The Eagle Catcher: An Interview with Margaret Coel
How did you become acquainted with the Arapaho people on the Wind River Reservation?
The Arapahos are very private people with reason to distrust outsiders. You can't just show up on the reservation and say, "Hi, I'm here to write about you." You must gain their trust, which takes times. I first went to the Wind River when I was writing Chief Left Hand, a biography of one of the great Arapaho leaders in the mid 1800s when the tribe lived on the plains of Colorado. Another historian accompanied me and introduced me to her Arapaho friends. Because she vouched for me, in a sense, and because they trusted her, they were willing to talk to me. Also, many Arapahos have told me how much they liked Chief Left Hand. The book was a big help in gaining their trust for the mystery novels.
How did the Arapahos like The Eagle Catcher?
Well enough that some of my Arapaho friends planned a celebration for me on the reservation. They wanted it to take place at Blue Sky Hall, since the hall appears in the novel. We had a feast, music, dancers and a master of ceremonies. It was great!
Can you give us another memorable experience on the reservation?
I would say all of my experiences have been memorable. But one stands out. I was visiting with some Arapaho friends outdoors when a golden eagle began circling us. One of the women said, "The eagle is upset because we're talking to an outsider about our culture." That was the end of our conversation. But the next day, they came and found me. They had consulted one of the elders who reminded them that whenever the eagle comes, it is a good sign. "This white woman," he said, "will write the truth about our people." Since then, my Arapaho friends have explained many things that have helped me better understand the Arapaho culture. I am very grateful to the eagle.
How did your background as a history writer influence The Eagle Catcher and your other novels?
It has made them what they are: contemporary mysteries grounded in history. I'm fascinated by the way the past continues to shape the present. Nothing is ever over. The plot of The Eagle Catcher, for example, revolves around a kind of fraud routinely practiced against the Indian people when they were moved onto reservations. I wanted to examine the ways in which that past injustice continues to insert itself into their lives today.
You were also a journalist. How does your journalistic background influence the mysteries?
It's probably the journalist part of me that compels me to write about actual issues. All of the novels deal with real issues facing the Arapahos and other Indian peoples today. I like to explore the ramifications on individual lives of such things as nuclear waste storage facilities, illicit drug labs and casinos on Indian lands. Such issues are tailor-made for mystery novels.