Smokin’ Hot Fridays–Blacklodge

Just some good music. Blacklodge rocks, of course. They’re my cousins, so I’m a bit biased–but I think that even if they weren’t I would rock their music in my car and fake-Ipod. Their pow-wow songs are incredible–everyone knows them for that. Still, I’d take their handdrum/rounddance music over their pow-wow swag anyday. In the handdrum (not just with Blacklodge, but with everyone), you can really hear their voices. (oh yeah, nice flip flops Elgin).

Shawn is a lot less “out there”–he tends to stay out of the spotlight. In fact, he’s kinda a hermit these days. But he’s doing well, raising kids and a working man! Still, as the video shows, this guy has an amazing voice…

A little FYI about Blacklodge:

Although these guys are the cats me-wow in pow-wows and rounddances and such, their true gift was always in–you guessed it–breakdancing. Back in the day, ALL of them were nasty!! Best breakers in Browning–and that was saying something. When you learn how to breakdance on a dirt road, you REALLY REALLY know how to Breakdance. Turbo didn’t have anything on them.

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Published in: on February 26, 2010 at 7:11 pm  Comments (1)  

The Indianness of Curling

Us

We’ll take a brief break from talking about hair and braids/whether carpets match drapes/mullets hairstyles for a brief second to discuss the Olympics. Specifically, I want to briefly (and I do mean briefly) discuss the fine and demanding sport of curling at the Olympics. I sit–late at night, between episodes of King of the Hill and Family Guy–and marvel at the physical specimens that are curlers. Buff. Lithe. Virile. Powerful.

Now seriously, I’ve actually watched the curling exhibitions with bated breath. Granted, I only recently (e.g. yesterday) learned that there are a few people in countries other than Canadians who curl in this world. That was surprising. Still, I do not doubt the level of skill–as opposed to athletic ability–it takes to be a successful curler (call me a “purist,” but I tend to see stuff like bowling, pool, curling and poker as slightly more “gamish” and really so “sportish.”) Yet, despite recognizing the required skill, similar to bobsledding in Jamaica, it’s fair to say that curling is a novelty sport to the vast majority of the rest of the world. I imagine that’s why our friendly Simpsons spoofed the sport last week.

Curling is fun to watch. It’s entertaining. People love the novelty of it. Still, nobody really understands it (how, exactly, do they score??). More important, however, than the fact that nobody understands curling, is that most people simply do not want to understand curling. They want to laugh at the funny pants. They want to laugh at the Fred-Flintstone-Bowling-Approach. They have no incentive to understand curling whatsoever. After all, why invest all this time into understanding curling if we’re only going to pay attention to it once every four years–if that??

In fact, it’s safe to say that the only people who truly care about curling are, well, curlers. And maybe, MAYBE the non-curling families of curlers. And occasionally voyeurs/weirdos like me who cannot sleep late at night. But even though people don’t really CARE about curling, the Olympics NEEDS curling–because a lot of voyeurs and weirdos and true lovers of sports and games strangely love curling.

And even more strangely, the curlers seem fine with people’s ignorance about the sport. They seem comfortable knowing their game is competitive and requires a high level of skill. They know that the average person could not do what they do. All these other winter sports–figure skating, skiing, the luge–get all the attention. But you know what?? The odd, quirky and novel sport of curling is right there–on exactly the same platform as all those other sports.

I see some similarities in Natives.

Native people certainly have compelling stories–if any ethnicity’s narrative deserves to be told, it is ours. As our people’s prospects progress from “nearly extinct” to “stabilizing” to “surviving” and now to “thriving,” it seems natural that other people’s interest in our people would grow. Why wouldn’t it? It seems like reporters and scholars and poets would rush to tell the story of these amazing resilient people who had everything stripped from them–yet continued. And got better. And stronger.

Yet, that story remains untold and our culture remains a novelty. No one cares. Except us. Like curling, truthfully, non-Natives do not want to understand us. They want to occasionally pop into our pow-wows and have photo opportunities with us and tell their grandchildren that they knew a Native at one time. But they do not want to understand us. Just like curling.

And the non-Natives who DO want to join up with us? Some of them have good intentions–those few who just believe in the humanity and beauty of all cultures. But then there are the voyeurs and weirdos–like me with curling. Vultures. They do not want to contribute anything to the culture–they just want siphon off and feel accepted someplace. We know who those people are.

Here’s the punchline: so what if no one pays attention to us? So what if mainstream society eschews our customs, music and story? We are strong. Resilient. Brilliant. Beautiful. We are currently creating structures and institutions within Indian Country–things that will not require a stamp of approval from outside of Indian Country. The average person and race could not do what we have done–we took bad situations and made them beautiful. We made took nasty commodities and made wonderful stew. We took religions forced upon us and melded them with our own and made incredible hybrids. All these other ethnicities get all of the media attention and perks–just like curling has to defer to skiing and slalom and snow angels. Still, we’re right here with them, creating our own destinies.

And we are not supposed to be here.

Think about this: this Nation needs Natives just like the Olympics needs curling. No one else can tell the story that we can tell–the story of this land from the dawn of time. We are crucial to this country’s destiny. Like curling, we do not need the outside world to validate our importance.

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 9:00 am  Comments (5)  

The Politics of Native Hair Part 1

A RECENT CONVERSATION WITH A DEAR FRIEND OF MINE:

She couldn’t even say it with a straight face. She tried though—had to give her an “E” for “Effort.” She desperately, passionately wanted me to believe that she believed what she was saying.
“No, I really liked you better with long hair.”

>Dead Silence<

I sat back and smirked. I didn’t say anything because I enjoy awkward pauses. By the way, I wouldn't dare call them “pregnant pauses.” You see, I’m a Blackfeet man and she’s an Assiniboine woman—therefore there actually is a chance that a mere conversation between us could result in procreation. I have nieces and nephews who were conceived by email (in fairness, it DID have an attachment) and a cousin who once got a pretty little Dutch girl named “Klazina” pen pal pregnant with a birthday card.

What I’m saying is that we’re fertile people.

But I digress.

Anyway, the prolonged silence prompted her to continue talking—you know, the way people talk to fill empty space. “I mean, yeah, sure it looks nice short. You look clean cut. But I prefer Indian boys with long hair. There’s just something really, really hot AND ‘cultural’ about Indian boys with long hair.”

That was an Interesting thought, so I figured I’d delve a little deeper into that, “What if I weren’t Native? Would I THEN look better with my short hair?”

She conceded, “Mmmmmmmm…probably, yeah. Other people—non-Natives—generally do not look good with long hair. Jonny Depp does, and Brad Pitt in “’Legends of the Fall’. He looked really yummy. But he always looks yummy. But no, if you weren’t Indian, I’d say keep your hair short.”

Now I was really intrigued, so I was obligated by law to keep digging deeper. “What if you didn’t know that I was Indian? Would I instantly become better looking with this particular shorter haircut?” The possibilities started rolling in my head—this could get good. “Or what if I was of Native descent, but not enough blood to be enrolled? Would you still consider me ‘Indian’ enough to have long hair?”

She thought about it. Obviously she didn’t want to say “yes.” But she looked resolute, like I couldn’t shake her from her principle. “Yeah—if I didn’t know that you were Indian, I’d say that I’d like you better with short hair. But you cut your hair short, and I know that you’re Indian. So yeah, you got uglier. In a loving way, of course.” She smiled.

Ouch. “Of course,” I grimaced.

While I felt vindicated that she realized her logical inconsistency about Indian men and their hair, I had to admit my dismay that, in my friend’s eyes, my attractiveness was vasectomized with a few snips of the scissors. Call me “vain.”

END RECENT CONVERSATION WITH MY DEAR FRIEND

Like pretty much any other topics amongst Natives, the topic of “hair” is fascinating and doesn’t lend itself to just one viewpoint, even amongst Natives. There are, of course, historical issues connected with Natives’ hair; we weren’t always allowed to choose the way we styled our hair. Those historical issues will be discussed later on in this series.

But hair is not only a “historical” thing for us, right? I mean, many Natives revere the past, but we’re also fashionable, contemporary people–it can’t be just about “history,” right? My nephews have all kinds of haircuts, mohawks, faux-hawks, mullets and buzz cuts; my nieces love to color their hair from their stereotypical jet black hair to more, let’s say “vibrant” colors. And every single one of those nephews and nieces also has pictures of them with braids and bushy morning hair. This is a series about hair–we’ll have time to talk about more contemporary AND historical issues.

It’s interesting. I wonder about the perception(s) of hair within our Native societies. I remember in college, when a Native had long hair, there was a presumption that the long-haired Native was “traditional;” I think that there’s usually a perception that a Native with long hair IS, in fact, somehow more Native (or Nativer) than a short-haired Native. In that school context, sometimes the long-haired Natives in school would play into that perception that they were, in fact, “traditional” so that they could spew off some pseudo-religious babble and make the giggling little hippie girls think that were “deep.”

Interestingly, the vast majority of the older “traditional” people that I know tend to have very neatly cut hair. Of course, some have braids, and some have mullets—business up front, party in the back. Many women have the hair hanging down and parted in the middle, straight out of a Cher video, some of the serious “rez” bangs and some have more contemporary hairstyles. Point is, there is no one style—fortunately—that defines Natives. Still, in some people’s eyes, the hair makes the Native.

Does it? Is hair more important to Natives than to other ethnicities?

I’m collecting hair stories. Specifically, I want to know about the significance/lack of significance of hair to Native people.

Please send me your hair stories AND pictures–whether it was a fight that you got into because someone teased you about your hair or it was a man who liked you specifically because of your hair. Or maybe you LOVE your new mohawk. Or possibly you’re just really proud of your mane and want to tell people WHY you grew it out or cut it off. Whatever it is. Please also let me know if I can cite these stories in future writing projects–I think that Indian Country, and OUTSIDE of Indian Country is curious about these stories and photos.

gyasi.ross@gmail.com

Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 10:29 pm  Comments (72)  

Smokin Hot Fridays

EPIC BEARD MAN

I love this. Some folks have made this about age. Some folks have made this about race. I see this being about “talkers” and “walkers”–that is, there are some folks who talk the talk. And there are others who are willing to walk the walk. We ALL know folks who talk big, like they’re gonna do amazing stuff. That’s cool–nothing wrong with ambition. The younger black cat was one of those–ambitious, but maybe with no clear idea of how to fulfill his ambitions.

Then there are those who like to stay a bit more silent about their intentions. Some folks will think they’re weak because they don’t talk a really good game. Still, when push comes to shove (or punch comes to face), those folks are really really handling their business. They just do it in a much more reserved way.

I love this.

Published in: on February 19, 2010 at 6:49 am  Comments (2)  

We Can Stop Violence Against Native Women Manupcampaign.org

Let’s get involved–no excuses. Opportunity of a lifetime.

“I can stop violence against women.”

Man Up Campaign

Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 9:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Smokin Hot Fridays

I love Sade.

‘Nuff said.

(New Album Out, “Soldier of Love,” I’d put a download link for a lot of different albums–all the Britney Spears, Jay-Z, etc–garbage. But not for real artists.)

Published in: on February 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Comments (2)  

My Friend Chad: Victims and Victory Part 2

Nish Chad asked me why I thought non-Natives liked to be all up in Native Americans’ affairs.

He conceded, “ok, yeah, there are some non-Natives who involved themselves in Native affairs because they simply wanted to help.” Those rare benevolent non-Natives don’t want special attention—they just want to be a part of improving Indian Country’s infrastructure through small incremental steps.

Cool.

But, according to Chad, there are also seems to be SO MANY non-Natives who want to do all the work for Native Americans. These are the non-Natives who do not believe that Natives can improve our own lives internally. Instead these non-Natives want to be comic book Superheroes to us poor Native Americans. They see themselves as Spirit and want to come rescue us, GI Joe-style, from the evils of Cobra Commander, fires, our alcoholism, and woes of the reservation life. They want us to reply to their heroic deed with “Now we know,” so that they can say “And knowing is half the battle.”

They want to save us because, apparently we cannot save ourselves.

I asked Chad, “Can we really be surprised that there are these people who want to “save” us? Think about this, bro: there’s a certain historical pattern that shows white folks ALWAYS tend to think that they know what’s best for us Natives. There have always been non-Natives who wanted to “save” us. These folks are the direct descendants of Capt. Richard Pratt—yknow, ‘kill the Indian, save the man.”

He replied, “Yeah, my grandmother always said that the white folks who messed us up the most were trying to help us. The people who stole our grandparents and great-grandparents’ children to bring them to boarding schools were trying to “rescue” Indians. The politicians who incentivized Natives to leave reservations so that they could find non-existent jobs were trying to save Indians from ourselves. I guess, yeah, white folks always wanted to be in our business. Dang, these FEW crazy non-Natives who love to speak for us Natives STILL think that they know what’s best for us, ennit?”

And he’s right, of course; this pattern of non-Natives wanting to be Superhero in Indian Country for helpless Natives isn’t just relegated to ancient history.

For example, in our integrated society we now always have non-Natives who work for our respective tribes. Good for them—God bless those non-Native folks for finding gainful employment in this tough economic time! And oftentimes these non-Natives are wonderful workers and truly have our peoples’ interests at heart! Many of them also provide important skills and trades until our tribal members gain more education and training—self-sufficiency. And these non-Natives help create self-sufficiency and play their role. These folks are not trying to be Superheroes. They are just doing their jobs. That’s a good thing.

But…

…there are always a few—and you know who those few are—who try to become more than just “good employees” within our tribes. Those special few try to become members of our tribes, spokespeople for our tribes, the very superheroes to our tribes!! In fact, they want to singlehandedly save our people—“Behold, it’s Great White Father Man!!!” They want to save us from ourselves by making all of our decisions for us and talking for us and generally not wanting us to be sentient, capable adults.

Everybody knows those people.

I guess I can see why those non-Natives would want to do that. It’s a weird desire (in my humble opinion), but I guess I could see how someone could get off on it—“saving people.” Heck, I watched “The Incredibles,” where Mr. Incredible snuck outside to be a hero because he missed the rush. It must feel good to say that you “saved someone.” Being a hero must be fun and that’s why all these non-Natives want to save us, I guess.

But Mr. Incredible was a cartoon. Superheroes do not exist. Heck, I have nice pecs, but I can’t save anybody. I also don’t think that the majority of Natives want to be saved. “Self-determination” and “sovereignty” means “we can do this ourselves.” And we WILL do it ourselves—and continue to make up amazing amounts of political, educational and financial ground like we have in the past twenty years—if folks just leave us alone long enough to adjust to and counteract 500 years of rapid and destructive change.

Natives do not need a Superhero to save us from our perils. In fact, I submit that a real hero doesn’t want to save anyone. A real hero wants to eliminate the circumstances that necessitate “saving.”

Therefore, the father who lies his gun around and then dramatically snatches his son before he pulls the trigger is not a hero. Instead, the father who keeps his son from dangerous things in the first place and teaches him the consequences of playing with destructive things is more heroic.

My goal, then, is to be a small part of the process that shows my people that we have the capability to rescue ourselves. We have all the tools, capabilities and potential within our own communities. We are empowered to do it ourselves.

And empowered people do not need a superhero.

Published in: on February 10, 2010 at 1:07 am  Comments (22)  

Repost: A Newspaper Account of the Death of Sitting Bull L. Frank Baum

From the dude who wrote the Wizard of Oz. Interestingly, his thought process was actually considered pretty progressive or liberal in 1890. He wasn’t completely out of the ordinary for the time. Scary, right?

    A Newspaper Account of the Death of Sitting Bull

December 15, 1890

The text below is excerpted from “Looking Back at Wounded Knee 1890” by Prof. Robert Venables, Cornell University. Published in “Northeast Indian Quarterly”Spring 1990.

It reads:

The following quotes were printed in “The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer,” a weekly newspaper published in Aberdeen, South Dakota. The first was published immediately after Sitting Bull’s assassination by Indian Police Dec. 15, 1890.

“Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead.
He was an Indian with a white man’s spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his. In his day he saw his son and his tribe gradually driven from their possessions: forced to give up their old hunting grounds and espouse the hard working and uncongenial avocations of the whites. And these, his conquerors, were marked in their dealings with his people by selfishness, falsehood and treachery. What wonder that his wild nature, untamed by years of subjection, should still revolt? What wonder that a fiery rage still burned within his breast and that he should seek every opportunity of obtaining vengeance upon his natural enemies.

“The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.

“We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America.”

Published in: on February 8, 2010 at 7:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Smoking Hot Fridays

Some people…

I almost feel fortunate to have grown up poor–you never ever see poor people with these kinds of weird habits. These New Age folks crack me up, “Let me see how badly I can burn my feet!!” And they PAY for it…I can make a fire–I’m Native. I could hook them up!!! Quote from the second clip, “I walked on fire. And if I can do THAT, certainly I can go in there and ask for a raise.”

You could do that with any sort of masochistic rite, right? “I shot myself in the eye! Certainly I can go in there and ask for a raise…” “I gave myself a lobotomy–certainly I can go in there and ask for a raise!!”

Sheesh.

Anyway–entertaining at the least!

Published in: on February 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

My Friend Chad: Victims and Victory, and those Visitors Who Want Indians to Stay Virtually the Same PART 1

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

The Statue Of Liberty.
And Native Americans.

My dude, Nish Chad, brought up an interesting theory to me. Bringing up interesting thoughts to me is not unusual, mind you, since Chad’s somewhat of a conspiracy theorist.

Follow this: Every since Contact, we Natives have never done too good of a job regulating the non-Natives within our communities. That is, the facts show that we allow everyone into our communities and willingly invite outsiders into our reindeer games—even when the folks who want to play our reindeer games have been ostracized from every single other part of society. Europe doesn’t want you anymore? No problem. The military doesn’t want you anymore? We’ll take you. White folks don’t want you anymore? We’ll take you. Listed as a sexual offender? We’ll still take you.

I mean, think about: it’s rarely the exemplary or successful non-Native folks who find refuge amongst us. Every once in a GREAT while, we get a non-Native who has it together–the ocassional white millionaire or Doctor who leaves the hustle and bustle of the big city to come live with us–but that’s rare. Instead, it’s usually the odd, rejected, smelly, sex offender and/or really really hippie non-Native folks who we accept to come live within our communities. They figure, “I flunked out of “mainstream society”—perhaps these egalitarian Native people will accept me.”

And unfortunately most of the time we do.

Sometimes we even allow these oddball non-Natives to have a greater voice than our own people—greater than the very Natives who live amongst our own people, live and work for Native people. Those non-Natives want to be important to the Native community—they want to save the Native community—so badly that they assign themselves a greater voice than the very citizens of that community.

But I digress. Anway—back to Chad.

See, my dude Nish Chad—amazing business man and hustler supreme—emailed me one day to talk about historic trauma amongst Natives. He pointed out that the majority of the people who like to exercise the “intergenerational trauma” card for Native people are not Natives but, instead, white folks who want to be accepted in Native communities. Think about it: you rarely hear Native people excuse the few young Native knuckleheads by saying that it’s “intergenerational trauma.” Native parents know that some Native kids are simply knuckleheads, just like some white kids, black kids, Hispanic and Asian kids (but very few Asians) are knuckleheads.

Yet, according to Chad, white school administrators, academics and bloggers do not like to admit that some Native kids just simply mess up. So they present an all-encompassing excuse for Native kids—intergenerational trauma. He said that when he talks to elderly Natives—or even most of us Natives who grew up within our own communities—those Natives want accountability, responsibility and an end to all the excuses. They want Native kids to excel like they know that Native kids can excel if no one is making excuses for them or lowering expectations for them. Further, these older Natives know that as long as these non-Natives keep making excuses for Native kids before the Native kids even get a chance to compete, the Native kids are going to believe the excuses. They’re going to feel that, “Yeah, I guess I do have trauma and shouldn’t be getting these good grades. I guess I should be angrier.”

These non-Natives love to tell us Natives what to do. They attempt to tell us what we should or should not expect from our own children. They attempt to tell us what should or should not offend us. Because, apparently, we’re not smart enough to know ourselves. Crazily, sometimes we even listen to those non-Native folks who tell us that we should lower our standards for our children and we should find a convenient excuse to expect them not to do well in today’s society.

When I thought more about Chad’s pseudo-conspiracy theory I had to admit—it wasn’t even really a theory. In fact, I’ve seen this “white-folks-excusing-bad-behavior-within-Native-youth-who-ultimately-end-up-in-prison” phenomenon up close. I’ve also seen the destruction that it does within our communities. Perhaps not coincidentally, I’ve also seen many non-Native social workers and tribal police and lawyers and other professional gain employment within our communities—job opportunities that spring up as a direct result of the destruction that arises within our communities.

Hmmmmmmm….Instant work for a lot of non-Natives and job security as a result of excusing behavior?? Not a bad gig at all.

I see it myself, by the way. In my experience, Natives appreciate my perspective that we Natives are 100% in control of our destiny and that we should never feel sorry for ourselves. Old Natives LOVE it when I say that our kids are accountable for their actions. Those elders understand that blaming others for their pain doesn’t accomplish anything. Young Natives love it when they feel that others aren’t making decisions for them. But I also get hate emails from a bunch of white educators who say that I’m blaming the victim, or that I’m being callous and mean. They do not appreciate the fact that MY personal definition of sovereignty begins and ends with Natives—and simply does not include non-Natives. They do not understand why I do not pander to an outdated “victim” image in the media, drunk and defeated. In my calculus, those “helpless” and “victim” images are outdated and untrue.

We are not victims. We are victors. We are still here–we’ve won just by surviving the Holocaust of the previous 500 years. And now, we must move beyond merely surviving to thriving. But those non-Natives who were welcomed into our communities attempt to tell us that we ARE helpless–that we need to stay stuck on “survival.”

Me? Like my buddy Chad, I feel that NO non-Natives should be able to question us—Natives—about something strictly intra-Native, like our what we expect of our children. Sovereignty is 100% about making our own destiny–for better or for worse. Hey—for what it’s worth (not a ton to me, but some folks need the validation of some old white folks), the Supreme Court said as much in Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez.

So does intergenerational trauma exist? Of course. It’s been proven. But it exists for many, many people–not just Natives. And just like the rest of those other “many, many people” who suffer intergenerational trauma, we Natives need to figure out a way to get out from under that shadow, otherwise subsequent generations will suffer and struggle with exactly the same issues as we do, because we were too busy playing victim. I guess the other point is that non-Natives who seek to excuse Native behavior use intergenerational trauma as an excuse for everything–bad grades, sexual deviancy, B.O., erectile dysfunction. If you’re Native and you don’t file your taxes on time, according to these people, intergenerational trauma is the reason.

The reason why? Who knows: maybe white guilt? Or maybe, as shown above, to keep a job?

Still, I wonder about Chad’s larger point—why do these non-Natives always want to butt into our internal family business? Whether it’s the “shamanic,” eccentric hippie lady who feels the need to tell everyone about her distant Native heritage or the Preacher who wants to save all the Indians from brimstone, there are always outsiders who want to put their two cents into our internal business. Heck, I NEVER saw any Natives on “The Brady Bunch” telling Mike and Carol how to raise their kids.

Maybe that’s just a cultural difference? Or perhaps those non-Natives have an interest in making sure that Natives continue to feel like victims?

~PART 2 COMING SOON~

Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 2:07 am  Comments (22)