Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Traditions Matter

Siksika ( Blackfoot )

I am always a bit uncomfortable using Native American names or symbols in things I do. Even though there is blood on my fathers side ( Cherokee, Blackfoot ), and recent document show strong evidence that I had an ancester that was a Cherokee chief during the Trail of Tears, I don't want to trivialize a people or our deep history.  I haven't lived my life defining myself as Indian. I don't think I deserve that. I found evidence of our ancestry when I was 17 or so.  None of my fathers family is around any more, and the ones that were when I was younger, never spoke of it. In the south, being mixed blood at the time wasn't something to be proud of sadly. It was a shocker to learn, but made me proud and wanted to know more. I joined AIM and I've been donating to Indian causes ever since.

This article on the trial regarding the death of  some people during a new age version of a sweat lodge sums up feelings regarding the hijacking and trivializing of a culture. 


But Floyd "Looks for Buffalo" Hand, 71, doesn't care about the traditions of others. He's worried about the sweats that seem blatantly modeled after his people's practices.
A member of the Oglala Lakota Delegation of the Black Hills Sioux Nation, he was among the plaintiffs listed in the now-dismissed complaint against Ray. A grandson of Chief Red Cloud and a descendant of the Crazy Horse Band, he was reached at his home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where he has lived his whole life.
"I sat back two weeks watching the news (about Ray's sweat lodge incident), waiting for another tribe or individual to say something because they violated the way of life of the Lakota people," he says. "It is a way of life, our language, our custom, our culture. It's the way we live."
Adding insult, he says, was how Ray benefited, "making over $500,000 off of our way of life," charging for what is sacred.
This disbelief and frustration spans generations.
Autumn Two Bulls, 29, also lives on Pine Ridge, and just thinking about the dream catchers that hang in trendy gift shops, the non-Native Americans who make money off her people's artifacts, makes her cry "rape."
"Haven't native people been through enough?" says Two Bulls, a writer who created Reservation H.E.L.P. (Helping Every Lakota Person), an organization to help impoverished families.
"It's a fad to be Indian today. … They envision us like a fantasy culture," but the harsh reality is one they helped create and won't face, she suggests.
She says this from her reservation, where there's 80 percent unemployment, suicide rates are reportedly 300 percent higher than the national average and alcoholism ravages her community. Two Bulls says she was 18 when her mother died in her arms from cirrhosis.
"In America, you are an individual. You can be whatever you want to be. When you're Lakota, we belong to each other. So when you take our way of life and put a price tag on it, you're asking for death, you're asking for something to happen to you."
It's not that she believes anyone deserved to die in Ray's sweat lodge; they were victims of his "wannabe" ways, of his playing with a tradition that wasn't his to claim, she says.
"But honestly, I think the spirits went and did something there," Two Bulls says. "He has taken the deaths of our ancestors, the slaughtering of our babies, and he sold it. And it came back on him and killed those people."

Article HERE

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