Reflection Paper on Stolen Treasures segment of Native Americans: The Invisible People

Native Americans: The Invisible People was a documentary released by CNN in 1994 about the complications of Native American politics and other social issues. One of these segments, titled Stolen Treasures, discusses the looting crimes of Native American artifacts. The segment features the Santa Fe Indian Market, the things being sold at the market, and the kinds of people the business draws in. Viewers are shown scenes of predominantly white American vendors and shoppers with countless pieces of undated pottery, artwork, clothing, dolls, jewelry and other “Indian artifacts” for sale. The vendors boast how pieces sell for thousands of dollars each, and the shoppers talk about their obsession with buying – even at these prices. Then the mood of the segments shifts and viewers learn that an unknown amount of artifacts are illegally obtained and sold, often at places like this market. One of the many convicted looters in this country discusses the rock art he stripped from a wall in a canyon which earned him his felon status. The documentary argues that this is not a victimless crime, as one might think.

My first thought about this film is in regards to its title: Native Americans: The Invisible People. “Invisibility” is a modern issue, but for reasons people may not realize. Some might think Natives are invisible because they don’t think there are many if any “left”, or they’ll argue they aren’t invisible because they love “Indian art and culture”. Both of these ideas are misled.

Natives are thriving all around the country, all around North, Central, and South America, but the only way they are “visible” to the public is when they are stereotyped to satisfy American cravings. These stereotypes include Pocahontas, the Plains Indians of the American film industry, and other sentiments of racial inferiority. The Pocahontas stereotype derives from an inaccurately told story of an abducted child, resulting in an obsession with non-existent “Indian princesses”, being “one with nature”, and dressing up like “Pocahottie” for Halloween. The Pocahontas obsession is visible, but the fact that 1 in 3 Native women will experience sexual assault in her life – and that over 70% of these crimes are committed by men – that remains invisible.

Americans are obsessed with the headdress, the war paint, the warrior on the horse – stereotypes of “Indians” derived from Wild West films. Since Euro-American and Indian conflict occurred notoriously during westward expansion onto the Plains, the cultures that lived on The Frontier – namely the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota (Sioux) – have become fixations in film to represent what Euro-Americans have labeled as an entire race. Ironically, the actors in these films were predominantly white people sprayed red and wearing headbands to keep their wigs on. These characters were the noble warriors and the savages, blamed for making American expansion and Manifest Destiny a dangerous duty. This film stereotype – the same that makes up nearly all school and sports mascots – is very visible, but the diversity of an entire race remains invisible.

Today, this invisibility thrives as stereotypes teach Native youth that they can’t possibly be the doctors and engineers and teachers that they have the right as Americans to be. Americans are trained by film and limited exposure to Natives to see uneducated, wild Indians with war paint and tomahawks. They see a monoculture that they call “Indian”, and they say things like “I love Indian art!” and “I love Indian culture!”, but neither of those concepts exist. When people in Stolen Treasures talked about their obsession with “Indian art and culture”, all I could do was think about how ignorant they sound. When we learn that they are likely buying artifacts robbed from graves and cultures that they don’t really understand, I imagine non-Europeans digging up Catholic graves in England, defacing Turkish mosques, and selling stolen pieces from Holocaust museums, arguing how they “love European art and culture”. How do so many Americans understand, for example, a Polish-American taking offense to being called Russian-American, but the obsession with Indian stereotypes and “culture” – singular – doesn’t raise any red flags? As I watched the segment, I decided this attitude is why so many people can rob, vandalize, buy, sell, and disrespect cultures. They think they can get away with profiting immensely from someone else’s repeated cultural loss, because, to them, these people are invisible and less than human.

In other words, this film segment reiterated to me how little respect Americans actually have for Native Americans. Part of this is due to complete lack of education on Native histories, cultures, and intergovernmental policies. Without knowing the history, they can’t know the present either. To make matters worse, the only exposure to Natives that most Americans seem aware of include the stereotypes proliferated by film and by mascots. With this immense lack of understanding, mainstream American society doesn’t as easily recognize the wrongness behind the stereotypes, or that stereotypes are a mechanism of racism. They don’t recognize the lack of respect for cultural diversity because American history has subconsciously brainwashed American students of the importance of it. Historical American policies cared about color and race, not how one identified. There were “free”, “slave”, and “Indian” categories on census forms for most of the 19th century. The only mind any government had in identifying by tribal nation was when agreements were being made to take land or resources, or to make alliances that would later result in taking more land or resources. Where does that leave us today? Many people obsessively collecting “Indian artifacts” without understanding the histories and cultural significance behind the artifacts, without thinking about the people living today to whom those artifacts rightfully belong. All they care about is decorating their homes for themselves, or making a profit at the expense of someone who is invisible to them. They think it’s a victimless crime because they have no respect for the victim or care for the damage they’re causing.

The U.S. Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 has been helping to resolve this issue, but with some difficulty. The act doesn’t protect artifacts on private land, and the origin of artifacts can be hard to trace at times, but the threat of a federal offense is real. Looting has been an issue for decades, and obtaining remains of Native ancestors has been doubly troubling to modern Natives. Not only is taking the remains of someone else’s ancestors problematic, but, for Natives, it has been done for scientific testing that has been historically used against them. Starting in 1868, the United States Army Medical Museum was founded and Army surgeons performed craniological research to support theories of racial inferiority. In other words, graves were robbed and skulls were examined by the U.S. Army to allegedly demonstrate that Native Americans are less intelligent beings than the white race, based on cranial characteristics. While this act has helped put a stop to some crimes, it is still challenged by International policies and also by archaeologies and anthropologists who insist it’s their right to preserve and study artifacts of other cultures. It also doesn’t adequately protect lands from being robbed in the first place, or protect artifacts that have been looted from being broken or damaged beyond repair during their smuggling and relocation.

To really address this issue would be to truly respect the distinct cultures being tampered with, and to recognize them as existing, continuing, thriving groups with recognized sovereignty in this country. To recognize the past and present crimes committed against Native peoples. And, as Natives, to stand up for our special rights, ones that many lives were lost to protect and maintain to the present generation. Until we do these things, the stereotyping and cultural genocide of Native American communities will only continue as it has since the 1400s.

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the value of a moment.

13145a99f1db93827395b3771f6dec89The “value” of something these days is too often taken as monetary.  There is such a thing as becoming too sentimental about something, but I see too much of the opposite.  I hear kids whine about how “stupid” a learning activity is or how “lame” going to grandma’s is when they were just about to pass level 50 on their video game and were interrupted.  (Won’t they see the value in those moments when they’re gone?)  No one seems to enjoy “doing it by hand” anymore and, if they do, it’s because it’s trendy.  They don’t see a gain in putting their time in.  Time is money.  Everything’s about money, about attaining that “easy life”.  (Again, I think of Miranda Lambert’s song Automatic.)  And because everything is made automatically by machines and with cheaper, lighter materials, we see more affordable items of lesser quality more readily available to, well, everyone.

There’s not as much value in something just because everyone needs to have it, and so a cheap solution is made up so that everyone can.  Even iPhones and Instagram seem to make my photography less enjoyable when I feel like I could shoot a pretty good picture with just a phone, and everyone has an iPhone.  It’s kind of like sugar, once a rare thing of high demand that suddenly was cheapened so it was available to everyone – and now we can’t get away from the damned stuff.  I look back on the things stashed away in our barn that came from my grandparents’ house and I just see so many things that were actually authentic, metal, wood, not cheap plastic that just gets thrown out when it breaks.

Yesterday, I went to go look at a Starr upright piano that came with the house a lady bought and she doesn’t want it anymore.  She’s had offers to scrap it, but she didn’t think that was the right thing to do – and I’m glad.  The piano is absolutely beautiful, although it could use a little work – which I am definitely willing to do.  It’s about 110 years old, completely original, and only one key doesn’t work well.  I asked her why no one wants it.  She just doesn’t play piano; everyone else, well it’s way too heavy and it’s not a Steinway.  Starr only produced pianos between 1849 and 1949 out of Indianapolis.  At it’s best times, 18,000 pianos were being made per year.  Starr won some pretty prestigious awards in the 1890s which are displayed on painted decals across the piano.  In my research, I’ve found that this piano has the potential of a $70,000 value – or at least it should.  However, people struggle to get $10,000 for it considering how heavy it is.  I see most sold for even less than that.  This one?  Free.  But that’s because the cursed thing is made out of wood, wood, wood, metal, ropes, and wood.  Lots of good quality wood.  Much heavier than plastic and aluminum, and that’s why no one wants an old, not-Steinway, obsolete piano made of wood.

When I mentioned the piano to a friend, all he could see was the money value in it.  Well, I see more value in giving it a life and letting it age further.  It’s a piano, and I want it to be used as such – not scrapped for parts and fuel.  This thing has some serious character.  But so many people fail to appreciate character.  They just see money, trendy, glamorous,… and they turn their noses up at the idea of having to put time in to move something like this piano, especially when it’s not already in mint condition.  They don’t see the value and pride in time spent doing something with your hands.  But what will they say in 100 years, when the Starr pianos have all been chopped up and burned away??  They’ll lament the “good ole days”, probably the same way they would have lamented a nice slab of buffalo meat had they actually pushed the buffaloes into extinction.

Ironically, I had these thoughts on the same day that I watched a movie with a similar theme.  My friend had mentioned Creator, a 1985 film that I had never heard of but decided to check out anyway.  It’s about this research professor who can’t get over the loss of his wife 30 years prior, so he’s hired a student to help him regrow her through a cloning process.  During the course of the movie, the professor becomes transfixed with his project despite having a new woman around.  The student, hoping to understand “The Big Picture”, falls in love with a girl who nearly dies.  The professor sees this all play out and finally comes to term with the hard parts of life and how moments that are fleeting have value because they are fleeting, so sometimes you just have to let go of the ones that are gone.  The juxtaposition of his dead love, possible future love, and the student’s fragile love really makes you see how you must identify and indulge in good things when they’re there because they won’t be for nearly as long as you’d hope.

And finally, it also occurred to me how frightening it would be if we really kept cheapening and devaluing everything in life.  Machines are already replacing human labor.  In some aspects, I want to see this as efficient and effective.  In other aspects, it scares me.  What is the need of a workforce at all if it can just be replaced?  If, in the future, people are able to do what the professor tried to do and can grow whatever person they want…well then what is the value of a life anymore?  Oh, sorry, I accidentally shot your friend…we’ll just grow a new one.  ….It kind of reminds me of what I was saying before, when something breaks these days because it’s cheap and you can just replace it with another cheap thing.  Maybe the “good ole” days are already gone, and now I’m just starting to see the value because it’s all just memories…

I feel like this has been a classic scatterbrain entry, so I will attempt to redeem myself with some photos from my Pinterest feed of little thoughts and little things that make up a happy life if you’re little enough to see them – so enjoy:

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modern Noah.

The news on Google today was flooded with photos from the 2014 Met Gala Best Dressed.  I humored myself for about eight seconds of perusing posed shots of celebrities in fancy clothing before I couldn’t stand looking at it anymore.  It’s like when you cut sugar out of your diet and you no longer can stand the rush from sugar.  I can no longer even fathom what thrill people get from these kinds of things.

I used to look at outfits and appreciate the creativity, flow, contrasts, etc. of each piece.  If it were a school assignment, sure – I’d whip out all of those elegant words from the bank and I could fool anyone.  But today was completely different and I felt nothing for the outfits.  Nothing positive.  Actually, I felt disgust.

I’ve been applying for several travel scholarships lately in the hopes of scoring an award to either a global sustainability class or a service project in one of the least attractive corners of the world.  I constantly want to push forward and do something.  That something generally involves putting time, effort, and money into working with impoverished people in this world who are the voiceless, working bodies holding every society together.

In other words, when I saw those outfits, I saw the faces of the people who grew the cotton or mixed the dyes.
I saw the anguish, the integrity, the bleeding hands.

I did not see the floozy in the gown or the million-dollar smile.
I did not know the name of the celebrity, but I wished I’d known the names of the servants who created her.
From a million miles away.
With several million dollars less.
And what has that celebrity done?  Relative to her potential?  ZIP.  ZILCH.  NOTHING.

NOTHING, as far as relative goes.  NOTHING when you can buy up an entire fleet and take world problems by storm.  NOTHING when you have the voice and the potential to be heard by so many sheep who blindly follow.

What can the peasant do?  Keep quiet, keep humble, keep working.

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This all happened so perfectly in timing with my spontaneous decision to see the movie Noah.  Going into it, I had no idea what to expect – I just know the imagery looked intense.  Well, quite frankly, I had two impressions: 1) WOW, that was creepy and 2) WOW, that didn’t seem accurate.

And it wasn’t.

I’m no expert on the book of Genesis, but it’s short and I’ve been around it since I was little enough to get the main ideas.  With a little help from reviews, I was able to back up the reasons for my reactions.  First and foremost, Noah was played out as a maniac trying to kill, kill, kill.  It was all supposed to be showing his devotion to the Creator’s will, but you know how Hollywood takes ahold of things and runs with it.  Now, there were also some technical things wrong with the film, like how Jepath was not the youngest son but rather Ham was, or how Lamech didn’t die when Noah was a child.  But there were also some points in the film that were clearly strategic in capturing any kind of audience: the overlaying of Creation with Evolution.  Admittedly, I know enough people who insist both coexist that I actually really liked the implications the directors  made – but I also know a lot of Christians did not like said implications and took offense to Hollywood selling the Bible for profit.

It’s true, though; one could justly say this group’s scriptures have been misrepresented and sold.  It has been work-shopped questionably and beyond the entitlement of “artistic license”.  From the “rock people” to the dramatic, wordless visions from God, Hollywood was really just pitching a highly animated sci-fi movie – and how ironic, right?

But perhaps one benefit that came from this is the message it gave.  Now, people will argue the message of Genesis is that humans left their god and ran astray, so they were all wiped out – save for Noah, his family, and a bunch of animals meant to repopulate the earth.  In other words, disobeying the Creator is the big no-no.  Well, in this version of Noah’s story, it’s about what humans have done to the planet and less about how they’ve forgotten their god (although it does come up time to time).  Noah’s obedience to God is supposed to show why he has been chosen, but he just comes off as crazed until he learns love with discretion.  Meanwhile, the Flood is allegedly occurring to cleanse “evil” and to save the “innocent”, meaning the animals.  It’s like an eco-friendly, modern Noah story.  Save the planet, or you’ll have nothing left.  At least it’s a positive message, although missing the Biblical mark by a substantial bit.

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So Met Gala.  Noah.
These two ideas finally collided in my mind.

The evil-doers in Noah were transfixed on themselves, on their power, on humanity’s greatness, on their ruling over everything below them, on their image in the eyes of others and not in goodness,… They were eating other humans and holding absolutely no values, bloodthirsty to be at the top just as they were when the Flood came and they scrambled over each other to the highest peak to avoid the inevitable.  Because they thought they were great.  Because they had raised themselves up and not appreciated or ever understood the foundation on which they were standing to begin with.

Wow, just like our society today.

Dog eats dog, climbing over each other to the top, striving to save that extra buck so you can get that much farther ahead.  Idolizing things that should not be idolized, like celebrities who bring nothing of good fortune or true inspiration to a wholesome life.  Meanwhile, we take for granted our foundation, the one as simple as who grows our food.  Do you know how few people could survive without that anonymous web of peasants laboring below us?

“Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.” – Proverbs 28:6

The toil, the labor, the strife peasants pour into providing riches to the already rich… that’s just an example of these same themes.  False pedestals hold false idols, and becoming a sheep to the wrong flock drags you down the road of foolishness.  You can no longer hold what is important in your mind.  You become materialistic and take advantage of the downtrodden.  But the world balances itself out and nature/God/whatever will always have the last say.  “…for a piece of bread a man will transgress.  A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him” – but he is often already poor.

Yes, celebrities and those who idol them are poor and sickly.
It’s the impoverished, the righteous, and the downtrodden who live righteously who are the richest, the ones who are safe from the transgressions of the world – the ones closest to being the modern Noah.

Forks over Knives.

First, I just want to say – wow, yesterday was like whiplash after I posted and then everything blew up in my face for completely isolated reasons.  But that’s irrelevant.  I guess.

I’m trying to catch up with myself here – I’ve been reading so much and not writing as much, plus work is a lot at the moment.  But I watched a documentary this past week called Forks over Knives.  It’s about how horrible animal products are for people, basically.  They made all kinds of correlations between health, age, diet, etc… and backed their claims up with things like evidence of how Asian cultures have adopted American eating habits in many regions that are now suffering in health like we are despite their notoriously clean history.

The doctors in the film were interesting characters and I was shocked to Google one and find out he is in fact living in my neighborhood in Cleveland.  Then it made sense.  I’m in a wealthy part of the city and right beside my old college, Case Western Reserve, where they have the Cleveland Clinic.  Yeah, that makes sense.

While I was researching more on the topic and contemplating finding the book to read too, I was coming across a lot of interesting words and ideas.  For example, fruitarianism.  Eating only things that fall from plants – the perfect peaceful diet.  Nuts, fruits.  Limited, though.  The reason why Apple is called Apple because Steve Jobs was practicing this diet at the time.  It is possibly more akin to our natural diets than we realize, but it results in deficiencies.  Another concept I saw is “forest gardening”, which supports the sustainable practices I was mentioning previously in my small farms rant.  It combines more practical, natural settings to grow plants like the prairie studies are researching.  And, finally, I found a phrase that I really enjoy: “environmental veganism”.

Environmental vegetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism or veganism based on the indications that animal production, particularly by intensive agriculture, is environmentally unsustainable.[1] The primary environmental concerns with animal products are pollution and the use of resources such as fossil fuels, water, and land.

I’m a fan of that.  And this documentary doesn’t stray far from that concept, although it primarily focuses on health of the human body.  But I’m glad I already practice similar eating habits to those covered in the film.  I’m glad I know my homeopathic remedies well.  I find it silly to think we’ve “rediscovered” the power of plants when, realistically, we are just reinventing a wheel that mother nature made, we used, and then we subsequently forgot.

The Butterfly Circus

All of this reference to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (namely the quote “We accept the love we think we deserve”) got me to reflecting on the 20-minute short film, “The Butterfly Circus”.

Circuses usually give me a peculiar feeling because always imagine the same cliché acts in merely a new setting. I imagine smoke and mirrors juxtaposed with human strength and flexibility that I do not have the patience to personally obtain. I also imagine ordinary and unordinary animals being ridden, tamed, and otherwise confined under a tent. Perhaps the only exception to my view of circuses is “The Midnight Circus”, full of magic, or…well, as of now,…The Butterfly Circus.

This short film has bounced around the Internet for quite some time but never made a particularly large splash. That’s probably because it’s not funny at all. No, really, it’s just plain old sad. And TRUE. And no one likes to see the truth, especially when they can subconsciously identify the ridiculed guilt within their own personalities.

So what’s the plot? Essentially, it’s about a limbless man who is a sideshow as a freak, but another man intervenes with his wondrous “Butterfly Circus” and gives this man a shot at redemption. At redemption? For being stuck the way he is? Yes, for redemption – because this man has accepted this transposed role of being a freak, accepted that he was cursed with his disabilities, accepted that he deserved no better. So the story shows us how a less-than-average caterpillar can go into its own mental cocoon, make a transformation in itself – using only what it’s been given, and then come out something refreshing and beautiful and unique.

It makes you wonder what kind of lies you hear about yourself, believe, and then “live up to” without surpassing.

How often have you heard how you are perceived so often that you inadvertently accept it? That you’ve been given a niche by others, so you strive to fill it? That you’re afraid to break away and stand up for your diverging qualities? What are you really and do people see you for that person? Do they know the real you? And if someone ever suggests that you could overcome the impossible and be something incredible, don’t you just scoff at the thought of it? Doesn’t it take some convincing before you can accept an outlandish suggestion? But it’s not impossible.

I like how the film sifts through the rubbish and reminds us that no one decides our lives but ourselves. Stubborn confidence can be just as flammable as toxic insecurity. And my favorite quote from the film, coming from the ringleader as he talks to Will, the disadvantaged, is when he looks at him and says, No, you have the advantage — because:

“The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.”

The Great Gatsby (2013)

I’m a fan of classier times, so naturally I’m drawn to older movies…and movies that look like older movies.  After a fun Alpha Phi Omega “Roaring Twenties” school dance where they handed out free flasks, I was excited to see the new The Great Gatsby 2013 film.  Alas, I was relatively disappointed.

ImageLeonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.

To be honest, I don’t remember the story very much.  It’s been several years since I read the book in high school (and I’m in college now), and I can’t say the story particularly stuck.  But it’s set in 1922 – so I was looking forward to some classy outfits, cars, and illegal bars (Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933).  Instead, I was appalled by the use of modern music to appeal to today’s crowd and letdown by the dramatic and excessive special effects to illustrate New York City and the glam surrounding Jay Gatsby’s parties.  Oh, and I felt like the movie was three movies long.  I remember checking my watch at some point, wishing it would just end already.  That’s never fun.

I think the thing the irked me the most was the use of rap music in several of the scenes.  Yes, rap music.  And, another problem I had (as bad as it sounds), was the number of blacks depicted in the film as dancers, lovers, and overall wealthy people.  Maybe I don’t know enough about black history in NYC in the 1920s, but I was previously convinced that this would never have happened.  I was also taken aback in one scene where wealthy black people are being passed in a car with open alcohol and rap music is played loudly in the background.  Does no one find that unusual, strange, out-of-place,… or even slightly racist?  Sure, rap might be associated with the black community and maybe it originated from the Bronx…but not until the 1970s.  Fifty years too soon much??

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All in all, I think the movie was alright…but the thing is it was mostly just pretty.  I’m sure the director intended to emphasize glam in the world of Gatsby, but I feel like the props and special effects distorted the reality of the era and took too much focus off of the movie itself.  Oh, and I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio looks too old to play Gatsby…but maybe that’s just me.

I’m not saying don’t see…I guess just be prepared to be let down if you were as hyped as I was to see some real 1920s film.

If I did a party again, I’d have some fancy champagne!  Check this out:

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