Kutaputash (thank you) for the thoughtful responses to the last set of readings, After reading these, I am sure we will have engaging discussions. I hope you enjoyed the trip to Plymouth and I very much look forward to seeing and interacting with you on June 3.
No other ethnic group in the United States has endured greater and more varied distortions of its cultural identity than American Indians. (Mihesuah 9).
I get frustrated when my friends send me links such as this one about a “powwow party” a mother designed for her little girl because she wanted to be like Tiger Lily in Peter Pan (http://elizabethkartchner.com/2012/06/04/birthday-party-pow-wow/). The mother made a teepee, feathered headbands, arrow and fox party favors—sigh. Or now that football season has started, there is a photo on social media with a football fan holding a severed head of an Indian with headdress---horrific. One of these seems benign in light of the other, but neither is appropriate. Then there is the issue of using Natives as mascots, especially for the Washington DC football team. Thus, Mihesuah’s lists of stereotypes are important to help begin to critically analyze such behaviors.
Mihesuah is probably more of what one would call a nationalist in the field of Native Studies, yet her points throughout are ones that provoke awareness. I call her a nationalist because as an enrolled member of a federally-recognized tribe, she often holds a bias against unenrolled people. But that is a longer discussion we will have at a later time. The important contributions are bringing awareness about misrepresenting and misappropriating Native cultures as well as restoring dignity to Native peoples. This introduction works nicely with Thomas King in that Mihesuah briefly touches on issues that King raises in his book.
First, I love King, and I especially love this book. That is not to say that you must also love it, but I do think it is an important book to read. I appreciate his use of story and how he sets up his audience to understand stories. Then he tells several which intertwine with one another. These stories raise issues not only about Native peoples, but of all the kinds of –isms out there and playing out in our world. He comments on how he/we become “chained to these stories” (9), how they are “wonderous and dangerous” (9-10). He points to the differences between Western and other world views. He becomes particularly pointed about issues that Native peoples face including racism, being placed in the past, and sovereignty.
I’ve known Malea Powell for a long time, yet each time I read this work (or hear her speak on it) my intellectual self is re-awakened. While both of us have been engaging story as theory, I am stunned by her work here in which she re-thinks her own scholarly endeavors and takes them to a different. I saw her speak at an Octalog two years ago. She began by displaying a wampum belt made by one of her graduate students, and said, “this is not a thing.” We have both been pushing against, as she writes, “our discipline’s inclination to fetishize the text above the body, combined with a narrowness of vision that insists on connecting every rhetorical practice on the planet to Big Daddy A & the one true Greco-roman way” (2). I’m sure you have had experiences with seeing everything as a text, and this, too, has been an approach I’ve used. It has had its value, but as someone who also engages in practices of her ancestors, I appreciate the work Malea is doing here.
Thus in my classes, I bring this self to my teaching. Students not only gain knowledge from readings and discussions, but also learn how writing and makings were important to the transmission of knowledge. In my classes, I have also been engaging students in thinking about things and practicing making. These makings, as Malea Powell writes, “are significant for understanding Native rhetorical traditions is because as things they provoke, create, and prompt the stories that tell us who we are in relation to one another. They instruct us about our responsibilities to each other, and to the land” (Rhetorical Powwows). However, they cannot merely be treated as just things, but as rhetorical practices which can speak about themselves. Such a teaching model also grounds our course in local Native space and honors Indigenous peoples because every university must recognize that it is built on what were once and are still Native lands.
Selu marks the Cherokee telling of a Corn Mother story, inviting us to learn how and why Ginitsi Selu is honored and continues to be “practical advice’” to maintain balance. As Wilma Mankiller writes, “How can we possibly keep our world from spinning out of balance if we don’t have a fundamental understanding of our relationship to everything around us?” (ix). Awiakta points out throughout Selu that it is continually more difficult as we get further and further from the land through our machines: cars, faxes and now computers, cell phones…and on. And as the human race supports these machines, we destroy the mother which sustains us, namely the Earth. One only needs to turn on the news today to see the ravages of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico—weeks of oil spewing into the ocean now coming ashore and destroying habitats of wildlife. Our greed has done this, our centering on the self rather than living in balance. A lack of respect, a lack of giving back. I cannot help but feel that Mother Earth is pushing back with all the earthquakes, floods and tornados—we must be more aware and treat her with respect. As Awiakta speaks of corn, I am also reminded of the interventions of humankind to alter that corn with genetic modification (same with soy). In doing so, we have created an unhealthy product. While genetic modification has occurred naturally, these new procedures take from “the seed, the spirit” of the Corn Mother. Yet, Awiakta speaks to the destruction in her own upbringing, the Tellico Dam, the “atomic wastelands,” and her own experiences with prejudice. Within her telling of the Selu stories and how she came to know them, she provides insights to issues Native peoples, particularly Native women, face.
The multigenre nature of Selu is interesting. Awiakta uses story, poetry, the drawings of Mary Adair and other voices to comprise her text. Some might argue that this form and presentation is not scholarly, yet I would argue it challenges the shape of scholarly discourse. It reminds me of what Lee Maracle has said (to paraphrase) there is theory in every story—the difference is that Indigenous peoples have known that. One only needs to look at Awiakta’s discussion of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony to understand further. Not only does Awiakta tell us that “through poetry, we make a quantum leap into the essence of the story” (161), but she takes us into a theoretical discussion of story, of how these ideas are “unsettling” and disturbing” causing a critical engagement of the person (mind and body) with the text. This is important when confronting Native writing.
The first week, you are experiencing the New England area and how Native peoples position themselves in the colonial histories you have likely read in school. The readings are helpful in your understanding of the Native Plymouth Tour and your thinking about the mapping project. I've cut and pasted in some thoughts on the readings. Please enter yours using the comments.
Jean O’Brien writes of how Amer-Europeans use(d) a tactic for erasure in their records of incorporation and historical celebrations. These “firstings” which write the Indians out of the histories. Once the transactions for land were made, the Indians blended into the forest and ultimately (for the colonists) into the past. In the Centennial celebration speech for Bridgewater, MA contained “But it is sad to think that of all the race who then peopled this region, nothing now but tradition remains… not a drop of the blood..was to be found in the veins of any living being” (xi). What? O”Brien’s work explores old documents of incorporation, histories, and reporting from cities and towns in New England. She writes,
Local narrators took up the histories of the exact places their audiences lived, and they rooted stories about Indians in those places. The overwhelming message of these narratives was that local Indians have disappeared. These local stories were leashed to a larger national narrative of the ‘vanishing Indian’ as a generalized trope and disseminated not just in the form of the written word but also in a rich ceremonial cycle of pageants, commemorations, monument building, and lecture hall performance. .. The collective story these texts told … created a narrative of Indian extinction that has stubbornly remained in the consciousness and unconsciousness of Americans (xiii).
Because of this, the schools are filled with reenactments of the Thanksgiving Story keeping Indians in a safe and distant past. A memory that is as vivid to me as if it happened yesterday is from my second-grade class. All the children were dressed in paper costumes portraying Pilgrims and Indians. A white sheet was draped over a makeshift stage and bright lights placed in the back so that only the shadows of the actors were visible to the audience. I alone was in a new dress and sat at a table beside the stage to narrate the play. All the while my legs crossed at the ankles swung back and forth as I read the words which seemed so awkward and uncomfortable to me. Of course, I was praised for my fine reading skills of one of the very kind O’Brien writes about. These pageants are still performed in schools, these paper costumes still made even now when we should know better.
Lisa Brooks A Common Pot is an amazing book. I love her work with Abenaki language and the connections she makes. I love that awikhigawôgan is the activity of writing and “a process, an ongoing activity in which we are all engaged” (introduction). She writes, “The communal stories recorded on birchbark and in wampum would connect people with their relations across time, bringing past, present and future into the same place” (12). This also helps us to think about how time is considered in Indigenous ways of knowing –a continuum rather than a discreet unit.
As we are reminded in another text, the land has memory.”
John Paul Jones writes,
“There is no place without a story. Every plant, every animal, every rock and flowing spring carries a message. Native peoples of the Americas learned over thousands of years to listen to messages, and we know every habitat. We know the earth; we know the sky; we know the wind; we know the rain; we know the smells. We know the spirit of each living space. The spirit of each place is deeply embedded within us; we are connected to something larger than ourselves” (1).
I think of this every time I am at the garden planting, weeding, or even sitting among the three sisters.
But in times of great social and political stress, when spiritual traditions have been undermined or are hard to adhere to, living a ‘reasonable, integrated life’ is not easy. Thus we need maps to help us find our direction, to help describe and explain the kind of spiritual and material terrain that we have walked through before and are walking through even now.( Janice Gould 24)
I love this quote from Janice Gould’s “Poems as Maps in American Indian Women’s Writing.” As Wilma Mankiller rightly states, “the world is spinning out of balance,” more and more each day. I constantly need to remind myself to stay on the path—even when I’ve lost the direction. Gould discusses Selu and Mankiller’s introduction to that book. She also writes, “the need to make our own maps is a reflection of the need to know and love our Mother, to repair our bond with her, and through her, with all our Indian family, all our relations” (25). It is time. Gould brings us to observe a number of poems which act as “poetic cartography” (24). Native peoples open maps to reveal home, grief, survival, direction, memories, stories and more.