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The Heart's Original Position

Eight years ago, Smithsonian magazine sent me to Wyoming to write about a Northern Arapaho man named Stanford Addison, who had a growing reputation as a horse trainer. He was noted for his gentleness, efficiency, and the fact that he had been a quadriplegic for more than 20 years. I was excited by the assignment but apprehensive. I’d always been fascinated by Native American culture, and I knew how to do my job, but I would invariably get thrown off course by my own cultural propensity to get chattier as my subjects got quieter:Me: So, how did you become interested in entering the Miss Navajo pageant?Beauty Contestant: Just decided to do it, I guess.Me: Was it the desire to be recognized, or to promote traditional cultural values, or to buy a bunch of new dresses, or what?Beauty Contestant: I couldn’t afford the dresses. I had to sew most of them.Me: So you sew! That’s great.Beauty Contestant: [Silence.]Me: It’s interesting to me that there’s no bikini competition in the Miss Navajo Pageant. I mean, the Miss America pageant is all about sex.Beauty Contestant: [Silence.]Me: It’s amazing that in most beau …

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