Cultural Dissonance?

Note:  The following post is a long one. I hope you feel like reading!   ~N

I am a modern Caribbean Indian woman; a mixture of Taino, European and African descent.  However, it is my Taino Indian heritage that I choose to follow, learn and endorse.  The existence of my Taino ancestry has been covered up, denied for many years because of greed and genocide.  This cover up is pernicious and has infected not only the familial roots of my Nation but has disowned our indigenous heritage  on a grand scale.  Society wide- to the point where in school I was taught that the Taino people became extinct due to poor constitution and laziness;  and world wide- because although many know that Columbus reached the Caribbean Islands in 1492, few recognize the Taino people as the Indians he met there.

Recent studies have shown that a good percentage of the population tested (in PR)  not only carry Taino genetic markers, but that in fact,  carry most of the DNA material inherited via  Taino female bloodlines.  I find this very appropriate since the Taino have traditionally been a matrifocal society.  Additionally, there has been more extensive study of Spanish documents, census taking and log keeping.  This history is now being looked at as written by very human people who were not above a little underhandedness…  So, scientists and historians are now finding that the Taino did not become extinct as has been propagated, but survived; having chosen invisibility over death, and blended blood,  religion and culture to what is present in the Caribbean islands today.

These scientific and historical findings have engendered a grand movement.  For some time now, there has been a resurgence of people reclaiming Native Caribbean Indian ancestry and identity.  Hand in hand with this resurgence comes a strong desire to unite as a tribe and create community.  Folks are meeting in cafes and parks,  fairs and powwows, museums and  kitchen tables to discuss the reclaiming  of our Taino heritage.  Websites have been put up,  groups and organizations have been created to promote union and sharing, teaching and learning.  Some have assembled family groups, clans and tribes, others have organized and incorporated; all with different purposes but the same idea- to join with others of like mind.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

Examiner.com posted this article regarding Thanksgiving and towards the end exhorts people, not to quit the celebration, but to share the Truth of it’s history.

The only concern I have with the telling of the “Truth” of Thanksgiving is the vast amounts of “Truths” out there!  Even among the links at the bottom of the post, and in internet search engines, you will find different versions of what, where, when and why Thanksgiving came to be.  History has been mauled by those in control and there is little agreement as to the details of this holiday.  It vacillates from the Spanish being the first to gather and give thanks to the Creator with a Mass of gratitude (although I think that one is not supposed to count because it was the Spanish), the Pilgrims, George Washington, Lincoln… all the way up to recent history, when congress passed it into law.  Then there are all the different native Nations who suffered the brunt of the initial brutalities upon meeting the Europeans, just before they celebrated these feasts!  Who’s Truth do we share then?

I do not disagree with the author’s encouragement to “instill in them [the children], the truth.” However, as inferred above, that Truth can very well be subjective.  Depending on the way you look at it,  you change the focus of the story.   At no moment do I deny the horrors of our history and I believe that the truth of our past should be taught; to each child the history of their Nation first and then that of our cousins.  But there is also a higher truth to be taught in the celebration of Thanksgiving, a truth that is not of the Europeans but of our very culture.

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What is truly important?

I found this fearful, ethnocentric post on the web.  This article claims to have been written by Tim Giago, president of the Native American Journalists Foundation and the publisher of Indian Education Today Magazine.  I am not a professional writer, but this piece seems to lack the polish of someone of such high distinction, so I cannot say that this is the actual author, only that it claims to be.  My argument is with the content and not the polish though, so here is my reply.

I’m saddened to see how acrimonious my brothers and sisters have allowed themselves to become; it only shows how disconnected from Spirit some of us have grown to be.

This onslaught on the “fake shaman” who are popping up all over the place, like fry bread in a powwow; this whole piece of writing,  is dedicated to a racist agenda hidden in an attitude of righteous indignation, attacking a matter that no one has a right to touch!

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You gotta be tough to be stupid

We live in Central Florida and if you have been watching the news, you will know that we had a very wet, very windy storm recently; Tropical Storm Fay.

Fay came in at a brisk pace of 35 mph when it was travelling North from the Florida Keys. It slowed down to about 8-9 MPH when it came in just under Ft. Myers and crawled to an almost complete stop when it hit the Space Coast (Melbourne-Cape Canaveral). While there, it dumped an incredible amount of water. Brevard County officially had, in some areas, over 18″ of water and unofficially, over 30″. The Melbourne International Airport had to close down reportedly due to fish, gators and debris on the runway.  If you are really curious about this, a quick search on YouTube.com will show video of fish swimming in folk’s streets and driveways.

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Blacklisted Teachers of Native American Beliefs

There is a LOT to be said about these false “prophets”… not doubt.  Those who sell sacred rituals, who are less than 1/16th NDN in the morning and by nightfall are full-blooded, as long as there is the possibility of an income or glamour behind it…

But what of those who are honest?

A friend of mine suggested I read this and here is my response…

There is a huge amount of resentment towards non-indians who take up walking the Good Red Road.  Many indigenous Peoples are feeling insecure in themselves and this leads them to believe that spirituality can be stolen, that the “theft” of their modes of worship is genocide and that these elements of worship are not only linked to your culture (which it is) but to your race.  That to walk the Red Road you must be of red skin.  There is the paranoia that the white man is out to steal the last bit of Indian-ness left to us.  Althought there is an understanding of the need to return to an earth-based spirituality, anglos are “encouraged” to look to their old world background to find it.  That if those who are not of red skin looked hard enough, they would find an earth based religion in their own ancestry.  There is also the belief that one’s DNA and Spirit will automatically resonate with that religion, because it is, after all, their own.
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Inipi & Pipe Ceremony 4/28/07

I am so psyched about my recent trip to the Brighton Rez for the latest sweat.  It’s just been too long since I’ve been… so very long I could weep.  And that I did.

Dancing Horse, my daughter and I left Brevard excited, all for different reasons.  Dancing Horse and I were looking forward to the sweat and my child was looking forward to the camping experience.  We left so early that we arrived way before anyone else.  This was a mixed blessing to me; it did give me the opportunity to get my bearings and become re-aquainted with the area but by the same token I felt a little aprehensive at being the first ones there.  The thought of being chased off property at gun point did cross my mind more than once.

Although it wasn’t my first time there the changes that ocurred in my abscence took me by surprise. The lodge had been moved and was built much smaller than the last one.  It was no longer at the center of the clearing, but off to the side, closer to the uncleared portion of the property.  It did have a more intimate feel to it.  In the center of the clearing now stood a huge chickee covering a cement platform,  complete with a band stage, lighting and ceiling fans.  Behind it was a smaller chickee covering a cooking area and a fire pit big enough to cook a pig.  There were also several new sheds that I later found out contained the items necessary for the lodge as well as several chairs and tables.  The property also has a 3 bedroom home belonging to our gracious hosts, Helene and Andy.  Needless to say, we were hooked up!!

My daughter’s Uncle of discipline, Tony arrived about a half hour after we did and seemed confused at fact that the house was empty.  Andy and Helene were supposed to be there.  When he called Andy, we found out that they had forgotten all about the ceremony due to Helene’s becoming ill and needing surgery.  She was in the hospital at that very moment, however, there was a spare key hidden in X spot and we had free use of the home and land.  Mi casa es su casa is very much the indian way.

At about 4pm people started pouring in.  Some faces were new and some were better known, but we were all there for the same purpose and this made for a comfortable ambiance.  Pete, the firekeeper and his aprentice, Rodney,  got started on choosing the grandfathers and grandmothers as well as preparing the firepit.  CJ, Joseph and Robert aka Jaguar were blessing the circle that encompassed the lodge and the firepit.  Pete had made some cement markers for the 4 directions that were kinda cute, so CJ was busy putting them up.  Jaguar was readying his pipe and Tony was praying.  The women that came with them seemed unfamiliar with much of what was happening, except for one, Sue.  She was sitting out the sweat due to being in her moon.  They took to the kitchen to ready the food brought to share.

Dancing Horse and I were flitting here and there, helping where we were most needed and my little one ran all over the place, exploring and getting to know everyone.  My Cacique and brother, Turtle, arrived later, about the same time that Midnight Wolf got there.  My sister in law was also in her moon and chose to stay home with the kids, so Imiza was the only child there.  It’s no wonder the fruit of my loins finds it so hard to get along with other children, she’s always surrounded by adults!

At about sunset, we all sat in a circle and Tony led the Pipe ceremony.  I am the Pipe Keeper for my clan and I had brought the Clan’s pipe with me.  We shared in honoring the pipes present and they were placed at the altar in front of the inipi.  Afterwards, Tony took a moment to go over the behavior expected before, during and after the lodge for the benefit of all present.  Then it was off to change, remove metal jewlery and prepare to sweat!  Yay!

We had the usual four flaps.  It was intense, it was amazing, it was …it just WAS.  The first flap held all of those present, stuffed tight, like sardines.  The grandfathers, shining brightly with their heat,  were welcomed into the inipi one by one until there were 7 and the flap was closed.  At this time we had the first round of prayer.  After each participant prayed, water was poured over the hot rocks.  By the time we came full circle, much suffering had ocurred, water was given to Mother Earth as freely as She provides for us. This was repeated for four flaps.  Some of the newcomers only sat in the first and last, some people sat through all flaps.  I sat through the first 3 and did a lot of crying, a lot praying and a lot suffering.  After the third flap and just before the fourth, the Pipes were welcomed into the lodge.  Everyone had the opportunity to pray and honor each of the three pipes present.  Then the fourth flap began.  By this time my skin felt burned from the steam of the stones and I was emotionally spent.  I thanked All My Relations and left the lodge.  I sought solace in my drum and beat it sensless.  It sounded like nothing pretty, but it calmed my spirit.

Once the ceremony was done, the men decided to do a Warrior’s Sweat.  This is where you load up as many grandfathers as you have and sit out the sweat and heat as long as you can stand it.  Needless to say these Warriors lasted very little in there and were literally stumbling over each other to get out!  This was hilarious to watch since you had men that where all sizes.  Imagine a Mack truck rolling over a Yugo and you know what I am talking about.

After all was done, we showered, ate and took the opportunity to socialize some more. By 2 am I was beat, exhausted, spent beyond belief.  I crawled into our tent and crashed along side Dancing Horse and My daughter.

A funny thing I’d like to share…

Turtle had his tent about 20 feet away from ours.  During the wee hours of the morning I crawled out of the tent to visit the lavatory.  It was pitch dark, the only light being that of the stars which were spilled across the sky.  As I walked to the house I heard a horrible growl behind me.  Now, we are in the wilderness. There are bears, wild dogs and cougars there.  Last time we were cleaning the lodge we found a cougar print in the sand and this was the first thing to cross my mind when I heard the growl.  I stood absolutely still and damn near peed my pants when I heard the growl again!  By that time I was absolutely awake and I realized the growling was coming from my brother’s tent.  Turtle snores horribly.

I didn’t sleep much after that…

So this was my experience and I am happy to share it with you.