On Native American History, Cultural Appropriation and Facing Our Work Today

books
I sit and write this post from my childhood bedroom, where there are Native American literature book lining the walls of what is now my parents’ library.
I’m sure this post is preaching to the choir a bit, seeing the friends who follow my feeds – but let’s just remind everyone – it’s that time of year! Time to remind everyone in our lives about the destruction of Native communities in the Americas. To celebrate your holiday with gratitude for your loved ones, while simultaneously disassociating from the traumatic history of our very blood and soil!
“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” Thank you Baldwin!
This November the Keystone oil pipeline has already leaked 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota into the Lake Traverse Reservation. Last month we had the “largest massacre in U.S. history” in Vegas, but what they forgot to say is that it was the largest in recent history. Least not to forget the massacres at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee.
Now let me say this I have found in the past several years of my development that my experience serves as an excellent case study of an individual and a family unit that benefits from white privilege and all the shit that it causes under a country founded on the notion of white supremacy. (Yes, thank you 2017). My personal self-work has involved healing from “whiteness” in an era where we see the dark manifestations of this around us in our everyday activities and speak.
At the same time, I am also thankful I grew up in a household where I felt educated about cultures outside of my own, where many of my peers did not have this experience whatsoever and stayed inside a very narrow bubble of understanding.This encouraged me to dutifully and in intentionally interact with people who may have lived a different experience or hold a different perspective than myself, and proceed with respect and understanding. With a hold shit ton of mistakes. I have also been encouraged to live a life of service towards others.
(Not that there are problems with that as well, but more on that at a later date)
I would like to examine myself as a case study.
I writing this objectively, the history as I remember it.
I do not claim to be an expert in identity politics, a only my experience as I see it playing out today.
Some of these experiences may be problematic. They may be totally a manifestation of human curiosity and cultural exchange in the global era. It’s perspective.
I wrote this a few weeks ago, and I’m still exploring the idea. So bear with me.
Let me see…
childhood
My father used to teach Native American literature as a high school teacher. I don’t know where his passion for it came from, but I remember participating in it. I remember hiding under a teepee in my backyard. Doing a sweat-lodge and then immediately running around in my sprinkler outside. Taking trips on the river in a canoe. I remember asking my father about the lines on the faces of the Natives in the books he had, black and white photography. “Why do they look so old?” I asked. “Those are their wisdom lines,” he said. I remember my father reading books to me before I went to sleep. There was a fictional book with Native woman protagonist who had a baby with blue eyes not long after she had a visit from a Nordic man. I started understanding how gene expression worked before I had an understanding of how babies were made.
I also remember Pocahontas coming out around 1996. Then dressing up as her for Halloween.
Let me see…
high school and college
It actually crossed my mind once as a naive freshman in college that I would “dress up like an Indian” and put on a lot of makeup. Yes. Literally, brown face. (It never happened, thank god.) I remember seeing an indie singer-song writer I knew wearing headdress at one of a show. And despite my healthy dose of literature as a child, I don’t think I read a single book about Native American history during college. Except perhaps, the Chicana writer Gloria E. Anzaldúa, who blew my mind and stole my poet’s heart, in Borderlands/La Frontera. And then, I remember a student in that class saying “I like her writing, but why does she have to be so angry?’
Let me see…
last year
I did sweat lodge again in upstate New York with one of my best friends. We had been wanting to try the experience, on the night of the full moon at that. The crowd, however, did not comprise of any Native participants or leaders. There were people from the community who had studied with Lakotas, but were not of Lakota origin themselves. There was a river, and we all felt it was too cold to jump in. It was a beautiful experience, but a few weeks later, the actual spiritual experience really hit me in the head with this insight:
Merritt, give up the yoga. Give up the Native American ritual. You need to start writing again.
And in many ways, telling me to look at, this very thing.
Let me see…
So what’s coming up now. 
I’ve participated in some spiritual communities in the past few years and here is something I am really curious about.
I don’t see an overwhelming amount of Native appropriation, although I imagine it’s in there, hiding in the dark.
I’m sort of just putting this out there as a question, from a place of curiosity for other people who may participate in other religious/spiritual offerings from cultures that have been historically and presently oppressed in the Americas.
Have you had your mini-Rachel Dolezal moment where you find yourself going to “take the ‘good’ parts, leave the rest behind”? Like, you want to participate in a Native American ceremony, but do you want the high rate of suicide and depression? Sexual assault and rape? The alcoholism? Contaminated water?  Poor rates of education for your children?
I have been writing and researching a lot about shamanism lately, from a multi-cultural perspective. While the word “shamanism” might bring up the image of someone of a Native American culture, the practice is seen all over the world. I know there is history from my own heritage in Western and Eastern Europe, and yes, I’m really sad that that’s been lost over time through my ancestry to my own present.
As I imagine, there are people in any community who know about their own culture, but who are too ashamed, scared, feeling low-self worth, to stand up and share about it.
And it gets lost…and lost…and lost…until it becomes invisible.
….
Let me see…
What would the healing of this look like from a perspective of exchange? 
We need to be in community with other communities, otherwise, I fear the resurgence of a colonial complex (” I/my ancestors took your culture, now let me teach it back you you) and we will see another disappearance of marginalized people all over the world under this umbrella of white supremacy.
A few weeks ago, I attended an online conference on called “Grounding in Life” work hosted by the modern mystic, Thomas Hübl. Through events of dialogue and exchange, he has worked at healing the Holocaust’s cultural shadows, bringing together thousands of Israelis and Germans in the process.
So now I sit wondering, who is going to bring this type of work to the Americas? When it is so very traumatized at its core over so many things.
A few things that stood out to me from his talk:
  • “The body of the human being around the world has deep scars”
  • “Whole societies are built on dark lakes of the unconscious”
  • “Stream of conscious awareness runs throughout the generations “
  • “We recreate the same structures again and again”
There’s this sort of sick pressure I find in the spiritual/self-help world of an individualistic nation that thinks you are going to accomplish all of this healing work on your own. Not really possible. Especially with the wounds we have inflicted and have to carry.
So! In gathering in “We-Spaces” (or places where there is not a ‘me’ or ‘you’ but rather a ‘we’ in the gathering) this can be accomplished:
  • “When there is a coherence and intimacy in a We-Space, big eruptions of collective unconscious comes up, waiting to come back into the conscious awareness”
  • “Coming together in intentional We pace, something about the greater field that allows us to work with material that would be overwhelming for us if we were just trying to do that on our own..”
I could see the work being much more fruitful towards a healing discussion for both parties across racial and cultural lines.

airpoem

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Break The Rules

August 5, 2016

Break the Rules 

I. Spirals 

At the farmer’s market I meet a man selling Kombucha. He says you may actually be able to alter the way your genes are expressed by certain microbes in your stomach. I say that I’m reading a book on microbes but I don’t know what it’s called. I show him the DNA on a necklace I made the Natural History Museum yesterday. There’s me – in the spit around my neck – a pure expression of who I am. A microbe is an invisible force that could change all of that in just a swig. Who ever said God wasn’t real. Who ever said invisible forces have no factor on our lives.

                   

II. Pillars of Light

The Hirshhorn Museum calls me when I’m sad and lonely. I go to feel something breathing between those empty walls. I go with the hope that I can walk out less confused.

Three years ago, I came to interview in DC for a spot to teach in rural China. I walked into the Hirshhorn to find the museum was featuring art from the Chinese dissident Ai Wei Wei. Children’s backpacks lined the ceiling to count the dead in the Sichuan earthquake. A middle finger flicked off the White House and Tiananmen Square. The Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium was big enough to hold the whole world inside to compete and oppressive enough to trap its creator under house arrest without a passport. Off to the land of “tofu-brick” buildings that crumble under corruption. Away from the swamp where the student’s from schools built in the early 1900s remain almost as segregated as they did upon the building’s conception. 

Today, I watch while a museum security guard tells a couple how to stand between two pillar-shaped mirrors in order to show their reflection. I ignore the exhibits’ large white canvases covered in tiny dots. If an order of dots is what’s to come, I suppose I find it more frightening than Ai Wei Wei’s dystopia. At least there, I found hope amidst the rubble.

III. The Tower

A man is playing guitar across from Trump Tower.

I turn to him, in a burst of angst. Make him go away!

Vibration warrior, knock this tower down.

“Yes girl, this is my protest!” 

I day dream on my bike ride back about a boy I met once who did street art. How we may have ended up if I hadn’t wanted to follow the rules so much rather than the laws that govern this universe.

~

I get money out of the bank. The teller cannot recognize my signature.

It’s two short, I only left my initials, I tell him.  I write my name out longer.

“You can tell the counterfeiters,” he says. “They write it so delicately and with precision, but if it’s yours, you just do it naturally.”

I’m at the temple of a man who watches a million signatures a day, to a believer in the art of hands this is pure gospel.

The world is moving towards fingerprinting technology now, you know, I say. 

“But a signature, will always stay the same. You can slice off a finger but you can’t steal the way someone moves.”

~

I like to eat dinner and watch Chef’s Table. Perhaps is a phenomenon of not sitting to enjoy your own creation and needing that of another to truly feed you. Grant Schatz made food that can float and switches out strawberries for tomatoes. He lost his sense of taste to cancer and kept creating. Reborn when he took a sip of coffee after chemo, he made art on the dependence of others. It’s as if he said, “Look what I can make. Now let’s see if I still love how you look with my eyes closed.”