Saturday, July 28, 2012

Let It Be

I haven’t talked much about Indians other than my interactions with the Grand Ronde folk, but I was just looking at an article in Indian Country on the Net, “The Dos and Don’ts of Traveling In Indian Country.” My first reaction was, “What? Don’t drink the water? Don’t pick up drunken hitchhikers?”

No, their advice was on how not to offend the natives. Advice such as: “The outside people come as ‘cloud people,’ ” he said. “They help to rejuvenate and that’s how we respect our visitors. You are very sacred to us when you come and watch the dance. That’s why we want the respect in exchange to our ceremonies, but no sketching, pictures, or recording.”

Mainly the article concerned recording religious ceremonies. The Mormons simply exclude visitors, as do the Indians from some ceremonies. Other times, not so much. But they’re still uptight about photographs. No reason given beyond “respect,” as if photographing in itself was disrespectful. How? Has the Great Spirit send down directives, “No aides de mémoires”? Jeez, he’s touchy.

To make matter worse, as to whether or not it’s okay to photograph something, “it is the visitor’s responsibility to learn [the rules].” That would be the “sacred visitors,” no?

I try to imagine the Norwegians giving advice to prospective tourists, “Don’t scoff at Heavy Metal rockers. Avoid mentioning Sweden. And no photographing the trolls!”
What makes the Indians take themselves so damn seriously? If they want to make their little dances private, fine, shut the door; but don’t make a big deal about it, and don’t put the burden on the visitor, for Christ’s sake. Ones religion, don’t forget, is sacred only to them, whoever they are. To the rest of us, it’s folk-costume day at the plaza. Hope they got shave-ice.

I reiterate, the worst thing we did to the Indians was ghettoize them, put them on reservations. We should have let the French win the countryside; they’re inclined to sleep with rather than kill the natives. If we would have Métisized the continent instead of segregating it, we wouldn’t be in the eternal mess we’re in. As it is, reservations will probably continue for hundreds of more years before they’re forgotten like abandoned amusement parks, derelict casinos surrounded by acres of cracked and weed-infested asphalt, pawn shops still sputtering.

If I were a Native American, I’d walk away from the rez. I’d put it all behind me. Visit on holidays like me going back to Wisconsin. Don’t have to live there no more. Slip the surly bonds and walk free. That’s what I’d do. Get out while the going was going.

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