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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Marshfield Pow Wow Language Cards Educational Presentation by CFT

This is an ongoing column about the interactive educational discussion presented by me (Claudia Fox Tree) at MCNAA pow wows. The recent May conversation held in Marshfield for the Spring Planting Moon pow wow was another opportunity to discuss a sampling of topics through an activity involving “language cards.”  As a quick reminder, I have created cards with four sets of words and phrases. The cards provide a point of departure for group conversations and then a question/answer time with me. I refer folks back to the Fall, 2011 Turtle Talk for a detailed description of the activity, the process for conversation, and a short discussion of the following words and phrases: legend, Tonto, Westward Expansion, primitive, I'm part Indian, Boriqua/en, Diné, AIM (American Indian Movement), smudge, Tisquantum (Squanto's name), regalia, tobacco, low man on the totem pole, and acting like a bunch of wild Indians.  See the Winter, 2011 Turtle Talk for the following words and phrases: Mexican, immigration, medicine man, redskins, shaman, sovereignty, I had a dream last and April’s Fool’s Day.

The "name cards" have words that are used to describe Native People.  This conversation is about when one would use which word, or what words should be explained before being used (or not used at all). We talked about Tisquantum (Squanto's name) and Boriqua/en (the Traditional name for the island of Puerto Rico).  See previous Turtle Talks to read specifics about these names.

The "text and media cards" have words that are "problematic" or require thoughtfulness before using as they can provoke strong emotional responses. These words may be seen and heard in textbooks, novels, movies, commercials, and cartoons, to name a few areas.   We talked about the word savage and how it has derogatory implications of being less than human or animal-like. We discussed the terms: Manifest Destiny, Reservations, Half-Blood/Half-Breed, Slave/Slavery, and Middle Passage.  Manifest Destiny implies that one group (European colonizers) has the right to overpower, exploit, and even kill another group because it is “destined” to have that land and be the dominant group. Reservations are areas of land reserved by the U.S. government as permanent tribal homelands. The United States established its reservation policy for American Indians in 1787. Today there are 314 reservations, among the last large tracts of private lands. More than 78 percent of American Indians live away from reservations. Half-blood and half-breed are derogatory terms that should be avoided.  They refer to a black/white mix, as well as a person who is half/part Native American. 

The term, enslaved people, is preferred to slaves or slavery because it better describes the practice imposed on a people and retains their human dignity, rather than remind the people that they were objectified as mere property.  Part of our discussion about enslavement included remembering that Columbus immediately enslaved Native Americans and the practice continued for centuries, quickly including Africans through the Triangular Trade.  Also, we discussed instances where Native Americans enslaved other Native Americans (i.e. Maya, Aztec).  This Native American enslavement was qualitatively different than the “curious American institution of slavery,” since captured folks who were enslaved could earn their way out of enslavement, eventually inter-marry, and even rise in the social-political power structure, something African people never/rarely were able to do.  Some Native Americans also owned and enslaved African people once they had assimilated into the southern economic plantation system.  This is particularly interesting, since these same Native People who felt like they were “just like everyone else” were then marched across the country in what is known as the Trail of Tears for being clearly NOT part of the mainstream society. The Middle Passage refers to the Atlantic slave trade. John Henrick Clarke sums it up, “No where in the annals of history has a people experienced such a long and traumatic ordeal as Africans during the Atlantic slave trade. Over the nearly four centuries of the slave - which continued until the end of the Civil War - millions of African men, women, and children were savagely torn from their homeland, herded onto ships, and dispersed all over the so-called New World. Although there is no way to compute exactly how many people perished, it has been estimated that between thirty and sixty million Africans were subjected to this horrendous triangular trade system and that only one third-if that-of those people survived.” The part that is missing is that Native Americans were included in this trade when they were brought from the Americas to England/Spain and when they were brought between the U.S. and Caribbean areas.

The "phrase cards" have expressions that one might read in magazines or books or hear on television or in social situations. This conversation can be about the problems with the phrase, a larger stereotypical context, or a piece of history that is captured in the phrase. We talked about the phrase, “I had a dream last night” and how Native Americans are stereotyped as interpreters of dreams.  See previous Turtle Talks to replay a more detailed explanation.

The "culture cards" have words that are meaningful to Native Americans and important to now when you are re/connecting with the culture. I choose some words that are common across Native Nations, and others that are specific to a particular Nation, to give participants a taste of culturally relevant terminology. In Marshfield, we talked about these cultural words and their impact:  Holocaust and Giveaway/Gifting. The Holocaust is known as a time when 12 million deaths and murders (6 million of which were Jewish) during WWII by Hitler and his followers occurred.  It’s important to know that Native Americans also describe the destruction of culture and people in the Americas as a holocaust.   Similarly, Holocaust Remembrance Day – April 18, to honor the memory of the Six Million Jews by learning about their heroism in the face of inhumanity, and exploring the roots of anti-Semitism.  The word holocaust evokes destruction of any people.  We talked about the term and meaning behind the giveaway/gifting. This is the custom of sharing property or making some other personal sacrifice to honor the recipient or earn prestige for the giver (e.g. Potlatch).  The term giveaway appears especially connected to Native People from the plains.  Often also associated with reciprocal obligation.