March 06, 2011

Seattle, Sacagawea, and medicine wheels

NSA Speaks on Promotion of The Pacific Northwest Medicine Wheel Ceremony

Re: The Pacific Northwest Medicine Wheel Ceremony

The images used to promote the event that Common Bread and Ancestral Wisdom is hosting Friday at the Longhouse are concerning to those of us in Native Student Alliance (NSA). Native Americans are not part of a mono-culture; we value the uniqueness of each of our peoples and their different ways of knowing and being. By blurring these valued distinctions in public handouts and flyers, inaccuracies and misconceptions are allowed to spread. The following are just a few specific concerns regarding these images.

In this image, the depiction of Chief Seattle and Sacajawea appear to be homogeneous. Since her image wasn’t recorded and is merely speculation, we feel that it is incongruous to depict her image as nearly identical to that of the Indian male beside her, identified as Chief Seattle. I have included a link of Chief Seattle’s image here. As you can see, he bears no resemblance to the depiction of the Chief Seattle on the event flyer:
We also find it odd that Sacajawea (Shoshone) and Chief Seattle (Duwamish) are pictured together. Lewis and Clark’s expedition did not take them anywhere near Chief Seattle’s Duwamish territory. However, if we are incorrect, we would like to know when such a historical meeting took place and if there are records of it that are accessible to us in Native Student Alliance. Also, both figures are depicted with their hands up, in the stereotypical “How!” gesture that so many non-Natives think is “Indian” for hello. This is neither an appropriate nor an actual greeting in Shoshone and Duwamish cultures.

Also inaccurate is the placement of the buffalo and the mention of the “Medicine Wheel,” both of which are highly sacred to the Plains Indian culture. Olympia and the surrounding Washington area is known as Coast Salish territory. Medicine wheels and buffalo are not a part of Coast Salish tradition, thus misrepresenting the original inhabitants of the land.
Comment:  I wouldn't be quite as critical as the NSA was. The event isn't claiming to represent Washington Indian cultures. Rather, it's presenting a film on sacred sites around the country and replicating one of the sites and an accompanying ceremony. That kind of explains the buffalo skull too. Besides, medicine wheels are found in the Rocky Mountains, at least, so they're not exclusive to the Great Plains.

Including Sacagawea is questionable, but she did pass briefly through the future Washington state and she's a famous Indian of the Pacific Northwest. The main thing I'd object to is the crude artwork depicting Seattle and Sacagawea as craggy cavemen types. And especially Seattle in an off-the-shoulder robe. Most portraits show him in Western clothes or full Native outfits, so why the primitive look?

Somehow the longhouse people should've communicated their message better. Is the event about the Native cultures--specifically, their medicine wheels and other sacred sites--east of Washington? Or is it about the Native cultures of Washington?

It could be both, but then it's important to distinguish the two. One shouldn't act as if all Indians are unified in some "web of life." As if Seattle, Sacagawea, medicine wheels, and buffalo skulls are all part of one big Indian family.

For more college events with a jumble of mistakes and stereotypes, see Miami's 68th Annual "Indian Party," "Firewater Friday" at University of Washington, and "Conquistabros and Navajos" at Harvard.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Rob; The event took place at the Longhouse, it was NOT sponsored by the Longhouse Education & Cultural Center. The Longhouse is a space available to student groups, classes and other college events in addition to our own programs. The Native Student Alliance objects to "Blue Thunder", who is also Bennie LeBeau because he is coming to the Northwest to foist upon the land his very odd "Pacific NW Medicine Wheel." The event in question was to garner support through a new age student group calling itself "ancestral wisdom." The project calls for ambassadors of Bennie LeBeau's choosing to conduct similar ceremonies he claims are based in Eastern Shoshone tradition (which is in doubt) at Quinault, Port Gamble and Shoalwater as well as at sites like Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens and so forth. He performs the typical new age fraud mish mash that perpetuates harm to real practitioners who reserve their work for their own communities and who do not sell or proselytize their unwanted message on Native communities and territory that is not their own. So the issue is larger than this one single event. -Laura Grabhorn ( Tlingit/Haida)

Anonymous said...

Here's a youtube interview with Blue Thunder where he says that the reason Native people reject crystals is because we are afraid of them...
-Laura Grabhorn

Kari said...

I only wanted to mention that some tribes over here in the PNW do have medicine wheels in their culture. I am Cowlitz and we are from SW WA. We have a sacred medicine wheel site, and it's symbol is important to us.

Anonymous said...

Tribes are certainly free to adopt what they want from other regions. The point is that Bennie LeBeau is a new age fraud and says things like:
Indian people should just get over the history of genocide. And Indian people need to set aside the concept of tribes. And that Native spiritual traditions should be available to anyone who wants to use it. In one interview on the link provided, he sees as his goal to convert Indians to new age thinking and says we resist because we're afraid of crystals. I think the sharp, pointy crystals could be useful as weapons. -Laura Grabhorn (becoming more Tlingity about this)