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.

Thanksgiving and Remembering Cruel Truths

CRUELTRUTH“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.” – Edward Abbey

With Thanksgiving arriving in just hours, I have had a lot of people asking me about how I view the holiday for two reasons: one, because of my native ancestry and, two, because of my views on eating meat.  In thinking about the answers to give, I realized these kinds of questions are so frequently posed out of a universal ignorance that I blame the American education system for.  Our schools don’t teach American Indian history nearly to the depth of its potential, the views are biased and often incorrect, and there exists a common lackluster outlook on American Indian history in general, borne primarily of the uninformed assumption that no American Indians could have influenced American modern history.  Thus I decided to combine a short bit of my view on the holiday with this quote about the truth.

Edward Abbey, a fellow Pennsylvanian, was a writer and advocate in environmental issues, land policies, etc.  As you can imagine, he was very in-tune with discovering his own truths and acknowledging where real problems lie.  He reminds us that the truth is often a bitter pill to swallow, but living a lie is only disguising a lingering ache.  Sometimes, you’re better off just taking the blow making the best out of what you have.  So how can we apply this in daily life?  I say, look for the real truth, the honest hidden reasons and motivations behind everything around you, whether it be political, religious, or even just an action done by someone you do or don’t know.  Don’t settle on the easy explanation for anything, and don’t let yourself be biased by other peoples’ gullibility.  Become an active truth-seeker.  But I would also like to add this: Don’t be too arrogant to turn your head on your own mistakes.  If you’re called out on something, consider why, step back and honestly evaluate yourself and your actions, and don’t take offense.  Instead, learn how to improve upon it and better yourself, and even give thanks for the criticism.  It will make you a better person…yet, if only I could follow my own advice…

But how does this tie in to Thanksgiving?

As I mentioned, a lot of American history seems to have a filter on it to me, a filter that glorifies and burns the deeds of the government and which ignores and dodges the truth of the American Indian contributions to said history.  (And see what I did there?  “Burns”, “dodges’,.. it’s a photography darkroom reference…).  When the “Pilgrims” arrived, they were starving Englishmen.  They didn’t encounter “the Native Americans”, they were approached by the Wampanoags, a single tribe from the area at that time.  This tribe had many relations with other tribes in the region and farther, so strangers speaking another language and some culture shock was not a new concept for them.  Regardless of how the actual events unfurled that cause us to celebrate this single feast, Thanksgiving represents the Pilgrims’ absolute reliance on the Wampanoags for survival.  The Wampanoags showed them how to live off of their land and provided for them the very foods that contribute to the classic holiday meal.  The original feast was meant to recognize the knowledge- and resource-rich Wampanoag breaking equal bread with the impoverished, desolate Pilgrims and their thankfulness for each other.  Instead, the Pilgrims fell out of peaceful relations with the Wampanoags and thus began a long history of Indian oppression by the immigrants.  And although helping the Pilgrims probably didn’t affect the inevitable waves of subsequent immigrants and their hostile reactions towards American tribes, the actions of the Wampanoags certainly demonstrates the truth of their intentions and the willingness to share their sustainable, earth-appreciating practices to reap the benefits of their sacred homelands.

Yet today… today, Americans stuff their faces with these mass-produced, widely-shipped foods, losing touch with the original varieties and instead falling in love with altered, modified, and added-to versions of classic dishes.  Incredible amounts of fuel are burned to transport people in poor weather conditions all across this large, assimilated country – one that is deprived of the original cultures that helped sustain its first peoples.  Not only that, but the adulterated modern Christmas, filled with presents instead of family and tradition, is slowly flooding into the November holiday.  If Black Friday weren’t disgusting enough, now Christmas is trying to sell itself early and selfish, greedy shoppers are buying useless gifts everyone (including themselves!) instead of actually learning to appreciate and be thankful for what they have.  There is really nothing much left to the holiday, as originally intended…

Why do we not learn about these differences or address these problems?  Why do people so obsessed with these sales fail to see any way around it?  That is largely in part due to the cruel truth behind the events which unfurled and the improper education perpetuating half-truths.  It is a kind of denial against the problems of our past which now amplify our problems today.  And these problems continue to grow, but none will be fixed until we can acknowledge these problems and use them to correct ourselves.  There’s no need to live in a comfortable delusion…