Cultural Anthropology Reflection #1: Sad Realities of a Wonderful World
This semester has been filled with a lot of information. It was mentioned that Anthropology makes things that are familiar become unfamiliar, and vice versa. I agree with this, when you begin to look beneath the surface of complex cultures and their roles in society we see that it all intertwines into many diverse systems (socially, politically, ideologically, and even economically). Once we begin to compile all this information, sometimes things we once believed aren’t so clear. Nationality, is something that I always believed was so concrete. I believed my nationality was so concrete…But the more I begin to break down how this country has built itself politically, I see how it’s successfully managed to segregate native Americans on paper; I question if my nation, backs me up the way I used to believe it did.
This world, this system…wasn’t made for everyone. That’s something I am beginning to see in an Introduction to International Relations course that I am taking right now. It’s not the class itself that is stating this, but it’s something I observe in how students and even my professor react to talking about tribal sovereignty. To them it seems; it’s not seen as an International issue, and to me…It’s not seen as an issue to them period. You may question, okay what does this have to do with Anthropology, and anthropological thought? I am kind of tying this to the whole, “Nice Girls Don’t Talk to Rastas” article by George Gmelch: Because I feel a little like Joanna as I approach the topic of ‘who is an American?’. As an Oglala Lakota person, I’m not sure I see me as an American, the same way someone who has willingly accepted this lifestyle and “culture” we have in America has (anyone who isn’t native and has ancestors who willingly came to America whether by migration, emigration or refuge). It gets tricky though, because I am half white, and I have light skin…I benefit from a lot of the same things other white Americans do in society. The whole, benefit of the doubt thing…I get that more often than not1. But when it comes to being Oglala Lakota and half white, I am torn. I feel my white identity is empty in essence of not knowing its’ roots, yet constantly uplifted and praised despite not feeling like a white American. Culture makes us view things differently, language even more so emphasizes that. In the Lakota language there is no word for please, because no one should have to plead. There is no word for sorry, because you shouldn’t conduct yourself in a manner that would make you feel guilty. These are just two aspects of what I see missing in the other world I walk in, the American side (some of us natives say that we walk in two worlds). The lifestyle of natives was absolutely unheard of to colonists, and deemed evil. Today, we are further ostracized, with even sacred sites renamed as ‘Devil’s Tower’ or ‘Devil’s Lake’.
The locals in a town on Barbados and the Rastas being of a relatively new ideology living in the mountains do not see eye to eye. I can equate that with two very different views on quality of life, and that’s something that colonialism has managed to manipulate and dominate into believing that the Christian, ‘civil’ lifestyle is best. Even though I didn’t like how Joanna conducted her behavior during her time in Barbados, she did bring to light something interesting. We often walk into everyday situations as Americans that involve a multiplicity of culture, and we always make some kind of social/cultural mistake. Sometimes we are aware of the mistake, sometimes we are ignorant to it, and sometimes we’re told by the other individual and become educated about it, but most often it seems no one says anything. Joanna couldn’t understand why the townspeople did not like the Rasta, I can see that they were uncomfortable with their syncretism/nativism style ideology that is rooted in Ethiopian culture. The townspeople likely didn’t see the Rasta as respectful of the Barbados culture, whether it was colonized or not. I believe that many Americans feel the same way about tribal sovereignty and indigenous people as the locals in Barbados do about local Rasta in the mountains. Just by stereotype, and long term systemic policies that worked to assimilate native people (because genocide didn’t work), the general public relates indigenous people as rebellious, primitive, radical beings. We aren’t any of those things – we are misunderstood, and I believe that’s why most nations and cultures clash because we think that way of each other. As I think about all this, what makes sense to me becomes less clear because I become clouded with the possible perspectives of people who come from very different histories. But by practicing reflexivity, I am given a little more clarity as I navigate through deep thought on nationality, and segregation…and how culture makes some people uncomfortable.
By the time we got to the “Price of Progress” article in week 3, my assumptions and beliefs about mental health and physical health were reassured. I held back tears as I read the article because it hits so close to home. My family, my tribe and many tribes are suffering from contact with a colonized, capitalistic world. We aren’t just suffering economically in a system that again, wasn’t built to work for us…but we are suffering physically as foreign foods are introduced into diets that are decreasing in nutrients. Humans have naturally adapted to our respective environments, and when I read how scientists have known this since the 60’s I was infuriated. The anger, is useless and I recognize that. But it’s painful, especially as the article goes into ecocide, and all the depletion and erosion…Even the little things begin to make huge impacts on the environment (roads, increased population, industry, tourists), indigenous peoples are the first humans to experience the detrimental impact. Something recent I tie this to of the many examples out there is a recent recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship award, Theresa Secord of the Wabanaki tribes in Maine2. She is carrying on a tradition of basket weaving mastery and works to teach it to the youth in her community as well as raise awareness about her environment. The trees that her tribe has used for thousands of years to make baskets are slowly dying and decreasing in numbers due to beetle infestations. She equates this to climate change and environmental impacts that are making the beetles rapidly populate and kill trees. It is sad to think this beautiful tradition will be lost when those trees are gone. And it’s a sad reality for a lot of tribes encompassing many different tasks, skills, and traditions that are tied to the land we live on as it changes faster than we’ve ever seen before. I was comforted to see that despite the Eurocentric bias of Anthropologies’ history, researchers worked hard to uncover the truth about culture and how it’s impacted by outside cultures and this can help us moving forward toward reconciliation one day (I hope…).
The last article I want to speak on is” Taraka’s Ghost”. Sita’s story really resonated with me in a lot of ways. Being a Human Services major mental health and human behaviors are something I often evaluate and reflect on. I felt for Sita as I read the article and the predisposition of the author towards her religious/cultural ties when it came to her health care. There is a stigma many people face when they follow more traditional ideologies, religions, or lifestyles that portrays them as foolish, odd for preferring to see a local medicine man over a doctor. I know my own mom has fought a lot of emotional turmoil in her lifetime, and wanted so badly to combat her mental health challenges with traditional medicine in a modern world, with a career in social work. Today, she gave that up being so far from home and from my grandpa Dickie that traditional medicine and ceremony is not possible. She turned to Western medicine, and conducts her life fine, but I can tell…she dreads it. She was a first language Lakota speaker, born in a family that has done medicine for generations, Crazy Horse’s medicine man, Woptuka is my great, great, great, great uncle or something like that. Anyhow, medicine is part of my family, it’s who we are, it’s how we feel at peace. Myself and other native peers often discuss how we cannot express the feelings we have, our dreams, and beliefs because we fear being stigmatized by outsiders. So we keep our traditions to ourselves, and these secrets help further oppress our cultures and languages that are rapidly disappearing.
It’s hard, “Life is hard for Lakota people”, that is what my mom has always told me. She says that’s what everyone always told her growing up too…and it’s something our ancestors told us. Life isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s wonderful and complex, but never easy. Whether we are hunting buffalo for food, or trying to get enough nutrients to survive on government commodity food without getting diabetes – life is difficult. I’ve really learned how to see things from a different perspective in this Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class. I hope to learn how to better apply it, but for now my eyes are just beginning to open…I am just working on trying to get them to see things from different perspectives while I battle my own conscience in between the two worlds that I walk in.
- Gmelch, George. “Gmelch: Nice Girls Don’t Talk to Rastas.” Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. By James Spradley and David W. McCurdy. 14th ed. N.p.: Peachpit, 2012. 31-36. Print.
- Bodley, John. “The Price of Progress.” Victims of Progress (1998): 137-51. Print.
- Freed, Stanley A., and Ruth S. Freed. “Taraka’s Ghost.” Natural History Magazine (1999): 84-91. Print.
- Cook, Jeff. “Why I’m A Racist.” Huffington Post. N.p., n.d. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-im-a-racist_us_57893b9ee4b0e7c873500382?
- “National Endowment for the Arts.” NEA National Heritage Fellowships. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2016. https://www.arts.gov/honors/heritage/fellows/theresa-secord