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Monday, September 15, 2008

K'é: Validity and Recognition

Proposition 8 reads: ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT. Changes California Constitution to eliminate right of same-sex couples to marry. Provides that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

If Prop. 8 passes we—people— will be denied the right to accept legal responsibility for one another. We—people—will also be allowed to side step our obligation to acknowledge the full scope of each other's humanity—and consequently a full expression.

Hiding and denying who you are and who you love results in fear, indignity, degradation, self hatred, shame and self destruction, for those hiding as well as for those whom require that deception .

There are many issues involved in this proposition: legal protections, financial protections, real and powerful class issues and some will argue largely in those terms. If marriage is a contract then any two parties should be able to enter into that contract, the same contract, not a modified and watered down lesser contract (civil unions/domestic partnerships), but the charge of homosexuality changes the very nature of the contract, for some, and these are my thoughts as to why.

"My name is Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you."

These are the first words of what has come to be known as Harvey's Hope Speech. He continues: "Like every other group, we must be judged by our leaders and by those who are themselves gay, those who are visible. For invisible, we remain in limbo—a myth, a person with no parents, no brothers, no sisters, no friends who are straight, no important positions in employment. . .The only thing they [young gay people] have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be alright. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give up."

Harvey asked people to examine the inequities around them and to assume a personal responsibility for righting them. I am asking the same, that each of us personally address hunger, poverty, illness, loneliness and isolation. In short, that we address our relationships to each individual around us—in our homes, our neighborhoods and our work places.

The people of this land, each had an intricate system for assessing relations and proper behavior between individuals. This knowledge was organized in a kinship system. Some of us have our kinship systems intact, and some show the strong bruising of colonialism (ie., the recent passage of the Diné Marriage Act of 2004). The early colonials exchanged their own kinship systems for a social contract protecting them and their property from one another. They also set about destroying the kinship systems of the Indigenous nations they came in contact with and required all subsequent immigrants to relinquish their ties home. Outsiders, virtually unknown to each other, they agreed on a set of laws providing what they saw as essential safeguards and ensuring their safety in this land where they were strangers. Today we all face the legacy of their estrangement.

Our traditional kinship system provides us with a set of ideals, which we aim our lives toward as well as a set of parameters delineating what is acceptable behavior, and what emphatically is not. Any severance between kin, the generations and ancestral/traditional knowledge leaves people vulnerable. Severed relations leave everyone isolated and disorientated. If we are left only with consumption and wealth accumulation as a means of addressing that isolation and dislocation we will perish.

These are the same issues the early settlers faced; all immigrants face them when they are forced to assume an assimilated position as a U.S. Citizen. First Nations communities, Indians, know this story. We've fought absorption in the United States and continue to fight for our autonomy today. Standing Bear, the great Ponca chief, went to the U.S. Supreme court simply to be recognized as "a man" defined by U. S. law. In exchange for his rights as an individual of consequence he was forced to relinquish his membership in and rights as a Ponca.

We as First Nations have refused to give up our conception of ourselves, our place in this world and our expression of our unique humanity. We have seen considerable success and considerable failure from ourselves, our leaders and our nations, but we fight. Today, we do not surrender.

As every parent, Aunt or Uncle knows, life cannot be a series of what a child cannot do, but must be an overflowing experience of what they can do and consequently who they are.

A world that votes NO on Proposition 8 asks you to know me and to relate to me as a human being.

Our K'é system places us very specifically within a very large and complex system of relationships—earth to sky, mother to child—and requires us to have a strong grasp of the fundamental workings of those relationships, physically and metaphysically. Laws serve notice to a community. They are declarations of acceptable behavior. As declarations they shape the way we act toward each other, intimately. K'é is Navajo Law. Failure to comply with a law bears consequence. Sometimes those consequences are punishments administered by the state, but more often than not they are social and the state simply exacts those punishments because it knows it can. On some level the public agrees.

Laws stand because enough people agree to their validity and accept the shape they provide. Just as hunger, poverty, illness, loneliness and isolation exist because people accept their presence, either as a necessary tool to motivate "the masses" or because somehow and for some reason those afflicted deserve their afflictions—as well as bear sole responsibility for those afflictions.

Every position in a society is a result of negotiation and agreement, and a consequence of shared responsibility, whether that fact is acknowledged or not.

Oppression happens when we fail to recognize each other's humanity and "I am like you" is twisted into "you are not."

San Francisco was the first city to permanently recognize the gay victims of the Nazis. At the intersection of Castro, Market and Upper 17th Streets, facing the Harvey Milk Plaza stand 15 granite pylons, placed in remembrance of the estimated 15,000 gays who were incarcerated, castrated or killed during and subsequent to the Nazi regime. Together the pylons form one large triangle set on the hill among pink rocks, forming another triangle, and a small walkway and garden. Artists Robert Bruce and Susan Martin were commissioned by the Eureka Valley Promotion Association to design the monument. Their hope for people who come to the Pink Triangle Park and Memorial, is that they: "Respect each other as this sculpture respects the site. Contemplate the softness of the plants and the firmness of the granite. Locate the softness and the firmness within themselves. Remember that gay men wore pink triangles, lesbians wore black triangles, gypsies wore brown triangles, Poles wore blue triangles, social democrats and other political prisoners wore red triangles, and Jews wore yellow stars. [And] Think about how persecution of any individual or single group of people damages all humanity."

Respect. Contemplate. Locate. Remember. Think.

We, the Diné, are taught to address each other by relational terms: my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my daughter, my son, my spouse/companion. When we lapse into personal names it indicates a change in feeling, a lack of respect, a distance that can only be described as "I no longer care for you." More than being out of favor, being called by a personal name, indicates a very serious loss of position, equivalent to "I don't know you."

Our relational terms manifest as well as illuminate the inextricable link between knowing and caring for each other. Relational terms recognize not only who a person is, but that a person is—connecting their soul to yours, whether closely or at a distance, acknowledging as well as celebrating that connection. Relational terms declare to yourself and to others that your births, your origins, your destinies and fates are intertwined by the precise nature of those entanglements.

Monday, September 1, 2008

For Future Reference: September 11 is My Grandmother's Birthday

Lines from here to there are drawn every day. Together we agree to their integrity and meaning. Together we maintain their placement on the land or within our soul. Tying one thing to another requires resources and cooperation. People draw lines every day, and as firmly as they divide us they join us.

We don't always admit how concretely and firmly those ties bind us—one to another like the fixed utility networks (waterworks, electrical utilities and cable television lines) that unite our homes and workspaces. These ties are less open to denial, easier to recognize and acknowledge: open a faucet, turn on a light, use a computer or cable television. Their physical reality undercuts the American mythology and obsession with absolute freedom and individuality—in contrast, phrases, holidays and symbols are more easily masked in the drag of universality and truth. Even less tangible but equally as powerful are popular and ceremonial narratives, like 9/11.

When does the four directions become a cross?
When does corn become a cash crop?

We are supposed to believe many things.

When I was young we sang, "Jesus loves me, yes I know, because The Bible tells me so. . ." TV had a button and we pushed it off or pulled it on. More often then not I was "working" with my Grandmother, following her around from place to place, picking up our box of food, or dropping off our box of Leis. Living her life, my life was a part of the pattern. At night we embroidered and once in bed she told stories, some from the prayer book and others from some place she kept to herself.

There are definitive moments in my life; her birth is one.

Today we are supposed to believe.

9/11 marked a unique moment in time, a cataclysmic break in the land, a unique and unprecedented letting of blood and loss of life. The end of the national innocence maintained by the idea that the United States has never been subject to foreign war within the contiguous 48. This moment and those who lost their lives in consequence have been used to shape a sense of who we are and who we can become.

Every birth and every death has meaning and results in a changed perspective.

Some take these changes for granted.

Meaning, like fast food and coffee, is produced and consumed in mass quantities. The power of franchise is its commitment to producing an unchanging product in an recognizable package. National news, coffee and celebrity networks are largely a single linked advertisement, played in an endless loop. Flip the rock over and I'm not sure what colonial maggot is underneath: poverty, hate or environmental destruction.

9/11 has become the new "shot heard round the world," labeled as a point of departure, serving as a moment of severance, defining a before and an after. Saying we no longer are who we are. That was then and this is now, a pre, a post, an undeniable change in the way things are and have been. The America that was is no longer. The America that is: victim, vulnerable, innocent. One grain of sand in the oyster's shell, 9/11 has been cultivated into the pearl of national outrage and mourning.

Those twin emotions of hate and despair motivate and disorient even the strongest and most firmly grounded.

Never forget: In 1837 it is estimated that small pox killed 7/8 of the Mandan (leaving only 23 men, 40 women, and 60-70 young) and nearly half of the Arikara and Hidatsa. In 1864, over 8,354 Navajo were interred at Hweldi. The sick, old, and young who died during The Long Walk were left on the road and remain uncounted. In the Vietnam War, during Operation Rolling Thunder, Mr. Mc Namara (United States Defense Secretary) estimated that bombing campaign over North Vietnam killed 1,000 civilians a week, roughly equivalent to more than one 9/11 a month, for 44 months.

Traditional life requires continuity. Lineage. Stories. September 11 will always be, for me, my Grandmother's birthday. Her life places each of us into something ancient.

I write these words on the eve of the Harvest Dance at Sky City, Acoma Pueblo.

Acoma has no running water, no electricity, and their matriarchal homes are still made of the surrounding sandstone, straw and gypsum. The Acoma people have maintained continuous residence at the place that was prepared for them, Sky City. They still care for and restore their family homes. They protect themselves by guarding their way of life. They've stood face to face with the Spanish Conquistador, the Catholic Friar and the Mexican Government. They stand, today, face to face with American colonials and tourists. They speak the Keresan language. Once they learned Spanish. Now they learn English and Keresan. As a Pueblo they survived carring 30 foot beams, on foot, the 30 miles from Mt. Taylor to build the San Esteban Del Rey Mission and today they own and operate the Haak'u Museum at the base of Sky City.

Even the shortest visit to Acoma Pueblo reveals the power of which events you choose to remember and the significance of how you remember them. Like Silko's Man To Send Rain Clouds they've maintained their traditions and traditional lives by absorbing the world into the fabric of their existence, speaking their language, dancing their dances, protecting their social and ceremonial spaces—maintaining their line from here to there and when a break occurs they repair it.

About Me

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I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.