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Posts Tagged ‘indigenous’

Photo: Kerem Yücel/MPR News.
Em Loerzel is a graduate student and White Earth Nation descendant who started The Humble Horse, a nonprofit in River Falls, Wisconsin. The nonprofit is dedicated to reviving the Ojibwe horse, a rare breed adapted to the forests along the Minnesota-Canada border. 

Here’s s story that weaves threads such as indigenous life, endangered species, love of horses — and brings along associations with Icelandic ponies and Misty of Chincoteague.

Dan Kraker writes for MPR News from River Falls, Wisconsin, “Em Loerzel grew up hearing stories about the Ojibwe horse from her uncle, about small ponies that would roam free near Ojibwe communities tucked among the forests and lakes along the Minnesota-Canada border, and help with tasks such as hauling wood and trap lines. 

” ‘I think when people think about Native people and their horses, they think of Lakota people or southwest people, but he would tell me, don’t forget that we are horse people too,’ said Loerzel, a descendant of the White Earth Nation.

“Loerzel has taken that teaching to heart. Earlier this year, the 28-year-old graduate student in social welfare at the University of Washington raised money to rescue six of the horses from a Canada rancher who could no longer afford to keep them. 

“She brought them to a farm owned by a friend outside River Falls, where Loerzel moved last year with her husband. And she started a nonprofit called The Humble Horse, to raise awareness about the breed – which is also known as the Lac La Croix pony, and to help revive it. Only about 180 Ojibwe horses remain, mostly in Canada. 

“The horses are small, sturdy and friendly. Last month, Loerzel nuzzled a 2-year-old stud colt named Mino. ‘Short for Mino Bimaadiziwin. That’s our word for “a good life.” All of our Ojibwe horses have their Ojibwe names,’ Loerzel explained. … We Anishinaabe people bred them to be really smart, sweet, docile.’ 

“They also adapted over the generations to survive in the border lakes country. Their small stature made it easier to navigate the forest. …

“Loerzel says her main goal is to keep the horses safe and healthy. But she also wants to help Ojibwe people to reconnect with the horses. …

“Thousands of Ojibwe horses once lived near Ojibwe communities on both sides of the border. They would roam free part of the year, but at other times were gathered to help with labor.  But their population dwindled in the first part of the 20th century. Many were killed and used to make dog food, even glue. 

“By 1977 there were only four left, on the Lac La Croix First Nation in Ontario, just north of the U.S.-Canada border.  Word spread that the Canadian government planned to exterminate them. So four men from the Bois Forte Reservation in Minnesota planned a rescue mission. 

“They piled in a pickup truck, hooked up a horse trailer, drove across like beaver dams and portages and frozen ice in the middle of February, said Heather O’Connor, a Canadian author and journalist who spent five years researching Ojibwe horses. 

“It was dubbed the ‘Heist across the Ice.’ 

” ‘I was thinking, well, I’m wondering if this is the last time I’m going to ever see those horses,’ recalled Norman Jordan, a Lac La Croix council member who as a young boy remembers watching the men lead the horses away.  

“ ‘Everybody was so attached to them, in a deep way, a spiritual way. And it was sad just seeing them being taken away.’

“But those four rescued mares allowed the breed to survive. In Minnesota, they were bred with a Spanish mustang, and slowly, their numbers increased, largely among small herds in Canada. …

“A dedicated network of people has developed to help preserve the breed, [Kim Campbell of Grey Raven Ranch on the Seine River First Nation] said. But often, a breeder will retire, or run out of money. She said more are needed for the breed to survive. …

“Dr. Gus Cothran, an emeritus professor at the veterinary college at Texas A&M University who has studied the genetics of the Ojibwe horse, said rare and endangered breeds like it often encounter the same challenge — they need more people willing to take care of them and breed them. 

“ ‘And so one of the things that people involved with rare breeds need to do is create a market for them, and create a demand. And for a horse, that can be very difficult. They’re very expensive and demanding.’

“In 2017, almost 40 years to the day after those four remaining horses were taken away from the Lac la Croix First Nation, the horses returned. 

“Norman Jordan, the boy who watched them leave, became Chief. And he helped bring a herd back to the community. 

” ‘It’s almost like when they left there was a piece of my history that was leaving, a piece of me, like a void that I’ve had for all these years. And then that night they came back, it’s like that piece that was missing was back now.’ ” 

More at MPR, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Stop signs in Cree and Dénesųłiné installed in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, Canada.

Language and culture are important in so many ways, including helping individuals define for themselves and others exactly who they are. I am reminded of the made-up languages my friends and I used in childhood, especially Goose Latin. We were the only ones who understood it, and we liked being special that way.

In Canada, where residential schools once tried to strip indigenous children from their own special language, an effort is being made to give it back.

Chico Harlan and Amanda Coletta wrote about restitution of the Cree language at the Washington Post in July. I got the story via MSN.

“Lucy Johnson never spoke the Cree language when she was growing up. Her father wouldn’t allow it. He called it ‘jungle talk.’ He didn’t elaborate much until he was weeks away from dying of alcoholism. Then he told his children that he associated the language with his experience at Ermineskin residential school. …

“ ‘The more he spoke, the more punishment he received,’ Johnson said.

“It’s a legacy of Ermineskin that Johnson, now 55 and a paralegal, can’t speak the language of her people. Nor can her six siblings. Across Canada, the often brutal residential school system, designed to assimilate Indigenous people into White, European culture, succeeded in breaking the tradition of passing on languages from generation to generation — and put the survival of some in jeopardy.

“But now, 25 years after the last residential school was shuttered, some Indigenous communities [are] reviving and relearning their native languages. It’s a movement fueled by a desire to recover what has been lost, and by a sense that progress is possible. The youngest Cree didn’t attend residential schools. Unlike their parents or grandparents, they didn’t internalize the idea that speaking their language might be wrong.

“Isaiah Swampy Omeasoo, 20, studied and made himself fluent in Cree. His wife is expecting a child in February, he said, and he’ll speak to his son or daughter in the language. …

“In Maskwacîs — an area with four First Nations reserves on the Alberta prairie between Edmonton and Calgary — Cree, the most widely spoken Indigenous language in Canada, can be found written on stop signs, municipal buildings and emergency vehicles. A local radio station has Cree-speaking DJs. The school district says its mission is about ’embedding’ Cree culture and language into education — a direct response to the damage wrought by residential schools.

“But restoring a language isn’t easy. Steve Wood, the vice principal at the high school, said only six of 54 staff members can speak Cree fluently. Many in the community aren’t conversational. Robert Ward Jr., the radio station manager, says he sometimes runs into ideas on air that he can’t express because he lacks the vocabulary. He’ll admit as much on live radio, he says, with the hope that an elder will call in and help him.

“ ‘This is a language that’s been taken from us,’ he said. …

“The United States also ran what were called Indian boarding schools through much of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Interior Department is now investigating abuses in that system. …

“In 2018, the four First Nations in Maskwacîs signed an agreement with the federal government that gave them far greater control over education, allowing them to offer and design a curriculum infused with the Cree language, culture and traditions.

“Brian Wildcat, the superintendent of the Maskwacîs Education Schools Commission, said educators are planning to pilot a new curriculum in the fall with a heavy focus on the Cree language, identity and way of life. He hopes it eventually will replace the district’s current curriculum, which was written by the province. …

“Wood, the vice principal, called restoring the language a ‘monumental effort’ — and one that requires immersion. So he tries to use Cree as much as he can: when ordering a sandwich at the local Subway or filling his car up at the gas station. ‘The language has to be heard for people to pick it up,’ he said.

“It’s with the young people, he said, where he sees progress.

“ ‘We have kids that come home from our kindergarten schools who know more Cree than their parents,’ Wood said. ‘It’s a product of what transpired.’ ”

More at MSN, here.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/CSM Staff
An Indigenous mural fills the front of a building in the North End of Winnipeg, Manitoba, on May 11, 2022.
First Nations in Winnipeg are rethinking their history with the powerful Hudson Bay Company, says the Christian Science Monitor.

It may take a long time, but it’s possible for wrongs to be righted. At least a bit.

Sara Miller Llana reports at the Christian Science Monitor on how the indigenous people of Winnipeg, Canada, are moving toward a new future as they rethink their history with the exploitive Hudson Bay Company and the fur trade.

“After the Hudson’s Bay Co. department store shuttered its hulking, 650,000-plus-square-foot building in downtown Winnipeg in 2020,” she writes, “Peatr Thomas was asked to replicate one of his murals in the empty windows.

“The Inninew and Anishnaabe artist at first hesitated. If any entity casts a colonial shadow in Canada, it is the Hudson’s Bay Co.

“Established in 1670 by the king of England, the HBC existed for centuries as a fur trading enterprise that upended the lives of First Nations as it aggressively expanded into what would later become Canada. Mr. Thomas didn’t want to be affiliated.

“At the same time, the flagship store in Winnipeg looms large — physically and in historical relevance. Mr. Thomas saw an opportunity to share his vision of a ‘new future,’ he says, ‘built on truth.’

“Today his vibrant mural, ‘Aski Pimachi Iwew,’ reflects back the story of the earth’s renewal. Animals painted in black, upon a red background representing dawn, depict the seven ancestor teachings of ‘Turtle Island,’ what many Indigenous people call North America: love, wisdom, respect, courage, honesty, humility, and truth. …

“His mural would be a taste of what’s to come to downtown Winnipeg. Since April, colorful flags and banners have enlivened the building’s drab neoclassical facade, installed by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO), which represents 34 First Nations groups in southern Manitoba.

“This spring HBC, now a holding company that owns businesses and investments including Saks Fifth Avenue, transferred the building to the SCO. The Indigenous leaders plan to turn it into a multifaceted facility centered around low-income housing for the urban Indigenous community, as well as restaurants, pop-up stores, and space for artists. It will also become the new seat of SCO governance.

“At a time when Canada says that Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is a driving goal at the highest levels of government, the transfer of a colonial icon to Indigenous leaders resonates with symbolism. …

“ ‘I think it was important for us to let it be known that this is the change that’s coming,’ says Jerry Daniels, the grand chief of the SCO, whose offices are currently based on the industrial outskirts of Winnipeg near the airport. ‘This is what Reconciliation is.’ …

“HBC is Canada’s oldest company. It was chartered in 1670 by King Charles II, after two fur traders convinced him that a base on the shores of the Hudson Bay would provide direct access to the beaver pelts so popular in Europe at the time.

“HBC would come to rule over trapping grounds that represent a third of Canada today. And in its pursuit it would drive settlement across the continent, acting as a de facto government and disrupting communities that had been self-sustaining with their own sophisticated trade networks and diplomatic ties to one another. …

“In an elaborate ceremony, Grand Chief Daniels, in a beaded headdress, transferred two beaver pelts and two elk hides, the traditional ‘rent’ under the original charter, to the governor of HBC, New York business executive Richard Baker.

“Sophia Smoke was invited there as the oral historian. She’s an eloquent 14-year-old from Dakota Plains Wahpeton First Nation in Manitoba. … She addressed the crowd in the Dakota language, which her grandmother taught her, before continuing in English. ‘Today there is no mistaking, we are changing the course of history for good,’ she told the crowd. …

“Today, Winnipeg counts the largest urban Indigenous population in Canada with over 92,000 (in a population of 750,000). It has led to a vibrant Indigenous social and cultural scene that is increasingly present on the cityscape. But the economic reality of Indigenous peoples, dispossessed from their lands, also comes into stark view here.

“According to the latest census figures, 31% of Indigenous people in Winnipeg live below the low-income threshold, compared with 13% of the non-Indigenous population. Homelessness is a major problem for the city, and 66% of those in emergency shelters, transitional housing, and safe spaces identify as Indigenous. Child poverty is the highest of any province. …

“Mr. Daniels, from Long Plain First Nation, says he experienced much turbulence growing up, part of the child welfare system for a while. He says providing stable housing will have a ripple effect on the community that’s suffered poverty and intergenerational trauma, especially from the residential schooling system.

“ ‘Families are built on the stability of their grandparents and their great-grandparents who were able to provide the knowledge and the love and support to engage in different areas,’ he says. ‘We didn’t have that opportunity.’ …

“Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn is meant to be a vibrant hub, with two restaurants and community space. It will showcase Indigenous art and culture and include a museum that tells the role that Indigenous people played in the founding of HBC from their perspective.

“The building reinforces a transformation already underway in Winnipeg. There is Qaumajuq, billed as the largest Inuit art center in the world, that opened last year. There is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which dedicates a significant portion of its permanent display to the truth about Canada’s violent assimilationist policies. Indigenous murals, sculpture, and gardens color the cityscape. …

“The new project could become a model for other Canadian cities and landmarks, says Lloyd Axworthy, a former Canadian foreign minister and former president of the University of Winnipeg who is an adviser on this project. … ‘This project dispels the idea of Native people being dependent on welfare and all those kinds of stereotypes. No, they are entrepreneurs, they are activists doing important things, and they can manage a big project.’

“Stephen Bown, author of the book The Company, which tells the story of the first 200 years of HBC, says the Winnipeg project in some ways takes history full circle. ‘The amount of Indigenous involvement in that business often goes unrecognized,’ he says.

“While run from London, HBC on the ground depended on the knowledge, savvy, and goodwill of the Indigenous inhabitants. ‘That began right from the very, very beginning. … The symbolic significance could be that the company is returning maybe in one sense to its roots as an Indigenous-run thing.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Hyperallergic.
The print of Montaukett Indian Stephen Taukus (Talkhouse) is by Shinnecock artist Norman Smith. Seen here at Hildreth’s Whole Home Goods store on Main Street in Southampton, Long Island, New York.

Ever since indigenous tribes experienced First Contact with Europeans, the newcomers’ culture has run roughshod over the folks who had thousands of years of history here. The only positive thing about the way things are in the present time is that we are hearing more about it. You have to bring wrongs to light before you can start doing something better.

From Long Island, New York, Shinnecock tribal member Jeremy Dennis writes at Hyperallergic that his tribe’s “continued presence as a sovereign nation has been slowly rendered invisible by neighbors in the Hamptons.”

Wouldn’t I love to see “land recognition” statements before every Long Island party! And I know some who might be up for it.

Dennis writes, “The people of the Shinnecock Indian Nation of Eastern Long Island in New York State can trace their presence on their land back more than ten thousand years. Shinnecock’s claim is evident through Clovis Projectile Points from the Paleo-Indian Period (15,000–3,500 BCE).

“By 1000 BCE, Shinnecock people and other local tribal communities expressed themselves through clay pottery designs, wood sculptures, and wampum shell/bone beadwork. With the arrival of Europeans, Indigenous artisans incorporated richly colored cloth, glass beads, and blankets into their crafts and regalia. In the early 20th century, Shinnecock artisans loaded their wagons with baskets, caned chairs, beaded moccasins, embroidered table linens, eel traps, corn and herb mortars, duck decoys, wooden spoons, and scrub brushes, and sold them in nearby white communities.

“For thousands of years, and hundreds of years after first contact, Shinnecock artisans and other local tribal communities were best known for their wampum manufacturing and jewelry making. Wampum is manufactured by harvesting and shaping clamshells found only along saltwater sources from New Jersey to the Canadian coastline. …

“After 30 years of contact with European colonists, the demand for wampum waned, and the colonists came to value only Indigenous land and labor. By the 20th century, the historic trove of countless wampum beads, made individually by hand, were discarded — mistaken as gaudy jewelry, as Chief Harry Wallace of Unkechaug in modern-day Mastic Beach described during a public presentation at Guild Hall in 2021. …

“Walking through the East End [of the Hamptons], residents and tourists can find the only acknowledgment of Shinnecock people on Southampton’s Village Seal, which depicts a sole Indian and a mass of Europeans arriving on their boats.

“Following the first moment of contact in 1640, in which Shinnecock’s Sachem Nowedonah and other advisors greeted the English, Shinnecock people were understood as friendly neighbors and vital to European colonists’ early survival and industry. Building trust and friendship with the English quickly turned into the English swindling land from Shinnecock and other Indigenous communities on Long Island. Through deceit, insurmountable debt, threats of violence, and Shinnecock signature forgeries, the Shinnecock Nation alone illegally lost more than four thousand acres of its homeland. With the loss of land came the loss of natural resources, places to live, and means of survival. …

“Since the early 1700s, colonists recognized the real estate potential of this idyllic landscape. … This is why the arts are vital to our survival. We are defiant by sustaining our traditional storytelling, dance, beadwork, and wampum manufacturing, along with newer art forms, such as digital photography, videography, and painting, among many other mediums.

“Despite constant hardships, Shinnecock people have prioritized cultural expression through the generations. Artists such as Charles Bunn, Wickham Hunter, Norman Smith, Edward Terry, Dennis King, and Chuck Herman Quinn have found employment and opportunities as they’ve carried on carving and beadwork traditions, and their artworks and names will live on forever in those objects. Later generations of Shinnecock artists, including Denise Silva-Dennis, David Bunn Martine, and Herbert Randall, have explored self-representation in the arts as a means to challenge the stereotypes and caricatures of Shinnecock people from pre-contact times to the present.

“In recent years, Shinnecock artists have received support and recognition through programs such as the Gather series at Guild Hall and artwork acquisitions. The Parrish Art Museum, for example, now has two photos by artist and photographer Herbert Randall, though they were acquired decades after their original creation.

“For many years, Shinnecock art and cultural objects could be viewed at the Shinnecock Cultural Center & Museum, opened in 2001, on the reservation in Southampton — but the museum has been closed since 2017. … The lack of spaces showcasing Shinnecock art represents a need for new Indigenous-led art spaces and transformation in museum structures and collections to truly represent the East End community.”

More at Hyperallergic, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Biosphere2.
Biospheres in Arizona gather ancient wisdom to aid future generations.

Now that we know human activity is the main reason for dangerous global warming, it’s time to turn to indigenous tribes and learn to step more lightly on Plant Earth. That’s the thinking behind a biosphere project in Arizona.

Samuel Gilbert reports at the Washington Post, “Indigenous peoples have known for millennia to plant under the shade of the mesquite and paloverde trees that mark the Sonoran Desert [in Arizona], shielding their crops from the intense sun and reducing the amount of water needed.

“The modern-day version of this can be seen in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, where a canopy of elevated solar panels helps to protect rows of squash, tomatoes and onions. Even on a November afternoon, with the temperature climbing into the 80s, the air under the panels stays comfortably cool.

“Such adaptation is central to the research underway at Biosphere 2, a unique center affiliated with the University of Arizona that’s part of a movement aimed at reimagining and remaking agriculture in a warming world. In the Southwest, projects are looking to plants and farming practices that Native Americans have long used as potential solutions to growing worries over future food supplies. At the same time, they are seeking to build energy resilience.

“Learning from and incorporating Indigenous knowledge is important, believes Greg Barron-Gafford, a professor who studies the intersection of plant biology and environmental and human factors. But instead of relying on tree shade, ‘we’re underneath an energy producer that’s not competing for water.’

“On both sides of the Arizona border with Mexico, scientists are planting experimental gardens and pushing the potential of an ‘agrivoltaic’ approach. Thirsty crops such as fruits, nuts and leafy greens — which require elaborate irrigation systems that have pulled vast quantities of water from underground aquifers and the Colorado and other rivers — are nowhere to be found. …

“Southern Arizona is an epicenter of the movement not just because of the intense environmental pressures that the region faces but because of the presence of the Tohono O’odham Nation southwest of Tucson.

“The Tohono O’odham have farmed in the Sonoran Desert for several thousand years. Like many Indigenous groups, they now are on the front lines of climate change, with food security a paramount concern. Their expansive reservation, nearly the size of Connecticut, has just a few grocery stores. It is a food desert in a desert where conditions are only getting more extreme.

“Since the early 1970s, a group of Nation members have run the San Xavier Cooperative Farm and grown ‘traditional desert cultivars’ in accordance with their ancestral values — particularly respect for land, water and plants.

“Sterling Johnson, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, has worked for the past decade to share that expertise broadly. His partner, Nina Sajovec, directs the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture, a Native American-governed food justice organization that several years ago founded its own seed bank and already has distributed over 10,000 seeds to farmers.

“ ‘We’re all about using what is out there,’ Sajovec said. Among the center’s heirloom varieties: 60-day corn, a fast-maturing desert-adapted vegetable, and the tepary bean, a high-protein legume particularly suited to the climate because of leaves that can fold to withstand direct sunlight during the peak of summer.

“Johnson captures precipitation during the Arizona monsoon season to sustain crops on his field in the desert lowlands. ‘It’s using the rainwater,’ he explained, ‘using the contour lines, using your environment and nature to grow food.’ …

“Perhaps even more daunting than the rising temperatures of climate change are the water shortages that many parts of the world will confront. In Tucson, the Santa Cruz River is now dry because of too much diversion and burgeoning demand, according to Brad Lancaster, an expert on rainwater harvesting.

“ ‘The majority of the water that irrigates landscapes and Tucson and Arizona is not local water’ but tapped from the Colorado River, Lancaster said. Unless severe drought conditions reverse and the river level improves, mandatory federal cutbacks mean farmers will lose a significant amount of that critical resource starting next year.

“ ‘The goal is how can we use rainwater and storm water, passively captured, to be the primary irrigator,’ said Lancaster, who lives in a local neighborhood that has been transformed through passive water harvesting into an ‘urban forest,’ with wild edible plants such as chiltepin pepper and desert hackberry lining the sidewalks.

“He is planning a similar system at Tumamoc Resilience Gardens, using basins and earthen structures to spread water across the landscape and reduce channelized flows. Nabhan, who also is involved in the site’s design, sees it as replicable and, more importantly, scalable. …

“ ‘We’ve had 5,000 years of farmers trying out different strategies for dealing with heat, drought and water scarcity,’ said [Gary Nabhan, an ethnobotanist and agrarian activist who focuses on plants and cultures of the Southwest], walking around his own creation at his home in Patagonia, a small town about 18 miles north of the Mexico border. The fenced space holds 40 species of agave, three species of sotol, prickly pear and other varieties of cactuses and succulents.

“ ‘The key concept,’ he said, ‘is that we’re trying to fit the crops to the environment rather than remaking the environment.’ ”

More at the Post, here. Lots of great photos.

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Photo: Luisa Dörr.
ImillaSkate athletes practice skateboarding on a downhill road near Cochabamba, Bolivia. They use indigenous attire as a statement against discrimination.

We loved the movie Skate Kitchen about female skateboarders in New York. You may have seen my post about it here. Learning how outsiders find their people, their tribe, was a revelation.

My Cousin Claire knows I love stories like that. I think my whole extended family does. Maybe it’s in our DNA. Claire sent me today’s story about female skateboarders in Bolivia and the reasons they are using their sport to stick up for indigenous people.

Paula Ramón writes at National Geographic, “The colorful polleras are a symbol of identity in the Bolivian countryside. But these voluminous, traditional skirts worn by Indigenous Aymara and Quechua women have also been the object of discrimination, some seeing the appearance at odds with modern identity. Now a group of women athletes has brought them back to the city — donning them during skateboarding competitions — to celebrate the cultural heritage of the cholitas.

” ‘The pollerasare very valuable to me,’ says Deysi Tacuri López, 27, a member of ImillaSkate, founded in 2018 in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city. ‘I wear them with pride.’

“Tacuri sees in the polleras not only a cultural expression but also a form of empowerment. … More than half of Bolivia’s population is of Indigenous descent.

“Tacuri and fellow members at ImillaSkate also among those with Indigenous ancestors. Some of their relatives still wear polleras.      

“ ‘They are my mother’s and my aunts’ clothing, and I see them as strong women. Here in Bolivia, many women in pollerasare the head of their families,’ she said in a telephone interview. ‘For me, mujeres de polleras [pollera wearers] can do anything.’

“Tacuri and her teammates spend long hours practicing moves at Ollantay Park, one of two places in the city with ramps and other structures designed for the sport. …

“ImillaSkate was founded by Daniela Santiváñez, 26, and two friends. She learned to skate as a child thanks to her brother, though it was ‘rare to see girls on skateboards.’ …

“Without women role models to follow in the sport in Cochabamba — and growing tired of listening to her mom’s complaints about her bruises from falls — Santiváñez stopped practicing when she was a teenager. She took up skateboarding again after college, where she got a degree in graphic design. By then, Dani, as her friends call her, discovered she was not the only woman with a passion for the sport.

” ‘One day I was having a conversation with the girls about why all the boys get together to skate — why don’t girls do that?’ recalls Santiváñez. …

“Over the past three years, ImillaSkate has grown to nine skaters. Being an active member means making time to practice every week in order to be able to participate in competitions, and also sharing the same principles of acceptance of diverse groups and traditions. Although the collective is based in Cochabamba, the group has generated a wider audience on social media beyond Bolivia, with more than 5,000 followers on Instagram. They also maintain a Facebook page with more than 7,000 followers, and a YouTube channel where some of their videos get thousands of views.

“Santiváñez clarifies that they wear the skirts only for performances, not necessarily as their street clothing. ‘We do it as a demonstration, as a cry for inclusion,’ she says. … ‘Skateboarding is inclusive, it brings all kinds of people together. …

‘It’s a community, and we’ve taken advantage of this to make the world a kinder place.’

“Tacuri says they first challenged themselves to embrace their own roots. ‘We ourselves have decided to get to know our culture and our identity. We have decided to revalue our clothing and encourage new generations.’ …

“The polleras’ origins date back to the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Orginally imposed by colonial rulers as a way to easily identify the native population and also have the attire conform to what was being worn in Spain by the poorer people, the skirts eventually were adapted as part of traditional Andean attire, most commonly associated with cholas — Indigenous women from the highlands. Just as their ancestors gave the skirts their own identity by mixing them with patterned blouses, local jewelry, and hats, the skateboarding imillas are making their own modifications to the garment — and trying to remove a stigma.

” ‘The pollera is associated with the countryside, with ignorant people without resources. We want people to understand that there is nothing wrong with wearing a pollera.’ …

“The group didn’t even know where to get the elaborate skirts, so they turned to their grandmothers for help.

“Not all of them jumped on board immediately, concerned they would be stigmatized. Even as the descendant of a mujer de pollera, Luisa Zurita struggled with getting her family to understand the premise behind the wardrobe. Only after she was invited to participate in a local television program for a skateboarding performance did her grandmother give Zurita her blessing — and her favorite pollera.”

More at National Geographic, here. As you would expect of National Geographic, the photos are terrific.

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Photo: Shawn Miller / Library of Congress / NYT / Redux via the New Yorker.
Joy Harjo, US Poet Laureate, is an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Her hometown is Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Are you familiar with the work of our current poet laureate, Jo Harjo? I felt moved to share an article about her today because I’m about to attend for the first time the online version of my local library’s poetry readings.

Jason Berry at the Daily Beast writes, “I started a Joy Harjo reading jag the summer before last in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at op. cit., a magical store in whose forest of books, new and older, I picked up her 2012 memoir, Crazy Brave. I knew Harjo was the U.S. Poet Laureate, the first Native American so exalted, but I had never read her work. Her memoir’s opening scene hooked me right away:

“ ‘Once I was so small I could barely see over the top of the back seat of the black Cadillac my father bought with his Indian oil money. He polished and tuned his car daily. I wanted to see everything. …

“ ‘I wonder what signaled this moment, a loop of time that on first glance could be any place in time. I became acutely aware of the line the jazz trumpeter was playing (a sound I later associated with Miles Davis). I didn’t know the words jazz or trumpet. My rite of passage into the world of humanity occurred then, through jazz. The music was a starting bridge between familiar and strange lands.’

“That bridge runs through Harjo’s impressive trek of 22 books of poetry, six albums as a jazz saxophonist and husky spoken-word poet, two children’s books, two plays, last year’s memoir sequel Poet Warrior, screenplays, and editor of major anthologies. …

“The scenic lilts of self-discovery in her early work never took Harjo far from a steely focus on the dynamics of identity, enduring and transcending government injustices heaped on Indians, a legacy she came, over time, to see as precursor to the greater earth plundered by pollution, heaving from convulsions of the climate. …

“In Poet Warrior, Harjo circles back to devastating childhood episodes initially described in Crazy Brave, with new details on how she survived her early years. The father she initially adored, who came from a family with land generating some oil lease revenues, was an airline mechanic and raging alcoholic who chased women, beat his wife, and terrorized his kids. Joy’s mother sang as she bustled in the kitchen to sweet radio songs, doing a memorable take on Patsy Cline’s ‘I Fall to Pieces,’ getting the girl into jitterbug dancing. …

“The child had a poetry anthology which opened a new world with the kindred spirit of Emily Dickinson: … ‘I liked to read aloud to myself: “I’m Nobody! Who are you?/ Are you — Nobody — Too?/ Then there’s a pair of us!”

“ ‘Two nobodies equal one somebody. Emily’s poems told me she found herself with words. Poetry was a refuge from the instability and barrage of human disappointment. When I read and listened to disappointment I was out of the crossfire of my parents.’ …

“As a teenager [Harjo] found rescue with acceptance to the Institute of American Indian Arts, a high school in Santa Fe where she boarded in the late 1960s, meeting young Seminoles, Sioux, Creek, and Pawnee students among those from other nations, awakening to a Native American renaissance as they found expression in classes on drama, literature, music, and the arts. …

“She fell in love with a Cherokee boy, became pregnant, ended up going to live with the boy and his cloying mother in Talequah, Oklahoma. After working day jobs to cover babysitting for her son while the boy-husband failed to get jobs, she took the baby and moved to Albuquerque, a single mom balancing work and classes at the University of New Mexico.

“She fell in love with a poet by whom she had another child, only to realize that his wild binges, jumping in hotel swimming pools where he wasn’t staying, crawling home with flowers and florid apologies, were a disaster she had to escape. …

“She [had earlier] joined the Creek-Muscogee nation, adopting the surname Harjo in honor of a grandmother whose artworks inspired her. ‘Just as I felt my grandmother living in me, I feel the legacy and personhood of my warrior grandfathers and grandmothers who refused to surrender to injustice against our peoples.’

“In Albuquerque, at U.N.M., Joy Harjo became a poet, charged with a spiritual sensibility given shape by the stories and tribal history she absorbed in the Muscogee Creek Nation. The challenge of poetry was stark, as she writes near the end of the first memoir.

“ ‘I could not express my perception of the sacred./ ‘I could speak everyday language: Please pass the salt. I would like … When are we going … I’ll meet you there./ I wanted the intricate and metaphorical language of my ancestors to pass through to my language and my life.’ …

“She experienced a conceptual turning point in 1990 while attending a conference of indigenous peoples in a mountain village near Quito, Ecuador, discussing a counter-response to the approaching celebration in the Americas of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in 1492.

“ ‘I’ll never forget the arrival of the people from the Amazon villages,’ Harjo wrote in a 2010 piece for Muscogee Nation News. ‘They walked up to the encampment barefoot, with their beautiful, colorful feathers and spears. They came to share a story of American oil companies, and how the lands were being destroyed and their way of life irrevocably broken.’ “

More at the Daily Beast, here. I especially liked an insight about indigenous people that Harjo quotes from one of the elders of her tribe: “No matter how small a tribal people may be, each of them has a right to be who they are.”

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Photo: Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia.
The forested western slopes of Washington State’s Fidalgo Island overlook the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The pandemic may have distracted you and me from the environmental crisis, but many indigenous tribes have tackled Covid while also keeping their eye on the ball. In this article from the Washington Post, Jim Morrison explains that for the Swinomish people, it has something to do with their holistic world view.

“For 10,000 years,” he writes, “the Swinomish tribe has fished the waters of northwestern Washington, relying on the bounty of salmon and shellfish not only as a staple of its diet but as a centerpiece of its culture. At the beginning of the fishing season, the tribe gathers on the beach for a First Salmon ceremony, a feast honoring the return of the migratory fish that binds the generations of a tribe that calls itself the People of the Salmon.

“At the ceremony’s conclusion, single salmon are ferried by boat in four directions — north to Padilla Bay, east to the Skagit River, south to Skagit Bay and west to Deception Pass — and eased into the water with a prayer that they will tell other salmon how well they were treated.

“In recent years, though, the tribe’s harvest, diminished by vanishing habitat and warming waters fueled by climate change, hasn’t been sufficient to feed the hundreds of people who come to pay homage to their ancestors and to the fish that sustained them.

“ ‘We don’t have that abundance anymore,’ said Lorraine Loomis, an elder who has managed the tribal fishery for 40 years. ‘To get ceremonial fish, we buy it and freeze it.’

“For the Swinomish, perched on a vulnerable, low-lying reservation on Fidalgo Island, the effects of a warming world have been a gut punch.

“The tribe has responded with an ambitious, multipronged strategy to battle climate change and improve the health of the land and the water and the plants, animals and people who thrived in harmony for generations. In 2010, the Swinomish became one of the first communities to assess the problems posed by a warming planet and enact a climate action plan. An additional 50 Native American tribes have followed, creating climate strategies to protect their lands and cultures, ahead of most U.S. communities.

“The Swinomish see the tasks beyond addressing shoreline risk and restoring habitats. They look at climate adaptation and resilience with the eyes of countless generations. They recognize that the endangered ‘first foods’ — clams, oysters, elk, traditional plants and salmon — are not mere resources to be consumed. They are central to their values, beliefs and practices and, therefore, to their spiritual, cultural and community well-being.

“Loomis is 80. Every member of her family, from her grandfather to her nine great-grandchildren, has fished the tribe’s ancestral waters. She has watched over the decades as the salmon disappeared and her family turned to crab, geoduck and sea cucumbers. She’s seen the salmon season drop to only a few days per species from the eight months — May through December — of decades past in order to protect populations. The Skagit River is the last waterway in the continental United States that’s home to all five species of Pacific salmon.

“Progress has been slow; some researchers say it could be 90 years before the salmon recover. Loomis is taking the long view. ‘If I didn’t believe we would recover [the fishery], I guess I wouldn’t still be working on this,’ she said.

“In recent years, the tribe has fostered salmon recovery through a variety of projects. It has restored tidelands and channels, planted trees along streambeds to cool warming waters, and collaborated with farmers to increase stream setbacks to improve water quality.

“Restoring salmon populations is just part of an ambitious climate action plan to blunt the effects of increased flooding, ocean acidification, rising river temperatures, more-destructive storms and habitat loss.

“The Swinomish are rebuilding oyster reefs for the native Olympia oyster. They’re planning the first modern clam garden in the United States on the reservation’s tidelands, reviving an ancient practice. They’re monitoring deer and elk populations through camera traps to understand the climate change pressures and to inform hunting limits. And they have ongoing wetland restoration projects to explore preserving native plants and to help naturally manage coastal flooding.

“ ‘They’re doing really innovative climate adaptation,’ said Meade Krosby, a senior scientist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. ‘They were way ahead of the curve.’ …

“Their plans merge traditional and academic resources. When looking at ways to protect wetlands, Todd Mitchell, the tribe’s director of environmental protection, discovered that knowledge about traditional plantings passed down through the generations was lost. So he turned to the University of Washington, which had archived notes by ethnographers and anthropologists who had interviewed tribe elders in the 1950s and 1960s.

“A tribal member who earned a geology degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree at Washington State University, Mitchell returned to work for the tribe 20 years ago. ‘I think the missing piece [is] how to take this straight-up science in the academic sense and put it together with traditional knowledge.’ …

“Jamie Donatuto, the tribe’s environmental health officer, and Larry Campbell, a 71-year-old tribal elder, have created a tool, Indigenous Health Indicators, that goes beyond typical morbidity and mortality measures and considers ecosystem health, social and cultural beliefs, and values integral to a community. …

“Seen through that lens, restoring ‘first foods’ is important not just for diet and nutrition but for nourishment of the soul. Living somewhere for a long time fosters a sense of place, and a sense of place fosters stewardship.

“ ‘It’s a different worldview,’ said Donatuto, who has a doctorate in resource management and environmental sustainability from the University of British Columbia. ‘The salmon and the crabs and the clams are relatives. They’re living relatives. They’re not just resources. And so you treat them with a symbiotic respect. They feed you because you take care of them. It’s a very different way of thinking about why these areas are important.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Chris Bell/The Culture Trip.
Tourists in La Guajira, a remote part of Colombia. Nowadays the focus is on a vaccine outreach to wary indigenous residents.

John assures me that pandemics always peter out as variants emerge weaker and weaker. I hope he’s right. Meanwhile, some experts are saying we won’t be done with Covid until we vaccinate the whole world.

Samantha Schmidt at the Washington Post wrote recently about an effort to reach a remote corner of Colombia — one step in vaccinating the whole world.

“The vaccination team had spent an hour bouncing and bucking down a dirt road and over train tracks when the van driver issued a warning. The toughest part of the drive was still to come. The two women gripped their seat cushions as the van jolted, climbed a mound of dirt and fishtailed in the slick mud. Driver Toto Girnu honked at passing goats as he followed a path blazed only by tire tracks. In the distance, he spotted dark, menacing clouds.

“If the group was lucky, the drive through this remote desert would take four or five hours. If it rained, as it did when Girnu made this trip a few days earlier, it could take more than 10.

“But this was the only way to reach the Indigenous families who live in this arid swath of land in the northern department of La Guajira, where there are no paved roads, no electricity, no running water and no other access to the vaccines that would protect their communities.

“Travel is only part of the challenge confronting the team, one of many contracted by the Colombian government to deliver vaccines to some of the country’s remotest peoples. There is also a lack of information about the coronavirus, hesitation around vaccines and a general mistrust of authorities.

“The van, ‘Route of Hope’ written across the windshield, came upon a roadblock. Adults and children here string ropes across the road, to be lifted only in exchange for water, food or cash.

“ ‘Are you vaccinated?’ vaccine team coordinator Katherin Gamez shouted to a young man. Girnu gave the man a fist bump, tossed him a small bag of water and translated the question into Wayuunaiki, the language of the local Wayuu Indigenous people.

“ ‘For what?’ he asked.

“Across the Andes, a region that has reported some of the world’s highest covid-19 death rates, teams are traversing deserts, mountains, rainforests and rivers to vaccinate isolated communities.

“Such teams are particularly active in Colombia, a country of more than 48 million people, where about 16 percent of the population lives in rural areas that were often neglected by the government during more than five decades of armed conflict. …

“About 35 percent of Colombia’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Health Ministry. More than half of residents in major cities — 62 percent in the capital of Bogotá — have received at least one dose.

“But in La Guajira, home to the country’s largest Indigenous population, only 38 percent have received at least one dose. … Years of government abandonment and mismanagement have caused many Wayuu residents to mistrust the health system. Only 4 percent of Wayuu people here have access to clean water, Human Rights Watch reported last year; 77 percent of Indigenous households are food insecure. In Alta Guajira, where the largest number of Wayuu people live, there is only one hospital, and it offers only basic care. …

“ ‘By the time a lot of them get to care, they’re so near death … there’s this perception that maybe the care didn’t help,’ said Shannon Doocy, an associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins who co-wrote the Human Rights Watch report. …

“ ‘We’re getting close,’ Girnu told Gamez and Eliana Andrioly, the team’s Indigenous leader. They sped down a salt flat, their view miles of sand and the distant bay. …

“A team of nursing assistants and a doctor were waiting. The providers spend 15 days at a time living in a dormitory next door, sleeping in hammocks and showering with buckets of water, to stage daily medical missions to the surrounding communities.

“The organization, IPSI Palaima — ‘land of the sea’ in Wayuunaiki — was founded in 2007 by an Indigenous woman who grew up in the area. It is one of the only providers in Alta Guajira with a permanent vaccine refrigerator, in a medical center powered by solar panels.

“The team member in charge of shots this week was Daniela Vergara, a 21-year-old nursing assistant who had never been to AltaGuajira before she applied for the job. Each day, Vergara aims to vaccinate at least 10 people — a modest goal that often requires a massive effort.

“On this Monday, she had not yet reached her target. She packed her cooler — a blue backpack filled with vials of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot that has been a godsend to rural vaccine teams — and set out for a community across the bay. [Then] they drove to a gathering place where they hoped to meet people interested in the vaccine.

“ ‘There’s no one here,’ Vergara said. ‘We got here too late.’

“A local leader suggested they go house to house. As darkness fell, the team members asked anyone who looked 18 or older if they wanted the vaccine. Soon a woman recounted a rumor they had heard many times: Outsiders were pushing a vaccine that was sickening members of the Wayuu community.

“The woman, a teacher who spoke some Spanish, knew what was at stake. She had contracted the virus a few months earlier, after a trip to the town of Uribia. For a month, she suffered chest pains, headaches, an intense cough and the loss of taste and smell. … She worried about a 66-year-old neighbor who had no interest in getting a shot.

“ ‘Many people are dying from this disease,’ Juan Larrada, a Wayuu doctor in the group, said in Wayuunaiki. He said the vaccine could have side effects, but it would protect them from serious illness. He asked Amaita Uriana why she did not want it.

“ ‘Because I was afraid of getting sicker,’ she said. ‘I really feel very sick. I carry pains in my body. That’s why I refused when a girl came here for the same reason. Besides, she was very pretentious. And we had already heard about the experiences of other Wayuu who had been vaccinated and become ill.’

“ ‘The vaccine can have those effects,’ Larrada agreed. ‘Fever, muscular pains, that’s normal.’

“Understanding the doctor as he spoke to her in her own language, Uriana assented. She closed her eyes; Vergara emptied the syringe into her arm.”

Read about the many Wayuu who cannot be persuaded and why that is, here. The photos in the article are terrific, but I can’t share them because they’re blocked. If you have a subscription, you are in luck.

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Photo: Kurt Stüber.
Some amaranth species are cultivated as leaf vegetables, says Wikipedia. The Guardian adds, “The plant is indigenous to North and Central America but also grown in China, India, Southeast Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean.”

Here are a couple stories on plants that may hold the potential to feed the world. One is the amaranth; the other is a bioengineered wheat grass called kernza. Pretty sure that one will not go over well with the non-GMO crowd.

Cecilia Nowell reports on amaranth at the Guardian, “Just over 10 years ago, a small group of Indigenous Guatemalan farmers visited Beata Tsosie-Peña’s stucco home in northern New Mexico. In the arid heat, the visitors, mostly Maya Achì women from the forested Guatemalan town of Rabinal, showed Tsosie-Peña how to plant the offering they had brought with them: amaranth seeds.

“Back then, Tsosie-Peña had just recently become interested in environmental justice amid frustration at the ecological challenges facing her native Santa Clara Pueblo – an Indigenous North American community just outside the New Mexico town of Española, which is downwind from the nuclear facilities that built the atomic bomb. Tsosie-Peña had begun studying permaculture and other Indigenous agricultural techniques. Today, she coordinates the environmental health and justice program at Tewa Women United, where she maintains a hillside public garden that’s home to the descendants of those first amaranth seeds she was given more than a decade ago. …

“Tsosie-Peña and her guests spent the day planting, winnowing, cooking and eating them – toasting the seeds in a skillet to be served over milk or mixed into honey – and talking about their shared histories: how colonization had separated them from their traditional foods and how they were reclaiming their relationship with the land.

“Since the 1970s, amaranth has become a billion-dollar food – and cosmetic – product. Health conscious shoppers embracing ancient grains will find it in growing numbers of grocery stores in the US, or in snack bars across Mexico, and, increasingly, in Europe and the Asia Pacific. As a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, amaranth is a highly nutritious source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and antioxidants that may improve brain function and reduce inflammation.

“ ‘This is a plant that could feed the world,’ said Tsosie-Peña. …

“ ‘Supporting Indigenous people coming together to share knowledge’ is vital to the land back movement, a campaign to reestablish Indigenous stewardship of Native land, and liberation of Native peoples, Tsosie-Peña said. ‘Our food, our ability to feed ourselves, is the foundation of our freedom and sovereignty as land-based peoples.’ …

“Amaranth is an 8,000-year-old pseudocereal – not a grain, but a seed, like quinoa and buckwheat – indigenous to Mesoamerica, but also grown in China, India, south-east Asia, west Africa and the Caribbean. Before the Spanish arrived in the Americas, the Aztecs and Maya cultivated amaranth as an excellent source of proteins, but also for ceremonial purposes. When Spanish conquistadors arrived on the continent in the 16th century, they [feared] that the Indigenous Americans’ spiritual connection to plants and the land might undermine Christianity. …

“Although the Spanish outlawed amaranth when they arrived in Central America, Mexico and the south-western United States, Indigenous farmers preserved the seeds – which grew with remarkable resilience. …

“While amaranth is no longer banned, Tsosie-Peña says ‘planting it today feels like an act of resistance.’ Reestablishing relationships with other Indigenous communities across international borders is part of a ‘larger movement of self-determination of Indigenous peoples,’ she says, to return to the ‘alternative economies that existed before capitalism, that existed before the United States.’ …

“Every year … farmers with [a Guatemalan agricultural community called Qachuu Aloom, or ‘Mother Earth’] have traveled to the United States to share their knowledge of amaranth with predominantly Indigenous- and Latino-led gardens. … In 2016, when Tsosie-Peña and her colleagues at Tewa Women United broke ground on their public garden in Española, Qachuu Aloom was there to plant amaranth once again. …

“Tsosie-Peña says that this exchange between North and Central American farmers isn’t just about amaranth as a crop; it’s also about reconnecting to ancient trade routes that have been disrupted by increasingly militarized borders.

“Maria Aurelia Xitumul, a member of Qachuu Aloom since 2006 who has traveled on exchanges to California and New Mexico, echoes Tsosie-Peña.

‘The goal is to share experiences, not necessarily generate income, like capitalists. What we want is for the whole world to produce their own food. … For the seeds, distance doesn’t exist. Borders don’t exist.’ …

“The week before the emergency declaration of the pandemic Tsosie-Peña was in Guatemala. When international borders began closing, she had to rush home to the United States. But a few months ago, after vaccines were widely distributed in the US, she and a handful of delegates from each of the farms that had begun planting Qachuu Aloom’s seeds traveled back to Guatemala. With them, they brought seeds from the amaranth they had each grown in their home gardens … to plant in a shared plot: a kind of solidarity garden.

“ ‘We’ve always viewed our seed relatives as relatives and kin,’ says Tsosie-Peña. ‘We have co-evolved with them as fellow Indigenous peoples of this place.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

Meanwhile another plant that’s supposed to feed the world was described recently at the Washington Post. Sarah Kaplan reported on kernza, “a domesticated form of wheatgrass developed by scientists at the nonprofit Land Institute. … A single seed will grow into a plant that provides grain year after year after year. It forms deep roots that store carbon in the soil and prevent erosion. It can be planted alongside other crops to reduce the need for fertilizer and provide habitat for wildlife.” More on kernza here.

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Photo: Ramona Peters.
Called “All Four Points,” this piece refers to the points of the compass. Ceramacist Ramona Peters, a member of Massachusetts’s Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, has helped revive 1600s Wampanoag traditional forms in clay.

I was reading about indigenous ceramics in New England at the Tomaquag Museum’s blog when I got interested in the origins of that remarkable institution and its plans for a new home near the University of Rhode Island campus.

First the ceramics post.

“My name is Haley Johnson and I am a Mashpee Wampanoag Ceramicist. I have a BFA in Ceramics from Rhode Island College.[As] an Education Intern at the Tomaquag Museum, I am dedicated to teaching about the past and advocating for the future of Indigenous arts and artists. …

“The Northeast is unique in its ceramic practices as can be seen in the color and textures of the clay, the shapes of our vessels, and the patterns and designs on finished work. … The natural clays that come from the Northeast are rich in minerals and sediments that lend to its bright oranges and deep reds upon firing. These colors then become signifiers of where the clay, and by extension, the vessel is from. …

“Traditionally in the coastal Northeast, cone shaped bottoms and wide mouths indicate cooking vessels. These pieces were designed specifically to heat food like soups and stews evenly. Ramona Peters (Mashpee Wampanoag) is a contemporary potter who creates with a similar shape language. [But usually] she makes the bottom of her vessels flat so that they are more easily displayed.. …

“Pottery adornment is also popular amongst Native ceramicists. By dragging and pressing tools into wet clay, patterns similar to those seen on Southern New England woven splint basketry can be made. Peters does this in her work.”

For a legend explaining how Maushop, creator of Noepe, or Martha’s Vineyard, and his taste for whale meat created the colors of the local clay, click here.

Now for the plan to create a bigger Tomaquag Museum. Nancy Burns-Fusaro at the Westerly Sun writes, “Rhode Island’s first and only indigenous museum is preparing to soar grandly into the 21st century.

“The Tomaquag Museum, which began inside the small Ashaway home of anthropologist Eva Butler more than 60 years ago, will move to an expansive, 18-acre site off Ministerial Road in South Kingstown, on the very land where ancestors of the Niantic and Narragansett tribal nations lived and worked for millennia prior to the arrival of European settlers.

” ‘We are so excited and so thankful,’ Executive Director Lorén Spears said [as] she discussed plans for the new museum and research center, which is scheduled to open in 2023. The plans include four new buildings and plenty of room for exhibits, area hikes, property tours, visitor parking, gardens full of native plants, medicinals, berries and herbs, new classrooms, performance space, a fully functional kitchen, gift shop, restaurant, pavilions, sculpture gardens, a replica of an early Native village, and a long house. …

“For Spears, a Narragansett tribal member who has worked tirelessly to educate the public on Native history, culture, the environment and the arts for more than a quarter of a century, the project is a dream come true.

” ‘It’s an exciting time,’ said Spears, who has taught at Brown University, the University of Rhode Island and in the Newport Public Schools and continues to teach classes and workshops designed to promote thoughtful dialogue about indigenous history. …

“Spears said the museum staff and members of the board of directors have been searching for the right location for years  now, and this piece of land, steeped in history and owned by the University of Rhode Island, is more than ideal. …

“Spears said the new site is visible yet rural, centrally located and accessible by car, foot and bicycle, but ‘the cherry on the top’ was the existence of viable public transportation.  

‘It’s accessible by public transportation,’ said Spears. “[Buses] run by all day and all night. It’s accessible from the north, south, east and west.’

“The property, which lies just south of Route 138 and north of Route 1, is a few miles away from the Kingston train station and adjacent to the South Kingstown bike path. …

” ‘Tourists will be able to find us,’ Spears said with a small laugh, noting that the museum’s current location is not as accessible. …

” ‘It’s a game changer,’ said Elizabeth Francis, executive director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. The new facility, she said, will allow the museum to more fully share its programming, collections and archives, will help usher in a new era and help introduce a new generation to all the museum’s ‘wonderful material.’ …

“The project, ‘is a testament to how current and present Rhode Island’s indigenous community is,’ Francis added. ‘They  are not locked away in a distant past … they are not static but are here and essential.’ …

“Constantly praising the museum’s staff, board members and collaborators, Spears also pays tribute to her ancestors, especially the women who founded the museum. 

“In 1958, she said, Mary E. Glasko, better known as Princess Red Wing, Narragansett/Pokanoket-Wampanoag, founded Tomaquag Museum, Rhode Island’s first and only Indigenous Museum, with the help of a friend and colleague, anthropologist Eva Butler. When Butler died in 1969, Tomaquag moved to the now-legendary Dovecrest Restaurant, owned by Ferris and Eleanor Spears Dove, the matriarch of the Narragansett Tribe who died in 2019 at the age of 100. After Dovecrest closed, Tomaquag moved to its current quarters in Exeter.

“But now, Spears said, it’s time to focus on the future.”

More on the new museum at the Boston Globe, here, the Providence Journal, here, and the Westerly Sun, here.

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Photo: Randall Hyman.
The Christian Science Monitor: “Activist Nicole Horseherder, who heads a nonprofit that seeks to protect water supplies on the reservation, stands on a ridge near Black Mesa in northern Arizona, the site of past disputes over coal mining.”

I’m grateful for the environmental leadership of indigenous people. They were environmentalists centuries before anyone used that word, and I think that paying attention to them will help us learn how to protect our planet.

Randall Hyman reports at the Christian Science Monitor about Navajo women who instinctively understand the importance of the natural world and their community’s place in it — and who don’t give up.

“One who has a master’s degree in linguistics,” Hyman says, “has made green energy a crusade on a reservation where coal, gas, and uranium have reigned supreme for decades, leaving tainted groundwater in their wake.

“Another returned to the Navajo reservation from Chicago to find that fracking had marred large sections of her native land – something she now works to stop in one of the largest methane hot spots in the United States. 

“A third was so distraught by the lack of ballot access on the reservation that she organized getting voters to the polls on horseback – her version of saddle-up democracy. 

“Two others have immersed themselves in politics directly – one as the youngest member of the Arizona State Legislature and the other as one of three women on the 24-member Navajo Nation Council. …

“Their efforts come at a particularly fraught time. Last year, from the vermilion sands bordering the Grand Canyon to the oil-rich scrublands east of Chaco Canyon, the Navajo Nation was hit by a perfect storm – a convergence of soaring pandemic deaths, dwindling energy revenues, and rising unemployment. Amid the chaos, Native women stepped up in what some see as an unprecedented wave. While one COVID-19 relief group raised $18 million in a matter of months, other women redoubled efforts to dismantle policies that have left Navajo (Diné) people vulnerable. 

“ ‘I think that you’re actually seeing a return to the way that Diné society has always been,’ says Nicole Horseherder, executive director of Tó Nizhóní Ání (Sacred Water Speaks), an organization pushing for new energy policies and water protection across the Navajo Nation. ‘Women are coming forward and saying, “I am a leader too. I can make these decisions. I can make better decisions.” ‘ …

“Underneath all the narratives is another factor – the dominant presence of women in Navajo society, where taking charge is rooted in a matrilineal culture. 

“ ‘When you see the destruction in your community, you realize you have to do something,’ says Wendy Greyeyes, assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. ‘So, women are empowered. A lot of that harks back to our own creation stories. Changing Woman was a very powerful deity who reflected thinking about the longevity of our existence, of the Diné people. This ideology is baked into our DNA as Navajo women – our need to care and nurture and protect our communities, our families.’ …

“A year ago, on a chilly December morning, Nicole Horseherder marked an explosive turning point in her long battle against coal mining. Standing on a slope overlooking the towering smokestacks of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona, Ms. Horseherder set her cellphone on livestream and gazed at the 775-foot monoliths glowing in the sunrise a mile away.

“The stacks had been a landmark of the high desert for nearly half a century, symbols of fleeting prosperity and persistent pollution. The power plant serviced major cities of the Southwest and ran the huge Colorado River pumps supplying much of their water, but was among the top 10 carbon emitters in the United States. At precisely 8:30 a.m., a thunderous rumble shattered the clear morning and clouds of smoke mushroomed as 1,500 pounds of dynamite collapsed the stacks. …

“When I caught up with her last August on the Second Mesa of the Hopi reservation deep within the encircling borders of the Navajo reservation, [Horseherder] recalled her journey’s start. Driving to an overlook, she pointed north toward distant Big Mountain. For her, it stirred painful memories. 

“Ownership of the hardscrabble land surrounding Big Mountain, called Black Mesa, had long been an unresolved intertribal treaty issue. It remained in limbo until the 1950s and ’60s, when a Utah lawyer named John Boyden persuaded a minority of Hopi litigants to take it to court.

“True to its name, Black Mesa is underlain by rich coal seams. It is also sacred to the Navajos and Hopis, many of whom opposed outsiders tapping their minerals. But the lawsuit prevailed, eventually forcing the removal of some 10,000 Navajo residents while dividing mineral rights equally between the tribes. Boyden subsequently leased land and mineral rights for Peabody coal company. A half-century of coal mining and environmental controversy ensued. 

“Ms. Horseherder’s epiphany came when she returned home from Vancouver, British Columbia, with a master’s degree in the 1990s and discovered that her dream of leading a pastoral life had turned to dust. The springs that her family’s livestock depended on had run dry. ‘My whole attention and focus shifted,’ says Ms. Horseherder. ‘It became, “How am I going to protect the place where I live – how am I going to bring the water back? And where did the water go in the first place? ” ‘

“Ms. Horseherder became a vocal activist and founded Tó Nizhóní Ání, or Sacred Water Speaks. At the time, Peabody was pumping billions of gallons of water from deep aquifers, mixing it with pulverized coal, and sending the slurry through 273 miles of pipeline to a Nevada power plant. It assured tribal officials that the technology was safe, and many supported the operation because coal mining was a pillar of the Navajo and Hopi economies for nearly 50 years, providing tax revenues and well-paying jobs. 

“But environmentalists contended that depressurizing the aquifer was lowering the water table. While Ms. Horseherder fought Peabody for years – and others lost scores of animals to stock ponds they said were tainted by slurry – the power plant and related activities were only closed when the economics of the operations no longer worked. Wells never recovered, and impacts endure to this day, critics say. ‘What we’d like to see them do first,’ she says, ‘is fully reclaim those lands that they’ve mined, and reclaim the water as well.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Washington Post.
The city of Anchorage sits on the homeland of the Dena’ina tribe. The Anchorage Museum installed “This is Dena’ina Ełnena” on its facade as part of its land acknowledgment efforts to recognize the Indigenous people of a place.

Now that more of us are paying attention to those who were living in North America before First Contact, a tool has been created that lets us check which tribes lived where we live now.

I sent my zip code by text to (907) 312-5085 and learned I live on former Nipmuc and Pawtucket land. The return text (enabled by land.codeforanchorage.org) also taught me how to pronounce Massa-adchu-es-et. Now I need to look up how the Nipmuc and Pawtucket tribes are or aren’t related to the Wampanoag, as I always thought it was Wampanoag land in this part of Massachusetts.

You can find information about the land initiative in an article called “We’re Still Here” at the Washington Post.

I was also interested in an article at the74million.org about the history that Rhode Island’s indigenous children get in public school.

“Growing up in Charlestown, Rhode Island, Chrystal Baker remembers reading a textbook in history class that said the Narragansett Indigenous people, who have lived in southern New England for tens of thousands of years, were extinct.

‘We’re not extinct,’ the young student ventured, nervous about contradicting the lesson, but feeling she had to speak up. ‘I’m a Narragansett.’

“No response came from her teacher or classmates, recalls the Chariho Regional School District alum, who graduated in 1986.

“ ‘It just didn’t matter,’ she told The 74. ‘You were insignificant.’

“Now, decades later, Baker has two children in the same school system who have navigated similar experiences of hurt and invisibility. …

“ ‘In history class, it’s mostly the history of the colonizers,’ said her daughter Nittaunis Baker, 19, who graduated from Chariho High School in spring 2021 and now attends the University of Rhode Island. 

“ ‘We didn’t really talk about Native people that much.’ …

” ‘There is no United States history, there is no Rhode Island history, without Indigenous history,’ the West Warwick mother told The 74.” Read how the state is now handling indigenous history at the74million.org.

Photo: Asher Lehrer-Small/ the74million.org.
Chrystal Baker and her daughter Nittaunis on the water at the University of Rhode Island’s bay campus, where the 19-year old studies marine biology. They belong to the Narragansett tribe.

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Photo: InsideNova.
A scene from the sixth annual Refugees’ First Thanksgiving Dinner, held Nov. 18, 2018, and sponsored by the Ethiopian Community Development Council in Virginia.

Thanksgiving can be a fraught holiday not only because of occasional family feuds but because, as more of us now know, the story of our First Thanksgiving story has been distorting reality. It was not all about Pilgrims and Indian people sharing wild turkey and pledging eternal friendship. For indigenous tribes, the first European contact was the beginning of endless tragedy.

This year Edward Fitzpatrick at the Boston Globe added to our knowledge after interviewing a member of a New England tribe called the Narragansett.

Lorén Spears, also Tomaquag Museum executive director, says, “There’s no US history without Indigenous people’s history. [People] really need to dig in and come visit places like Tomaquag Museum. … Go to the Mashpee Museum, go to the Aquinnah Cultural Center, go to the Pequot Museum, and find out the real history.”

Even if Indigenous people spend Thanksgiving with family and festivities, she says, “They still know that this isn’t always a happy time for us because it reminds us of all the trauma and loss that our communities have felt due to the conquest that took place here and how it still affects us today economically: health disparities, educational disparities, the list goes on.”

I have read other accounts of indigenous people gathering with family, making it a day of gratitude for the harvest and for community. Immigrants also make the occasion their own.

When I asked students in one English as a Second Language class about Thanksgiving, a young woman from Egypt said that last year, her first US Thanksgiving, she didn’t know anything about the holiday, but she prepared a turkey along with the family’s favorite Egyptian dishes. I said, “Well, if you had a turkey, you had Thanksgiving.” But what do I know? It’s about being thankful. Turkey not necessary.

Plenty of people don’t like turkey. When my family went to a restaurant one Thanksgiving, my Swedish son-in-law ordered beef. And Latinx immigrants have told me they like to serve ham and pineapple, with or without turkey.

Our family tends to stick with turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, another vegetable, cranberry sauce, salad, and a dessert using apples. But before Covid, my sister and her husband always brought bagels and lox. And if we had a guests from another country, they would bring national dishes. Does your gathering have dishes that are unique to your celebration?

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Dance at a Powwow

Photo: Linda Dulan.
In July, the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers hosted its 42nd annual powwow at New York’s Queens County Farm Museum. Seen here, an old-style men’s dance.

I’ve always wanted to get to the Narragansett tribe‘s summer Powwow in Rhode Island. And I will do it yet — never mind how busy summer gets.

In today’s post, Dance magazine whets my appetite even more with wonderful pictures from a “dance powwow” in New York State.

“Over the course of three days in July, the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers hosted its 42nd annual powwow at Queens County Farm Museum. Founded in 1963 by members of the Mohawk, Hopi, Winnebago and Kuna (San Blas) tribes, Thunderbird is the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York, and puts on the city’s largest powwow, drawing dancers from more than 40 tribal nations for a series of performances and dance contests, as well as crafts and food stands.

The next morning the mother showed the women how to make the dress, showed them a special dance and sang a very special song for them. Sure enough, her daughter got well.

Dance Magazine joined [a] sunset bonfire to capture some of the competitions, and asked Thunderbird director Louis Mofsie and company dancer Michael Taylor to share their insights on the place of dance within the powwow.”

They write, “The powwow is a social gathering where we get together to dance and sing, to meet old friends and make new ones. Originally a Western/Great Plains tradition, it does not have any religious or ceremonial significance — our religious and ceremonial dances and songs are restricted and closed to outsiders.

“Dancing is the major activity. Over the weekend, there are dance competitions and also what are called intertribal dances, where the dancers from all tribes are invited to participate. Our bonfire each evening during the gathering is there to help us travel back in time to the days when we had no spotlights. It reminds us of our past, our connection to our heritage and how it has survived through all our hardships to this day.

“As Native American people, we start dancing at a very young age. Dancing at powwows is how we learn the different styles of dances and what they represent. It helps us to connect to our roots and reinforces our awareness of who we are. It also reminds us that Native American dance is the original dance in America—and is still alive today. …

“Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance. This dance dates back to around 1945, right after the Second World War. Native American women and men had volunteered for the armed services and traveled all over the world. During their travels they observed how the women in many different countries were dancing. When they returned home, they decided to introduce a different style of dancing. Traditionally, the women did a very slow, graceful movement around the outer edge of the dance circle, and the men would be doing more vigorous movement on the inside. The Fancy Shawl Dance is much faster in rhythm, more vigorous and permits them to dance on the inside of the circle. The women wear shawls with very long fringe along the edges, and as they move, the fringe reminds you of the feathers that the men wear. Although the women do not wear the feathers and bells on their legs like the men do, their footwork and movements are very similar.

“Men’s Fancy Dance. They say this dance also originated around the end of the Second World War. When the men returned home from the war, they also wanted a more vigorous style of movement. Fancy dancing is much faster than traditional men’s dancing. Each of the dancers tries to create as many fancy steps as they can while keeping time with the singing and drumming. The men wear feathers with ribbons attached to each end, and they carry dance wands that are decorated with ribbons and feathers.

“Women’s Jingle Dress Dance. This dance tells the story of its origin. There was a mother who had a very ill daughter. One night she had a dream, and in it she had a vision: She was told to show the women how to make a special dress with little cones or jingles on it, show them how to do a special kind of dance and sing them a very special song. If she did all these things, it would help her daughter get well. The next morning the mother showed the women how to make the dress, showed them a special dance and sang a very special song for them. Sure enough, her daughter got well. The dance started out as a healing dance but has come down to us as one of the more popular competition dances at the powwow gatherings.”

I never thought about it before, but why should any community have an art form that never evolves. I love the idea that indigenous people who returned from WW II incorporated new influences into traditional dance. More at Dance, here.

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