Monday, February 28, 2005

American Indians and the Academy

If you watched the Academy Awards last night, I am sure you were overwhelmed by the number of Native Americans up for awards. What, you didnt see any? You would think Indians weren't making movies, but that's just not true.

Have any Natives ever won an academy award? Or even been nominated?

Well, it seems that Jeff Chandler was nominated playing the role of Apache chief Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950). But unfortunately, Chandler was a white man only playing an Indian. 'Fraid that doesnt count.

It wasn't until 1970 than a Native American was nominated for an Oscar. Chief Dan George was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his role in Little Big Man. He did not win.

And after another 20 yr interval had passed Graham Greene was nominated for his supporting role in Dances With Wolves. Alas, he did not win either.

And that looks to be it. Twice we've been nominated for supporting roles and twice we've lost. Always the Tonto, never the Lone Ranger.

There was one other "Native moment" of note in Oscar history. Upon receiving his Best Actor award for the Godfather, Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather (aka Maria Cruz) to decline his award. I've read some conflicting accounts over whether Cruz was Native or not, but nevertheless she made part of a rather mild speech that was cut short. At the time, AIM was under seige at the Second Wounded Knee and by the Tuscon Weekly's account, the people at Wounded Knee were happy to get the support.

Oh, and according to that same article in the Tuscon Weekly, Clint Eastwood "asked if the Best Picture Oscar should be awarded 'on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford Westerns over the years'." Nice, Clint. So glad you won last night.

And I think that wraps up the history of Native Americans and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. If you know of any moments, nominations or *gasp* wins, pls leave them in the comments and I will happily add them.

Oh, and for a nice recap of last night's award's, might I recommend my friends over at Bitter Daze.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

For the dead are not powerless

[03/04/05 Edit: Chas Clifton offers a reality check. See details in the comments.]

A little Sunday morning inspiration attributed to Chief Seattle's 1853 Treaty Oration. Yes, the US National Archives casts some doubt on the origin of his words (does that surprise anyone?), but to me it does not matter. The sentiment is precise and true, be it history or myth. Besides, are they not the same thing in our hearts?

There was a time when our people covered the whole land
as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea covers its shell-paved floor.
But that time has long since passed away
with the greatness of tribes now almost forgotten.

[..]The ashes of our ancestors are sacred
and their final resting place is hallowed ground,
while you wander away from the tombs of your fathers
seemingly without regrets.

[..]Your dead cease to love you
and the homes of their nativity
as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb.
They wander far away beyond the stars,
are soon forgotten and never return.

Our dead never forget the beautiful world
that gave them being.
They still love its winding rivers,
its great mountains and its sequestered vales,
and they ever yearn in tenderest affection
over the lonely-hearted living,
and often return to visit and comfort them.

[..]Every part of this country is sacred to my people.
Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove
has been hallowed by some fond memory
or some sad experience of my tribe.
Even the rocks,
which seem to lie dumb as they swelter in the sun
along the silent shore in solemn grandeur
thrill with memories of past events
connected with the fate of my people,
the very dust under your feet
responds more lovingly to our footsteps than to yours,
because it is the ashes of our ancestors,
and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch,
for the soil is rich with the life of our kindred.

[..]And when the last Red Man
shall have perished from the earth
and his memory among white men
shall have become a myth,
these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe
and when your children's children shall think themselves alone
in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway,
or in the silence of the woods,
they will not be alone.
In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude.

At night, when the streets of your cities and villages
shall be silent and you think them deserted,
they will throng with the returning hosts
that once filled and still love this beautiful land.

The white man will never be alone.
Let him be just and deal kindly with my people,
for the dead are not powerless.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Will the real NDN pls stand up?

Indian Country Today has an article on the phenomena of "out-Indianing" each other.

Is this our own version of political correctness? Whattaya gotta do to be a Real Indian (TM)?

cartoon by: Marty Two Bulls Sr.

From Indian Country Today, Trimble: Figuring out who are the real NDNs

[..] "As ideologies formed around that era's new activist movements, being a ''real'' Indian required adherence to certain traits, demeanor and dress. A real Indian, for example, eschewed suit and tie, but wore equally non-Indian and stereotypical Hollywood attire such as leather vests, headbands and fringes all over. So-called ''Rez cars'' were no longer embarrassments; decorated with ostentatious displays of dream catchers, little war bonnets, and ''Indian Pride'' bumper stickers, they became faddish and an effective means of out-Indianing.

''Out-hipping'' is another form of out-Indianing. That means being hip to the latest buzzwords like NDN and the latest jokes about welfare, commodities and frybread.

In Indian circles, one can also be ''out-reverenced.'' That is having to be corrected, icily, about something that is or should be considered too sacred for jocularity. I learned to stay out of American Indian chat rooms on the Internet when I was informed that I should be ashamed for using the Lakota name Heyoka (he's sacred), and even joking about that little prehistoric Woody Herman, Kokopeli (sacred, too). I was excoriated for saying I am Oglala Sioux instead of Oglala Lakota."

For the record, let me say that I will never wear fringe or a headband. It is a question of taste and style, not Indian-ness. I fear the gauche. But jokes about commodity foods and frybread are funny, so I might partake in those. Better if you can combine them, like when my aunt demands condensed milk for her frybread recipe because, as my cousin put it, it gives in that certain commodity je ne sais quoi.

And I've seen that out-reverenced phenomena at work. Not always, but on the internet, where no one knows if you're Foolish Dog clan, what's the point?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The A train is my war pony

The National Urban Indian Family Coalition went and had an "Urban Indian summit" and 66% of us showed up, so to speak. Yes, 66% of self-identified American Indians and Alaska Natives live in the big city. In contrast to pre-1990, when the majority of Indians lived on the Rez. Times are achangin'.

Seems like the majority of urban Indians can be found in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, Anchorage and Tulsa. (Although I was just in Seattle for the weekend, and there be a lot of Indians there, too.)

What does this mean, that more Indians are living away from the Rez? What will the impact be in us keeping our specific tribal identities? We already borrow across cultures and times. Will be become a new tribe - the Urbanites? And more importantly, will we be able to get good frybread in NYC?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

6oz of pleasure and pain

So Starbucks has a new chocolate drink named Chantico, after the Aztec goddess of the hearth. They say "the name evokes the warmth and enchantment that the goddess Chantico symbolized and the experience that customers will find in every cup of Chantico(TM) drinking chocolate." That's lovely. But last time I checked, the goddess Chantico also wore a crown of poisoned cactus spikes and symbolized the combination of pleasure and pain that is domestic life. Of course, the 6 oz drink does have 390 calories and 21 grams of fat, so perhaps the name is more thoughtful than I give them credit for.

Is "corporate Indian" an oxymoron?

In Indian Country Today, Lance Morgan asks, if an Indian works in corporate America, is s/he still an Indian? Are we guilty of stereotyping ourselves right out of economic success? Can you get an MBA and still do your own beadwork? Are Indians really capitalists, stolen horses and all, and this commie tribal shit is just plain overrated?

Read Collective cultural guilt

Thursday, February 17, 2005

..then I'm a groupie

In his interview with the Arizona Daily Star, Indian poet, author, filmaker extraordinaire Sherman Alexie says "I figured I'd have a good career but nothing like this. I'm almost a rock star."

Well, if Alexie is a rock star, then I'm a groupie. He's all over the 2005 Tucson Poetry Festival, so someone go throw their underwear at him for me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A People of Action and Hope

Recently, Tex Hall, the President of the National Congress of the American Indian, oldest and largest tribal government organization in the United States, gave his State of American Indian Nations address. Read it all here.

Hall covered the two biggies in Indian Country, education and health, both victims of underfunding and budget cuts. But he also mentioned a few newcomers that I was happy made it in: telecommunications/infrastructure creation and entrepreneurship.

Probably the most eye-opening statements were Hall's assertions that Native women are raped at three times the rate of the national average (9 out of 10 by non-Natives!) and only 50% of Natives graduate from high school. Horrible facts that we must work to stop. But Hall ended on a note of hope.

"..We have faced the worst that could be thrown at us and survived..

We are a people of action and hope. We have too much at stake to not protect out communities and our families. Native nations, like our homelands, shall endure. This country is the land of the our ancestors and the land of our children."

Identifying Churchill

It has been interesting to see the way that the Ward Churchill controversy has been handled. I search the mainstream media for mention of Churchill's association with AIM and his claims of Native blood, but they seem to avoid mention of it. Do they worry that the mere mention of the man's rather outspoken ethnic self-identification will make them racists? I'm frankly surprised they don't all drop their cause-du-jour and rally round the Indian. Don't folks like to do that? Or is it that they aren't sure how to handle an angry Indian that would call them and those like them "little Eichmanns"?

On the other hand, the talk in Indian country is all about Churchill's claims to indigenous bloodlines. Most Indians seem to be rushing to distance themselves from Churchill, ready to believe that he isn't a real Indian. But then, most Indians err on the side of doubt when it comes to such claims. Nevermind that Churchill has critiqued the dominant culture for its history of genocide and its continued oppression of Native peoples. From what I can tell, he's on our side.

What's my opinion? Well, obviously Churchill is now suffering from a delayed case of dumbass. He may have had something interesting to say in his 9/11 essay of three years ago, but because of the sensational language he used to express it, not many people are going to hear it. But I also strongly believe in freedom of speech, particularly in academia. So if the man wants to be a dumbass, then by all means.

As for the identity issue. Well, I'm all for granting the widest possible lattitude when it comes to self-identification. Who am I to say who one is or is not? As long as he doesn't start talking about his Cherokee princess grandma, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The Journey Begins

When the Aztecs celebrated the holiday of Xocotlhuetzi, they laid trails of marigolds for their ancestors, so that the dead could find their way home. This tradition continues in the celebration of Los Dias de los Muertos. Consider this my marigold trail.