(July 2006 Edition)
WEST - Wiyohpeyata
- Black or Blue (We are STILL Here!)
‘Pan-Indian’. . . . To be, or
not to be . . . .
Deer once said that there was a difference between he and the younger
generation of Lakota Indians. He explained that he was first an Oglala,
then a Lakota, and lastly, an Indian. Continuing, he said that this
new generation was first an Indian, then Lakota, and lastly Oglala.
This is a very clear expression of what ‘pan-Indian’ is. It is, in a
sense, the lumping in together of many different, distinct indigenous,
First Nations cultures into a sort of ‘soup’ of collective Indian experience.
I think the ‘pan-Indian’ reality has taken such a hold that most Native
people are affected by it one way or the other.
be or not to be? Is pan-Indian-ism bad? Is it good? I would say that
it is both. On the one hand, it has contributed in some ways to the
loss and erosion of some of our unique, national (tribal) cultural identities.
It is responsible for some drum songs which were once sung in language
now being reduced to vocables (chants, so to speak). Certainly it is
to blame for the way in which some dance regalia has evolved into what
it is today, and for some of the procedure now commonly seen at powwows
these days. In fact, it is safe to say that most of what a powwow is
today is pan-Indian. So, where preservation of tradition and distinct
cultural customs are concerned, pan-Indian-ism has been, and continues
to be, a terrible thief.
On the other
hand, pan-Indian-ism has played at least some part in bringing the Native
peoples of hundreds and hundreds of beautifully distinct nations and
cultural groups together. And together, we have made a stand for the
rights of indigenous people all over this continent and the world. Pan-Indian-ism
has also had its affect on how we Native people see each other and ourselves.
No longer is it always the case that there is enmity between a Crow
and a Lakota, or a Hopi and a Navajo person. Certainly this still exists,
but it is changing, and in part due to pan-Indian-ism. The positive
aspect of identifying ourselves collectively as one ethnic, racial group
versus hundreds of distinct national (tribal) groups is that it gives
us power in numbers to affect positive change for all Native people,
other oppressed cultures, endangered species, and the earth’s environment.
All of which matter very much to all of us. So, where indigenous survival
and human rights, and environmental consciousness are concerned, pan-Indian-ism
has surprisingly had some positive affect.
So - to be,
or not to be . . . . ?
I, for one,
am Oglala first, then Lakota (with some Potawatomi thrown in the mix),
and lastly I am ‘Indian.’ Having said that, I have spent time and have
many friends who are of many different indigenous Turtle Island nations
(tribes), and I have gleaned beautiful cultural influences from all
of them, some of which have become an important part of my path. It
is my firm conviction that we absolutely must hold on very tightly to
those customs and traditions that make us who we are, otherwise we lose
ourselves and there can be no good to come from that. We must keep alive
our beautiful languages, our spiritual traditions, our arts and our
distinct national (tribal) customs, because when any of these facets
of our culture are lost, we lose so much more than could be imagined.
And so I hold strongly to Oglala Lakota ways, and continue to add to
my knowledge of them, all in the interest of carrying the flame of my
ancestors to one day pass it on to the next generation. And yet, at
the same time, I recognize the need for indigenous people to work together,
to stand as much as possible as one, so that we may share our voice,
and the wisdom of our ancestral perspective, with the world. So - to
be, or not to be? I guess many Indian people would understand me when
I say that I am learning how to be both Oglala and ‘Indian.’ And my
intent is to espouse all the positive qualities of each reality, leave
any negative aspects behind, and retain my cultural identity in the
process. These days, I think at least some of that identity is unavoidably
affected by the pan-Indian phenomenon. So I will do what I believe most
other Indian people do - just roll with it. I think this is how we have
survived the last few hundred years anyhow. So, pan-Indian or not, we
are still here, and at the end of the day, that is all that really matters.
(April 2006 Edition)
WEST - Wiyohpeyata
- Black or Blue (We are STILL Here!)
The ‘Indian experience’....
those who have only one idea and one image of who and what an American
Indian is. Nothing could be further from reality. In truth, there are
as many versions and perspectives on the Indian experience as there
are stars in the sky. The illusion that Indians only look, act, dress
or speak one particular way is tied directly to the concept that our
cultures are simple, trite, trivial and even insignificant. It is a
stereotype, plain and simple, and a tiring one at that. So what is the
real ‘Indian experience’ then? Allow me to offer just a few thoughts
. . . First, let me say that, although we all do refer to each other
and ourselves as such, the term ‘Indian’ itself is a misnomer. It appears
to have come from the Italian words ‘in dio’, which means to be ‘in
with God.’ This term was first pinned on us by none other than [Christopher]
Columbus, whom the Taino people discovered back in 1492. Regardless
of the origin of the term ‘Indian’, it stuck, and has been with us ever
since. It should be said here as well, that, if given the choice, most
of us prefer the term ‘Indian’ to ‘Native American.’ More accurate perhaps,
are the terms ‘First Nations’ or ‘Indigenous People.’ Of course, knowing
the specific indigenous nation is always best (Lakota, Potawatomi, Seneca,
Ojibway, etc.). Lastly on this point, we really prefer to be identified
as people like anyone else. Getting back to my thoughts . . . .
people were raised on the reservation with Grandparents and elders around
who knew the ways and spoke the language. These Indians can be well
versed in the ways of their culture, and are less likely to have non-Indian
blood in their background. Some of these Indian people will learn the
ways of Spirit. Some will go to college and become writers. Some will
become involved in politics. Some will become great artists. Some will
become actors. Some will simply work to raise a family. Some will unfortunately
fall prey to substance abuse. Some will move from the reservation to
far away places. Some will stay. Some will marry non-Indians. Some will
not. Some will live in nice houses and make good money. Some will not.
All are real Indians . . . .
people were not raised on the reservation, yet still had relatives around
who knew the ways or spoke the language. These Indians can still be
well versed in the ways of their culture, yet are more exposed to non-Indian
culture and are more likely to have non-Indian blood in their background.
Some of these Indian people will learn the ways of Spirit. Some will
go to college and become writers. Some will become involved in politics.
Some will become great artists. Some will become actors. Some will simply
work to raise a family. Some will unfortunately fall prey to substance
abuse. Some will move back to the reservation or off to far away places.
Some will stay where they were raised. Some will marry non-Indians.
Some will not. Some will live in nice houses and make good money. Some
will not. All are real Indians . . . .
people were neither raised on the reservation, nor had many relatives
around who knew the ways or spoke the language. These Indians will have
a much more difficult time learning the ways of their culture, as they
and their families have been exposed to non-Indian culture for several
generations and are very likely to have significant non-Indian blood
in their background. Some of these Indian people will learn the ways
of Spirit. Some will go to college and become writers. Some will become
involved in politics. Some will become great artists. Some will become
actors. Some will simply work to raise a family. Some will unfortunately
fall prey to substance abuse. A few may move back to the reservation.
Some may move to far away places. Some will stay where they were raised.
Many will marry non-Indians. Some will live in nice houses and make
good money. Some will not. Many of these Indians may find it difficult
to reconnect with the Indian people and culture they come from. Others
may succeed. All are real Indians . . . .
just a few thoughts on the ‘Indian experience.’ There are many, many
more. Our collective story is far from simple. It is rich, diverse,
tragic yet triumphant, incredibly complex and beautifully human. To
contend that there is only one correct idea of who and what it means
to be Indian is to grossly underestimate the power of Indian blood and
the ability of our Indian ancestors to impart and pass on their strong
Indian identity to their descendants. May we, Indian people, someday
be accepted by others for who we really are, and may we ourselves never
forget to value and appreciate the struggle of our ancestors which resulted
in the many facets, stories and faces of the ‘Indian experience’ we
see today . . . .