Thursday, June 30, 2011


I'm part White but ...

The image below is of a t-shirt design discussed by Paul Chaat Smith in his essay "Homeland Insecurity" in Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong (Minneapolis, Univ of Minnesota Pr., 2009).

See also: "American Indians: Some Stereotypes & Realities"

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Quotable: "a riot of vastly different cultures"

Five hundred years ago we were Seneca and Cree and Hopi and Kiowa, as different from each other as Norwegians are from Italians, or Egyptians from Zulus. ...

America pre-Columbus was a riot of vastly different cultures, which occasionally fought each other, no doubt sometimes viciously and for stupid reasons. If some Indian societies were ecological utopias with that perfect, elusive blend of democracy and individual freedom, some also practiced slavery, both before and after contact. Yet the amazing variety of human civilization that existed five centuries ago has been replaced by one image above all: the Plains Indians of the mid-nineteenth century. Most Indians weren't anything like the Sioux or the Comanche, either the real ones or the Hollywood invention. The true story is simply too messy and complicated. And too threatening. The myth of noble savages, completely unable to cope with modern times, goes down much more easily. No matter that Indian societies consistently valued technology and when useful made it their own. The glory days of the Comanches, for example, were built on European imports of horses and guns. ...

I suggest that a powerful antidote to the manufactured past now being created for us is the secret history of Indians in the twentieth century. Geronimo really did have a Cadillac and used to drive it to church, where he'd sign autographs. Quanah Parker, the legendary leader of the Comanches, became a successful businessman after the war. He was part owner of a railroad, and endorsed farming and Jesus. At the same time he was leader in the Native American Church and advocated the use of peyote. One of the most instructive lives is that of Black Elk, one of our greatest heroes and most revered spiritual leaders. His astonishing life included a stint in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and surviving the Wounded Knee massacre. An impresario-anthropologist named John Neihardt wrote of his fantastic visions in Black Elk Speaks. ...

I found it fascinating that despite hearing about Black Elk for many years, I had no idea he spent most of his life as a Catholic. I learned that many believe that Black Elk and white assistants sat down and invented practically a new religion, explicitly designed to blend teachings of Christianity and Lakota spiritualism. At the time he was working as a catechist for the Roman Catholic Church of Nebraska. Essentially he was a lay priest. I also learned he had a first name, and that it was Nick. ... Do any of these facts about Nick Black Elk invalidate his contribution to the Lakota people, or his spiritual teachings? I think that to say they do is to say the invented, impossibly wise sages are preferable to the people who actually lived. Nick Black Elk, an extra in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, a paid employee of the Catholic Church, only becomes more interesting, not less, and his accomplishments even more remarkable. Those who would have it otherwise cherish the myth more than the genuine struggles of real human beings.

Source: Paul Chaat Smith in Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong (Minneapolis, Univ of Minnesota Pr., 2009) pp. 19-22.

See also: "A Brief History of Native Stereotyping" on the Blue Corn Comics site.

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Quotable: Organized Crime

"Organized crime!" What's that? Historical curiosity? Couldn't find it, I should think so.

But I did, said Jai. Sure I found it.


Source: Character of Jai Vedh in And Chaos Died by Joanna Russ (Boston: Gregg Pr., 1978) p. 133.

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The Future of Music?

The video below is of the Japanese virtual pop star, Hatsune Miku. In 2009, she first performed "live" before 5,000 fans in two performances at the Zepp Tokyo music hall and another 4,000 via streaming video. Tickets to her "live" performance this Saturday in the 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles are already sold out.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011


Quotable: Descendants of Tribes

They were, in a way, trying to imitate us [in film representations of Indians] but in another way they were trying to remember who they were. Every human being is a descendant of a tribe. So, these White people, they're the descendants of tribes, there was a time in their ancestry when they wore feathers, all right? And they wore beads and shells. There was a time in their ancestry, all right, before this colonizing mentality came and did to them, to turn them into the White people they are, and then it came and did it to us. The very same thing that happened to us happened to them.

Source: John Trudell, Lakota activist/poet in Reel Injun (Rezolution Pictures & the National Film Board of Canada, 2009)

See also:

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Quotable: Law & Speak Up

The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. They are the lovers of law and order who observe the law when the government breaks it.

Source: "Slavery in Massachusetts" by Henry David Thoreau, 1854.

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.

Source: Elizabeth Cady Stanton's address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention of 1890. Quoted in The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 4 by Susan B. Anthony & Ida Husted Harper, eds. (Rochester, NY: Susan B. Anthony, 1902) p. 166.

If you do not speak up when it matters, when would it matter that you speak? The opposite of courage is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.

Source: "A celebration of agitation" by Jim Hightower. Arizona Daily Star. July 28, 2002.

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Sunday, June 05, 2011


Quotable: Values, Leadership, Sovereignty, Law

Is there a fundamental or inherent difference between indigenous and white society? This is a relevant question, given the tendency of the dominant Western tradition to draw racial distinctions. Indigenous traditions, by contrast, include all human beings as equal members in the regimes of conscience ...

A deep reading of tradition points to a moral universe in which all of humanity is accountable to the same standard ... Though it may be emotionally satisfying for indigenous people to ascribe a greedy, dominating nature to white people, as an intellectual and political position this is self-defeating. It is more hopeful to listen to the way traditional teachings speaks of the various human families: they consider each one gifted and powerful in it own way, each with something different to contribute to the achievement to peace and harmony ...

The value of the indigenous critique of the Western world-view lies not in the creation of false dichotomies but in the insight that the colonial attitudes and structures imposed on the world by Europeans are not manifestations of an inherent evil: they are merely reflections of white society's understanding of its own power and relationship with nature. [pp. 20-21]

In his classic study Leadership (1978), James MacGregor Burns developed the concept of 'moral leadership'. Identifying a fundamental difference between what he called 'power -wielder' and true leaders, he argued that the manipulation of resources to effect the personal will or interest on the manipulator is not leadership at all; leadership must be rooted in a set of personal values consistent with and supportive of the collective's values. Burns's concept of moral leadership complements indigenous ideas. In particular, his critique of 'leaders' who are actually nothing more than politicians resembles the criticism expressed by many indigenous people with respect to their new leaders.

For Burns, the average politician in an electoral system is simply playing a power game in which he structures incentives to induce people to do what he wants--to vote for a certain party, support a particular policy, carry out a given order. [p. 45]

... sovereignty is an exclusionary concept rooted in an adversarial and coercive Western notion of power. Indigenous peoples can never match the awesome coercive force of the state; so long as sovereignty remains the goal of indigenous politics, therefore Native communities will occupy a dependent and reactionary position relative to the state. Acceptance of 'Aboriginal rights' in the context of state sovereignty represents the culmination of white society's efforts to assimilate indigenous people. [p. 59]

'in periods of calm the law may shape reality, in periods of change the law will follow reality and find ways to accommodate and justify it' [p. 83, quoting DJ Elazar, From Statism to Federalism--A Paradigm Shift," International Political Science Review 17(4), p. 428]

There is no inherent conflict between basic indigenous and non-indigenous values. Rather, it is the historical practice of politics (and the institutionalization of these patterns of governance) that contravenes the basic values of liberal-democratic and traditional indigenous philosophies alike. Manipulative mechanisms of control work against the best instincts of both Western and aboriginal value systems. [p. 132]

Source: Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto by Taiaiake Alfred (New York: Oxford UP, 1999)

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