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Posts Tagged ‘indigenous’

Photo: Allison Stocks
Recent carbon dating has revealed that the oldest clam garden known to science was built about 3,500 years ago,” says the Guardian. It’s in Canada’s Vancouver area.

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy the verbal style some indigenous people use when speaking of traditional ways or of ancestors. If it is not disrespectful to say so, it transports me to a place in the imagination where wizards and Hobbits reside — different from my own place in a way that feels both magical and close to Nature.

In Vancouver, Adrienne Matei writes for the Guardian, “On winter nights for the past six years, a group of 20 people have rustled through dark, coniferous woods to emerge on a Canadian beach at the lowest possible tide, illuminated by a correspondingly full moon.

“An elder offers a greeting to the place and a prayer, then the team of researchers, volunteers, and First Nations ‘knowledge holders’ lights a warming fire and begins its work. At sites outlined by stones placed hundreds or even thousands of years ago, some begin raking, or ‘fluffing,’ the top three inches of the beach, loosening rocks and mud — and a remarkable number of old clam shells.

“When the tide comes back in, it will flush out any rotting organic matter, changing ‘some places that are compact and smelly into a good clam beach again.’ says Skye Augustine, a member of the Stz’uminus First Nation.

“This spot was once a clam garden, an ancient indigenous form of mariculture that coastal First Nations people have used for millennia. It is estimated that they once numbered in the thousands along the Pacific north-western coast, though ruins are all that’s left of most. In collaboration with the W̱SÁNEĆ and Hul’q’umi’num nations, Augustine has spearheaded the first formal clam garden rehabilitations at two sites in the Gulf Islands, in British Columbia, with dozens more to follow.

‘My elders articulated to me that if we want to bring our beaches back to life again, we need to bring people back on to them to care for them as they have been cared for in the past.

” ‘That became my inspiration for my education and career,’ she says. ‘How do we make this clam garden thing happen?’

“For millennia pre-colonization, clam gardens epitomized sustainable food security for Pacific north-western coastal nations from northern Washington to south-eastern Alaska. Modern studies have found that clam gardens have historically been up to 300% more productive than unmodified beaches, that their clams grew larger and faster than average, and that the clams did not exhibit any signs of resource stress from over-harvesting.

“To create the beaches, indigenous people built rock walls parallel to a beach’s low tide line, which would trap sediment and flatten the slope of the shore. With continuing tending, such as tilling to improve aeration and the removal of predators like sea stars, these gardens increase or create habitat for butter, littleneck, and horse clams, as well as crabs, chitons, seaweeds, and other useful species.

“Recent carbon dating has revealed that the oldest clam garden known to science was built about 3,500 years ago. …

“ ‘It has always been our duty to be the stewards of the land,’ says group member Nicole Norris, a knowledge holder for the Hul’q’umi’num and an aquaculture specialist. ‘It is the exact same land my ancestors walked. … From the work that we’ve done, we’ve seen the greater ecosystem return – some of the people who live in the local communities have talked about the return of certain birds and plants, and that’s been heartwarming,’ she says.

“In addition to providing food, clam gardens have historically provided the opportunity for ‘grandparents, aunties, and uncles to spend time at the beach with their grandchildren and younger generations, not only teaching about how to tend the environment … but sharing stories, language, spiritual ties to the place,’ says Melissa Poe, who specializes in the social and cultural dimensions of ecosystems at the University of Washington.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Jack Plant
A spirit bear in British Columbia. “A recent study revealed that the white bear is rarer and more vulnerable than previously thought.” says the
Guardian.

When my grandchildren were old enough for a story but young enough for “The Three Bears,” I often created variations on demand. The youngest granddaughter in particular had a range of complicated story lines she wanted to hear, in which Baby Bear had her name and an older brother bear had her brother’s name.

Because almost everyone likes stories about bears, I’m telling three today. All true.

Alexandra Harvey reported the first story for the Guardian. “When Marven Robinson was a kid, any mention of spirit bears was met with hushed dismissal from the elders in his community, the Gitga’at First Nation of Hartley Bay, British Columbia. Since the 19th century, Indigenous peoples in the area learned to keep the bears with ghostly coats a secret to protect them from fur traders.

“As the ancient legend goes, the Wee’get (meaning the ‘raven,’ known as the creator of the world) turned every 10th black bear white to remind people of the pristine conditions of the Ice Age.

“Spirit bears are white-coated black bears that inherit their pale fur from a rare recessive gene. Known as moksgm’ol, meaning ‘white bear, spirit bears are sacred to the Indigenous people who live in the Great Bear Rainforest. …

“A recent collaborative study by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais and Gitga’at First Nations and academic researchers has revealed that the white bear is rarer and more vulnerable than previously thought.

“Researchers spent eight years combing 18,000sq km of the rainforest, placing lures on barbed wire to collect hair samples from black and spirit bears and map out the presence of the white bear gene. … The study concluded the gene that causes spirit bears is up to 50% rarer than previously thought. Urgently, about half of spirit bear hotspots fall outside of British Columbia protected areas, making their habitats vulnerable to logging, mining and drilling projects.

“Spirit bears have long been present in First Nations traditional song, dance, and storytelling. … Before he saw a spirit bear for himself, Douglas Neasloss, co-author of the study and resource stewardship director for the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, doubted they even existed. When he was 17, he went in search of spirit bears, half in jest, with some friends.

‘I just thought they were pulling my leg,’ Neasloss said. …

“Sure enough, as he was walking through the forest, he saw one of the magical white bears making its way toward him, sun shining through the trees, salmon hanging out of its mouth. From that moment on, he knew they had to be protected. …

Research by University of Victoria scientists found, because of their white color, spirit bears have a unique advantage over black bears when catching salmon since they blend into the daylight. Spirit bears’ propensity for catching salmon helps explain their resilience despite being so rare, says Christina Service, wildlife biologist for Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation Stewardship Authority and lead author on the spirit bear study.

“Worryingly, climate change is wiping away salmon stocks, posing a big threat to bears’ food supply. British Columbia’s Pacific salmon populations have declined by over 80% since the 1990s. Neasloss says 2020 has been the worst year yet.

“Equipped with new information about the vulnerability of spirit bears, the question now is how best to protect them. For Neasloss and many others who know the bears intimately, the answer is obvious: Leave it up to the First Nations, the original stewards of the land. … Neasloss is involved in efforts to create a new land designation for the rainforest called an Indigenous Protected Area, a conservation strategy that is gaining traction across Canada. …

“ ‘For the last 150 years, we’ve been on the outside looking in,’ Neasloss says. ‘Drawing a line on the map does not protect an area. The people do.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

For the second of my three bear stories, I offer one from CNN, where Anna Chernova and Lianne Kolirin wrote, “The perfectly preserved remains of an Ice Age cave bear have been discovered in the Russian Arctic — the first example of the species ever to be found with soft tissues intact. The astonishing find was made by reindeer herders on the Lyakhovsky Islands, which are part of the New Siberian islands archipelago in Russia’s Far North.”

Interesting that indigenous people are involved in that story, too, and that they’re sharing their information with nonindigenous scientists.

There are no indigenous people involved in my third story, as far as I know. According to Travis Anderson at the Boston Globe, a bear has raided a Covid food pantry at a Westhampton, Massachusetts, church. Quoting the church’s website, he writes, “This week the bears decided that they had more need of the food bank than we did, so we’ve had to temporarily disband services.”

The church is looking for a new site.

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Photo: Annette Ruzicka/ Guardian
Ngarinyin children playing in a region of Australia that’s reclaiming indigenous place names.

As a fan of efforts to preserve rare languages, I believe that using native people’s names for geographical places is also important. Brian Friel captures the concept in Translations, his play about English soldiers changing place names in Ireland: “It can happen that a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of … fact.”

Colonists always try to impose their culture, but in the end, it is unlikely to turn out well.

At the Guardian series “Indigenous Investigations,” Annette Ruzicka reports in a photo essay that the reinstatement of traditional place names in a region of Australia “signals a new wave of empowerment” for aboriginal people called the Ngarinyin.

“Hit the Gibb River Road out of Derby, Western Australia, and you find yourself heading towards the northern Kimberley plateau, a breathtaking landscape of sandstone ranges, rivers and boab-dotted savannah country. About 63,000 sq km of this land is Wilinggin country of the Ngarinyin people and their connection to country dates back 60,000 years.

“One of the first stops towards Wilinggin country passes the Queen Victoria Head – a rock formation bearing an uncanny resemblance to the famous monarch. While it’s a blunt reminder of colonialism, it’s also the gateway to an area that until very recently had far more dubious name – the King Leopold Ranges, named after the Belgian king responsible for grievous atrocities, brutal oppression and enslavement of African people. …

“After two years of work behind the scenes, traditional owner groups made some new headlines with a historic name change to the Wunaamin Miliwundi Ranges. It’s a hybrid name to represent both the Ngarinyin (Wunaamin) and Bunuba (Miliwundi) traditional names.

“Since then, another seven places in this conservation park have changed back to their Ngarinyin name.

“Since the Wanjina Wunggurr Wilinggin native title determination in 2004, the Ngarinyin people have made significant moves to empower their community and return to, and care for, country. One of the first things they set up after determination was an Indigenous ranger program: the Wunggurr Rangers.

“Ngarinyin man Robin Dann was one of the first rangers employed and is now head ranger, living on country in the Ngallagunda community, with his family. His younger brother Kane Nenowatt is more recent addition to the Wunggurr rangers while his wife, Tanya Spider, sits on the Wilinggin board of directors. …

“One of locations changed back to its traditional name is (the formerly named) Barker pool, now Dudungarri mindi. The name refers to the dreamtime story of the Wanjina spirit and the Yawarlngarri jirri (blue catfish) which live in this pool. This represents a rich and ancient history that Ngarinyin people hope to share with visitors alongside the staggering beauty of the region. …

“With it comes a genuine economy: employment and investment brought to the region by the people themselves. With a second ranger group on the way, the determination of the Ngarinyin people to stand on their own is a shining light in an uncertain world.” More at the Guardian, here.

On Facebook, I started following a different group of Australian indigenous people, NPY Women’s Council. The home page says it “is led by women’s law, authority and culture to deliver health, social and cultural services for all Anangu.” In one post, Nellie Patterson reported, “We went to the Olympics so that all the people there would see the strength of who we are. The Olympic experience has made us strong with a resolve that has never been shaken since.

“We did a really important inma (ceremony) in Sydney and we did it with the intention of making a deep impression on the people who saw it and in the hope of better relationships and collaborations with other people in the future. It was a very important occasion.

“My sister carried a great deal of valuable knowledge and she and I made this inma available through Women’s Council for the benefit of everyone across the country.” For more about the council, click here.

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Otters!

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Photo: Isabelle Groc
Historical records show that otters were once abundant in California’s estuaries. Now they’re back — and bringing surprising benefits.

This is a story about America’s smallest marine mammals and how they are improving ecosystems.

Isabelle Groc reports at the Guardian, “When Brent Hughes started studying the seagrass beds of Elkhorn Slough, an estuary in Monterey Bay on California’s central coast, he was surprised by what he found. In this highly polluted estuary, excessive nutrients from agricultural runoff spur the growth of algae on seagrass leaves, which kills the plants. Yet in 2010, Hughes noticed that the seagrass beds were thriving. It did not make sense. …

“Hughes [a biologist at Sonoma State University] examined every possible factor, including water quality, temperature and changes in seagrass coverage over time, going back 50 years. He was not making any progress until he was approached by a boat captain named Yohn Gideon who had been running wildlife tours in the slough since 1995. Over the years, the captain had handed clickers to his passengers, asking them to count the sea otters they saw.

Hughes overlaid the captain’s sea otter counts with historical seagrass coverage data and realised the two graphs were almost perfectly in sync. When sea otter numbers went up, seagrass went up, too.

“ ‘You don’t see that very often in ecology. That was a eureka moment.’ …

“Sea otters may be North America’s smallest marine mammal, but they have a huge appetite. … When the otters first moved into the slough in the 1980s, they put their big appetites to work eating crabs. With fewer crabs to prey on them, the California sea hares – a sea slug – grew larger and became more abundant. The slugs fed on the algae growing on the seagrass, leaving the leaves healthy and clean. …

“Since the otters arrived in the slough, the seagrass has recovered and increased by more than 600% in the past three decades.

“Sea otters had already shown that they were capable of a large influence on the ecosystem. In the 1970s, biologist James Estes was conducting research in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and noticed some areas where the seafloor was covered with sea urchins. As herbivores, urchins feed on kelp, and when their numbers are not kept in check by predators, no kelp remains. In contrast, in places where sea otters were present, kelp forests were thriving. …

“But the discovery that sea otters could also be important players in estuaries came as an ecological surprise. In fact, scientists had not even expected sea otters to survive in an estuary. … Since the otters were first recovering in kelp forests along the open coast, the scientists who studied the animals assumed that this was their primary habitat. When they started turning up in Elkhorn Slough in the 1980s, they thought that was an anomaly, failing to realise that they were in fact reoccupying old habitats. …

“Estuaries were not even considered in the US fish and wildlife service’s plan for the recovery of the sea otter in California, listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. … In the past decade, the expansion of sea otters on the California coast has been curbed unexpectedly by the presence of the great white sharks. …

“Estuaries could provide otters with an important refuge from sharks and other unfavourable coast conditions, such as storms and warming events. …

“ ‘Once fully recovered, between a quarter and one third of the entire population in California could be accounted for by otters living in estuaries,’ [Tim Tinker, a wildlife biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz,] says. …

“However, the benefits are not felt equally, especially among indigenous communities who rely on shellfish harvesting for food security.

“ ‘Sea otter recovery is different from the recovery of any other species because they have such disproportionally big effects on the ecosystem,’ Tinker says. ‘For most depleted species you are just worried about the conservation of the species but with sea otters, you are thinking how the entire ecosystem is going to change when they recover.’ ”

More.

Hat tip: Earle.

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Photo: Lauren Justice for the New York Times
“Faced with grocery shortages,” reports the
New York Times, “many Native Americans have started collecting seeds to plant in their gardens at home.” Among members of the Oneida Nation, white corn, above, is prized for its versatility and nutrient density. 

As many of us non-gardeners start to wonder if we could grow tomatoes and lettuce in the kitchen window, we look with envy at people who can feed themselves without grocery stores.

Recently I read an article in the New York Times by Priya Krishna about indigenous Americans who, although suffering in the pandemic like the rest of us, at least have ancient wisdom they can dust off to help them survive.

“For the roughly 20,000 members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — a vast, two million-acre expanse in southern South Dakota — social distancing is certainly feasible. Putting food on the table? Less so.

“Getting to food has long been a challenge for Pine Ridge residents. For a lot of people, the nearest grocery store is a two-hour drive away. Many rely on food stamps or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, a federal initiative that provides boxes of food (historically lacking in healthy options) to low-income families. Diabetes rates run very high.

“The coronavirus crisis [has] only made access to food harder, as shelves of the few groceries empty out, shipments of food boxes are delayed because of supply chain disruptions, and hunting and gathering are restricted by government regulations and environmental conditions.

“But the Oglala Sioux, like many other Native Americans across the country, are relying on the practices — seed saving, canning, dehydrating — that their forebears developed to survive harsh conditions with limited supplies. …

“Big-box stores and processed foods have eroded some of the old customs. But now, faced with a disrupted food system, many Native Americans are looking to those traditions for answers.

“Milo Yellow Hair, who lives in Wounded Knee, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is hard at work preparing 8,000 seedlings of local varieties of squash and corn — hearty crops with a short growing time — to plant in people’s yards. …

‘Here on the reservation it is a day-by-day existence,’ said Mr. Yellow Hair, 70, who works for the nonprofit Slim Buttes Agricultural Development Program. ‘If this thing goes crazy and the external food services stop, the food we grow locally is going to be paramount to meet this need.’ …

“The coronavirus emergency is dire on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, which as of [April 13] had 698 cases and 24 deaths. …

“The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa has a strong tradition of canning local crops like beets, cucumbers and carrots, and some families are known for their expertise. Many are now donating their stockpiles to those on the reservation in need.

“ ‘You don’t think twice about it,’ said [Jamie Azure, the tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, in Belcourt, N.D. ]. ‘And then when the Covid-19 threat comes through, you realize how important all of this is.’

“In Alaska, the Athabaskan peoples have long dealt with brutal, protracted winters by preserving produce and freezing meats. Cynthia Erickson, who is Athabaskan and an owner of the only grocery store in her village, Tanana, has a freezer full of moose, caribou and whitefish. But she has been struggling to get her usual wholesale suppliers to fill orders. The tribe may ask Gov. Mike Dunleavy to open moose hunting season (which normally begins in August or September) early if the food supply runs low, she said. …

“After much of his work dried up, Brian Yazzie, a private chef in St. Paul who is Navajo, decided to volunteer at the Gatherings Café in Minneapolis, which is feeding Native American seniors. He is cooking almost exclusively with traditional Native ingredients, making stew out of tepary beans from Ramona Farms in Sacaton, Ariz., and cooking elderberries into a sauce for barbecue chicken.

‘Indigenous peoples survived colonization, and so has our food and ingredients,’ said Mr. Yazzie, 33. ‘Practicing our foodways is a sign of resiliency.’ …

” ‘As this pandemic continues to grow,’ [says Chelsey Luger, who co-founded an indigenous wellness program with her husband], ‘I can tell you that I feel safer on the reservation than anywhere else.’ ”

More at the New York Times. here.

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Photo: Margaret Carew
In 2014, two Warlpiri women from central Australia were photographed performing a traditional dance about a child who attempts to take seed paste from a coolamon (vessel). Ancient stories can give us insight into survival and the interconnectedness of all things.

Back in early January, when I in my ignorance thought coronavirus was just a problem for China, I saved this story about indigenous people passing along ancient wisdom. I did understand then that we’re all connected in the sense that if your island is drowning, mine will, too. I also understoood that indigenous people know a lot about protecting nature. Today I’m thinking that the wisdom of the ancients might help us in ways we have yet to explore.

Meanwhile, check out this article at the Conversation. The authors are Dana Lepofsky of Simon Fraser University, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares at the University of Helsinki, and Oqwilowgwa Kim Recalma-Clutesi, contributor to the special issue on Ethnobiology Through Song.

“Since the beginning of time, music has been a way of communicating observations of and experiences about the world. For Indigenous Peoples who have lived within their traditional territories for generations, music is a repository of ecological knowledge, with songs embedding ancestors’ knowledge, teachings and wisdom. …

“Academics are just beginning to see the deep significance of these songs and the knowledge they carry and some are working with Indigenous collaborators to unlock their teachings.

“At the same time, non-Indigenous researchers and the general public are becoming aware of the historic and current loss of songs. Indigenous communities are also grappling with what this means. The loss of songs was brought on by brought on by colonization, forced enrollment in residential schools and the passing of the last of the traditionally trained knowledge holders and song keepers.

“A recent special issue of the Journal of Ethnobiology celebrates the power of traditional songs as storehouses of traditional ecological knowledge. …

“Although traditional music is threatened by past government-sanctioned actions and laws, with much already lost, Indigenous Peoples globally continue to use music in sacred and ritual contexts and celebrate their traditional songs.

“The lyrics in traditional songs are themselves imbued with meaning and history. Traditional songs often encode and model the proper, respectful way for humans, non-humans and the natural and supernatural realms to interact and intersect.

“For instance, among the Temiar singers of the Malaysian rainforest — who often receive their songs in dreams from deceased people and who believe all living beings are capable of having ‘personhood’ — dream-songs help mediate peoples’ relationships with these other beings. …

“The special issue was inspired by Kwaxsistalla Wathl’thla Clan Chief Adam Dick. Kwaxsistalla Wathl’thla was a trained Clan Chief, [the] keeper of hundreds of songs about the Kwakwaka’wakw people, their traditional territory in coastal British Columbia, and all aspects of their lives and their ritual world.

“In his role as ninogaad (culturally trained specialist), Kwaxsistalla Wathl’thla was the last culturally trained potlatch speaker. The cultural practice of potlatching is a central organizing structure of northern Northwest Coast peoples.

“Potlatching was banned until 1951. As a result, singing potlatch songs was a source of punishment and fear for many generations. The interruption of the transmission of traditional songs in every day and ritual life has been profound. …

“In 2002, he revealed an ancient ya’a (Dog Children song) that unlocked the mystery of lokiwey (clam gardens) on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Cultivating clams in clam gardens — rock walled terraces in the lower intertidal — is a widespread practice among Coastal First Nations. We now know this practice is at least 3,500 years old.

“Kwaxsistalla Wathl’thla’s sharing of this clam garden song unleashed a wave of research on traditional management practices and helped not only awaken people’s understanding of the extent to which Indigenous Peoples tended their landscapes, but also provided the foundation for research on how to improve clam management. …

“Despite the immense global value of traditional songs as libraries of ecological and other cultural knowledge, researchers and the general public have been slow to recognize their social and cultural importance.

“For instance, the findings of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), highlight the importance of protecting and honouring Indigenous languages, but songs are not explicitly mentioned.[But] in many Indigenous cultures certain dialects, words and expressions are found only in certain songs, not in spoken conversations. Thus, protecting traditional songs is a critical aspect of protecting Indigenous languages. …

“Recognizing the importance of traditional songs and creating a context to promote this knowledge is fundamental to Canada’s reconciliation process. Speaking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Traditional Knowledge Keepers Forum, Blackfoot Elder Reg Crowshoe said:

‘… We need to be aware or re-taught how to access those stories of our Elders, not only stories but songs, practices that give us those rights and privileges to access those stories.’ …

“Such knowledge, as in the case of clam gardens, may provide important lessons about how people today can more respectfully and sustainably interact with our non-human neighbours.” Hmmm. What if humans had left the endangered pangolin alone? Would we have a pandemic today?

More at the Conversation, here.

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Photo: Tony Avelar/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
The secret pop-up food bank for indigenous farmworkers in Santa Cruz County is promoted by word of mouth. A typical farmworker here lives under the poverty line and has few protections from unjust practices.

As we were saying, a living wage is preferable to charity. But for some people, charity is the only hope. Consider the farmworkers in this story.

Patricia Leigh Brown writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “The early winter storms gathering in the Pacific bring welcome rains to California’s tinder-dry landscape. But for farmworkers picking strawberries for less than minimum wage, the rains signal the end of the harvest season and regular work, and deliver a downpour of hunger and worry.

“That’s why about 170 indigenous Mexican women from Oaxaca line up for hours in an alley to obtain sacks of produce, diapers, and other essentials from a secret food bank once a month. For those who spend grueling days harvesting America’s bounty, this surreptitious pop-up – organized solely by word of mouth – provides a safe place for accessing free, nutritious food and supplies without fear of deportation. …

“[Watsonville] is home to some of the country’s most vulnerable – the thousands of indigenous farmworkers in California, an unknown number of unauthorized residents, who live in severely substandard conditions and speak a variety of pre-Columbian languages rather than English or Spanish.

“The stealth food operation … is organized by Ann López, in conjunction with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County. An emerita professor, ‘Dr. Ann’ as she is known, started a nonprofit called the Center for Farmworker Families after interviewing numerous agricultural laborers for her Ph.D. dissertation.

‘There was a family with four little girls crying for food,’ she recalls. ‘I opened the refrigerator and they had a head of lettuce, one third of a gallon of milk, and two Jell-O cups. That was it. What I found was a population inordinately poor and suffering.’

“Ernestina Solorio, who has legal status to work in the U.S., spends 10 hours a day, six days a week in the fields during the season. Strawberries are among the most labor-intensive crops, known as la fruta del diablo, or the devil’s fruit, for the hours it takes hunched over low-to-the-ground berries to pluck them without bruising.

“Ms. Solorio earns $20,000 in a good year, well above average for a farmworker but also well under the federal poverty rate for Ms. Solorio’s family of four children. … The math is grim: about $200 a month after rent to pay for everything else.

” ‘The work won’t pick up again until mid-April, depending on the weather,’ Ms. Solorio explains. ‘That’s why so many of us are stressed.’

“From a makeshift staging area in a garage, her compatriots file past tables piled high with diapers, laundry detergent, and toilet tissue, all while juggling toddlers in pajamas and babies nestled in blankets or shawl rebozos (traditional baby carriers).

“Some dig through piles of donated clothes before moving on to the main event – repurposed onion bags heavy with sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, kale, and other fresh vegetables and smaller white plastic bags filled with rice, lentils, and canned goods from the USDA. Strollers double as grocery carts. …

“ ‘You would never see this concentration of Oaxacans,’ says Ms. López, dressed for the season in a bright red sweater and snowman earrings. ‘They are always hiding in the fields or their apartments.’  …

“A monthly phone tree alerts people to the food bank’s hidden locale. ‘I never dreamed it would expand to the whole community,’ says Dominga, who is an unauthorized resident and fears for her family’s safety. …

“Her landlord refuses to provide a rent receipt, and a friend who was recently evicted similarly had no paper trail. Dominga worries the same thing could happen to her own family. [And according to Gretchen Regenhardt, regional directing attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance,] wage theft – not paying overtime, making people work beyond the clock, or under-recording hours worked – is common. …

“The underground food bank joins 30 established food distribution sites scattered around Watsonville at churches, health clinics, and charities. A hefty portion of the vegetables come from local farms and packing houses, much of it privately donated, says Willy Elliott-McCrea, CEO of Second Harvest Watsonville. …

“For the holidays, a local church [gathered] up coats and shoes while the Friends of Farmworker Families, which depends largely on private donations, supplies the toys. But for those patiently waiting, the most important gift is having enough food to tide the family over.” More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

If anyone knows of a way to ensure that the fruits and vegetables I buy are picked by farmworkers who are being treated fairly, I’d sure like to know what it is. Is there some kind of label farms can earn? Send it along.

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Photo: Daniel Boud
“It’s in our Indigenous DNA to use oral stories … to carry culture,” says Stephen Page of Bangarra, a dance company in Australia.

When the new has practically obliterated the old, it’s not a bad idea to co-opt the new and use it for your own purposes. That’s what some indigenous people in Australia are doing as they test the possibilities of virtual reality for passing along oral traditions.

As Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore writes at the Guardian, “When Brett Leavy recently showcased his digital renditions of pre-colonial landscapes in Australia, one Aboriginal man in the audience started to cry.

“ ‘I get tears [from the Indigenous audience] because they feel a sense of loss. … And then there’s also anger,’ he says. Leavy is a Kooma man and founder of Brisbane-based Virtual Songlines: a First Nations interactive design agency whose output ranges from video games to virtual reality.

‘I’m doing this in a fun way – it’s a bit gamefied – but the question I’m asking is: who are the sovereign custodians of the land?’

“For millennia, Indigenous Australian communities have been passing down histories, knowledge, language and customs, largely through oral storytelling. But in a world of digital addiction, where even the most remote parts of the country are being infiltrated by smartphones, telling stories via screens is the new necessary: a way to both preserve tradition and reach out to the young. …

“ ‘There is massive intellectual capital in our community. There is this whole untapped resource,’ Mikaela Jade, founder of the Indigenous augmented reality app Indigital Storytelling, said at a talk in Sydney in 2017. ‘Don’t wait for it to be built and then be given it to us.’

“Stephen Page, creative director of Indigenous dance company Bangarra, is taking this idea seriously. [To] celebrate its 30th anniversary, Bangarra [opened] a free immersive installation, Knowledge Ground: 30 Years of Sixty-Five Thousand [and launched] the company’s new digital archive site of the same name, which contains interviews, photographs, videos and essays about Bangarra’s productions and processes. …

“Of course simply putting content up online – or placing it on a screen in an art show – does not mean it will automatically make an impact, or find an audience.

“Torres Strait Islander filmmaker John Harvey, 44, sees this harsh truth every day at home on the Sunshine Coast with his two children, aged four and 13. Kids, he sighs, are brutally honest. If online content doesn’t ‘feel authentic to them in a way that they can relate to, they will stop straight away. It doesn’t matter if it’s been made by an Indigenous person or not – they will just stop.’

“Harvey is in the process of creating a work for the new permanent exhibition at ACMI [Austrailian Centre for the Moving Image], which opens in Melbourne in May 2020. Inspiration came from seeing the first-ever footage of Indigenous people in Australia: a four-and-a-half minute sequence shot by British zoologist AC Haddon during a Cambridge University expedition to the Torres Strait in 1898. Locals were portrayed as anthropological subjects.

“In his artwork, Harvey wants to counteract this by filming intimate moments at home. Rather than white rich outsiders holding the camera, he’s using his own phone to capture his own people as he sees them, from the inside. It is, as he says, about ‘democratisation of stories and storytelling.’ …

“Virtual reality was not an obvious tool to tell the story. But many of the senior women observed young people ‘increasingly engaging with screens and technology, and so wanted to capture their attention and interest,’ [Angela Lynch, manager of the Ngangkari program at NPY [Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara] Women’s Council] says. ‘They strongly believe that traditional culture and Anangu law holds the answers to the issues and problems of contemporary life in remote communities.’ ”

More here. PS. Please look at the wonderful photoat the NPY Women’s Council Page. It’s protected, and I can’t copy it for you. Made me smile.

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Photo: Library Loan
I enjoyed hearing Native Alaskan Joan Naviyuk Kane read her poems and talk about her life at the Poetry at the Library series.

Our library has enabled me to hear all sorts of wonderful poets over the years. The woman in charge of the poetry series is good at bringing in poets you can sort of understand even at first reading. And the poets’ books are available to buy if you want to dig in later.

Last fall, I was intrigued by poet Joan Naviyuk Kane — both by her poems and her explanations between poems of what life is like for indigenous people in Alaska. To share some of that experience with you, I poked around on the web and came up with links.

The first link is from the library, here. “Multiple award-winning poet Joan Naviyuk Kane will read from and discuss her work that explores themes of adaptation and resilience, motherhood, marriage, extended family and its geographical context in her rapidly changing Arctic homeland.”

From the Poetry Foundation, here, we learn that “she earned a BA at Harvard University and an MFA at Columbia University. Kane’s spare, lyric poems are rooted in her Arctic homeland and concerned with movement: enlarging, thawing, accruing, crossing, even at times transforming. She considers themes of ecological, domestic, and historical shifts. Kane contends with biological, cultural, and political threats to her ancestral community, including climate change, language death, and the diaspora prompted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ forcible relocation of King Island residents in the mid-twentieth century.

” ‘Yet as a mother and a daughter, an educator and an artist, Kane brings to these subjects a singular, sonorous voice and a lyric sensibility as alternatingly austere and lush as the land of her ancestral home,’ observed Maggie Millner in a 2014 ZYZZYVA review of Hyperboreal.” More from the Poetry Foundation.

You might also like an interview conducted over e-mail by Anastasia Nikolis in winter 2018 for the Library of Congress, here:

“The stereotype about writers is that they are solitary and isolated, but your work is so connected to your family, to your ancestral heritage, and to the Inupiaq community.
“I’m so fortunate to have been raised with a family that insists upon connection, however difficult. When I am trying to structure the life of my children so that they remain connected — not just to our ancestral heritage, but to each other and our relatives, to the replenishing aspects of the human intellect that words afford, to our present and traditional lands — I remain connected to the fact that my ancestral heritage is not just a thing of the past, but a gift and responsibility whose urgency and vitality is carried forward in the present and future. …

“I’m not alone in this. My close contemporaries in the Native literary community — Sherwin Bitsui, Terese Mailhot, M.L. Smoker, Eden Robinson, Abigail Chabitnoy, Cathy Tagnak Rexford, and Tommy Orange, for instance — bring this to bear in their writing and discussions, in their families, in their lives as teachers. … Closer to home, I was raised with books and essays and poems by Joseph Senungetuk, Susie Silook, and William Oquilluk. My mother and father are voracious readers: they made it possible for me to see that you can read to establish and inform your sovereignty, and to remind me that their best words connect people through time.

“My uncles (as I was growing up and as I raise my children), too, all world-class artists (carvers of walrus ivory), modeled one way of being independent yet joined in with the work that Inuit have done and will do as long as humanity exists. …

The poems in Milk Black Carbon work out the profound and complicated, but also dynamic and changeable, ways the body, the land, and language relate to one another. … Could you elaborate on that interaction?
“This is not an on-trend platitude: the land, water, and ice give Inuit everything we need to survive, and it’s been that way for millennia. It’s been something to live through and witness firsthand the astonishing rate of climate change in the arctic and sub-arctic, to feel in my bones some of the most drastic environmental turns.

“My relatives — Uyuguluk in particular — told me how much more of the King Island dialect I would understand once I’d been to the island. It’s among the most challenging and generative sites of human inhabitation on the planet. It requires and bestows a highly-specialized and precise command of language. I think I have some difficulty answering this question because my family had its relationship with our ancestral lands extinguished by the United States government.”

And there’s the Harvard Magazine angle, here, “ ‘We ended up going by crab tender,’ says Joan Naviyuk Kane ’00, of her latest work trip. ‘It’s not lavish, or glamorous, riding a crab tender out, 90 miles, 12 hours across the Bering Sea.’

“Kane’s choice of transportation — a small boat used alongside larger vessels in crabbing — is perhaps even more surprising given her choice of career. [She] has three books of poetry to her name: The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, and an untitled collection just sent to her publisher. ‘I thought I was going to be pre-med,’ she says, but a gap year after high school and a fall semester in Porter University Professor Helen Vendler’s freshman seminar, reading poetry closely, changed all that. …

“But back to the Bering Sea. The crab tender was headed to King Island, a tiny, rocky landmass between Russia and Alaska. Now uninhabited, the island was home until the early 1960s to a small indigenous hunting and fishing community that included Kane’s mother and grandparents. Eventually, under the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ assimilation policy, they were pressured to leave.

“Though Kane was born after they left the island, she describes a childhood filled with stories of its landscape. … So this past summer, after a successful crowd-funding campaign, she and a small group of fellow King Island women returned. It was the first time she had set foot there.

“ ‘It’s one thing to hear; it was another thing entirely to go,’ she says of the trip’s hazards.” More.

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Photo: Lukas Vermeer, Flickr
There’s a strong connection with the turtle and the story of creation in indigenous traditions. Native American tales told recently on Public Radio International include tales associated with winter and tales tied to the gradual return of life.

Most indigenous people have oral traditions about the seasons, the origins of life, and the duty to protect the Earth. Recently I heard some Native American winter stories on the radio and learned that when tales are not written down, it’s important to include the name of the person who first passed the story to you.

What follows is part of a discussion that Steve Curwood at PRI’s “Living on Earth” had with Joe Bruchac, a storyteller from the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The radio show covered traditional winter tales and Native Americans’ respect for the Earth.

“CURWOOD: Years ago, I went to visit the Menominee and I met their forester, [who] explained to me that the Menominee only cut the trees that are too old or ill and that as a forester, he was cutting trees that had been designated by the foresters before him that they had been prepared, they would be mature, and that he was going ahead to make preparations for what would be cut in later generations. …

“The Menominee were forced to give up their land, along [Lake] Michigan. But they were permitted in negotiations to keep a couple hundred thousand acres of forest land inside. And they decided that this was their legacy forever. And they started with an estimated billion and a half board feet of timber. Over the years, they’ve harvested over a billion board feet and they have more than what they started with today, because they’ve only cut with what’s too old or too ill to keep growing. It’s amazing. …

“JOE BRUCHAC: It was Stephen Marvin Askinet, who was the elder who told me that story when I was visiting Menominee. He since passed on but he was a wonderful tradition bearer. And one thing I always try to do is to remember to acknowledge those people who shared those stories with me. For example, that rabbit snow dance story can be traced back through people such as Arthur Parker, who was a Seneca storyteller and writer who recorded many of the traditions of his people. …

“CURWOOD: [Do you have a tale about] the solstice, the changing of the season, then getting dark and getting cold? …

“JOE BRUCHAC: Well, there is a tradition among the Abenaki people which has gone back for a long time, called the New Year’s greeting. And it is this when the new year comes, everyone goes from house to house, and they say …

[HE SINGS THE ABENAKI GREETING SONG]

“Which means, ‘Forgive me for any wrong I may have done to you, including wrong that I may not realize I have done to you.’ For it is important to realize that the things you do affect others around you. And sometimes you may not even know that you’ve caused an offense or hurt someone’s feelings. But at the start of the year, beginning again with those words, were able to have a clean slate. …

“As a friend of mine who is a Cheyenne elder [told me], if you carry guilt, it’s like carrying bad water in a cup. You can never fill it again with good water. Instead, pour that guilt out and then do better so that you do not accumulate more of that guilt and you can have fresh water to drink or to share. And that again, is an idea for the beginning of the new year. …

“CURWOOD: This is the time of year when we celebrate life. … Perhaps you could tell us along those lines?

“BRUCHAC: One of the traditions that I have learned over the years, my Mohawk and other Haudenosaunee, Iroquois, elders who are friends of mine, such as Tom Porter, a Mohawk elder, is that the first person who came to this earth was a woman.

“That long ago there was a land in the sky, and that a woman fell from that sky land, holding in her hand, the seeds of the flowers and plants. The birds flew up to catch her on their back, and then the great turtle swam up from below the surface of the water for only water was here. And animals began to dive down to bring up Earth.

“The one who succeeded the one who made it was the little muskrat. She brought up a paw full of Earth and put it on the back of the turtle. And then that woman stepped from the backs of the birds and began to dance in a circle with slow, small steps as women dance today in the Haudenosaunee tradition.

“The earth got bigger and bigger, and where her feet stepped and made footprints, she dropped the seeds, the flowers and the trees and the other plants. So life came to be on earth through the agency of sky woman, who is always remembered among the Haudenosaunee people as a Mother, the first Mother of us all. …

[HE TAPS A DRUM]

Which drum do we hear first? We hear the heartbeat of our mother, even before we are born. We’re listening to the music of life and dancing in that water within our mother’s body. So when we are born, we’re listening for the sound of the drum. …

“[We] say the drumbeat is the heartbeat of Mother Earth, and that we as human beings must always remember it when we hear the drum to respect our mothers and respect our Mother Earth.”

More good stories here, including the one about the rabbit who loved snow a little too much.

 

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Photo: Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers
Many indigenous people refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving. Others use it as a chance to raise consciousness about American mythologies or just to be with extended family and give thanks.

The other day, I was asking my British neighbors if they celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, the traditional story of the First Thanksgiving is about being grateful for freedom from Britain. Why would they? They said they love the holiday and always invite a lot of expat Brits living in the area to eat turkey with them.

Just as language evolves and individuals use words in their own ways, so do customs. At Smithsonian magazine I recently learned that among indigenous Americans there are as many attitudes toward Thanksgiving as there are unique individuals.

Read Dennis Zotigh’s great piece “Do American Indians celebrate Thanksgiving?”

“In thinking about my earliest memories of elementary school, I remember being asked to bring a brown paper sack to class so that it could be decorated and worn as part of the Indian costume used to celebrate Thanksgiving. I was also instructed to make a less-than-authentic headband with Indian designs and feathers to complete this outfit. Looking back, I now know this was wrong.

“The Thanksgiving Indian costume that all the other children and I made in my elementary classroom trivialized and degraded the descendants of the proud Wampanoags, whose ancestors attended the first Thanksgiving popularized in American culture. The costumes we wore bore no resemblance to Wampanoag clothing of that time period. Among the Wampanoag, and other American Indians, the wearing of feathers has significance. The feathers we wore were simply mockery, an educator’s interpretation of what an American Indian is supposed to look like. …

“When children are young, they are often exposed to antiquated images of American Indians through cartoons, books, and movies. But Thanksgiving re-enactments may be their most active personal encounter with Indian America, however poorly imagined, and many American children associate Thanksgiving actions and images with Indian culture for the rest of their lives. … While I agree that elementary-school children who celebrate the first Thanksgiving in their classrooms are too young to hear the truth, educators need to share Thanksgiving facts in all American schools sometime before high school graduation.”

Here, for adult readers, Zotigh goes into the tragedy, which I hope you’ll make time to read. Next, he quotes an array of opinions of actual Native Americans, noting, for example, that “the United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole’s Hill for a Day of Mourning. …

“I turn to the Internet to find out what Native people think of Thanksgiving. A few of the responses I have received over the years, beginning with the most recent: …

“Exeter, California: ‘Being the only Native American classroom teacher at a public school, raised mostly in an urban setting steeped heavy in traditional American holidays, and around many other native people on weekends while traveling to dance, this has always been a challenging question for me that I cannot claim to know the answer for. I see many other teachers I work with who are not native struggle with knowing how to address the issue comfortably. I have to say, I have fear that if we avoid the issue altogether, Native people will be forgotten about.

” ‘I have seen some teachers decide to stop teaching about Native Americans for fear of offending. I personally get sad when I see that happen. I know Thanksgiving is a controversial subject, and there are so many viewpoints. I share the modern theme of Thanksgiving, which I think has good intentions — family and community. I have also chosen to teach about Native American culture, even more heavily in November because of Thanksgiving, even though it is no longer a part of the curriculum. I have found ways to integrate it while teaching something that I think is important. I do an assembly for the students in which we dance, and I emphasize how it is not possible to teach everything there is to know about Native Americans in just one assembly. I emphasize the diversity among native people.’

“Sevierville, Tennessee: ‘Regardless of all the political views of Thanksgiving, we can all find something to be thankful for!’

“San Antonio, Texas: ‘Except for the last four years, the twenty years before that I spent 95 percent of my Thanksgivings at the table of my brother-in-law. Our gatherings were about giving thanks for what we had. As for Native American history being left out of teaching, it is an outrage. Educate our fellow educators on how to teach it. …

“Edmonton, Alberta: ‘We have family members with addiction issues. The kids get to eat, which my mom loves. And we are thankful not only to survive colonization, but also grateful to feed family.

Norman, Oklahoma: ‘We celebrate and give thanks for our loved ones’ being able to be together again. But when my daughter was young and the realization hit, as it does all young American Indians, she said to me , “Do you think we should have helped them?” There will be extra prayers for Standing Rock at our table.

“Hydro, Oklahoma: ‘Could we just start over and go forward? We can’t change the past, but we can work for peace and unity in the future. History needs to be taught correctly in our schools—that is what needs to happen. My daughter had to write a paper about Big Tree, Satank, and Satanta. She interviewed Satanta’s great-grandson, who was in his 90s, and told the story as he told it to her, including their transport from Fort Sill and how the feather was turned into a knife as they passed the giant tree, causing the soldiers to shoot and kill Satank. She got an AAA+ from her teacher.’ …

“Santa Fe, New Mexico: ‘My family and I celebrate Thanksgiving, not so much in the way that the “Pilgrims” may have done with the Indians. We give pause, and acknowledge all of the blessings that we received in the past year. We think of family and friends; of the homeless; of those away from family in hospitals, elders in nursing homes, those incarcerated, the soldier men and women overseas, around the world, standing watch and guarding our freedom. We think of those in mourning, whose family have gone ahead of them. We also think of those in school, no matter what age. And, finally, we pray for traveling mercies said for folks traveling home. We are thankful each day for Creator’s gifts but on Thanksgiving, it seems we focus and are concentrated in our thoughts about these blessings.’ …

“For more on Thanksgiving, see the 2017 post Everyone’s history matters. The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known.”

Read more of the fascinating comments at Smithsonian, here. It’s a real lesson in not painting any community with one brush. When we say, “Native Americans think [fill in the blank],” we need to remind ourselves that any group of people is full of unique individuals with individual thoughts.

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Teenage indigenous rights activist Tokata Iron Eyes stands beside Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in the high school gym in Fort Yates, N.D., on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. (Fun to see Greta’s father came, too!)

The teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is getting a lot of flack these days from vested interests terrified of her influence, but she shoulders on as new and old climate activists give her encouragement. In this story, indigenous people recognize a girl after their own hearts.

Natasha Rausch Forum News Service reports, “Nearly 500 Indigenous students stood in a circle surrounding two 16-year-old climate activists and their fathers Tuesday morning, Oct. 8, in the Standing Rock High School gym.

“A medicine man blessed the girls — Tokata Iron Eyes and Greta Thunberg — in what’s known as a smudging ceremony. Then, a circle of men played the drum as everyone in the gym slowly turned to face the four sacred directions.

“One of the drummers, Hans Young Bird Bradley, of the Standing Rock Environmental Protection Agency, said the tribe has ‘no choice but to support them, hold them up’ on their mission to spread awareness about climate change.

“ ‘We shouldn’t leave it on the back of two little girls to do this,’ he said. ‘It’s too much weight to carry for them. It should be all of us doing our part.’

“Thunberg … told the crowd of Indigenous students she was honored to be speaking at ‘this symbolic place of resistance’ where just three years earlier thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Though the line was eventually installed, the tribe has continued to fight it in court as others from the Standing Rock Sioux Nation have built on momentum from the protest to create a more sustainable future.

“Thunberg met Tokata Iron Eyes — one of the Standing Rock citizens who helped garner support for the Dakota Access oil pipeline protests in 2016 through the Rezpect Our Water campaign — at a September event at George Washington University. …

To see two teenagers take the stage in the Standing Rock High School gym, ‘it’s inspirational,’ said 13-year-old Chante Baker, who sat in the bleachers with her classmates. …

” ‘It took two youth to get us all together,’ said Cody Two Bears, the head of nonprofit Indigenized Energy which opened a solar farm last month near the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. … We all need clean water and clean air and a safe place to call home. As Indigenous people, our culture and way of life is inherently tied to the environment.’

“Tyrel Iron Eyes, a 23-year-old from Standing Rock, said he’s proud of his cousin Tokata, and of Thunberg for getting people to listen to them.

” ‘They inspire,’ he said. ‘And at the end of the day that’s what we need is people to be inspired to make changes in their lives.’

“[Thunberg said,] ‘We need local solutions to this global problem, and of course global solutions as well.’ …

“In a closing ceremony, former Standing Rock Chairman Jay Taken Alive gifted Thunberg with a Lakota name: Maphiyata echiyatan hin win, meaning ‘woman who came from the heavens.’

“ ‘Only somebody like that can wake up the world,’ he said. “We stand with you. We appreciate you. We love you as a relative.’ ” More at the Billings Gazette, here.

And while we’re on the subject of sustainability influencers, you can see they’re having an effect in Europe, where this past summer increasing numbers of people decided to take the train instead of flying. Read about that at the Guardian, here.

By the way, does anyone know how Greta is getting home? She can’t very well take an wind-powered yacht across the Atlantic in winter.

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Photo: Lex Talamo
Houma artist Lora Ann Chaisson works on palmetto stitch basketry at the Native American Crafts day at Northwestern University. Crafts using palmetto are threatened by climate change.

A recent interview conducted by Tegan Wendland on National Public Radio (NPR) provided new-to-me information on how climate change is jeopardizing an indigenous culture.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro introduced the story thus: “When storms like Hurricane Barry batter Louisiana’s coast and water replaces marshland, people move away. And that puts at risk a unique cultural mix — Europeans, Africans and Native Americans all living off Louisiana’s land and water. As Tegan Wendland of member station WWNO reports, the state is trying to preserve some of their traditions before they disappear.

“WENDLAND: Janie Luster walks through crunchy oak leaves in the humid Louisiana air to a stand of green palmetto in the shade. She reaches her arm deep down into the stems and starts hacking.

“JANIE LUSTER: Takes a sharp knife, pointed knife. And this is where you have to be careful, a little spider there. There’s also ants.

“WENDLAND: She pulls out a stem and unfolds it like a giant fan. … We’re in Houma, about an hour southwest of New Orleans. Luster will dry the leaves out and tear them into strips and use them to weave baskets — not just any basket — the Native American Houma half-hitch.

“LUSTER: We were the only tribe in the whole country to make this type of basket.

“WENDLAND: The art of the half-hitch has already been lost once before, generations ago, when tribal members were forced to assimilate. But Luster researched it and brought it back in the ’90s. Today, she’s brought a big stack of dried palmetto into a classroom in the offices of the United Houma Nation, where about 15 students of all ages are gathered around a table. … It’s a laborious process. It can take several days just to weave one basket. Pretty much everyone’s struggling. But 15-year-old Rhett Williams’ fingers dart fast. … He’s attended a few of these classes. Now his mom gets mad when she catches him weaving instead of doing his homework.

“RHETT: Growing up, you know, you’re not in touch with your elders. Now that I’m getting in more within the tribe and, like, learning culture and tradition, I’ve realized, like, I was, like, deprived of, like, the true tradition and culture.

“WENDLAND: Many in Williams’ family have moved north over the years, joining the exodus after every devastating coastal storm. Some areas have lost more than 40 percent of their population over the past several decades. Hurricanes and saltwater intrusion from rising seas are also killing off the palmetto and other plants sacred to the Houma. That worries Maida Owens, director of the Louisiana Folklife Program.

“MAIDA OWENS: When people move, you know, some things get left behind. And one of the things that frequently is left behind is something that relies on natural materials. … If it doesn’t move with the people, then the tradition may not continue.

“WENDLAND: The state estimates that thousands more will have to migrate as the coastal erodes. But Owens is happy to see that some young people, like Rhett Williams, are embracing these folk traditions.”

More at NPR here and at the Shreveport Times, here.

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Photo: WGBH Educational Foundation
In the PBS program
Molly of Denali, Alaska Native Molly Mabray helps her mom run a trading post in an Alaskan village.

In the old days, TV shows meant to educate children tended to be dry and clunky. Sesame Street began to move the bar, and now my grandkids and other children are learning a lot from shows that are fun, like Wild Kratts and the Octonauts. They amaze me with the facts they produce to correct my misperceptions about nature.

Now they are giving a thumbs up to a new show about indigenous people in Alaska.

Mandalit del Barco wrote about it at National Public Radio (NPR), “For decades, animated children’s stories included negative stereotypes of Indigenous people. …

“More recently, Disney and Pixar got kudos for more authentic representations of Native people in the films Moana and Coco. Now, TV networks and streaming services are reaching children with realistic portrayals on the small screen — where they consume most of their media.

“The new PBS show Molly of Denali is the first nationally distributed children’s series to feature an Alaska Native lead character. She’s 10 years old; her heritage is Gwich’in, Koyukon and Dena’ina Athabascan. She lives in the fictional village of Qyah, population 94. She goes fishing and hunting, and also looks up information on the Internet and on her smartphone.

“Molly is computer-savvy,’ says the show’s creative producer, Princess Daazhraii Johnson. ‘I think it’s really important for us to show that, because we are modern, living people that are not relegated to the past. That stereotype, that romanticized notion of who we are as Native people, is rampant.’

“Johnson says when she travels, she still meets people who assume all Alaskans live in igloos and are Eskimos — ‘which isn’t a term that people really even use anymore up here,’ she says. ‘We have 229 federally recognized tribes in Alaska; we have 20 officially recognized Alaska Native languages here. We are so diverse and dynamic.’ …

“In one episode, Molly learns that her grandfather stopped drumming and singing as a child when he was taken away to a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. ‘At the school we weren’t allowed to sing the songs from our people,’ an elder tells her. ‘We were made to feel bad about who we were.’

“Johnson says this storyline really happened to one of the elders on the show’s advisory board. It’s a kid’s show, so it has a happy ending: Molly and her grandfather sing together.

” ‘We’re just over the moon about Molly of Denali, because this is exactly the type of thing that can really began to shift perceptions in this country,’ [Crystal Echo Hawk, CEO of the media watchdog group IllumiNative] says.

“Echo Hawk says that for years, Hollywood didn’t produce stories about or by Native people because it didn’t think a market existed for them. But that, she says, was shortsighted. Her organization polled more than 13,000 Americans, and found that nearly 80% of them said they want to learn more about Native peoples. …

“For several decades, the Australian and Canadian Broadcasting Corporations have spotlighted shows by and about their indigenous populations. Now, Netflix is partnering with three Indigenous cultural organizations to develop the next generation of First Nation creators across Canada.

“And in the U.S. and in Latin America, Netflix is running the animated film Pachamama. The story centers on a 10-year-old boy in an Andean village who dreams of becoming a shaman. His people suffer under both the Spanish conquest and the Incan Empire.

” ‘It’s told from the point of view of the Indigenous people,’ says Juan Antin, who wrote and directed the film. … Antin, who is from Argentina, says he was inspired by his travels with his anthropologist wife in Bolivia and Peru. ‘There, I fell in love with the culture of Pachamama, which is how the indigenous people call Mother Earth, having respect, love to the Earth,’ he says.

“The Cartoon Network series Victor and Valentino features two half-brothers in a fictitious Mesoamerican village, exploring myths that come to life. For example, they follow the dog Achi into the land of the dead, where they encounter a chupacabra and other legends.

“Animator Diego Molano, whose heritage is Mexican, Colombian and Cuban, … says it’s about time networks began showing cartoons with Indigenous characters and themes. He just hopes it’s not just a fad.”

More at NPR, here, and at the New York Times, here.

 

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Photo: Matt Barnes
Jeremy Dutcher is a First Nations tenor and pianist who is getting a lot of attention in Canada and beyond.

Bit by bit we’re all learning more about the people around us, people who may have very different lives and who in the past we knew nothing about. Even those we thought we knew well sometimes have lives that are veiled to us, as I learned this summer when our niece sent me her story, a heartbreaking tale of a childhood that I had only perceived on the surface. You just can’t know what is going on behind someone’s eyes.

Among the kinds of people I am learning more about are indigenous people, both in the United States and elsewhere. This story is about a young tenor who belongs to a Canadian tribe.

Jeff Kaliss writes at San Francisco Classical Voice, “Interviews with Jeremy Dutcher figure among the new demands on a Canadian First Nations (indigenous) singer-pianist who’s risen rapidly to international attention. The 28-year-old Toronto resident needs now and then to take a break from the clamor, to return to something like the pastoral pace of his raising in the Maritime province of New Brunswick, as a member of the Wolastoqiyik [pronounced Wuh-last-o-key-yik] tribe.

“I first witnessed Dutcher a year ago, at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, performing on piano and singing in his tribe’s native Wolastoq language (the word denotes ‘the beautiful river’; renamed by the colonizers of New Brunswick as the St. John), in the basement of a church, a beautiful historical landmark. He hadn’t yet won Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize, nor its Grammy-equivalent Juno Awards. Both of these wins would recognize his debut self-produced album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, translated as Songs of the People of the Beautiful River. …

“Dutcher incorporates in his live and recorded music an unusual and affecting act of legacy, playing transcribed wax recordings from 1911 by an early anthropologist of a tribal elder singing and speaking, and following the melodies with his own heldentenor voice and mellifluous keyboard compositions. The method and quality of his approach derive from his training, including classical voice with Marcia Swanston at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“Two semesters before completing his music degree, Dutcher enrolled in a class in Social Anthropology, and decided to stick around Dalhousie for an additional year, completing a second major and an honors thesis on the subject of Traditional Music in a Contemporary Moment: Musical Pan-Indigeneity as Revitalization in the Wabanaki Region. The region is a confederacy of five indigenous nations including the Wolastoq and extending across the current provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec, and the state of Maine. The thesis title took the form of a mission statement for Dutcher, who was led to the wax recordings by a living tribal elder, sweat lodge keeper, and First Nations ambassador, Maggie Paul.

“ ‘I made my way to Ottawa [the site of the Canadian Museum of History] and went down into the basement archives there and threw on some headphones and started a journey,’ Dutcher recalled for an NPR presentation last year.

“ ‘To not just hear the songs, but also to hear the background noise and to hear them laughing and telling jokes — there was a sense of entering into that space through these voices. And that was something that changed my life.’

“The Dalhousie anthropology faculty have declared in writing their admiration for where their alumnus has taken his education and his life. … ‘Dutcher honors intergenerational connections, his voice singing on with the voices of his elders … It disrupts widespread expectations of indigenous music as a thing of the past, and shows instead how it lives in the present, fully capable of working and remixing in contemporary idioms. This has a decolonizing effect, in that it unsettles public conceptions that all too often primordialize and essentialize indigenous art forms.’ ”

I love the idea of a decolonizing effect. I never thought about that — about not only promoting healthier relations between indigenous people and others going forward but actually starting to undo harm that was done in the past. How great if we could apply that idea to all kinds of wrongs the world has seen!

More at San Francisco Classical Voice, here.

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