Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Boss Hates Sylvia Plath

So, my boss is a Virginia Wolfe scholar, but hates Silvia Plath. I dont know if its the crazy, bipolar, suicidal poetry that turns people away, or the cowardly way she died, or perhaps her writing doesnt just grab you, or make you think the way that good writers do. But, for this particular class I took, I had to read and write about Plath. I came up with the following, which is based on the idea that she wrote her prose from a poet's perspective, so that even though the narrative was easy to follow and often bland, sometimes there are points of poetic brilliance. Maybe if she could get her head out of the oven, she could have written something good.



Upon closer reading of Sylvia Plath’s the Bell Jar, one can find a variety of themes, symbols, and allusions easily looked over at a first glance. Plath’s experience writing poetry has helped her fill her prose with description and metaphor. Water is one of the more prevalent images in the Bell Jar. This paper will look closer at the ideas, allusions, and uses of water as an image and examine the many uses of water in the Bell Jar to ascertain the importance of this image to the complete work.
Water can be seen as a cleansing force for Plath’s character Esther. Esther uses water to rejuvenate herself. At the beginning of the novel, Esther claims to often submerge herself in hot baths. She muses, “there must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure […] Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with someone I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then say, ‘I’ll take a hot bath’” (Plath, 19). This seems to be her solution to everything and can be seen as a passive way to handle all of her issues.
There is evidence in holistic medicine to suggest water can actually be a healing agent. There is a theory posed by Dr. Masaru Emoto that he calls the Hidden Messages in Water. In the book by the same name, Emoto poses the idea that water can absorb and hold human emotions (Emoto). The idea suggests that water can hold both positive and negative feelings. A more realistic study had been done in the 19th century by the German priest Sebastian Kneipp. He stressed the importance of ritualistic baths much like those used in Rome and Egypt (Baruch).
As used by Plath the character Esther feels she is truly helped by this practice of submerging oneself. After explaining her habit of taking hot baths to deal with positive and negative stressers, Esther goes on to explain that she can lay in the tub “for near an hour, and I felt myself growing pure again” (Plath, 20). Esther admits she uses the water to make things in her life disappear, if only for a little while. The bath becomes a vehicle for escapism. She states, “Doreen is dissolving, Lenny Shepherd is dissolving, Frankie is dissolving, New York is dissolving, they are all dissolving and none of them matter anymore. I don’t know them, I have never known them, and I am pure” (20).
Chemically, according to the United States Geological Survey site on water properties, water can easily dissolve more things naturally than any other liquid, thus the nickname “the universal solvent” (USGS). Esther dissolves her problems in water, it becomes her ally, she bathes herself clean, using the universal solvent to universally solve her poor decisions. This passive tactic fails Esther, however, contributing to her fall into depression. The idea of the warm bath changes from a place of quiet contemplation and renewal, to a good place to witness death. The water, to Esther, is the perfect medium to watch her blood, her life, flow out of her, and becomes an excuse for her not to end her life just yet. She muses, “how stupid I was, I had the razors, but no warm bath” (Plath, 151).
Water can also be seen as an allusion to the bell jar. Although Esther has used water in the past to her benefit, it does not always seem to be a positive force. It becomes a prison of sorts, at once soaking up depression and reflecting it back. Esther’s worst of times leave stains on her psyche like the one seen in the hallway, the “faint irregular dark stain before [her] door as if someone had by accident spilled a glass of water there, but dabbed it dry again” (23). The sickness from contaminated crab is another good example of the use of water as negative. Not only is crab a creature of the sea, living in water, but more importantly, Esther describes her sickness as rolling through her “in great waves. After each wave it would leave [her] limp as a wet leaf” (44). Throughout this episode, the water running in the sink is the only sound left going as Esther passes out on the floor of the bathroom. The continuous pouring of water into porcelain mirrors the continuous waves of sickness, which stop only when the nurses find Esther the next morning.
Water becomes its own character, in a way. Plath has given it significant time and place in the novel. It has character, which mirrors the moods of Esther. At first, water is serene, calming, clear. By the time Esther gets to the beach, the Sea is seen as turmoil, dangerous, and cold. The way Esther describes the water can be linked to how Esther feels inside. This is near when she begins cutting, wandering aimlessly, and feeling the heaviness of hopelessness, and loneliness associated with depression. Esther looks out to the sea, and shares how “the drench seemed to come off the sea floor itself, where blind white fish ferried themselves by their own light through the great polar cold. I saw shark’s teeth and whales earbones littered about like gravestones” (153). Esther gives this description of macabre which is really an update on her emotional state as cold, and dark, and hostile.
Rain plays an interesting role as well, starting with the food poisoning incident in New York (it rains during the trip from the theater to the hotel). Rain shows up again while Esther visits the cemetery. The scene begins with “a fine drizzle started drifting down from the grey sky, and I grew very depressed” (166). This scene culminates in Esther breaking down in the “cold salt rain” mourning the loss of her father, and therefore a mythical future that never happened.
After reviewing Plath’s use of the symbol of water, in all its obvious, and more subtle allusion, the conclusion of the importance of water can be summed up by a small anecdote by Esther. Esther recalls a conversation with the raincoat salesgirl which ends in the profound revelation that “no raincoat is ever water-reppellent” but it can be showerproof (166). This, more than anything else, speaks to the psyche of individuals and of life more than anything else. Esther spends the entire novel unable to rise above personal tragedy, self doubt, and uncertainty which leads her to dark places of depression and suicidal tendancy. Using weather as a metaphor for these feelings accurately describes cycles of life and cycles of emotion and shows that these things do pass, people are able to move on, to a point. But, as the salesgirl points out, we aren’t water proof. By the end of the novel, Esther realizes that after all she went through, she did get wet, but she won’t always be underwater.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mascots? Is the name The Fighting Hitlers already taken?

Now is the time to address the racial issues with regards to the American Indian culture group. This idea of American Indians as nostalgic aboriginal peoples from the past, never progressing from the stereotype of the buckskin and feathered headdress needs to be left behind. No other cultural group would stand racial iconography. There are no longer sports teams with names like the Mpumalanga Dangerous Darkies, the Pekin Chinks, or the Birmingham Black Barons.  So, why do we tolerate the Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Crackers, maybe?
Each year the Major League Baseball franchise is protested against, and each year the owners retaliate, defending the franchise as a respectful, proud, storied franchise, with the intention of honoring a great people. http://www.racialicious.com/2007/03/28/on-the-cleveland-indians-and-other-racist-sports-mascots/

Whatever the history of the sports club, and however sports fans rationalize the fact that their mascot is a clown image of an oppressed minority, a look at how it affects the children of the minority should be a deciding factor. 

Sports and team pride is an important factor growing up in America. Nothing can hold an American Indian student back more than this crippling bias. A huge example of this is school athletics. Specifically in the way certain schools portray themselves.

Cornel Pewewardy, of the University of Kansas, writes, “I see the way Indian mascots are used today is about a form of dysconscious racism and a form of cultural violence” (Pewewardy). The options for what an educator can do in this situation may be limited, but at least teachers can be aware and sympathetic to the issue. Education must be an unbiased and safe institution for all students. No one would accept degrading Black or Hispanic mascots, and yet many schools at the high school, and college level identify themselves as Indians, Warriors, Redskins, Braves, Savages, etc. No other cultural group has to endure this form of stereotypical iconography when entering a school system. 
You're right, nothing racially insensitive here
In support of this, Dennis Tibbetts, a director of the Center for Native American studies at Northern Michigan University is quoted in the APA Monitor as saying, "It's distressing when Native people who are searching for their own identity or attempting to present their tribal identity as accurately as possible have to combat the dominant culture over the offensive use of our images and symbols” (Chamberlin).
not the mascot you're looking for?
A big argument for the defense of Indian mascots is the Nortre Dame Fighting Irish, and the Boston Celtics, both of whom use cultural icons as mascots. 

http://contexts.org/socimages/2008/10/05/notre-dames-fighting-irish-mascot/.

The major difference, however, the image of this particular group is not in anyway harmed socially, nor oppressed economically or politically by these images. If anything, the leprechaun mascots have done what franchises wish Indian mascots would do by bolstering Irish pride. On top of this, the Irish in this country haven't been an oppressed minority since the 1860s. America has had an ongoing war with Indian culture since Jamestown, and the United States still supports reservations.

It would be a good thing to see truly oppressive racial images erased from the world of athletics. Within the last 20 years, international athleticism in this country has blossomed into something more than just Olympic competition every four years. There are now, more than ever, a broad spectrum of international atheletes performing in American major leagues, there is more focus and interest in international soccer, and annual world competitions. This is no longer an American public only interested in domestic athletics. To see Cleveland, Atlanta, Kansas City, Chicago and Washington (the capital of our country) change their racially based mascots would be a huge step in the right direction for equality, humanity, and fair competition. 

I would settle for this, and perhaps save the battle over Amherst and their mascot, the small pox mastermind, Lord Jeff, for a different day. Jeffrey Amherst and SmallPox

Reversing the Damage: American Indian Education

The education of the American Indian cultural group requires significant historical and cultural awareness, as well as sensitivity and compassionate understanding. This cultural group is different from others in America simply because of its unique history. Due to the abuses regarding American Indian culture by the United States government and by religious groups, the education of American Indian culture has greatly suffered. It may be too injured to be completely reversed.

I will use the terms American Indian and Indian in this paper as opposed to the other frequently used term of Native American for two reasons. My paper is about the tribal people of North America, not to be confused with the people and culture of the nation of India, I have no fear that using the term Indian will be misconstrued for another culture.


The second reason: for so long Indians in America have been called Indians. Borgna Brunner writes, “For a time, using Native American signaled a progressive and enlightened consciousness, in much the same way that using Asian instead of Oriental does. Use of Indian struck some as out of touch, or worse—a mark of ignorance or bigotry” (Brunner). 

However, this is a term, like Indian, created by white men. A Department of Labor survey in 1995 showed that over 50% of the Native American population preferred being called American Indians (Koerner). Also, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has officially recognizes this term. Realistically, just as one would specify Korean or Chinese instead of the blanket term Asian, most American Indians would rather call themselves by their tribal name, such as writer N. Scott Momaday calls himself a Kiowa writer instead of American Indian writer. However, since I will be writing of more than one specific tribal group, the terms Indian or American Indian will suffice.

Culture: 

Due to the number of different tribes and the diversity found across American Indian peoples, I have chosen five distinct tribes to illustrate in this section: the first, from the Northeast, the six tribes of the Iroquois Nation, also known as the Haudensaunee; from the Southeast, the infamously mistreated Cherokee; from the Plains, the four branches of the Sioux people; from the Northwest, the Spokane; and lastly, from the Southwest, the Apache. These five different cultural groups have been picked largely for their diversity, historic relevance, and also the language groups in which they belong.

The Iroquois Nation is actually a confederacy of six smaller tribes. The Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora collectively call themselves the Haudensaunee. The common language, Iroquoian, has given these people their better known name. The Iroquois Nation is thought to be the blueprint to which the United States founding fathers created the new American government (Waldman, 104). Each tribe had representatives known as Sachems, and they met in a neutral village among the Onondaga tribe where the Iroquois Grand Council would meet every year.

The Cherokee are best known in American history as the people moved by the government in what has been known as the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee shared the Iroquoian Language with their northern brethren, the Haudensaunee, but lived geographically in the Appalachian area of the eastern United States, stretching from present day Kentucky to what is now Alabama (Waldman, 47). 

The Cherokee are best known as the people that welcomed assimilation into American culture, but then were double crossed by that same culture. In 1828, a Cherokee girl wrote, “I think [the Cherokee] improve […] They have a printing press […] They come to meeting on Sabbath days. They wear clothes which they made themselves. Some though rude, have shoes and stockings. They keep horses, cows, sheep, and swine. Some have oxen” (Perdue, 20). The girl’s excitement bears witness to the first United States policy regarding Indians. 

It was Henry Knox, as secretary of war, who pressed for civilizing the Indians, and therefore making the nation peaceful and secure. He pressed for Indian tribes to be seen as foreign nations, making it easier for the United States to deal with them as foreigners, and not as citizens (Perdue, 28). Andrew Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act in 1830, and by 1838, the Cherokee were forcibly rounded up by Georgian state police and corralled in concentration camps before being moved to Oklahoma (Perdue, 59-116). The brutality of this event can be realized from a contemporary point of view by asserting "Andrew Jackson's death marches and massacres of indigenous people were inspiring to a young Adolf Hitler who utilized Jackson's treatment of indigenous peoples as a blueprint for Nazi Germany's treatment of the Jewish people” (Hegedus).

One of the more famous Indian tribes, and perhaps the culture most people identify when hearing the term American Indian, is the Sioux culture of the American plains. The Sioux share the Siouan language family. The Siouan language has three basic dialects: Lakota, Dakota and Nakota. An easy way to tell the difference is the use of the consonant sounds L, D, and N. The Sioux have four distinguishable branches. 

The most famous Teton Sioux have 7 smaller tribal groups or bands and use the Lakota dialect, the Santee have four bands and use the Dakota dialect, and lastly, the Yankton with only one band, and the Yanktonai with three both use the Nakota dialect (Waldman, 228). 

The nature of the plains forced the Sioux to adapt to a nomadic lifestyle. The arrival of the horse to North America revolutionized the Sioux economy and transportation. Before the Spanish introduced the horse, the Sioux people used dogs to hunt and transport equipment. Horses allowed the Sioux to follow the buffalo at will. Buffalo provided for the Sioux food, clothing, shelter and spirituality (Calloway, 3). 

A Lakota proverb claims “The Buffalo is our brother; he gives his flesh so that the people may live. The Buffalo is sacred” (Crow Dog, 11). Resistance to United States expansion has been made famous through portrayal of Sioux leaders Little Crow, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Red Cloud and the military conflicts known as Custer’s Last Stand and the Wounded Knee Massacre by literature, television and film.

The Spokane from the Pacific North West are part of the Salishan language group. Due to fur trading established through the Louis and Clark expedition, the Spokane had friendly relations with the United States until epidemics in the 1850s and settlers and miners broke the Walla Walla Treaty stressed the peace. As the buffalo were sacred to the Sioux, salmon are the equivalent to the Spokane.
Like the Sioux, the last group, the Apache of the southwest, have been made famous through modern media and through a prominent chiefs Cochise and Geronimo. 

The Apache are part of the Athapascan language group, and divided into various bands by dialect. Apache groups could be found from New Mexico and Arizona to as far east as Kansas and Oklahoma. The Apache were nomadic, and thrived on hunting, gathering, and raiding the nearby Hopi and Zuni tribes which were not nomadic and thrived agriculturally. Very adaptable, some Apache bands developed farming of their own. Others, after acquiring horses, took up buffalo hunting as well.

Apache war bands raided and resisted European expansion since the late 1500s. However, Apache/American relations did not become hostile until the 1860s. The Apache resistance lasted into the 20th century. They are the last tribe to be conquered and the only tribe to never surrender (Waldman, 15-17).

American History X

The conflict between non Indian expansion and Indian resistance has already been touched upon in this paper. However, this needs to be clearly defined and looked at more closely. “The Indian Problem” as it has been known to United States policy makers of the last three hundred years, has gone through various stages of change. 

As mentioned before, the earliest policy regarded Indian people as savages needing to be assimilated and therefore safe from harming the American way of life. However, even though success seemed to be eminent, the Cherokee Nation being the best example, President Andrew Jackson pushed along the Indian Removal Act and started the new policy of containment and forced acculturation era of United States/Indian relations. Forcing the tribes to resettle was not the only way to make Indians accept the Removal Act. General Nelson Miles stated in 1865, “The buffalo, like the Indian stood in the way of civilization and the path of progress” (Smits, 333). 

After the Civil War, Sherman and Sheridan began using tactics they developed to fight the confederacy against the Indian tribes. Hunters were hired to hunt the buffalo to near extinction, neatly cutting the plains Indians off from their food source. Calloway writes, “Killing buffalo was easier than killing Indians” and more effective. Families began showing up at forts along the reservations for rations, there was no other food (Calloway, 123).

Colin G. Calloway writes, “the reservation functioned not only to deprive Indian tribes of valuable land, but also as crucibles of change designed to break down tribal culture and society […] American reformers felt it was necessary to eradicate Indianness […] ‘Kill the Indian and Save the Man’” (Calloway, 15). The plan was to make the Indian into a stationary, self supporting Christian. At this time, a new system was developed in the government to deal with Indian business. The hierarchy started with the Secretary of the Interior, who was in charge of the new Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which controlled agents positioned on the individual reservations. This hierarchical power was supported by the US Military (Calloway). Thus began the destruction of the Indian culture.
In his introduction to his book On The Rez, Ian Frazier writes, “like many comfortable stories, the story of Indian destruction hides other stories that are less so. For starters, it leaves out that the destruction was, and is, actually worse than can be easily described” (Frazier, 7). Crow Dog writes of the winters of the 1880s on the reservation in Rosebud, South Dakota. He states, “The land left to us was the kind where nothing grows. On the Cheyenne reservation people were dying of hunger. At Rosebud only half the children survived. They were too weak to fight the whooping cough and diphtheria the white man had brought” (Crow Dog, 41).

Education:

Before the reservation, missionaries in the Americas had been living with the tribes, doing their best to bring Christianity to the Indian people. After the reservation, it was easier for churches to set up schools, and with government involvement, remove children to these boarding schools. The Board of Indian Commissioners policy towards Indian education was summed up thusly in 1880, “As a savage, we cannot tolerate him any more as a half civilized parasite, wanderer, or vagabond. The only alternative left is to fit him by education for civilized life” Prucha, 194). 

The off reservation boarding school was preferred over day schools on the reservation. These boarding schools could contain or “quarantine” the children from “the contaminating influences of their families. Parents who refused to send their children away to school were denied rations” (Calloway, 16). Children were taken by force by soldiers or Indian police. 

The most famous school, Carlisle Industrial School in Pennsylvania, became a model for other schools. The rigid military style detail, dress, and instruction to push American values. “When Indian children arrived at boarding school, they received new names to replace their traditional ones, stiff uniforms in place of native clothing, and a haircut. They ate a monotonous diet, endured harsh discipline, and followed daily routines designed to instill systematic habits” (Calloway, 16).

Leonard Peltier writes in Prison Writings about his boarding school experience in the early 1950s. “First thing after we got there, they cut off our long hair, stripped us naked, and doused us with powdered DDT. I thought I was going to die […] We had to speak English. We were beaten if we were caught speaking our own language (Peltier, 78).

Boarding schools became a hot bed for disease and suicide. The cemetery at Carlisle is a testament to the damage done by violence, racism and culture shock. “The military style discipline, forced use of English, and mental abuse that were commonplace in such places appalls our 20th century sensibilities (Calloway, 169).

It is interesting to note, that although these schools planned to train Indian children to be productive members of American society, few were able to leave the schools and become successful. Employment rates for Indians, educated or not, were never very high and job opportunities on poverty stricken reservations were few. Non Indian ideas of Indians would not permit these “assimilated” Indians to be more than savages (Calloway).

More recently the BIA has been responsible for providing public education to the reservations. Frazier makes it clear that “recently, the BIA has announced that a large number of its reservation school buildings are falling apart. Some buildings are in such bad shape that students have been injured in them” (Frazier, 89).

Reservation Life:

Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Couer d’Alene Indian poet/novelist/and screenwriter, has made his career writing short fiction, poetry and novels about modern reservation life. His characters are from the Spokane reservations. He writes of a new broader Indian culture created on the reservations that has become common among all reservations. This new culture revolves around alcoholism, television, country music and basketball. 

One of Alexie’s characters tells of driving to a pow wow celebration: “we pulled into Wellpinit, another reservation town of torn shacks and abandoned cars. We found the pow wow grounds and stopped at the entrance. The Indian deputy, a cousin of the Tribal Police Chief or a councilman, leaned into our open window. ‘this here is a dry pow wow’, he said. ‘you don’t have any alcohol or drugs in the car, do you?’” (Alexie, 21). In this short paragraph, Alexie is able to show the poverty of the reservation, and the constant problem of substance abuse, as well as the difficulty in finding and keeping a job. Knowing someone is the only way to be employed.

Another Indian writer, Simon J Oritz, a Navajo, recounts a winter he spent on a reservation not his own. He writes, “Yesterday, we talked of commodity food. Indians, poor people, need to eat. You have to eat. Rations, welfare, no choice. […] My mother, my father always afraid of welfare, the government, the law, the state, and so they worked hard and borrowed against payday, which sometimes didn’t come” (Ortiz, 12).

Alcohol is a constant problem for reservations. The Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education publishes that “Class divisions have been used to show that alcoholism causes poverty, thereby exonerating an economic structure that exploits workers and maintains social and economic inequality” (Nikelly). With this in mind, American Indians have it worse with alcoholism because they already have no economic equality, and this will further to keep them in poverty. 

Frank Fool’s Crow is quoted in On the Rez by Ian Frazier as saying, “alcohol is the bitterest curse we have, and it has done more to weaken and destroy us than anything else. We had no strong drink […] before the white man came to our country. We didn’t need it then and we don’t need or want it now” (Frazier, 140). Most reservations have become dry counties, but alcoholism is still a very large and very real issue. Mostly because there aren’t enough programs or money for existing programs to help combat alcoholism (Frazier).

Religion:

Traditional American Indian religion is based in animism. Although different, tribal religions hold much in common. There is a oneness with the earth, a reliance on ceremony, music and dance to celebrate and come closer to whichever spirits or gods the tribal group believe.
The Sioux believed in a Great Spirit, to which all belonged and which provided for all of creation. Leonard Crow Dog, a Lakota medicine man from the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota tells the story of the White Buffalo woman, a story that explains the beginning of Sioux spirituality. Crow Dog credits this character as making his people “holy and taught them how to live […] She was mercy, she was grace, she was beauty” (Crow Dog, 2). When the white buffalo woman arrived, the people were hungry. Two men from the tribe were sent on a last desperate mission to find for their people any sort of game to sustain the tribe. While out on the plains, the two hunters dreamed of meeting this woman. At dawn, a white buffalo calf appeared before them and changed into a beautiful woman. She had with her “sage and her great gift to our people, the sacred pipe” (Crow Dog, 2). She instructs the two men to return empty handed to their people and prepare for her arrival.
She taught the people the seven sacred ceremonies: the sweat lodge for purification, the naming ceremony for child naming, the healing ceremony, the adoption ceremony for making new relatives, the marriage ceremony, the vision quest, and the Sun Dance ceremony for all the nation and all the people.

“After she had done all this, the woman took leave of the people […] As she walked away, the people saw her turning into a white buffalo calf, and also into a deer woman, and then into an elk woman. They also say that she turned into a buffalo of four different colors – black, dark brown, light yellow brown, and finally white – as she disappeared into the clouds” (Crow Dog, 4).

The 7 ceremonies are still accepted and practiced today by few spiritual leaders. The four colors mentioned by Leonard Crow Dog at the end, correspond to the four sacred directions which are symbolized on the Medicine Wheel. This story shows that even though the society is lead and protected by men, their oldest and most revered figures is a woman.

The medicine wheel is a good tool to teach rudimentary Indian philosophy. A big problem in boarding schools was getting Indian children to accept the linear logic of western thinking. A medicine wheel is a circle. The circle is bisected twice, making four sections. Each section is a different color, corresponding to the four sacred colors of the buffalo: brown, black, light brown and white. Each color has a direction. There are seven directions, North, South, East, West, up, down and center. 

Donald Lee Fixico explains circular thought this way in American Indian Mind in a Linear World: “If a circle is envisioned and items are placed within it, we realize that each item or element has a relationship with each other in a fixed order with-in the system. Such entities or particles should be respected and treated equally since they belong to the same universe […] One young native person concluded that ‘like the seasons changing in cycles every year and like night and day in a circular change, the circle of life includes all things” (Fixico, 45). This circular philosophy is shared across the board by Indian tribes is the most important factor in miscommunication between Indian and non Indian culture.

Dance is an important part of American Indian spirituality, and dance festivals, called pow wows, have become central to modern American Indian culture. W. Richard West, Jr. explains the importance of dance in his culture in the forward of Native American Dance: Ceremonies and Social Traditions. He states: “When I was six years old, my father made for my younger brother and me our first dance ensembles, complete with feather bustles, moccasins, buffalo-bone breast plates, bells, and head roaches. Realizing, perhaps, that at the time I was more enamored of the colorful fluffs on the bustles and the sounds I could make with one-inch bells strapped at my knees, my father took considerable care to explain why certain materials were used in the dance outfits, what they meant, and what their importance was in the Cheyenne Way. When he taught us the dances themselves—which included the Eagle, Shield, Buffalo, Round, Two-step, and War dances, among others—he paid equal attention to emphasizing the place of dance as ceremony rather than only as performance” (Heth). 

West is clear to point out that the dances themselves are not like the dances of other cultures, just for entertainment or exercise, but have ritualistic components. The dress is traditional, meaningful and tied in to the tribe and the ceremony. Many tribes have their own specific dances, but there are also universal dances. The modern pow wow has made some dance into competition, and pow wow dancers into rock stars.

The seventh spiritual ceremony for the Sioux is the Sundance. This ceremony revolves around a dance meant to bring a spiritual cleansing and rebirth for the nation. Sun Dancers sacrifice their pain for transcendent clarity. Leonard Peltier, the best known Sun Dancer, has this to say of the ceremony: “When you give your flesh, when you are pierced at Sun Dance, you feel every bit of that pain, every iota […] And yet there is a separation, a detachment, a greater mind that you become a part of, so that you both feel the pain and see yourself feeling the pain. And then, somehow, the pain becomes contained, limited. As the white hot sun pours molten through your eyes into your inner being, as the skewers implanted in your chest pull and yank and rip at your screaming flesh, a strange and powerful lucidity gradually expands in your mind. The pain explodes into a bright white light, into revelation (Peltier, 11). The festival surrounds itself around a central pole, to which the Sun Dancers have attached themselves, to suffer for the people.

In the 1880s a new ceremony was being taught by a Paiute prophet named Wovoka. This ceremony, the Ghost Dance, promised to return the land back to its rightful caretakers and make non Indians vanish. “Not all Indians embraced the new religion, but reports of Indian warriors dancing in circles in expectation of the disappearance of white men and the return of the buffalo alarmed authorities” (Calloway, 20). Paranoia on behalf of the US military and incidents between authorities and Sitting Bull ended in tragedy. In 1890, the 7th cavalry massacred two hundred men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota where the ghost dance was being performed. The ghost dance would not be practiced again until the 1970s. During the 70s, the American Indian Movement (AIM) resurrected the ghost dance as a protest against BIA corruption, and FBI brutality. This culminated in a 71 day armed standoff between AIM and the FBI at Wounded Knee.

Part of the assimilation process required Indians to pick up Christianity. Peltier shares, “Everyone knew that if you were Catholic, or at least Christian, you got more government assistance. […] Gamma didn’t really get the spiritual relief she was seeking out of the Catholics’ religion. So she never stopped going to Indian Ceremonies” (Peltier, 73). In response to Christianity, in the early 20th century, the Native American Church was created by Quanah Parker. Parker was Comanche. From there it spread from reservation to reservation. The church combined Christian sacrament with native customs and spirituality. Peyote was used in ceremony to heighten spirituality and bring the people visions, giving them “new understanding. It gave them a new mind” (Crow Dog, 93).

Language:

Historically, the American Indian tribes had no written language. The surviving languages of the American Indian tribes have since adapted a written language using the alphabet and pronunciation used in English and Spanish. Before this everything was shared through the oral tradition, passed down from generations, and through a pictographic storytelling language.
Storytelling became a vehicle for sharing tribal history and forming tribal identity. Because of the nature of the oral tradition, the language and meanings adaptively change over time to reflect the people, history, and geographic area. Alexie likens Indian culture to a rubber band. Indian culture, he says, can only be stretched so far geographically. “With Native American culture, since everything is geographically based – the stories and myths are about that rock, that river – it’s not so much about how far the rubber band can go before it snaps, but more that there is a point where it no longer stretches”(Carroll, 22).

Pictography was a way to chronologically keep track of tribal history. On the plains, these were kept on buffalo hides, painted in natural pigments. These hides, called Winter Counts, recorded the tribe’s history. Each symbol corresponds to a different event within a season, with its own story and relevance to the tribe. The pictographs are aligned in a circular pattern, moving from the inside out in a counter clockwise manner and can hold decades of information (Calloway). Calloway writes of Winter Counts as being like other historical sources, they have “limitations: their chronology usually cannot be established without cross referencing to other sources; interpretation can vary considerably” (Calloway, 32).

Teaching English to American Indian students presents itself differently than any other culture group. Upon entering my research, the plan was to research the culture, and then explain learning strategies for this cultural group. What difficulties and challenges are there for this cultural group?
The difficulty with teaching American Indian students, they are different than any other minority group. The extent to which the culture has been forced to assimilate is unlike any other group. This group has not come to the United States willingly. American Indians have also not been forcibly moved from their cultural centers in a brutal diaspora either, leaving their culture and support network and native lands behind. It has not been willingly education or lack or education that has assimilated these people. It has been forced linguistic genocide. Language has been used as a vehicle to conquer, oppress, and force assimilation.

I think the most important thing to consider when teaching about American Indian culture with or without members of this culture group is bias. Lynn T. Diaz-Rico recommends a move away from a trivializing bias toward culture. She writes, “the sole cultural reference may be to holidays or food, or […] ethnic bulletin boards during certain times of the year” (Diaz-Rico, 287). In the case of American Indian education, the misstep would be towards portraying American Indians as not a contemporary minority group. Indians do not live in tipis, and hunt and gather to survive, and dress in buckskin loin clothes. American Indians on and off the reservation live as modern Americans; they dress in jeans and t shirts, drive pick-up trucks and watch sports center. American Indian students in the classroom live as any other student from any other cultural group.

Knowing how different the circular thought process is to the linear philosophy of learning will help reach American Indian students. Being aware of American Indian education historically, mistakes made in the past will not be repeated. Buffalo Bird Woman, a Hidatsa, wonders in Calloway’s Our Hearts Fell to the Ground, “How can any child grow up without play?” (Calloway, 168). She explained how, before boarding schools, Indian children learned through stories, rituals, mimicry, hands on experiences. The opposite would be how the old boarding schools were set up: rigid structure, memorization, dictation. Cornel Pewewardy, in his essay “Learning Styles of American Indian/Alaskan Native Students”, calls this Field Dependence. Basically, “the learners are holistic or global learners […] highly visual/spatial, integrative, relational, intuitive, and contextual” (Pewewardy, 116).

Leonard Crow Dog explains the tiyoshpaye, the extended family concept of the American Indian tribe. He states the tiyoshpaye as “all the people having a common grandfather or great grandfather: aunts, uncles, granddads, grandmothers, grandkids, cousins, nieces, nephews” (Crow Dog, 10). With this traditional view of community, Collaborative Learning as lined out by Diaz-Rico in Teaching English Learners seems a perfect way to engage students. Diaz-Rico writes that “cooperative grouping also increases the possibility that English learners will feel a part of the culture of the classroom as a whole” (Diaz-Rico, 357). Forging a learning community that all are a part of will fit into the cultural schema of the American Indian student. Group building and Collaborative Social Action can be strongly applied on the steady foundation of an accepting and functioning learning community. Pewewardy seems to agree with Crow Dog, he states, “although it is impossible to describe a common set of cultural values that encompass all tribal groups, most share common values of noninterference, time orientation, sharing, cooperation, coexistence with nature, and extended family structure” (Pewewardy, 118).

Being familiar with the narrative-based traditional culture of American Indian groups, storytelling, and imagery will be important. Developing language through imagination will be a way to open students to all the possibilities of language. Language, after all, is much like the circular thinking philosophy; language has relationships with theme, circumstance, usage and community. Without things to communicate about, there is no need for language. Pewewardy says, “Traditional American Indian learning focuses on process over product, legends and stories as traditional teaching paradigms, knowledge obtained from self, and cognitive development through problem-solving techniques” (Pewewardy, 119).

Lastly, as a non Indian dominated society that has dominated and crippled dynamic complex cultures, education of American Indian children has to be extra important. Language will be the building block for American Indian students to succeed. As this paper has established, American Indian learners already have a history of state enforced abuse, and poverty. Without a chance for a decent unbiased education, American Indian learners will have no footing with which to succeed in the society into which they have been forced. Paulo Freire insists “any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence […] This movement of inquiry must be directed towards humanization” (Freire, 93). The United States has engaged in enough violence towards our native peoples. To promote an unbiased, learner centered, community oriented classroom will be a start in the direction of humanization, humanization not just for the benefit of American Indian learners, but for all learners.

The goal in the classroom should be towards the idea of tiyoshpaye, a community of learners helping all to learn without fear. In conclusion, Sherman Alexie sums up best when answering the question of comfort of leaving your culture behind. Alexie answers, “We’re always leaving our cultures and tribes, whether we pretend to our not” (Carrol). As Sir Francis Bacon said in 1597, knowledge is power. American Indian success in a non Indian world can be possible with education.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Subconscious Animism

I found this interesting, while rereading selections from my copy of the Ecocriticism Reader (why would I want to refamiliarize myself with that,I wonder), I came across the theory that western culture has purposefully eliminated an otherwise inborn connection with nature.
Dr. Christopher Manes, PhD in Medieval Studies from the University of Oregon, and author of Green Rage, poses the idea in Nature and Silence that up until the prominence of Judeo/Christian thought, Nature had a personality, a voice, and only through this silencing of Nature, has Man solidified sole status as the only speaking subject.

Lynn White, Jr, former director of Medieval and Renaissance studies at UCLA, and professor at UCLA, Mills College, Princeton, and Standford, points out that due to a fundamental pillar of Christian dogma, western culture thinks of itself as apart from nature. "To a Christian, a tree can be no more than a physical fact" (White). The point being that the Judeo/Christian idea that Nature exists to serve Man has allowed for the truth of Man's "transcendence of and rightful mastery over" Nature. Therefore, the use of natural resources and by extension the exploitation of the planet for profit is validated. According to Kant, reason is related to political power and self interest. Why not use the land? The highest religious power says its ok, and we can make money while doing it.

However, if human beings and nature are truly disconnected, one apart from the other, how have "primitive" cultures of the past and present have been able to thrive within a communal relationship with nature? The answer, Mane says, lies in relations. There has existed in EuroAmerican culture, this idea of "privileged speakers", which up until the last 100 years has meant "rich white dudes". Our culture had done its best to silence the voices of people of color, women, and children, thus making it easier to exploit these various groups, to the point where drastic counter movements were staged to reaffirm and empower the voiceless. The point being, if Nature is allowed to have a voice and be personifed, it is more difficult for it to be exploited.

Here is the cool part: even though in our culture, it is considered crazy, tribal, and uncivilized, "in modern technological society animistic reflexes linger". Exhibit A: Cars and sports teams. As a culture we have attempted to cast the power of certain animals by naming things after them. Exhibit B: Children are not considered mentally insane when talking to stuffed animals, dolls or other toys, and people often lose their temper and shout and curse at inanimate objects, like that broken washing machine, or the Ford Mustang that just stalled on the freeway onramp. The idea is that people in these situations have created a "animistic subject, a shifting autonomous articulate identity that cuts across human and nonhuman identity" (Manes). Pretty cool, eh? I thought so.
The overall point? Final summation? Perhaps we should suck it up and stop pretending we are apart from the natural world. People talk to their house plants, dont they? The fact that there is overwhelming evidence that preservation and conservation of natural resources not only makes wise business sense, but also keeps everyone living here healthier, should be enough incentive to once again become a part of Nature.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Literary Theory

"If you allow a lot of young people to do nothing for a few years but read books and talk to each other then it is possible that, given certain circumstances, they will not only begin to question some of the values transmitted to them, but begin to interrogate the authority by which they are transmitted" (Eagleton, 175).
This could be true. I found in my own education that this is a possibility. However, not every student is an English major, like myself, or even a humanities student. Most people I've come across who weren't humanities students hated to read. The certain circumstances then depend largely on motivation to read and discuss in the first place.
What seems to be lacking in language studies is a clear purpose. Why even bother reading, besides the occassional enjoyment from pulp fiction? Why does one care enough to spend time and energy getting through texts that seem to need a field guide to understand? Language studies seems to have drifted from transmission of ideas and discussion of truths to summarizing of story plots and character strengths. This is not only incredibly easy, but also pointless.
Eagleton, in his introduction to Literary Theory, states the main purpose of literary study is to manipulate the language. Eagleton points to the idea that "many films and works of philosophy are considerably more valuable than much that is included in literary canon" (176). For example, Plato's Republic is not a part of standard Language Arts reading lists, but the cave allegory is a pillar of literary construction. Other works often not seen are ones that create much controversy, but have become foundations for great works of canonized literature. These books include Marx's manifesto, the Evolution of Species, and the three sacred texts from the three largest world religions, the Torah, Bible, and Q'ran.
This idea that literature can challenge and change the status quo is nothing more than an ideal. Certain circumstances never seem to line up in an educational system domineered by canon, standardized testing, and uniform learning frameworks. Gone, it seems, are the days of group contemplation and the humanity of Humanities.
Recently, in the Boston Globe (July 5, 2009) there was an article about a book club for the homeless, which was put together by a Boston lawyer, and his homeless buddy. http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/07/05/from_a_rare_friendship_a_book_club_for_the_homeless_is_born/

It seems true discussion can and does happen, but not always in the classroom, and not always in the learning instituions. Eagleton points out that even though the humanities exists to portray "the social order in which it exists", this social order seldom has the time to appreciate. "Who is concerned with the uniqueness of the individual, the imperishable truths of the human condition, or the sensuous textures of lived experience" in the realms or business, economics, science, and politics? There is something to be said of a group of society's most down trodden as the only group willing to use literature to empower.