In honor of Valentine’s Day coming up this week, I wanted to share a little piece of research I found when I was writing my Master’s thesis on how food creates and sustains cultural identity.
I had been working on a research paper that explored cultural belief in aphrodisiacs and found a study out of Germany that claimed to be able to predict the bedroom habits of men based on how their wives described their eating habits! Immediately I thought this was fascinating and began talking about it with my friends and retroactively applying it to lovers I had had– and the rule seemed to apply!
In my upcoming lecture on Food, Culture and Ancestors, (oh and hey! It’s FREE) I’ll be talking more about how food– and dining together– creates romantic and familial bonds, which enhance our cultural identity. Yes, most cultures have a dating tradition around food and drinks. Yes, most cultures reinforce community bonds with community meals. But until I read this study, I had no idea that eating with someone could be telling you important and intimate details about whether or not you wanted to invite them in for a night cap. *wink wink*
But this Valentine’s Day, see if you can’t match up your partner’s eating habits with their love making style. If you’re dating, pay attention to what and how your date eats their meal and see what it does to your level of attraction for them. And don’t forget to tune into your own eating style! Are you projecting the right message?
Here are some scenarios to consider. None of these scenarios are right, wrong or ideal– it all depends on what you’re attracted to and what kind of mood you might be in on any given evening.
Does your date:
- Carefully look over the menu, ask what’s fresh/the chef’s recommendation are?
- Not even both to crack open the menu because he/she likes to eat the same thing over and over again?
- Shovel their food in their mouth, barely tasting it before swallowing it?
- Slowly savor the first bite and comment on the various flavors they’re picking up?
- Eat painfully, irritatingly slow?
- Carefully consider the wine and dessert pairings to make sure the ambiance is ideal?
- Prefer to order take-out for Netflix and Chill?
- Absentmindedly eat while scrolling on their phone?
- Talk with their mouth full?
- Put too much food in their mouth?
- Seem afraid to eat/show any sign of an appetite
- Have a bunch of rules around what they will and will not eat?
- Not have enough rules around what they will and will not eat?
Let me know if you see yourself or your partner in any of these!
And don’t forget to register for the Food. Culture. Ancestors. Workshop taking place next month!
I believe that everything, everything, has spiritual DNA. From the tiniest of newborn humans to the oldest of ancient rocks. Encoded in your cells and in your soul you will find your spiritual DNA.
What is this spiritual DNA? I imagine it is made up of this lifetime’s ancestral heritage as well as major events and trainings your soul has undergone in between lifetimes and perhaps even in other lifetimes. I imagine stamped along this DNA is your soul’s contract for this lifetime: what you’ve agreed to do, learn and give in this lifetime to this world.
I say “imagine” because I don’t really know. But I do know we do have spiritual DNA. I do know that we have undergone specific trainings in between lifetimes to help further the development of our soul and the gifts and challenges we will face while incarnated on Earth. I do know that we have a soul contract for each lifetime and that it makes sense that this would be stamped into our DNA.
Your spiritual DNA expresses itself in the tugs and nudges that we call “intuition” or “women’s knowing” (though men have it too). Your spiritual DNA leads you to dabble in this and learn from that– leading you to remember or awaken to mysteries within.
For example: Say you’re a red-blooded American but have an inexplicable draw to Eastern religions. That’s your spiritual DNA speaking to you. There’s something in the Eastern religions that you’ve learned in a past life or that is in someway fundamental to this life that you need to remember. So you go there. It doesn’t mean you need to spend your life as a Buddhist nun and it doesn’t mean you have the right to culturally appropriate traditions and ideas you don’t know enough about. But it does mean that you need to sift around. Open your mind and your heart. See what’s making your blood sing and what you need to do about it.
I also believe that many of the ancient Mystery Schools were established to protect spiritual DNA and to carefully awaken the secret codes within initiates. Even the Bible says: “We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden … No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (NIV). 1 Corinthians 2:7-10.
Has this secret wisdom been hidden in our DNA? I think so.
Genocide, war, immigration, colonization and assimilation are among many of the reasons we have forgotten we have spiritual DNA, much less are able to access it. But I also believe that part of what’s encoded in my spiritual DNA is the mandate to help others reconnect to their spiritual DNA.
From growing up on my ancestral homelands, to spending my life as a cultural insider-outsider, to becoming a journalist with an activist streak bent on portraying cultural and racial minorities in a living and breathing light, to spending five years studying how we create and sustain our cultural identities and legacies intergenerationally (and earning a M.A. in the process), to unexpectedly becoming an expat in a foreign land . . . my entire life has insisted I return to my spiritual DNA in order to ground myself and my soul in this life and in the multi-layered cultural identities I have taken on. Half-breed. Mixed Race. Okanagan. Expat. Foreigner. Insider-Outsider. Racially ambiguous. White-passing. Chameleon.
I believe that for those of us who have been separated from our heritage and traditions by space, time, genocide and/or oppression, the first step to discovering and reconnecting to our spiritual DNA is to reconnect to our body’s DNA. Where did our people come from? What stories shaped their experiences and are stamped in our blood? Were they alive spiritually? How were they alive spiritually?
In the Northern Hemisphere we are approaching the Thinning of the Veil: the veil between this world and the spirit world will be it’s thinnest from October 31-November 2nd, also known as Halloween/Samhain/All Saint’s Day/Day of the Dead. It is a time of the year when cultures all over the world have traditionally honored their spiritual and physical DNA in the form of ancestral remembrance and reverence.
If you would l like to meaningfully participate in this ancient observance, but perhaps avoid making a more long-term commitment to your ancestors (you know– dip your toes and test the waters so-to-speak) I have created a 60-minute workshop that will guide you through everything you need to know to situate yourself in a healthy relationship with your ancestors and to create a seasonal reverence practice.
Learn more here.
Hope to see you there.
In love and sacred darkness,
When I was a little girl, I used to look out the window at the mountains surrounding our little valley. I knew the names of each of those mountains. Those mountains held stories. Family stories. I’d look at the tall pine trees standing watch along the ridge lines, outlined against the blue sky background, and I’d imagine those trees were my ancestors. Standing watch over me. Over us. I wished on those trees. Just like my mother did when she was growing up in the same valley, watching and wishing on the same mountains, with the same evergreen centurions.
It was a soul need to hear the mountains whisper the same blessings they had whispered to Okanagan mothers and their babies for eons.
As an Okanagan tribal member who grew up in the Okanagan highlands, I’m one of the few that can claim to have grown up in their ancestral homelands. One of the even fewer indigenous people who can claim so. What with forced removal, reservations, colonization, globalization and the ease of growing up and moving away these days. But I grew up where my mother grew up and where my ancestors were always at least a seasonal presence before that. Way before that. Way before the first European ever even dreamt of putting foot on our shores.
Growing up this way, there was a sense of security and rootedness that I took for granted, as all children take the blessings they were born into for granted. I was restless. Eager to see more of the world. I went to college only two hours away but I got married shortly after graduation and moved halfway across the States. I moved again to Southwest and then to Spain.
All of this moving and seeing the world was fantastic for my wandering soul. I felt free and secure in new environments, rather than scared or uncertain.
After a few years, I divorced my first husband and ran away to Costa Rica to grieve in private and to reclaim my independence. I met a redhead with a wild look in his eye and enjoyed a brief (less than 24 hours) flirtation with him. We exchanged email addresses and a promise to let him know if I was ever back in the country. Two years went by. On another whim, I decided to go back to Costa Rica as a graduation gift to myself for finishing grad school. I emailed the redhead.
For the first time I realized that my soul needed to catch up with my body.
Ten months later I was pregnant with our first child. A year later, we broke ground on our house. Another 10 months later and I was pregnant with our second child.
In July of 2014, I sat on the gorgeous bed that my wild redhead had made with his own hands, trying to nurse our newborn second son. My body was unrecognizable to me after a second pregnancy, a second 60-pound weight gain, and a second emergency c-section. I lived on top of a cold mountain in a tropical country in a beautiful farmhouse on a beautiful farm, but it too was all unrecognizable.
I was panicking.
After 15 years of traveling and wandering the world and of calling 15 different places “home,” I felt desperate to go capital-H Home. To my homelands. But it wasn’t really homesickness. It wasn’t that I was unhappy in Costa Rica or with the redhead (I wasn’t and I’m not).
It was a primal need to see pine trees.
It was a soul need to hear the mountains whisper the same blessings they had whispered to Okanagan mothers and their babies for eons. To see the evergreen centurions standing watch on top of the ridge and to dedicate my sons into their care.
And for the first time, I realized that my soul needed to catch up with my body. My physical body was happy to wander and to put down roots half a world away from it’s homelands. But my soul had yet to anchor into this new earth. I knew I needed room to explore the spiritual wisdom of this new land while still honoring and, more importantly, remembering, the old land.
So I did the only thing I know how to do when it comes to the soul. I did the only thing I could do that let me be in both places at once: I journaled.
And now the same magical journaling process that I developed for myself, can be adapted for your own spiritual nourishment as well.
If you’re in unfamiliar territory, whether it’s motherhood, a new country, a new career or a new stage in life, DIVINA can help tether your soul to your roots while giving you the freedom to explore new horizons.
DIVINA gives you daily space and accountability to record the musings, insights and guidance from your subconscious. Dreams, intuition, synchronicity, divinations, your menstrual or lunar cycle, gratitude, signs, omens, emotions and reflections all have their place in this journal. Over time, you’ll build a compendium of insight that can be invaluable in determining just how the Divine is communicating to you and what your next move should be.
But hurry. It’s only available for a limited time.
Neptune in Pisces until 2027 is THE time to develop your dream practice, and now this fantastic book is out! I love mine! — Mystic Medusa
I love this journal more than cake. — Little Fox Tarot
DIVINA blew the doors off of my 2016– it saved so much of my sanity! — Keva, USA
Happy Holy Days,
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT the Earth Goddess, you probably think of bunny rabbits, spring fever, green meadows and abundant fertility. While yes, Spring is lovely, feminine and indeed fertile time of the year, Autumn belongs just as much to the Earth Goddess and if you know where to look, you’ll see she’s been here all along.
One of the very best teachers I ever had was my second grade teacher, Mrs. Fletcher. We are still in touch today, nearly 30 years later, and when my first son was born she gave him his very first book. I love this woman. And now, when I look back at our year together when I was just 7-years old, I suspect she might be a little witchy. Which, of course, makes me love her even more.
Viola Swamp– Just look at those leggings!
Mrs. Fletcher taught us how to bake homemade bread. And while the bread was baking in the school’s kitchen, she taught us how to make homemade butter. And boy, did she know how to teach us how to celebrate the seasons. She wrote letters to each of us under the guise of elves who were looking for four-leafed clovers around the start of Spring. The elves were supposedly living in the ceiling above our classroom and each student had a different elf assigned to them as a pen pal for a week. We were encouraged to get outside and look for four leaf cloves to help the elves out. Just before Halloween she read Miss Nelson is Missing! And the next day came to school dressed as Ms. Viola Swamp and stayed in character the entire day! I’m seriously tearing up thinking about this woman and her magic as a teacher.
Mrs. Fletcher read the entire Little House on the Prairie books to us (that’s probably where the homemade bread and butter lesson came in) and then she took all 20+ of us to her house for an overnight field trip. We roasted marshmallows on the wood stove, we looked for fossils on her hillside and watched her husband milk the cows in the morning. Something each and every one of us remembers, it was even brought up at our 10-year high school reunion in 2010, is that that overnight slumber party was the first and only time we ever saw Mrs. Fletcher with her hair down. To this day, she still wears her hair in her signature bun, but on that night in 1987, her hair was down. It was impossibly long, past her waist, and she was wearing an old fashioned long white nightgown. She was beautiful. Magical. And although we knew we were completely loved by her (and we loved her in return), she was also still Mysterious. She was, and remains, my kind of woman.
I want you to understand that our ancestors are not just our blood. Our ancestors are people who were influential in our lives. Our ancestors are mentors and teachers we admire and emulate, even if we never met them in life or in person. Mrs. Fletcher is most definitely my ancestor and I am one lucky woman to be able to say so.
Pomona, Roman Goddess of orchards and one of many goddesses whom we can thank for the tradition of bobbing for apples
Bobbing for Apples and the Goddess
I tell you all of this because I cannot think of Autumn without thinking of Mrs. Fletcher. Blame it on my impressionable age when she was my second grade teacher, or blame it on her extraordinary teaching methods. It’s probably a bit of both. Anyhow, that Autumn in 1989 she took us on a field trip to an apple orchard and later she cut an apple in half, around the middle, and showed us that when you cut an apple like that, it made a star. This blew my mind and only proved to me that she was magic.
Today, I invite you to cut an apple in half, around the middle, and see the pentacle for yourself. The pentacle is an ancient symbol of Earth, which is still represent in suit of pentacles in tarot, and is a powerful sign of protection. It is also the sacred symbol of the Celtic death goddess, Morgan, and many others, I’m sure. The apple is also a an ancient symbol of, and gift from, the Goddess. Cultures all over the world are ripe with stories about goddesses and apples. Apples of life, apples of death. Although the Bible only mentions that Eve gave Adam a “fruit” we all know it was an apple. Why? How do we know that?
Because this wisdom is in our bones.
The Thinning of the Veil and Divination
Because the veil between the worlds is thinner now, it is thought to be an ideal time to do divination. You are closer to your ancestors, and they to you, and so it’s thought that any divination you will do around this time of year will be more accurate.
All of the traditions we have discussed this week: Halloween, Day of the Dead, Samhain, All Soul’s Day, were/are a way to honor the season of death while hoping for (and asking for) a return of the season of life. Remember, it’s only in very recent human history that surviving the winter is all but guaranteed. Even in the time of our grandmothers, and certainly our great-grandmothers, winter was a time of uncertainty. The only certainty was that some of the people with whom you were feasting and celebrating the harvest, would be dead before spring. Including yourself. Illness. Cold. Starvation. Exposure. It was coming. So dance. Eat up. Honor your ancestors because you might be seeing them soon (among other reasons), revel and keep your eyes and spirits on the promises of Spring.
One of the best things to look forward to in spring, besides the return of warm weather and abundant food, was fertility. We as humans are obsessed with becoming ancestors, while we are conscious of it or not. So much of the divination that took place in Autumn centered around predicting marriages and other fertility-based endeavours for the Spring.
There is a tradition on Halloween to bob for apples. You fill a large bucket with water, fill it with apples (which bob, or float, on the water) and participants take turns trying to grab an apple with only their mouths– hands are tied behind their backs. It’s easier said than done. An alternative on this game involves hanging apples from various lengths of string and trying to bite into the swinging apple with your hands tied behind your back. Today, the first person to bite into an apple wins. However, historically, the apples would be discreetly marked by every unmarried and eligible young woman. Unmarried and eligible men would bob for the apples and the apple they picked foretold a possible marriage, to the girl who marked the apple, in the spring. Alternatively, young folk would bob an apple and then carefully peel it in one long strand and then throw the apple peel over their shoulders. The fallen apple peel would then be examined to see what letter or letters it was in the shape of and possible love matches would be narrowed down according to the first letter of their names and the letter(s) the apple peels were in the shape of. Girls would also cut an apple in half, to reveal the pentacle, and then sleep with it under their pillow and expect to dream about their future husband.
Tomorrow, finally find out what’s up with black cats, witches and other symbols of the Dark Goddess.
Have fun storming the castle!
YESTERDAY WE TALKED ABOUT the Celtic pagan and Druidic origins of Halloween and the day before that I resurrected an old post on Dreaming with the Dead: Contacting Departed Loved Ones Through Dreams.
Today, I’d like to talk about Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It is a Latin (Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Italy) holiday that has become very visible and popular with non-latinos over the last few years.
Day of the Dead is actually celebrated on November 2 and Day of the Little Angels (Dia de los Angelitos) is celebrated on November 1. It is believed that the gates of heaven open up at sunset on October 31 and all of the spirits of children who have died come back to be close to their family until sunset on November 1. At sunset on November 1, the children spirits go back to heaven and the adult spirits come to hang out until sunset on November 2. Yes, this time halfway between the vernal equinox and the winter solstice is believed to be a sacred time when death is so close to life to cultures all over the world. In the case of Latin America, however, ancient Aztecs and other pre-Columbian civilizations used to honor their dead for what today would be considered the entire month of August (obviously, the ancients of the Americas did not know what “August” was). The Spanish conquistadors came in and merged some of their own rituals for honoring the dead with the indigenous rituals of Latin America and put it all on the official Catholic holiday of All Saint’s Day. It was a sort of “All conquered nations will now move their ancestor worship to these two days so that we can monitor and control it . . . or else,” move.
Now, with Day of the Dead, instead of trying to trick or scare goblins, demons and ghosts away, participants instead spend many weeks building ofrendas, or altars with offerings, to their ancestors and departed loved ones. They also spent/spend a lot of time and money creating and curating sweet treats, sweet breads, sodas, water, alcohol and other favorites to put on the altars to offer their departed loved ones. All of this is done in bright colors and in good spirits because a celebration of death is also a celebration of life. All of the sweets and photos and bright colors on the ofrendas are meant to beckon ancestors/departed loved ones to return for a day. The food and beverages are needed by the spirits to give them the strength (and motivation) to travel and hang out for a bit– it’s not easy to be a spirit in a physical plane. On November 2, families will often meet in cemeteries to have a picnic and clean or wash gravestones as well.
How to Celebrate Day of the Dead Without Being an Asshole
Yet it’s the bright, yet macabre, decor, the fun and the themed sweets that have caught the attention of the masses. In the last several years it has become popular to dress as a sugar skull or Catrina for Halloween. It’s become common to have Day of the Dead themed parties and decor. I’m not Latina but I will remind you that the Day of the Dead is sacred. While I don’t see anything wrong with thoughtfully and respectfully engaging in your own Day of the Dead-inspired rituals, I would caution you against dressing up as a sugar skull or a Catrina for Halloween and then getting shit faced. That’s not exactly respectful and I sure as hell don’t want to piss off any spirits . . . or living communities.
If you appreciate the aesthetic of Day of the Dead, then by all means, buy some paraphernalia and then take the time and effort to actually use it the way it is intended: create an altar with photos and memorabilia from your departed loved ones. Add sugar skulls, sweet bread, Catrina dolls and bright colors. Add candles and marigolds. Express gratitude, say prayers and invite your loved ones to return for a night. Go to the cemetery, alone or with as many family members as you can muster, and clean up the gravesites of your ancestors. Take a picnic and set aside the first serving of food for your ancestors. (DON’T eat the offered food later. When you are done, ask a tree for permission to leave the food at its base. If you feel the food is appropriate to leave as an offering to the little critters of the area, you could do that. Or throw it away. But don’t eat it. It’s energetically dead and kind of gross.)
Happy ancestors and family spirits are believed to bring good luck and blessings for the next year– and I believe it! No spirit is as interested in your well-being and quality of life as an ancestor spirit is. No spirit can help or protect you like an ancestor spirit. The least you can do is throw a party for them one night. And if you have kids, get them to participate! I can only imagine what my life would be like, what my spiritual life would look like, if I had grown up in a culture where ghosts were welcomed and death was celebrated with all of the colors, indulgences and revelry of life.
Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at some of the symbols and traditions of this time of year, you won’t want to miss it!
P.S. I’ve recently enjoyed resurrecting old newspaper articles I wrote when I was a young reporter in Iowa and Illinois (2005-2006). I guess I’ve always had a thing for ancestors and the dead.
About Day of the Dead:
Families Honor the Dead
Day of the Dead Keeps Memories Alive
Celebrating the Dead: [Museum] sets Altars on Display for Annual Day of the Dead Ceremony
Honoring the Present and Honoring the Dead:
How to Memorialize Your Pets (don’t forget to include them in your Day of the Dead celebrations!)
He Enjoys Spending a Day with His Son
Did you hear the news today? The Standing Rock Sioux and their supporter’s have successfully (for the time being) halted the Dakota Access Pipeline!
But maybe you didn’t hear. Because Big Media is silent on the issue.
Well, as 1) an expensively-trained and former journalist, as 2) a Native American and as 3) an expert on intercultural communication (toot! toot!), I’ll tell you why Big Media has been ignoring The Standing Rock Sioux Protest:
Big Media has no f*ucking idea how to cover it.
Did you know that there are over 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States? And many unrecognized (their numbers are too small, because they were, you know, successfully decimated a few hundred years ago). Did you know that there are many complicated and vitally important treaties with tribes along the Canadian and Mexican borders, where traditional tribal lands have been separated by modern borders? My own tribe included? Although I was born and raised in the U.S., less than 10 miles south of the Canadian border, my tribal affiliation is in British Columbia and that gives me certain rights: I can cross the border with my tribal ID instead of a U.S. passport. I can’t be denied entry (as long as I have my tribal ID) and I can also move to British Columbia without a visa (but still with paperwork).
You must know that the U.S. has many complicated, and often broken, treaties with all of these tribes, don’t you?
Take a look at the map below. The russet colored area is the current Colville Reservation in the Washington State. The Colvilles are a sort of sister-tribe to my tribe, the Okanagans. Many U.S. born Okanagans have enrolled with the Colvilles for the convenience of being on the same side of the border as their tribal affiliation. That russet-colored area on the map is what is left of the Colville reservation. The shaded in area immediately above it is the former North territory of the Colville reservation (and the area I grew up in). Notice the straight, straight line dividing the two? That’s where the U.S. government amputated the northern territory when gold was discovered in that part of the reservation. The government broke the treaty and stole the land (again) when gold was discovered.
And in case you’re picturing an 1800’s gold rush? This was, if my memory serves me, in the 1950’s.
Aren’t Indians Extinct?
There’s this romantic idea that Native Americans are extinct. You probably don’t even realize you subscribe to this idea. Native Americans/Indians are forever relegated to the Wild Wild West where they disappeared into the sunset or happily married tough cowboys and had half-breed children, who went on to have even whiter children and now Indians have been bred out except for maybe a small handful on this far flung corner or another. And these anomalies stick to their reservations and are poor uneducated souls just clinging to a way of life that died 200 years ago.
Native Americans are out in the world, with smartphones, doing what you’re doing. Working, creating, grinding out 9-5 jobs, traveling the world, and more! Native Americans! They’re Just Like Us!
There’s a whole secret hashtag for Natives like me who live abroad. #nativesabroad
Don’t tell anyone I told you.
But it’s just so much easier to sleep at night when we think Indians are dead. When they are the things of fairy tales (the Indians in Peter Pan, anyone?) When they are a fantastical fucking Halloween costume.
Side rant: You CANNOT be an Indian for Halloween. It’s racist bullshit in that it propels the myth that we are a fantasy of the past and not real living beings. Yes, you can be a football player for Halloween. Yes, football players are real living beings too. What’s the difference? A man can CHOOSE to be a football player and then go home and take the uniform off and even one day retire from football. A Native American is a Native American no matter what they are wearing and for their entire life. It’s not a choice. It’s a heritage.
These are my opinions on why Big Media is not covering the pipeline protests. I also think corporate greed and interests are at play, but these other elements make it that much easier to go along with corporate policy.
But in short? Big Media isn’t covering The Standing Rock Sioux protest because they don’t believe their audience is interested. They don’t believe YOU are interested. After all, there are, like, maybe 20 Native Americans in the whole world and the rest have been whisked away to fairy land. Right?
Ouch. How did we get here?
Ten years ago yesterday (!) I wrote an editorial piece for an Illinois newspaper that I was working for. That article was more about the issues of Native American sports mascots, but I think my arguments still stand and are even directly related to The Standing Rock Sioux protests and the media coverage (or lack thereof).
Here’s that piece I wrote 10 years ago:
Chief is reflection of American Indian education
By Darla M. Wiese
September 16, 2006
The controversy over the University of Illinois’ mascot, Chief Illiniwek, has heated up in recent weeks as the tradition’s demise may be imminent. If I were to look at the problem from a strictly black-and-white point of view, my stance on the issue would be simple: If area tribes approve of the use of an Indian mascot, great. If area tribes don’t approve, find a new mascot.
Unfortunately, this issue runs a little bit deeper than that. The real issue, I believe, has less to do with Indian mascots, and more to do with the representations of American Indians in both the public education system and the mass media.
Last summer my husband and I spent a long weekend in Washington D.C. As a member of the Okanagan Indian Band of southern British Columbia, visiting the new National Museum of the American Indian was on the top of my list of sights to see.
As we walked into an exhibit, a large screen flashed images of American Indians. One was a construction worker, another a young professional and another a farmer. As the images were displayed a voice overlay said something to the effect of “Everyday you may come in contact with an American Indian and not even know it. They’re workers, teachers. . .” etc.
My first thought was, “Um, duh?”
My second thought was a little heavier. I remembered doing research a year earlier for a college paper about the Washington Redskins and the sports mascot debate. For many people, the portrayals of American Indians in movies, television, halftime shows, books and cartoons may be the only “contact” they ever have with the American Indian culture. The context of the stories told about American Indians is almost always in the past tense, in a past time, contributing to a subconscious thought that American Indians no longer exist and/or are part of fairy tales.
That’s why the exhibit at the museum felt compelled to explain to its visitors that American Indians exist today — you just might not recognize them because they’re in hard hats and suits.
As a young girl trying to establish an identity, I absorbed these mass media images about American Indians. I devoured books such as The Indian in the Cupboard and though no one in my family watched sports, I sought out and learned the “Tomahawk Chop,” all for mainstream cultural validation. It was no different than looking to the mass media for society’s ideals on beauty and athleticism, except I couldn’t find any American Indians there so I had turn to these other representations.
America needs to reevaluate the mass media messages and images we send about American Indians, and we can start in the public school system. Last year, the American Psychologist Association stated that the continued use of American Indian mascots “establishes an unwelcome and often times hostile learning environment for American Indian students that affirms negative images/stereotypes that are promoted in mainstream society.”
We also need to look at how we’re teaching out teachers. My college roommate, an elementary education major, came home one day with an American Indian paper doll and told me her assignment was to decorate the doll’s dress and give her “an Indian name.” She brought the assignment home because, in all seriousness, she thought it was cute and that I’d enjoy it.
“I’m going to draw little daisies on the dress and call her ‘Likes to Shop a lot Girl’,” she said to me.
“How about you teach your students about genocide and forced assimilation, instead of shopping” I replied.
“Relax, it’s just a doll.”
As a child, I thought for sure I had come from a long line of blood thirsty, vengeful people who didn’t know enough to recognize the U.S. government had only their best interests in mind and as a result the government had no choice but to use force, deadly force. Today I know that these feelings, this subconscious learning, are wrong, but I also know that millions of other students and adults, native and non-native alike, don’t know that, and may never know that.
I know you’ve got a lot of sentimental attachment to your Chief Illiniwek. I know that that attachment has nothing to do with racism. But Chief Illiniwek is a thing from the past, a part of a fairy tale, and it’s time to let him go. To too many people, of all races, he doesn’t honor or represent American Indians, he defines them.
I’m not going to relax.
Check out Indian Country Today, the largest national news magazine written by and for Native Americans, and Native America Calling, a nationally syndicated public radio program also produced by and for Native Americans, to really educate yourself on Native America. And yes, I’m a proud former journalist/producer for both outlets.