Category Archives: Native America

The Ten Grandmothers; Epic of the Kiowas by Alice Marriot – Book Review

The Ten Grandmothers covers the history of the transition of Kiowa culture during roughly a 100 year period between 1847 and 1944 in an epic linear narrative.  As a work of history and anthropology, this book reads as compellingly as good fiction, with the profound depth of meaning as mythology.




The chapter Going Away was the most compelling to me.  This chapter takes place in 1883 with Grass Stem, the son of Hunting Horse and Spear Woman.  Once Grass Stem emerged from the school house in his blue trousers and white shirt, with his hair cut, his earrings removed and with the new name Stanley Hunt, it was clear that Kiowa life had changed permanently.  Nothing else up to this point in the book had quite the same impact regarding the changes to Kiowa life, not the coming of the first white traders, not the near extinction of the buffalo, not even the ending of the Sundance.  At the point Grass Stem is renamed, we get a glimpse not only of what has been lost in Kiowa culture, but the future of it.

The Ten Grandmothers is written in a literary style that reminds me of one of my favorite books, Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm.  It similarly follows the interactions of the Cheyenne, Crow and Sioux in a mythologized fashion over a period of several generations from before the arrival of the white man.  It progresses into the modern era using the old stories and the symbolism of the Sundance in order to convey the teachings of the Medicine Wheel.




Being written from a multi-generational perspective within the same families is what makes The Ten Grandmothers so effective in capturing the sense of change and adaptation from the freedom of life on the prairie to the 20th century.

The story ends with a strong sense of melancholy nostalgia as Spear Woman recounts all the events of the past to her granddaughter while they make their way to the buffalo park.  The buffalo have returned, only this time they are raised behind the fence, like the Kiowa.  And their appearance at the end of the book serves as a beacon that there is an as of yet unwritten future for both the buffalo and the Kiowa.



What is Enlightenment?

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“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.”

This first passage from the Book of Genesis hearkens back to the earliest times, the times even before light. Though allegorical at best, these words illustrate the scene of our great creator, for the first time shedding light on an infant world.

Similar creation myths from around the world illustrate the same basic imagery of a world in darkness which only truly comes to life after the divine powers create the sun, bringing the land out of darkness, enlivening it so it may become fruitful and prosperous. The lesson in these stories seem to be pointing us toward a certain direction, as if to suggest that only after being brought from darkness to light that a person can truly live to his full potential. This is the earliest seed of enlightenment.

The word inlihtan first appeared in Old English around 1382. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the term was used figuratively meaning “to remove the dimness or blindness from one’s eyes or heart.” (1) In this case enlightenment would be the state or process of doing so. Light, figuratively is what has been sought by all of humanity from birth, whether theologian, legislator or scientist. Countless symbols both secular and religious illustrate this point. The solar cross, an equal armed cross within a circle is likely the world’s most ancient invented spiritual symbol. It can be found throughout all of history inscribed from Ireland to Japan, from northern Scandinavia down through Africa, Australia and Pacifica. The solar cross is said to represent the solar calendar, marking the solstices and the equinoxes and is often credited to “sun-worship.”

In the Americas, Native religions also fixated on this solar symbol as the most significant spiritual metaphor. In English, this pan-Indian circumscribed cross is referred to as the Medicine Wheel. Amongst its many uses the Medicine Wheel is not only a symbol of the sun but wheelit is also a gauge by which to judge an individual’s level of knowledge and insight. The four corners of the cross usually represent the four directions, each one associated with a particular animal or spiritual being, representing certain desirable attributes associated with them. In the book “Seven Arrows,” Hyemeyohsts Storm allegorically describes the process by which the individual may come to enlightenment by way of the Medicine Wheel, attaining the various attributes associated with each point and thereby becoming a complete human being.

In more Buddhist circles enlightenment is described as a state of “wisdom that arises from the direct experience of all phenomena being empty of independent existence.”(2) This definition is more literal than the figurative definition previously given; “to remove the dimness or blindness from one’s eyes or heart,” but in essence it still remains the same. When one “sees” the light, he effectively “sees” or comprehends reality on a much higher than mundane level, no longer bound by flawed reason operating in darkness. Light has been shed upon obscure and often mysterious phenomena. The enlightened is knowledgeable and wise regarding his relationships, his role in society and the significance of everyone and everything else with whom he interacts. It is from the human quest for this figurative light that all our arts, sciences and religions were developed, originally as one quest for knowledge and meaning and later breaking up into separate specialized disciplines.

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In the modern western world we have been brought up to think of religion as an organized system of belief and practice, following particular creeds and professing faith in a divine being. This idea certainly fits the definition of religion but the word is hardly confined by it. The Latin origin of the word had a far more pragmatic application regarding its relationship, not only to the divine but to everyone and everything around the person. In Latin the word religre means to bind and comes from the verb “ligre, to close or combine, to create an alliance or to make a deal to form a bond or to create a relationship.

Other words such as legislation and delegation also find their roots in this verb; the process of defining morality and proper behavior between a person, his fellow humans and his government or between governments religre. Ideally, this is achieved through the constant pondering of right and wrong, propriety and impropriety and through discourse with others doing the same. In society both ancient and contemporary, legislation even defines kinship, of who can and cannot marry due to how they are related or how it is perceived that they should or should not relate to each other. As any anthropologist will likely agree; kinship is one of the most vital foundations of coming to terms with a society’s traditions, laws and religion.

It is clear that the word religion in its truest definition reflects a system of relationships, not just a system of belief. It more properly refers to cultural paradigms and organized principles of morality. What is morality other than the proper behavior one human should have towards all his relations? Enlightenment is the state or process of pondering the mysterious or seemingly inexplicable, to organize thoughts, create theories and test them for the purpose of bettering the self and society. Philosophers, physicians and metaphysicians have continuously sought to shed light on obscure and illusive subjects, rendering them into workable formulas of knowledge and theory. Physical science perhaps most of all has sought and often achieved creating light from darkness and knowledge where none existed before and defining relationships between geometric shapes and numbers or strands of DNA. This is the most natural of human aspirations; to learn and develop, to mature into wisdom, organize it and apply it, passing it on to the next generation. This is the process of enlightenment.

Some theories suggest that the linguistic use of the word enlightenment is a remnant of “sun-worship,” an outdated and archaic form of religion. How unfortunate that they should have such an unenlightened perception of the subject. Sun-worship, if it ever really existed in any true form was no doubt an outgrowth of humanity’s natural inclination to seek the light of truth and understanding, the sun being the earliest example of luminescence and its contrast to darkness. In the light of day, primitive man could analyze his environment and learn. Darkness represented ignorance and lack of perception. Therefore it is only through light, even the dim glow of the stars that one could discern, learn and develop.

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Benjamin Franklin

It should come as no surprise that the first great period of European discovery, development of the arts, sciences, government and religion, emerging from the ignorance and oppression of the Dark Ages is typically referred to as the Age of Enlightenment. The Enlightenment Age was defined by reason and that humans by nature are autonomous, responsible for their own self development and the welfare of society. Self-development was often defined as the citizen’s responsibility through their own efforts to be educated and participate in politics in order to help reform the ills of society. It is from this era of enlightenment that the United States Declaration of Independence was written declaring that it was the people’s right and our destiny endowed by our Creator, entitled by the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God to liberate ourselves from tyranny. This was revolutionary thinking in its day. Political revolution was everywhere and it redefined Europe from the ground up. The Age of Enlightenment was defined by revolution and redefinition

Enlightenment is more than a metaphor and it is not just an abstract idea involving transcendental escapism from worldly suffering. Nor is it the result of diligently following a particular creed or maintaining a particular set of teachings and exercises or any other magical formula. Such things are merely working tools to help along the way. Enlightenment is a process of seeking and uncovering the truth about ideas, traditions, institutions and relationships and then putting them into action. Enlightenment is only enlightening in action even if that action is pursuing stillness. Balance and propriety must be nurtured. Wrong action and reaction must be subdued. The path of enlightenment is a process of discovery, reflection and devotion. It is the continuously seeking of the light of knowledge and defining our world, liberating the human race from darkness and tyranny.  Only in this way will we ever see a truly enlightened age.

(1) Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 13 Nov. 2007. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/enlighten

(2) http://www.kusala.org/udharma6/enlightnirvana.html

Alexander McGillivray, Emperor of the Creek Nation

Alexander McGillvray, Emperor of the Creek Nation

Alexander McGillivray (1750-1793)

Many great historical chiefs are celebrated in Native American popular culture. The most commonly remembered names include Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Red Cloud, Tecumseh and Chief Joseph. Along with these belongs the 18th century Muscogee Creek chief Alexander McGillivray, a great man who is not as commonly spoken about, but is just as significant to both Native American and United State history as those formerly mentioned.

Alexander McGillivray was the principle chief of the Creek Nation near the end of the 18th century. He was the son of Sehoy Marchand, a French-Creek woman from the powerful Wind Clan. His father was the prominent Scottish trader Lachlan McGillivray who immigrated to Creek country in 1736 from Dunmaglass, Scotland, and spent the majority of his time in Little Tallassee and Otciabofa which was also called Hickory Ground [1] on the Coosa River. This is where Lachlan met Sehoy.

Lachlan secured lands amongst the Creek people near the ruins of the French Fort Toulouse close by Little Tallassee. There, he planted a garden and built a plantation house, naming it the “Apple Grove.” In time Lachlan became a wealthy trader, entrenched and well respected among the Indians.

When Alexander was a young man his father sent him to Charleston, S.C. to be educated in the British tradition. After returning to his home on the Coosa River, Alexander was honored as a chief on the Creek National Council and given the name Hopue-hethlee-Mekko or “Good-Child King.” Shortly thereafter he was commissioned a colonel in the British army and installed as the English Agent to the Indians. He donned the uniform of a British officer, with the headdress of a Creek chief, complete with the white feathers of his rank and led a faction of Creek warriors in the Battle of Pensacola.

Before long, Alexander rose to prominence, becoming the principle chief of the Creek Nation. Being a fan of European history, he preferred to use the term emperor, though his actual power in the nation was severely limited and somewhat tenuous. He was a frequent visitor to and property-owner in Pensacola, FL, negotiating treaties with the Spanish who were the dominant European power in the region. He led Spanish funded attacks on American frontier settlements in Georgia. After the American Revolution, McGillivray was invited to Virginia where he received a paid Generalship from George Washington in the United States army.

An eager capitalist, Alexander McGillivray was also an investor and silent partner in Panton, Leslie and Company who opened a trading post on McGillivray’s property, the first brick and mortar building established in Pensacola, FL. His first wife was Vicey Cornells who bore him two daughters: Peggy and Lizzie. His second wife was Elise Moniac, the sister of the Choctaw chief Red Shoes and they had three children: Margaret, Alleck and Elizabeth.

As a native statesman, McGillivray worked tirelessly throughout his career to create a Creek Nation recognizable and respected by European nations, but still distinctly Creek, distinctly “Indian.” Much like his Cherokee neighbors he succeeded, at least until 1830, when the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by Andrew Jackson, robbing the people of their lands.

In January 1793 McGillivray traveled to Pensacola for a business meeting with William Panton. On the trip he developed a fever and never recovered. On February 17, 1793 at eleven o’clock at night, in the home of William Panton, Alexander McGillivray died. He was buried in the garden of Panton’s house in Pensacola, laid to rest with full Masonic honors [2]. Alexander McGillivray was such a loved and respected leader that he was mourned throughout the lands. His obituary ran in London in the Gentleman’s Magazine.

Feb. 17. At Pensacola, Mr. McGillivray, a Creek chief, very much lamented by those who knew him best. There happened to be that time at Pensacola a numerous band of Creeks, who watched his illness with the most marked anxiety, and when his death was announced to them, and while they followed him to the grave, it is impossible for words to describe the loud screams of real woe which they vented in their unaffected grief. He was, by his father’s side a Scotchman, of the respectable family of Drummaglass, in Invernesshire. The vigor of his mind overcame the disadvantages of an education had in the wilds of America, and he was well acquainted with all the most useful European sciences. In the latter part of his life he composed, with great care, the history of several classes of the original inhabitants of America; and this he intended to present to Professor Robertson, for publication in the next edition of his History. The European and the American writer are no more; and the MMS of the latter, it is feared, have perished, for the Indians adhere to their custom of destroying whatever inanimate objects a dead friend most delighted in. It is only since Mr. McGillivray had influence amongst them, that they have suffered the slaves of a deceased master to live.”[3]

[1] Hickory Ground; a very special town and meeting place within upper Creek Country. Creek; Ocē vpofv, also called Little Tallassee.

[2] It is believed that Alexander McGillivray was the first Mason in the State of Alabama. Some researchers claim that A.M.’s remains were shipped to Scotland and buried on his father Lachlan’s land.

[3] Gentleman’s Magazine, Printed under the caption: Marriages and Deaths of considerable Persons,” August, 1793, Vol. LXIII, London, p. 767

Lojah in Celtic-Folk-Punk

I was covered in Celtic-Folk-Punk at blogspot recently.

Lojah is a Native American-Irish folksinger from Pensacola, Florida. He describes his eclectic sound as Creolized Roots Music, influenced by Caribbean rhythms, Celtic melodies, and Southern American blues. His music is immersed in social realism, and arcane insight woven together with tongue-in-cheek witticism and a festive vibe. He is currently performing acoustic sets along the Gulf Coast.

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Pub Songs on Palafox” is a four song, lo-fi, EP recorded in the raw as a live-air production that captures the energy and sound of a Lojah solo performance as executed while busking downtown in competition with the various sounds of a bustling city street.

 Lojah begins with a rowdy Irish pub tune, “Dicey Reilly“, about a lush of a woman who spends her life crawling from pub to pub; a sailor’s favorite. “The Black Velvet Band” is another classic Irish ballad about infatuation, deceit and injustice which takes us out of the pub and away from the Emerald Isle to a penal colony in Australia. Following up is “Looks Like Jesus“, a rockabilly-blues styled piece and a Lojah original that tells the story illustrating the conflict between despair and ambition, shroud with esoteric imagery, set in the Southern atmosphere he calls home. “Miss Constance” concludes the record, a naughty Caribbean-styled tune about the perils of younger women.


Released 21 June 2013

Jay Moody (Lojah) – guitar, vocals
Recorded at Jinks Music Universe, Pensacola, FL

Shadowyze, Native America’s Hip-Hop Activist, Advocate

Shadowyze is not the typical Grammy-nominated hip-hop celebrity. Though his dress may be in the current urban fashion his attitudes certainly are not. Upon first meeting him, many hip-hop officiandos take immediate note of his lack of gold. In fact he has been accosted for not sporting more ‘bling.’

“Some people just want to challenge your hip-hop credentials” Shadowyze explains; “for not being absurdly materialistic or boastful. But I want my listeners to be inspired to do more than just be showy and greedy. I mean, financial success is a good thing, but with the more bling you can afford, I think the more you should be focused on making your community better. Besides, gold really bothers me. I relate so much negative history to it regarding conquistadors pillaging Indian communities for gold throughout the Americas. That’s what greed does to people and I don’t want to encourage that.”

From a background of Muskogee Creek and Scots-Irish heritage, as a writer and producer Shadowyze represents in many ways an atypical strain within an extremely active and empowering social dynamic called hip-hop. Not only does he produce bumping’ tracks and deliver catchy hooks’ but he also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of West Florida. His lyrics are woven within a fabric of insight and social awareness.

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Shadowyze was born in San Antonio, Texas as Alvin Shawn Enfinger and relocated with his family to Pensacola, Fla. at the age of eight. He began rapping as a means to express his ideas on the many issues he witnessed growing up. “My mother was really poor and as a kid a lot of times we weren’t sure if we could afford enough to eat. We were always about one paycheck away from living under a bridge. Some days I’d see cops abusing suspects and on others I’d see street criminals shooting at cops. Through rap I found a way to express my views on these things.”

When he was eighteen, Shadowyze launched his hip-hop career in 1989 when his group, Posse In Effect, released the official theme song “Knock em out the Ring Roy” recorded for then Olympic boxing Silver Medalist Roy Jones Jr. This song received strong support on regional radio as well as NBC Sportsworld. But the big turning point in his career came after spending ten weeks in Central and South America and Mexico in 1998 where Shadowyze witnessed the cruelty of the “low intensity war,” military oppression and poverty imposed upon the Mayan Indian population in Chiapas, Mexico. This life lesson inspired him to speak out and compose his 1999 multi-single Murder in Our Backyard which received a lot of media attention and an endorsement from Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams of Ireland.

In addition to the music Shadowyze delivered on this subject, he also involved himself directly by assisting Ricky Long with his Mayan Indian Relief Fund, taking supplies of clothing, books and medicines to the Indians in Chiapas Mexico where Shadowyze was called Corazon de los Zapatistas or Zapatista’s Heart.

Many publications vigorously supported Shadowyze during this point in his career by running stories on his causes and endeavors. By 1999 Shadowyze was featured in such international Native American Centered periodicals as Native Peoples, Aboriginal Voices, Whispering Wind, News from Indian Country and Talking Stick as well as magazines focused in the musical world such as the underground hip-hop magazine; Insomniac, Word Up and Trace.

In the United States Shadowyze has spoken on Native American issues and performed his music on many reservations including Poarch Creek in Alabama, Big Cypress Seminole Res. in Florida, Shennicock in Long Island, The Pueblos of New Mexico and others. But his experience is by no means limited to domestic affairs. As a performer Shadowyze has appeared in Germany and at the Montrose Jazz Fest in Switzerland and his anthropological callings have led him to visit several different Indian communities in Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Belize and Guatemala.

Shadowyze sums up his experiences with this description; “Even though there is a lot of poverty and despair in some of the areas I’ve been to, it never brings me down. I see a lot of great accomplishments made by Natives throughout the world. It’s really very inspiring to see how many of the communities have adapted to their current surroundings often for the betterment of their societies. And far back in the jungles I’ve gained a lot of insight from experiencing their ancient ways of life. It’s like seeing how my own people lived just a few centuries ago.”

Since his musical career has taken off with Murder In Our Backyard, Shadowyze has appeared on over a dozen compilations and released three full length albums; Spirit Warrior (2001), World of Illusions (2003), and his current 2005 release; the self-titled Shadowyze. This newest album features such respectable names in the music business as platinum Latino recording artist Baby Bash, and the production wizardry of Nashville’s DJ Dev of Devastating Music; production engineer of the triple platinum selling album 400 degrees by Juvenile.

2005 was a good year for the 33-year-old artist. Shadowyze won both the Native American Music Awards and the Pensacola, Florida Music Awards for best hip-hop and has been the focus of several stories appearing in Rolling Stone, Vibe, XXL, Billboard, New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Through Backbone, Records; Shadowyze’s personally owned and operated record company he also released Guerillas in the Mixx, a compilation in cooperation with Big Lo featuring Public Enemy, The Coup, Michael Franti, Spearhead, Afrika and Litefoot. For 2006, there are plans for the production of several compilations including Dirty South Radio and The Best of Florida Hip Hop vol. 1 that promise to be more insightful glimpses of a mixture of funk-driven rhythms and enlightening lyricism.

Though Shadowyze is always the musical businessman, his humanitarian side is never stifled. Recently Shadowyze has attracted national attention once again by helping to organize and coordinate a Hurricane Katrina relief effort delivering several thousands of dollars worth of supplies to the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi. This reservation was ravaged by the great storm and the people have gone mostly unnoticed by the media. Shadowyze explained the frustrations he felt that encouraged him to organize this effort; “While there were TV commercials asking for relief efforts to go to the abandoned house pets in New Orleans, the Choctaws in Mississippi were going hungry.” In fact the load of supplies personally delivered by Shadowyze was the first, large, independent delivery the Choctaws of Philadelphia received.

Shadowyze is not the typical Grammy-nominated hip-hop celebrity. With one foot in the music industry and the other in indigenous socio-political activism, Shadowyze has established himself in a world much richer than the standard glamorization of sex, drugs and violence. Not only does he orate on the social issues he is impassioned to inform the public of, but he has also been a first hand witness to many of them. Well traveled, well rounded and gifted with the ability to poeticize nearly any idea that comes to his mind, Shadowyze is quite animate and enthusiastic when he describes his thoughts. As a spokesman for unity, Native American identity and environmental respect, Shadowyze and the subjects he brings to the table have caught the attention of countless fans seeking music with a message even-deeper than the bass that bumps in their rides.

Native Tribalism In The Twenty-First Century

nativepride4In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries “Family Values” have been at the forefront of many a politician’s rhetoric in the United States.  Though these social servants may think that they mean well, in truth they often have done and do more to hinder family values than they do to help.  Indigenous family values have been steadily attacked for the greater span of history, often by the goals and aims of the capitalist mainstream of American and Western society through the colonial process.  It is through this process of colonialism and the perpetuation of the values inherent in this philosophy of conquest and assimilation that has brought the plague of impoverished, powerless families in crises to the world.  Indigenous peoples in general have always been the primary targets of these acts of aggression against family values, and since the close of the fifteenth century, Native Americans have been the victims of this war on the family.  As an Indian and a Stomp Dancer at a traditional ceremonial grounds I have some close ties to this subject as I have witnessed first hand some of the destructive policies of the government in these matters which have long standing and far reaching consequences for people of all races.


Traditionally Native Americans have lived in social organizations that anthropologists and sociologists have called bands and tribes.  As Andre Cherlin points out;

Before the twentieth century, kinship ties provided the basis for governing most American Indian tribes.  A person’s household was linked to a larger group of relatives who might be a branch of a matrilineal or patrilineal clan [→p38] that shared power with other clans. Thus kinship organization was also political organization.  Under these circumstances, extended kinship ties reflected power and status to a much greater extent than among other racial ethnic groups in the United States.  American Indian kinship systems allowed individuals to have more relatives, than did Western European kinship systems (Shoemaker, 1991).  Even today, extended family ties retain a significance for American Indians that goes beyond the sharing of resources that has been noted among other groups (Harjo,1993).  Kinship networks constitute tribal organization; kinship ties confer an identity.[1]

Vine Deloria Jr., renowned Native American author and former Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians develops the idea further into more practical detail;

Indian tribes have always had two basic internal strengths, which can also be seen in corporations: customs and clans.  Tribes are not simply composed of Indians.  They are highly organized as clans, within which variations of tribal traditions and customs govern.  While the tribe makes decisions on general affairs, clans handle specific problems.  Trivia is thus kept out of tribal affairs by referring it to clan solutions.

Customs rise as clans rise to meet problems and solve them.  They overflow from the clan into general tribal usage as their capability and validity are recognized.  Thus a custom can spread from a minor clan to the tribe as a whole and prove to be a significant basis for tribal behavior.  In the same manner, methods and techniques found useful in one phase of corporate existence can become standard operating procedure for an entire corporation.[2]

However, this tribal structure has never suited the palate of Western colonialism which seeks to consolidate its power and authority over national as well as individual resources.  The socialistic and communal nature of Native tribalism in America is in exact opposition to the nuclear family oriented and discriminating values of Western colonialism.


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After four hundred years of struggling against the effects of colonialism; disease, wars and genocide the last free Indians in North America were forced onto reservations in1886 when Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apaches surrendered at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona.  As soon as the federal government was convinced they had rounded up all the Indians, they forced Native communities to be defined by a set standard of perceived genetics in an attempt to undermine the integrity of the Indian tribal structure.  By applying blood standards to Native Identity the federal government alienated and further factionalized Native families and communities which were often genetically mixed, while also limiting their contemporary as well as future claims to Indigenous identity and sovereignty.  Ward Churchill, professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder says;

In clinging insistently to a variation of eugenics formulation — dubbed “blood-quantum” – ushered in by the 1887 General Allotment Act, while implementing such policies as the Federal Indian Relocation Program (1956-1982), the government has set the stage for a “statistical extermination” of the indigenous population within its borders.  As the noted western historian, Patricia Nelson Limerick, has observed: “Set the blood-quantum at one quarter, hold to it as a rigid definition of Indians, let intermarriage proceed…and eventually Indians will be defined out of existence.  When that happens, the federal government will finally be freed from its persistent ‘Indian Problem’.”[3]

Though portrayed as a means of preserving tribal identity and interests, the blood quantum standards of the General Allotment Act have in fact only served to undermine tribal integrity.

Today tribal membership is determined on quite a legalistic basis, which is foreign to the accustomed tribal way of determining its constituency.  The property interests of descendants of the original enrollees or allotees have become determining factors in compiling tribal membership rolls.  People of small Indian blood quantum or those descended from people who were tribal members a century ago, are thus included on the tribal membership roll. Tribes can no longer form and reform on sociological, religious, or cultural bases.  They are restricted in membership by federal officials responsible for administering trust properties who demand that the rights of every person be respected and whether or not that person presently appears in an active and recognized role in the tribal community.  Indian tribal membership today is a fiction created by the federal government, not a creation of the Indian people themselves.[4]

Throughout the years that followed, interaction between the United States government and Native peoples the federal policy has been one of either complete destruction or dissolution of the tribal structure.  Less than half a century after the last Indian wars the United States government began investigating ways to rid themselves of the impoverished, unified family-based communities surviving off of federal commodities, hopefully this time, without having to shoot anybody.

In 1947, in order to save funds and gain stronger control over tribal reservation lands, Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Zimmerman was pressured to classify Indian Tribes into categories between those tribes that could be immediately terminated from federal service and those tribes who will require a decade or more of intensified programs of development in order to reach a level of assimilation to function within white society.  In 1950 the House Internal Committee based their survey of Indians on The Domesday Survey of 1086 as the model for their investigation on Indian affairs and economic assets.  The Domesday Survey was William the Conqueror’s survey of his recently conquered British territory and subjects nearly a thousand years earlier. The committee’s intention was to expedite the assimilation of Native Americans and the dissolution of their tribal structure, the indigenous family value.  The following years between 1954 –1968 were full of Congressional cases of tribal termination.[5]

Native American communities have continuously been treated more as conquered prisoners to be assimilated rather than American citizens effectively trivializing them as human beings.  While federal policy has tended to always be aimed toward unraveling the tribal structure in order to dissolve Native sovereignty all together, the media and non-indigenous society typically portray Indians in historical romance rather than in contemporary settings; showing Natives dealing with our modern day colonialism.  This lack of accurate portrayal of Natives has served to keep the general populace ignorant and uninformed regarding much of the truth regarding Native America.  Churchill again brings the issue into focus by explaining;

Nothing, perhaps, is more emblematic of Hollywood’s visual pageantry than scenes of Plains Indian warriors astride their galloping ponies, many of them trailing a flowing headdress in the wind, thundering into battle against the blue-coated troops of the United States.  By, now more than 500 feature films and half again as many television productions have included representations of this sort.  We have been served such fare along with the tipi, the buffalo hunt, the attack upon the wagon train and the ambush of the stage coach, until they have become so indelibly imprinted upon the American consciousness as to be synonymous with Indians as a whole (to nonindians at any rate and, to many native people as well).

It’s not the technical inaccuracies in such representations that are the most problematic, although these are usually many and often extreme.  Rather, it is the fact that the period embodied in such depictions spans the barely three decades running from 1850 to 1880, the interval of warfare between the various plains people and the ever encroaching soldiers and settlers of the United States.  There is no “before” to the story and there is no “after.”  Cinematic Indians have no history before Euroamericans come along to momentarily imbue them with it, and then, mysteriously, they seem to pass out of existence altogether.”[6]

It is for these reasons that both of the United States ethnic majorities, both black and white tend to misunderstand, misrepresent, not care or consider issues of native sovereignty and the integrity of the tribal structure to be a joke.  As far as most Americans are concerned Native tribalism and sovereignty does little more than stimulate the imagination.  The most support and understanding or sympathizing with Native family struggles outside of Native America arises in the Mexican and Latino population who tend to feel some kinship with Indians.  Native political concerns do not translate well across ethnic boundaries.  Unlike issues between black and white, which tend to be focused on integration, equal opportunity and employment, few ethnic groups in the United States can identify with modern conflicts over Reservation sovereignty, treaty violations, the right to ethnic self-identification and to maintain self-governance.  As Deloria explains it;

The closest parallel that we find in history to the present conditions of Indians is the Diaspora of the Jews following the destruction of the Temple … The Indian exile is in a sense more drastic.  The people often live less than a hundred miles away from their traditional homelands; yet in the relative complexities of reservation and urban life, they might be two-thousand or more years apart.  It’s not simply a special separation that has occurred but a temporal one as well.[7]

In less than five hundred years once powerful and highly specialized family oriented nations were reduced to ‘fourth world’ poverty .

NATIVE AMERICANS, or American Indians, suffer some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment among racial minority groups in the United States, and conditions are even worse on Native American reservations. In 1989, 27.2 percent of Native American families lived below the poverty level while 10 percent of all American families fell into this category (U.S Bureau of the Census 1990a, Table 112). The 1989 Native American family median income was $21,619, only 67 percent of the average family median income for the total U.S. population (ibid). Census Bureau estimates of Native American unemployment rates across selected reservations in 1990 vary from 14 percent to 44 percent (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1990b, Summary Tape File 3c). The Bureau of Indian Affairs reports even higher unemployment rates for these areas, estimating rates as high as 70 percent for some reservations (Stuart 1987). Both series place reservation unemployment rates far above average rates for other races or regions.[8]

Indian tribes have been located to lands, splintered, relocated to other places and then relocated again whenever they begin to show a little too much organizational and political aptitude or when valuable resources are found on tribal lands.  Native Americans are continually losing their cultures and identity through tribal dissolution and general neglect of our current political and social obstacles by the media.  The loss of land and sovereignty is continuing to cripple the societies and render the individuals as little more than impoverished peoples and blood quantum standards encourage factionalism and disintegration by forcing mixed blood cousins off of tribal rolls.

The poor treatment and misrepresentation of social issues of Indigenous peoples by the colonial governments and their respective media sets a bad precedent for other nations.  When the world’s Indigenous peoples are oppressed and maltreated on the land that is rightfully their own then the individuals within the colonial society themselves are subject to similar or worse treatment by their own governments.  When a people whose historic and ethnic, social and religious claim to a land is undermined and effectively nullified, no one can expect to have land rights or social and religious freedom without government interference.

Native American tribalism has been an issue of trivia for western society for the past five hundred years.  The colonial structure has shunned it and counterculturalists have imitated it in their defiance of their corporate culture yet, this is perhaps the most misunderstood, misrepresented and misconstrued aspect of “Indianess.”  The Tribal structure of Indigenous people is the backbone of human culture from its roots to its leaves, but oddly enough this truest aspect of human nature has been enduring a wholesale eradication in the name of progress.  The most unfortunate aspect of this dilemma just may be the total alienation of westernized society from its indigenous roots, its true family nature.

It would do Western societies good to pay heed to indigenous ideas and views.  The world’s nations will likely never come to any justice in social reform if they do not reconsider their modern colonial perspective and come to grips with their indigenous roots.

[1] Cherlin, Adrew J., Public and Private Families, McGraw-Hill Higher Education Publishing, 2005, pg 22

[2] Deloria Jr, Vine, Custer Died For Your Sins, Macmillian Publishing, New York, 1988, pg 232

[3] Churchill, Ward, Indians Are Us, Culture and Genocide in Native North America, Common Courage Press, 1994, pg 42

[4] Deloria Jr, Vine, God Is Red, a Native View of Religion, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, 1994 pg 243

[5] Deloria Jr, Vine, Custer Died For Your Sins, Macmillian Publishing, New York, 1988, pg 60

[6] Churchill, Ward, Acts of Rebellion, the Ward Churchill Reader, Routledge, New York, 2003, pg 186

[7] Deloria Jr, Vine, God Is Red, a Native View of Religion, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, pg 249

[8] Geib, Elizabeth Zahrt, Do Reservation Native Americans Vote with Their Feet? A Re-examination of Native American Migration, 1985-1990 – Focus on Economic Sociology American Journal of Economics and Sociology, The, Oct, 2001

Mass Media’s Effect on Anthropology, Nationalism and Native Awareness

Modern anthropological studies are placing an ever growing amount of importance on mass media.  This interest came about in large part as a reaction to the up rise of nationalism leading up to World War II, and the growth of mass communication and media.  Since that time anthropology has shifted from the mere study of indigenous cultures into the study of nations, states, political ideologies, institutions, and all the instruments of nationalism.

1980s and World MusicAs the twentieth century came to a close the undeniable influence of mass media upon society and nationalism has made it a subject of great interest to anthropologists and Native communities alike.  Anthropologists have begun to utilize the tools of mass media to further education and understanding across national and cultural lines. More significantly, access to mass media by Native populations has allowed for them to represent themselves through the dissemination of music, art and literature of their own designs independent of the anthropological disciplines.  The knowledge, and primary sources that have historically been imparted through the discipline of anthropology can now be accessible to everyone and is no longer confined to universities and their text books.

Anthropologist Francisco Osorio of the University of Chile in his paper “Why Is Interest in Mass Media Anthropology Growing?” points out that both Anthropology and mass media “… have a common starting point in World War II.”  Since the 1980’s which Osorio marks as the beginning of Modernity within anthropological studies, the study of mass media has been the focus along with science, capitalism and consumption.

The late 1980’s also bore the broad musical category “World Music” which has proven to be a lucrative commercial interest, as well as a strong medium to foster cross-cultural communication and a more profound interest in the social sciences.

World music is a broad genre that encompasses nationalist and regional music from all around the world.  Most often it represents the musical styles of communities that in previous decades would only be heard by outsiders while on vacation, a safari or an anthropological field study.  Styles such as Reggae, Blues, Celtic Music and Powwow drums represent just a small yet broad variation of the World Music genre.  According to Carsten Wergan in “World Music: a medium for unity and difference?” World Music is often intended to communicate the identity of its regional culture to the outside world, to educate each other about their respective cultures through the medium of music.  This has been successful through investments in quality production and mass distribution.   It is by its nature a means to arouse an “anthropological” interest in its listeners.

Native Americans Take Control of Mass Media

In the past, when mass media was more restricted to an elite few, Native peoples were usually portrayed in the basest forms as stereotyped images of their cultures.  But as mass distribution, through networks of independent record labels and the internet has become more accessible to every person, Native Musicians have begun to emerge from their formerly obscure shadows in the mass consciousness of Western society.

In 1989 Tom Bee formed Sound of America Records (SOAR) with the intention of distributing music made by Native Americans. According to his bio; “In 1995, Bee formed yet another company, SOAR Distribution LTD for the sole purpose of providing his clients with one-stop music from other independent labels and artists also producing Native American music.”  Tom Bee was also the driving force behind convincing NARAS to create a Native American Grammy category*.  Tom Bee has been such a significant influence and positive impact on Native American music that he has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, none the least are the Native American Music Awards (Nammy) for Producer of the Year in 1998 and the NAMMY’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.  He was awarded a Grammy in 2004 for production of “Flying Free” by Black Eagle.  Bee was also recognized for his many successes and his positive impact on native music when Mayor Martin Chavez of Albuquerque, New Mexico proclaimed July 27th, 2002 “Tom Bee Day.”

Tom Bee helped open the door and now Natives of various stripes have found their methods through more commercial avenues of music such as hip hop, rock and roll and alternative music to use mass media as a way to further the cause of their national identities and to demonstrate how corporate interests impact their lives.  Shadowyze whose first album release was produced by Tom Bee uses South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation as the backdrop for the Native American Hip Hop video “BUMPY ROADS,” which conveys the struggles and obstacles of living in a lower economic bracket – something that truly does cross ethnic boundaries – but in the very culturally specific setting of a Lakota reservation.  In this manner artists like Shadowyze, Litefoot and John Trudell have learned to use this medium of music to convey social messages and bridge cultural gaps, helping to portray the values and economic situation of indigenous cultures more accurately.



The Internet Provides a Higher Standard of Cultural Accuracy

The democratization of the internet changed everything in the media.  Websites and blogs are created for little or no cost.  Webmasters can form groups like the old webrings with similar interests and purposes linking to each other, creating a network accessible to the general public.  Native communities have been using the internet to reach out to the world and enlighten them within the comfort of their own living room.  Anthropological oriented sites such as media-anthropology.net or korubo.com are also easily accessed by thousands and potentially millions of people to provide education about indigenous concerns.  Now the internet phenomenon has taken on a new shape with social media like facebook and twitter.  Artists and musicians have free access to their own promotional site, and now unique, cultural and traditional music can be accessed by millions through their computer screen.  These sites are also being more directly utilized to further the education of anthropological studies as groups such as the Amazon Conservation Team, founded by the renowned ethno-botanist Dr. Mark Plotkin sign up and seek “friends” with whom to network.  It seems as technology advances pop culture, more accessible avenues are opened up for advancement in cultural awareness.

As this trend continues and people of different cultures become more aware and knowledgeable about other societies, a higher standard of cultural accuracy in the media increases.  Fewer people are accepting the disingenuous images of the stereotyped savage that has been perpetuated for centuries in American cinema as more Americans become aware of different cultures through the easily accessible mass produced media and the internet.  In this setting all people including Natives can use their own words, music and art to express their own values and views.

A New Era of Media is a New Era of Education

In previous decades anthropological resources could only be accessed through stodgy old books in expensive centers of education.  Many of the experiences that were once confined to anthropological field work and class study can now be accessed by the whole of society through the faculties of mass media.  As society gains more access to and education of anthropological experience through the media it becomes more sophisticated by its exposure to the disciplines theories.  The ability to use film, music and internet capabilities allows people to potentially reach audiences in the millions.  This is quite a difference compared to the mere hundreds that were previously fortunate enough to have contact with the books published and disseminated mostly within the confines of a university.

In the present era Anthropology does not have to be limited to text books.  As mass communication helped bear nationalism in the twentieth century, anthropological theory became more concerned with national faculties such as the media.  In the post-Vietnam War era United States mass distribution of music and video provided the means for an upsurge in nationalistic and culturally specific genres of music now called World Music to have a more international audience.  With the sophistication of technology through the beginning of the twenty-first century and the advent of the internet, the music and arts of the diverse peoples of the Earth can be accessed by each other respectively with the click of a button or the flip of a switch.  The old books of anthropological theories are no longer the sole guide to cultural awareness.  We may for the first time in history be at a point where cross cultural rapport can be achieved on a massive scale through the free access of media throughout the globe.

*discontinued in 2012