Native American Heritage Day
Friday, the day after Thanksgiving
Most people aren't aware of this, but last June, President Obama signed into law a joint resolution of the House and Senate, sponsored by Rep. Baca of California and Sen. Inouye of Hawaii, naming the Friday after Thanksgiving Native American Heritage Day, "to honor the achievements and contributions of Native Americans to the United States."
The general truth, that we little understand the implications of what we celebrate, and that we should become more aware of our history and how others view it, is very appropriate to carry in our thoughts on this supposedly contemplative occasion.
My family origins are with an ancestor who came over from England in 1680. Nearly a century later, a descendant of his fought in the American Revolution. My great grandfather learned a portable trade growing up in Litchfield, Connecticut, as a wheelwright, and made it all the way West - to Albion, NY. Despite the long history of my family in America, I largely am an expert in the ignorance of Mainstream America in this subject area, beyond the Disneyfied bubble many of us have lived in. I feel I should comment from my attempts to overcome this. '
So, as a non-expert, how to get across some things about American Indian ways of life that enrich us? There are so many ways one might go about this. A list of things like corn, so much a staple of our diets that our bodies are nearly identical to corn in chemical analysis? Quinine? The insight into political process and governance that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson gained from meeting and talking with councils of the Six Nations confederacy?
Given the spiritual and family nature of this holiday for many people, maybe it would be interesting to explore something most people might not consider.
Several years ago I was living on the main campus of the Navajo Nation's tribal college, in Tsaile, Az (derived from the Navajo word for a place where water enters the canyon) at the head of Canyon de Chelly in a stunning setting on the flanks of the Chuska (Ch'osgai - white spruce) Mountains, high up at 7200 feet.
I thought I was going to a public lecture, but found myself in a large meeting convened on the Navajo Nation by many medicine men, tribal college leaders, tribal government and legal experts and others concerned about the issue of spreading water from sewage treatment onto the slopes of a sacred mountain. This was approved by the National Park Service under Bush. Fake snow for ski tourism on the mountain near Flagstaff.
The purpose was to review the legal strategy for opposing the Park Service action before the appellate court and possibly the Supreme Court on behalf of the Nation, and some fifteen other tribal entities as well.
Harry Walters, a well known expert on Navajo culture, a teacher at the college and a tribal elder, explained the difference between "Western" viewpoints on issues such as this and "Indian" ways of seeing it, thus to explore the problem of translating the issue into language useful in a courtroom.
I should mention that Dine' College was founded on the principle that Indian youth could best be prepared for a future as leaders for the Nation, and successful people in the larger culture, through an education that honors traditional Indian views of life, as well as the accreditation requirements for US colleges. The educational philosophy uses an ancient wisdom tradition description, Sa'a N'yae Bikeh Hozhon. It isn't translateable directly.
This is the sort of issue at the heart of the cultural divide between the two different traditions. Language is a real limitation when it really represents different ways of thinking.
Specific breaking down into atoms, molecules or logical bits that can be categorized is the "Western" gift to mankind. It creates science and the benefits derived therefrom. It also creates problems when people and cultures are subjected to compartmentalized thinking that allows them to be dismissed as less than human or irrelevant. This is the source of war and horrible legacies that we know all too well, unless we dismiss the truth of history as many do - also made possible by compartmentalized, limited, left brain thinking.
The more fluid, open and right brained intelligence welcomes more subjective experience as truth. Poetry and art are more congruent than, say chemistry. More comfort with ambiguity. Less comfort with regimentation.
Walters drew a line and a circle. More or less, straight line logic that sees things in terms of a continuum, such as a timeline or a process is one way of looking at the world, and a circle, where all things are seen as a gestalt with no beginning or end is another.
One might compare this to an Eastern, maybe Buddhist philosophy. But it goes further.
The wisdom to be found in American Indian philosophy cannot be separated from ancient experience of place. This is why land issues are so vastly crucial. Dine' people, especially in the very center of the Nation, have the fortune of living on land that direct ancestors walked going back at least into the fifteen hundreds. Maybe further back.
The reason that there is a dispute over the sacred mountain is that there is no distinction between the time of Creation - back then in ancient times - and now. The figures in the myths of origin, notably the Yei, are still alive and present within the four sacred mountains that define the Dine' world. These are deities. Peeing in the baptismal font, as it were, is not only disrespectful, but could harm balance on a profound level and cause a drift into negativity across the land, increasing criminal thinking, drug and alcohol abuse, and bad public leadership. Maintaining balance in the world is the essential issue.
One could talk about this in terms of String Theory. Time exists all in one place and we live in a dimension of it, not able to experience beyond what our senses are designed to process. We are limited beings who cannot take in more than a small amount of reality.
We live in very limited ways. We need some kind of help with enlarging into our potential as individuals and as a society. What we seek, that we may lack, is proper balance. Calibrating balance is the larger work of consciousness leaders. The ideal is what is meant by the word, "beauty."
The insight that we live in a landscape that we ought to open ourselves to having
reverence for, is a valuable insight. Heedless existence that has no respect for Others, is completely selfish and allows unchecked consumption of everything without respect for any consequences in the future is the opposite of balance, of beauty.
Navajo families gather in the fall and winter for Yei Bi Chei ceremonies. These may be open to the public, with hand painted signs visible along roads pointing to them.
Traditionally, they last for nine days. People do take off work, telling supervisors that they must go to a family ceremony and this is acceptable, with compromises. There are now short form ceremonies lasting maybe only a day or so. But there are still very lengthy observances among the most traditional folks.
I attended a Christmas Eve Yei Bi Che a few years ago, up the road a few miles at Lukachukai, as it happens, an historic center of ceremonialism. Here's an image: http://www.ed-resources.net/...
The elaborate ceremony involved a specially built ceremonial Hogan (an eight-sided log house) a lighted area out front, four ceremonial bonfires in a line on either side of a dance runway leading out into the sagebrush, and a large area for parking in an adjacent field. The medicine man conducting this performs a long series of complex songs that are the equivalent of a libretto for a long opera, and executes sand paintings and other rituals in private, in the hogan. He also manages and oversees everything so it is all done right.
A line of dancers comes in from the field, approaching the patient, seated in front of the hogan. At night, the area between the bonfires is lit, and the dancers enter from complete darkness. Out here, there are no city lights. No lights at all. Only stars, which are bright and close enough to almost touch in the high altitude air far from traffic or smokestacks. It was cold. Fifteen degrees. No one in the large crowd was complaining about it, so I didn't remark on it either. But I did get some hot chocolate from the guy in the trailer with the fry bread, Navajo tacos (mutton in fry bread) and coffee.
I contemplated, among other things, the license plates on about a hundred pickup trucks and cars, some idling with people inside warming up. When the call goes out, family gathers as they might for a wedding, driving in from everywhere imagineable.
Navajos are unified by a strong sense of family, clan, community. It is a healthy support system. For those who participate in this, resources can be shared that might help get someone through a distant college, create a great network of caregivers for children, even capital for business investment.
The line of dancers, dressed in white body paint and the unique masks representing the Yei, move through the ritual in stages, calling out in the strange hooting that evokes supernatural utterance. At some point, the dancers may be "possessed" (a western term that will have to do) by the actual Yei who enter them and bring healings and blessings. This is one reason so many people are so dedicated to dropping what they are doing and driving however many miles they have to in order to make it.
In "The Web of Life" Fritjof Capra points out the work of physicist Ilya Prigogine, who won a Nobel Prize for postulating systems theory. In this "New Physics" everything is connected to everything, in a giant web, and not in straight line sequences. The world wide web is an example. The Gaia system is another. I guess one could say String Theory extends this.
The first Europeans to come to these shores, like the Pilgrims, did not understand ecology. (anybody talking about String Theory back then would have been accused of blasphemy, or worse.) They believed in Man's Dominion over Creation. A sense of reverence for all things, seen or not seen, understood or not understood, a sense that man does not have the right to dominate but is an equal part of the whole web of life - is an essential indigenous wisdom. This is ancient human heritage for all cultures, but it has been a lost wisdom through the European Christian era, with its war on the indigenous world of Europe, brought here by the settlers.
Perhaps one of the great gifts of the meeting of the "Western" and Indigenous minds can still be a rediscovery of that deeply ancient wisdom which might be relevant to our future survival as Homo Sapiens.
Last Thanksgiving, or around then, we had a dinner guest from Lukachukai, a graduate faculty member in the education department who had lived for some years in San Francisco and was on his way to an Ivy League university to do a lecture. I remember him saying, "We have no wisdom to share with anyone. Look at us. We are a devastated people. We live in poverty. Look at the alcohol, the domestic violence, people leaving the reservation for jobs a long way away."
You can certainly see a lot of cultural devastation and the history is full of causes for grieving. But on deep reflection, I believe that if the core of indigenous experience is ever lost, all mankind will suffer from that in ways we may never grasp. I prefer to take what opportunities there might be, to honor what wisdom I might be able to comprehend. That isn't an easy process, and yes, it is full of contradictions.
A line came to me for a poem once: "we will be shown what we can see."
Wisdom begins with being fully open to the idea that we may not know everything or understand everything, but we might do better at that if we try, in time.
What I am saying is that the differences between perspectives have in the past led to killing and huge conflict. We should contemplate, instead, the ways that we can learn to open our minds to new dimensions of understanding and gain new ground in the process. That is something to consider and give thanks over - for the future.
Hozho Nahastle (May there be Beauty)
The Massacre For Which Thanksgiving Is Named
Thanksgiving Day Celebrates A Massacre William B. Newell, a Penobscot Indian and former chairman of the Anthropology department at the University of Connecticut, says that the first official Thanksgiving Day celebrated the massacre of 700 Indian men, women and children during one of their religious ceremonies. "Thanksgiving Day" was first proclaimed by the Governor of the then Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637 to commemorate the massacre of 700 men, women and children who were celebrating their annual Green Corn Dance...Thanksgiving Day to the, "in their own house", Newell stated.
- small snip -
-----The very next day the governor declared a Thanksgiving Day.....For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won."
Without having the book or being able to see it online, the proclamation appears, according to Richard Drinnon, to have come from William Bradford. I'll be buying the book. "'Thanksgiving Day'" was first proclaimed by the Governor of the then Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637," as from Newell, which was John Winthrop.
They were both Puritans, they both probably said it.
Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating & Empire Building The original Thanksgiving was marked by prayer and thanks for the untimely deaths of most of the Wampanoag Tribe due to smallpox contracted from earlier European visitors. Thus when the Pilgrims arrived they found the fields already cleared and planted, and they called them their own.
- snip -
He was inspired to issue a proclamation: "This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots." The authentic Thanksgiving Day was born.
The following source cites Drinnon in the next paragraph, so I assume the following came from Drinnon as well.
Source Jump 129 years to 1621, year of the supposed "first Thanksgiving." There is not much documentation of that event, but surviving Indians do not trust the myth. Natives were already dying like flies thanks to European-borne diseases. The Pequot tribe reportedly numbered 8,000 when the Pilgrims arrived, but disease had reduced their population to 1,500 by 1637, when the first, officially proclaimed, all-Pilgrim "Thanksgiving" took place. At that feast, the whites of New England celebrated their massacre of the Pequots. "This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots," read Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop's proclamation. Few Pequots survived.
The first Official Thanksgiving was gratitude for genocide in 1637, and in 1676 - 1677 "a day was set apart for public thanksgiving," because nearly all of them were exterminated by then.
http://www.dinsdoc.com/lauber-... 3 See Sylvester, op. cit., ii, p. 457, for expedients adopted by Massachusetts to obtain money to defend the frontiers. Yet the number killed and sold, along with those who escaped, practically destroyed the warring Indians. According to the Massachusetts Records of 1676-1677 a day was set apart for public thanksgiving, because, among other things of moment, "there now scarce remains a name or family of them (the Indians) but are either slain, captivated or fled."
http://rwor.org/a/firstvol/883... In their victory, the settlers launched an all-out genocide against the remaining Native people. The Massachusetts government offered 20 shillings bounty for every Indian scalp, and 40 shillings for every prisoner who could be sold into slavery. Soldiers were allowed to enslave any Indian woman or child under 14 they could capture. The "Praying Indians" who had converted to Christianity and fought on the side of the European troops were accused of shooting into the treetops during battles with "hostiles." They were enslaved or killed. Other "peaceful" Indians of Dartmouth and Dover were invited to negotiate or seek refuge at trading posts - and were sold onto slave ships.
- snip -
After King Philip's War, there were almost no Indians left free in the northern British colonies. A colonist wrote from Manhattan's New York colony: "There is now but few Indians upon the island and those few no ways hurtful. It is to be admired how strangely they have decreased by the hand of God, since the English first settled in these parts." In Massachusetts, the colonists declared a "day of public thanksgiving" in 1676, saying, "there now scarce remains a name or family of them [the Indians] but are either slain, captivated or fled."
Fifty-five years after the original Thanksgiving Day, the Puritans had destroyed the generous Wampanoag and all other neighboring tribes. The Wampanoag chief King Philip was beheaded. His head was stuck on a pole in Plymouth, where the skull still hung on display 24 years later.
The war consisted of two battles: the Mistick Fight, and the Swamp Fight. In the first of these two events, but seven captives were taken.1 In the second, the Swamp Fight, about one hundred and eighty captives were taken.2 Two of the sachems taken in the Swamp Fight were spared, on promise that they guide the English to the retreat of Sassacus. The other men captives, some twenty or thirty in number, were put to death.3 The remaining captives, consisting of about eighty women and children, were divided. Some were given to the soldiers, whether gratis or for pay does not appear. Thirty were given to the Narraganset who were allies of the English, forty-eight were sent to Massachusetts and the remainder were assigned to Connecticut.4
During the years 1675 and 1676, one finds mention of the sale of Indians in Plymouth in groups of about a hundred,2 fifty-seven,3 three,4 one hundred and sixty,5 ten,6 and one.7 From June 25, 1675 to September 23, 1676, the records show the sale by the Plymouth colonial authorities of one hundred and eighty-eight Indians.8 In the Massachusetts Bay colony a similar disposal of captives was accomplished. On one occasion about two hundred were transported and sold.9 There is extant a paper written by Daniel Gookin in 1676, one item of which is as follows: "a list of the Indian children that came in with John of Packachooge." The list shows twenty-one boys and eleven girls distributed throughout the colony.10
Hence, the continuing historical context of the Massacre for which Thanksgiving is named: "In Massachusetts, the colonists declared a 'day of public thanksgiving' in 1676, saying, "there now scarce remains a name or family of them [the Indians] but are either slain, captivated or fled."
A cold question arises about whether "the sale of Indians in Plymouth" was at least silently appreciated by the colony. Did they? Were they glad "the Indians" were almost exterminated? They never actually said they were far as I know.
Source It all began when Philip (called Metacom by his own people), the leader of the Wampanoag Indians, led attacks against English towns in the colony of Plymouth. The war spread quickly, pitting a loose confederation of southeastern Algonquians against a coalition of English colonists. While it raged, colonial armies pursued enemy Indians through the swamps and woods of New England, and Indians attacked English farms and towns from Narragansett Bay to the Connecticut River Valley. Both sides, in fact, had pursued the war seemingly without restraint, killing women and children, torturing captives, and mutilating the dead. The fighting ended after Philip was shot, quartered, and beheaded in August 1676.
How many were glad Saddam Hussein was hung? How many would be glad if all the perpetrators of 9-11 were shot? One last question, how many realize that then and now, colonialism always brings more violence as "a colonizing European nation was asserting political jurisdiction."
Puritans, Indians, and Manifest Destiny. p.75 - 76 ...But tribal rivalries and wars were relatively infrequent prior to Puritan settlement (compared to the number of wars in Europe)...Neither would have increased if it were not that a colonizing European nation was asserting political jurisdiction, in the name of God, over indigenous New England societies...When thus threatened with the usurpation of their own rights, as native tribes had been threatened years before by them, Puritans came to the defense of a system of government that was similar, in important ways, to the native governments that they had always defined as savage and uncivilized...
Some have lost careers over stating the obvious: the US brings it upon itself.
Howard Zinn. A People's History Of The United States. p. 682. We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things to people in Third World countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism.
"And in secret places in our minds, in places we don't talk about, we can't handle the truth."
That is true now, and it was true then. Genocide and slavery "saved lives," just the lives the dominant culture wanted to live. And for that, the dominant culture (a mind set) is grateful.
http://www.republicoflakotah.c... William Bradford, in his famous History of the Plymouth Plantation, celebrated the Pequot massacre:
"Those that scraped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escapted. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie."