Monday, November 28, 2016

Yopp - Standing Rock Edition

Almost 15 years ago, my kids danced in the Salt Lake City Olympic opening ceremonies. We learned many valuable lessons from that experience. We learned that pioneer dancers get costumes and jackets and tents with kerosene heaters and Native American dancers wear their own regalia ("make sure you wear something warm underneath it") and are given hand warmers to fend off the January SLC weather. We also learned that Natives are tough and hand warmers rock!

Not only did my kids get to dance to 5 amazing drum groups, they got to dance while Robbie Robertson sang, "Making a Noise".

The SLC Winter Olympics was the largest gathering of Native Americans I had ever seen - and my kids played a part! It was empowering. My kids made a noise, and  I've been encouraging them to do so ever since.

Right now, Standing Rock is making that noise, and it is louder still.

 Edward S. Curtis called Native Americans, "The Vanishing Race." That was the United States' official policy for a very long time. Native Americans should assimilate and intermarry. By 1950, it was predicted, there would be no full-blood natives left, and the quintessential American would be able to  claim a little Native American blood in their veins (most likely from a Cherokee Princess).

Everybody knows Anglo-Americans make better Indians than Indians anyway. All you have to do is watch a Man Called Horse or Dances with Wolves or Little Big Man to figure that that out.

Sixty-six years past 1950 and Native Americans are still here. They still exist. They have out lasted 500 years of colonial occupation. Each nation has a culture that shapes how members think and feel. First Nations have a past as long as a squirrels tail and a future as wide as the Milky Way.

My native kids interact with people who don't either don't believe indigenous people still exist, or who think Native Peoples should conform to given stereotypes.

 Once when we were doing a cultural exchange at an elementary school, a student looked at my son dressed in his Native regalia and said, "Are you a real Indian?" My son replied, "Yes". The student then said, "No you're not. I can see your visitor's pass!"

Just as my children can be both Native and visitors, First Nation people can maintain both a rich heritage and promising future. Recently we participated at a Stand for Standing Rock Rally in Salt Lake City where my son Mason, AKA Wounded Knee, was asked to perform. On the fly the rest of the kids were asked to sing a traditional drum song. They sang Baha Sapa and dedicated it to Standing Rock.

When it was Wounded Knee's turn to perform, an Anglo-American approached my son Joseph and asked him to join her drum circle, playing near the street. When he politely declined, indicating he'd come to listen to Wounded Knee, she informed him that Wounded Knee's style of Native Rock was not really cultural -- inferring that her drum circle was?

Native Americans have been defined and pidgeon-holed. Native history has been construed and rewritten by oppressive forces. It is time for Indigenous people to make a noise. It is time for them to be seen. And this Christmas we will be adding our Yopp to Standing Rock.

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