue Water, or The Broken Cord if
you have not encountered him. A conversation
with Daniel Bourne about Yellow Raft
His own words from a memoir he was working on before he died.
"I am society, and my life
is in threat. I believed I could alter fate. I tried and failed,
in process with lapsed patience and with anger, and ultimately
because I had no choice but not to give up. I intended nothing
but good, though I expected to be rewarded with gratitude and
love, and I wound up the center of a target… I was driven
temporarily mad and may never fully recover enough to completely
recall the person I think I used to be. I tried to save three
lives: Maybe I didn't try hard enough. Maybe they were unsaveable.
One is gone. One is lost. One is a danger to anyone within his
line of sight.
I wish I had reconciled earlier to the
impossibility of my goal… I want my life back. I want my
peaceful sleep. I want to fear once again only those natural
human fears. I wish my adopted children to achieve amnesia, or
better, to remember the entirety of their lives with me. I want
them to be well."
The words of his friends:
MICHAEL DORRIS: IN MEMORY
It was late on the night of
April 11th 1997 when the phone rang. It was the time of night
when those who call usually do so because they need to share
something so important or so sad that it cannot wait until another
dawn. The news was tragic. Michael Dorris had been found dead
in Concord, New Hampshire.
Earlier that day we had been
restocking our shelves with some of Michael's historical novels
for younger readers--Guests and Sees Behind Trees. Gentle, informative
and always life-affirming--like his first book for children,
Morning Girl--his stories have always held a special place in
our hearts, have touched and will continue to touch the lives
of many. Above our own desk is a pre-publication copy of Sees
Behind Trees--his own reading copy--that Michael signed and gave
us when we saw each other a year ago at a conference for reading
teachers. We remember how there, as always, Michael spoke not
just of his own work, but of the lasting strengths and the integrity
of American Indian cultures. We shook hands then and we told
him Wlipamkaani, nidoba. Travel well, my friend. We knew how
hard the life of a famous person can be, too often on the road,
too often envied as much as praised, too often made distant from
others by success.
We could still see the edge
of sadness in Michael's face. That sadness had been there since
his adopted son Adam had been struck and killed by a car while
walking home from his first job. Adam's brief life had inspired
Michael's controversial and needful book on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum,
The Broken Cord, and the TV movie based on Adam and Michael's
story was just being completed when the accident took place.
Before we go further, we should
say that we did not know Michael well. Although there was respect
and friendship between us, we saw each other only a handful of
times. It was more of a link through his good-hearted work, that
strong strand he wove into the web of contemporary Native American
writing that touches so many of us. Pluck one strand of that
web--or break it--and we all feel it. So it is that we feel the
loss of his life, a life filled with energy and accomplishment,
but a life we now know to have been far too short. It was wrong
that his life ended this way.
Ironically, this weekend marked
the 25th anniversary of Michael's founding of the Native American
Studies Program at Dartmouth, an anniversary marked by a conference
which was to have begun with a keynote speech he was to have
given. There was so much light in the life of Michael Dorris,
so much hope that others gained from him. He was a man who cared
and the caring spirit of his work remains.
We think of his family and
we pray for them, for his wife, Louise, and for the children
who will no longer be able to hold their father's hand or hear
his voice carried on the wind of breath. We worry that their
own lives might be touched more deeply by something done in a
moment of despair and depression than by all of the good that
Michael brought into the world with him and shared with such
goodness and grace. Hold on to that good, believe in that goodness.
There will be those, friends
and family, those whose love for Michael goes beyond his breath,
who will always ask why, who may wonder what they might have
done to prevent this, who may feel sorrow or guilt or anger.
We cannot measure or take away their pain. Only love and time
and forgiveness can do that. Remember what our grandparents taught
us. The end of a life may come in a heartbeat, but the drum of
that heart sounded for a long long time before its final beat.
Remember how much music it brought to our lives, how its echoes
will last. --Joseph Bruchac
Michael Dorris, an award-winning
author of French Modoc and Irish ancestry, received an undergraduate
degree in English with honours from Georgetown
University and a graduate degree in anthropology from Yale. He
founded the Native American Studies Program at Dartmouth College,
where he taught for fifteen years.
Dorris's previous novels include
the critically acclaimed A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, which has
sold more than 500,000 copies, and the bestseller, The Crown
of Columbus, co-authored with Louise Erdrich.
include, The Broken Cord, named Best Non-Fiction of the Year
by the National Book Critics Circle and focused national attention
on a much misunderstood disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Dorris
is also the author of three novels for young adults: Morning
Girl, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction,
Guests, and Sees Behind Trees. Other Books and Anthologies featuring
the work of Dorris include: A Circle of Nations, Voices
and Visions of American Indians, Winged Words: American Indian
Writers Speak, Talking Leaves: Contemporary Native American Short
Stories, Growing up Native American: An Anthology, The Lightning
Within: An Anthology of Contemporary American Indian Fiction
Photo: Carol Francavilla AP file
An Elegy: Believing in Michael Dorris
July 29, 1997
Last night, a memorial service
for Michael Dorris was held at the New York City public library.
Dorris, a prolific writer of prose that carried rare emotional
power, committed suicide earlier this year. Yet many of the seats
at the memorial service were empty, writes David Streitfield
in yesterday's Washington Post. Dorris committed suicide under
a cloud of accusations by two of his adopted children.
Some people remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot.
I will always remember where
I was, and what I did, when I discovered that Michael Dorris was dead.
It is early in the morning
on April 10. Enveloped in radio's peculiar sense of personal
revelation, Bob Edwards of NPR tells me that Michael Dorris'
body has been found. They don't know it is suicide yet; that
will come later, in the evening. But in the blue hours of the
morning, there is some stress in Bob Edwards' voice as he reads
this news. I stop the car.
I pace at the side of the freeway.
When I get back in the car, I call my mother, who is equally
bereaved. We are both crying. And Bob Edwards' voice continues
to be strangely tight, as he reads the same news in the mornings'
repeated radio loops. I imagine that there was a similar
strain last night when Edwards, a friend of Dorris, spoke at
the memorial service. After the intervening months, there might
be strain for more complicated reasons. Between April and August,
more information about rifts in Dorris' marriage to poet and
novelist Louise Erdrich, and about his often tumultuous relationship
with their children has been exhumed. New York magazine recently
released a scathing profile of Dorris, detailing many presumed
peccadilloes, including exploitation of his children.
Oddly, I feel I know Dorris
better than that. I feel I know him in ways that contradict the
many half-truths displayed in New York's shoddy post-mortem.
This is partially because of his book The Broken Cord. This profoundly
honest book describes his life raising adopted son Abel, who
was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome. Michael's life
with Abel was taxing beyond belief. Alcohol in the womb had given
Abel severe behavioral and learning disabilities. "I have
watched my husband spend months of his life teaching A[bel] to
tie his shoes," wrote Louise Erdrich in the foreword to
Broken Cord. Yet when he wrote about it, Dorris gave that life
nobility and kindness. Abel later died in an auto accident because
he could not remember to look both ways before crossing traffic.
Dorris also adopted two other
Native American children, Sava and Madeline.
And I hunger for the book that
might have been written about his life with them. Tentatively,
Dorris had titled it Matter of Conscience, yet he never completed
the work. It may have been impossible for Dorris to sum up his
experience with them. Both Sava and Madeline, who are now suing
Dorris' estate for alleged sexual abuse, were early diagnosed
with fetal alcohol effect.
Fetal alcohol effect is a much
subtler and more insidious after-effect of alcoholism, which
often manifests itself in a child's adolescent and adult behavior.
In these lives, alcohol becomes a chemical with a savagely toxic
half-life. Sava and Madeline share a history of instability,
of pervasive lies, of violence, of suicide attempts, of aggressive
behavior, of inappropriate sexual contact. They share
this history with my sister Rochelle, who also happens to be
adopted. Rochelle has been diagnosed with fetal alcohol effect.
This is the other way
I know Michael Dorris. It is the reason I believe him, despite
The Broken Cord helped my mother
feel sane once more, which is the reason she was devastated when
I told her of his suicide. Fetal alcohol effect, although arbitrary
in its impact, often seems to cleanly excise the moral connection
between actions and consequences, between rewards and punishments
-- between right and wrong.
In 1992, Dorris summed up the
experience of many fetal-alcohol affected families by noting
that over the past four years his family "hadn't had a single
period longer than three consecutive days in all that time when
one of our alcohol-impaired children was not in a crisis - health,
home, school - that demanded our undivided attention."
I know marriages that have
snapped under the constant tension of living with fetal-alcohol
syndrome children, even after they reach adulthood. My parents
have suffered through being told that it is their fault that
Rochelle cannot pay attention, that Rochelle cannot refrain from
cursing others, that Rochelle steals credit cards, doesn't pay
bills, and irrevocably damages other people's houses and cars,
and lives. She does not care about consequences.
It is more than conceivable
that one might commit suicide under the twin pressures of a disintegrating
marriage and fetal alcohol-effected children. Over the years,
Dorris sacrificed himself for his children. After decades, a
writer as insightful as Dorris must have seen the destructive
potential of such lives as enormously depressing.
In an essay for Hungry Mind,
Michael Dorris wrote that life "demands wariness, humility,
patience, and the lonely nurturing of a self-image strong enough
to stand up to all challengers, whether intentionally malevolent
or merely stupid." Whether malevolent, like alcoholism in
all its forms, or merely stupid, like New York magazine, it took
an incredible weight of indomitable challengers to finally break
Although it's not necessary
to say, I believe in Michael. And I'm looking forward to reading
his fourth novel for children, The Window, which will come out
in October. According to early reviewers, it is the story of
a resilient child who flourishes despite the troubles caused
by thoughtless people around him.
Perhaps this has always been
Michael's last hope for his children. -- Ned Hayes
is a kind of soulless reporting that defames the dead. I had
previously posted a few reports, but have dropped them. Jeffrey
Anderson who is suing Dorris' estate on behalf of his FAE daughter
Madeline would certainly be near the top of our Bad Lawyers list
if we lived in Minnesota! The smarmy social worker(s) who incited
Madeline and Jeffrey to make the allegations are beneath contempt
and if I knew their names I'd print them. Dorris's contribution
to making this planet a better place is a story screaming to
be told. And by telling his story, many could see the example
of a true hero.
the combined forces of corrupt police, greedy social workers,
ambitious prosecuters and gullible courts continue to victimise
innocent people by acting on uncorroborated charges suborned
by unscrupulous officials from hapless children who are encouraged
to lie their eyes out and are protected by court gag orders.
We know about Michael Dorris's suicide. We do not know the full
extent of suicides and ruined lives resulting from this still-widespread
practice. But we do know of some. We pledge ourselves to seek
justice on their behalf.
From people who knew him:
The Global Citizen:
A Letter of many thanks…
From those who did not know
A Broken Life by Josie Rawson in Salon
Publisher: Sheila Steele 1943-2006
• Index to injustice stories on this site
Michael Dorris Books
- Sermonette: The Naked Truth --
Index to Saskatoon Police stories
This is a pretty good scrapbook for the 1998-2002 period.
JUVENILE FACED LIFE IN JAIL
Brenton Butler: Academy Award-Winning Documentary. Police detectives beat confession out of him
- Stephen Williams Canadian writer subject to Stasi-like treatment by police
- Stolen time & Stolen lives
- Tulia Texas drug sting gone haywire
- Gilmer Texas Satanic murder hysteria
- Foster Parent false accusations
- Martensville - what really didn't happen?
- Don Smith obscenity trial obscene verdict
- Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter
- Johnny Cochran speaks up for Bill Sampson tortured by Saudis
- Abdulai Mohamed False sex-crime
- Vopni Family Children Apprehended
The Terrible Story behind the Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns convictions
- U.S. wrongful convictions: Exonerated
- Michael Evans, Paul Terry, Dana Holland and LaFonso Rollins Freed by DNA
- Gerald Amirault Fantastical testimony
- Laurence Adams Evidence withheld
- Ludrate Burton Informant perjury
- Stephen Cowans Faulty forensics
- Wilton Dedge Freed by DNA
- Harold Hill and Dan Young Freed by DNA
- Albert Johnson Freed by DNA
- Kenneth Marsh New evidence
- Dwayne McKinney Witness error
- James Bernard Parker Victims recant
- Peter Reilly Evidence withheld
- Peter Rose Victim lied
- John Stoll Victims lied
- Marty Tankleff Forced confession
- Houston Wrongful Convictions Nurse's missteps
- Still working on it:
- Dennis Dechaine
- Dennis Perry
- Tim Sandfort
- Kirstin Lobato
- Innocence Project (U.S.)
- Northwestern Law Center on Wrongful Convictions
30 YEARS - FRAMED BY FBI
Joe Salvati: FBI knew informant gave false testimony. Framed Salvati to protect snitch
14 YEARS - FRAMED BY FBI
Steven Manning: framed by FBI agents for a murder and kidnapping that put him on Death Row. Awarded 6.6M
20 YEARS - FRAMED BY A GRANDMA
Sylvester Smith: child molestation charges nixed. Grandma made them accuse the man who cared for them to protect a cousin. Victims recant
ON DEATH ROW - FREED BY DNA
Kirk Bloodsworth: Accused of raping and murdering a nine-year-old.
10 YEARS FOR NOTHING
Ray Krone: spent 3 years on death row, because of his jagged front teeth. Freed by DNA.
FRAMED, JAILED, FREED
Scott Hornoff RI cop: experienced both sides of the law. Speaks out about judicial system.