Bird Droppings September 30, 2020
Is the seat of the soul in the heart or mind?
I believe I was prepared from childhood to discuss this topic. It has been many years since my first introduction to Native Peoples. I was three or four years old when I first remember my father’s Little Strong Arm and Black Eagle stories. The term Native American was not argued, and the word Indian was not officially becoming politically charged, so we grew up with Indian stories. My father’s stories came from his background in the Boy Scouts of America; he had been an Eagle Scout, a scout leader, and a summer camp program director. Indian lore was a significant portion of Boy Scouting in those days. As he told us as kids, some of the stories came from meeting the code talkers on his ship in the Navy ferrying marines onto the beach fronts. I am borrowing from a favorite book on Indian Crafts my father told us of counting coup. W. Ben Hunt explains the word and meaning.
“Riding into battle with no weapons save a coup stick, and touching your enemy then riding back. It was considered a great honor to count coup” W. Ben Hunt
My father worked his summers during college in New Hampshire at Camp Waunakee using Indian Lore as a base for camp activities, and he was chief of the campfire. During his military service, as a medic on a navy LSM in World War II, I learned he had spent many hours talking with Navaho code talkers as his Navy ship delivered them to islands in the South Pacific. He would say he was part Indian through all of those years, but it was not until he was in his seventies that his sister uncovered my great grandmother’s lineage, Leni Lenape, a clan of the Delaware tribes, and confirmed it. To me, as a child, Indians were special, my father instilled this in us, but there was always a spiritual aspect I could not explain. As I was reading for this dropping, a thought I pulled out of another old book from my childhood days by William Tompkins. My father would use this book to teach us rudimentary sign language if we ever needed to converse with Indians.
“The originators of the Indian signs thought that thinking or understanding was done with the heart, and made the sign “drawn from the heart” Deaf mutes place extended fingers of the right hand against the forehead to give the same meaning” William Tompkins
As I read this line, thinking and understanding come from the heart in so much of Indian philosophy; perhaps this drew me to this group of people. I grew up with feathers, drums, rattles, and other Indian paraphernalia always around the house. In my own experiences, the spirituality and acceptance of all things as sacred in Native people’s culture intrigued me. As I started into a graduate school program on curriculum theory, it had never occurred to me how education had been so misused and so often deliberately so in history. Those in power avoided teaching some things; I use the term fine print concerning our indigenous peoples.
Modern culture used the trust inherent in their culture, and their understanding of life and nature was turned against them for profit and greed. Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, a member of the Dakota tribe, a medical doctor and known in his tribe as Ohiyesa is quoted in Kent Nerburn’s, The Soul of an Indian as he addresses a significant difference in white and Indian thought.
“Many of the white man ways are past our understanding …. They put a great store upon writing; there is always paper. White people must think that paper has some mysterious power to help them in the world. The Indian needs no writings; words that are true sink deep into his heart, where they remain. He never forgets them. On the other hand, if a white man loses his papers, he is helpless” Dr. Charles Eastman, Ohiyesa
In reading and discussing in graduate school, not much is different from the many innuendos in today’s education and curriculums of hidden agendas and political maneuvering. As I progressed in my own schooling, I learned that Columbus mistakenly called the indigenous people he encountered Indians thinking he had found a way to the Spice Islands of the West Indies. The name would stick until more recently as we became politically correct and use the term Native Americans. Columbus even wrote in his journal of presenting letters from the King and Queen to the Great Khan, thinking he was in China or near, according to noted historian Ronald Takaki.
As I became older and too sought out my understanding of Native Peoples and my readings went deeper. During my undergraduate years, I spent a semester in Texas and experienced firsthand a powerful hatred even then in 1968 for Indians. My journey very much paralleled my spiritual and educational pathways as with each step, my ties and understanding grew. I was looking for answers even back then.
“When you see a new trail or footprint, you do not know, follow it to the point of knowing.” Uncheedah, grandmother of Ohiyesa
I was searching for answers even in those days. As I finished up my undergraduate program at Mercer University, I realized why Indians were never taught to read the fine print. In classes and from friends, I received books and articles to read, adding to my understanding. From one of our course texts, Author Joel Spring points out the concept of deculturalization.
“Deculturalization is one aspect of the strange mixture of democratic thought and intolerance that exists in some minds. The concept of deculuralization demonstrates how cultural prejudices and religious bigotry can be intertwined with democratic beliefs. It combines education for democracy and political equality with cultural genocide – the attempt to destroy cultures. Deculturalization is an educational process that aims to destroy a people’s culture and replace it with a new culture.” Joel Spring
From earlier on, there was an effort to assimilate and dismantle the Native peoples’ cultures in America. In the early 1500s, Spanish colonists were first to deceive and destroy the native people? Several nights ago, a recent History channel episode was based on Cortez and the conquering of the Aztecs. One of the historians made a statement that in fewer than two hundred years from that first encounter with Cortez, ninety percent of America’s indigenous people were either killed or died from European-based disease. The Europeans enslaved a new world.
So many times, it was through deception. As the white man pushed into the new world, treaties and agreements were signed often with little understanding of the Native peoples’ part. The land was not for sale, yet the white man is offering us trinkets. How foolish is the white man? Vine Deloria Jr., states very clearly in his book Custer died for your sins:
“In the treaty of August 5, 1926, almost as if it were an afterthought, an article (III) stated: The Chippewa tribe grant to the Government of the United States the right to search for, and carry away, any metals or minerals from any part of their country. But this grant is not to effect title of the land or existing jurisdiction over it. The Chippewa’s, in the dark as to the importance of their mineral wealth, signed the treaty. This was the first clear-cut case of fraudulent dealings on the part of Congress. Close examination of subsequent Congressional dealings shows a record of continued fraud covered over by pious statements of concern for their words.” Vine Deloria Jr
I wonder if the Indian agents held their hand over portions of the treaty or wrote in such small lettering that most people could not read. It may have been perhaps using Old English lettering and only having taught in Times Roman fonts, which would bewilder most educated people even today. This concerted effort by those in control throughout American History was even condemned by the US government who were themselves, orchestrating much of it, as shown by Joel Spring in his book.
“The US Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare issued in 1969 the report Indian Education: A National Tragedy-A national Challenge. The report opened with a statement condemning previous educational policies of the Federal government: “A careful review of the historical literature reveals that the dominant policy of the Federal Government toward the American Indian has been one of forced assimilation…. Because of a desire to divest the Indian of his land”, Joel Spring
In many ways, it was a naivety that undermined the Indians in their dealings with the Europeans and, eventually US Government. But it was also an inherent trust that bound the various tribes and peoples together. There was no fine print to an Indian; his word was bond. It would be many years and near extinction till Indians realized the treachery. Kent Nerburn writes extensively about Native Peoples Spirituality and offers.
“The rule of mutual legal compact, with its European roots, had no precedent among the individualistic native peoples of the continent. In addition, the idea of land as personnel property, a key principle on which the United States was basing its treaties, was alien to the native people. How could one own the land?” Kent Nerburn
Our current curriculum study shows many overlapping and residual effects, and it goes far beyond just Native Peoples. Those in power write fine print for one reason so that is not read and essentially control the overall outcome and direction of whatever is in question. My position is we have been as a people continually dealt with agreements; contracts riffed with the fine print regarding education and curriculum to a point it has become what we expect.
Each year teachers sign their contract with numerous areas of extremely fine print. Daily we are being handed fine print in the news and through the media about Ukraine, Iran, Iraq, politics, religion, and many too numerous to mention, including our president-elect by the electoral college. Maybe one day, we can indeed have a democracy in our democratic nation funny thing is educator John Dewey said and felt the best way to ensure democracy was through a democratic classroom. So, as I set my thoughts to paper and close for this morning, please help others read the fine print, and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts namaste.
My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)