Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Eternal Embrace -- revisited

The Eternal Embrace – revisited

I wrote earlier of a “prehistoric” couple that had been unearthed near Verona Italy. Well, the follow-up is good news and bad news. The good news is that the couple who, deeply in love, wished to remain together, even in death will still remain together. Elena Menotti, the archeologist who led the dig, is quoted in a recent associated press article as saying, “we will work to keep them together.” It is nice that they will not be pulled apart in the interest of “science.” The bad news is that the loving couple, whoever they are, will be put on display Mantua, Italy. Is this any different that having a picture of the bones on the front of every major newspaper in the world? I don’t know. The picture brings home many important messages to the people who are alive now. Displaying their actual dead bodies?

Think of it this way.

There is a movie I saw some long time ago. For the life of me I can’t remember what it is called at the moment, except that the producers where Native American or “American Indian” depending on which term you prefer. In the scene, some young Lakota students walk up to a team of archeologists. One student, holding a shovel, asks one of the archeologists where his grandmother is buried. When the archeologists asks why, the Lakota man says, “You’re digging up my grandmother, I am going to go dig up yours.”

And thereby hangs a tale or two…

Some of the Eastern American Indian tribes have had to be so concerned with grave robbers that they have to have tribal members patrol their cemeteries, for fear people will dig up the graves to steal the objects, including the very clothes people are buried in, simply because of a “street value.” For myself, my traditional clothing took me two years to make, hand sewing on thousands of tiny beads. I too worry that if I am buried in my traditional clothing someone will dig up the grave for the clothes so they can sell them.

What is the point? The point is about respect. But respect is a two way street. If you want it, you have to give it in return. Like unrequited love, what good is unrequited respect? While I may at least attempt to love those who hate me, don’t complain if you treat everyone around you like dirt, and they reciprocate in kind. If there is a lack of respect for indigenous people, like American Indians, I too, have seen and experienced a lack of respect the other way around. Let me share a passage from a book I wrote for the convent called “Congratulations your baby is a boy and a girl”

“Red necks and REDNECKS…

There is a tendency to view Native Americans as either being constantly drunk or noble and austere. The truth is somewhere in between. As I found, and a elder later put into words so eloquently, “even amongst red necks there are rednecks.”

This point was vividly demonstrated for a friend, Judy, and I at a rural pow wow, where our limits were tested. Before we even arrived, a man was forced out of the dance arena simply because a handful of veterans did not like what he was wearing. These were men, unconnected with the pow wow, who assumed that being a veteran conferred upon them some quasi-official status of authority. Those holding the pow wow did nothing. Unfortunately for my friend and I, the ruckus was over with by the time we arrived; otherwise there might have been some portent of what was to come.

We arrived for the evening session, expecting a wait to dance. At the time, I was the only member of the family that had regalia, traditional clothing, in which dancing is done. My regalia reflects my service to my country as a veteran and my personal battles outside the military. It is the regalia of a woman warrior, which I have earned. I was registered for the woman’s traditional dance. Not long after my friend and I were invited to a meal for those who were participating in the dance. Dripping sweat in the hot July afternoon, we waited in line for our food. A voice came from behind us. It was an elder we had not seen in some time. This is what traditional pow wow is about; reuniting with old friends, and dancing to honor elders, ancestors and the Creator. We spent the remainder of the meal catching up on news with our elder.

After the meal, Judy and I made our way back to the dance arena. We were intercepted by the same man who had signed me up to dance. Incredulous, we listened to the words he spoke to me.

“We feel you should dance with the men.

Make no mistake. This was not meant as a privilege. It was meant as an insult. This was meant to question my gender and role as a woman. Before I could utter a word, Judy leaped to my defense. It was not long before her very verbal and very vehement objections attracted the attentions of one of the cronies of the man who stopped us. While Judy diverted her vindication toward the new arrival. I simply took my driver’s license out of my pocket and shoved it in his face.

“Does that say female? Let me get my glasses.”

If his reply was meant to aggravate Judy and I, he made his mark. Judy barely contained her anger as the newcomer donned his glasses. Peering over his bifocals he was presented with irrefutable proof of his error.

Like so many other men, these were mired in an archaic, idealized, self conceived image of womanhood as delicate, docile, and subservient. The view they held was little more than misogynistic conceit that in this case was being passed off as a matter of tradition and faith.

By now my friend was hopping mad. I walked on, as she stormed along a half step behind me. The same voice that came from behind us from dinner, now called out from behind us again. The elder invited us into his come to his camp to visit with him again. The elder, unaware of what had just happened was jovial and friendly. It was not long however before a young man invited himself in to camp, interrupting our conversation with the elder. Announcing himself to be the “spiritual advisor of the pow wow” he compounded his rude act by ignoring the elder and launching into a diatribe aimed at me. It was a diatribe meant to once again bring into question my gender and my role.

“What has this got to do with spirituality?, demanded
the elder.”

What followed was a stream of excuses. I met all of the “spiritual advisor’s” accusations with calm denials. Satisfied, his demeanor changed and he extended a hand welcoming me to the pow-wow. The young man who supposed himself to be a spiritual leader, in direct contravention to what any elder present was willing to acknowledge, was little more than an apple…red on the outside and white on the inside. The charlatan advisor, like his Cro-Magnon cronies, used a pretense of faith as a thinly disguised veil for his prejudice. It was a twisted logic used to reason away hate by the unreasoning mind of a bigot. How often have member of society tried to pass off blind hatred as the mores somehow giving them permission to hate?

When we were finally left alone, the elder counseled Judy and I on forgiveness. However, all that had taken place was more than she could bear. She fled campsite to the shelter of the truck. Judy is a strong woman who never cries. On this occasion she did. Not for herself, but for the way I had been treated.

As if all that had taken place were not enough to bear, one further interloper lurched his way into camp. After a short pretense of a conversation he too decided to make his accusations even though his spiritual advisor had been satisfied.

“I have been practicing medicine too long to believe this, he said.

A woman with us in the camp spoke up.

“I thought individuals like her were traditionally honored, people of two spirits”

“Well yes,” came the hesitant reply, upon which came his own his diatribe of twisted logic and selective memory of history and tradition. Even when confront with irrefutable, undeniable proof, he could not let go of his hatred.

He was interrupted by the woman again.

“ARE you a doctor?”

“well no…I am a pharmacist…”

She had caught him in his lie…as if his conjured credentials would somehow make his blend of true tradition and good old fashion hate acceptable.

“Are you concerned with tradition? I confronted the phony doctor. Traditionally you should be honored to have me here.

I used the Lakota terms that fit the situation, which were returned with only puzzled looks.

“Traditionally I would have been asked to bless your warriors before they went into battle.

Still he chose to hold fast to his assimilated values and tell himself that what was good old cross burnin’ hatred was simply a matter of faith. At least he blessed the camp by leaving it.

Rescue me…

With the handshake welcoming me to the pow wow I felt I had won a battle if only a personal one. I also knew, even before my elder, Blackwolf, later forbid me from doing so, that I would not disgrace the elders I had come to honor by dancing at a pow-wow with individuals such as this, and so many others, who had disgraced themselves. It is ironic that the purpose of the pow wow was to “honor the firekeepers,” the elders, the keepers of wisdom. The man who supposed himself to be a spiritual advisor my friend said, “went back to his world of whisky and white man’s two step.”

I followed Judy back to the truck, where Elder Blackwolf had already come to console and counsel us.

“You asked yourself, why are people treating us like this. You were right to leave. There is a presence of evil at this pow-wow. These people don’t believe in the Red Path. They are here to honor some false traditions which is not the old way. I did not teach you to be weak. You are both strong. You came to enjoy in spirit and celebration, not to be accused of something you are not. They feel they are following the right path, BUT THEY ARE NOT. THEY ARE MISTAKEN. People should come to the pow-wow to celebrate who they are and what they have seen. To honor the elders and their ways. Not “are you of this tribe or that tribe. Are you a man or a woman.” This is not what pow-wows are abou. This is why elders left this pow-wow.”

Before we left the pow-wow entirely, I returned briefly to the camp of the elder with whom we had shared a meal. He greeted me and said, “Even amongst red necks, there are rednecks.”

“I will forgive, I told the elder, but I will also stand my ground. I will defend my ways and my elders. My elder feels that the spiritual advisor has disgraced himself. He feels that there is a presence of evil here. I dance to honor my teacher. I dance to honor my elders who have walked on and I dance to honor my creator. As the Christians say, sing and dance and make a joyful noise to the Creator.

The elder understood.

“I will not dance here, I told him, my elder has forbidden me to do so, so I will honor his wishes.”

“I too feel the spirit of evil, he replied. Many of the elders have already left the pow-wow.

I told the elder good bye and he asked to meet me at a pow-wow held in September. Elder Blackwolf had come to rescue us from people who held a spirit of evil in their hearts.”

Respect doesn’t come with a title or social position. It is not automatic. Like disrespect, it is usually earned – but not always. The cold hard fact of the matter is that not everyone lives by God’s commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” The world is full of people who will not love you back no matter how you treat them. That is why, as Christ told us, that the path to Heaven is narrow and the path to hell is wide. We have to be in the world but not of it. But being in the world means that if you treat people like dirt, don’t get shocked when someone else digs up your grandmother and puts them on display in Mantua, Italy.

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