March 19, 2007

The political implications of language

Home of the BraveFrom the beginning of this history the specialized vocabulary created by Europeans for "Indians" ensured our status as strange and primitive. Our political leaders might have been called kings or lords, instead they were chiefs. Indian religious leaders could have just as accurately been called bishop or minister, instead they were medicine men. Instead of soldier or fighter, warrior. And, perhaps, most significantly, tribe instead of nation. (For a more recent example of this, note how most press accounts often talk about ethnic troubles in Europe, but tribal conflicts in Southern Africa.) Mao Tse Tung and Beethoven are not translated from Chinese and French, language became and remains a tool by which we are made the "Other;" the Lakota name Tatonka Iotanka becomes Sitting Bull.

This is not to say that bishop was necessarily more accurate than medicine man, or that we have not made a term like warrior our own, or that translated Indian names aren't beautiful. It is to recognize that there are political implications to those decisions, and it was not one of multicultural understanding. The language exoticises and this exoticization has encompassed and permitted a range of historical responses from destruction to idealization.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
What the writer misses here is that AIM may have begun pushing for better understanding and treatment of Native ideals, but that's not what the eventual outcome was for their efforts. No, the principals became household words but not their ideals. Instead, those AIM personalities became speakers receiving large honoraria, became television and motion picture actors, and the basic intents of AIM's manifesto became lost in the process. To this time, the original founders of that insurrection continue to seek their own agenda FOR THEMSELVES. And now they seek to rid Native peoples of their original languages, their original cultures, and their original existences, that then they might unite as just 'Indians' and become a political force for change as did the Blacks in this nation. Once lost, the languages, the cultures, and the identities that make all of us who we are will be gone. And Native Americans finally will have made that one final great step into oblivion. It matters not to AIM if such things occur; they will have their 'political force' that they have wished for, and the rest of us will be lost to ourselves, period.
In 1972, writerfella was given the opportunity to write for an ABC-TV series called THE SIXTH SENSE, which dealt with paranormal phenomena in the modern world. D.C. Fontana and Harlan Ellison, who were the series' story advisors, asked writerfella for a Native teleplay dealing with modern Native lives and ESP. And writerfella did that very thing, in a story called, "I Have Looked Into The Whirlwind."
Basically, a Native young man who has failed after being 'relocated' to L.A. then seeks 'the Vision' in the basement of an abandoned building, hoping to receive spirit information to help the others who are lost in that city. Instead, he sees earthquakes striking and devastating parts of the city. At first, he doesn't understand, but a minor quake shakes the building he is in and then he knows. He goes to the series' main character, Dr. Michael Rhodes, a university parapsychologist, and attempts to get his precognitive vision verified. What he intends is, with authentication, that he then can 'blackmail' the city into establishing programs to help his people in exchange for advance information about earthquakes. Even though Rhodes experiences that very vision and believes it is true, he refuses to help once he is told what will be done with the verification. The young man leaves and falls into the hands of a militant who, upon hearing the information, decides further blackmail by asking for cash to warn citizens that their loved ones may die when the predicted earthquakes occur. Rhodes gets a change of heart when he relives the vision after finding a piece of ceremonial feather under a chair in his office. But the militant is less than willing to give up his ace in the hole when Rhodes comes to a Native bar to try to make up with the original Native. Once back in his hands, Rhodes determines from that Native that there will be three quakes, one minor and two major. Then the Native guy is abducted by the militant. Still, Rhodes sets up a meeting with city authorities, timed to the occurrence of the first minor quake. In the middle of the meeting, he is able to say: "Gentlemen, Curtis BigSoldier said that the first quake is to happen...RIGHT NOW!" The quake happens and all of a sudden, the city fathers are more than willing to hear him out. But Bigsoldier's mind reaches his during the quake, and now Rhodes knows where BigSoldier is being held. He rushes out, being chased by more than willing aldermen. BigSoldier is being held in the lower basements of Rhodes' own university museum, and Rhodes heads there to rescue him. And he comes face to face with the militant, who is armed with an ancient crossbow. Rhodes manages to overpower the militant and rescue BigSoldier, who then is surprised to find himself in a museum. "There are those," he says, "who believe that the value and existence of my people only can be found in here." Rhodes replies, "Maybe so, but I'm not one of them." Later, with the programs ongoing and with hundreds of people saved from the first major earthquake, Bigsoldier comes to visit Rhodes. "Dr. Rhodes," he says. "I know I sought the vision to help my people. But why did this one choose me?" Rhodes only can say, "Sometimes, the forces of change need one particular individual to bring things to be. In this case, they chose you." Then BigSoldier says, "Now I think I know a great thing. A famous man, a friend to my people, said something I never have forgotten. 'Some people see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were, and ask wny not?" END OF TELEPLAY...
That's what this story was about and it says more than the writer of the posted article knows. Now, see anything stereotypical in that story, even after 35 years?
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

Huh? This comment is mostly irrelevant to the subject of "the political implications of language."

writerfella said...

Writerfellahere --
Not nearly, as language is the true component of writing, and not the other way around. writerfella already has apologized that this post was a rewritten version of a post for the former topic that writerfella thought had been lost due to an electrical spike. But, as often is the case, the thought fits more than one direction just because it is cogent...
All Best
Russ bates