February 29, 2008

Good riddance to ASU's Indians

Some thoughts on Arkansas State's "Indian family" and Jumpin' Joe:

Tonight last ASU home game for IndiansArkansas State University students, staff and alumni will hold a ceremony to say farewell to three American Indian mascots tonight in Jonesboro.

Many will grieve the retirement of the university’s 77-year-old athletics nickname and mascot family during half-time of the men’s basketball game. Some are relieved to see the last of the stereotypic characters that have been gradually watered down over the years.
A former "Indian princess" doesn't understand what's wrong:Little Rock resident and ASU alumna Becky Boyd Newberry portrayed the Indian princess between 1968 and 1970. She will be at the retirement ceremony.

Like many alumni, she is proud of the university and its mascots.

“I thought the Indian family represented strength and pride and heritage, and I don’t understand why that was felt to be demeaning,” she said.
The article answers her in the next few paragraphs with the mascot's history:ASU teams were first called Aggies in 1911. Later, they became Gorillas and then Warriors. The Indians became the official mascot in 1931.

A loincloth-clad caricature known as “Jumpin’ Joe” was adopted in 1937. He was amended to “Runnin’ Joe” in 1994. Three years later, the university discarded the cartoon image and incorporated the letters “ASU” into an Indian headdress.

John Phillips, a banker who lives in West Plains, Mo., portrayed the brave from 1969-73. He incorporated Indian-style dancing that he learned in a scouting organization as a youth. He remembers how excited ASU fans would get when the chief, brave and princess would ride around the football stadium on bareback.

After a controversy around the school’s “Jumpin’ Joe” mascot, the Indian family fell out of favor, Phillips said. In the early 1990s, he was reminiscing with ASU alumna Genie Harrell wife of the late All-American running back Calvin Harrell—about the Indian family.

They resolved to revive the Indian family. With approval from the university and the help of the alumni association, they auditioned for students who could ride horses and play the parts.

David Elliott, Cory Jennings and Jodi Arns Moody were selected, and Phillips and Harrell made their buckskin-and-beads costumes. An American Indian history and culture buff, Phillips said, he attempted to make accurate costumes.

Phillips said he consulted with some American Indians in the area, but he didn’t check with the federally recognized Osage Nation. University legend says that “Chief Big Track,” the main mascot, is named after an Osage chief. Phillips says the mascot is really a general Southern Plains Indian, and the chief is named for the track that encircled the football field in a former stadium. The chief would ride a horse in full gallop around the track after each touchdown.
Comment:  Let me see if I have this straight. For 60 years, ASU "honored" Indians with the big-nosed Jumpin' Joe pictured below. It also "honored" Indians with a phony "chief" named after a football track as well as a "brave" and a "princess." The "chief" "honored" Indians with a phony costume and dance he made up based on something he learned as a child. His primary source of information was the stereotypical Indian wannabes in the Y-Indian Guides or a similar group.

And this is what real Indians should cherish and applaud? Get serious.

The Jumpin' Joe caricature is the worst of the offenses by far. This mascot was so embarrassing that ASU finally got rid of him. Yet ASU supporters want to remember him and all he stood for.

Did Jumpin' Joe embody "strength and pride and heritage"? Is that why he held a stone club and a scalp? I guess his strong, proud heritage involved killing and scalping people like the savage he so obviously was.

60 years of Jumpin' Joe

If Jumpin' Joe wasn't an honorable image, why did ASU keep him for 60 long years? I'll tell you why. Because a mascot is like a pet and an athlete is like an ape. Neither one is considered a full-fledged person. Jumpin' Joe would make a great circus performer or cartoon character, but you wouldn't want him to serve on a jury or marry your daughter.

ASU's history makes Joe's subhuman status crystal-clear. The school nickname was first Gorillas, then Warriors, then Indians. In other words, gorilla = warrior = Indian. No wonder Jumpin' Joe looks like a big baboon. In the eyes of ASU, that's what "Indians" are: trained monkeys who perform athletic tricks in front of an audience. They're mock warriors in a make-believe game, not real warriors.

So good riddance to Jumpin' Joe and the "Indian family." They clearly perpetuated the idea that Indians were noble savages, or just plain savages, from the distant past. ASU embraced these stereotypes because it kept Indians, like apes and other subhuman creatures, at a safe remove.

Now ASU supporters are crying because they don't want to give up their blissful ignorance. Denying their mascots would mean acknowledging that they've been wrong about Indians all along. They'd have to admit that Indians had complex histories, cultures, and religions and we ruthlessly wiped them out.

Skyhawk writes a screenplay

HEARTSONG a film about Indians in Boarding SchoolsAt a time when so many others are telling the American Indian stories by simply re-writing their history; or, by creating historically incorrect contemporary productions, veteran American Indian actor turned producer, Sonny Skyhawk, is turning the table with a screenplay he has written and will be producing entitled HEARTSONG. HEARTSONG is a story about American Indians, written by an American Indian, and will be produced by an American Indian.

HEARTSONG is a true story that takes place during the depression on an Indian reservation and illuminates the redeeming power of will and spirit, when children are forced into an oppressive way of life and treatment through bigotry and cultural genocide. This is their story and HEARTSONG. For nearly a century, American Indian children suffered at the hands of Government sanctioned Boarding Schools on Indian Reservations. Run by various religious denominations, American Indian children became the victims of a silent, but deliberate genocide. Nevertheless, they stood strong and courageous while facing adversity head-on--and, against all odds--they retained what their captors could not forcibly remove. . .their indomitable will and spirit.

Sonny Skyhawk has established the Heartsong Foundation, a 501(3)(c) non profit organization. All profits from HEARTSONG, will go to benefit existing survivors and abused or neglected American Indian children who are descendants of boarding school survivors. The effects of that experience did not end with the closing of those schools and funding will cover the costs associated with crisis counseling, life management, medical care and more.
Plus this surprising claim:Sonny Skyhawk is the first American Indian actor, writer and producer to have advanced to the stature of producing independent films.Comment:  Most people change things around by turning the tables (plural). I guess Skyhawk was able to turn only one table...poor guy.

I responded to this posting on Indianz.com as follows:Sounds good, but a couple questions.

How will Heartsong be different from Older than America, another boarding-school film that's about to debut?

Haven't several Native actors or writers produced independent films already? I'm thinking of people such as Chris Eyre, Sherman Alexie, Valerie Red-Horse, Sheila Tousey, Gary Farmer, Joanelle Romero, Shonie De La Rosa, Sterlin Harjo, and Randy Redroad. I'm not clear on how Sonny Skyhawk qualifies as the "first."
What I didn't share, because I hate to be negative, are the following thoughts:

Do we really need a Native movie titled Heartsong? Wasn't this the title of a Smurfs or Care Bears special a decade or three ago? Could it possibly sound more touchy-feely and New Age-y?

Do we really need another movie bemoaning the tragic fate of Indians? Does Skyhawk really think middle America will sit still for a painful history lesson? For more on this point, see Too Many Serious, Sad Stories.

Rio Grande isn't grand

Here's my review of the last of John Ford's "Cavalry Trilogy" of movies:John Ford offered a fairly sophisticated view of the Apaches, at least for a mid-century Western, in Fort Apache. He identified Cochise and other Apaches by name and gave them some noteworthy face time. But here the Indians are faceless enemies with no human qualities (except perhaps incompetence).

They chant eerily. They attack and kill. They use spears when rifles would be more effective. Their stupid moves (stopping in the village, getting drunk, leaving the children unguarded) outweigh their smart moves (raiding the fort and attacking the wagon train unexpectedly). In short, they're savages, and no match for our stalwart heroes.
Now we can rank the three movies in order:

Fort Apache--7.5
Rio Grande--7.0
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon--6.5

So none of these movies is a masterpiece, despite what the fawning critics have said. And Rio Grande, usually considered the weakest of the three, is better than She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

For more on the subject of John Wayne and his movies, see Straight Shootin' with the Duke.

Below:  Some of the human drama that makes Rio Grande worth watching.

Tatanka and Navajo Warrior vs. Golden Boy

Tatanka answers the call at Sky CityOne bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. And that bad apple will make another appearance at Sky Rumble IV at the Sky City Casino VIP Showroom on Saturday.

Tatanka, superstar of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), said all it took was a phone call from the Navajo Warrior to get him to come out to Acoma to take care of a lone troublemaker.

“My good friend, the Navajo Warrior, called me and asked me if I could come out and join him to get rid of the Golden Boy Jerry Grey who is causing all the problems in World Pro Wrestling,” Tatanka said.
Comment:  Tatanka isn't too stereotypical, is he?

Wow, a big, half-naked chief with warpaint. How stunningly original. By my count, Tatanka is roughly the 100,00th person to use a Plains chief to sell a product (himself).

Has anyone ever noted that pro wrestling is stupid? If not, let me be the first.

Codetalker monument takes shape

Prescott Landscape Architect’s Design to Honor Navajo Code Talkers

Plan aims to create setting of remembrance and veneration for new state monumentWhat makes memorial art monumental isn’t bronze, marble or eternal flames. It’s the power it has to evoke fitting remembrance of those it venerates.

How to do this for Arizona Navajo Code Talkers whose unbreakable military code helped secure United States victory in some of World War II’s most famous battles?

And how to do it with landscape?

These were the questions Landscape Architect Barnabas Kane pondered when he sat down to design the landscape portion of the Navajo Code Talkers Monument, a state memorial project scheduled to be erected in downtown Phoenix Feb. 28.

Menominee rocket scientists

Eye on the Sky:  Tribal College Students Shoot for the SkyIt's rocket science...what a group of students is doing at the College of Menominee Nation in Green Bay.

Several students are building a rocket so they can compete in NASA’s University Student Launch Initiative (USLI).

What makes this interesting is that College of Menominee Nation is a 2-year institution, and the students involved aren’t majoring in physics or engineering.

But they're not completely new to this either...

Last year, several members of this group built their first rocket, Golden Eagle.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Indians as Rocket Scientists.

Oneida chosen to portray Oneida

Oneida Nation member chosen as model for Revolutionary War displayWill Kuhl, Wolf Clan, a member of the Oneida Nation of New York's First Allies, was chosen to pose for a permanent exhibit at the Saratoga National Battlefield's Visitor's Center in Saratoga. Kuhl was one of five individuals chosen to represent various groups--Hessians, warrior children, women, colonists and Oneidas--present at the site during the Revolutionary War.Comment:  What's interesting here is that you never see Revolutionary War-era Indians portrayed like this. They're usually half-naked, for starters. This fellow looks about as civilized as his British-American counterparts.

February 28, 2008

Chagoya overview

An interesting look at a Latino artist who uses Native and comic-book elements to show us the clash of civilizations.

Chagoya's vivid imagery tackles politics, religion, art[H]umor is an integral part of the Mexican-born artist's oeuvre. It seeps out from the most acidic of Chagoya's drawings, which are populated with politicians such as Ronald Reagan, past and present California governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and George W. Bush. Henry Kissinger isn't spared the skewering, nor are former members of the current administration.

In the large charcoal drawing "Untitled (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)," everyone from Colin Powell to John Ashcroft are dwarfs, while an outsized Bush looms large as a hybrid of Alfred E. Neuman and Dopey. Condoleeza Rice as Snow White glowers in the middle of the drawing. In the back, Bin Laden/the Wicked Witch reveals a Mona Lisa smile.

As you walk through the two floors of "Borderlandia," taking in the more than 70 monotypes, intaglio prints, limited edition artist's books, codexes, paintings and drawings, you can't help but chuckle at an image like "Crossing I." Clad in a Pilgrim's tall buckled hat, Superman opens his shirt to expose his emblem-covered chest. Facing him is Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain. Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent whom the Aztecs likely believed had arrived on their shores in the form of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, hovers overhead in a flying saucer straight out of the Jetsons, bringing new meaning to the word "alien."

But where does this melting pot of comic book and Disney characters, Aztec and Mayan deities, Pilgrims and natives, politicians and conquistadores, religious icons and artwork appropriated from European painters like Goya, Monet and American artist George Caleb Bingham come from? And what does it actually mean?

"It's an expression of my own personal frustrations or a way to exercise my anxieties about the world today," Chagoya says.
Comment:  I attended a Chagoya show in 2001 and wrote about it in Indian Comics Irregular #63:  Superman vs. the Mexica. I also mention Chagoya prominently in The Search for Aztlán.

Below:  An image similar to the one described.

Is the end coming?

The year 2012 is suddenly in the news. Will it be worse than Y2K? Let the hype begin.

12/21/12:  The end of the world as we know it?Four years, nine months and three weeks may be about all the time we have left on Earth. Why? Dec. 21, 2012, marks the end of a 5,000-year cycle by the Maya Long Count calendar. To some, this spells doomsday (disaster scenarios include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions caused by solar storms, cracks forming in the earth's magnetic field and mass extinction brought on by nuclear winter). To others, it carries the promise of a new beginning. And to still others, 2012 provides explanations for unsettling developments (e.g., the disappearance of bees) that seem beyond our control.

While all this has largely been a hot topic within alternative cultures, the 2012 phenomenon is slowly trickling into the mainstream. At least four new books on 2012 have appeared in bookstores in the wake of the 2006 success of Daniel Pinchbeck's "2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl." This month, Sony won a bidding war for disaster-movie king Roland "Godzilla" Emmerich's apocalyptic script "2012." And this Saturday, 2012-ers will converge on Hollywood for a day-long conference devoted to the subject.

"There's a real hunger for this kind of knowledge," says 2012 Conference producer Christian John Meoli. Meoli takes a more optimistic view of the date, referring to it as "the Shift" (the conference's slogan: "Shift Happens"). "It's easy to manipulate people with fear," he says. "I wanted to stay away from the gloom and doom."

Among those appearing at the conference will be "Return of Quetzalcoatl" author and psychonaut Pinchbeck, who describes 2012 as "a window of opportunity to change civilization."
Comment:  Let me be the first to predict that nothing of earth-shattering significance will happen on December 21, 2012. The world will be pretty much the same on December 22, 2012.

Who's right:  multitudes of ancient and modern prognosticators, or Rob? Come here on 12/22/12 and find out.

Seven-generation thinking

Ivan Makil:  Understanding 'Seven-Generation Thinking' Key to Developing Indian LandOn February 22, Makil told 350 real estate and finance experts attending a Phoenix, Arizona, conference sponsored by the W.P. Carey School of Business that the key to developing tribal land is "an understanding of seven-generation thinking."

"Each Indian tribe is unique, yes, but all tribes believe in balancing the economic impact of every decision with the physical and spiritual impact. We believe that everything, including mortgages and investments, affects the delicate scale of our lives. We understand the universe as massive, but still requiring this constant, delicate balancing. Seven-generation thinking means giving thought to what a decision's impact will be on the next seven generations, and considers the responsibilities that come with opportunities. It's long-term thinking, which is valuable for anyone making a decision," he said.

The conference began with a traditional indigenous blessing, offered by Ricardo Leonard of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, which set the stage for Makil's comments about seven-generation thinking. Leonard expressed his thoughts in prayer and through traditional songs describing a deeply held belief among native peoples of the importance of respecting the land, the elements and the need for balance as part of any development that takes place in Indian communities.

"It is not a perspective that most developers may readily think of when working with Indian communities," Makil said, "yet it is a concept that is sacred in many ways to the communities and integral to achieving sustainability and a truly viable seven-generation economy."
Comment:  For more on Native values, see Hercules vs. Coyote:  Native and Euro-American Beliefs.

Creating the "Super Indian" comic

Q&A with diva Arigon StarrICT: Been cartooning long? Do you also create fine art?

Starr: I've cartooned since I was a child. I was a fan of "Archie" comics and loved the DC and Marvel superheroes. The dramatic, scary comics "Creepy" and "Eerie" fascinated me. They had great stories and creative black and white artwork. I also work with oil, acrylics and another favorite medium, gouache--a type of water color. My cartoons are part of the current "Rock Art" exhibit on Alcatraz Island--images of leaders of the 1969 Occupation--Atha Rider Whitemankiller, Richard Oakes and Belva Cottier. My work has also been used on promotional postcards for Native Voices productions.

ICT: Describe your graphic process and how you learned it.

Starr: Trial and error, trips to the library, Borders Books and Amazon.com. Marvel has a wonderful method for learning to draw super heroes, and DC Comics has an entire series on producing comics from pencils to final coloring. It also helps to be computer proficient. I'm a big fan of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. I've also found great sites online, such as Comicraft.com for tips on lettering and word balloons. I start with a rough sketch and a typed document describing dialogue, scene and action. From there, it's a tighter pencil drawing, then pen and ink, and a quick computer scan. I use a Mac to color and insert lettering. It's a lot more detailed than the sketches I used to do when I was bored in class. AAY! When finished, I'm going to self-publish.
Comment:  For more on "Super Indian," see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows. For more on Native-themed comic books, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

Hatter Fox news

TV star launches television networkThirty years ago, she was a girl called Hatter Fox. Now she's a filmmaker, singer/songwriter, and entrepreneur who plans to create the first Indian television network.

Joanelle Romero, an actress of Apache/Cheyenne descent, has accomplished many things in her life. In 1977, she was the first person to star in a movie about a contemporary American Indian woman. Only three such movies have been made since then, she said: "Lakota Woman," "Naturally Native" and "Imprint."

In 2006, Romero introduced the Red Nation Television Channel. So far, the channel is Web-based, with content such as syndicated news, documentaries and music videos. But her goal is more ambitious than offering multimedia on the Net. "We want to be--we will be the next Indian HBO/CNN," she declared.
Comment:  The editors deleted what I thought was a great subtitle:

This Fox is no yapping dog

For more pictures of Romero, see Pix of the 2008 WIGC. For more on Native-themed TV, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

Young Native Voices

Nurturing the next crop of Native artistsCreating a space for young artists to find their voices, Native Voices at the Autry is doing brilliant work with the Young Native Voices: Theater Education Workshops. Now in its seventh year, Young Native Voices has provided workshops and residencies for American Indian youth.

Native Voices at the Autry is a professional Theater Company located in Los Angeles devoted to developing new scripts by Native writers. It is housed at the Autry Museum--a destination for many school-age children.

"Working closely with the Southern California Indian Center," said Native Voices artistic director Randy Reinholz, Choctaw, "We wanted to develop something for the young people here in LA."

The Theater Education workshops encourage young American Indians to explore their stories and share their experiences through the art of playwriting. To date, 45 new plays have been written by young playwrights as part of the project.
Comment:  For more on Native Voices at the Autry, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

Hollywood = Indian country

Indian Comics Irregular #167:  Indians Take Tinseltown

February 27, 2008

What Michelle Obama meant

I suspect many Indians would agree with Michelle Obama's recent comments.

I’m Older Than Michelle Obama, and I’m Not Proud of America Yet.

What she said:“What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something—for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I’ve seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues, and it’s made me proud.”What she meant:In short, Obama was saying this: “If the essential substance that makes up our nation is equality, then this is the first time that I can say our nation’s equality is not questionable, defective, or sub-par.”

That’s the heart of it. She’s not saying this because a successful presidential campaign benefits her husband, and thus her. She’s saying that being so close to the sight of a Black man getting this near to the nomination has been transformational. (Or as she said to Katie Couric, “This is a trip.”)
Comment:  Many Indians aren't proud of America's record on human rights. Presumably they'd agree with Obama that America's record hasn't lived up to its rhetoric.

Anyone who criticizes America's flaws, as I do, gets the same kind of flak Obama received for her remarks. Our country is still rather intolerant of dissent.

One ballerina speaks for five

Tulsa sculptures commemorate Oklahoma's five Indian ballerinasOn Nov. 14, 2007, five bronze sculptures entitled "The Five Moons," created by Oklahoma artist Gary Henson, were unveiled on the west lawn of the Tulsa Historical Society. These statues depict the five ballerinas in their prime: Osage sisters Maria and Marjorie Tallchief; Moscelyne Larkin of the Shawnee and Peoria tribes; Choctaw Nation member Rosella Hightower; and Yvonne Chouteau, who is a Shawnee on the Cherokee Nation rolls.

Chouteau, 78, of Oklahoma City, was the only one able to attend the unveiling. Born and raised in nearby Vinita, Okla., Chouteau has a deep affection for Tulsa, which is where she studied dance with Larkin's mother, who Chouteau called "Madame Eva."
How Chouteau got started:Chouteau's interest in ballet specifically came when she was a young girl, and her parents took her to a ballet performance in Oklahoma City. It was at this performance that she decided that ballet would be her path in life.

"The appeal for young ladies is that it's [ballet] such a feminine, beautiful thing," Chouteau said. "It certainly was when I entered into it. When I joined the Ballet Russe, I was just 14. That was the year 1943. Many years before that, my parents took me to see a ballet performance in Oklahoma City with a famous Ballet Russe company. When I saw the ballet, all the young ladies had beautiful white-tulled skirts on with white satin bodice[s]. On the hair were white flowers and blue wreaths of flowers. I thought, 'Oh, this is so beautiful. This is so wonderful, this gorgeous Chopin music, dancing to it.' I thought this is what I want to do for the rest of my life."

Sioux to get Medal of Honor

First Native American receives US gallantry medal 26 years afterThe first full-blooded Sioux Indian to be awarded America's highest gallantry medal is to be honoured at the White House next week--26 years after his death and a quarter of a century after the start of a campaign to have his courage on the battlefield recognised publicly.

Woodrow Wilson Keeble, named after the US president in office when he was born on a poor North Dakota reservation in 1917, will finally be credited posthumously with the Congressional Medal of Honour for his actions on a Korean ridge in 1951.
Why Keeble is being recognized:When conflict broke out in Korea, he volunteered again and found himself in action as a master-sergeant with the 19th Infantry Regiment, leading a platoon against the Chinese Communist "volunteers" who flooded into the country to repel allied troops operating under a UN mandate.

When his rifle company found itself pinned down and taking casualties from a Chinese-held hill at the Kumsong River, Keeble launched a one-man assault to break the deadlock, using all his native hunting skills to take advantage of the fire-swept ground.

While US mortars concentrated on the Chinese infantry in trenches, the six feet-tall master-sergeant worked his way up the ridge, using grenades and rifle fire to clear three machine-gun nests.

The argument against Kosovo

One Nation, IndivisibleThe case against recognition is based not only on the Security Council’s 1999 resolution reaffirming Serbia’s sovereignty over Kosovo, but also founded on the view that the international system has, as a result of this hostile act by the Kosovo Albanians, become more unstable, more insecure and more unpredictable.

Here’s why. Recognizing the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia legitimizes the doctrine of imposing solutions to ethnic conflicts. It legitimizes the act of unilateral secession by a provincial or other non-state actor. It transforms the right to self-determination into an avowed right to independence. It legitimizes the forced partition of internationally recognized, sovereign states.

It violates the commitment to the peaceful and consensual resolution of disputes in Europe. It supplies any ethnic or religious group that has a grievance against its capital with a playbook on how to achieve its ends. It even resurrects the discredited cold-war doctrine of limited sovereignty.
Comment:  Russell Means and company are also guilty of unilateral secession. Even if they had the right, which they don't, what if other Lakotas didn't want to secede? Who gave Means the right to decide on their behalf?

Unless there's a vote on the matter, any secession is morally if not legally invalid.

Senate approves apology

Indian Health Bill Passed, Oh And Apology, TooWhile the Indian leaders and senators rejoiced the act's passage Tuesday, the Senate's passage of a resolution attached to the act calling for a formal apology to Native people elicited about as much celebration as a slice of stale, truckstop frybread.

Even the resolution's sponsor, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who has been calling for the apology since 2004, said nothing about the resolution's passage Tuesday.

Last week, however, Brownback offered these words:

"With this apology, the federal government can repair and improve our relationship with Native Americans. While we cannot erase the past, this amendment hopefully helps heal the wounds that have divided America for too long."

Naïve at best, the resolution epitomizes the government's reliance on good words in dealing with Indian issues.

Only a formal Indian apology uttered by a sitting president, something this president never would do, and then followed by immediate action to improve Indian communities, could ever begin to repair the federal government's fractured relationship with tribes.

Seminoles host music festival

Langerado Festival comes to Big CypressStarting Thursday, March 6, the music festival will bring all sorts of big-name groups to the stage: Rockers R.E.M., bass player Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, do-it-yourself rappers The Roots, punk-folkee Ani Difranco, laid-back world-beat hipsters Thievery Corporation, rapping hipsters The Beastie Boys and many more. Plus, there are lots of lesser-known bands such as Minus the Bear, The Walkmen and The Heavy Pets.

"I think it's great," says Brooke Bockemuehl, 29, of Fort Myers, who's going with her boyfriend and eight other Southwest Florida friends. "I've never heard of anything like this here."

Big Cypress is the same place where jam-band Phish played its millennium concerts in December 2000. Those two concerts attracted 75,000 people and clogged traffic on Interstate 75 for hours.

Hoop dancer wins competition

American Indian performer takes top prize at contestGroups and individuals competed in the first International Dance Competition, sponsored by the Jacobson House Native Art Center, the University of Oklahoma School of Dance and the OU School of Music. Each dance was introduced by a cultural ambassador, and after the performances audience members voted for their favorite.

Taking the $1,000 top prize was American Indian hoop dancer Kevin Connywerdy (Comanche/Kiowa). Connywerdy, who also opened the competition with a tribute dance to American Indian artist Jack Hokeah, formed various shapes with the hoops while keeping in step with the drum beats.

February 26, 2008

Conservation = Native value

Lecturer:  Indian culture teaches energy sustainabilityWinona LaDuke ran as Ralph Nader’s running mate in the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections, but yesterday she spoke to a crowded Montana Theatre about something other than politics.

“I just want to let you know I’m not running for vice president,” she said, alluding to Nader’s Sunday announcement that he would run for president again. “In case you’re wondering and don’t want to wait till the end to ask.”
Good to know LaDuke isn't going to help Republicans win the presidency and thus ruin the nation, as she did in 2000. If Nader wants to hand another victory to the invaders, torturers, and war criminals, he'll have to do it by himself.

On to the issue of energy sustainability:Indians believe the Creator’s law is the highest and for that reason they honor the lake and the land. But America doesn’t follow this principle, she said.

“We believe we are able to outsmart the oceans and winds,” she said. “We are foolish.”

During this and other moments, the crowd abruptly broke into applause and repeatedly uttered agreeing “uh-huh”s in accordance with LaDuke’s criticisms of America’s unquenchable appetite for resources and energy, an appetite that must be suppressed, she said.

America allocates water rights until the river is gone, relies on oil like an addict, and makes a business of waste management, she said.

“They’re not landfills,” she said. “They’re land mountains.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Ecological Indian Talk.

America's oldest urban site?

More evidence that Indians were far from uncivilized savages:

Plaza in Peru may be the America's oldest urban site

The circular structure at the ruins of Sechin Bajo is about 5,500 years old, archaeologists report.An ancient stone plaza unearthed in Peru dates back more than five millenniums and is the oldest known urban settlement in the Americas, according to experts here.

Archaeologists say the site, uncovered amid a complex of ruins known as Sechin Bajo, is a major discovery that could help reshape their understanding of the continent's pre-Columbian history.

Carbon dating by a German and Peruvian excavation team indicates that the circular plaza is at least 5,500 years old, dating to about 3,500 BC, said Cesar Perez, an archaeologist at Peru's National Institute of Culture who supervised the dig.

That would make it older than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Sechin Bajo, 230 miles north of the capital, Lima, thus eclipses the ancient Peruvian citadel of Caral, some 5,000 years old, as the New World's oldest known settlement.
Comment:  This discovery contradicts the well-worn stereotype that Indians wandered aimlessly for millennia, doing nothing.

For more on the subject, see The Myth of Western Superiority.

Review of Teaching Disco

Dances with Teen Angst

Play Says We're All Disco Square DancersThree Lakota youths have only a few days to complete their school assignments. Kenny, the potential dropout, must demonstrate how to disco. Martin, the good boy from a bad background, must teach people to square-dance. Amanda, the brown-skinned girl with white parents, must interview some elders.

Best friends Kenny (Noah Watts) and Martin (Robert Vestal) decide to aid newcomer Amanda (Tonantzín Carmelo) and combine their presentations. If you wonder how these presentations could possibly fit together, well, so do they. Whether the threesome will help, hinder, or hurt each other remains to be seen.

Thus begins Teaching Disco Square Dancing To Our Elders: A Class Presentation.
Comment:  See the Native talent in this play at Pix of Teaching Disco.

Keelhauling Navajo pirates

Pirates of the Navajo NationIn April, legislation will go before the Tribal Council to enact anti-piracy laws for the first time on the Navajo Nation. Sponsored by Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie, the new law will enforce what the Feds have ruled illegal for a long time—the stealing of another’s intellectual and artistic property for personal gain. It is way overdue and we strongly support Yazzie’s proposal.

Filmmakers Andee and Shonie De La Rosa of Sheephead Films have made a 21-minute video, Pirates of the Navajo Nation, which includes interviews with comedian/actor James Junes; members of the bands Blackfire and Ethnic de Generation, as well as the owners of a local video store and others impacted by bootlegging. I urge you to watch, because what you’ll see and hear is definitely a big deal—for the artists, the store owners and the taxpayers of the Navajo Nation.

My online resumé

This subsection of my website describes my professional writing skills and offers writing samples. It's geared toward the general employer who isn't interested in my Indian and gaming specialties. Check it out if you're curious.

Business and Computer Writing

In particular, you may want to read Endless Flights:  The Forgotten Astronaut and His Friend. It's one of the better things I've written, if I do say so myself.

Vegas on the rez

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. Here's a glimpse of the future from filmmaker Shonie De La Rosa. (Click on the picture to see the full-size image.)

February 25, 2008

Why Natives aren't Christians

Listening post explores Native American issuesThe Rev. Chebon Kernell was raised in two spiritual worlds that some people say have little in common.

He's a lifelong United Methodist who responded to a call to Christian ministry at age 17. And he's a Seminole Native American, no stranger to the ceremonial traditions of his ancestors.

"As a minister," he said, "I've wondered where to draw the line between the two-or whether it should even be drawn."

That issue and others faced by Native Americans in The United Methodist Church were analyzed Feb. 16 at a "listening post" hosted by the denomination's Native American Comprehensive Plan.
Some of the issues:No more than 6 percent of the 2.7 million Native Americans in the United States identify themselves as Christian--a statistic often blamed on mistrust of the church.

Mission schools operated on Indian reservations from the late 1800s through the first half of the 20th century, many of them founded by Methodists. Children were forced to adopt Anglo-European culture, abandon their tribal languages and convert to Christianity.

Today the Native American Church, an indigenous denomination that mixes elements of Christian faith with tribal sacraments, thrives in Native communities where mainline churches don't.

"They attract larger numbers of young people," said the Rev. David Wilson, chairman of the plan's task force and superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. "That's partly because those settings celebrate who they are as Native people. Our (United Methodist) church hasn't always affirmed that."
And:"We've always been a spiritual people," said the Rev. Wil Brown, a member of the Kiowa and Acoma tribes and former director of Native American Ministries for the American Baptist Church. "The task isn't to introduce God, but to introduce Jesus Christ in a way that isn't offensive to Native people. It's a hard nut to crack."Comment:  I suspect most Natives eschew Christianity not because they mistrust the church but because they already have perfectly good religions.

The differences between Christianity and Native religions are rather clear. Here are some statements of their respective values:And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:26-28
Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors, the dreams of our old men, given them by the great Spirit, and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off beyond the stars, are soon forgotten, and never return. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them.

Chief Seattle (Suquamish), from a speech, 1855?
For more on the subject, see Hercules vs. Coyote:  Native and Euro-American Beliefs.

Educating Russ about historical accuracy

Russell Bates wrote:Show writerfella a picture of either Larry McMurtry or CBS claiming that COMANCHE MOON was a documentary or a historical treatise or even a docu-drama.Unfortunately, you lose again, Russ. Here's the information you so obviously missed:

One more ride for 'Lonesome Dove' characters"Buffalo Hump was a historical figure," McMurtry said. "He had a long career. That's not to say that the character in the movie is exactly like Buffalo Hump, but he was a real figure. He was a real leader . . . and he did lead massive raids on south Texas."

Ossana said that, even though the miniseries is "billed as historical fiction," the "Indians are portrayed much more realistically" than in recent Western miniseries.

"They're neither particularly heroes nor villains," the producer said. "They're just realistic. I think their culture is portrayed very accurately. . . . We were adamant about the language being accurate. . . . We felt very strongly that it should be authentic and respectful to a time and a place and those characters."

But it's an inauthentic aspect of Westerns that "has become our national ritual drama," McMurtry said. That would be the classic image of the solitary sheriff taking to the main street of town for a quick-draw showdown at high noon.

It's "the shootout in the street, which, of course, had nothing to do with life in the old West," the Texas native said. "It was entirely invented by Hollywood. In the old West, sheriffs like Wyatt Earp would rather walk up behind their victim and whack him on the head with a gun and drag him off to the jail. They didn't stand in front of him and invite him to shoot them--to draw faster."

It's another cliche that McMurtry is all too happy to shoot down.

Wes Studi--Indian Country’s leading actorOssana, in a conference call before the premiere, described Comanche Moon as a fable, a historical fiction which is intertwined with authentic Comanche traditions. She spoke proudly about how the movie’s Comanche actors and consultant were not paid during the time they were partaking in their Comanche traditions. Such as the ceremonial preparation that takes place before an eagle feather is worn. Ossana also excitedly noted that the eagle feathers used in the movie were real, a big first for television westerns with a strong Native American genre.Comment:  So McMurtry shot down the cliché of the shootout while reinforcing the cliché of the marauding Indian savages. Since McMurtry and Ossana claimed their work was accurate and authentic, we have every right to judge it on those qualities. And so I did. Comanche Moon failed as an accurate and authentic look at Indians for the reasons I've given previously.

Let me remind you that Russ couldn't touch my question about historical accuracy in King Lollipop in Comanche Moon. Amazingly, he thinks historical accuracy isn't an issue even though writers such as McMurtry and Ossana have said it is. Perhaps that explains why they're major cowboy-and-Indian writers and he isn't.

Early mascot victories

Chief OffendersOnce upon a campus, the University of Oklahoma, known in sports circles as Big Red, had a mascot, Little Red. Garishly clad white boys revved up the crowd with "war chants" and "Indian dances"--mainly woo-woo-woo yells and acrobatic leaps--g-stringed OU breechcloth flapping in the breeze.

Big Red fans loved Little Red. Native students loathed him. They demanded that OU banish "the war-whooping idiot who misrepresents American Indians."
What happened:In 1970, after a Native sit-in at the president's office, the school's human relations committee called for the "total abolishment of Little Red....Perhaps for the first time since statehood, Oklahomans have the proposition forcefully thrown up to them that being Indian is being a certain kind of human being and not an object of entertainment."

Little Red was history.
More victories:Encouraged by the victory in the heartland, Native students in the East and West stepped up their efforts to end stereotyping in sports. The 42-year-old Indians were traded for the Cardinal at Stanford University in northern California and joined the ranks of Little Red in 1973. Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, ended the half-century run of the Indian in 1974, for Big Green.

Syracuse University's symbol was the next to fall. It began as a joke in 1931, when a student rag described the unearthing of fictitious artifacts, including a "portrait of an early Onondaga chief, O-gee-ke-da Ho-achen-ga-da, the saltine warrior Big Chief Bill Orange."

Citizens of Onondaga Nation, six miles away, were not amused by the hoax, but the school embraced the Saltine Warrior.

"There was the Army mule, Navy goat, Georgia bulldog and Syracuse Indian," said Oren Lyons, an Onondaga faithkeeper who played lacrosse under the Saltine Warrior emblem. "We were subhumans in sports." Syracuse consigned its 45-year-old symbol to the archives in 1975. In its place they chose to honor a fruit and school color, the Orange.
Another victory:St. Bonaventure University is in upstate New York, not far from Seneca Nation. For most of its athletics history, men were the Brown Indian and women the Brown Squaw. In 1975, Seneca clanmothers and a chief informed the players and faculty that "squaw" meant "vagina" in certain Iroquoian and Algonquian languages. Brown Squaw was retired, quickly and quietly.

Twenty years later, Brown Indian was swapped for Bonafanatic.
Comment:  Apparently the Little Red mascot is so embarrassing that no one has posted a picture of it on the billions of pages indexed by Google.

FYI, my father was a Stanford Indian before the team nickname became the Stanford Cardinal. Amazingly, the change caused him no harm whatsoever.

For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots.

Pictured below:  The Dartmouth Indian.

Native horse trading cards

Bella Sara™ Trading Cards and Online World for Girls Presents Native Lights Native American–Themed Card Set and Online World AdditionsAs with all Bella Sara card sets, each horse in Native Lights can be activated online at BellaSara.com and has a message designed to support healthy self-reflection among girls. The Native Lights card set includes new horses named after Native American tribes such as Apache, Comanche, Mohawk and Shawnee, as well as thematically updated versions of the iconic Bella Sara horses Bella, Fiona, Jewel and Thunder.

New horses introduced in Native Lights include Osage, Chumash, Cheyenne and Navajo, and their animal companions, including butterfly, dolphin, eagle and snake friends. The new card set also brings new positive messages such as:

• “Be free to change your mind.” — Osage

• “Relax and ride the waves of laughter that spread joy in the world.” — Chumash

• “See the beauty in both the shadow and the light.” — Cheyenne

• “You can choose to change what you think, do, or want.” — Navajo
Comment:  Other than some minor Native decorations, the horses aren't connected to the tribes they're named after. In fact, the Chumash didn't even have horses. And the decorations aren't necessarily accurate. Cheyenne the horse carries a shield with Northwest Indian art.

Neither the animal companion nor the positive message makes the horses more Native. The lack of anything specific tying the horses to Native cultures is telling. These cards aren't about educating kids, they're about making money.

The cards' message isn't a good one for Native people. A oneness with nature and a feel-good spirituality are the essence of a New Age (mis)interpretation of Native beliefs. The cars reinforce the impression that all Native cultures were the same--i.e., pre-industrial hippie communes.

Stereotypes on the Prairie

American Indians in Fact and Fiction:  Little House on the PrairieClassic and award-winning books of historical fiction suggest---powerfully---that American Indians were primitive people. Through these books, children are allowed to think that Indians were less-than-human. Primitive in lifestyle. Primitive in intellect.

But, that is not the case.

Here's a few facts to consider next time you read Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie.

Charles took his family into "Indian Territory" in 1868.

By then, about 800--yes, that's right 800--treaties had been negotiated between the tribes and the federal government.
American Indians in Fact and Fiction:  Little House on the Prairie (part 2)I'm critical of Wilder and a good many other writers for the ways they describe Indians in their books. When you have a minute, read the passage in Little House where the Indians enter the house. Something about them smells bad. Laura realizes it is the "fresh" skunk skins they are wearing. They are, apparently, impervious to the pungent skunk odor! Let's back that up, though. Wouldn't they know how to skin skunks without puncturing the glands where the skunk oil is? Wouldn't they prepare the skin by tanning it before wearing it?(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 2/16/08 and 2/17/08.)

Comment:  This is a classic case of bitchin' and moanin' about--i.e., criticizing--someone's work. Reese has nothing good to say about Little House on the Prairie and its stereotypes. Yet the book is set in stone, its author dead and gone, so what purpose does it serve?

Simple. Reese's criticism educates children, parents, and teachers about the mistakes and omissions in Little House on the Prairie. Armed with the information, they can read it more critically or avoid it altogether.

The deadliest Indian war

Reality show reenacts Seminole war

To raise awareness of American and Indian history, reenactors staged the Second Seminole WarRiding horseback, Moses Jumper Jr. had one hand on his saddle and the other on his gun. He and other Seminole Indians fought from galloping horses and fired on U.S. soldiers armed with muskets.

On Sunday, Jumper was among 60 "fighters"--made up of Seminole Indians and volunteers from outside the tribe--reenacting a scene at the Big Cypress Billie Swamp Safari that could have happened during the Second Seminole War. The performance also concluded a three-day event that featured live music, fried alligator nuggets and craft booths, and drew about 2,000 from around the state.

The war that began in 1835 and lasted seven years was fought over the United States' attempts to acquire the tribe's South Florida land. It's often described as the deadliest and costliest of the Indian wars: The United States spent $20 million battling the Seminoles, according to MyFlorida.com, a state website.

Pix of Teaching Disco

Pictures from the Native Voices play I saw at the Autry Museum's Wells Fargo Theater:

Teaching Disco Square Dancing to Our Elders--Feb. 10, 2008

February 24, 2008

Indian in Sherrybaby

An Indian character plays a key role in the movie Sherrybaby, the 2006 independent drama. Here's a synopsis of the film from the official website:"From the age of 16 to 22 heroin was the love of my life. I mean, I had a daughter and I never even took care of her, and I want to take care of her..." — Sherry Swanson

Three years after entering prison for robbery as a 19-year-old heroin addict, Sherry Swanson (Maggie Gyllenhaal) begins her first day of freedom, clean and sober. A model prisoner who has undergone personal transformation, she immediately sets out to regain custody of her young daughter Alexis (Ryan Simpkins), who has been cared for in her absence by her brother Bobby (Brad Henke) and his wife Lynn (Bridget Barkan).

Unprepared for the demands of the world she’s stepped back into, Sherry’s hopes of staying clean, getting a job, and becoming a responsible mother are challenged by the realities of unemployment, halfway houses, and parole restrictions. Bobby and Lynn’s concerns about Sherry’s ability to care for Alexis, and her inability to prove them wrong, threaten to destroy the already delicate relationship she has with her daughter, as well as her newfound sobriety.

Disillusioned and haunted by wounds from her childhood, Sherry is eventually confronted with life-altering questions about her own survival and what it means to be a good mother. Ultimately she learns that as the harsh realities of life often get in the way of her best intentions, sometimes it’s best to take life one small step at a time.
Danny Trejo plays an urban Indian whom Sherry meets in a 12-step program. Apparently the character's background is similar to Trejo's. Here's the scoop on him:Danny Trejo (born May 16, 1944) is an American actor who has appeared in many Hollywood movies.

Trejo (pronounced Treh-ho), a Mexican American, was born Dan Trejo, Jr. in Los Angeles, the son of Alice Rivera and Dan Trejo, a construction worker. He is a cousin of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and a native of the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. As a youth, he roamed the streets around his home area, committing various crimes and became addicted to drugs. He was in and out of jail many times as a teenager.

While on the streets, Trejo developed talent as a boxer and considered taking up boxing as a profession. That ambition was dashed by a lengthy prison sentence. While serving time in San Quentin State Prison, he became the California state prison champion in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions. During this time, Trejo became a member of a twelve-step program, which he credits with his success in overcoming drug addiction.
Although Dean Walker (Trejo's character) never says he's an Indian, a few things make the identification clear. One, with his hair in a ponytail, he looks like an Indian. Two, he cooks venison stew. Three and most important, he performs a smudging ceremony to help cleanse Sherry.

When we first see Dean, he doesn't seem impressive. Besides being an addict, he's eager to sleep with Sherry while he has another woman on the side. But soon he seems to be reasonably committed to Sherry. He says he'll be her friend as well as her lover. He takes her home after she gets high, and drives her to her daughter's birthday party. It appears he'll be a stabilizing and possibly long-term presence in her life.

Sherrybaby isn't deep but it's well done. This review from IMDB.com kind of captures how I feel about it:I think Gyllenhaal captures her character with effortless conviction. From the mood swings, frustration, confused maternal love to the ultimate frailty, she translates every component of her wreck of a character with perfect emotional transparency. It all translates into a very real and heartrending performance. Best of all, she never falls prey to showiness or exaggerated melodrama; she keeps it down-to-earth. Soon Sherry turns into a manifestation of the title 'Sherrybaby' as she finds herself sucked back into her teenage life of sorts: she craves attention, she is helpless, she wants to do drugs, she sleeps around. All the while she remains on the outside of things looking in because she has been absent for so many years.

Certainly all performances in the film hold up pretty well. It is especially interesting to see Danny Trejo in a role in which he is actually nice for a change--a bit of a sleaze, true--but still on the side of good (as opposed to rentable bad-guy/thug). All the interactions between the characters follow the theme of the film; it is realistic. But 'Sherrybaby' is not devoid of faults. At all. One of its key shortcomings is its lack of any clear point. You get the feeling most scenes do not serve any purpose other than to give us a feel for the way things are run (wow, I feel like I'm writing about Scorsese) in the white trash culture.
Rob's rating:  8.0 of 10. For more on Natives in movies, see The Best Indian Movies.

No authentic Indians left?

Remaining 'authentic' in a changing world"Authentic Indians" are for many non-American Indians only those who look and dress like the stereotypical image of a Plains Indian--stoic and vanishing. There is a tendency for the general public--and often sympathetic foreigners--to believe that the only true Indians are those who greeted the Mayflower in 1620, and continue to live in the same way.

Famous anthropologists like Alfred Kroeber, a major researcher of California Indian tribes, and Franz Boas, the father of American anthropology, argued there were no authentic Indians in the United States after 1850. These men did not study the Indian communities they found during their field research, but tried to reconstruct Indian communities as they existed in the past, before significant Western contact. Rather than find examples of living history and continuing customs, they consulted elders who could remember the languages and cultures, the old ways.

There is no doubt that the anthropologists provided great service to tribal communities by preserving cultural knowledge and aspects of languages. But the emphasis on "salvage" anthropology, researching to find the last remnants of indigenous communities before they were lost, and the absence of interest in living indigenous communities, did a great disservice to indigenous peoples.
And:The question of authenticity, however, continues to plague contemporary American Indians. Native images and authenticity are frozen in time and are most often defined by non-Native people. The general public receives vast amounts of images from modern media, including movies and television. Most film and television writers of shows depicting Native people and history are often non-Natives with no particular study or first-hand knowledge. American Indians are treated as one-dimensional characters--as noble savages, the unfortunate victims of history, or as bloodthirsty warmongers. Even some American Indians today have adopted a static imagery of authenticity. When Native people are called "apples," white on the inside and "red" on the outside, putting aside the racial connotations, the imagery suggests that individuals and communities cannot change, and that being Indian is and always will be a static condition.

Indian people do change. We just may not change in patterns that are recognized or common to Western or American society. Indian people are willing to change and adapt to necessarily uphold their values, cultures and ways of life. The world is changing rapidly, and Indian people must make decisions about how to manage relations with local, state and federal government, while trying to gain economic self-sufficiency and maintain cultural and political autonomy. Changing world conditions require Indian people to meet the new conditions in order to continue as communities or distinct cultures. Since the world is fundamentally different from the past of say, 200 years ago, the ways of meeting the demands of contemporary and future life will also require change. Even more so, the new conditions often require new solutions, sometimes not contained in the traditions. New ways of approaching economic self-sufficiency or cultural expression are found useful. The changing world offers new choices. Native individuals and communities have more choices and ways of finding solutions to issues as they pertain to cultural survival.
Comment:  To reiterate the obvious: "The general public receives vast amounts of images from modern media, including movies and television."

There's only one problem in this otherwise fine editorial. When the author says:[F]or tribal groups who petition for federal recognition by way of the mixed blood community clause in the Indian Reorganization Act must show that the surviving mixed bloods continue to live in the style of Indians. These views do not allow that the world has changed considerably over the past 200 years, and that Indians today do not, and cannot, live like their ancestors. Americans expect authentic Indians to remain unchanging, although no one expects Americans to look and behave like pilgrims.If a tribe has none of its traditional culture left and has only a fraction of "Indian blood," in what sense are they Indians? The point of federal recognition is to restore a tribe to a semblance of its previous existence. It's not to create a facsimile of a tribe from people with no cultural or biological links to the tribe's past.

That's why the BIA imposes stringent rules on who gets to be federally recognized as a tribe. And why most "tribes" fail to get recognized. Without strong cultural or biological ties, they're no longer Indians.

Learning about Indians in school

On the one hand, there's PECHANGA.net, Indianz.com, and Indian Country Today. On the other hand, there's Apocalypto, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Comanche Moon. With that in mind, are today's kids well-informed about Indians?

Teaching for the Test

How hard could it be for a top teacher at an elite high school to win the coveted National Board certification? You'd be surprised. He sure was.On the first day of school in the fall of 2006, I looked out at the crop of newly minted 10th-graders crammed into their wooden desks.

"Do you think they're ready for the quiz, Ms. Bain?" I deadpanned.

"Sure," replied my partner, Jen Bain, a history teacher with whom I shared this class of 50 kids. The students' nervous smiles froze as we walked around the room, distributing quiz papers.
The quiz commences:The room grew silent as the students started in on the questions: List three Native American tribes of Virginia. Who was Walter Plecker? If a tree falls in the forest (circa 1500 and felled by an Indian), how is it taken down?

No one did too well, of course, which was the point. In a school year marked by the regional observance of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, North America's "first" settlement, none of our students knew about the people who had lived here for centuries before the European colonists arrived. To be honest, their teachers didn't know much, either.

Together, we learned as we went. We discovered that there are eight recognized groups of Native Americans in Virginia, but the reason most of us only vaguely recognize tribe names such as Pamunkey or Mattaponi is that Walter Plecker, Virginia's state registrar from 1912 to the mid-1940s, had essentially wiped them from the census by vigorously applying to Native Americans the "one-drop rule" originally designed to deny voting rights to blacks. One drop of Indian blood, and you didn't exist.

To kick off the canoe project, we invited an expert in primitive technology, who strode through the halls clad in Davy Crockett buckskins. After he made fire in the school courtyard four different ways without a match, one student wrote in her canoe notebook, "Maybe Native American technology wasn't so primitive after all."
Comment:  Despite what they've learned from family and friends (nothing), 10th-graders don't know much about Indians. What they know is what they've learned from the media: that chiefs and braves lived in teepees on the Plains.

Now we know why Virginia's tribe's are seeking federal recognition. It isn't because they aren't true Indians. It's because their status as Indians was voided by prejudiced white men.

Why Indians remain poor

A scientific and sociocultural response to the "blame the victim" attacks often leveled against Indians:

Poverty Is Poison“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory—and hence the ability to escape poverty—for the rest of the child’s life.

So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.
And:[E]xcuses for poverty involve the assertion that the United States is a land of opportunity, a place where people can start out poor, work hard and become rich.

But the fact of the matter is that Horatio Alger stories are rare, and stories of people trapped by their parents’ poverty are all too common. According to one recent estimate, American children born to parents in the bottom fourth of the income distribution have almost a 50 percent chance of staying there—and almost a two-thirds chance of remaining stuck if they’re black.

That’s not surprising. Growing up in poverty puts you at a disadvantage at every step.

I’d bracket those new studies on brain development in early childhood with a study from the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked a group of students who were in eighth grade in 1988. The study found, roughly speaking, that in modern America parental status trumps ability: students who did very well on a standardized test but came from low-status families were slightly less likely to get through college than students who tested poorly but had well-off parents.

More on MTV's Native reporter

MTV's Native VoiceAfter spending eight hours helping Native American college students across the country get money for college, more work awaits her in her Albuquerque home.

"Some days I come home from work and go straight to editing," Begay said. "Sometimes I'm up till two or three in the morning."

It's Begay's job with MTV's Street Team '08 that keeps her up in the late hours of the night, but it's the cause that keeps her motivated.

MTV selected Begay to represent New Mexico for its Street Team '08, under the Emmy-winning "Choose or Lose" campaign, as a citizen journalist covering youth concerns, views and issues during the presidential campaign.

She is the only Native American to participate in the program that has covered every presidential election since 1992. Begay is Yankton Lakota, Arikara and Navajo.
And:With her MTV equipment, Begay travels throughout New Mexico interviewing for articles and video reports. On one occasion just before the New Mexico caucus, MTV shipped Begay and other Street Team colleagues high-tech Nokia videophones to send live reports during the caucus.

Although Begay and the rest of the citizen journalists didn't get to keep the phones, she enjoyed using it for the time she did.

"There were other news media outlets there with their big cameras, and there I was holding up a phone," Begay said. "People were looking at me like, 'What is she doing?' "

All of Begay's work is posted on her profile on MTV's Think Web site.

"We were extremely impressed with Christine's work from the beginning," said Jason Rzepka, director of communications for MTV. Rzepka said Begay was exactly what MTV was looking for during the intense application process.

The positive side of stereotypes?

Facing and fighting the stereotypeNative American stereotypes have affected my life, negatively and positively. The most important and perhaps the most offensive stereotypes are of the “drunk Indian” and of Indians as drug users. And some people refer to us as “wagon burners.”

Growing up, I‘ve been surrounded by the often harsh interplay between stereotype and reality. Some of my family could easily be classified as stereotypical Native Americans, being aggressive drunks.

My uncle’s death symbolizes the cost of alcoholism. A few years ago, I found out my uncle had been drinking. He ended up going for a walk, got hit by a car and later died. I had rarely seen or spoken to my uncle, but I was devastated to know that his death could have been prevented. I truly think if he hadn’t been drinking he would still be alive.

I don’t want to end up like my uncle and go down that path. I want to change how people see us by keeping myself healthy and helping others do the same.
Comment:  A person doesn't need a stereotype as a reason to eat and drink in moderation. It's the best thing to do whether your relatives are immoderate or not.

Sexy, superior Pocahontas

A Thing For Pocahontas

Sexy Native Imagery in Disney FilmI have seen Disney's easy-on-the-eye Pocahontas about a million times because I have children. As an Indigenous Australian and anti-colonial thinker I have a lot of problems with the text.

Among these is the lovely way the western "divine right of kings" ideology is mapped onto the Indigenous worldview. Pocahontas is royalty, and therefore naturally more intelligent and more in tune with the "nature" that makes ruling classes "naturally" superior. As she is more intelligent, of course she must question, "What's around the river bend" (great song!) and challenge the apparently narrow and parochial views of her apparently savage and unsophisticated peers.

Of course, she is now too good for a man of her own people, and almost qualifies to be with a white man instead (but not quite). John Smith is happy to oblige. Her native fiance is then depicted as violently overreacting to this, and ignorantly sparking conflict with the invaders.

February 23, 2008

Sovereignty to end in 2050?

Savilla:  In a mirror, darkly: Survival vs. casinosIn an article written in 1995, I predicted the demise of self-governing sovereign American Indian tribes to be completed by 2075. I have now reduced my estimate by 25 years. The future does not look too good for tribal governments, and sadly, they will have had a part in their own destruction.

It all started in 1978 when Congress proposed legislation that would give federally recognized tribes the right to conduct gambling on their reservations. Most tribal leaders were elated. They counted dollar signs in their dreams, even though a few straight thinkers warned them of trouble to come.

The legislation was gently-worded, but the devil was in the details. It was pointed out to tribal leaders that the legislation required that if a tribe wanted to operate games of chance, they would have to give up part of their sovereignty to the state wherein the gambling would take place. "No worries," said the tribal leaders. Another innocently-worded clause required them to negotiate a "compact," or a contract, that would control how they operated their "gaming," with that same state.

Again, "No worries," they said, as dollar signs flooded their minds. "We can take care of ourselves." Yeah, sure you can.
Comment:  The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed in 1988, not 1978. For more on the subject, see The Facts About Indian Gaming.

Cookbook is Fond du Lac fundraiser

Fond du Lac Reservation elders compile recipes in fundraising cookbookSavage began harvesting wild rice at age 11. She would go picking wild blueberries with her mother. And the deer her father and uncles hunted was cooked for family meals.

These native foods had been staples for Ojibwe people for centuries, as had maple syrup, squash, dandelion greens and other foods foraged from nature, such as bitter root, wild rhubarb, mushrooms and huckleberries.

To help keep these food traditions alive, a committee of elders, including Savage, has gathered recipes from other tribal elders to create their first cookbook. The result, “Favorite Fond du Lac Reservation Recipes,” contains nearly 200 recipes. While many are not particularly American Indian, the cookbook includes old family recipes for cooking rabbit, moose, wild rice and dishes that call for fruits and vegetables indigenous to northern Minnesota. Recipes include Bannock (Indian biscuits), Indian pudding, Indian Succotash and Chippewa Sweet Meat.

The cookbooks sell for $10, and the money raised will help send Fond du Lac elders to the National Indian Conference on Aging, to be held Sept. 5-9 in Nokomis, Wash., according to Sharon Shuck, who was part of the cookbook committee.

Indian board game shows consequences

Rez Got Game aims to break down communication barriersThe American Indian-owned and operated company located on Montana's Flathead Indian Reservation manufactures and produces the colorful, silk screened tipi canvassed Rez Got Game board game, with naturally polished rocks as game pieces.

The game is played by having a player draw a card. Then they're asked to think, feel and act out potential real life scenarios.

"The child knows that there will be a consequence to their actions," Hamerburg said. "On a lighter note, when a child makes a poor choice, they will be asked to act out his choice, thus adding humor to the game."

The game can bring sensitive issues to the table. For example, teen players would be encouraged to discuss teen pregnancy, suicide and alcohol abuse. For the 8-12 bracket, they might go over issues that deal with smoking, divorce or family relations. For kids in the 5-7 category, they might talk about bullying or cheating.

More on Enemy Slayer the oratorio

Universal truths, ancient wisdom

"Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio" reveals deep meaning of creation story"Enemy Slayer" casts the story of a battle-fatigued Navajo warrior returning from Iraq in epic terms, inspired by--but not violating--the sacred 'Anaa'jí (Enemy Way) ceremony.

The first-ever oratorio to be based on an indigenous creation story, rather than the Bible, "Enemy Slayer" was performed before sold-out audiences Feb. 7 and 9, winning a 10-minute standing ovation after its premiere.

The performances marked the culmination of nearly two years of work by composer Mark Grey, who recruited award-winning Navajo poet Laura Tohe to write the lyrics, or libretto, that give shape to his visionary concept.

The 70-minute piece featured a chorus of 140 singers, a full symphony orchestra, baritone soloist Scott Hendricks, and the Southwest landscape photography of Deborah O'Grady projected on a 12-by-21 foot screen.

Native firebrand is artistic force

Playwright-poet-actor-performer-book author puts genius where her mouth isMarcie Rendon. Mention her name in Twin Cities arts circles. Eyebrows arch and ears perk up. From grassroots organizations struggling on the sidelines to well-moneyed outfits, Rendon's reputation is one of artistic excellence articulating piercing commentary. For all that everybody and their sister talk about a need for change, this nationally accomplished playwright-poet-actor-performer-book author puts genius where her mouth is. Her drama SongCatcher (History Theater), Wisconsin Library Association Outstanding Book Award-winning children's book Pow Wow Summer (Carolrhoda Press) and the prestigious St. Paul Company's Leadership in Neighborhoods (LIN) award don't come near representing the breadth of Rendon's work. However, they flag this career firebrand as an artistic force with which it is wise to seriously reckon.Comment:  For more on Native playwrights, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

Tribes ask Queen to apologize

Manitoba First Nations ask Queen for apologyThe head of 30 northern aboriginal communities in Manitoba wants Queen Elizabeth to apologize to the former students of residential schools in Canada.

Sydney Garrioch, grand chief of the Manitoba Keewatinook Ininew Okimowin, which represents northern Manitoba chiefs, sent a letter to Buckingham Palace Thursday morning, urging the Queen to "issue an apology on behalf of your government in Canada and let us close this terrible chapter in Canadian history.

"I would humbly implore you as our Head of State and Queen of the British Commonwealth to ensure our cries of the former residential school students are heard," the letter read.

Rez Chef on TV

Health conscious:  Cooking show features Native foods, cultureSimply by reading package labels and substituting healthier or more traditional alternatives in recipes in the months since, Perez has lost more weight--a total of 25 pounds--and stumbled on a new mini-career in the process.

She's co-host, along with Genevieve King, of a new cooking show, “Rez Chef,” that premiered earlier this week on KSKC-TV, the public television station at Salish Kootenai College.

King and Perez--and their guests--weave cooking and healthier lifestyles in with Indian tradition and culture on the half-hour program.

February 22, 2008

Lumbee tribe vs. Lumbee cigarettes

Tribe tries to limit cigarette brand's appealLumbee leaders want to stub out any idea that the tribe has ties to a new cigarette that bears its name.

Lumbee cigarettes have been available in Robeson County stores since December.

Tribal leaders say they don’t like it, but they haven’t figured out if they can do anything to stop the company from using the tribe’s name.

What the tribe can do is get the word out that Lumbees don’t have anything to do with the menthol cigarettes. They don’t want anyone buying the smokes thinking they are supporting the tribe.
Key fact:Wayne Moss, president of Coastal Distributing, said he applied for the Lumbee trademark in September 2006.

“The reason that I decided to use the name Lumbee is because a lot of Indian-related names are in the market now … and I felt that Lumbee would be a good name for this part of the country,” he said.
Why the Lumbees object:Moss said he met with three tribal leaders and they had no objections to his plan. But when they discussed the plan with the tribe’s lawyer, tribal officials discovered that a program promoting tobacco prevention would conflict with any endorsement of the Lumbee cigarettes.

The tribe receives about $300,000 from the North Carolina Health Wellness Trust Fund to promote only cultural uses for tobacco. Tobacco traditionally was used to honor individuals and is used at pow wows and other ceremonies. It is also used in some traditional medicines.

“We understood the conflict and agreed that we would not be associated in any way with the tribe,” Moss said. “I still plan to contact members of Congress in an effort to support the tribe’s quest for recognition and federal benefits. I think it is something that would benefit every resident of southeastern North Carolina.”

Tribal leaders say they are concerned about the health risk associated with smoking. American Indians have the highest rates of smoking among North Carolina’s racial and ethnic groups, according to the North Carolina Center for Health Statistics.
Comment:  It's not clear if Moss got the trademark he applied for. Since tobacco is associated with Indians in general and North Carolina Indians in particular, I don't see how the feds could grant a trademark in this case. The law is supposed to prevent confusion among brands. But people buying Lumbee cigarettes are likely to conclude they come from the Lumbee tribe.

The article also raises a more general question. Can you really trademark a tribe's name without its permission? That doesn't seem right.

Let's suppose a tribe didn't have the foresight to trademark its name. In that case, could I create products with tribal names? For instance, condoms called the Narragansett Redskins? A Hopi machine gun? Kiowa malt liquor?

I could see permitting names that apply to broad cultural groups--e.g., Lakota, Cherokee, Chippewa--as well as particular tribes. In that case, no single tribe "owns" the name. But I have doubts about names that apply only to one particular tribe. Shouldn't that tribe get to control its own name?

This story shows how indigenous rights are sometimes in conflict with intellectual property laws. And why we should think about changing the latter to accommodate the former.

Bedard talks, sings

Native actress Irene Bedard hobnobs with Gallup audienceNative actress Irene Bedard gave a UNM-Gallup audience some insights on Wednesday into her acting career, as well as a sneak peak into her upcoming concert.

Bedard was accompanied by her husband, musician Deni Wilson, and by Laura Ortman, a classically trained violinist from the White Mountain Apache tribe who currently works as a musician in New York City.

Bedard, Wilson, and Ortman opened and closed Wednesday’s workshop with music. Bedard, with lead vocals, performed storyteller-like lyrics, accompanied by Wilson on guitar and Ortman on violin. However, for the bulk of the program, Bedard talked about her performing arts career and answered questions from the audience.
Bedard stuck to her principles:After college, Bedard moved to New York where she met up with other Native performers and formed a theater company. One of the scripts they wrote, she recalled with amusement, was about a group of Indian activists who plot to blow up Mount Rushmore with plastic explosives, but they can only raise enough money to blow the noses off the presidential sculptures.

At about this time, Bedard said, she signed with her agent. That led to an offer to appear in the soap opera “As the World Turns” and a conflicting offer for a movie screen test. Bedard chose the screen test and was offered a three-movie deal. Unfortunately, she explained, she had to turn down the first movie role because of its inaccurate portrayal of Alaska Natives.

“The movie was about my people, and it was wrong. We don’t have horses in Alaska,” she said. “I just couldn’t do it to my mother.”
Bedard's upcoming project:Although she has been cast in a number of historical roles, Bedard said she is interested in portraying more contemporary women. A number of recent film projects—“Tortilla Heaven,” “Cosmic Radio,” “Tree of Life,” and “Kissed by Lightening”—have given her that opportunity, she said.

She is particularly interested in telling the stories of contemporary Native American women. One such story, she said, is that of Molly Spotted Elk (1903-1977), a Penobscot dancer, nightclub entertainer, and actress who moved to Europe and married a French journalist. Bedard said she is currently planning a film project about Spotted Elk, who fled Europe with the outbreak of World War II and who lost her husband in the war. Such film projects help move Native women out of the pages of history and into contemporary society.

Plains chief chosen as Uncas mascot

Tribal historian helps Norwich elementary design new school mascotUncas Elementary School has no mascot, which created a problem when the school tried to order T-shirts for the students.

A PTO member chose a Plains Indian wearing a headdress and war paint for the front of the shirt—different from what Mohegan Chief Sachem Uncas, the school’s namesake, would have worn, Principal Christie Gilluly said.

But the school wasn’t happy with the results, she said.

So school administrators have asked Mohegan tribal staff to help them create a mascot that honors Uncas rather than portray him as a caricature, Gilluly said. Next week, the student council and the tribal historian will meet to choose three options for a new mascot, which then will be put to a schoolwide vote.
Uncas School Seeks Proper Symbol For Its Namesake

Tribal Historian Puts students In Touch With Sachem, Moheganswhile several national organizations protest the use of Native Americans and other ethnic images as school and sports mascots, tribal historian Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel said this is different.

“It's not Joe Indian, it's Sachem Uncas,” said Zobel, a 12th-generation descendant of Uncas, who was born in the late 16th century. “It's not generic; it's a specific historic figure.”

Zobel presented a primer on Uncas and the Mohegans Wednesday morning to the school's students, who sat before her on the gymnasium floor.

She explained that there are no known images of Uncas, but through writings about him, historians know he was a big man, tall, sometimes wore a headdress and often had a bear claw necklace around his neck. She said Uncas wore his hair in what she described as a “Mohawk.”
Comment:  A Plains chief? Hello? Is anyone paying attention?

It's as if the last 30-plus years of educating people never happened. In 2008, the stereotyping of Indians continues.

Modern-day totem poles

A different kind of totem

Students break Indian tradition, design modern totem pole itemsCombining history and art, Kilday talked to her students about American Indian culture, and then she challenged them to create individual totems out of household materials such as cardboard boxes they coated in papier mache, and then decorated and colorfully painted.

But instead of limiting students to animals that would have been familiar to American Indians, such as bears, coyotes and deer, she gave them permission to be as creative as they wished. Working in teams, her students came up with a stunning array of totems, including SpongeBob. His left arm is outstretched and in his hand is a delicious Krabby Patty.

"My team created a rainbow monkey," said Haley DeRoche, 11. "We wanted to make it colorful, so we gave it a rainbow nose."

Taylor Chechowitz and her team couldn't decide between creating a tiger or a panda bear, so they settled on a hybrid creation they wound up calling a half-tiger, half-panda.
Comment:  I don't get the impression that any Northwest Indians participated in or approved this project. I wonder what they'd think of it.

Here's what I think. The project seems to trivialize the thought and effort that goes into carving a totem pole. A real pole tells an ancient legend such as a creation story. The figures on the pole have a spiritual or cultural significance; they aren't chosen on a whim. Yet this project implies that they are--that they're no more meaningful than cartoon characters.

To give an analogy, suppose the teacher assigned the students to draw Bible stories. Pay no attention to what really happened in the Bible and make up your own events, the teacher might say. Suppose the kids came up with Adam kicking God out of Eden, or Jesus kissing Satan, and said this was their version of the Bible. True believers might very well find that offensive.