July 31, 2012

Boxer criticized for wearing Aboriginal t-shirt

Radical Olympics: Racism Is Official At Olympics

By Alex McAuleyDamien Hooper deserves vocal support for wearing a t-shirt bearing the Aboriginal flag into his first boxing match at the London Olympics. In Hooper’s own words “I’m Aboriginal, representing my culture, not only my country, but all my people as well.”

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has forced Hooper to apologise and to commit to only wearing his Australian team uniform in the future. Many, including boxing officials in Australia, have criticised the “overreaction” of AOC. But the disciplinary action reveals not just an overzealous bureaucracy, but the nasty chauvinism underlying the London games.

Upon entering the ring Hooper was reported to the International Olympics Committee (IOC) for breaching Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which prohibits any kind of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Of course this rule does not apply to major sponsors or the governments of member nations.

Olympics authorities have gone out of their way to protect the exclusive rights of sponsors to plaster their logos across London. In the same way the IOC seeks to protect the “branding” of powerful nations participating in the games. This means silencing the voices of oppressed groups whose beliefs or very existence calls into question the legitimacy of competitor nations. Most infamously the IOC stripped Black American runners Tommy Smith and John Carlos of their gold and bronze medals at the 1968 games for raising their fists in a Black Power salute on the podium in solidarity with the US civil rights movement.

The rank hypocrisy of Hooper’s censure is put into relief by the constant celebration of all things British at the Games. The opening ceremony was an epic three and a half hour whitewash of history’s bloodiest colonial empire which was widely applauded as an “irreverent, but never disrespectful” celebration of the “quirky” Brits. Damien Hooper’s celebration of his people’s survival of a genocide initiated by Britain flies in the face of this cosy image.

Like the empire that spawned it, the Australian nation is built upon genocide and dispossession. Flags symbolising this fact are emblazoned on the national team uniform, raised at the moment of any victory, and waved by thousands in the crowd. Yet it is Hooper that is guilty of displaying “political or racial propaganda.”
Canadian aboriginal athletes back Australian boxer’s T-shirt stunt

By Teresa Smith[F]our-time Canadian Olympian Sharon Firth, a member of the Dene Nation who competed for Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, said Wednesday that she applauds Hooper for standing up for indigenous people worldwide.

“What’s the big deal?” said Firth. “The IOC (International Olympic Committee) should examine themselves, broaden their horizons, and wake up.”

“Sure, you shouldn’t involve politics with sports,” she said. “But in reality, all sports are political—even on the Olympic level.”

She and her sister, Shirley Firth-Larsson, were the first two aboriginal females to be members of Canada’s Women’s National Cross-Country Ski Team. They went to the Olympics four times between 1970 and 1982.

“We came up against racism from the Canadian Olympic Committee—but that wasn’t our problem. It was theirs,” said Firth, who said she competed first as a Dene woman, and second for Canada.

“We were pioneers—out there creating political statements whether we liked it or not—because anywhere we show our face, it’s political.”
On the Olympics & Being IndigenousThe Olympics are political and they reflect the politics of the both the ruling nation-states of the world and corporations. You can wear a shirt with Canada on it. You can wear shoes with Adidas on them. That’s fine, because it’s “not political.” Unless of course you’re Indigenous and these corporations and nation states are causing never-ending harm, destruction and trauma to your land and your people.

The idea that there is no place for political protest at the Olympics is also a wild sanitization of the games given that there has been dissent and protest at the games as long as the modern games have been held. Remember in 2000 when Cathy Freeman, who is also Indigenous and from the Australian team, carried the same “Aboriginal flag” around the track in her victory lap?

Hooper says he is very proud of what he did, and he should be proud. He showed Indigenous Peoples all over the world that he gets it–that settler states occupy our lands, they ignore our traditional governments, they try and beat us down, but they cannot take away our pride in being Indigenous. He showed us he remembered his family, his community, and his nation, above all else. He took a risk in the biggest sporting event of his life to tell those Old Ones that he remembered. To tell me, he remembered.

The only person in this non-fiasco fiasco that is owed an apology is Damien Hooper. To compete in the Olympics you shouldn’t have to deny your nationality, you shouldn’t have to erase your Indigeneity, and you should never be threatened or made to apologize for being who you are.
Comment:  Pretty funny to claim an event based on nations competing with each other isn't "political." It would be like claiming the United Nations isn't political.

News flash: How nations come into existence, how they define themselves, who they include and exclude as citizens are all political issues. The parade of nations at the Olympics is a statement about who's politically accepted, and acceptable. In other words, who's in and who's out.

What's the justification for Olympic nationalism, anyway? I'd love to hear an explanation that doesn't involve politics. Pride in one's nation? That's a political issue.

If you don't want politics at the Olympics, then abolish the national teams. Have everyone compete as individuals. Why not, if no politics are involved? A nonpolitical event should have no interest in nations or any political entity.

For more on the Olympics, see Apaches Perform No-Rain Dance and Native Athletes in 2012 Olympics.

"No Free Gas, But Free Admission"

Take That, Justin Bieber! Museum Offers Free Admission, Not Free GasMore than a week after they first came to light, Justin Bieber’s comments in Rolling Stone about how he’s “Indian … Inuit, or something” and could get “free gas” in his native Canada continue to rankle in Indian country. But the Museum of Inuit Art (MIA), in Toronto, is seizing the teachable moment, waiving entrance fees for the month of August.

It’s called “No Free Gas, But Free Admission,” and it applies to everyone, not just 18-year-old multimillionaire pop stars. Although the museum would be thrilled to have him—according to a release, “MIA has reached out and offered a private tour to Bieber in order to help him learn more about Aboriginal peoples in Canada.”

“We were distressed to hear that Bieber was unaware of the differences between Inuit and First Nations peoples in Canada,” says MIA’s Executive Director David Harris, “and that he was unclear on what rights Aboriginal peoples have and do not have. It does point to the museum’s ability to be proactive and help educate the public about these issues.”

Upon learning the news, MIA took the opportunity to explain the three Aboriginal designations—Inuit, First Nations, and Metis—that exist in Canada, in a blog post titled “Thanks Justin Bieber, For Letting Us Clear Up Some Confusion.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Justin Bieber Thinks He's Native.

Testament's Native Blood song

‘Native Blood’ Explores Testament Frontman’s Pomo HeritageToday, thrash-metal band Testament releases Dark Roots of Earth, its first album in seven years. The album’s second single, “Native Blood,” has personal meaning for lead singer Chuck Billy, who is a Pomo Indian.

The video tells the story of a young Native boy who is teased, then faces prejudice when a girl’s father won’t allow her to date him, presumably because he is an Indian. In the end, the boy, now grown, strikes back by mobilizing his people and taking to the court to stop real-estate developers from desecrating the Pomo sacred site Medicine Rock.
Comment:  For more on Testament and Chuck Billy, see Gaming Saved Billy's Tribe and Hard Rock Displays Testament's Billy.

July 30, 2012

Davies defends West of Thunder

In July I posted an item on a planned movie called West of Thunder. I labeled it Whites Star in "Thunder-Being Movie." It was mostly an excerpt from an article, but I added a few of my own comments.

Well, I got a phone call from Dan Davies, the movie's star and producer. He left a lengthy message objecting to my posting. He posted a similar message in the item's comment section.

Here's what he said:Hey Rob,

I really enjoyed your article although you have quite a number of inaccuracies. My name is Dan Davies and I play Henry Seed.

First of all, your title "Whites star in thunder being movie" is patently wrong. Our four major actors in the film are tribal members and respected elders. You made the stereotypical assumption that unless a Native person has a name like Grey Eagle, Two Horse, White Feather, Running Cloud etc etc etc that they are not Native...as you looked up on IMDB you saw Corbin Conroy, Larry Swalley, Albert Red Bear, and Steve Garcia. They are tribal members.

You also made the assumption that I was fully white. I am a mixed race person. My great-grandfather was a Seneca of the Iroquois.

You also ripped on me as someone who hasn't done anything. I have accomplished a few things in my life. Please go to my Wikipedia page for further edification. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_DaviesWikipedia

I'm also attached to 6 other full-length feature films and an HBO TV project.

But enough about me...you questioned how I could become the embodiment of a Thunder Being (Wakinyan. I meant that in its literal sense... that a Wakinyan physically embodies or incorporates the body of Henry Seed...not intellectually, emotionally of fully spiritually. In my article I actually state that Henry is a "conflicted Wakinyan" he is "west of thunder" that he only brings the thunder and lightening not the rains that bring growth.

Also you state that Henry, the white guy, is the hero. That is wrong. Henry wants to bring revenge and retribution, the real heroes and victors are the Lakota elders who choose the path of forgiveness and peace. They actually make Henry see the error of his ways.

Also my film is unlike many westerns that have the Natives speaking English. We do not. We feature the Lakota language. About 1/4 of the film is in Lakota.

You also stated that we have no Native advisers. That is wrong. We had 5 Lakota elders advise. Among them Lakota educator Monica Terkildsen. Our "white" adviser was none other than Michael Blake of "Dances with Wolves" fame. also my language tutor Larry Swalley, is a fluent Lakota speaker and noted Lakota historian and storyteller. He also plays my great-great grandfather's namesake Minor Running Cloud.

You also mentioned that me playing an embodied Thunder Being might be wrong or disrespectful. According to Black Elk, one of the most respected and quoted elders, medicine men and heyokas...he believed in the interconnectedness of all the circles or "hoops" of all the races, creeds, religions. He was a fully Lakota man and a fully Roman Catholic that believed, through his 50 years of missionary and charitable works, in the melding of all mankind and mankind's beliefs.

Last but not least Rob do not judge a book, film or person by its cover. I have lived that all my life. People make the assumption that because I have blue eyes that I am fully white. But the same blood that courses through my veins courses through all of the indigenous people of North America. So sometimes you have to delve a little further for the truth. So please delve into our movie when it comes to your neck of the woods before you judge. I think you may be pleasantly surprised. Thanks Rob and take care.

Warmest regards,
Dan Davies
Rob's response

Hey, Dan...I got your phone message. And I see you managed to post your comments in my blog as well. Alas, your responses are the only ones with errors.

For starters, it wasn't my article. I just commented on Cheryl Anderson's article in the Wisconsin Post-Crescent.

The article says you, Michael Worth, Crispian Belfrage, Raffaello Degruttolla, and Sadie Kaye are the actors involved. It doesn't list any other major or minor actors. Which of you five are "tribal members and respected elders"?

I know all about Native names, thank you very much. I've written about the subject extensively. I also work at NativeCelebs, so I'm familiar with the top 100-200 Native actors. I've never heard of Corbin Conroy and the others who weren't mentioned in Anderson's article.

The fact that they weren't mentioned and I don't know them has nothing to do with their names. You couldn't be more wrong if you think I think Native actors must have names like Grey Eagle, Two Horse, or White Feather. I'm betting I know a lot more about the careers of Adam Beach, Irene Bedard, Eric Schweig, Kimberly Guerrero, and August Schellenberg--none of whom have stereotypical names--than you do.

7/8 white = white

You say you're 1/8 Seneca. I presume you're not enrolled in the Seneca Nation. In my book, that makes you a white man with a small amount of Native blood. Same as Johnny Depp, Taylor Lautner, and every other "mixed-race" actor I've criticized over the years. I'm comfortable calling anyone who's 7/8 white "white."

And when I wrote "whites star," I was referring to the characters as well as the actors. Is your character also 1/8 Seneca? Unless he's half Native or more, I'd say West of Thunder has a white star: Henry Seed.

Whether Seed is the hero or the protagonist, he's the main character. That means he and you are on the screen more than anyone. True or false? Answer that and then we'll discuss whether the movie is about him or the Lakota.

IMDB lists only your credit for Ed Gein: The Musical. If the listing isn't up to date, whose fault is that? Wikipedia lists more, but I'm not seeing a lot that qualifies you to write a major motion picture about Lakota spirituality. Which was my point.

Michael Blake isn't exactly the go-to guy for Native-centric movies. His main claim to fame is Dances with Wolves, the epitome of the "white man saves the Indians" genre. Now you're making another movie that fits into that genre. It doesn't matter if Seed learns a lesson at the end if he dominates the action.

I wrote that "As far as I can tell," no Indians are participating in the movie. I'm glad to hear some are participating--as actors and advisers. But the error is yours for not communicating the facts to writer Anderson, or hers for not reporting what you told her. I accurately summarized what I read.

You're telling us West of Thunder is a movie about the Lakota starring Lakota actors. Anderson made it sound like a movie about a white guy starring white actors. Did you fail to tell her everything you're telling us, or is she merely a bad reporter? Or are you spinning the movie differently for different audiences, and I caught you at it?

Black Elk speaks

You're citing Black Elk as your justification for casting a white man to play a white character who becomes a Lakota "thunder being"? For starters, Black Elk is only one Lakota. His views are 80-plus years old. He never confronted the modern problem of non-Indians appropriating the Lakota religion for their own purposes.

But if you want to cite him, okay. Let's review his position:

Black Elk (1863-1950): A Brief BiographyAccording to Vine DeLoria, there were practical reasons for the Indian conversion or pretense at conversion. Indian religion was banned on many reservations, and conversion made the whites happy and made life easier. The Indians looked at their situation and then looked at the white man's numbers and wealth. The white God seemed more powerful and better able to take care of his people (DeLoria 106-109).

Black Elk became a catechist, performing many duties such as church services, baptisms, last rites, and instruction in Catholic doctrine in the absence of a priest. According to Lucy, he traveled tirelessly and converted many Lakotas and other Indians to Catholicism. When asked by Neihardt why he converted, he said, "So my children could live in this world." This sounds like Black Elk converted for the sake of expediency.
As for his book Black Elk Speaks:What were Black Elk's motivations for telling his story? Neihardt said that he believed Black Elk's purpose was to preserve his great vision and Lakota history for his people after he was gone. To the Native American people, ritual and ceremony are extremely important. The very telling of the stories was a kind of ritual that could restore and transmit the power of the vision and transfer some of the burden of his vision onto Neihardt (Wiget 211). Wiget goes so far as to speculate whether Black Elk used Neihardt to send his message to his people before he died (Wiget 214), and that he purposely tried to draw parallels between Lakota spirituality and Christianity to elicit sympathy and help for his people from the whites (Wiget 83).We can summarize Black Elk's goals succinctly. He was trying to preserve the traditional Lakota religion while justifying his conversion to Christianity. He was not saying the two religions were interchangeable or white men could be part of the Lakota religion.

I'm pretty sure you won't find any quotes in Black Elk's work advocating that white men go on vision quests or participate in Sun Dances. Or take on the characteristics of "thunder beings." If you disagree, show us some quotes that relate directly to West of Thunder. Your misinterpretation of his position--"the melding of all mankind and mankind's beliefs"--doesn't come close to the mark.

While we're at it, I'm not sure how your premise differs from a thousand other Native-themed movies. A Native ghost, spirit, demon, manitou, wendigo, or skinwalker takes over a non-Indian. He goes on a rampage, seeking revenge against those who wronged the Indians. With the help of a wise "shaman" or medicine man, the good guys finally drive the entity out. Everyone learns a lesson: It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature, always respect the dead, and make love, not war.

No "melding of religions" justifies another spirit-possession movie. So tell us how West of Thunder doesn't fit this scenario. I'd love to hear the elements that make your movie different--the ones the original article didn't mention.

Lakota war against exploitation

I'm surprised you had to go all the way back to Black Elk to find a justification for your movie. It's easy to find modern Lakota statements about non-Indians exploiting their religion. Here's a well-known one:

Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality1. We hereby and henceforth declare war against all persons who persist in exploiting, abusing and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices of our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

2. We call upon all our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota brothers and sisters from reservations, reserves, and traditional communities in the United States and Canada to actively and vocally oppose this alarming take-over and systematic destruction of our sacred traditions.

3. We urge our people to coordinate with their tribal members living in urban areas to identify instances in which our sacred traditions are being abused, and then to resist this abuse, utilizing whatever specific tactics are necessary and sufficient--for example demonstrations, boycotts, press conferences, and acts of direct intervention.

4. We especially urge all our Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people to take action to prevent our own people from contributing to and enabling the abuse of our sacred ceremonies and spiritual practices by outsiders; for, as we all know, there are certain ones among our own people who are prostituting our spiritual ways for their own selfish gain, with no regard for the spiritual well-being of the people as a whole.

5. We assert a posture of zero-tolerance for any "white man's shaman" who rises from within our own communities to "authorize" the expropriation of our ceremonial ways by non-Indians; all such "plastic medicine men" are enemies of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

6. We urge traditional people, tribal leaders, and governing councils of all other Indian nations, to join us in calling for an immediate end to this rampant exploitation of our respective American Indian sacred traditions by issuing statements denouncing such abuse; for it is not the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people alone whose spiritual practices are being systematically violated by non-Indians.

7. We urge all our Indian brothers and sisters to act decisively and boldly in our present campaign to end the destruction of our sacred traditions, keeping in mind our highest duty as Indian people: to preserve the purity of our precious traditions for our future generations, so that our children and our children's children will survive and prosper in the sacred manner intended for each of our respective peoples by our Creator.
"War against all persons who persist in exploiting, abusing and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices...to preserve the purity of our precious traditions for our future generations." Hm-mm, check. I'd say several of these provisions apply to your movie's premise.

Rather than consulting with Black Elk, who's dead; Monika Terkildsen, who seems to be an environmental official; or Michael Blake, try consulting with some Lakota who are spiritual leaders. Tell them your premise in detail: a wakinyan takes over a white man and sends him on a rampage, or whatever it is. Ask them for a response that explicitly acknowledges and approves this concept. Then I'll believe you know what you're doing.

Any questions? Better luck next time you think I made a mistake. As a general rule, you're mistaken, not me.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

Councilor compares town to reservation

Native stereotyping isn't limited to the US. It occurs in the UK too.

Councillor branded a bigot after comment on websiteA TOWN councillor has been accused of bigotry after describing a neighbouring area as an "Indian reservation."

Roger Avenin made the comment during an online argument on a community news website.

The Bradley Stoke town councillor, who represents the Baileys Court ward for the Conservatives, intervened in a debate on politics triggered by the defection of fellow Tory councillor Kim Harris to the UK Independence Party, as reported in the Post last week.

During the discussion Mr Avenin, who chairs the town council's finance committee, asked other people who had made comments: "Do you even live here or are you, as I suspect, refugees from the Patchway Indian reservation?"

Dave Tiley, a Patchway Labour town councillor, was one of those commenting in the thread on the Bradley Stoke Journal.

Mr Tiley described Mr Avenin's remark as "bigotry"–and said he would make a complaint to South Gloucestershire Council, whose standards committee deals with complaints about possible breaches of the Members Code of Conduct by town and parish councillors.

Mr Tiley told the Post: "I find Bradley Stoke Conservative councillor Roger Avenin's remarks offensive as bigotry towards my friends, neighbours, constituents and all the good people of Patchway.

"I have heard this offensive term used against council house tenants previously, and it's clearly unacceptable from anyone, let alone an elected representative."
Comment:  Avenin claims he made the comment because Patchway is more liberal than the surrounding areas. That's not the likely reason. More likely, Patchway is poorer or browner than the surrounding areas. That's why it's more liberal, and that's why Avenin called it a reservation.

Let's assume Avenin was talking about Patchway's economic status and proceed accordingly.

One, not all reservations are poor. Two, even if they were, many poor areas are predominantly white. Why not use one of them for an analogy?

No, Avenin clearly cast a race-based aspersion. Indians are poor--presumably because of their savage, uncivilized ways. No one who makes this analogy ever blames his own culture for causing the poverty.

If Avenin made the comment only once, we might say he was thoughtless rather than bigoted. But Tiley the Patchway councilor says he's heard it before. If it's common in the UK to compare poor areas to reservations, and Avenin knew about it, then his comment seems bigoted.

If Avenin made the analogy for some other reason, it's still a race-based distinction. It still implies that Indians are somehow different than other people. That's a risky position to take. You need a better reason than Avenin had to categorize people by race.

For more on poor reservations, see Life on the Rez Reviewed and Economic Development on Pine Ridge.

July 29, 2012

Pix of my South Dakota trip

I plan to write some articles about my South Dakota trip in June. Meanwhile, here are my photos of the trip. I trust the captions will explain our experiences well enough.

Day 1

LAX to downtown Rapid City--June 24, 2012 (7 am-3:30 pm)

Prairie Edge Gallery--June 24, 2012 (3:30-5:30 pm)

Dinosaur Park--June 24, 2012 (5:30-6:30 pm)

Etta Mine--June 24, 2012 (6:30-7:30 pm)

Cemetery and Mt. Rushmore--June 24, 2012 (7:30-10 pm)

Day 2

Hotel and Scenic, SD--June 25, 2012 (morning)

Sheep Mountain--June 25, 2012 (morning)

Fossil-hunting--June 25, 2012 (morning)

Visitor center and Stronghold--June 25, 2012 (morning)

Red Cloud Indian School--June 25, 2012 (late morning)

Pine Ridge and Whiteclay--June 25, 2012 (early afternoon)

Wounded Knee--June 25, 2012 (afternoon)

Lakota War Pony Races--June 25, 2012 (afternoon)

Oglala Lakota College--June 25, 2012 (afternoon)

Lakota Prairie Ranch Resort--June 25, 2012 (late afternoon)

Thunderstorm--June 25, 2012 (early evening)

Day 3

Iron Mountain Road--June 26, 2012 (early morning)

Custer State Park and Wind Cave--June 26, 2012 (morning)

Into the cave--June 26, 2012 (early afternoon)

Hole in the Wall and Needles Highway--June 26, 2012 (afternoon)

Sylvan Lake and Rapid City--June 26, 2012 (late afternoon)

Day 4

Hunting geodes and finding Nemo--June 27, 2012 (morning)

Homestake Gold Mine and Terry Peak--June 27, 2012 (morning)

Spearfish Canyon and Deadwood--June 27, 2012 (early afternoon)

Bus tour and Boot Hill--June 27, 2012 (afternoon)

Walking in Deadwood--June 27, 2012 (afternoon)

Day 5

Black Hills Institute--June 28, 2012 (morning)

Gift shop and Crazy Horse Memorial--June 28, 2012 (morning)

On the Crazy Horse Memorial--June 28, 2012 (early afternoon)

Visitor center and gift shop--June 28, 2012 (afternoon)

Veranda and Lakota dancers--June 28, 2012 (afternoon)

Sculptor's studio and cultural center--June 28, 2012 (afternoon)

Nature Gates and Rapid City--June 28, 2012 (afternoon)

Day 6

Hotel and Memorial Park--June 29, 2012 (morning)

City of Presidents, part 1--June 29, 2012 (morning)

City of Presidents, part 2--June 29, 2012 (morning)

City of Presidents, part 3--June 29, 2012 (late morning)

City of Presidents, part 4--June 29, 2012 (early afternoon)

Fountains and park statues--June 29, 2012 (afternoon)

Rose garden and flight home--June 29, 2012 (afternoon)

Plus a few postings on related subjects:

Cultural center at Crazy Horse Memorial
Anti-suicide campaign at Lakota college
Hundreds of Sun Dances
Economic development on Pine Ridge

"Medium" smudges in Priceline commercial

Priceline: Remove the Long Island Medium smudging commercial from the air

By Mary SharlowI am a non-native woman, married to an Ojibwe man living on the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation. I have been researching and teaching about spiritual appropriation for more than 10 years, particularly regarding Native American spirituality. I was appalled to see a Priceline commercial over the weekend, which featured Long Island Medium, Theresa Caputo. In the commercial, Caputo—who is blonde and appears white—smudges two clients, also white, fanning a fake eagle feather over an abalone shell filled with what looks like sage. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNgPXzlevyw) Caputo’s purpose is to bring back the negotiator to help with travel expenses. The entire commercial has an air of mockery to it.

This commercial trivializes and mimics the ritual practices of Native Americans to amuse television viewers. I find this offensive as do many Native Americans and their allies who have been discussing this commercial on the internet. Smudging is a sacred ceremony in my husband’s culture and that of other Native Americans. The eagle is sacred to most Native Americans because it is considered to fly higher than any other bird. Eagles are believed to be closer to Creator because of their ability to fly so high. Sage is one of four sacred medicines used for ceremonial purposes in many Native cultures. It is used for purifying and to take prayers to the creator. The combination of the eagle feather and burning sage during smudging is symbolically and spiritually very powerful.

A few responses to the YouTube video:Offensive, outrageous, once again, another moron using something sacred to us as a means to make money and mock our values....

I am deeply offended by the disrespect in this commercial.

I don't see what is funny about bastardizing a sacred ceremony of my culture. Clearly, you don't know anything about Native culture...or respect for other cultures in general. She's not Native...and has no right to use the ceremony of my people in the first place. The feather is fake (it's painted). I know a lot more about this ceremony than you...and it doesn't remove energy.... AND please don't comment back that you're great-great-great grandmother was a Cherokee princess...
Comment:  All this is bad enough, but I think Sharlow missed the worst aspects of this commercial.

Let's review the premise. A medium is someone who speaks to the dead. Caputo claims to sense a Priceline negotiator, presumably a ghost or spirit, in the room.

First, this has nothing whatsoever to do with a real or fake sage ceremony. Smudging is all about purifying and blessing a place, not communicating with the dead. This presentation is as offensively wrong as having a priest sense a Priceline negotiator in a church while conducting Mass.

Second, the commercial uses the stereotypical idea that Native religions are an interchangeable collection of weird rites involving spooky spirits. In other words, superstitious nonsense. Not complex religions that are generally older than Christianity, but parlor tricks suitable for a magic show or Halloween party.

As always, compare it to a commercial of someone pretending to worship like blacks or Latinos. How would we react if this person started talking like a Ghostbuster instead of a sincere believer? We'd rightly slam the commercial as racist for implying the minority was primitive and superstitious.

Same thing here. The commercial is bad for all these reasons and it should go.

For more offensive ads, see Stereotypical Inuk Adoption Poster and Patriots Kick Indian in Super Bowl Video.

Bora and Upa in Dragon Ball

Correspondent "Not Who" sent me another item about an anime and video game:In Dragon Ball, another very popular anime, there is actually a "tribe" of Indians who make several appearances through the show and the two series following.

BoraBora is a tall, muscular man who resides in the Sacred Land of Korin with his son Upa, in a tepe at the base of the Korin Tower.
UpaUpa is a member of the native tribe who serves as the guardians of Korin Tower. His father, Bora, is the chief of the tribe.Sacred Land of KorinThe Sacred Land of Korin (聖地カリン) is a village located at the base of Korin Tower. It is where Bora and Upa live.

Comment:  Again, these characters look like your standard generic Indians. I don't see anything distinguishing them from thousands of other fantasy Indians. Locating them in a fictional world unconnected to any land or culture only compounds the problem.

For more on Indians in video games, see Assassin's Creed 3's Native Heritage and Justin Rain in Transmedia Defiance.

July 28, 2012

Black Kettle items on History Detectives

PBS show to feature American Indian history

History Detectives, a show on PBS, will feature Oklahoma and artifacts that possibly belonged to Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle

By Adam Kemp
They were once used as “show and tell” items to impress his elementary school classmates, and George Bryson is about to find out whether his family heirlooms are actually important pieces in American Indian history.

For as long as he can remember, Bryson said, his family has been in possession of leggings and an American Indian gorget they think belonged to a Cheyenne leader, Chief Black Kettle.

Bryson's story is the subject of an upcoming episode of PBS' History Detectives, which investigates mysteries of history and local folklore by connecting family legends and interesting objects to the real truth.

The show, which will air from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday on PBS, is hosted by independent appraiser and auctioneer Wes Cowan and also features an Oklahoma tribal leader and an Oklahoma park guide.

Cowan said he was skeptical when he arrived at Bryson's house in Vermont to investigate the red leggings and silver plated gorget, a type of amulet or collar worn by people with high stature within the tribe, but was intrigued when he heard the story of Bryson's great-great-uncle salvaging the two pieces from the Battle of the Washita River in Cheyenne in November 1868.

The battle, which is referred to by some as the Washita Massacre, was between the Cheyenne tribe and the 7th U.S. Calvary led by Lt. Col. George Custer.
Comment:  For more on Indians and History Detectives, see Movie Ledger on History Detectives and Modoc War on History Detectives.

Below:  "History Detectives host Wes Cowan sets out to discover whether the Indian neckpiece and leggings once adorned a Cheyenne Peace Chief named Chief Black Kettle."

Laughing Bull in Cowboy Bebop

Correspondent "Not Who" sent me an item about an anime and video game:In Cowboy Bebop, a wildly popular anime about a team of bounty hunters, there is a stereotypical Indian shaman-type character who appears in several episodes.

Laughing BullLaughing Bull is a nomadic Native American who occasionally helps Spike Spiegel, whom he names Swimming Bird. He lives on Mars and predicts the future for Spike. Jet has also visited him for help. Laughing Bull is shown to practice Native American customs, often making cryptic and sagacious comments or partaking in traditional rituals.

Comment:  This character looks like your standard generic wise elder or medicine man. I don't see anything distinguishing him from thousands of other fantasy Indians. Locating him in a fictional world unconnected to any land or culture only compounds the problem.

For more on Indians in video games, see Assassin's Creed 3's Native Heritage and Justin Rain in Transmedia Defiance.

Means releases new book online

Russell Means Releases New Book Online Russell Means has released his latest book, "If You've Forgotten the Names of the Clouds, You've Lost Your Way: An Introduction to American Indian Thought and Philosophy," online.

Means, who was one of the leaders of the American Indian Movement during the Wounded Knee siege in 1973, released "Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiography of Russell Means" in 1995.

His latest endeavor was co-written by Bayard Johnson. "If You've Forgotten the Names of the Clouds, You've Lost Your Way" takes the reader on a journey into the intriguing and little understood belief system and world view shared by many American Indians and other indigenous people around the world.

The American Indian way of living has almost nothing in common with the patriarchal philosophies and religions of Europe and Asia, and this book helps explain the violent clash of cultures that continues to erupt between indigenous and industrial societies whenever they come into contact anywhere in the world.
Comment:  For more on Russell Means, see Oglala Sioux Tribe Honors Means and Means at Wounded Knee Conference.

July 27, 2012

Apaches perform no-rain dance

Tribe dance for Games sunshineLondon has experienced one of its wettest summers to date, and with just hours to go until the biggest sporting event in the world, the 2012 London Olympics, British Airways is hoping to encourage the recent bout of clear weather to continue, by flying in an Apache tribe to perform a sacred dance.

The Native American ‘Yellow Bird Indian Dancers’ from Arizona, USA performed their traditional dance in London’s Butler’s Wharf on Thursday.

Chief Ken Duncan, from Yellow Bird Indian Dancers, said: “We are honoured to be asked for our support by the people of London.

Over the past week I have begun daily prayers and requests to the Creator, asking him to speak with the rain on our behalf. I have visited with and asked my spiritual elders from various tribes to pray with me. Many will be with me in spirit as I approach the rain, and the prayers will continue until I return to Arizona.

“I am asking the rain to watch from afar and see the many people from the many lands come together and play as one.”

To carry on the spirit of keeping the good weather, the tribe spent the morning training the BA Lawn Captains, who will be entertaining crowds at British Airways Park Live, so that they can perform it if needed.
Comment:  So many layers here!

Some background on Yellow Bird Productions:International renowned "Yellow Bird Productions" under the direction of Ken Duncan, member of the Apache Tribe specialize in presentations that celebrate the unique spirit of the American Indian.

Yellow Bird is a professional family dance compay based in Phoenix, Arizona. They include the current 2011 World Champion Hoop Dancer and former "Miss Indian World."
For starters, it's not clear that the Yellow Bird Indian Dancers performed a rain dance or a no-rain dance. It seems as though they performed the same "traditional dance" they always perform. From photos, we can tell this involves hoops, which aren't involved in rain-related ceremonies.

Nor is it clear that the dancers are Apache, much less an "Apache tribe." According to its website, Yellow Bird has "champion Hoop Dancers, Great Plains pow wow dancers and Apache dancers." So only some of its dancers are Apache.

But let's assume this was an Apache group, as the press implied.

The Apache may consider their traditional dance, whatever it is, a prayer to the Creator. It seems "Chief Ken Duncan" added a prayer to keep the rain away. If I'm right, the dance was a generalized prayer to God with a specific prayer voiced separately. The dance itself wasn't about rain; it was transformed into a "no-rain dance" by the circumstances.

As another note, you generally don't call the head of a dance troupe "Chief." But perhaps that was the British press's doing, not Yellow Bird's.

Praying for money?

Someone on Facebook said her first response to this dance was that it perpetuates stereotypes. Her second response was that it's sad to see Natives praying for money. Both are good points.

Does Yellow Bird Productions really have a dance to keep the rain away? Or did they just say that to get a free trip to London? Couldn't Duncan have prayed for sunshine without the trip and the dance? Do Apache elders really have nothing better to do than help an athletic competition keep dry? What about all the war, poverty, hunger, and disease in the world?

The Olympics is a billion-dollar athletic competition, I'm sure. Suppose rain would cost the Olympics 1% of its profits, or $10 million. If the "no-rain dance" works, will the Olympics give that 1% to indigenous causes? If the Indians earned it, why not?

We don't know if Yellow Bird was paid, but they got a free trip, at least. If that isn't praying for money, it's close. Couldn't the dancers have prayed and danced back in Arizona? Was their presence in London really necessary? Or was it all a show--to prove the Brits weren't taking the possibility of rain lightly?

Indians are weather wizards?

The dance certainly perpetuated the idea that Indians have some supernatural power over rain. Did the dancers think of saying, "No, we don't dance to bring rain or to keep it away. That's a common myth. Even the Pueblo Indians don't do that, and we're Apache, not Pueblo."

Or did they say to themselves, "Free trip! Tell the Olympics we'll do whatever they want! Take our usual hoop dance, slap a prayer on it, and voilá...it becomes a pseudo-magical anti-rain dance! Pack your bags, everyone!"

I don't know, but I suspect the latter. If so, I'd say it's a stereotypical abuse of traditional Native culture.

The typical rebuttal would be: "Why take this dance so seriously? Whether it works or not, it's just a bit of entertainment." If that's the case, why not dress up some white men as Plains Indians and have them make up a dance? If the no-rain dance isn't a legitimate part of an actual Native culture, who cares who does it?

In other words, if the dance has no cultural connection to rain, having real Indians perform it doesn't make it right. All it does is legitimize the stereotypical belief that Indians can control the rain.

For more on rain dances, see Atheists Criticize Rain-Dance Wish and No Such Thing as Rain Dances.

Caritas Chorale performs Nez Perce: Promises

Caritas Chorale Performs ‘Nez Perce: Promises’ on the Nez Perce Reservation

By Jack McNeelIt was a performance unlike any other, with a style and quality of music and subject never before performed on the Nez Perce Reservation and unique in all of Indian country.

A chorus of 56 singers, the Caritas Chorale, came from the Ketchum/Sun Valley area some 435 miles away. They were joined by an orchestra of 32 musicians from Boise, 285 miles away. Together, they performed “Nez Perce: Promises,” in the new Lapwai High School gymnasium on the Nez Perce Reservation. This was a new work, a new program, musically telling the story of the Nez Perce Tribe from before first contact with Lewis and Clark to the present day. It’s fair to say that nothing in the past could compare to the music heard in Lapwai on this day.

The story was written by Diane Josephy Peavey, and was her interpretation of Nez Perce history. It was composed by Davis Alan Earnest, directed by Dick Brown, and narrated by Page Klune.

Peavey had grown up with Nez Perce friends in Wallowa County, Oregon. Her father, Alvin M. Josephy, was the founding chairman of the board of The National Museum of the American Indian. “For me, the Nez Perce have been like an extended family,” she said.
Comment:  For more on related subjects, see Pocahontas Opera Casting Criticized and Stereotypical Black Elk "Film-Opera."

Below:  "Vocalists from Sun Valley and orchestra from Boise join together on the Nez Perce Reservation to present Nez Perce: Promises." (Jack McNeel)

Three Natives on Hill's "Most Beautiful" list

Three Natives Make The Hill’s ’50 Most Beautiful’ ListOn Wednesday, TheHill.com published its ninth annual “50 Most Beautiful” list, which highlights people working in and around the U.S. government who are stylish, intriguing and, well, beautiful. Three Natives made the 2012 list, for which over 400 individuals (both male and female) were nominated.

Those three indigenous lookers are:

Jessica Imotichey, senior policy analyst for the Chickasaw Nation.

Nikki Santos [Coeur d’Alene], an executive assistant to three lawyers at the National Indian Gaming Association.

Mary Hiratsuka [Inuit], legislative assistant for Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).
Comment:  I'm not sure being recognized on a "most beautiful" list is that desirable.

For more on Natives and beauty pageants, see Miss Blackfeet Goes to Stanford and Transgendered Native as Civil Rights Champion.

Below:  Jessica Imotchey, Nikki Santos, and Mary Hiratsuka.

July 26, 2012

Mouseketeer had Snoqualmie roots

Ginny Tyler, Mouseketeer, Dies at 86

By William YardleyGinny Tyler, a Head Mouseketeer in the syndicated version of the “The Mickey Mouse Club” of the 1960s and a voice actor who shifted from Snow White to Cinderella to Bambi on recordings as a Disneyland Storyteller, died on July 13 at a nursing home in Issaquah, Wash. She was 86.

Her death was confirmed by her son, Ty Fenton.

Ms. Tyler, who traced her lineage to the Snoqualmie Tribe of the Puget Sound region, learned to tell stories and simulate animal sounds as a child from listening to her mother, who could play the organ while whistling bird calls. She became a Mouseketeer as an adult. After graduating from the University of Washington, she played Mother Goose on a children’s show on KOMO-TV in Seattle in the early 1950s.

Later in the decade she moved to Hollywood l and quickly found work reading Disney stories for LP recordings as a Disneyland Storyteller and then a Mousketeer.
Ginny Tyler dies at 86; voice actress was Disney legend

The former Mouseketeer had a penchant for storytelling and the ability to mimic animal sounds. Her voice was featured in 'The Sword in the Stone' and 'Mary Poppins.'

By Valerie J. Nelson
From an early age, Tyler "could change my voice at a click of a finger," she told the Issaquah Press in 2010.

In official Disney accounts, her penchant for storytelling and ability to mimic animal sounds was traced to her Native American roots. An ancestor, who was a chief of the Snoqualmie Tribe, traded his two young daughters to a white woman for a piece of property after his wife left him, according to her son. One of the girls was her great-grandmother.

Tyler's talent for animal sounds was probably handed down by her mother, Harriett, a performer who studied bird calls at a school in Los Angeles and incorporated them into her organ-playing and singing, Fenton said.

For the Record

Ginny Tyler: The obituary of voice actress Ginny Tyler in the July 23 LATExtra section said that an ancestor who was a chief of the Snoqualmie tribe traded his two young daughters to a white woman for a piece of property after his wife left him. The girls were the chief's granddaughters. Their mother was the chief's daughter; after she left the girls' father, he handed his daughters over to the white woman, along with a piece of property, to help provide for their care. One of the girls was Tyler's great-grandmother.
Comment:  So Tyler traced her ancestry to the Snoqualmie tribe, but she probably wasn't a member of it. Disney traced her storytelling and mimickry talents to the tribe, but Tyler didn't necessarily claim this sources.

The articles also say Tyler's mother was the real source of these abilities. But it's not clear if the mother was in the same line of descent. Tyler could've been Snoqualmie on her father's side.

Also curious is how the Snoqualmie chief went from sounding cold and callous in the original to warm and supportive in the correction. It's a small but telling example of how easy it is to misrepresent another culture. How many millions of times have we labeled Indians "cruel" because they did something we didn't understand?

For more on Indians and Disney, see Artist Reimagines Disney's Pocahontas and Lone Ranger Movie Rides Again.

Atheists criticize rain-dance wish

A complaint about a Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's recent wish for a rain dance. It's similar to previous complaints from right-wing Christians, but this one comes from an atheist.

Praying for rain: Atheist critics show how petty and small-minded they’ve become

By Lisa MillerFlynn came out swinging churlishly. About Vilsack’s statement, he said, “That’s not just government entangling itself with religion, that’s government publicly practicing it, and wallowing in superstition.” Besides, he added (rather meanly), prayer doesn’t work.

The jury may be out on the efficacy of prayer, but on the question of whether the USDA chief has violated the First Amendment, Flynn is entirely wrong. Vilsack did not say he had ceased doing his day job and was collecting his government salary while devoting himself to prayer. He did not suggest using taxpayer dollars to set up an altar to the rain gods outside USDA headquarters on Independence Avenue SW, nor did he–as Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) did last year–use his authority to declare a national day of prayer for rain. Vilsack merely said that, in light of the vast consequences of the drought on human life, he was moved to prayer. And that he wished he had more, or better, prayers to alleviate the suffering of so many.

“If a leader wants to say he’s praying for help, there’s nothing in the Constitution that makes it inappropriate,” said David Beckmann, a Lutheran pastor and president of the hunger advocacy organization Bread for the World.
The article also offers some questionable Indian lore:Rain prayers are especially potent among desert dwellers; in the arid Southwest, Native Americans have for thousands of years made prayers, songs and dances for rain, and they continue to do so today.

“Thence throw you misty water,” goes the “Rain Magic Song” of the Pueblo Indians, “all round about us here.”

Before they make such supplications, said Tony Chavarria, curator of ethnology at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, N.M., Pueblo Indians are taught to “look within yourself, your community to see what needs to be repaired, what you can to make yourself and your community a more balanced place so the deities will be more willing to convey that blessing.”
Comment:  I've never heard of a "Rain Magic Song." I doubt the 21 Pueblo tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas have that or any other rain-related song or dance in common.

Blogger Johnny Flynn denied that any tribe dances to cause rain. The phrase "prayers, songs and dances for rain" is suitably vague. Are these actions to beckon a particular rainstorm? To ask the gods to continue to deliver rain as they have in the past? To welcome the rain? Or...? These purposes are similar, but they aren't quite the same thing.

For more on the subject, see No Such Thing as Rain Dances.

Below:  "Rain clouds form to the east of parched Vigo county cornfields Thursday July 19 2012 in Terre Haute, Ind." (Jim Avelis/AP)

Mini-review of Path of Souls

Gimli Film Festival brings 130 films to the beach

By Alison GillmorWhen a young scientist (Adam Beach) dies, his grieving widow (Laura Harris) starts out on a journey of discovery. Visiting sacred sites, she explores the crossover between traditional Anishinabe teachings and modern quantum physics.

There's some clunky writing--it's hard to talk casually about subatomic particles--but writer-director Jeremy Torrie (Cowboys and Indians) pulls off some beautiful location shooting, including scenes in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. And Beach's short but crucial scenes really highlight his star quality: He's one of those radiant actors you just have to watch whenever he's onscreen.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Adam Beach Plays "Young Einstein."

July 25, 2012

Nakotah Larance in Geronimo video

Hoop Dancer Nakotah Larance Jazzes Up ‘Geronimo’ by The Knocks and Fred FalkeThe video for a new dance track, “Geronimo,” features an impressive display by champion hoop dancer Nakotah Larance.

New York-based electronic duo The Knocks teamed with German-born producer Fred Falke (he is based in Paris) to create “Geronimo,” the title of which, Knocks member B-Rock told Rolling Stone, was inspired by a portrait of the Apache leader in their New York recording studio. “When Fred was trying to think of a name for the record [before we did the vocals],” B-Rock says, “he looked up and saw the picture and said, ‘Who’s that?’ We told him it’s Geronimo and he said ‘Perfect!’… That inspired the concept and lyrics later.”

Nakotah Larance was recruited by the video’s director, Daniel Pappas. “He had worked with [Larance] before for some project he was doing, and the second he heard the song, he had the concept,” B-Roc says. “When he told us the idea, we knew it was too good to pass up. He went through a lot to lock down the dancer and the location and everything, but it definitely paid off. We think it’s cool that the video makes a reference to rave culture. You see hundreds of these ‘hoopers’ of all ages at these dance festivals, so it’s a cool thing to touch on.”

According to Hooping.org, Larance is a six-time world champion hoop dancer. The video for “Geronimo” is the second we know of in recent months to feature hoop dancing; in May, singer Nelly Furtado released a video for her single “Big Hoops” in which brothers Tony and Kevin Duncan both displayed their hoop dancing skills, and Tony’s wife Violet showed off some shawl dancing as well.
Comment:  I don't know what the song has to do with Geronimo, since I can't understand it. The high-energy tone doesn't match my impression of Geronimo, whom I think of as stealthy and quietly lethal.

The initial scenes of Larance getting up and getting ready for the day don't do anything for me either. But once he starts dancing, his moves fit the song well.

For more on the subject, see Hoop Dancers in Furtado Video.

War of 1812 reenactment omits Natives

First Nations Omitted From War Of 1812 Re-EnactmentActors dressed in period costumes helped bring the War of 1812 theme alive at the Tall Ships Festival in Halifax, but the re-enactment left out Canada's aboriginal allies.

Professional re-enactors hired by Parks Canada marched on the Halifax waterfront as if braced for an American attack, but no one represented the First Nations soldiers who fought for the British colony.

Thousands of First Nations soldiers helped turn the tide of the war in British and Canadian favour.

"(We) certainly would not have been able to save our territory if not for the native contribution," said site manager Rob Roe.

Parks Canada has not officially replied to CBC's query about the missing aboriginal re-enactors, but Roe said he didn't know why aboriginals were not represented in the Halifax re-enactment.
Comment:  One detail missing from the article: Was this a reenactment of a particular event in Halifax? In which Natives might not have participated?

Or was it a general reenactment of the War of 1812, in which Natives were key players? In that case, the reenactment should've included them.

For more on the War of 1812, see Aboriginals Mark Canada Day 2012 and War of 1812 Documentary.

Luiseño student studies virology

Luiseño Student Studies Virology, Hopes to Give Back By Finding CuresTemet McMichael, an enrolled member of the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians, has chosen a path in medicine, but not to be the kind of doctor who sees patients.

“I hope to conduct research in the medical field that will progress modern medicine and give back to the Native community,” McMichael, a member of the Amago Clan, said. “My plan is to obtain a Ph.D. in biomedical research with a focus in virology. I aspire to make a difference and contribute to the research field that finds cures and treatments for modern diseases.”
Comment:  For more on Indians and healthcare, see Pueblo Man Develops Marijuana Patch and Basketball-Playing Medical Lab Scientist.

July 24, 2012

Celebrity wannabes don't know Indians

Got Native in You? Great. Just Try to Avoid Pulling a Justin BieberWhen Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber revealed in Rolling Stone that he believes he’s part Native, he wasn’t breaking new ground for a celebrity—believing or claiming to have Native ancestry is nearly as much as a celebrity-interview cliche as “…but what I really want to do is direct.” However, throwing in the comment that he thinks he could get “free gas” because of his heritage turned a perhaps-interesting detail about him into a confession of ignorance.

Many celebrities with no documented Tribal affiliation have said they’re part Native—and there’s usually little reason to doubt the sincerity of their beliefs. But there’s a difference between having an Indian ancestor and actually knowing anything about Indians. It may seem like obvious advice, but perhaps it should be the first lesson a publicist drills into a client: If you don’t know what you’re talking about, best keep your mouth shut. Here are some celebrities who have managed to discuss the Native roots they believe they possess—without pulling a Bieber.
The article gives a brief summary for each of the following:

Channing Tatum
Vanessa Hudgens
Anthony Kiedis (lead singer, Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Megan Fox
Johnny Depp
Taylor Lautner
Jonas Brothers
Shannon Elizabeth (actress, American Pie)
Tommy Lee Jones

Comment:  The article claims none of these people pulled a "Bieber." But I'd say the remarks of Johnny Depp, Taylor Lautner, and Megan Fox were about as bad.

The article highlights something Depp said that I haven't commented on. Namely, that he may have been the product of rape--presumably a white man raping a Cherokee woman.

Really? As we learned previously, Depp doesn't know whether he's Cherokee, Creek, or what. Now he doesn't know whether his ancestry resulted from a loving decision or a vicious assault? Heck, maybe one of the Cherokee "little people" delivered him from a hole in the ground.

How can he claim to have a Native heritage when he doesn't have the slightest clue what that heritage is? It sounds like he has the same info Elizabeth Warren has, which means none. They're both grasping at straws--i.e., guessing.

For more on Native identity questions, see Is Elizabeth Warren Native? and Khloe Kardashian Thinks She's Native.

Using Cowbird to tell stories

National Geographic launches a ‘ballsy’ online project

A community storytelling venture hopes to supplement good journalism

By Hazel Sheffield
When Aaron Huey started photographing the lives of Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, he did not imagine he would still be working with the residents he met there seven years later.

Now, Huey is coordinating a storytelling project partnership between National Geographic and Cowbird, an interactive storytelling website, to provide a forum for residents of Pine Ridge to tell their own stories in photographs, audio, and words directly to readers. According to Huey, this might be the first time a national magazine has agreed to host unedited, user-generated content directly on its website. In Huey’s words, that’s a “ballsy” move for a legacy publication.

“It has benefits to all parties involved,” Huey told CJR. “There is so much in these communities that you cannot cover using traditional media outlets. I have been frustrated for a long time about my inability to tell the whole story.”
And:While Cowbird could provide similar opportunities for other long-term, community-led journalism projects, there are some limitations. First, the process of building up trust and investing time in the community is labor-intensive for journalists at a time when competition for work is high and few have the luxury of years to invest.

Money is also an issue. Huey received a Knight Fellowship to study at Stanford and a grant from the John and James L. Knight Foundation, giving him the time he needed to take a step back from his career, ask what more he could do for the subjects of his photographs, and then formulate a plan to help them speak for themselves. Without the financial support from the fellowship, he might not have had that chance, he said.

Finally, many of the communities that could benefit most from a storytelling partnership are offline, without the technology and education needed to submit their stories to Cowbird. Huey is running workshops in senior citizen homes and in schools to encourage involvement in his project. Cowbird is also working to make its interface as accessible as possible, including accepting submissions via email.
The site itself:

Pine Ridge Community Storytelling Project

Comment:  I'm not sure what impact this will have. More than Huey's billboards, I suspect.

If nothing else, it'll inspire the people of Pine Ridge to talk. That alone is a valuable outcome.

For more on Huey's efforts, see Lakota Stories on National Geographic Website and My "Black Hills" Billboard.

Owners plan to franchise Tocabe

Chuck Trimble reports on eating and meeting the owner at the Tocabe restaurant. I found the tidbit below particularly interesting:

Tocabe--A Native culinary treasure in Denver

By Charles TrimbleShe went into the kitchen and brought out her son Ben to meet us. He is impressive, even in his reversed baseball cap and apron. He and his business partner--a close friend from his college days – run a happily hectic operation smoothly with well trained, friendly staff of young Native servers. Where it is situated, it is a neighborhood restaurant, but it is obvious that people from all over the metro area come there regularly.

Ben described plans to expand operations via franchise, and early connections even call for some to be in major professional sports facilities, such as stadiums and arenas. He gave me a business summary plan that is convincing that he knows what he’s doing, and his plans are thorough and realistic. I had little doubt from talking to him that I was talking to an entrepreneur destined for success--perhaps a future Famous Dave Anderson.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Tocabe on Food Network and Bringing Native Foods to the Fore.

July 23, 2012

Will Rogers, Native superstar

An article explains why Will Rogers was arguably the greatest Native star in history. Yet today people remember him only dimly, if at all.

Will Rogers: Actor, Comedian, Political Pundit, Truth Teller—And Proud Cherokee

By Steve RussellAccording to my grandparents, the news of one man dying in August of 1935 struck them like the deaths of both Kennedy and Lennon, a simultaneous earthquake in both politics and entertainment. The New York Times devoted 13 full pages to coverage of this death two days after it happened, almost four pages the next day, and the ink kept flowing for more than a week. On the Times‘s editorial page, the editors with whom that man had clashed many times opined: “He came to hold such a place in the public mind that, of his passing from the stage it might be said…that it will ‘eclipse the gayety of nations.’ Let us hope…some one may arise to help us as he did to keep our mental poise, to avoid taking all our national geese for swans, and by wholesome laughter make this world seem a better place to live in.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “His appeal went straight to the heart of the nation. Above all things, in a time grown too solemn and somber he brought his countrymen back to a sense of proportion.”

On the day of his funeral, 51,000 people waited five hours in the hot Los Angeles sun for a brief chance to pay their respects. Every movie theater in the country went dark for two minutes; the CBS and NBC radio networks observed 30 minutes of silence in his honor.

The man himself would probably have been most moved by a story recounted by one of his many biographers: “In Locust Grove, Oklahoma, half a dozen Cherokees were building a fence when an old man drove along the road to tell them the news.… After a time, some of the Indians spoke of how they had known Will or remembered a favor he had done for someone. Then one said, ‘I can’t work any more today,’ and all of them stacked their tools and quietly walked away.”

Will Rogers was born on November 4, 1879, in Oologah, Cooweescoowee District, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory. He came into this world with a slightly more pretentious handle than “Will”—William Penn Adair Rogers. He was born, as is Cherokee custom, into his mother’s Paint Clan. His family was typical of the intermarriage that had been going on in the Cherokee Nation starting in the 17th century. His Paint Clan mother, Mary America Schrimsher, was one-fourth Cherokee by blood. His father, Clement Vann Rogers, known as Clem, was one-eighth. Then as now, a person was either a Cherokee citizen or not, regardless of blood quantum, and the Rogers family was. His father attended the Cherokee Male Seminary and then served the Cherokee Nation as a judge and later as a senator. His mother studied music at the Cherokee Female Seminary near Tahlequah. Rogers used to say, “I had just enough white in me to make my honesty questionable.”
Comment:  As you can see below, Rogers's humor and insight is still relevant. Too bad today's pundits aren't as clear about the problems facing America.

For more on Will Rogers, see Will Rogers Educational Website and Will Rogers on Wall Street.

Native athletes in 2012 Olympics

Native Athletes Competing in the 2012 London OlympicsWith just a few days away to the 2012 London Olympics, thousands of athletes from across the world will begin competition in their respective sports in hopes of winning a medal and become a part of Olympic history. A few of those athletes that will be competing will not only be representing their country but they will also be representing their tribal affiliation as well.

Mary Killman, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma, will be one of those tribal members competing at the Olympics. She will be competing in the Synchronized Duet Technical swimming event.

Mary Spencer, a First Nation Ojibway, will be competing in the 75-kilogram middleweight boxing event at the London Olympics for Team Canada. She's considered one of Canada's top hopes for a medal in London, where women's boxing is making its Olympic debut.

Tumua Anae, a Native Hawaiian, will be competing at the Olympics as the goalie for the US National Water Polo team. In college at USC, Anae was a finalist for 2010 Peter J. Cutino Award and a member of the 2010 NCAA Championship team and was also named 1st Team All American team.
CN citizen makes U.S. Olympic dressage team

By Kenneth BraddickCherokee Nation citizen Adrienne Lyle, 27, of Ketchum, has become one of the youngest Americans earning the right to compete in the Olympics at dressage, a sport that has been in the summer games for at least 100 years.

On June 16, Lyle and a horse named Wizard earned a place on the American team by placing in the top four at the U.S. Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival of Champions and USEF Dressage Olympic Selection Trials at Gladstone, N.J.

She will compete in the Olympics as an individual.
Comment:  For more on Natives and the Olympics. see Potawatomi Synchronized Swimmer in Olympics and Best in the World at the NMAI.

Below:  Mary Killman, Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

July 22, 2012

Justin Bieber thinks he's Native

This story has been going around the Internet for a few days:

Canadian Pop Star Justin Bieber Believes He’s Indian Enough to Get Free GasIn the August issue of Rolling Stone, pop star Justin Bieber reveals that he believes he has Native heritage. The claim is not a central part of the article—indeed, it’s a comment so brief the writer has it in parentheses:

He’s wearing a Chicago Blackhawks cap (“I’m actually part Indian,” he says—“I think Inuit or something? I’m enough percent that in Canada I can get free gas”), a blue short-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts that hang all the way off his butt.

The “free gas” misconception is a common one, and stems from a policy described on Ontario’s Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs website:

In Ontario, there is a tax of 14.7 cents per litre on gasoline. First Nations people with a gas card do not have to pay this tax if they buy gasoline for personal use from an authorized service station on a reserve.
And:The Onion AV Club raises the point that ignorance from a person as famous as Bieber can be dangerous because legions of fans are likely to believe (or Beliebe as they say) whatever comes out of his mouth—sarcastically speculating that “tens of service stations could be getting ripped off across the Great White North, just because this recent high school graduate doesn’t know his own heritage.”

PopGoesTheNews points out: “Adding insult to Bieber’s ignorance, if he did indeed have Inuit ancestry, he would not be entitled to a Status Card since the Inuit are not covered by the Indian Act.”

Torso and Oblong delves into the curious chain of logic vocalized by Bieber—and so many others—who’ve been told they have Native heritage: “Invariably, the conversation then moves onto the perceived bonanza of mythical scholarships that would become available to them if they just had the documented evidence that demonstrated this ancestry. Accompanying this is the rough grumbling that their damned White genetic heritage is now a liability for getting ahead.”

And that’s perhaps the most worthwhile thing to ponder here. It’s possible that Bieber really has Indigenous heritage, and it’s clear he doesn’t know much about Native people—and neither of those things is inherently important to the average reader of Rolling Stone or ICTMN. What might matter, or ought to matter, to both readerships is that Bieber is an 18-year-old with an estimated net worth of over $100 million, and yet even to him the concept of “Indian or Inuit” is closely tied to the concept of “free gas.”
“Part Indian” (or is it Inuit?) Justin Bieber faces online backlash over “free gas” claim

By Jorge BarreraThe comment was quickly picked up by several blogs and ignited mocking reaction from many online.

“Omfg Justin Bieber!! Wow. I didn’t like him already, now this makes me so angry!!” wrote Kat Partridge, on APTN National News’ Facebook page.

“WTF man…what an arse…like really,” wrote Ray Hudson.

“Can someone ask him where all the free is? I would like to know! Lol,” wrote Shevon Maggie.

“Well wow. First off it’s not free gas and second, the boy doesn’t know that status cards are only for status First Nations. Maybe he’ll change his heritage next month,” wrote Brandy Franklin.

Ellen Gabriel, who recently ran for the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, also jumped in the fray, calling on Bieber to apologize and urged her online supporters to Tweet the young pop star.

“I Tweeted young Mr. Bieber today to have him apologize to all Aboriginal peoples for his ill-informed comments,” wrote Gabriel, who rose to prominence as a calming voice during the 1990 Oka crisis which put her home community of Kanesatake under the international spotlight. “(It) just promotes another kind of stereotype which we all know are based on myth and racism.”

Cree-Metis hip hop artist Joey Stylez tried to spy the silver lining in the controversy saying Bieber’s comments reflected a wider pop cultural trend that seemed to equate Indigenous culture with cool.

“It’s also kind of cool at the same time. Everyone is associating being hip and cool with being Native American right now. Johnny Depp just got adopted by a tribe down south,” said Stylez, in a phone interview from Saskatoon. “I think we’re being recognized in pop culture as the ones with the most swag.”

But if Bieber really believed he has Indigenous heritage, he should also realize it comes with responsibility, said Stylez.

“If you are Native American you should be doing other stuff like going back to the reserves where there are Third World conditions and taking the bad stuff, not only the cool stuff,” said Stylez, who is working on a new album and short film both titled Feather and Rosary. “I think it’s inappropriate how he said it. He could have said it better and known actually what he’s talking about.”
Comment:  For his stereotypical claim that Natives get free stuff, Bieber earns a Stereotype of the Month nomination.

For more on Native identity questions, see Is Elizabeth Warren Native? and Khloe Kardashian Thinks She's Native.

No such thing as rain dances

A Navajo blogger discusses the drought afflicting the US and whether Natives can summon rain.

I Know Why a Rain Dance Won’t End The Drought

By Johnny P. FlynnThe biggest fire in Arizona history is slowly burning itself out and Colorado has seen fires devastate the fringes of urban areas south of Denver.

The American consumer is looking at higher prices as corn crops across the Midwest are dying in the fields. This is the context in which Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently said: “I get on my knees every day... and I’m saying an extra prayer now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.”

As an American Indian all my life I have been cursed with the myth of the “Indian rain dance.” I am here to say there is no such thing. Not in my Potawatomi tribe or in any other tribe across the Americas.
And:The weather pattern, called the ‘monsoon’ in Arizona, is predictable (monsoon actually comes from the Arabic word for season). Arizona’s monsoon may deposit only a few tenths of an inch of rain, but there may be 2-3 storms a week in the dry summer, just enough to water the corn at a critical time in its growth cycle.

Because the Hopi plant their crops in the mouths of washes, any runoff also waters the crops. For centuries Hopi farming techniques have utilized every drop of moisture and they remain one of the most culturally conservative native groups in the United States.

Every summer the Hopi hold late summer dances—but not to bring the rain. Like the ax in the tree, the rain is coming or not regardless of the ax or the dance. The dances are held to welcome the rain.
Comment:  I wouldn't swear that not a single tribe dances to attract rain. But I'll take Flynn's word for the general rule.

Most tribes don't even have dances related to rain. So projecting the Hopi Snake (Rain) Dance onto 500 tribes is badly stereotypical.

For more on the subject, see Cartoon:  Natives Are the Best Strippers.

July 21, 2012

Native mermaid lore

Mermaid Tales From Native Tribes AboundWhile the U.S. government and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) denies their existence, Native American tribes have been telling stories about mermaids from time immemorial.

From the Halfway People of the Mi’kmaq and the Lampeqinuwok of the Maliseet, to the story of Ne Hwas told by the Passamaquoddy and the story of the first merman told by the Potawatomi, there is no shortage of tales about the half human creatures.

The Mi’kmaq tell the tale of Lone Bird who stumbles upon a cove of five beautiful maidens swimming and playing in the water: “They were lovely, it is true, but they looked nothing like human maidens, for humans do not have pale skin, spotted with silvery scales. They do not dress their hair with strands of seaweed. And though maidens adorn themselves with necklaces of bright shells, humans have legs. Their bodies do not end in long fish tails,” from the book Spirits, Fairies, and Merpeople: Native Stories of Other Worlds by C.J. Taylor.

Lampeqinuwok are water sprites from Maliseet and Passamaquoddy stories. The website Native-Languages.org reports that in some stories they take human form, and in others they have fish tails, but in most stories they fall into the power of anybody who can steal their magical garments.

The Passamaquoddy tell the story of He Nwas, the mermaid. It’s about two girls who defy their mother by swimming where they weren’t supposed to. The girls turn into mermaids and instead of playing on the shore, they tow their parent’s canoe for them.

“They were all slimy; they grew to be snakes from below the waist. After sinking a few times in this strange slime they became very handsome, with long black hair and large, bright black eyes, with silver bands on their neck and arms,” from The Algonquin Legends of New England, by Charles G. Leland.
Comment:  For more on Indians and the supernatural, see UFO Sightings in Indian Country and Navajo Cops Hypes the Supernatural.

Below:  Mermaids by Jean Francis Aubertin, circa 1920.

Navajo/Pueblo Pac-Man painting

Ehren Natay: Pac-Man Meets Deer Dancer at Nativo Lodge Live Art Event

By Kelly KoepkeSacred symbols and pop culture icons merge to make a statement about American society in Ehren Natay’s painting, “Traditional Gaming.” Created as part of Natay’s one-week artist residency at Albuquerque’s Nativo Lodge hotel, the work indicts today’s obsession with passive entertainment: video, television and video games.

“Entertainment is important, but entertainment has become an obsession. It’s a distraction and escape from reality and the truths of this earth,” says Natay. “It’s brainwashing.”

At first glance, “Traditional Gaming” seems an homage to the video game Pac-Man. A closer inspection reveals ancient symbols Natay has learned through studying Pueblo pottery. Pac-Man itself, a yellow circle missing a quadrant, reminded Natay of the symbol for the bee plant, a frequent design element in Santo Domingo pottery.

“All the symbols I’ve used in the painting are sacred,” says Natay, who is of Navajo and Santo Domingo descent. “The clouds, the rainbow, the watermelon. The ghosts in the video game I’ve made into the holy spirits of the Navajo inside a kiva.”
Comment:  Santo Domingo Pueblo recently changed its name to Kewa Pueblo.

For more on Native pop art, see Veregge's Superhero "Totems" and Jetsonorama's Larger-Than-Life Art.

Below:  "A detail from Traditional Gaming by Ehren Natay."