Sunday, August 10, 2008

Driving through Native American Country.

We were driving through Wyoming on a trip recently when I saw a store off the highway that caught my eye.

Native American Crafts.

I had always been fascinated by the Native Americans. Ever since a boy at Indian Camp in Ohio making head dresses, and since listening to a Native American radio channels while driving through the reservations of the west. My only real understanding of these people was through reading history books of overrunning, and kicking aside their land, and culture, breaking treaty after treaty for progress and the new America and more land. I think I stopped with the curiosity of wanting to know who these people were, and what might they even teach me about my own land, really their land.

I was hoping to learn more. Intrigued by their culture, warrior ways, and deep appreciation of the earth. I asked Barret if we could go inside, and take a look. I was hoping this nudge was coming from the Spirit.

We passed through the giant buffalo steel statue, and walked into the art of intricate beadwork, and jewelry of native Americans local crafts. Moccasins, arrows, drums, and beautiful paintings. The place was filled with handmade items created from stone, stick, feathers, beads, and skins, by local artists.

After some time of walking around, I picked out a few postcards of Sitting Bull, and approached the little lady working at the counter. She was short in height, and wearing American blue jeans. But there was not much more American about her. She wore a bright colored shirt that had zig-zag patterns that neatly tucked in her jeans with a rose beaded buckle. The lines of the shirt, matched the lines on her red-tanned skin, and her piercing eyes stood out, piercing through. She had this certain respect about her, like you were in the presence of a queen, or a woman of great nobility, even before she spoke.

I told her how impressed I was by her store, and before long we were in a conversation about her people and their work. She would tell me later, there was something in my eyes that said she could trust me, and within a minute I was hearing about Charlotte, and her people.

She was of the Eastern Shoshone tribe now living in Wind River Indian Reservation just a few miles down the road. Her father was shot by a white man at one year old. She was raised by her mother, and learned to work at a young age. She soon became a master in the craft of beadwork. She had created vests, and other pieces of intricate detail.
She explained how that was being lost. The white man came in, and took their land, and replaced their way of life, with the white man’s way of life. They took the kids away from their parents, enrolled them in American schools, cut their hair, and would not let them speak their native tongues. Beaten if they heard it. Many of the politicians back east had initiatives to try and eradicate all the buffalo in hopes it would domesticate and tame the native Americans. No longer being able to hunt, and collect food. They soon were dependent on government food rations.
Within a few generations, their way of life was lost. And the plan had worked. Their entire way of life was stripped from them, now dependent on handouts from the government. And relying in government checks.

Charlotte explained how few of the men worked anymore. Often drunk, or gambling away their money, and even their children’s checks. She pointed to a stone sculpture that a man brought in to sell, and explained how there was a good chance he would go use the money she paid for it to get drunk.

She said that when Wal-mart moved in, it really changed their way of life. The dumps on the reservations soon became filled with more and more items. She watched as plastic doll heads, and plastic appliances piled up on their land. And fewer and fewer of her people came in to buy items from her, instead buying everything at Wal-mart, while she struggled for business.

Charlotte explained how different her items were than these plastic things from China. That when she made something, it was going to last. It was built that way from the beginning. It was not made to ever be tossed away. Or put in a dump. It was to be carried, and to be used, over and over. By many generations. It wasn’t something that was fast or quick in production time. One of her works, a beaded vest took a year to complete. And one of her ceremonial beaded horse bridals was started by her grandmother, and finished by her daughter. Four generations to complete one saddle. It was the way her people were.

I had remembered from 3rd grade history that it was the same when they killed a buffalo. They used it all. Some 95% of it. They respected the life of the buffalo, and saw them as a source of life for them, and many generations to come. The fur and hide were made into clothing and shelter, the meat was their main source of food, and even their bones, and hooves were used for glue.

It hit me how much that was not our American way. We had stripped farm land, stripped coal mines, and had the motto destroy and conquer. We would just consume something, and throw it away for another one. It was the same as how we handled the buffalo. We came in and took out the buffalo. During the 18th century, there were nearly 50 million bison roaming the land with the Indians. They say you could travel for days through land never passing the same herd. But we hunted them on trains for sport, trappers came in and killed them in masses to take the hide and sell them back east. One man bragging that he killed 20,000 on his own. There are pictures of men standing on mountaintops of hides. Before a hundred years has passed, the buffalo had been all but extinct. Nearly 50 million destroyed.

As she shared it I realized what I had become. I was born in this consumerism, and continued it. None of my bedroom furniture was more than five years old. My appliances were brand new, and as soon as they are to break, my plan was always to just throw them out, and go buy another one at Wal-Mart. There was nothing original in our house. Nothing antique, or old, or created by a craftsman. Nothing of any real value. It was production art, and production furniture. We just throw them away, and go buy another. In fact I heard they are meant to eventually break, so we will go buy another one. They are disposable. I had seen life much that way. Throwing things away, replacing things, and consuming all the more.

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