Bridge of Courage: Life Stories of the Guatemalan Compañeros & Compañeras, by Jennifer Harbury

A Book Review, by Larry P. Madden

How many times have people told Natives like me to “get over” American Indian’s land loss and accompanying abuses? In my life, I’ve found the old saying video Bridgethat those who ignore history are bound to repeat it is not only true—it’s an urgent warning. The tales of mistreatment of indigenous people are never in short supply, but Jennifer Habury’s memoir, Bridge of Courage, is one that especially caused my heart to hang heavy.

The book focuses on the Mayan people of Guatemala’s struggle for survival in a place where their mere existence was a reason for genocide. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, I knew America wasn’t as squeaky clean as some people believe, but reading this book opened my eyes to the depth of our horrific actions. My country was a state sponsor of terrorism against indigenous people—the Mayans specifically. In simplest terms, the Mayan’s tribal concern for community painted them as subversive and engaging in communist activity. Instead of appreciation for an ancient race of people that once had great empires themselves, their close-knit worldview was assumed to be a Cuban or Soviet instilled think-tank.

Harbury’s book is a collection of stories that offer a spellbinding illumination of the truth that never made it on the nightly news. Stories such as death squads and the cleansing of whole villages by a wealth-backed war machine went on for over a decade without recourse. To read these stories transcribed from the mouths of the desperate completed a familiar portrait of despair. Harbury found these awful accounts due to her compassionate belief in people's well-being. The struggles that she discovered became her passion, and she recorded many voices that were later killed in the non-stop terror campaigns.

Still, Harbury’s book also paints a picture of Mayan resilience and pride. This truth seems counter to the best efforts of the Secret Police, Politico Death Squads, and a country-wide genocide program aimed at the Mayan People and Culture. Reporters were in the crosshairs during any encounter with antagonists, and daily surveillance was the norm in the cities. Helicopters and arms from the U.S. government allowed for this slaughter, which was unbeknownst to this reviewer who always found time for the nightly news during this time period of his life.

I believe Bridge of Courage is a book that speaks to every American Indian and anyone else with a sense of fairness and compassion. It suggests that no one was willing or able to pay attention to history then—hopefully more of us are now.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.