Cheryl heard an advertisement on the radio yesterday morning for a Native American Art Show called “Made In America.” We both love Native American Jewelry so we thought we’d head up there after church. They advertised they would have Indian Fry-bread which Cheryl thinks is just mouth-watering, so she was all excited to head up to this show at the Red Rocks Trading Post. So we headed on up there and found first that there was no refreshments stand. The trading post serves food, and probably the fact it was held on land operated by a “Park” type establishment and next to the Trading Post, they were likely required to have vendor permits for food sales (which they didn’t arrange ahead of time), so there was no Indian Fry-bread. Bummer! They said there’d be food next year.
But as it turned out, that didn’t define the day for us. It proved to be quite an eclectic gathering of Native American cultural heritage. There were representatives of tribes from various Sioux bands, as well as Navajo and other Southwestern Native American tribes. We got to see dancing and singing and there was a small band playing and singing in their native language, quite a treat for a relatively small gathering in the garden under the Trading Post there at Red Rocks.
We stopped and talked with several of the folks, and I came away with the realization that these native people, though they have been variously oppressed, discriminated against, murdered and forced to live in places against their will, in spite of all that they still have something that those of us from our various Western cultures don’t have: a sense of Community. I write that word “Community” with a capital “C” because I think it represents the sense that these people have. Cheryl defined it as “Heritage” and I had to agree that was part of it. What they have beyond that seems to give them a desire and a hunger to gather together, to share and to swap stories, to talk about the old ones and the old ways.
It’s not that they’ve shunned technology and are averse, contrariwise, they all had cell-phones and drive cars and such. And there were artists there who had embraced the modern ways. One young fellow even told me he and his crew are graffiti artists (and proud of it!). I took some time to talk with him and to study his artwork. I found a deep sense of community even in his artwork. Even the younger of them seemed to have that knowledge that he is part of something bigger than himself, and that his art was a means of expressing that. The sense of “art” for community sake runs deep in these people.
Art is displayed in the ornamentation of their dress, the feathers and beads in their hair, the designs they paint on their dwellings and on everything they use in their everyday life. Most especially of all, art is displayed in the beauty of their jewelry. Jewelry may have been the very first thing of Native America that attracted me to their culture, but it’s just the start of a journey of understanding. There was a fellow there who spent most of his life studying and teaching. His name is Dr. Allen (Chuck) Ross. His Indian name is Ehanamani Emaciyapi (sorry, I didn’t get the translation of his name). He holds a Ph.D. and had his Doctoral Dissertation published into a book on the history of the Native American peoples before Columbus came.
In speaking with him I was variously amazed and thrilled to get a chance to talk with one of the Native “Old ones.” He is very wise, and his wisdom comes bubbling out in gushes and with quite a bit of enthusiasm. I did not have any money left at the time, so I added his book to my wish list on Amazon so I could research it further later, as well as probably purchase it and some of his other works. I told him I’ve only read Black Elk Speaks and that I followed that by purchasing the audio CD of Ben Black Elk Speaks as well. It’s been a while since I listened to that so I’ll need to go back and hear what he has to say again.
Cheryl was a bit concerned to hear Dr. Ross’s intricate theories of creation and how we came to be. I told her it’s nothing to be scared of for us Christians. We have a firm knowledge of the Bible and how we got here. What’s important for us is to find where there is overlap in our stories. The Native American culture is based on their stories. The strong sense of community derives somewhat from the fact that they had no written language when the Western civilization came upon them. What that meant is that these peoples still had a strong sense of community because sharing stories with the community was the most important way to pass on knowledge and tradition. There was no other recording media besides painting and decoration of everyday objects.
Thus, I would say that these people, having been left with no written record of their culture, realize even more than the rest of us that they must find a connection to the past, and that they must make every effort to record what they learn. They are more fortunate than we are I think, because they realize it. Our Western culture, with all our technology are satisfied to leave it in written form for “reference.” We go about our daily lives disconnected from the past thinking it’s no longer relevant. We are blinded by our chasing after some mythical notion of “success” all the while not realizing that success is being at home with your family and friends, and belonging to one another.
There was a fellow there who danced and shared. He said that when he started dancing some years ago, and his children with him, they didn’t even realize what the dances were, what they meant. They didn’t have any notion of purpose or reason in other words, they just knew they should dance. The knowledge came gradually and now they can share the stories with others. He said that when he finally grew up and realized he should be learning about the old ways, the old ones were already gone and he was forced to search out the knowledge that he was then craving.
What I say about this is that these people have a much stronger sense of community from the beginning of their lives. Whether you say that comes from their environment or is genetic is not relevant. What is important is that when they come to an age where they are no longer interested in childish things, they get to the point where that sense of community brings them together to share and to dance and to offer their art work to the rest of the world. I spoke with the young artist who does graffiti art and told him that I don’t believe there are ever enough artists. My feeling is that art is what defines a society.
Some would look at the Indian Reservations such as Pine Ridge and Rosebud in South Dakota and they would point to the fact that there are 80-90% unemployment and 75% alcoholism in these places. They would use those statistics to show what a failure these peoples (and our Government programs) are, and how the world has failed them. While that may be true, we must look to these small gatherings of those who are driven to Community and we must acclaim these as successes for all of us. We must say that in spite of all the difficulties inherent in the clashes of two cultures, these have risen above that and have overcome.