Winter Counts

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By David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Winter-Counts-novelWhen the people of South Dakota’s Rosebud Reservation can’t find justice from tribal police or federal authorities, they turn to Virgil Wounded Horse.

“A thug for hire,” his former girl friend’s mother sneers. But her husband, Ben Short Bear, a member of the tribal council, isn’t above hiring him to go after Rick Crow, a person Short Bear says is bringing heroin to the reservation.

Virgil has old scores to settle with Crow who bullied him as a child and a teenager.

That all gets set aside when Nathan, the son of Virgil’s late sister Sybil, first overdoses on heroin and then appears to have filled his school locker with bottles of opioids. Enough for him to be charged, as an adult, with dealing drugs.

Nathan claims he was given a free sample of the heroin by some guys hanging around the school athletic fields. He vehemently denies knowing anything about the pills in his locker.

Virgil finds himself forced to work with federal agents who promise to keep 14-year-old Nathan out of a federal adult prison and a possible 10-year, no-parole sentence if Nathan agrees to make a drug buy wearing a recording device. Virgil has no trust for federal agents, but everything to lose if something happens to his nephew.

Author David Heska Wanbli Weiden has created a gripping story about the opiod crisis on the haunting  Rosebud Reservation: the small houses with backyards full of rusting cars and appliances, the busy bars, the divisive caste system based on the purity of one’s Lakota blood, the bullying, the simmering grievances, the ambitions and aspirations, the temptation of money and the call to the ancient traditions.

Virgil is a strong man beset by losses — his mother, his father who died of pancreatic cancer, his sister killed when her car was hit head-on by a probably drunk driver, and the many, many tragedies brought to him by clients for revenge, retribution or justice. He has little education and no training. Drunken words spoken in anger drove away his former girlfriend Marie Short Bear.

He’s given up drinking, but he’s also given up Lakota beliefs and ceremonies.

Weiden blends old ways and new, loss and recovery to create a mystery in which, while the darkness is never eradicated, it hasn’t won yet.

WINTER COUNTS, was published in August 2020 by Ecco/HarperCollins. It is the beginning of a series and is followed by WOUNDED HORSE.

About the Author: David Heska Wanbli Weiden

David Heska Wanbli Weiden, PhD, JD, is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota nation and an associate professor of Native American Studies and political science at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

He is an alumnus of Vona, a Tin House Scholar, a 2018 MacDowell Colony Fellow and a 2019 Ragdale Foundation resident.  He received the 2018 PEN America Writing for Justice Fellowship.

Additionally, he is the fiction editor for Anomaly, a journal of international literature and arts. He teaches writing at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.

A first-generation college student, he receive a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts, his law degree from the University of Denver Strum College of Law and his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin.


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