Ishi’s Name: Seeing and Being Seen

ishi

Perhaps you have heard a story of Ishi. He is considered to have been the last of his people, the Yahi of the Yana, whose homelands are the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, in today’s California. I won’t go into the story here; it is oft-told and readily available. I would like to think about a particular aspect, which helps to inform the rest, of course.

I learned of Ishi’s story many years ago… it is powerful, haunting, and telling – a cautionary (true) tale of how humans can become separated, estranged from each other and the earth.

I have always been deeply moved by the statements encountered in the introductions to the stories: “Ishi means “man” in the Yana language. The anthropologist Alfred Kroeber gave this name to the man because [it is said] in the Yahi culture, tradition demanded that he not speak his name or that of anyone who was dead. When asked his name, he said: “I have none, because there were no people to name me,” meaning that no Yahi had ever spoken his name.”

I don’t think it’s as simple as a basic omission or quid pro quo. That is a shallow observation, true on the surface but much more complex than a verbal exchange with social proscriptions.  I see this situation with a vastly wider underlying significance. Simply put, our names are not who we are as an individual. They are what we are called by others (I am called… Abenaki: Nd’elewizi… ), ideally by our own community, the people who know us best. Humans do not exist by themselves. Not for long.  We are social creatures. Without his people – the Yahi, with their cultural understandings derived directly from their homelands, a context within which to make reference to a sense of being- to call to him, to create that relationship of knowing, seeing and being seen, Ishi had already been dealt the ultimate separation. Outside of community, he was no one. There was no context, no one to know him for who he was, a being in relationship to a place and all of its other beings. “There were no people to name me.”

This rattles me to the core. As it should.

 

 

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Burlington Free Press: Abenaki Heritage Weekend Coming Up

abenaki heritage weekend drumming lcmm

Join the Abenaki community on June 23 and June 24 at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum near Vergennes for a weekend of family fun and cultural sharing that is deeply rooted in local Native American heritage.

Organized by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association with members of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk, Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation, Missisquoi Abenaki Tribe and guest artists, the event is designed to give visitors an Indigenous perspective on life in the Champlain Valley both past and present.

Activities will include drumming, storytelling, craft and cooking demonstrations, an Arts Marketplace, and presentations by guest artists including Black Hawk Singers Drum Group, and Jesse Bruchac telling stories in Abenaki and English, accompanied by flute and drum.

See the full story in the Burlington Free Press.

UM Student Art Project Teaches Importance of Community Service

Art-Education

This year, seven art education students found inspiration in Wabanaki folklore for their University of Maine Art Education Student Outreach project. Students enrolled in Professor Constant Albertson’s AED 474: Topics in Art developed original linoleum blocks and used them to print t-shirts intended to be sold on campus and in the community. All of the proceeds will go toward supporting the programs and activities that the Gedakina, Inc. fosters in Native American communities across New England.

“As I was designing the course I researched many Wabanaki issues,” Albertson said. “The students talked it over and did research. We were very excited to work with Gedakina. We didn’t want the product to be another bauble, something that you shove in a junk drawer, and we thought it would be important to use relevant images and symbols.”

In AED 474, Albertson hoped to teach her students skills in collaboration, negotiation and leadership, while showing them how to integrate an art curriculum with community service efficiently.  “Art is critical to creating culture and community,” Rochelle Lawrence, an art education student enrolled in AED 474, said. “It creates awareness of the people, animals, nature and history that have come before you.”

Gedakina, which means “Our world, a way of life” in the Wabanaki language, works to bring like-minded community members and allies together to support and empower Native American and indigenous youth. They also work to challenge racism and continual colonialism and encourage inclusiveness and diversity.

Read the full article by Olivia Shipsey in the Maine Campus.

Warren Zevon Book Sales Benefit Barnet’s Brookview Community Center and Nulhegan Abenaki

crystal zevon books brookview barnet

Warren Zevon’s ex-wife began selling the late rocker’s copious book collection on eBay last year to raise money for a planned community center in her hometown of West Barnet. Crystal Zevon hoped to bring in $1,000 a month to pay for upkeep on the site she dubbed Brookview.

She raised that, and then some. “I don’t have an exact number, but I believe we’ve raised about $13,000. Probably a bit more,” Crystal Zevon wrote late last month in an email to the Burlington Free Press.

Brookview, according to Zevon, is transitioning to an Abenaki cultural center. “The spiritual leader of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation and his wife are now living in the house,” wrote Zevon, who has long been involved in Native American issues. “Aside from paying the monthly expenses, the money raised is being used to make workshop space handicapped accessible for cultural classes and workshops, meetings, ceremonies related to the preservation of the Abenaki culture.”

Community events are also welcome at the space, according to Zevon, but Abenaki events will take priority. “Lots of hopes and plans afoot,” she wrote.

See the article by Brent Hallenbeck in the Burlington Free Press.

Michael Caduto: Making Peace, Olakamigenoka

In the spring of 2010, I was asked by members of the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College to help with a Peace Pole they were erecting in the Memorial Garden next to the church. Knowing that I had worked with members of the Abenaki Nation, and that I teach about Abenaki culture in my programs and writing, I was asked, “How do you say, in Abenaki, ‘May peace prevail on Earth?’”

I discovered that the Abenaki word for peace, olakámigénoká, is a verb that reflects an entirely different concept of “peace” than we express in the English language. Olakámigénoká, “make peace,” is a linguistic window into the Abenaki world view, in which peace is more than a state of tranquility that exists in the absence of violence: Peace is an act that one makes toward other people and the rest of creation.

A few years earlier, in April 2006, the Quebec-Labrador Foundation asked me to facilitate an environmental education seminar at their 50th anniversary Alumni Congress in Budapest, Hungary. During this gathering of conservationists and educators from the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, everyone had 10 minutes to share what they were doing in the respective countries. After hearing about how I was using Native American stories to teach children about nature and stewardship in the “Keepers of the Earth” books, the director of environmental education for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority suggested that colleagues from the Middle East work together to gather folklore stories about nature from all around their region, and to use those stories to teach children about the natural world and environmental issues.

At that time (on that day, in fact), Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Gaza were actively engaged in a bombing campaign — a backdrop that generated considerable anger and tension during our meeting in Budapest. Despite this ongoing conflict, a surge of energy charged the room when everyone present from the Middle East agreed to collaborate on this environmental storytelling project, including colleagues from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. These professionals had been working together for more than a decade as participants in QLF’s Middle East Exchange Program, which promotes peaceful collaborations among “conservationists without borders.” They had reached out to one another to build partnerships and friendships, despite the risk of criticism and ridicule from those who questioned the act of working across political barriers.

Thus was planted a seed whose gestation spanned more than a decade, including many trips to the Middle East to gather traditional tales from storytellers, Bedouins and other keepers of oral tradition. This, the Storytelling for Environmental Stewardship Program, eventually involved more than 50 individuals from 20 organizations in the Middle East and led to a book published in December 2017 — an illustrated anthology of children’s stories called “The Garden of Wisdom: Earth Tales from the Middle East.” In addition to teaching about environmental awareness and stewardship of the natural world, lessons about friendship, justice and faith are woven into the fabric of the stories. Back in 2006, no one could have foretold that this book would be on the verge of publication at a time when the forces of political and religious extremism would be driving government officials to make decisions that defy rational thought, promote conflict and undermine long-standing efforts to broker a lasting peace. The level of peaceful coexistence that exists in the Middle East today is rooted in the actions of the majority of people from this rich mélange of cultures and faiths who place a high value on living justly and in civility with one another. While hope fades for a government-brokered Middle East peace, it is the decency and humanity of individuals that holds the region together and prevents a descent into widespread violence. Their countless daily acts of kindness and compassion are the foundation for what the Abenakis would call “making peace.”

Link to the original commentary in the Rutland Herald 

 

This Reconciliation Is For The Colonizer

Indigenous-Motherhood-Article

Note: Strong medicine follows…

*****

This reconciliation is not our reconciliation.

Because.

The only reconciliation that exists for us, as Indigenous nations, is the reconciliation we need to find within ourselves and our communities, for agreeing and complying to this madness for so long.

The only reconciliation that exists for us, is the reconciliation needed to forgive our families, our loved ones, for acting like the colonizer.

The only reconciliation we need. Is a reconciliation that doesn’t involve white skinned handshakes and five dollar handouts for our lands.

Read the full statement by Andrea Landry at The Wrong Kind of Green.

Marge Bruchac: Savage Kin – Indigenous Informants & American Anthropologists

In this provocative new book, Margaret M. Bruchac, an Indigenous anthropologist, turns the word savage on its head. Savage Kin explores the nature of the relationships between Indigenous informants such as Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan), Jesse Cornplanter (Seneca), and George Hunt (Tlingit), and early twentieth-century anthropological collectors such as Frank Speck, Arthur C. Parker, William N. Fenton, and Franz Boas.

This book reconceptualizes the intimate details of encounters with Native interlocutors who by turns inspired, facilitated, and resisted the anthropological enterprise. Like other texts focused on this era, Savage Kin features some of the elite white men credited with salvaging material that might otherwise have been lost. Unlike other texts, this book highlights the intellectual contributions and cultural strategies of unsung Indigenous informants without whom this research could never have taken place.

These bicultural partnerships transgressed social divides and blurred the roles of anthropologist/informant, relative/stranger, and collector/collected. Yet these stories were obscured by collecting practices that separated people from objects, objects from communities, and communities from stories. Bruchac’s decolonizing efforts include “reverse ethnography”—painstakingly tracking seemingly unidentifiable objects, misconstrued social relations, unpublished correspondence, and unattributed field notes—to recover this evidence. Those early encounters generated foundational knowledges that still affect Indigenous communities today.

This book also contains unexpected narratives of human and other-­than-human encounters—brilliant discoveries, lessons from ancestral spirits, prophetic warnings, powerful gifts, and personal tragedies—that Native and non-Native readers alike will find deeply moving.

Coming out in January 2018. Pre-order here!