Basic Call to Consciousness
History & Imagery
In the Beginning
First Nations Governance
Trail of Tears
Impact of European Immigrants
Called ‘Indian’ or....
Cultural Genocide - Boarding schools
Native Values &
Way of Life
Living Two Lives
Leaders or Rulers
Written or Oral
The method the Europeans used on First People has a name: deculturalization, involving segregation and isolation. Indigenous Peoples were isolated so that missionary-educators would so-called civilize them in one generation and expel the Indian out of them. Indigenous children were removed from their families and sent away to boarding schools. Forcing a dominated group to abandon its own language is an important part of deculturalization. Culture and values are embedded in language. First People were forbidden to speak their language or to practice their religions. These experiences were devastating to The People, as you will read, here, in their own words.
Author, historian, prolific author and activist, Vine Deloria Jr.--Yankton Dakota tribe--1933-2005, asks the question: “Where did Westerners get their ideas of divine right to conquest, of manifest destiny, of themselves as the vanguard of true civilization, if not from Christianity? Having tied itself to history and maintained that its god controlled that history, Christianity must accept the consequences of its past.”
Dominant culture characteristically distorts true historic facts to hide aggrieved governmental acts - justifying their actions by demonizing and pathologizing the non-dominant culture. This practice is legend throughout our western, so-called civilized history. For clear examples, look to the treatment of East Indians by the British who dominated their land in previous decades, or the treatment of the indigenous Australian Aboriginal People by the Australians. These so-called inferior peoples were shamed-told they were uncivilized-less human than the European white culture.
Redskins is a word that should remind every American there was a time in United States history when America paid bounties for human beings. There was a going rate for the scalps or hides of Indigenous men, women, and children.
When the Native American is referred to as a Redskin they are being called a non-human. What you are being told is the part of you that is Native is a Godless Beast.
Understanding the creation of contemporary images, distorted perceptions, and myths of Indigenous Peoples is extremely important not only for Indigenous Peoples, but also for mainstream America. Distorted images of Indigenous Peoples have been burned into societal consciousness via fifty years of mass media. Hollywood screen writers helped to create the frontier myth image of Indigenous People today. This revelation has gone largely unrecorded by the national media and unnoticed by a white public that sees Indigenous Peoples mainly through deeply xenophobic eyes and the mythic veil of mingled racism and romance. Each new generation of popular culture has reinvented their Indian in the image of its own era.
Stories convey how the culture of The First People, their veneration for the land, was all but wiped out. Fortunately, many tribes are in resurgence as our planet is crying for healing. There is much we, dominant culture, can learn from the traditional values of First People regarding care for our planet as well as a partnership model of governance. In fact, the Iroquois Nation had assisted our ‘founding fathers’ in implementing a partnership model in their fledgling U.S. government. Read their paper, Call To Consciousness.
In fact, the so-called ‘uncivilized’ and ‘inferior’ Indians have historically been deeply connected to nature and spirit, inexorably linked, through their language, customs, traditions, ceremonies, and most significantly, their self-awareness. First People were connected with the natural world of which Spirit was an integral part.
Traditional First People were not caught up in the illusions of the material world. Indigenous people connect with spirit that connects them to all of life rather than separating - as we, dominant culture experience with our so-called organized religion. Dominant culture, as a whole, exhibits a hunger - as evidenced by a society gone overboard with obesity, with excessive credit card debt and bankruptcy, adults as well as children demanding to possess every available new technology. Dominant culture, unlike European countries, spends excessive hours away from home and family to pay for mortgage and possessions. By contrast, traditional First People were very close-knit family communities--family & food--including grandparents in childrearing and values-teaching of their children. Contrasted with our modern society, family time and connection with family members suffers. Schedules are so busy, many families don’t have time for meals together.
Lame Deer speaks of bringing up and honoring their children: “...the boy who brings the men water (after their ceremony) is very young. We give him this important job to make him feel like a man, to show him that we believe it is a great thing--his being here, forming a link to the next generation, passing on our old beliefs to the ones who will be coming after us. Without such a feeling of continuity, life would make no sense.”
Grandparents shared oral traditions handed down through countless generations taught as stories to their grandchildren that the Animal People care for their families, feel love and sympathy, anger and despair just as human beings do. We can learn many things by observing animal behavior as the First People observed and learned and integrated into their cultures. In countries where animals are slaughtered merely for their tongues, tusks, testicles or fur, there is much, to be done - or, to watch as species are thoughtlessly annihilated-- consumed by hunger for novelty and greed to possess.
With all this attention to the material world and the business of acquiring, consuming, dominant culture has little time to contemplate matters of spirit - except, perhaps, for the one day of the week set aside for such matters. In contrasts, First People had no need to set one day aside for spirituality. Traditionally, the First People viewed all of life--animals, referred to as the four-leggeds, birds-- referred to as the wing-ed, fish--the finned ones, and plants and trees-as their relatives--brothers & sisters. They did not see animals as of lesser value than humans.
Charles Eastman, his Indian name, Ohiyesa, 1858-1939, raised in traditional ways until his teens at which time he began his dominant society education which included receiving degrees from Dartmouth and Boston University - states in his book: The Soul of an Indian: An Interpretation: “The Indian loved to come into sympathy and spiritual communion with his brothers of the animal kingdom, whose inarticulate souls had for him something of the sinless purity that we attribute to the innocent child. He had faith in their instincts, as in a mysterious wisdom given from above; and while he humbly accepted the supposedly voluntary sacrifice of their bodies to preserve his own, he paid homage to their spirits in prescribed prayers and offerings.”
Trees and animals were recognized by First People as living, sentient beings. When these beings, such as buffalo or salmon, were used to provide necessary materials or food for the community, it was because they were needed and indigenous people take only what was needed and make use of all parts, leaving nothing to waste. Furthermore, the taking of any of these beings lives was done so respectfully in their traditional ways-thanking the spirit of the being for providing sustenance for the community. These values are taught through story-telling and demonstrated by ceremonies down the ancestral lines from grandparents to their grandchildren.
Joseph Bruchac-Abenaki, author of Our Stories Remember, reminds us that “stories and ceremonies have always been at the heart of the cultures of First People. They are alive. Our stories open our eyes and hearts to a world of animals and plants, of earth and water and sky. They take us under the skin and into the heartbeat of Creation. They remind us of the true meaning of all that lives. Our stories remember when people forget.”
Regarding the meaning of our lives, Lame Deer tells us, in Lame Deer Seeks a Vision: “All creatures exist for a purpose. Even an ant knows what the purpose is--not with its brain, but somehow it knows. Only human beings have come to a point where they no longer know why they exist. They don’t use their brains and they have forgotten the secret knowledge of their bodies, their senses, or their dreams. They don’t use the knowledge the spirit has put into every one of them; they are not even aware of this, so they stumble along blindly on the road to nowhere--a paved highway which they, themselves, bulldoze and make smooth so that they can get faster to the big, empty hole which they'll find at the end...”
Being able to think in metaphor - to see the spirit that exists in all things had been wrongly interpreted by European immigrants as ignorant, primitive Indian thinking. The Western mind holds theory whereas in the Native mind everything has a spirit. Every stone carries the history of the world. Stones were here before all of humankind and will remain after all other life passes on.
Western mind has come to believe for centuries that 'civilized' humans are above nature-that nature and its forces are something to be dominated and exploited rather than revered and cared for. And, we do so, violently. Do we consider the Earth a sentient being? Consider, then, the violent act of mining--drilling deeply and forcefully into the body of the earth. Consider, also, the violence when the endless mine shafts collapse, taking the lives of countless workers and devastating family members left behind. Woodlands are demolished in service of providing fortunes for developers who pack countless homes into tidy parcels of land to profit from consumers. Do we think about the bulldozed trees that, for decades, and sometimes for centuries, cleaned our air and maintained our soil, providing habitat for the many birds and squirrels. Do we consider the impact on the animal life disturbed as a result of this so-called progress? Countless animals are killed in the slaughterhouses. Do we think to thank them for the sacrificing of their lives for our sustenance at our table?
Indigenous cultures around the world share reverence for nature as their way of life and in relationship to the natural world; also subscribing to partnership social model values of cooperation and sharing for the greater Good--rather than Getting For Me & Mine. Looking beyond our own individual concerns and needs to the Greater Good are values foreign to our dominator western consciousness. Unlike First People, we were not raised from childhood honoring these considerations toward other life. Due to the attitude of our culture, we believe we are entitled: it is our right to take - to destroy - to consume - to use up - for ourselves, alone. We don’t even think of our ‘taking’ in these terms. These considerations we don’t even think about because we were not raised to value these considerations. As a culture, we are disconnected from the Natural world.
Dominant culture raises their children unaware of respect toward living things. We are raised to want without awareness of the impact. We want to buy - so we destroy land--home to animal creatures and trees--so we can build super-malls. Wanting fast food, we support destruction of the rain forest. Wanting convenience, we purchase disposable items that clog the landfills. We are a very busy society so we do not have time to think of these matters -- we were not taught this manner of respect from our elders. Without realizing, we are raised with a mentality of entitlement - and this attitude is undeniably rampant in our children, today, many of whom subscribe to MUST HAVE mentality.
Bruchac shares an elder teaching story handed down from his ancestors: “G. had rigged a trap to put into the river to catch all the fish-he excitedly goes and tells his grandmother about it. He tells her how easy it will be with this trap to catch ALL the fish in the river-just by reaching into it with his hand, he can pull one out whenever he wants. Grandmother was a wise woman; she explains to him why this is not a good idea. She tells him: If you keep all the fish in a trap, they will eventually die in there. Then there will be no fish for the future, for our children to come. One person cannot own all the fish.”
Consider: We Need Mother-Nature for our existence, Mother-Nature does Not need us!
The Few at the Top possess the ability to define reality and to get the rest of us to affirm that reality as if it were our own. Remember, media commercials are carefully designed and expensively produced to stereotype groups and suggests, as consumers, we are far less intelligent than we should be. Advertising constantly tells us what products to buy, what to eat, how we should smell, what medications we should be requesting of our physicians, what type of vehicle we should drive and how white our teeth must look.
A very effective strategy is keeping the mainstream population very busy--busy working, busy consuming, too busy to think beyond the next scheduled event, much too busy to think about social concerns and effective action that is possible.
We can, however, begin teaching our children about respecting and honoring each other--all people, all living creatures, our resources, our planet. I think of this, for example, when, at the park I witness little children chasing and scaring ducks while their parents--lacking consciousness of respect for all of life--are oblivious to a teaching opportunity. Simple daily things like turning off the lights when we leave a room.
In the Introduction to Neither Wolf Nor Dog, author, Kent Nerburn-- I read a passage that brought tears to my eyes-this passage suggests our disconnect in knowing who First Nations People truly were and are - and how we, as a culture tend to skim the surface of things while believing we have experienced the essence. In Kent Nerburn’s words, as well as the words of a Lakota elder with whom Nerburn reportedly spent time-- perhaps you may read his book.
Nerburn states: “...As I approached I saw a large, irregular boulder enclosed in a fence. A plaque nearby explained that this was a buffalo rock of the sort that the Lakota Indians held sacred. The plaque was fine-very informative-and at great pains to be respectful of the Lakota tradition. If you looked closely you could see the chippings where the anonymous craftsman generations before had tried to coax a more recognizable form from the rock. It did, indeed, look like a buffalo.
“It was easy to see how the Lakota had come to value this rock and invest it with spiritual significance. At an earlier time in my life I might have simply cataloged this information somewhere in my memory and gone happily on my way, satisfied and pleased that I had learned a little more about Indian culture.
“But, I saw something else in that roadside enclosure. I saw a piece of the earth-a huge and silent rock-enclosed in a pen like an animal. I saw the living belief of a people reduced to a placard and made into a roadside curiosity designed for the intellectual consumption of a well-meaning American public. I saw one of the most poignant metaphors for the plight of the Indian people that I am likely to confront in my entire life: the spirit of the land, the spirit of a people, named, framed, and incarcerated inside a fence.
“And, I wasn’t the only one who had seen something more than a history lesson in that roadside enclosure. On the top of the rock, insignificant to anyone who didn’t understand, some previous passerby had placed a few broken cigarettes. That person had placed the sacred gift of tobacco on the rough image of the buffalo, and in so doing had paid homage to the animal that is the physical embodiment of the universe in all its bounty for the Lakota people.
“To that anonymous passerby that rock was not an artifact; it was not even a metaphor. It was a living, spiritual presence. And nothing that the highway department or the historical society or a thousand well-intentioned anthropologists could do or say with their plaques and enclosures would ever hallow that stone as much as that simple gift of tobacco laid by an unknown hand.
“At that moment, as I stood there in the searing heat on a lonely stretch of North Dakota highway, I made a solemn and private vow
that neither could I ever again look at the lives and works of my Indian brothers and sisters as object lessons for my education. I had a human obligation to try to bridge the gap between the world into which I had been born and the world of a people I had grown to know and love.
“In the last analysis, we must all, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, come together. This earth is our mother, this land is our shared heritage. Our histories and fates are intertwined, no matter where our ancestors were born and how they interacted with each other.” From the Introduction to Neither Wolf Nor Dog.
Lakota Elder speaking - in Neither Wolf Nor Dog: “Tobacco is like our church. It goes up to God. When we offer it, we are telling our God that we are speaking the truth. Wherever there’s tobacco offered, everything is wakan - sacred, or filled with power. We make a promise to speak the truth. That’s why we Indians got into trouble with the white man’s ways early on. When we make a promise, it’s a promise to the Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka. Nothing is going to change that promise. We made all these promises with the white man, and we thought the white man was making promises to us. But he wasn’t-he was making deals. We could never figure out how the white man could break every promise, especially when all the priests and holy men were involved. We can’t break promises.
“Let me tell you how we lost the land. Let me tell you the real story. The white people surprised us when they came
some of our elders had told prophecies about them - but still they surprised us. We had seen other strangers before
who we did or did not allow to pass through our land. But, it wasn’t our land like we owned it. It was the land where we hunted
where our ancestors were buried. It was land that Creator had given us. It was the land where our sacred stories took place. It had sacred places on it. Our ceremonies were here
.We knew the animals. They knew us. We had watched the seasons pass on this land. It was alive, like our grandparents. It gave us life for our bodies and the life for our spirits. We were part of it. So, we would let people pass through if they needed to
.We did not wish them to hunt or to disturb our sacred places. You need to understand this: We did not think we owned the land. The land was part of us. We didn’t even know about owning the land. It’s like talking about owning your grandmother. You can’t own your grandmother!”
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