just wonder…

I wonder a lot what the world would be like without people.  I know we’ve only been here for a few hours in the calendar year that sums up the existence of Earth, but in just that short time I feel like we’ve seen so many changes.  Granted, the Earth wasn’t always stabled enough for the life forms we know today, but also humans haven’t been here all along either.  When I Googled “histroy of the world”, I thought it was funny that Wikipedia considers this the “history of humanity” – the time since the beginning of the Paleolithic Era.  And although only a fraction of this history is recorded, I think it’s safe to assume that animal and plant populations had continued to diversify and that the world maintained conditions favorable to human inhabitance.

Maybe species extinction has always been subtly present, with or without human influence on other populations.  Clearly creatures like dinosaurs seemed to disappear rather than to all adapt into other animals whose descendent we still have today.  However, that sudden catastrophe is always credited to some external phenomenon detrimental enough to severely disrupt the static lull the Earth had finally found.  Day in and day out, it’s turned around the same orbits and finally the same rates, establishing environmental equilibria that sustain typical mammalian and other life.  Water, precipitation, seasons, and balancing inter-special competition.  Only something as extrinsic as a meteor could seemingly explain a mass extinction like the dinosaurs.

In sum, I’d like to fault the development of the agrarian lifestyle with the downfall of the Earth and its biodiversity.

It’s hard to knowhow biodiverse the world was at the time of the “cave men”, but it’s safe to say that, while the Cro-Magnums still roamed about, humans were still very dependent on their nomadic lifestyles.  There is evidence of many bones being used as tools or decoration from kills they’d made as well as paintings of animals such as those in Lascaux.  These are not remains of people who tamed animals and cultivated food in small societies.  By the time of the stories in the Bible, however, the latter was the case.  Now people were beginning to define territories, isolate themselves, produce their own controlled sources of food, and eliminate enemies based on cultural divisions.  Surely, as they became less dependent on roaming and more dependent on their own farming skills, this is when humans began ignoring the importance of the world around them.

Not all people adapted to the agrarian lifestyle at this time, however.  In fact, was it not predominantly the Jewish culture using these practices?  The same culture that believed they have “dominion” over the other animals?  Elsewhere, people were still widely migrating by foot to new lands and new continents, far out of earshot of these “developed” cultures.  As this divergence occurred, so did the separation between those who culturally revere animals and the land and those who don’t.  In fact, for those in the Holy Land, it was somewhat blasphemous to not swine as swine when you’ve got a god providing everything for you and assisting you in defeating nations who were vetted against his acceptance.

Fast forward to the last 500 years.  Not much has changed in the big scheme of things until now.  People are still widely divided by those in societies with cultivated crops and livestock and those who are still mostly dependent on the land and who tend to relocate as needed.  However, they don’t seem to know much about each other – and thus begins the era of exploitation.  These “sophisticated” societies with their ships and their tamed horses start “discovering” new territories and conquering them for their resources and to add to their growing empires.  I guess the Holy Land no longer was good enough.  Suddenly, Africa becomes ransacked, India grows into a popular trade route, and eventually Australian aboriginals are overrun by British criminals.  The Americas, of course, are completely invaded.

Time and time again, the plundering societies view the indigenous groups with their “lacking” infrastructure, absence of livestock, and lifestyle choices.  Their foods weren’t always considered palatable and their 4,000-year-old farming techniques weren’t always understood.  However, only perhaps two large famines are suspected to have occurred in the Pre-Columbian Americas, both in the desert regions in established societies.  Disease and hunger became increasingly prevalent as Europeans began occupying the Americas and interrupting indigenous ways of life with their “superior” ways and attitudes.  A land that was once kept healthy and in check by South Americans with their techniques of burning acres at a time was now being neglected and scarred for mining resources.  Rather than peoples taking as they needed and moving as their needs ran short, newcomers because greedily consuming everything in sight – including land – and killing both animals and people for no substantial reasons at all.

I look outside and think it’s hard to believe that nearly everywhere around me should be wooded.  There would be no roads and other impervious materials altering the aquifers and redirecting high-velocity runoff.  There would be no concerns of chemical pollution or turbidity levels in naturally-occurring ponds.  There would be no need to monitor and regulate the numbers of different species or to keep an “endangered species” list.  That doesn’t mean species wouldn’t die out – that’s just a trend in nature.  But those trends wouldn’t be directly correlated to human activity.  In fact, most species’ sufferings appear to be directly correlated to the same species’ activity: humans.

I have friends who get angry if they park under a tree full of birds, or ones who complain about road kill or the dangers of deer, even in the city.  I know people who think swimming outside is gross because there are probably fish and things in the water.  All I can think is, probably the grossest thing in the water is you.  Humans are so filthy!  We are the reason why Lake Erie is gross, not the fish.  The fish are trying to keep living because they have no where to go.  The deer, too, have no where to go.  They used to be controlled by cougars and mountain lions, but oh no the farmer couldn’t lose any more chickens so we had to kill those off.  That means the deer continue to thrive and get cornered in big cities with nicely watered lawns.  Can you blame the deer?  He’s not evolutionarily trained to avoid cars.  Maybe you should be evolutionarily smart enough to realize this, and to respect that he needs a place to go, too.  And birds?  I don’t care what a bird does to your car; can you imagine a world without doves cooing in the morning?  I can guarantee you the same mess that gets on your car is the same mess that reseeds most of your favorite berries.

It’s hard to go through the list of things I disapprove of in modern society and realize how many of those things I do on a regular basis.  For example, work requires me to sit at a computer and use electricity, drive vehicles, and even dress in a certain way that doesn’t seem to permit avoiding factory-made clothes.  I have a phone, and everyone has a phone.  And even at an “environmental” company, I find myself hard-pressed to get pro-environment choices made (although I’m proud to say I’ve finally won the recycling argument for our lab materials, even if recycling isn’t a perfect solution to the waste).

I just wonder what the world would look like if no humans had developed.  Would it be the same story, just minus the people and the infrastructure?  Would it be much healthier?  Would it have dramatically altered into something unrecognizable?  What animals would be the most predominant?  Would any other animal fill in the niche that we would have left?

Sometimes I drive home over all of this asphalt and just wonder…

thoughts on wedding season.

I’ll be attending my first actual wedding at the end of November.  It’s my first close friend to be married out of any of us.  I think it’s funny how nearly all the girls I went to school with are still single, but I think a lot of it has to do with their strong personalities and involved careers down in Washington.  I guess we were more alike than I realized at the time when all they could fantasize about was their future lives (pre-Pinterest wedding board days) and all I could fantasize about was how badly I wished I went to Hogwarts.  And now, the older I get, the more I’m confused why so many women protest to submitting to roles, yet they’re quick to assume them in the light of a wedding.  Everything’s got to be a certain way and they’ve planned it since they were old enough to watch Disney princesses.

wedding-planning-pinterest1

I really don’t know much about how weddings are “supposed” to work, but I think the reality is there are so many different kinds.  I have many Indian friends with gorgeously decorated ceremonies, henna, veils – a truly traditional (and often arranged) event.  Jewish weddings, too, hold close to customs like the bride and the groom standing under the chuppah which symbolizes their future home together and then the groom’s smashing of a glass.  Several of my pipe-bandmates have worn ghillie brogues, kilts or cummerbunds, their brides in tartan boynes pinned with a celtic knot and heather, feasting of course on haggis, shortbread, and – my favorites specialty – empire biscuits.  But when I think of a “wedding”, I think “traditional” as in western, white gowned, and, sadly, way too elaborate.

In America, I think it’s safe to say that the most widespread idea of a wedding involves a bride in a white dress, a groom in a black suit, bridesmaids and groomsmen, cutting some really large catered cake, eating catered food at decorated tables with a lot of people, drinking and dancing a lot after with even more people, then taking off on a honeymoon.  Oh, and of course there’s a huge engagement ring before with a proposal and a lot of giddy girls dancing around throwing bachelorette parties while the guys go off on a bachelor party… Yeah, I didn’t even know these parties were a thing until my coworker started going to one every weekend.  (And I just thought it was the weirdest, most expensive concept ever.)  And the gift registry.  Of course.

They say Millennials are excessive spenders who stray from the traditions laid by the previous generations.  (I found these facts about “modern” weddings somewhat disturbing.)  The truth is, a lot of wedding traditions we observe today didn’t come about until the Victorian era (courtesy of Queen Victoria’s elaborate white gown and the subsequent generations aspiring to look as pure and important and elegant as the royal court).  On the contrary (and as I’ve written before), engagement rings have been around for a long time and had most commonly been used as a sign of ownership.  I mean, hello?  Only the girl wears an engagement ring.  There’s a reason for that, and it’s not as romantic as you think.  In fact, weddings have historically been political arrangements to maintain family status, wealth, etc. without need for approval by the couple to be wed.

Yet I look at these girls getting married today and I think, it’s all about the glam.  They spend insane amounts of money on a dress they’ll only wear once in a color that probably means nothing to them.  As mentioned in the linked article, “millennials care about engagement rings more than older people do: 43% of millennials say they care about having an expensive ring, but only 21% of people over 68 think the engagement ring needs to be expensive.  (Probably because older people know that a fancy ring isn’t the main ingredient of a long, successful marriage.)”  Oh, and, as my friend Michelle pointed out one day, do you know how many diamonds are just grown in petri dishes?  Or are blood diamonds?  … Some women book overpriced venues 5 years in advanced, before they even have a boyfriend.  More invitations are sent out than probably people they know.  The “fun parties” are mostly centered around alcohol.  The food served is meant to impress the guests.  A professional photographer…or twenty.  And now brides are disagreeing that their families should pay for weddings?  What’s the point in trying to maintain any traditions at all if you don’t follow suit?  I just think the whole thing has become a montage of what a marriage shouldn’t be: me me me me me – and spending all your money before you even have a life together.

I remember when I sat with a bartender in Talkeetna, Alaska in November 2012.  I had never seen Bridezilla before…and neither had she.  We were howling until we realized Omg I think these people are seriousThis just makes me feel sick.

Bridezilla_by_Xubbles

I just think the whole thing has become stupid.  I don’t have fantasies about a Madison Square wedding with 3,000 guests and a honeymoon in Aruba.  Actually, I would really dislike that.  I wouldn’t enjoy catered food and perfect décor and spending thousands of dollars for things of no personal value.  Maybe I’m a cynic, – err, I mean I know I am – but I think there is so much more meaning in a couple that want to be teammates for life and who would be willing to commit without the fancy jewelry, the dress, the large quantities of alcohol, the meals that look more like tiny pieces of art than substantial sustenance, and the dream getaway afterwards.  Why should one night be the focus of a lifetime?  In my opinion, it’s a symbolic ceremony so there should be symbolic traditions.  They should be personal, like my bandmate’s kilt to represent his heritage or the blessings said under the chuppah to continue an important religious ceremony in Judaism.  It’s supposed to be about two families coming together, so shouldn’t the focus be on the families and not the guests?  Why catered food?  Why not a small guest list with traditional (if not home-cooked) meals.  Not only are these things CHEAPER and more about FAMILY UNITY, but they’re proof that “wedding stress” from planning excessively shouldn’t be a thing.  And I don’t understand gift registries considering I live on my own and have ample necessities and non-necessities.  My dream honeymoon is not Aruba or Bora Bora or Tahiti (although those sound beautiful) – I say scratch the gifts, pitch in for gas, and ROAD TRIP in a camper!  Screw your luxuries.  The real luxury is being able to see FULLNESS where others see LACK, to see beauty when others see peasantry.

Blaaaaaaaaaah I haaate wedding seasonnn…. :ALKJ:SDFHUSHDSEF:LKJSDCD…….Rant over.

my thoughts on Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Recently, my Facebook newsfeed surfaced an Indian Country article showing the Dine Nation in support of Palestine.  With all of the issues on the Navajo Reservation, it struck me a little funny to see the protest banners for something so far away from the southwest.  I realized how little I really knew about the conflict.  Well, I’ve done my research and spent some time Saturday in several different coffeehouses chatting to my friend Michelle who is very passionate about human rights and knowledgeable about international conflicts.  Michelle is unique blend of European, African, and Native American ancestry and she’s a really smart girl.  We talk a lot about identity problems in the modern world, how much racism and hatred still lingers, and what we wish people could see.  After these talks and reading, I have a lot to say…

Poor Palestine.  The Dine are absolutely right.  And I am simultaneously appalled and yet not surprised at all that the US is supporting Israel.

From what I have read, the Israel-Palestine region was actually quite peaceful in the 1800s.  Conflict started arising when a group of (extreme) Zionist Jews came into the region with the intention of getting back their holy land.  With Hitler ransacking and murdering Jews in the 20th century, Jews were flooding into the region.  The conflicts increased as the indigenous peoples were getting overrun suddenly.  Conflicts got to the point that the United Nations stepped in.  The US supports the decision to make two separate states, one for the Jews, one for the people living there originally (who were initially about 4% Jewish, 10% Christian, and 86% Muslim).  These new extremists moving in were delegated 55% of Palestine despite only being 30% of the population and currently holding 7% of the land at the time.

Why did this happen?  Well there’s a lot of historical relations and covers about keeping peace through these actions.  Honestly, what most of it comes down to is religion.  And if you think about it,… it sounds like a really typical movie.  Or like Harry Potter.  You know the part where Harry has to destroy all of the Horcruxes and so he’s on a wild goose chase trying to get all of the pieces so he can make it into the final battle and… Yeah, this is not different.  The Jews have to be in Jerusalem so the second coming of Jesus can happen and everyone will convert and something about Satan and Armageddon and this huge battle that destroys most of the city…  SERIOUSLY PEOPLE?  This is what you’re fighting over??  It’s like…literally Harry Potter.

And the US supporting this ridiculous thing isn’t a shock to me considering its religion-dominated history and giving up lands that aren’t its own to give.  Yes, I’m talking about American Indian history and the reason why those Dine were protesting in favor of Palestine.  It’s because it’s the same story, the only difference is the violence is nothing like the war going on in the Middle East.  There’s no holy book telling the Dine to destroy the Christians and keep them out of their land; there’s just Creation stories that put their ancestral lands and corn crops in high religious importance to their culture.

A glance at how this is history repeating:

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
1. Zionist Jews flooded into a territory occupied by indigenous peoples to seek refuge.
2. The minority grew in numbers and began slowly taking over the land, burning whole villages.
3. As conflict increased, an external agreement was made to divide the land into allotments, force Palestinians into one section of their land, and delegate it to the different groups.
4. A disproportionate amount of land was given in favor of the pressuring religious group and intruders.
5. The US is in debt, yet tax dollars keep going to fuel the Israeli domination over Palestine.
6. The ultimate goal is for Jews to conquer Palestine and Israel – they have to have Jerusalem – and then they’ll all convert to Christianity when the Harry Potter movie plays out.

The American Indian Version
1. Christian outcasts flooded into a territory occupied by indigenous peoples to seek refuge.
2. The minority grew in numbers and began slowly taking over land, burning whole villages.
3. As conflict increased, an external agreement was made to make Reservations and divide the land into allotments, delegating it to different groups.
4. A disproportionate amount of land was given in favor of the pressuring Christian settlers who wanted to cleanse the Indians.
5. The US hasn’t resolved its internal issues with the Indians and has broken countless treaties, yet it continues to exploit other people and support conflicts not relevant to itself.
6. The ultimate goal for centuries has been to completely convert or eliminate the indigenous peoples and cultures that originally watched over these lands.

Israeli-Protesters-1

With the protests in Paris turning violent against Jewish synagogues and kosher delis, it’s so obvious how much we have not progressed.  In fact, it’s worse now.  Now, when something happens, we feel it everywhere.  Our weapons are worse, our interconnectivity is more detrimental, and our ancient conflicts make us look like toddlers bickering in the sandbox over which one is smarter than the other.  Le sigh.

 

 

weather reminder.

Just yesterday afternoon, three friends and I were sitting in the scorching sun at the Reds stadium, eating Skyline Chili and paying $4 just to eat a dripping snow cone that would give us a 3 minute relief from overheating. While sitting beside home plate, cheering on the Pirates, I began recalling all of my favorite memories of summer in the past. They were always revolved around camping, trapshooting, and baseball. I thought, could it be? With the exception of actually PLAYING a sport, hockey is not my favorite. It’s actually baseball. Why? Well, I’ve been playing it longer, my dad played and would play with us in the backyard, and…IT IS OUTSIDE.

In that moment, I was feeling the hot sun and the open ceiling, realizing I was subjected to the sky overhead. Someone shouted, “Wind’s in your favor!” to the batter at the plate and I realized how human and animalistic this outdoor sport can make you feel. In hockey, it’s artificial ice in a closed room as sunlight blocking and biological clock cloaking as a casino. Here, even the wind controlled the game – not just then players.

And then the high wind warning struck, blowing in a horrific thunderstorm that forced everyone into the shelter. Radar lit up the screens, lighting split the sky, thunder threatened to bust out skyscraper windows, sheets of rain drenched bystanders, and a man caught an umbrella midair as it whipped through our huddled section next to Hebrew Nation’s dog stand. We waited and waited and finally it blew over. We returned to wet seats, watching the World Cup on the big screen until the tarps were lifted and the game resumed, the air rising yet again with humidity as the temperature spiked back. The rude people with umbrellas sat back in front of us, removing ponchos.

I love these games, the excitement of a home run or loaded bases – regardless of whom they’re in favor. The nachos with jalapeños, the peanuts. The stupid songs, mascots, and fan trivia. The huge screens with more information than you can process. And also…the earthiness of it all. The reminder that even pleasures in life are not separate from the dangers of a dictating natural environment. We are small, even smaller than a packed baseball field makes you feel with it’s open outfield overlooking the Kentucky banks and its home plate overshadowed by enormous buildings.

I really love baseball.

poverty vs simplicity.

I’ve been reading Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr.  It’s pretty intense, and reviews by whites tend to reflect two concepts that I find disturbing: 1. Oh, now I “get” Indians and 2. This book is horrible and racist!  I’m white and I’m not like that!  I find the first sentiment disturbing because it shows how damn ignorant the country is on tribal law, broken treaties, and past assimilation programs.  I find the second sentiment disturbing because it not only views Indians versus non-Indians as a racial vis-à-vis rather than sovereign nations with enormous cultural disparities (a central point being made by most of these texts), but it shows resentment before assent to past wrong-doings (which were clearly racially and religiously motivated).  As a result, you get an audience that willing to be enlightened and which consequently becomes divided by those who resent the sovereign separation – but also those who pity.

And that brings me to today’s topic: Pity.  White, Christian society has – as a generalization – repeatedly pitied minorities (once, of course, it got over taking advantage of them).  For example, so many mission trips head off to Africa within 150 years of African slavery in this country and within 50 years of Civil Rights oppression.  These societies didn’t care then, but suddenly they do?  Is it the new, generational upbringings that have helped conquer past racism?  No, I don’t think it is.  I think it is continued egocentrism, a continued effort to inflict one society’s views on another.  And just like people today will look at African countries and pity the poor, impoverished people without any hope, they will read about American Indians and just feel bad – but never do anything that could sacrifice any of their royalties.

Okay – now you’re probably saying, Well people do sacrifice for mission trips!  You say this because they take time and money to go overseas to live in those icky conditions for just some time.  But this is just my point.  Poverty vs. simplicity.  And while I don’t speak for every person in every community in every impoverished area of the world, I can speak from at least my observations in West and Central Africa, places where mission trips and Engineers Without Borders visit on an essentially permanent basis.  I have, in French, conversed for several weeks among people in both rural and urban situations about the poverty.  I’ve asked them what they think of America, of this lifestyle that these do-gooders wish to impose on the “impoverished”.  They’ve told me that America sounds fascinating, but NO I would never leave here for that.  Roukia, a cook in Ouidah, Benin who cleans in her spare time and recently opened her own restaurant – she told me the poverty is bad, people live badly in Africa.  But she also told me that America is not the answer.  People get by, but it’s confusing when the American lifestyle butts up against them.  A man named Tomas and his friends, some committee people in the tiny rural Cameroonian village Batoula-Bafounda, sat around a table drinking palm wine with me, laughing because we Americans refused to stay in their village after the well implementation was complete.  “Why go home??  We have EVERYTHING you need here!  So many bananas, avocados, and palm wine!  No, it’s not the American lifestyle, it’s the SIMPLE LIFE.”  I can’t tell you how many times I heard people tell me this was the SIMPLE LIFE, the BETTER LIFE.

And so I ask, what are these trips accomplishing?  What is this pity about?  Why do people think this American, white, Christian lifestyle – this modernity – is the solution?  When it’s the same answer to why the world is collapsing?  Why are people convinced they have the solutions and that everyone else wants to live like them in this luxurious way?  I think, to many “impoverished” people, this luxurious way is excessive, unnecessary, and severely lacking happiness.  They see it as stress and competition, not family and laughter and tradition.  These people who think otherwise come into villages (kind of like we did with EWB) and they implement systems that, quite frankly, fail immediately thereafter.  (Google it if you don’t believe me; I’ve also written about this failure before.)  Why do they fail?  Because the people don’t care for them.  Why?  Because they fall back into routine, a routine that doesn’t have these luxuries at all.  They choose tradition.

Thus back to this book, back to what I’ve written about so much lately.  Tradition.  This is the same problem we face in America with the failing efforts by the federal government to “fix” reservations.  They’re imposing their beliefs, their ways of living, their solutions.  What is the answer?  Learn, ask, respect – but let be.  Respect treaties and promises.  Respect each other.  Is that really so hard to do?  Sometimes doing is like talking; if you really want to help, sometimes you’re better off not saying anything at all.

the land looks after us.

“The Earth does not belong to man – man belongs to the Earth.” – Chief Seattle, 1854.

I’ve often thought about this quote and about property ownership.  Territorial protection is something I can understand, but actually writing up deeds and claiming titles and values to land?  That doesn’t make sense to me.  It seems to contradict Chief Seattle’s notion, and I feel like I cannot be alone in my sentiments.  I used to work evenings in downtown Cleveland drawing property plats for surveyors in Florida, thinking A.) how dull these suburban plans are (they’re all the same, they’re all monotonous) and B.) land ownership just leads to conflict (the plats were for checking violations).

Even territorial protection of this land before settlers arrived caused conflict, but of a different nature.  Back then, most conflicts probably occurred over ancestral lands held by peoples of differing religious views or practices, or because of fishing or hunting rights, or maybe access to water, or even to obtain terrain with a particularly protective characteristic which sheltered people and resources from the weather or gave military advantage in defending a village.  Essentially every conflict, in other words, was borne of a strong connection to the land and its resources.

Land ownership today doesn’t strike me as the same thing.  Most of the disputes I was working to resolve were about fences being put as much as a fraction of an inch across a property line, or maybe violations of easements for utilities and other public services.  As with the Gold Rushes that displaced countless natives over a century before, shale and oil industries snatch up property rights and extract billions in profit at stressful rates.  Even the agricultural industry – probably the only remaining significant connection to the land that could be in any way respectful in this country – is, in my mind, becoming completely corrupt.  GMOs are replacing native crops so that food hardly resembles food anymore, corn and soy are being grown in enormous quantities to feed humans, livestock, and also to provide as fillers in nearly everything we eat, and industrial techniques are destroying the integrity of the earth.  Nearly all of this country’s topsoil has already washed out the delta of the Mississippi River.  What’s to blame?  Well, for a large part the industrialization of the farm.  Mono-crops are also to blame, a theory supported wildly by the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas (which studies what makes a prairie thrive in its natural environment, etc.).  Also, tilling techniques (before farmers tilled to contours) adds to the erosion, and chemical additives do incomprehensible damage to nitrogen-fixation levels, biodiversity, organism nervous systems, etc. etc. etc…  The farming, harvesting, and gathering practices of the last thousands of years have fallen on deaf ears who think their short-term high yielding crops, animal domestication, and “sophisticated” techniques are the answers to our successes.

But we can’t succeed if we ruin the land.  Why are people forgetting this?

As Chief Seattle said, the land dictates everything we do.  It decides if we live or die.  How has society become so far removed from reality that it has forgotten that?

I just finished reading a book today called The Land Looks After Us: A History of Native American Religion by Joel W. Martin.  It brushed on relevant historical events and jumped around a lot between a huge number of nations, predominantly those in the continental states.  It stressed how, while all the native cultures vary sometimes greatly, they all share the commonsense that the land gives everything they have.  In fact, nearly all Creation stories in North America personify the earth as a mother out of which the first humans rose.  The book continues to modern times, listing numerous ancestral sites of religious significance that are being defiled by tourists, such as Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.  I know I’ve been disturbed in the past by ancient sites and exotic islands being over-run and destroyed by tourism (hello, our native Hawai’ian friends!), but I’ve begun seeing it in different ways – as lifestyle errors.  For example, my native Alaskan friends impress me with their heritage.  Their peoples were some serious survivors out there on the tundra.  Yet they completely honored the land and had resources for as long as they needed and took no more than that.  While traveling in Alaska during the winter of 2012 for AISES Nationals, I was disheartened to see how drastic the contrast was between the host cultures we were exposed to at Conference and the heat-blasting, oil-thirsty, Commodity Central Anchorage that I was experiencing.  This is NOT how these people lived!  And while I loved the outdoor enthusiasm Alaskans have, I still felt hurt by the energy consumption (and Alaska does consume more than it produces, despite its excellent wind energy categorization).

In my mind, I’ve kept a tally of disturbing facts.  For example, my mom did some volunteer work for children at charter schools in Pittsburgh.  I remember going with her once.  She dressed in black and hid in the bathroom while the children filed in to an auditorium. Then, she put on a cape, black triangular ears, and painted her face black.  She slipped into the auditorium while the lights were off and a woman got on stage: “I think we have a visitor!  Who do you see?”  She then ran around the room, jumping over children.  They laughed and tried touching her, shouting “Bat!  Bat!  Bat!”  She then broke into this limerick (that I was sick of hearing at the time) telling children how bats are the only mammals that fly and that they shouldn’t be afraid of them.  This was just one example of the work she does, but the program she was volunteering with has to work in a constant effort to dispel myths city children have about wildlife.  Even the parents can be incredibly ignorant.  (On a bioforray, I watched a woman peer into a pen of flying squirrels and go, “But, wait…Where are their wings??”)

When I moved to Cleveland, I realized the severity of the situation.  Children, adults, people of all ages and education – they do not understand wildlife.  Like, at all.  AT.  ALL.  Sometimes they can’t tell a squirrel from a chipmunk.  They’re shocked by the sight of a goldfinch if they leave their city of drab urban birds.  They’ll cry about guns and hunting rights while ordering a burger from McDonald’s, then plead that I don’t remind them it is animal muscle they’re consuming.  I’ve talked to children who were dumbfounded that their food grows, apparently never having seen food that doesn’t come out of a can or out of a produce bin.  Maybe Adam and Even taught them that apples come from trees, but I could list a number of vegetables and they’d have no idea how they come to be.  I’ve actually heard some kids suggest some produce is made in a factory, like Twinkies.

And it’s not just things that grow; it’s home cooked meals, too.  I know so many adults now who never realized what “cooking from scratch” means.  I remember making a chocolate beet cake and people being flabbergasted.  Why?  Here’s what they thought I did: Bought it in the store.  Oh, you made it?  Okay, from a box – but why’s it called “beet”?  THERE ARE BEETS IN HERE?  Here’s how I actually made it: I’ve milled my own flour, but usually I just use a bag.  Yes, I add all of the little ingredients like baking soda and baking powder and real vanilla extract.  No, I whipped my icing by hand with cream cheese and powdered sugar.  Yes, I did use real beets; no, they weren’t canned; yesbeets do grow and I got them at the farmer’s market because they’re in season.

So not only are children unexposed and therefore fearful and disrespecting of the animals around them, they don’t understand where their food comes from.  Their parents don’t cook them real meals, they probably don’t sit down together and have a TV-free conversation, and they are most likely filling up on junk.  Its this ignorance that I see at the forefront of land disrespect.  Who is going to care about the land if they don’t realize they need it for their food, the animals, and for the ecosystem to keep the world turning?  And without the strength of a family unit, values and morals and other virtues get lost in the chaos of our egocentric society.

And that egocentric society scoffs at the natives who still hold the land of the highest value, who love and respect and prefer their culture so much that they’ll face the hardships of Reservation life to not leave.  It’s the boastfulness that the modern way is “right” that leaves all of the sensible people feeling hopeless as they scramble to fix problems others are creating out of neglect, like me at my environmental engineering job or my mom in her children’s education program.  Or like both of us at Wildlife Works, Inc. when we volunteer to feed raptors and other creatures that have been injured or abandoned as a side effect of humanity’s infringement on their natural lives and habitats.

Me, I can’t see myself without the land.  It’s beyond impossible.  Even if I could live in a sterile white building and eat endless, manufactured food at no cost, I would run away and risk starving as a hunter-gatherer.  It’s not just about the nutritional value of natural, organic food, it’s in part about doing it myself.  About maintaining control and knowledge over how to survive.  About remembering I belong to the earth and not the other way around, so I can’t have the final say in anything.  I just have to be prepared.  But I’m not upset about it, either, because it’s the reason why I ever came to be.  So I love the land.  I especially love Appalachia, where I have lived my whole life.  Whether in the mountains or cornfield, or even now along the Great Lakes, I couldn’t imagine life without being in the outdoors.  Without gardening.  Without going out of my way to make the best choices I can for the planet every time I have a choice to make.  I get too anxious locked indoors or too far away from the mountains for too long.  I have to climb to a peak or to the top of a tree and just feel like I can see, to remind myself that the world is still here.  At least for a little.

And maybe I’m weird, but I think Twinkies are disgusting.  Modern fruit is too sweet and too pulpy.  Vegetables on the other hand…  I can’t imagine not eating a huge bowl of vegetables, rice, and beans every once in awhile…with a nice cup of tea.

what makes the savage?

On one of my other pages, I made my banner read the quote by Chief Dan George (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) that says what we don’t understand we fear, and what we fear we destroy.  This is so true.  If a bear stands up on his hind legs in front of you in the woods, he may just be saying “Don’t come closer!  My family is behind me.”  If you don’t understand his gesture, you might think he is attacking.  He might be communicating, but you might pull out a gun, kill him, and now his family has no papa bear because you destroyed him out of ignorant fear.

That’s just a bear example.  But, as people, we do this to each other all of the time.  Americans who don’t understand what it’s like to immigrate from Mexico and learn English make fun of Mexicans for their accents, poor English, and mock their customs.  Every single time a “New World” has been discovered, thousands of cultures – if not peoples – died for the sake of expelling the unknown.  Manifest Destiny operated at the heart of these cruel crusades to kill the savage in people and save the Christian, a mentality that I hope is an ancient, long-gone misinterpretation of “God’s will” so that I don’t have to live in fear of future Holocausts and genocides.  Sadly, I see how much hatred is expressed towards the Middle East.  That is to me confirmation that our “forward thinking” is still as backwards.

I strongly believe that morality comes from one thing and one thing only: Religion.  That doesn’t mean you have to be Christian to have morals, it just means that, if you’re Christian, you center your morals around the 10 Commandments and what your version of God tells you is right and wrong.  If you’re another world religion, it’s slightly different.  (But, in reality, I think all world religions are different versions of the same single belief, that their Commandments, etc., are just verbalized standards of how to live harmoniously, i.e. are common-sense, and yet tons of people are dying over vain dispute and have been for centuries.)  Religion can be just about anything, though.  It can mean you have certain values and you hold yourself to those values.  For example, many Native American religions or religious stories are based off of how the earth has created and continued to support man.  These peoples refuse to separate life from the health of the planet and they often view animals as spiritual beings of equal belonging.  I most certainly find my values aligned to these practices before I could ever agree with the controversial passages of Genesis which declare man as made “in the image of God” and as having “dominion over” all of the animals.  Talk about egocentric.

I find it ironic that “savage” i.e. indigenous cultures, who all live so closely to the land and are attuned to its pangs as modern society plagues it, are the only ones who have ever revered the land since Judaism took root in the Middle East.  Is it not common sense that the land comes before all?  I guess it’s not if you think the land was made by and in full control of its “creator”, but even indigenous peoples have come to acknowledge a “Creator” and refuse to sit back and watch some other being clean up messes for them.  Yadda yadda I can go on about a lot of things here, but I have one major point in writing tonight: HYPOCRISY.

When Pilgrims first came to the New World, they were all Puritan and devout and desperate and whatever.  They heard about this new place, and they were like, okay, cool, let’s hop on that…boat…and then months later they finally got there.  Well, some of them did.  Everyone else just died because of like scurvy or whatever.  Or, like, your neighbor got on the boat with tuberculosis, which no one knows until they’ve already left, and everyone’s like, “Really dude?  Rude.”  Anyway, now they’re all in Massachusetts and who really knows how the story went exactly but the gist is PROBABLY that the tribes who encountered the first settlers were respectful to them and helped them in exchange for respect back.  (And later empty promises ensued, and lies, and Constitutional rights revoked, and genocide,…but not today’s point!)

Long story short, Manifest Destiny was the reason for the attempted annihilation of any native person in America that white settlers could get their hands on.  Boarding schools, relocation, laws forbidding traditional dress or religious practices, punishment for speaking native languages, etc. – these were all techniques used.  Andrew Jackson, in fact, was a total bully who thought it was cool to set up a lot of the cultural stripping of natives, including stripping them of land and going back on promises that he probably never intended to keep.  So like Tuberculosis-Dude-on-the-Boat, Andrew Jackson was just rude.  He was exercising his rights and duties as a Christian which, by the way, included stripping these homelands to expand the cotton industry (and, thereby, African slavery as well – which was totally chill because they weren’t white Christians so God apparently didn’t care about them or whatever).  Oh, but wait, it’s not like Galatians 3:28 says this or anything: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Okay, it does say that – I guess it just means Jesus loves you even if another human owns you and doesn’t love you…and dudes, keep your hoes in line,…or whatever.

So when white immigrants were coming to America, they were like “Holy Toledo, these people are weird!!!  Look at their hair, their jewelry, their clothes, their swagger,…”  (UMM, HELLO???  That’s exactly what I say every time I look at my parents’ yearbooks!  Not to mention a history text… like, nice ‘fro, George Washington.  It’s whiter than my grandma’s doo.)  They were all flipping out because these people ate strange foods, lived in weird accommodations, and practiced strange traditions.  They were probably watching rain dances or some ceremony and scoffing, saying “You really think you have a say in that?”  They were comparing the lifestyles they had chosen to what they were observing and were completely convinced that these were modern heathen Canaanites., these strange (i.e. different) tribal people.  It never once occurred to them that they get down on their knees and talk to themselves every night and that maybe some cultures think THAT is weird.

Meanwhile, I bet the Pequot and whoever else at the time was checking out these FOBs and going “Oh, HELL no!  HAHA!”  I mean, do I even have to describe any of the past styles of clothing?  Men with their shoes, their hair, their hats, their restrictive and uncomfortable clothing?  Women with their bodies completely tied up, sometimes in corsets, with layers upon layers of clothes to render them even less useful in daily tasks?  Sure, they managed to make some massive boat (Do you want a high-5?), but then a lot of them died in the journey and now what are they gonna do?  (And imagine the first time a native saw a blonde or a ginger…Maybe it’s just a disease?  Maybe that’s why they’re so pale and avoid the sun?)

My  point: They’re different.  This creates a lack of understanding.  Not understanding things generates fear.  Well, the immigrants largely acted on that fear and took advantage of the different cultures they encountered in ruthless means – for the sake of Christianity.

Now, how do they feel entitled to do this?  I’ve already made my point that no one is more or less civilized than the other, they’re just held to different standards, different values, and different opinions on what is right and wrong.  This entitlement surely comes again from this Manifest Destiny where these Christian people are the “chosen ones”, but how in the world do their lifestyles affect their Christian-ness?  If a native person retains his native identity with the exception of his Christian practices, is he not a Christian?  Is it because he lives in the tribal, “backwards” state that he is considered a “heathen”?  This state which respects the land rather than destroys it because he has dominion over everything and so he’s allowed to (and God will fix it)?

Let’s not forget that the Bible – especially the Old Testament – is transfixed on tribal status.  I mean, TRANSFIXED.  There are books just dedicated to genealogy and delegating work based on tribal status.  The twelve tribes of Israel, anyone?  Oh, and how about burnt offerings?  I mean, seriously?  Dancing a ritual dance in thanks for a harvest is a heathen thing to do, but sacrificing “unblemished” goats every day is totally normal and okay?  It’s that very wastefulness, a mentality reflecting man’s “dominion” over other animals that was practiced widely in hunting the Colonies, which places “Christians” in the “heathen” category to those otherwise dubbed as “heathens”.

And finally, it was not that long ago that Europe was divided by tribes.  I’m very familiar with this considering my Celtic background.  Not only am I accustomed to tribal rituals in America, but I’ve also done Scottish Highland Dance since I was 8.  (We literally dance over swords as superstitious ritual.  And the Highland Fling?  It’s danced on one spot because soldiers danced on overturned shields in the marshes – another superstition before battle.)  I’ve been to more Highland Games than I can remember.  I’ve performed the Scottish fiddle, learned the penny whistle, and played the bagpipes in three different military bands.  When I come to the Games, I run off to the Celtic jewelry stands, buy Empire Biscuits, and see if my Clan (Douglas) tent is on-site.  I have designated tartans and a family crest.  My tribal peoples had their own dialect and ancestral lands with “pagan” traditions and monuments, many which came to embrace Christianity and Christian symbols.  (My Scottish family has its most ancient roots in the Presbyterian church.)

How is that any different than competing in dance at a Pow-Wow, representing the Potwatomi or Shawnee, buying beaded jewelry, and eating fry bread?  It’s not.  In fact, I love the similarities and I love recognizing the tribal roots of peoples all over the world.  So suck it, hypocrisy.  You’re ridiculous.  Boo, go home.

And with that…I’m going to end with an excerpt.  In 1995, Sr. Juanita, enrolled in the Mescalero Apache tribe, wrote this piece:

“My grandfather was captured by a band of Apaches near the Chihuahua area in Mexico when he was six years old.  They brought up my father according to Apache ways.  My mother is San Juan Pueblo.  I really consider myself a real New Mexican.  My grandmother was a Spaniard and I’m really proud of that fact because we have a little bit of all the cultures of New Mexico in our family.  The Spanish, Mexican, Pueblo, and Apache.  Now our younger members in the family are marrying non-Indians and when we get together, we are quite a nation.  It is lovely.  It is beautiful!”

Hashtag, BURN.