Friday, March 4, 2011

The Importance of Clans

So, why?  So what?
Are Native American Clans important to us anymore.  Some tribes list the clans of their members in their enrollment documents, some don't.  Some "traditional" people use them, some not anymore.  Some people don't know their clan.
Lemme 'splain.  Used to be that clans were a dynamic force in Native government, religion and society.  Our Natchez clans, we believe, still are.  We can't have a meeting without the clans being represented by at least someone who speaks for them.  We can't move from the past to the present to the future without them.  Ours have clan mothers.  Our clan mothers are generally beyond child rearing years and are definitely "in your face and you better respect me" kinda ladies.  It is their job to gather consensus of the people they represent and take that verbiage or idea to council.  What would we have without them?  Nothing?
How important are clans and clan mothers at ceremonial events?  It depends on how REALLY traditional the events are in the first place.  Clan mothers can walk right through the back door of an arbor to the front, interrupt ceremony and say, "you can't do that...stop."  They can say, "sing louder and mean it!"  They can get together and say, "this is over!"  They are the ones who approve our servants, the chiefs. They are the basis for our survival this far.  They have carried, at least our Natchez people, nearly forever.  They are the reason our language has survived 282 years after the French tried to curtail our very existence!
Do we base our ideas, comings and goings, our way of life on a world without clans and clanmothers?  I don't think we can.  That would be an imitation of something that is not our own.  How much can we do while imitating another culture or ideology?  Not much, if we wish to retain ourselves in the respect of those who have gone before us.
Painful as it may be to realize...we may not be using clans for their appropriate jobs and may be lessening ourselves for not selecting and listening to clan mothers.  So, what are we then???

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thoughts on Tradition: Are we teaching, learning or living it ?

There is still a "Brain-Bank" tribal training and technical assistance outfit called Three Feathers Associates.  They are in Norman, OK and can be contacted on the internet.  Their President, Antonia Dobrec, came up with a "Cultural Continuum" to help explain to Indians and Non-Indians alike, the diversity of thought and lifestyle among indigenous populations in North America.  The following is a brief synopsis:

Traditional:  Maintains language, culture and traditions, dances.  Not likely to be influenced by non-Indian forces.  Humor and Hospitality.  Usually marry within the tribe and/or follow clan & tribal guidelines.
Traditional Adaptive:  Strong Affiliation with tribe.  Indian lifestyle.  Speak or understand tribal language.  Participate in tribal customs and traditions.  May practice non-tribal religious beliefs.  More likely to accept inter-racial marriages.  Have developed "coping skills" in dealing with non-Indian standards.
Contemporary:  No firm identity with either Indian or non-Indian worlds (or comfortable with both).  May exhibit "generic Indian attributes."  Probably associates with other contemporaries or traditional adaptives. More likely to have been educated by non-Indian standards.
Contemporary Adaptive:  Does not usually carry an "Indian Identity."  May be recognizable as Indian by non-Indian society.  Usually multi-cultural mixed-blood.  May practice Christianity or other religion.  Social contacts with non-Indian community.  May claim to be Indian when social or other benefits may be derived.
Assimilated:  May be found throughout mainstream non-Indian society.  Not usually recognized as Indian.  A "lost Indian" or a "successful Indian" depending on whom is speaking.
Generalizations and ethnocultural judgements must be put aside.  An understanding of the diversity of tribal groups must be developed (copyright 1990, TFA)

So, first of all, if we are "Indian," what are we?  Have we been raised in native communities with English as a second language?  Some of us, yes, lots of us no.  Do we have light or dark skin?  Some of us dark, lots of us no.  Do we follow traditions that have been unbroken for thousands of years?  Some of us yes, lots of us no.  Do we make a practice of wearing tribal clothing consistently?  Some of us yes, many of us no.  How do we, in this age, define ourselves?  How do others see us?  How do we define "Indian Community?"  This blog is designed to be a sounding-board for discussion of WHAT NOW?

As a starter, if you're raised in your native traditions and language, then go away to college or somewhere else and come're seen by your peers as different or having abandoned, at least for a time, your people, culture, traditions.  Even if you left at the behest of your elders to learn to help your people!  Is it possible to reintegrate totally?

Another concept that is well-visited by natives is that of the "Instant Indian."  Using the above Three Feathers Associates example, that would be:  How are contemporaries seen by traditional adaptives and traditionalists?  We've heard this more than once, "How did so-and-so become such a traditional person?  They must have learned it in college, because they weren't raised that way.  Where did they learn their medicine?  Ya know that ain't our tradition, that belongs to ______ tribe!  How does he get-off, talkin' Athebascan like that!  That makes me so mad!"...

Are there answers to these discussion points?  Yes, certainly, we all develop our own responses.  Unfortunately, one of them is, "Yeah, I can out-Indian you any day of the week."  Usually the answers bring up more questions.  Where are we?  Who are we?  How are we passing tradition to our children?  Who defines what I pass to my children?  Do we get our answers from books?  Our elders?  Whose principals of life?  What leaders?

The truth is, if we don't maintain native communities, the remaining and actual traditions, cultures and languages will be lost forever except in books and recordings...and there will be nothing for us to pass to our children within our lifetimes.  We CAN'T get our culture back from books (alone) and we can't pass on traditions we don't know.  Lets start by listening to our respected, not just our elders.  Lets start by treating each other with what is due not what is expected.  Lets start.