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Friday, September 3, 2010

What Can a Pow Wow Do for A Community? by CFT

Here's my thoughts on some questions which I frequently get in various forms. I notice my answers are somewhat the same each time, but threads or themes get emphasized more or less each time I see the questions - just depends on where my mind is at the moment! Here are my thoughts today…

How accurately are Native American traditions portrayed?

In what? Music, movies, video games, literature, advertisements, cartoons, in educational curriculum, by anthropologists? The list goes on. If you ask a child (and many adults), "What does a Native American look like?" You will get a visual of a person with feathers holding a weapon, sometimes he/she will have long hair. That image is so ingrained in the United States psyche that it is difficult to unravel because alongside the image is the teaching that most Native people are dead and that we all lived in the past. Movies and literature written by Native people have made many strides forward in accurate portrayals, however, generally are not as popular as writing and movies by nonNative people about Native Americans.

In sports, caricatures of Native people and stereotypical acts (tomahawk chop) exist and are accepted in ways portraying any other ethnic group would be seen as an obvious stereotype and eliminated. There are things about us that are true for some of us, but they are blown out of proportion and applied to everyone. Yes, many of us are spiritual, but not to the exclusion of other ways to be. Yes, we protect the land, don't we all want clean water and not chemically treated food? Yes, we complain about stereotypes and inaccuracies of us as a people, but that's because change for our community is coming at such a slow pace. There are many more things about us that are false: we don't all live in tipis, we don't all ride horses, we don't all wear leather or feathers or moccasins or head dresses…

What is meaningful about these types of gatherings? How does it affect those who attend them?

Gatherings, such as Pow Wows, are meaningful in multiple ways. For the public, in the most simple way, they offer a place to see a "real Indian," not the storybook stereotype, but a living Native person who is blending traditional and contemporary traditions and culture in today's world - just like everybody else. In a more complex way, visitors to a Pow Wow get to see (and sometimes experience) the original "American" culture, that of the indigenous people of the Americas. I refer to all indigenous people of the Western hemisphere because the United States political boundaries are much newer than the Nations who spread out and lived upon this land from Canada to South America. Visitors can also learn more in depth information by listening to the emcee and asking questions of dancers and vendors.

For us, a Pow Wow is a social gathering where we can see and interact and dance with other Native Americans in ways that our ancestors have been getting together for generations. It's like "FaceBook live." While we come from all over and have diverse backgrounds, we also share our common Native American heritage. We don't have churches or community centers in every town where we can get together, or even a radio station or television show where we can hear/see ourselves accurately represented. Pow Wow is a place to bring our families, be ourselves, and see some the diversity of the Native American experience.

What more could be done to integrate Native American traditions and ways of thinking into a town's day-to-day life?

Acknowledging that Native Americans lived on the very land that the town now lies on is a beginning. There are probably roads and lakes with Native American names. These road were probably once the trails and paths which Native people walked. The fields were probably clear cut by indigenous people. The balance that existed between living on the land and keeping the land healthy is another value that people in Haverhill can take into day-to-day life. And finally, gaining perspective on how we all share the world with many ethnic groups who have different practices and beliefs, that no one way is the only (or the "right") way to be. That perspective is a gift to everyone who thinks they are "just like everybody else."