"The White Man makes us forget our holy places. He makes us small."
-D'Arcy McNickle, Wind From An Enemy Sky
Mexico and the United States of America signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo on February 2, 1848, ending the Mexican American War. Mexico exchanged over 1.2 million square territorial miles (land that is now claimed by the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California) for 15 million dollars and additional considerations, namely citizenship, Spanish language and land rights for Mexican citizens and their Spanish speaking descendants. The United States acted decisively and quickly in respect to their new found land wealth, the only obstacle being the Indians.
Indians have always been a problem for the United States and Mexico. The problem being, unequivocally, who we are as a People, our concepts of the world and our understandings of our place within it.
In Nations Within, Vine Deloria Jr., clarifies this concept: "In almost every treaty. . .the concern of the Indians was the preservation of the people. . .The idea of the people is primarily a religious conception, and with most American Indian tribes it begins somewhere in the primordial mists. . . because the tribes understood their place in the universe as one given specifically to them. . .a council to remind the People of their sacred obligations to the cosmos and to themselves, was sufficient for most purposes. The tribes needed no other form of government except the gentle reminder by elders of the tribe when the people were assembled to maintain their institutions."
The solution to the problem of us has also remained the same: extinguish our spiritual title, traditional knowledge, and physical occupation of our homelands through war.
In 1864 Christopher "Kit" Carson was recruited to finally and definitively subdue every Navajo who stood in the way of United States and New Mexican settlement and occupation. In a letter dated, Jan 24, 1864 he wrote:
"They [Navajos] declare that owning to the operations of my command they are in a complete state of starvation, and that many of their women and children have already died from this cause. . .I sent the party to return through the Cañon [Tséyi'] from west to east, that all the Peach Orchards, of which there were many, might be destroyed, as well as the dwellings of the Indians. . .but it is to the ulterior effects of the 'Expedition' that I look for the greatest results. We have shown the Indians that in no place, however formidable or inaccessible, in their opinion, are they safe from the pursuit of the troops of this command; and have convinced a large portion of them that the struggle on their part is a hopeless one."
The United States desires our absorption into America— by means of violent and absolute dissolution. Full assimilation as citizens (English speaking mass consumers) in exchange for the territory of our souls as well as our homelands is the only option afforded us. Even when we are granted nominal or ceremonial management of our souls and lands (via such acts as the IRA of 1934) the terms are clear and unforgiving.
We, across all first nations, have been and continue to be punished for who we are, what we believe and how we propose to live on our own homelands. Those punishments have historically taken place in military, religious and educational arenas (Wounded Knee 1 and 2, The Long Walk, The California Mission System, the persecution of Carrie and Mary Dann, Western Shoshone sisters, and the boarding and vocational school system). Regardless of the terrain the enemy has remained the same: landed cultures and landed peoples whose world and life practice are most usually defined as traditional.
When the United States burned our peach orchards and cornfields, and slaughtered our sheep (during the livestock reduction period) their message to us as Navajo and to all first nations was simple: you cannot remain alive if you continue to be who you are. You can join the regular citizenry or you can die. America can afford her Indians but she cannot abide the Diné Nation.
The United States makes some believe they are weak and they have no choice, it promotes a relentless force that acknowledges nothing and no one outside its terms or agenda, claiming that your best defense is to find a way to make the best of a bad situation, and live with what it claims are a series of inevitabilities.
Never has it been practical or realistic to be Indian, and certainly it is not today. Punishment of traditional peoples who live traditional life ways are largely economic. There are many areas we do not have legal access to (The Black Hills, The San Francisco Peaks, LA City and County) but my concern today, on the eve of the anniversary of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo, is our use of money.
Tribal language speakers know that traditional culture requires tribal language. The best way to create and maintain language immersion is to live in traditional culture. Living traditional culture often feels economically impossible—every one will tell you that, over and over. During the best of times it is a fiscal challenge on the books of our nations and in our individual pockets.
Our trade networks once ruled this land. People and goods moved in the four directions, forming alliances, families and enriching individual cultures without jeopardizing our identities. These networks were shaped and built on honor and responsibility. Goods were expected to be well made, raw materials were expected to be of high quality and craftmanship was rewarded fiscally.
Some say those days are over.
I don't believe it. But, I know our only hope, as humans, is to place our faith in land based philosophies and ethics. Traditional cultures that express and nourish humanity are still viable today. With our little money we can start supporting traditional ethics by supporting artists, educators, scientists, and engineers (farmers, herders, horsemen and builders) financially. Everyone needs to make a living, everyone.
All of America's economic stimulus plans seek the same thing: the rescue and fortification of American ideals and standards of living. We can stimulate our own economies, even and especially those of us who live in cities, simply by only supporting, with currency, people and institutions that contribute to our health as humans on Earth.
Objects have power. The power to foster the health of the planet and our health as humans. The politics of poverty are clear to everyone. Yet we often resign ourselves to our own dehumanization, simply because it seems cheaper, faster, more convenient, or somehow inevitable. These are advertisers' and politicians' lies. They are paid to manipulate our commerce.
Food, dolls, stories, baskets, beadwork, silverwork, weavings, hand drums, flutes, songs and dances tell us who we are and teach us how to care for ourselves and our relations. Farmers, artists, wise men and women, weavers, dancers and singers invest their time and money living tradition, making a place for us in the here and now. They invest their resources in us and our future, creating and forging relationships that support us as individuals and as people. When we support them we support ourselves. When we purchase objects or services based in hate and exploitation we are funding hate and exploitation.
Trina Secody of Runway Beauty and Secody Records, Navajo, wife, mother, and independent business woman reminds us all, "Walk in Beauty. . .they are more than words. . .it is a lifestyle"
Photo Credit: Beauty Unlimited by Reid Gómez
- ▼ 2009 (13)