this is white supremacy.

It’s already difficult working in policy where you have to talk about intricate things like paradigms and culturally-relevant language.  Try speaking to government leaders – who make important decisions affecting tribes – about very specific tribal philosophy.  Many of those leaders still fail to realize tribe exist, that they have a supposed sovereign status, and that their culture is unique and rich.  If there’s any concept of a Native culture, it’s usually some Hollywood-inspired, Pan-Indian misconception.

More often than not, policy and projects are entrenched in this White Savior Complex as almost this default residual of past Manifest Destiny tradition.  This can be hard to see.  For example, NGO projects look well-intentioned on the outside, but in reality they are just a tool of modern colonization.  One group assumes power through knowledge and resources over another, comes in to “fix” that community’s problems, and meanwhile fails to connect at a cultural level that respects the community’s traditional wisdom, values, and belief system.

Epistemology is a popular term in Navajo Philosophy.  In many ways, it describes how Native cultures have knowledge and wisdom in Pre-Columbian times.  The problem is the lenses of Western society fail to acknowledge the credibility in that knowledge.

Epistemology studies the nature of knowledge, the rationality of belief, and justification. Much of the debate in epistemology centers on four areas: (1) the philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge and how it relates to such concepts as truthbelief, andjustification,[2][3] (2) various problems of skepticism, (3) the sources and scope of knowledge and justified belief, and (4) the criteria for knowledge and justification.

Not acknowledging the complex culture and wisdom of non-Western societies is the horrible error made by Europeans who attempted to colonize the Americas.  Manifest Destiny was based completely on this concept of “inferiority”.  Despite the incredible Aztec temples that are still visited by tourists today, the white leaders of the Manifest Destiny era only saw wild, untamed societies who lacked their God.  A lot of the NGO work that is done today has nuances and undertones of the same superiority-inferiority complex.  But critiquing work for not incorporating traditional wisdom or philosophical paradigms is just one small but intricate piece of lingering white supremacy.  Some of it is far more blatant.

How can we progress when leaders are making public announcements that white people built the world?  That white people are the reason for everything great?  That Christianity has done nothing but save everyone?  Anyone with a true understand of World Civilizations and an unbiased perspective will see this is far from true.  But Representative Steve King, a Republican in Iowa, is convinced otherwise.

While on a panel discussion with MSNBC host Chris Hayes, discussing the racial makeup of the Republican Party on the first day of its convention, Mr. King blatantly declared that nonwhite “subgroups” have not contributed to society.  The conversation began when Mr. Hayes commented about diversity maybe finally making its way into the party.  The conversation continued as such:

Mr. King: “This whole ‘old white people’ business does get a little tired, Charlie.  I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about?  Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”
Mr. Hayes: “Than white people?”
Mr. King: “Than Western civilization itself that’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America, and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.”
(Panelist frantic shouting)
April Ryan (reporter on panel): “What about Africa? What about Asia?”

As if the Chinese invented nothing.  As if the Mayans did nothing.  Or Indians.  Or Egyptians.  What about the impressive skills of the Maori?  All of the scholars and scientists who have come from the continent of Africa?  Or this site, describing a vastly non-white number of civilizations that are widely considered some of the most “advanced” civilizations on earth?  My Archaeoastronomy course in college that studied ancient Native civilizations as being complex in ceremony and their knowledge of multidimensional math to follow the pattern of celestial bodies?   And construct large buildings around it?

The fact that we have people like that in power is terrifying.  His mentality is not very different from that of Hitler’s when you think about it.  Christianity saved the world?  Christianity has also been responsible for mass genocide for thousands of years.

misconceptions about Navajo food

Written as extra credit for Mr. Vecenti’s NIS 226 Navajo Nation Government class.

Last Saturday, June 4, I was about to do a presentation in Window Rock to the Navajo Nation Youth Council. I had received an invitation from a fellow member of Generation Indigenous, Triston Black, who that morning was elected as President of the Youth Council. My presentation was a proposal to start a Navajo Youth Working Group on Climate that will be modeled off of the EPA National group I’m a member of and which can be used to provide feedback directly to National environmental policies and programs. Food sovereignty was one of the bullets in my many topics the group could discuss and research. Before I managed to give my presentation, Vice President Jonathan Nez stepped into the room to discuss food sovereignty and the importance of gardening. He invited us to his Vice Presidential house after our meeting for a cookout and to see his demonstration.

I carpooled over to the event with my friend Chris Brown, a graduate of Yale University who came back home to work in the health programs with COPE. Chris was telling me some of the gardening initiatives he has been a part of with COPE. I knew COPE was involved in food sovereignty topics, having gone to a conference in the fall at the Tribal Museum, but I hadn’t realized to what extent they were promoting the same ideas. I told him about the AISES initiative I was helping write grants for, a collaborative community garden project through Navajo Department of Agriculture at the Navajo Nation Fairgrounds. Apparently my group isn’t the only one talking about using that space for a community program. However, the project is stalled to the point that we are only doing periodic demonstrations and plantings at the Ag building while we await approval for in-kind surveying services on the garden site.

When we got to Mr. Nez’s house, we were asked to sit with our food and listen to a number of speakers representing different groups. Mr. Nez again addressed us, stressing the importance of family building through gardening, of eating healthy, organic, non-GMO foods, and of buying and selling Navajo-produced rather than importing. He proposed many adjustments to the system. One of the women in the gathering told me she had helped push the “Junk Food Tax” through in recent years. Everything they said I agree with, yet I couldn’t help but notice the sugary Brisk teas and sodas, bottled water, bags of chips, pizza, and mutton stew. At least there were vegetable trays and someone cut a watermelon, but all of the food came with Basha’s bags and labels. I’ve shopped at Basha’s before and know how limited the green section is, let alone the organic, and most certainly let alone the non-GMO section. I found it mildly hypocritical to preach one thing while eating another. I mentioned to Mr. Nez the La Montanita Co-op in Gallup, a place that sells local, organic, non-GMO food – and a lot of vegan products – in a crammed store. He had never heard of it, but Chris had and he told him the directions.

When we were done eating, we learned that it was time for us to do the next plots. We were shown how to plant a “Lasagna Style” garden. Although we were all in nice clothes (and someone even had on heels), we picked up the tools and began digging shovel-deep. In sections, we removed dirt, piled in the lasagna ingredients, then moved the dirt from the next section onto the top of the first, continuing until the whole row was completed. The layers included laying down cardboard and wetting it, then adding various mixtures of straw, manure, pine needles, compost, and these mysterious handfuls of ash and what they referred to as “protein” to make the soil rich. Mr. Nez stressed how wonderful the soil is on the Navajo Nation and how we need to be growing crops. I wondered how many kinds of crops he’s tried growing in the sandy, alkaline soil…where any moisture gets whisked away immediately. This environment definitely requires certain crops that know how to thrive here.

As we completed the lasagna garden and planted kale, melon, and other seeds in the beds, Mr. Nez showed us the various holes being dug to the west of the garden. These holes were in a square array with a few feet of separation between holes. They were layering these holes in the same way. He explained this is where the corn, squash, and beans were being planted in a Three Sisters style garden. He then helped cleaned up the area, and I noticed that some of the workers were throwing their watermelon rinds into the lasagna layers. However, Mr. Nez was collecting all of the trash and throwing it into the same bin. Someone noticed that their recycling bin had become a trash bin, so people worked to separate again. Before we left, with seed samples provided by Tolani Lake, I asked Mr. Nez if he had spoken to the Department of Agriculture. I told him about the demonstrations there and how they have an enormous list of programs doing this kind of work. He said he wants to see it at schools and in more communities; I asked if he had talked to Carole Palmer because she has been a part of starting many of these gardens at schools all across the Reservation, and she knows dozens of other organizations doing the same. He didn’t seem like he knew what I was talking about.

This morning, I saw Chris’s picture on the Native News Online feed and realized our gardening day has been published on the national media. I glanced through the article and saw, yet again, the mentioning of a Three Sisters garden and how Mr. Nez has this new vision for the Navajo people. While I absolutely agree with his vision – about wanting to control the food system, getting Navajo produce in the Basha’s stores, fighting diabetes and obesity through a more traditional diet, etc., I couldn’t help but be frustrated on many levels. I am definitely impressed with how active Mr. Nez is and how he has popped into more than one of my meetings in the several months that I’ve lived in the Window Rock area. He is constantly on the move. I believe he does leave a positive impression with the youth. I also believe he is hasty to push his programs without doing his research, and I had a long conversation with people in already-existing organizations who reiterating everything I had thought.

I learned that Mr. Nez was already offered a list of all of these community projects in existence, but he either didn’t look at the list or refused to take it when it was offered. He has this attitude like people aren’t already doing this work whereas the work is being done, we just need help from someone like him to expose the work and support it. One of the largest problems with these projects is they tend to die. There is motivation for only so long, but keeping a project sustained is the issue. It’s more of a lifestyle change and less of a project fad to make these initiatives last. Another huge issue I see is this disconnect; for example, Mr. Nez preaching about very specific foods, then serving another. Or how he was throwing away watermelon rinds in the very same garden he was promoting compost. How else do nutrients get back into the soil if we don’t promote it? Fix nitrate all you want with crop types and rotations, but soil depletion is still a real thing.

Most significantly for the Navajo people, the types of foods and styles of gardening is something that is clashing significantly. Even in Mr. Nez’s garden, his use of the Three Sisters model is infuriating to many traditional farmers and educators. I have seen this model planted in schools as well and have been asked to dispel this myth. This style of gardening is specifically Iroquoian. While many tribes used companion planting, Three Sisters very distinctly refers to the New York region of the country – quite the opposite to where we were here in Arizona. You know this is true because even the various seals used within Navajoland demonstrate the four sacred crops. Yes, corn, beans, and squash – of varieties native to this region – are part of those crops. But tobacco is being left completely out of the picture. To me, that’s almost sacrilegious to leave ceremonial tobacco out of traditional planting initiatives on Dine Bikeyah.

To follow this last point, planting corn in a square is also something completely foreign to the southwest. The Hopi are known to have planted their corn in spirals. There was also the importance of where you plant, and before land ownership was a practiced thing on the Navajo Reservation, crops could be planted where they best thrived rather than wherever a particular owner of a plot of land could arrange to have a garden. This included planting corn in areas known to flood, or also planting peaches in canyons such as in Canyon de Chelly where the walls protect the trees from the awful winds this area is prone to, particularly in the spring.

Finally, there are a few conversations I don’t hear being discussed enough when it comes to food. I feel like so many demonstrations happen for planting, but how many happen after the planting is done? How many harvesting, canning, or seed-saving talks are given? Will Mr. Nez be doing this as well? And, most importantly to me, what about the Navajo traditional plants? This includes knowing the names in Navajo of the plants (which we were not given at the demonstration) and knowing the traditional medicinal plants. When I give my talk at the Chinle Science Camp this coming Monday, I will be stressing these exact points. Most importantly, I will try to instill in the kids the need to view food as medicine, and vice versa. Some plants are more clearly for caloric or nutritional purposes than for healing, but there are places where the two completely overlap. And realizing mutton, frybread, and certain other dishes are not in fact Navajo in the genuine ethnic sense I think is important to reconsider how the diet here has changed so rapidly.

I don’t mean to undermine the efforts Mr. Nez is making because I know how easy it could be to just sit there as the Vice President and not engage with the community. He obviously is very active in the community. I just wish he would listen more to the community, to the projects we have going, and to the experience we have before trying to promote a “new thing” that is in fact very old and popular. With his help, however, we could potentially really turn around a lot of projects, unite the community, and dispel many of these myths and bad practices I have mentioned. I will continue to reach out to him about the activities already happening, whether through the youth or not, and hopefully there will be a change for the future of Navajo food sovereignty.

Navajo Philosophy – Term Paper

 

Climate Changing without Hozho

Kayla DeVault

5/5/2016

NIS371: Navajo Philosophy

Mr. Avery Denny

 

Abstract

Navajo Philosophy, through the wisdom of the Holy People and the ancient practices of generations of survivors, presents an intricate system of balance (Hozho) that is necessary for the preservation of society, economy, culture, and the environment.  Humans are merely a part of the greater world web, and the ecosystems in the world rely on the responsible participation of all beings – including humans.  Navajo Philosophy’s Hozho concept promotes a balance and good etiquette in terms of land stewardship.  However, in the modern world, an increase in global attitudes and practices that do not conform to the idealism of “Hozho” have resulted in a world devastated by a changing climate.  In this paper, the evident effects of climate change on the Caribbean reefs of San Salvador Island will be analyzed, followed by a reflection on climate change in the Navajo traditional homeland.

 

Introduction

            When I first began my classes this Spring Semester, I found myself struggling with a lot of feelings and responsibilities.  Throughout the semester, I faced more and more challenges; but I handled them with increasing strategy.  I believe my coinciding Navajo Philosophy course and Navajo Rug Weaving fine arts class literally wove themselves together as the course went on to give me perspective on my struggles and how to deal with them.  The thinking and planning that went into my weaving made me reevaluate the thinking and planning that went into my decision-making, my future possibilities, and even the way I conduct myself in conversation with other people.  My frustrations with the loom were checked by the need to stay calm and not criticize my work and myself.  All of these concepts lead to the completion of my rug this week, a rug that is not perfect but that reminds me of how much I learned and struggled and still managed to complete without giving up.

The reminder that Navajo Philosophy emphasizes a balance of the good with the evil helped me accept my undeveloped skills with the realization that I had taken on a complex design and still managed to complete it.  It helped me overcome my perfectionism and harsh self-criticism in many ways.  The weaving also gave me time to think and reflect on the teachings of my various classes.  A lot of this thinking revolved around Navajo Philosophy concepts – about what is balance and how it affects us more than just mentally.  I reflected frequently on land stewardship as part of this balance, how Navajo Philosophy is less stressed in modern society and how good land stewardship practices are essentially absent from traditional Western societies.  With this perspective, I considered how the loss of indigenous connection to a traditional land base can result in an imbalance and the ultimate destruction of an ancient ecosystem.  That is why I have chosen to analyze my past climate change research on San Salvador Island and relate it to Dine Bikeyah.

San Salvador Island

            During my senior year in undergraduate studies at Case Western Reserve University, I conducted research under the State University of New York – Brockport College abroad program.  We spent a semester in a Biology/Geology course that focused on the Caribbean ecosystem, then flew to San Salvador Island, the Bahamas, to conduct intensive field research at the Gerace Research Center, an old American Naval base.  The field research lasted ten long days and consisted of the exploration of patch coral reef systems, the continental shelf, marine caves, interior marshes, and the various types of underwater environments (from shallow, to sand flats, and beyond).  We kept journals to document the trips, the organisms encountered, and the weather data for each day.  We also collected data on hard coral cover and parrotfish populations that was then added to several decades of data collected at the same patch reef systems by previous classes.

My experience on San Salvador Island was life-changing.  I frequently present my research finding to tribal colleges and students around the country because of how much the experience moved me.  Scientists often describe the underwater world as being one of the oldest ecosystems living on our planet.  It is millions of years old, and evolutionists argue it is the origin of all land life – the reason why humans have webs between their fingers and why the fluid of the amniotic sac is of the same salinity as ocean water.  Yet, as a Shawnee woman, I also recognize the Atlantic Ocean as one interpretation of our Creation story.  Even stories of Turtle Island in other cultures reflect the importance of water to the first stories of their peoples.  In other words, this ecosystem has stood the ultimate test of time…until now.

When my professor first started collecting data in the early 1990s, the coral reefs on San Salvador Island were, relatively speaking, thriving.  In 2013, we discovered a significant decrease in all measures of biodiversity.  Coral was becoming bleached, algae was consuming the available nutrients, light, and space, and fish populations were suffering.  Not only that, but tourists had devastated the island and even inflicted damaged on our fenced-off research areas in the middle of our research collection process.  Shrimping boats scoured the famous 1-mile drop of the continental shelf and poached adolescent conch shells littered the beach, the adults being so scarce that the immature flesh is now being illegally harvested.

San Salvador Island used to be the home to a people related to the Taino tribe.  In fact, the island we were on is arguably the first island Columbus reached in 1492.  Within 30 to 50 years, colonizers managed to enslave and completely remove the tribal people from the island, selling them for next-to-nothing prices until they found the value in their ability to dive for conches and other seafood.  Conches were always a part of their traditional diet, but they had practiced an intuitive balance that respected the ebb and flow of the natural world they were ingrained to interpret and respect.  Now that invaders without respect for the land and their ways had come into the picture, the island was devastated and exploited, its population completely replaced by African slaves once the original inhabitants died from disease or were removed altogether.

Today, the island remains in turmoil, but its destruction is accelerated on a more global level.  While we studied the populations that were disappearing on the island, we also learned about calcium carbonate precipitation.  Calcium carbonate is the compound that is used to make fish bones, shellfish shells, and coral structures.  It is the literal backbone of ocean life.  However, calcium carbonate only precipitates into water under certain conditions.  With an increase of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, an imbalance is created of hydroxide (OH-), resulting in the acidification of the water.  Simultaneously, the heat that usually radiates back into space is blocked by a change in the atmosphere and reflected into the ground and water surfaces, very slightly increasing the temperature of oceans.  Finally, the imbalance of compounds in the water, altered by slowed precipitation, causes the formation of calcium carbonate to be scarce.  Organisms therefore struggle to find the nutrients needed to grow.  In some cases, they are simply never born at all.  The emissions from human activity around the world since the Industrial Revolution have completely broken the balance of this precipitation process.  The result is a coral reef system that is expected to be extinct as early as 2050.  In other words, an ecosystem as old as life on earth will be completely destroyed by humanity during the course of my lifetime.

 

Hozho in the Southwest

            Maybe the Taino people of present-day San Salvador Island had a name for their practices that lead to a balanced ecosystem of their island.  From a Navajo perspective, however, their intuitive way of life could be described as the implementation of Hozho.  Conch populations, coral reefs, and the occasional sea turtle were witnessed by my classmates on our trip because of the practices those people had maintained on that island for the history of their existence.  If they had not practiced such a balanced lifestyle, perhaps those creatures would not have existed even as Columbus landed in the 15th century.  So how can this apply to the southwest?

The southwest is plagued by a very interesting and incredibly intricate number of climate changing factors.  First of all, it is a desert area of varied aridity.  Specifically in reference to Navajoland, this semi-arid desert lacks significant rainfall but is not immune to rain, snow, or the melting of snow in the surrounding mountainous regions.  High winds also tear across the region, and both the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its counterpart La Nina bring varying cycles of precipitation.  It is always important to remember that the southwest may go through periods of droughts, but that these droughts are part of a regular cycle.  The question more becomes how often and how intense are these droughts, and what other factors are involved that drive more devastating impacts on the region?

A lot of focus in the southwest is placed on what are called Hadley cells.  Hadley cells are essentially the life cycles of evaporated water.  These cells appear on either side of the equator, the part of the world that receives the most heat and therefore which produces the most evaporated surface water.  This water is brought into the sky and drifts away from the equator until its energy is dissipated.  The effect of this dissipation causes a wet zone bordered by a dry region from which additional moisture is drawn during the precipitation process.  However, as global temperatures are increasing on the surface (as previously mentioned), the thermodynamic energy of these cells increase, resulting in greater storms and expanding Hadley cells.  Scientists are now watching these cells migrate and expect the Sonoran desert to soon consume Tucson and later Socorro, New Mexico as it proceeds northward under current atmospheric trends.

Yet, as you move into the regions of Dine Bikeyah, some of the greatest concerns become the dust and the erosion.  Dust storms form, sand dunes migrate across roads and against fences, and washes cut deeper and deeper each season.  An unseen factor in the equation?  Dust that lands on the snowcaps of the mountains, which is also referred to as albedo, inevitably darkens the surface against the heat of the sun, causing a premature thawing of those snowcaps and therefore completely destroying the thaw cycle and delivery of water to receiving watersheds during the course of a year.  This alteration in delivery changes the growing season of many plants.  The changing of growing seasons also affects the feeding schedule of livestock, and livestock has become an arguably more modern center to Navajo tradition.

The changes of a growing season can cause herds to starve when the supply is low, or cause horses to founder when the supply is high.  Regardless, livestock on the Navajo Nation scramble on open-grazing areas to overgraze on erosion-preventing plants.  In some cases, they are attracted to newly reseeded construction projects and become a hazard to motorists in the area.  Regardless, the increasing population of free-roaming animals contributes to the consumption of erosion-battling plants, the turning-up of soils by hooves, and even the distribution of undigested seeds that spread troublesome plants like mesquite across far distances.  The most troubling part?  Livestock on the Navajo Nation is a more newly introduced tradition, yet it is already contributing significantly to the loss if hozho in the natural ways of the land.

I remember one of the first Leading the Way editions that I bought when I moved to Window Rock described the need to harvest only a portion of a yucca root.  This is an example of Hozho in good ecosystem practice.  However, a short walk around a part of the Navajo Reservation will likely uncover washes with open dumps, broken bottles along the side of the road, and livestock wandering aimlessly and unclaimed to find any amount of available vegetation to consume.  The result is increasing amounts of contamination, pollution, and erosion.  Navajo Philosophy requires a high amount of accountability for considering how to make decisions in life, yet the problems of climate change on the Navajo Nation indicate a departure from that accountability and those practices.  Additionally, resources are being exploited for greed accelerated by monetary greed, and there is little to no consideration for the health of the environment or people affected.  In these ways, hozho is collapsing and it is not unrealistic to say the future of the Navajo ecosystem will one day resemble the fate of San Salvador Island.

 

Conclusion

Navajo Philosophy requires certain elements for good governance.  This includes equity, equality, focus on the issues at hand, shared information, accountability, sustainability, assessment, and self-interest – the components we were presented with during our NIS371 course.  Yet, all of the components contributing to climate change and poor land stewardship demonstrate a severe lacking in some – if not all – of these areas.  Regardless of geographical location, the interruption of long-practiced methods by indigenous communities to maintain balance in their respective environments results in a rapid degradation of that system.  This inherent knowledge can be viewed as a part of the epistemology of that culture.  Now it is the responsibility of policy-makers and influencers to understand the lack of hozho in modern practices and implement changes that will restore a healthy balance to Dine Bikeyah and prevent a re-creation of San Salvador Island.

Miss Navajo

I haven’t written forever…as I wait for Internet to be installed at my new place on the Navajo reservation, please enjoy the paper I am submitting about the Miss Navajo pageant for my Culture class.  We had a vague prompt to follow.  Feel free to Google more about the competition!  It’s awesome.

—–

In Dinétah this past week, the Navajo Nation Fair has had the center of attention. The Fair, with its various traditional dance, rodeo, and carnival events, runs in conjunction with the Miss Navajo pageant. Miss Navajo has gained a lot of popularity in outside media over recent years for its divergence from “typical” American beauty/national pageants. Rather than heels and swimsuits, these ladies dress up in traditional moccasins and crushed velvet dresses. Their political platforms take the shape of heartfelt “save our culture” and “save our people”, rather than overly-sentimental “feed the children of Africa” and “go vegan” – although not to say they wouldn’t personally make those choices, or that these choices aren’t honorable. Indeed, while Miss America is judged on her body, Miss Navajo is judged on her ability to butcher a dibé – tasks that include handling stomach organs and breaking leg bones in front of a focused and learned audience.

​Although the Miss Navajo pageant lasts several days in September, the Traditional Competition was held at the Navajo Arts & Crafts Enterprise this past Thursday. This segment of the competition lasted approximately three hours, with people in the audience sitting for well over four. The Traditional Competition was divided into four separate categories: Traditional Skills, Oral Presentations, Traditional Talent, and Modeling Traditional Attire. This year’s five contestants were asked to compete in each of these four categories, and they appeared in shuffled orders each time.

For Traditional Skills, each contestant had five minutes to show her skill. These skills varied from grinding corn to singing songs. For Oral Presentations, each contestant was asked to draw a slip of paper and answer a questions on the spot. For the Traditional Talent, each contestant had five minutes to demonstrate something from singing from the Bible in Navajo to explaining the pieces of a traditional baby backboard. Finally, for Modeling Traditional Attire, each lady had three minutes to show off her traditional outfit and state a platform, then an additional two minutes to answer another impromptu question.

The pageant demonstrated the importance of two major interrelated concepts: Navajo fluency, and fluency in Navajo culture other than language. These women were asked to demonstrate their ability to present on stage, represent their culture and heritage, and to represent their direct lineage (through clanship presentation as well as through wearing ancestral pieces and demonstrating skills passed down through their families). Since this pageant is for Miss Navajo, a female representative of an entire nation, it is crucial that language and culture is critiqued. Language and culture are at the heart of identity; therefore, being a Navajo woman should be defined by these things.

The Beauty Way of Life is the standards by which Navajo people live, and knowing you culture – your language, your kinship, your place in the world – is a vital role of this way of life. It is especially represented by the Western direction (é’é’aah) and its tie to k’é, to family, and to who you are as a Navajo. I may not be Navajo, but I understand the need for Navajo fluency and for fluency of Navajo culture. I now live on the Navajo reservation and work for the Navajo government, so as a guest here I must learn and respect the Navajo language and ways. Furthermore, my particular heritage(s) value the same principles: of understanding one’s origin(s) and participating as much as possible in one’s culture(s). Witnessing elements of the Miss Navajo pageant has been inspirational in a variety of ways for me, although I will admit it was a challenging competition to watch with limited language and cultural skills. Questions I have about the competition would predominantly pertain to a more detailed explanation of what was demonstrated, what was asked, and what the greater meaning behind things were.  

To conclude, I know that some of the questions were very challenging in the pageant…but I also know that the contestants to varying degrees struggled with the Navajo language. It is my belief that some understood the language to a decent degree, but were not fluent. Others seemed to lack the skill to spontaneously respond at all, speaking only when given the opportunity to deliver recited words. I feel slightly hypocritical considering I do not know more than a dozen words of my own language – a language that is becoming extinct – but I do believe Miss Navajo should be completely fluent in her language. It is the heart of a culture, it is the way a culture thinks, and speaking English in a cultural event is like broadcasting assimilation in the homeland. That is just my viewpoint…but I hope that Navajo children will continue to immerse themselves in their language and their culture, forever, and that Miss Navajo 2060 will be as fluent and culturally immersed as Miss Navajo 1960.

 

 

why elopements are better.

This April Fool’s, Jacob and I pulled a prank that we had eloped.  We even Photoshopped some pictures, all of it inspired by some jokes about us having stayed in an actual B&B/Chapel while traveling in New Mexico.  A lot of people believed it because it seemed like something we would actually do…but some people were relieved that we wouldn’t do something that “irresponsible” or “exclusive”.  If anyone knows me well, you’ll know I can’t stand weddings for a lot of reasons, so the latter reaction made me want to revisit this topic.

I always thought eloping was spontaneously running away and not telling anyone, but that doesn’t have to be the case.  Eloping is more like… unconventional, small, cheap.  And after looking at all the beautiful photographs of National Forest elopements while we were working on our prank, I couldn’t help but think Why would people NOT want this?  Elopements sometimes have just a witness and a photographer besides the couple and the person ordaining it, but they can also have a couple dozen guests.  I think it would be challenging trying to come up with very many people I would even want to invite…  Besides, isn’t the ceremony about the couple, not the guest list?  I have no interest in making a guest list…You can come to the after-party if you’re nice to me.

I remember sitting at a pub in Talkeetna, Alaska with Stubbs, the manx cat and “town mayor”, and the bartender, watching Bridezilla for the first time.  We were gaping at the screen, thinking there was no way it’s real.  And maybe it’s not.  But just the fact that we can watch these crazy, screaming women obsess over dresses and venues and menus and whatever other stupid detail and we can actually believe it’s real – that’s disturbing.  One woman had even booked her wedding venue for 5 years out because of a waiting list – and she didn’t even have a boyfriend.  Like I said: disturbing.

It’s because we’ve developed into this greedy, it’s-all-about-me, consumer society, so we throw the elements of traditions into a big mess of egocentricity.  Because we’re made to believe that’s normal.  We, as girls, grow up with Disney princesses and Barbie dolls and are made to believe we will become someone’s wife before we are encouraged to imagine ourselves as scientists and doctors.  Our Wedding Day becomes a measure of whether we are enough or not: Marry too early, marry too late, or be still waiting to be married and something’s wrong with you.  Say you don’t want to get married and something is wrong with you.  Date someone for too long before he proposes and something’s wrong with you.  Date someone for too short and get married and something’s wrong with you.  But even if you pass all those tests, you’re expected to invite your whole family, have the dress, have catered food, make cute save-the-dates and invitations, reserve a venue, have a photographer, provide alcohol, and go through a bunch of meaningless traditions…

I thought marriage was about a couple realizing they want to commit to each other permanently?  To me, it’s not a public affair; it’s personal.  To me, you don’t need a thousand people toasting to you.  You don’t need to spend a lot of money to put on an extravagant event to (start your life together in debt and) satisfy others that you’re serious, that what you did was enough.   If you have to do all of those things to validate a marriage, you shouldn’t be getting married.

Maybe I grew up too much around the Hindu tradition to understand the religious commitment people make in the Christian church and in Christian marriages, but as far as I’m concerned it’s irrelevant; traditional Christian wedding or not, marriages happen all the time for the wrong and even non-Christian reasons, and marriage licenses just chucked out the window regardless of how much money and time was put into being married traditionally and in a church.  Human beings are such hypocrites!

Not having the “proper” wedding, not marrying in a “timely” fashion, not having kids or enough of them or soon enough,… We still live in a society when these things shouldn’t affect our status, but yet we’re made to believe they still do.  It’s like the fact that homosexuals, bisexuals, transpeople, etc. still have to “come out”, afraid to disappoint their friends and family for not being enough – but why should anyone have to do that?  Why can’t we just do what we want to do?  These life choices are for ourselves, not for proving ourselves to anyone else’s standards and beliefs.

henna – one tradition that I grew up loving

And with that, let’s visit some of the “traditional” elements of marriage and weddings just to see how absolutely ridiculous they are…

1. Engagement Rings (and even wedding bands)

Although there are a lot of stories about the origin of rings, the common theme in all of them is this: women are property.  Men are essentially buying women from their families and the rings mark the women as their property or, in some cases, the rings are believed to symbolize shackles of past tradition.  There’s a story that a royal engagement centuries ago led to noble people giving rings with rare jewels in them.  Regardless, engagement rings are a symbol left over from the enslavement of women by men, and the amount of importance women place on such rings today is despicable.  If the size or lack of a diamond (ring) will alter your decision to marry someone, you need to take another good ten years of being single to grow up a little.  Furthermore, now the “common” folks who can’t even afford nice jewelry are shelling out dollars to fulfill this unnecessary expectation our consumer society places on us – and to make those jewels affordable, how do you think they do it?  Well, either your diamond is a Blood Diamond (or was essential produced by slavery and/or mineral exploitation in poorer countries), or it was grown in a petri dish.  I met a couple who grow diamonds.  So, yup, your diamond’s probably not even real.  Thus, between the symbolism, the cost, and the high chance of losing such a tiny thing, I am in favor of discontinuing the ring tradition and, oh hey, what says “this is permanent” more than a couple of wedding band tattoos?  Going tribal’s back in style.

2. White Dress

This is an easy one.  First of all, why are wedding dresses white?  Because brides are pure, virgins making vows to God (thus a tradition of Christian origin).  Yet I only know maybe one girl (who is also Christian) who was still a virgin on her wedding day.  So…….explain to me why women who broke that rule are still buying white dresses?  And why do we waste so much money and put so much thought into a stupid dress we will (should) only wear once?  Traditionally, in some cultures, the bride would be literally assaulted at the end of a ceremony so that people could tear pieces from her dress for good luck.  The bouquet has essentially replaced that horrifying tradition.  So, with all of these things considered, I really scoff at the expectation to have a fancy gown.  Hmm, sounds a lot like my high school graduation.  You see, in my private school we graduated in white gowns (and the men in suits).  Folks were getting all bent out of shape about their dresses, as if we were getting married, so I refused to get my hair done and left it down, refused to wore heels (I bought white flip-flops with silver sequins instead), and refused to wear a gown (I wore a bohemian top and a crumpled skirt that fell to my ankles).  The best part was, people in the crowd thought it was a fancy gown

3. Veil

In some traditions, the veil is a sign of respect and humility in the ceremony.  However, the real origin of a veil has to do with spirits and protection.  In Roman tradition, the veil was fire-colored to scare away evil spirits that might attack a vulnerable bride.  However, in the majority of traditions (coming from the fact that women were property of arranged marriages), the veil kept the groom from being embarrassed at his wedding day when he was (likely) seeing his bride for the first time.  The veil served to shield her ugliness.  Romantic, right?

4. Garter

Garters were worn so that folks could check in on the bride and make sure the marriage hadn’t been consummated.  As I mentioned before with the gown, the bride would be assaulted at the end of the ceremony so folks could tear pieces off of her dress.  Brides today are wearing garters, in theory, so guests can see she hasn’t broken any rules before the ceremony, and she is throwing it out because, in theory, she’s appeasing the crowd with pieces of her dress that they are trying to tear off of her anyway.  That doesn’t seem to be what people think they’re doing these days when they toss out a garter, but all I know is the tradition is incredibly creepy and I’m offended that others are offended when women choose to not follow these ridiculous traditions.

5. Bouquet

Brides waste so much money on dead flowers.  A lot of Christian weddings still practice the tradition of the bride carrying a bouquet.  Considering how many Christian also oppose Harry Potter or any “worshipping” of witchcraft, I laugh at the hypocrisy of carrying a bouquet in these weddings.  The bouquets were traditionally made of dill and garlic.  In the last few generations, other blooms have been added until the dill and garlic have been essentially replaced.  I guess folks don’t like the smell of tradition, but that’s exactly why they carried these bouquets: The smell was to ward off evil spirits and also the Plague.  So, a little Christian witchcraft.  I bet Hermione would do a better enchantment than a bouquet of weeds, though.

6. Bridesmaid Dresses

Oh, everyone goes crazy over choosing her bridesmaids and having them look just right.  Although I don’t really understand what they do, I do know a creepy fact about why they exist: Bridesmaids were originally decoys dressed exactly like the bride.  Yup, another protection against evil spirits.  Come the Victorian Era, the fear of evil spirits began to subside and instead the bride was dressed to be the most beautiful woman in the church, especially in contrast to bridesmaids dressed in hideous colors.

7. Honeymoons

I’ve heard some folks say the “honeymoon” represents that last bit of freedom in a marriage before real life starts.  The idea is, it’s the last chance to feel happy with each other.  Well, that’s a pleasant thought… But the origin of the honeymoon is actually a little more disturbing.  Traditionally, this was a month-long period during which the bride was abducted by the groom.  It’s said that, in Norse tradition, the couple were in hiding and provided honey wine by different family members once a day for thirty days, or a full moon cycle, thus explaining the phrase “honeymoon”.  Regardless, it’s now another reason to spend a lot of money and do something fancy.

So tell me why again people are appalled by the couples who elope?  Everyone has a right to do what they want because it is their relationship being celebrated.  Ridiculing people who choose to have a non-traditional wedding is, as I’ve demonstrated, actually rather hypocritical, especially considering the unknown and unpleasant origins of so many of these “traditions”.  And while the whole thing was just a prank for April Fool’s, I can’t help but reflect on all the things the prank opened my eyes to…and to looking at this:

(Don’t trip!  Everyone gets to stare at you!  It smells like a hospital in here!..Ew)

Versus looking at this:

(Aw)

I just could never have peaceful, happy moments in a huge wedding where my pockets are empty and everyone is staring at me.  I’m a fan of small weddings.  To me, it’s the obvious choice.  I vote for elopements!

mascots: imagery, expectations, and modern human artifacts.

The Cleveland Indians logo is antiquated, morally wrong on many levels, and really only here today because native rights have been the slowest of any race in the States to begin, evolve, and finally build momentum.  People’s daily exposure to such logo imagery has allowed it to become a familiar part of life in Cleveland and sports all around.  Having that piece of nostalgia threatened to be removed from fans’ experiences blindsides them and makes them lose their common senses in arguments that truly just boil down to equality and cultural respect.  But I totally agree with them on one thing: It’s a logo, it’s a mascot – it shouldn’t matter.  Yet it does.

“I’m just getting so SICK of hearing about this mascot issue.”  Well, buddy, guess what….The Indians are getting sick of these centuries of marginalization!  You’re not the one standing on your ancestral soil being ridiculed and sidelined in life on a daily basis.  So get over yourself!

I have written many times how the mascot issue is a “microcosm” of a bigger problem.  I still stand by that, and I probably always will.  The way I see it, the mascots aren’t worth caring about – but only on a personal level.  As an individual Indian, a person shouldn’t let such imagery haunt him or herself and instead rise above it.  However, finding peace with oneself is only one realm of feeling happy and safe.  When you leave that realm and step out into a world that surrounds you with that imagery, with people who blindly support such imagery because they do not understand your culture or the culture of your fellow Indians, because they will not take the time to understand you… that is a different story.  You can respect yourself, but the outside world is demonstrating its lack of respect for you when it supports these images.  Of course, the claim is classic: IT IS HONORABLE.  NATIVE AMERICANS SUPPORT IT.  Well, I know a hell of a lot of Indians, I’ve sat through many a community discussion on this topic, and I personally agree that it is not okay.  And it all boils down to ignorance of American Indian history, policy, cultures, sensitivities,…  I believe any human with half a heart and a genuine understanding and knowledge of these topics would want to burn the imagery off of their favorite jerseys in a heartbeat.  If any fan doesn’t believe it, it means they are one of those few cruel souls who can’t rise above racism.  Anyone who wants to physically act in rage against Indians over it, well you might as well join the Klu Klux Klan because you are that low of a person.

Perhaps one of the things I find the most frustrating about Chief Wahoo as I live here in Cleveland is that so many people agree with me that the character doesn’t represent an “Indian” at all.  They use that argument to justify why I shouldn’t be offended by it.  Yet, these are the same people who, upon being introduced to me, look at me and say, “Oh, you do look Native American.”  I always want to pull out a picture of Chief Wahoo in that moment and ask, “Like this?  Do you even know what an Indian looks like?”  Well, we look like a hell of a lot of things, and none of them are that.

Ironically, I never really gave much thought about mascots before Cleveland.  Of course, I also was never exposed to them.  I always had a Wildcat as a mascot with the exception of two private schools I attended – one in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania – which had no mascot at all.  My school was predominately white with the second largest population being American Indian, at least in the years I was a student.  My professional sports teams were represented by career titles and animals.  I never even knew Cleveland’s baseball team existed, or paid enough attention to realize what Washington’s team was about.  In fact, in hindsight, I feel like an idiot.  I guess I knew Washington used the word it uses, I knew there was a generic Indian logo involved, but I legitimately went my entire childhood believing that the NFL would never use the R word as a name.  I thought the R word in the Washington team was some kind of football term for the leather used in a football.  I’m not even joking.  I thought it represented pigskin, not my ancestors.

My father is a steeler.  I can take pride in the Steelers representing our Steel City.  My father is also an Indian.  I cannot take pride in any of those teams represented all 566+ groups of our people in one offensive representation, or under one phrase akin to N*****.

Moving to a city, especially one like Cleveland with the logo it has,…that made me realize why the issue didn’t matter to me before.  Because before, I didn’t have it in context.  Before, I wasn’t experiencing it in my face.  When I finally made the move and came here for University, I had it spat at me – often literally.  I was degraded for wearing beaded jewelry.  I was denounced for admitting my heritage.  I was told hurtful things like “Oh, don’t cry a Trail of Tears over that”.  Once, on a bus to a track meet, I was handed a blanket because I was cold and someone joked, “Don’t take that!  It might have smallpox.”  My coach used to call me “Pokey” because Pocahontas was the only Indian he could liken me to.  Then I went to my first Indians game and experienced the racism firsthand.  Not being able to keep my mouth shut, I quickly became a victim of scalping jokes and racial slurs.  I vowed to never return.  Over the years at school, I’ve had my belongings vandalized and found insulting anonymous posts about me to a website that has since been shutdown.  Even in the workplace I’ve sat through a one-sided accusation of how life as a minority, woman engineer must be the easiest life when the government just hands me checks so why do I even work?  To all of these things, I have burst of anger but often just have nothing to say.  Even friends accused me daily of “still caring” about native rights when I wasn’t living on a Reservation.

And they’re right: I don’t even live on a Reservation.  My heart goes out to all those friends I have who do, all those friends that I haven’t made yet, all those people that deal with this on a regular basis who cannot hide their identity as well as I can, a mixed Indian living in an urban setting.  Being exposed finally to these injustices just makes me cringe on how it must feel to be a full-time Indian, to really be in the heart of this dilemma, not just someone like me who can avoid those baseball games, who can shut off the TV or sign out of social media, who can bit her tongue, turn a blind eye, let go of her culture and identity, and pretend to be someone she isn’t.

The imagery…the disrespect…the pressures to change yourself, as if something was wrong with you to begin with (which isn’t true).  I’ve come to realize that, no matter what my blood quantum, tribal status, or living conditions – I cannot just sit and be idle.  I am just too greatly disturbed by the amount of hatred I feel as an urban Indian, and I can never even begin to imagine how these feelings – in addition to the daily struggle that already exists – crush my friends and peers every day as they uphold their identities on the Reservations.  And yet the more I speak out about these issues, the more and more resentment I am faced with.  Every once in awhile I break through and am gracious for a conversation of curiosity and understanding.  However, this often turns in to the making of the human artifact: “Hey kids, come over here and meet this real Indian.  Yeah, she’s American Indian.”  And suddenly children are staring at me, some touching me, some shaking my hand – and I feel like I’m living in Ouidah, Benin or Batoula-Bafounda, Cameroon again where no child has seen a human being who isn’t black.  I become the modern human artifact.

Why am I so fascinating?  Because suddenly that logo has come to life and it’s not up to the expectations?  “You do look Indian”, justifying that I meet some standard expectation society has of my appearance?  One that isn’t the logo, yet is surely not informed either?  I hate these encounters, when I feel like an artifact.  I hate it because not only does it feel miserable but I sit there and think I am not a representative sample of all 566+ nations.  I am one single person with one unique heritage.

See, the mascot and logo issue delves a lot deeper than just the imagery and the sports.  It’s all interconnected, just like the planet.  It rebounds in places the general public cannot see and does not take the time to seek out.  And I am just one person, and this is just one perspective, I am fairly confident it is not a unique one.

And, no, I do not live in a tipi.

 

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.