Monday, October 10, 2011

This Columbus Day...

This Columbus Day, consider the following quote from a Spanish priest and colonist, Bartoleme de Las Casas' "A Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies" written in 1542, and consider naming today "Indigenous Peoples Day" instead:

On the Island Hispaniola was where the Spaniards first landed, as I have said. Here those Christians perpetrated their first ravages and oppressions against the native peoples. This was the first land in the New World to be destroyed and depopulated by the Christians, and here they began their subjection of the women and children, taking them away from the Indians to use them and ill use them, eating the food they provided with their sweat and toil. The Spaniards did not content themselves with what the Indians gave them of their own free will, according to their ability, which was always too little to satisfy enormous appetites, for a Christian eats and consumes in one day an amount of food that would suffice to feed three houses inhabited by ten Indians for one month. And they committed other acts of force and violence and oppression which made the Indians realize that these men had not come from Heaven. And some of the Indians concealed their foods while others concealed their wives and children and still others fled to the mountains to avoid the terrible transactions of the Christians.

And the Christians attacked them with buffets and beatings, until finally they laid hands on the nobles of the villages. Then they behaved with such temerity and shamelessness that the most powerful ruler of the islands had to see his own wife raped by a Christian officer.

From that time onward the Indians began to seek ways to throw the Christians out of their lands. They took up arms, but their weapons were very weak and of little service in offense and still less in defense. (Because of this, the wars of the Indians against each other are little more than games played by children.) And the Christians, with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them. They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers' breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, "Boil there, you offspring of the devil!" Other infants they put to the sword along with their mothers and anyone else who happened to be nearby. They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim's feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive. To others they attached straw or wrapped their whole bodies in straw and set them afire. With still others, all those they wanted to capture alive, they cut off their hands and hung them round the victim's neck, saying, "Go now, carry the message," meaning, Take the news to the Indians who have fled to the mountains. They usually dealt with the chieftains and nobles in the following way: they made a grid of rods which they placed on forked sticks, then lashed the victims to the grid and lighted a smoldering fire underneath, so that little by little, as those captives screamed in despair and torment, their souls would leave them....

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bake Sale Gives Native Women Free Stuff!

The Berkeley College Republicans are hosting a "Pay-by-race" Bake Sale!  How very creative! AND AND AND they're calling it the "Increase Diversity Bake Sale"!!!! No, really, this real. Really.  It is supposed to be a protest of some affirmative action legislation in California.  The bake sale will be held tomorrow and will charge white men $2, Asian men  $1.50, Latino men $1, black men $0.75 and Native American men $0.25. All women will get $0.25 off those prices.  You know what that means?  It means Native women eat free, suckas!!!  It's just like real life, all I have to do is walk up to any establishment and show them my Indian card and I get free food to go with my free education, my free health care, my free exemption from all taxes, and my millions of dollars in casino money!  It is so AWESOME to be a Native woman in this country, lemme tell you!

OK  Native women living near Berkeley, please please please do this for me:

Go up to the bake sale tomorrow, take all their food since it is free to you, then set up a table across the street and hold your own bake sale.  Give all the proceeds to a Democrat of your choosing. Please send pictures/video!

P.S. Hey stupid Berkeley Republicans, if Native Women could all come to Berkeley for free/so easily, don't you think there'd be more of us there?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Yay Life Tribe
The Yay Life Tribe's Facebook Page says:
The Yay Life Tribe is a growing group of people who believe that being happy is a decision you have to make for yourself. Once you make this decision and become positive enough the people around you will want to make the decision to be happy as well. The goal of this tribe is to make the world a better place.

To pass on the love of life.

Nice Right? BUT:

I generally stay out of "cultural appropriation" themed posts (aside from mascots cuz that just pisses me off) and leave them up to Adrienne over at Native Appropriations but this one is just TOO good to ignore, the discussion over there has been brutal.  Why all the fuss?  Well just LOOK at this screen shot Adrienne got from the Yay Life Tribe's documentary:

It. Is. Awesome.

Just looking at this picture made me want to punch this guy in the face.  I mean WHAT??  Look at this guy!!  Ahhhh hahahahhahahaha.  Ok ok, lemme catch my breath and I'll break it down for you:

Ok ok I'm being EXTRA harsh.  Let's at least let this guy explain himself.  Here's what he wrote in response to Adrienne's post:

Hey Adrienne,
This is Zimmerman- I'm Tucker's partner at the Yay Life Tribe- I'm the winged Panda you have featured in the image at the top of your post here. This appears to be self-deprecating humor, I like it.

There are a lot of feelings that are stirred in me by this post but I think first and foremost the most important one to express at this moment is a feeling genuine mutual respect. We're not out to offend anybody and we certainly have no interest in exploiting any culture or beliefs for personal or financial gain. So let me expression our deepest regret that our expression have offended you. Note that he isn't sorry for causing the offense, but he is sorry that we are so sensitive as to have been offended by his harmless artistic expression.

Issues of racial inequality and cultural exploitation can be really sensitive subjects for people and to wit one can never really know who one is talking to or what experiences that person carries with them that have lead them to feel a certain way. Interpretation: You're only angry because your life experience has turned you into an angry person. Not because I did something wrong.

I used teach a course and run discussion groups on Race Relations at Penn State University so I have quite a bit of familiarity with exploited cultures.Not speaking very highly of Penn State.. But more importantly, I felt compelled to respond because American Indian culture is something that is of a very deep personal importance to me. Oh boy oh boy here it comes!!!

I've spent quite a bit of my life working with American Indian tribes- most notably on the Leech Lake, White Earth, and Red Lake reservations in Minnesota, and also worked the Houma Indians in Houma, LA.

The comlete desolation and abuse of the American Indian culture note use of the singular is not lost on me- I've seen the poverty, I've met the sick, I've talked with activists like Dennis Banks (of the American Indian Movement)I know who Dennis Banks is! (He's that guy who was one of the voices in Disney's Pocahontas) and Winona Laduke, I've worked to expose toxic waste dumping on Indian lands and I've witnessed first hand the wretched racism that is thoroughly abundant in this country. So you haz some empathy with me??

For a time, I lived on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota- my Ojibwe name is Doonoo-Gaabawi (it means Standing Bull)- and I have come to understandings and beliefs about the world that have forever altered my life - teach me oh enlightened one. The amount of revere I have for the first nations is insurmountable so when I wear a spirithood or tribal attire it is with the deepest admiration and respect.Then why are you wearing your "spirithood" to a music festival instead of keeping it sacred? And why are you selling them? And why are you doing this with them:

You are totally honoring my culture dude...
But there is much debate to be had, even among first nations, as to what is or is not "acceptable" or "okay" in this respect. And while I highly respect your opinion I must whole heartedly disagree. I'd say the debate ranges from "look at the funny white person wearing that costume" to "that is so racist"

A pipe carried [carrier] that I became involved with in Minnesota told me a story once of meeting of nations where leaders from tribes across the country met to discuss the future. There was much yelling and decrying and hatred- "you did this to my people" and "you did that to our people" and at some point this man got up to speak and asked one simple question:

"Where is the love that brought our people together?" Well... It's hard for me to forgive you when you won't even apologize.

You see, he realized that all that negativity, the accusations, the hatred and the anger were only serving to push people away rather then bring them together. This moment struck me and continues to drive my actions as a person. It is easy to get caught up in your emotions Love is an emotion- the world can be a very difficult and unsympathetic place. Believe me, the life I've lived has hardly been one of privilege- I know too well the weight of the shame of defeat that the world and society can put on you. If you really loved me and respected me, you'd take off the breastplate at the very least...

And it is PRECISELY for this reason that we are doing what we are doing- this world needs love. Period. and food and water and medicine.. And that is our sole goal- to love and to express love to anyone and everyone. Still not sure where the spirithood fits into all this.. or how dressing like you are above is expressing love. Agree with us or not, that is our message and this is exactly what Tucker was trying to express in his note to you. You can read that love note here:

You may disagree with our use of the word "tribe" but I think you'd be hard pressed to defend any argument claiming ownership of such a concept as a tribe. A tribe is a naturally occurring conglomeration of like minded people and to consider one's self a "chief" is merely acknowledging a leadership position within that conglomeration. Yeah.. but you're a "tribe" in the context of you living in AMERICA and wearing a breastplate outta Dances with Wolves and you just got done explaining all your American Indian influences in your personal philosophy soooooooooo

I would have to point out here that these are ENGLISH words, not native words. As a Cherokee I'm sure you're very well aware of this distinction as many prefer to refer to themselves as Tsalagi rather then Cherokee since Cherokee was an English name bestowed upon them. Oh SNAP look at him schooling the real Cherokee... For that matter, the words "tribe" and "chief" are also not native words- the very concept of titles are not exactly terms of endearment. But all of this is simply a semantic issue and I would ask you to look beyond the surface reaction that bothers you and take heart the words the I am giving you here. At this point I started banging my head against my desk.

We mean you no harm or disrespect and we would love to continue this discussion because I think it is one that is VERY important for today's society. Me too. No.. actually... I do mean you some disrespect...

So if it's okay, I'd like to continue this dialogue- perhaps through a facebook forum and maybe with some additional blog posts. I really respect all that you're doing here- this is a voice that needs to be heard. I think ours is one that needs to be heard as well. And think we may find that you and I have a lot in common. Well.. Adrienne IS way nicer than me so that's possible.


So I appreciate these boys' desire to spread a message of love and positivity. But I am still not seeing the point of wearing all that crap (from the top picture) in order to express this message of love and positivity. If anything it seems to be taking away from their message.. you know.. since it is just making people feel exploited and offended whether they intend it to or not.  Also.. if they're promoting spirithoods (I'm still not entirely clear about what their affiliation with spirithoods is).. they ought to know that the spirithood company is selling this:

 and thus clearly drawing a line directly to an American Indian culture.  ALSO IT IS $139.00.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How to Talk to a Native Person

Dear non-Native friends,

We need to talk.  I know many of you consider yourselves progressive, anti-racist, liberal, tolerant, etc-- indeed you are all these things, but unfortunately most of you just have no experience with Native people, and that leads to you stumbling into some embarrassing situations in which you sense that you've perhaps offended a Native person.. or made things awkward.  Never fear, I am here to provide you some guidance!  Here are the top 5 blunders non-Natives make when talking to Native people:

5.  "What is your Native American ancestry?". 

Oh friends, friends.. I know this sounds very polite to the untrained ear.  After all, if you meet a 'white' American majoring in Irish Literature, it would be a polite thing to ask them, "oh, do you have Irish ancestry?".  But there is a fundamental difference between having ancestry and identifying as Native American.  You wouldn't say that your friend who immigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador had "Latino ancestry" would you?  No, you'd say they were Latino/Ecuadorian.  The use of the term ancestry suggests that the person identifying as Native American is not actively and culturally currently Native American, but rather just has some Native roots in the distant past. 

Instead use:  "What nation are you?"

4.  "Wow, it's really cool that you are so in touch with your heritage".
Oh jeez.. ok it's not just heritage, it's contemporary culture and identity.  This is only appropriate if I'm telling you I'm taking a Cherokee basket weaving class, not when I tell you I write a Native American issues blog.

Instead say:  "It's nice to meet someone who is passionate about civil rights issues".

3.  "You're Native American?  That is so cool!"

Ok, this isn't terrible right?  But it is a little on the obnoxious side.  I mean, would you say "You're African American?  That is so cool!"  Or, "You're Asian?  That's sooooooo cool!?"  much less "OMG, you're white!  That's so freakin cool!"  This is just sort of an awkward situation.  Let's say you're a white American and you're living in a foreign country where they used to put white Americans into boarding schools and beat them if they spoke English or practiced Christianity, but now they realize that wasn't very nice and have generally forgotten about white Americans unless there's a special on the white plight of alcoholism on reserves.  And
now you're chillin with some new friends at your college and one of them realizes you're a white American and announces it to the whole room:  "Wow!! That's soooo cool!  I thought you were all dead!  Why aren't you wearing a tri-cornered hat and living in a log cabin?  I didn't know you people came to college!"

Instead use: "Nice to meet you."

2.  "Oh awesome, you're Native American, my great great grandmother might have been Cherokee."

Uh huh... "Oh awesome, you're white, my great great grandmother might have been English".  I really don't care about your possible distant ancestral connection unless of course you would like to donate some money or join my protest march...

Instead use: "I know very little about Native American history or cultures, but I'd really like to learn!"

1.  "What part Indian are you?"

Just the left side.  What part white are you?  I mean really folks?  Do you ask your African American friends what part black they are?  Just because there's a convoluted history of "blood quantum" and even skull measurements being used by the U.S. government to determine "Indian" identity doesn't make it appropriate for you to ask a Native person what 'percentage' Native they are.  Our ties to our community and culture supersede racial categories and our identities are not based in percentages but in spirit and belonging.

Instead Use:  No.. no, just never ask this question.  If a person identifies themselves as a Native person, that's that.