Showing posts with label indigenous. Show all posts
Showing posts with label indigenous. Show all posts

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lessons from Our Elders Part 1





I have never shown this to anyone, but I decided to share it along with a little story in an effort to dispel the myths about crystals and indigenous religions. There was the questioned asked in my Facebook group whether or not crystals are used in Voudou and Hoodoo, and I responded by expanding the answer to include the African Diaspora religions as well as Native American traditional religions - all of which I include under the umbrella term indigenous traditions. I have been criticized before as adding Wicca or new age elements to New Orleans Voudou, which I have not. What HAS happened, is that those who have made the accusations are uninformed and assume that because they have not ever heard of it before, then I must be making it up. It's an old dynamic I am used to dealing with. I have even had people from other countries, less than half my age telling me what my tradition is and is not, which I find frankly, humorous at best.

Anyway, my response was this: Working with stones is not a new concept,,,it is as ancient as humankind. There is a similar misconception as it pertains to Native American traditions. For example, crystal scrying is an extremely old and traditional means of divination among the Cherokee and the Navajo among many other tribes. Different stones have different meanings and purposes ascribed to them according to culture. The use of crystals have been used in the African Diaspora traditions for eons...but because there has been a disconnect from Africa and the US due to the slave trade, and because of the disconnect from elders and the internet, people who learn primarily from online sources (which is a large driving force behind the renewed interest of the various traditions) this portion of the body of knowledge is not commonly known. The reclamation or reintroduction of them seems like it is new. But it is not. it is as old as the religions themselves.

Now, the crystal in the photograph was given to me by a medicine man who was 78 years old at the time. He used crystals similar to this one to divine events and inquiries, and interestingly to find lost things. At a particular hospital where I worked as a traditional counselor, we had elders on staff for the express purpose of passing on the traditional ways to the youngsters who were our patients. At the time i worked in the adolescent behavioral health unit. Because many of the children were frankly outcasts and throwaways, we were often crossed. Grandpa would consult the crystal to find out whether or not there was something buried in the ground, who buried it and where it was buried. Then he would go outside and dig it up. This medicine man did not speak English - not a word of English. He was Navajo. he did not really come to respect me until he knew I could speak at least some of my native language, and once he hear me speak and sing songs, then he shared some things with me. Then he showed me how to use the crystal.

He was around 78 years old at the time and this was nearly 18 years ago. That means he was born around 1918 or earlier. His teacher, another medicine man who also volunteered at the hospital was older than him, though I don't know how old he was.

Now there are many things we can take away from this story, but two things are important. One is that, even at 78 years old, he still had a teacher. In the Indian way, the medicine is not bought and paid for. It is not a destination. It is a journey. We spend our entire lives learning and honing our skills. Some medicine people spend their entire lives learning just one ceremony because of the complexities involved. They are specialists.

Second, do you think he got his knowledge from a new age book or course?

Third, in the South, Africans and Indians exchanged many ideas and practices. The use of rocks and crystals were common between them, and the practice continued among the elder folks. I happened to be lucky enough to have several elders in my life along the way that were willing to share the practice with me. And, this is what I share with you today, and this is what I share in my writings. Not something made up. Not something Wiccan. On the contrary, something real, something authentic and something not written about because it is passed down via oral tradition. That is why so many have not heard of it. It is something much older than Wicca, and something much older than New Age. This is the tradition of our ancestors, our elders. And I for one, honor them.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Fantasy called Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving as it is currently portrayed by mainstream media and in the majority of academic settings is laden with myths, misinformation, and falsehoods. Driven by the need for a "feel good" history, society continues to ignore the painful fact that the Native American genocide is quite possibly the most denied of holocausts. This denial serves to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and fails to provide our children an honest education. An unknown history is a history destined to repeat itself. As such, it is imperative to learn the historical truth and pass this truth down to our children who are the next generation of leaders - leaders who determine which course this country will take with regards to the social and political relationship with Native American people.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the reference to Indians in the past tense, as if there are no longer any living Native peoples. My other huge pet peeve (which almost yearly lands me in the principle's office) is sending my son home with a pilgrim hat or feather in his head. 

Why teach the truth about Thanksgiving? 
  1. To debunk stereotypes and historical myths. 
  2. To move away from a monocultural paradigm to a multicultural one. 
  3. Thanksgiving is a much bigger concept than the feast at the Plymouth Plantation. 
  4. When lesson plans are built upon partial and biased information, we are not teaching the truth.

The Problem

Myth: The pilgrims came to American to escape religious persecution (partial truth). Why is this a problem? Because it sets the stage for perpetuating the stereotype of Noble Civilization vs Savagery (Berkhofer, 1978, Jennings, 1976). 

Fact: Pilgrims were a subsect of the Puritans, political revolutionaries who intended to overthrow the British government, and did so in 1649. Many were fugitives, as well as victims of bigotry (Larsen, 1981).

Myth: Thanksgiving Day represents a day when the pilgrims and the Indians sat down and shared a feast with each other in peace and harmony to celebrate the fall harvest. This event was the first Thanksgiving.

Fact: In 1970, the Wampanoag secured a copy of a Thanksgiving proclamation made by the governor of the colony. After a militia returned from murdering the men, women, and children of an Indian village, the governor proclaimed a holiday and feast to give thanks for the massacre. Other colonies were encouraged to do the same every autumn when the crops were in; in other words, at each fall harvest, go kill Indians and celebrate your murders with a feast.

The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions:
The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and souls as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ.

Myth: The pilgrims invited the Indians to the feast to show their gratitude for the help they had received.

Fact: The purpose of the feast was to negotiate a treaty that would secure the lands of the Plymouth Plantation for the pilgrims.

Myth: Squanto was captured by a British slaver who raided the village.

Fact: Squanto was kidnapped by Captain Thomas Hunt, an associate that Captain John Smith had left behind to continue trading with the Indians after their mapping expedition in 1614. Captain Hunt betrayed John Smith, and kidnapped 27 (or 24 to some sources) Indians who had been lured aboard his ship to trade beaver skins(Captain John Smith, 1624).

Myth: The first Thanksgiving was the feast at Plymouth Plantation.

Fact: The first Thanksgiving was approximately 30,000 years ago according to the most recent archeological data. By the New Stone Age (about 10,000+ years ago), Thanksgiving had become associated with giving thanks to God for the harvests of the land. Many indigenous people have feasts of gratitude multiple times throughout the year and for a variety of reasons. Thanksgiving has always been a time of people coming together and giving thanks for that fellowship has become part of the celebration for many. In short, there are many Thanksgiving stories to tell. Why limit ourselves to one myth?

How did the current myth of Thanksgiving come to be? 

It is the product of the melting pot era of the 1890s and early 1900s when our country was attempting to develop a national identity. Public education was a major tool for social unity, and to many writers and educators this meant a common national history. History was written to reflect this goal. As a consequence, Thanksgiving became a national holiday (1898), replete with stereotyped Indians and stereotyped Whites, incomplete history, and an inspirational myth.

So, what can we learn when we teach a balanced and informed Thanksgiving?
  1. There are cultural differences between Indian tribes. Not all Indians look the same or live the same way.
  2. We can learn about the political structure of Indian tribes and the importance of women in government.
  3. We can broaden our concept of Indian leadership. For example, the Wampanoag did not have chiefs; rather, they had sachems and tribal councils.
  4. We can learn how the Constitution of the United States and articles of Confederation came to be. We can learn what the Constitution of the United States and Articles of Confederation are, for that matter.
  5. We can learn the importance of conservation by taking care of the land (Mother Earth).
  6. We can learn about respect, honesty, and integrity in our interactions with others and in how we conduct ourselves.
  7. We can learn about how the seasons are celebrated in different cultures.
  8. We can learn the importance of the family dinner table.
  9. We can learn empathy and compassion for others.
  10. We can learn about agriculture.
  11. We can learn about the different dwellings various Indian tribes used and continue to use, as well as the dwellings of people in cultures all over the world.

REMEMBER: The antidote to a feel-good history is not a feel-bad history, but an honest and inclusive one (Loewen, 1998). 

References

Berkhofer, Jr., R. F., (1978). The White Man's Indian, Vintage Books, Random House, New York
Jennings, F., (1976). The Invasion of America, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.
Larsen, C, M., (1981). The Real Thanksgiving, Tacoma, Washington:Tacoma Public Schools
The Council on Interracial Books for Children, (1971). Chronicles of American Indian Protest, Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Pub. Inc.,

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Photos copyright Denise Alvarado, all rights reserved worldwide.

Copyright 2010-2013 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.