What do you think about American Indians?
If you have framed them as special, spiritual, noble creatures, then you have locked them into the colonial zoo. The US has over 500 Native tribes. Europe has 52 “tribes.” One Native American tribe is as different from another as the French are from the Italians although we call them all Europeans.
In the 90’s my husband and I produced a 52-part Native Music documentary series for public radio called Oyate Ta Olowan—The Songs of the People. I thinkone of the reasons we were able to successfully complete Oyate was because we did not have Indians as “other.” We did not come to worship at the ceremonial fire of stereotype and frozen presuppositions that Indians are more spiritual or wiser somehow simply because they had Indian blood. We were interested in what they had to say now.
I don’t think white people see the old paternalistic mindset that rides along with painting an entire race with one broad brush. I also don’t think many Indians see the bars of their own cage when they sometimes play the Indian card.
Indians really are doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs. They are also rich man, poor man, beggerman, thief.
It hurts my spirit to have worked with hundreds of smart, ambitious Native American college students who live in communities that are choking on dead, federally funded programs and politics. Again, the bars . . . the cage . . . the zoo.
You don’t have to whisper around Indians. I have wanted to say this for such a long time. Indians are just people. Those who go to Indian Country seeking “wisdom” will usually get sold a bill of goods.
Now that I have gotten that off my chest, there are a lot of very cool Indian people who have learned to rely on their own abilities and talents and not on their blood quantum. These people have a lot to offer toward healing the Blitzkrieg that is Indian Country. I can’t wait to see what they do. I’ll be watching and rooting for them.
So, we should put away our feathers and old hippie skirts. Of course, if you believe in reincarnation (and I do) we could do the math. There were 40 million Indian people killed within a century of time. That means there could be millions of non-Indian people walking around with Indian memories, feeling closer to Native America than White America.
But I have another theory. I think people, in general, are lonesome for earth. Our schools, cities, technologies, and religions have driven us further and further from learning at the knee of Mother Earth. We are hungry for the lessons of wind, water, sky, and forest. We are yearning to feel more connected, to hear her words in our dreams and in our waking and working lives. We yearn for “the old ways” of Indian life where dreams, ceremony, animal guides and such were the norm.
But we are all the children of Earth. We don’t have to be related to an Indian tribe by some thin thread of blood. We are her children already. We only have to quiet ourselves enough to hear her subtle messages—learn to listen. Mother Earth, is not gone but all around us every minute of every day and night.
Personally, I love the night sounds and moonlight. It seems my ears work better then, and I can hear so much more.
Be still. Listen. Hear.
And let the Indians find their own way. They don’t need your help.