Reflections on Indigenous Peoples Day 2015

by Joe Scarry

Today we observe Indigenous Peoples Day (heretofore “Columbus Day”).

I wish that today I could point to some full-blown writing and activism that I have already done about Indigenous Peoples.  The truth is that I have some thoughts that occur to me over and over, but I have struggled to figure out where to take them.

Well, at the least, I can dedicate this day to making some progress on that.

How are you observing Indigenous Peoples Day?

2015 Indigenous Peoples Day proclamation
of the Berkeley City Council

(1) Save the Planet

Several years ago, when we held a Climate Crisis Conference in Chicago, I was stimulated to think for the first time about importance of Indigenous culture in thinking about stewardship of the planet, and how we need to look deeply into Indigenous ways of thinking in order to find the wisdom and courage to assure that there is a place for humans to live beyond the next generation or two.

This year, an Indigenous Peoples Day proclamation of the Berkeley City Council said the city “does hereby offer our gratitude to Native People . . . in recognition of the Indigenous care for this land, and in honor of indigenous culture and philosophy, which are needed more than ever if the planet is to survive.”

One thing I will be doing on this Indigenous Peoples Day is working to learn more about the culture of stewardship for Nature and the planet practiced by Indigenous Peoples.

(2) “Let us never forget that we live on occupied land.”

As I have worked to end the US occupation of foreign countries like Afghanistan, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine, I have been grateful for the words of other activists, reminding us of the fundamental fact of our US context: “Let us never forget that we live on occupied land.”

(3) What would it take to be an “American”?

In recent years, I’ve tried to cleanse my language of the use of the word “American” when what I really mean is “person who lives in the US.”

Maybe if we use the word “US” more scrupulously, we who live in the US will take more responsibility for what is being done around the world, in our names and with our complicity, by the US government.

Maybe if we take seriously the word “American” we will think about what it would mean to live up to a model of solidarity with brothers and sisters throughout the hemisphere.

(4) “Immigration”

A place to start on (2) and (3) above is by re-thinking our own views and actions with respect to how “immigration” is handled in the US.

(5) If it’s picturesque, it’s probably wrong

Elias Castillo,
A Cross of Thorns:
The Enslavement of California’s
Indians by the Spanish Missions

As I spend more time in California, I’m struck by now this “new land” where people can get a “fresh start,” without the heavy “back East” overlay of Old World culture, this place which seems to have so much connection to the culture of the rest of the Americas, is in fact also a place where everyone is dodging the real history of oppression and genocide.

Exhibit One: The protest against the canonization of Junípero Serra

Exhibit Two: A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions

Another thing I’ll be doing today is reading A Cross of Thorns.

(6) Objectification of Indigenous Peoples

It’s a habit that we’ve all come by honestly: from the time we are little, even if we references to Indigenous Peoples to which we are exposed are the most respectful ones available, they still come within a framework of conquest and control.

Chicago Blackhawks logo

When I was a child I was in awe of the beautiful native dress that would be constructed for and celebrated in Boy Scout activities. I even made a “war club” by mounting a croquet ball on the end of a sawed-off tennis racket handle, and a “Mohawk” headress from carefully dyed and mounted strings of twine. (That was before it actually occurred to large portions of the population to just cut your hair in that style.)

I own a much-beloved Chicago Blackhawks jersey. I think the logo is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. But I’ve now reluctantly admitted that, even if it’s beautiful (heroic, noble), what’s wrong with it is that it is that it is an example of the oppressor culture appropriating Indigenous Peoples’ culture, objectifying it, and using it as part of the larger project of genocide.

What would respectful, life-giving celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ culture look like?


(7) The World That Trade Created

Coffee cherries
(Source: Marcus Samuelson)

During the first part of my working career, I was involved with trade with countries in Asia.

When my son was in high school, I followed along as his class studied the book, The World That Trade Created: Society, Culture and the World Economy, 1400 to the Present. Much of it concerns “New World” trade activities. But is it really “trade” when it is carried out at gunpoint?

Today, so much of our consumption (starting with the first cup of coffee in the morning) is connected to the products of Indigenous Peoples. What would it take to participate in the trade in those products in a way that is equitable (even compensatory)?

(8)  Heroic Journeys

I remember some talks on video by Joseph Campbell about Native American myth, particularly initiation rituals and ideas of the heroic journey.

I have always felt that I wanted to know more about that.

I had some beautifully illustrated children’s books for by kids when they were little, some of which touched on these themes. I’d like to go back and find them. Maybe that will be a place for me to start to learn more.

(9) Learn the History

I have a copy of Howard Zinn. I have a copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Maybe it’s time I learned the contents.

(Hell, I can read Howard Zinn without even leaving my computer.)

(10) Storytelling and Beauty

Sometimes activism has to take a rest.

So there’s A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World (Masterworks of the Classical Haida Mythtellers)

Related posts

It will take me multiple posts to spell out everything that I feel needs to be said about the Ayotzinapa 43.  People in the US need to work to change their own attitude about Mexico, and about the culpability or all of us here in the US in the wrongs that are being done down there. The Ayotzinapa 43 were persecuted for saying “the future can be different.” It’s time for us to take up their cry.

(See Ayotzinapa43: US People Need an Attitude Adjustment )

“Missa dos Quilombos” asked for forgiveness and sought healing for the legacy of slavery in Brazil. Dom Helder celebrated the Quilombo Mass. He said: “Mariama [Mother Mary], we aren’t here to ask that today’s slaves be tomorrow’s slave masters. Enough of slaves! Enough of masters! We want liberty!” The beating of the drums was overpowering, they exploded like the screams of our souls!

(See Hélder Câmara and Liberation Theology 101: Where? When? Why? Who? )

Part of what I loved about Du Hai was the way it used large pieces of fabric to convey the sensation of being in a boat among billowing waves, and the multiple uses to which they put the fabric – sea, clouds, sail, and more. Even a newcomer to modern dance, such as myself, could grasp what was going on.

(See The 21st Century U.S. Vocation: Extending hospitality to the next wave of immigrants coming to our country )

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This entry was posted in Death, End of the Empire, The New Peace Movement, The Right's Challange and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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