The Importance of Fact-Checking

 

A friend sent me a link today to an article in the Huffington Post about (yet another) error in Sarah Palin’s new book, Going Rogue.  The gist of the article dealt with a quote in the book that was misattributed to the wrong person and also used out of context.   

 

As the epigram to Chapter Three, "Drill, Baby, Drill," Palin assigns the following remarks to the Hall of Fame hoops coach [Bill Wooden]:

“Our land is everything to us… I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember our grandfathers paid for it–with their lives.”

 

But the full quote was actually by a Native American activist named John Wooden Legs and appeared in an essay titled “Back on the War Ponies.”

 

“Our land is everything to us. It is the only place in the world where Cheyennes talk the Cheyenne language to each other. It is the only place where Cheyennes remember the same things together. I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember our grandfathers paid for it–with their life. My people and the Sioux defeated General Custer at the Little Big Horn.”

 

There is a world of difference between how Palin’s book used the quote and what the quote actually is.  Grandfathers on both sides may well have paid for their land with their lives, but the white grandfathers couldn’t claim their people had lived on the land since time immemorial.   

Micro-Landscapes

 

Although it wasn’t my idea initially, Bryn and I went to Seahurst Beach in Burien today with the camera and I actually ended up having fun zooming in on the various washed up logs that litter the beach.  What I love about taking these close-up views of things on the ground is how, when the image is zoomed in and cropped, it becomes harder to tell what the sense of scale is.  Also the textures!  It was really good to just get out and take some photos today.  I haven’t adjusted them in Photoshop, so some of them are a little dark.  Here are some of my favorites:

 

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“We Have the Right to Exist”

 

Haven’t posted in longer than I would have liked as I’ve had a lot of personal stuff to deal with.  Today I was working on the last weekly discussion question for my “Federal Indian Law and Policy” course which dealt with a fascinating subject: Decolonization.  After I had finished my question I was thinking a little more and wanted to address a quote from one of our readings (by Wub-e-ke-niew from the conclusion of We Have the Right to Exist).  Below is a copy of the quote along with my response to it that I posted along with my answer to the weekly discussion question:

 

"The answer is not paternalism–helping us to "adapt" to a changing world; but to look at why, and in what directions, the world is changing, and whose choices are generating those changes."

 

In some ways I feel that adaptation is one of the strengths of Indigenous populations and is what has allowed Indian nations to survive previous U.S. policies of genocide and assimilation, so when I read this sentence after writing my answer, I wasn’t sure if I agreed with him or not.  I had to think about whether my idea about encouraging some "Westernized" tribal members to return to their native communities was a form of forced adaptation.  I came to the conclusion that if it was implemented as something that could be enforced, it would indeed be paternalistic; but it didn’t mean that it was a bad idea.  However, I have come to realize that he isn’t arguing against adaptation in general, he is just reinforcing the concept of Decolonization by saying that indigenous people should be the ones to determine how they adapt to a changing world.        

 

The full original question and my answer are below:

 

How would you define Decolonization?  If you work for an Indian nation, or are a member from one, how could and should that Indian nation Decolonize?

 

To begin with, below are some of the quotes from the four readings that jumped out at me:

 

  • Reading One: "Yet, in my estimation, not every sovereign act undertaken by an indigenous nation necessarily promotes sovereignty of the people."
  • Reading One: "Indigenous groups must define for themselves what traditional law is, because others cannot adequately define it for them and because it is unique to each group."
  • Reading Two: ". . . the U.S. Government entered into a trust relationship with the separate tribes in acknowledgment, not of their racial distinctness, but of their political status as sovereign nations." [from 1979 National Security Council approved progress report on US government Final Act compliance concerning American Indians]
  • Reading Three: "Indians are a mythology created by the White man, who controls the definitions and stereotypes attributed to Indians."
  • Reading Four: "If there is to be hope for anybody in the future, we have to work together to recreate a network of harmonious societies which provide for all people."

 

There is so much talk about the effects of colonization that I don’t think I’ve run into the concept of Decolonization before.  I like it!  It seems to be an idea that has moved past the trauma and victimization stages and is now looking to take action for the future.  The lecture identifies Decolonization as something which removes negative Western influences and restores traditional Indigenous values, and I think this is a really positive way to look at it.  It is important to remove the negative Western influences, but to try and remove all Western influence would be an impossible task.  (Yet it seems to be held up quite often, especially by Westerners, as the definition of Indian authenticity.)  The exciting part about concepts of Decolonization and self-determination, is that individuals, communities, and tribal nations are now in a position to make their own decisions about who they are and what that means.  Looking only to the past in an attempt to return to a time before European contact is wishful thinking, however taking information from the past, present, and future, is what I believe will allow indigenous peoples to assert themselves as participants in the here and now, and not continue to be relegated to a category of "vanished races."  

 

Although I am an enrolled member of the Karuk Tribe, I was adopted and grew up in a middle-class white family far away from my tribal homelands.  It has only been as an adult that I have been able to forge connections and begin to actually work on, well… "Decolonizing" my Karuk self, so I want to specifically state that the following comments are based on observations from afar.  (Although I am a tribal member, I would go as far as to consider myself a cultural insider!)  The Karuk tribe has taken steps toward increasing tribal cultural awareness through beginning to restore our language, which I see as a very positive step towards Decolonization.  A focus has emerged recently on teaching language to the children especially, and I believe this is probably the most critical thing to do because language has such a significant effect on how we interact with the people and places around us.  If you are fluent in a language, then you can think in that language.  There are also some really strong health and housing programs available to tribal members who still live in our ancestral territory, and I think that this type of community awareness and involvement helps to keep people connected.  I still don’t entirely understand how a reservation differs from land held in trust for the tribe by the federal government, but I do believe that control of aboriginal territory is very important.  Additionally, I think that many Indian nations, my own included, might benefit from reaching out to tribal members who no longer live within their reservations or territories.  I think that this type of outreach would have a positive benefit in two directions: it could allow motivated individuals to reconnect with their background and possibly encourage people to move back to their homelands, and it might offer isolated tribes more potential resources in tribal members who are already familiar with how things work in mainstream American society.  This idea really relates to the quote from the fourth reading that I started out with above, in that it acknowledges a need to look past our differences and instead focus on working together.  

“the Indians were selfishly trying to keep [the land] for themselves”

 

john wayne

 

I ran across the following John Wayne quote in a book called The Ultimate Book of Useless Information:

   

“I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them if that’s what you’re asking. Our so called stealing of this country was just a question of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

 

My dad gave me a used copy of the book and I had to look online to find out where it came from.  Turns out, it was from a 1971 Playboy interview where he also made some other controversial racially-based statements.  Not that I was ever a John Wayne fan, but this sure made me even less of one than before!       

Jenny Holzer

 

Although I really wanted to post something tonight, I’m also feeling really drained from having so much going on right now with school and my personal life (there have been two deaths recently of grandmother figures who I was extremely close to as a child).  But I’ll at least offer some images from an artist that was brought to my attention thanks to one of my group members in the racial stereotype project I’m working on.  Our idea actually is closely related in many ways to her work in that we are working with text as well, plus I think that it relates well to the Tanning Project image I shared by Erica Lord. 

 

I know nothing about these specific works (well, actually I do know that the ones that look like they are on skin are actually written on skin) as I found them through a quick Google image search, but they were the ones that struck me the most, so here they are: 

 

Jenny_holzer 3

 

Jenny_holzer 2

 

Jenny_holzer 1

 

I think the first image is interesting to compare to Erica Lord’s work because both are written directly on someone’s body.  The second seems to be common knowledge to many indigenous communities, but rather new as an idea to the Western world.  And the last image?  I can speak from personal experience that it has been true for me, at least!

In 2000, Seattle was 70% white!

 

A lot of the race-based thinking I’ve been doing lately has come from my “Federal Indian Law and Policy” online class and NMAI visit.  Before I left for D.C. a couple weeks ago, we started a new collaborative project in our “Design for Complex Systems” class (aka Senior Studio).  The group I’m with is looking at race and stereotypes, with an idea of creating some sort of awareness campaign using t-shirts as a metaphor for people.  We’ve done a lot of research and ideation, and now we’ve realized we need to start putting our ideas down on paper and in digital form.

 

seattle race census 

 

I’ve thought a lot about how Seattle seems so “white” compared with my experiences in other large urban cities.  When I looked at Seattle’s results from the 2000 census, I realized why.  Above is a quick representation I made combining the racial statistics for Seattle along with the t-shirt idea.  I was pretty intrigued by the last section that includes both “Some other race” and “Two or more races” as a single category.  Who are these people?  What is their story? 

 

I was also realizing that whoever it is who gets to define the categories has a lot of power in classifying how people identify themselves.  For instance, it was interesting that the category of “Black or African American” isn’t really mirrored in the “White” category.  Shouldn’t it be “White or Euro-American?”  Also, I myself exercised power in how I interpreted the data by going with the category of “Asian” without showing the further breakdown of statistics within that category (Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and other).  Oh, and I lumped several categories (Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, and other Pacific Islander) into the single designation of “Pacific Islander.”  So I do recognize that while it is easy for me to question and judge the folks who are in charge of writing the census questions, it is no easy task.  In creating this visual interpretation of data, I am just as guilty of manipulating language and statistics to suit my purposes. 

 

I wonder what the newest census results will show?  I can’t imagine that things have changed that drastically in Seattle…   

Self-Identification

 

I’ve given a lot of thought to Native American identity, especially when it comes to mixed-race identity.  One of my favorite works of art is a photograph by Erica Lord from her Tanning Project series (shown below) because I can so easily relate to it.  Her statement on her website talks about her mixed identity and the relationship it bears to her art:

 

“My culture and idea of home began in Alaska, moved and adopted Michigan, and ever since, has existed somewhere in between, amongst, and within a mixed cultural legacy. That legacy and my identity stem from many families: Athabascan, Iñupiaq, Finnish, Swedish, English, and Japanese. My origins include a lineage that I was born into, and a land I was removed from. My cultural limbo and precarious balances have molded my identity and fueled my art. Because of circumstance and chance, I became an emigrant from each home, adapting with each move. Constant moving and rootlessness are part of the American experience, but my near perpetual movement is an experience that lies within a larger history: the Native diaspora.”

 

Lord I Tan To Look More Native

 

Why am I bringing this up?  Because of an article in The New York Times called, “Who is a Jew? Court Ruling in Britain Raises Question.”  The gist of it was that a Jewish high school denied entry to a student who’s mother had converted to Judaism in a Progressive, not Orthodox, synagogue.  The family sued and lost, but then the Court of Appeals overturned the ruling as discriminatory since the school was basing its decision to deny entry on the student’s mother as opposed to whether the student considered himself to be Jewish and practiced Judaism. 

 

This is just another example of a person with dual identities running into problems.  I can recall my parents making comments about mixed-race couples saying things along the lines of, “But what if they have children?  What kind of life will those children have?”  It didn’t mean a lot to me at the time, but looking back at it, I’m amused since they themselves had adopted a mixed-race child.  Of course, I think since I generally appear to be white it was easy for them to overlook that.  The real problem in their eyes was when it became difficult to classify a person in a convenient category.  A part of me wonders if they would have adopted me if I’d been 7/32 black instead of 7/32 Karuk? 

 

It seems important that people be able to define for themselves who they are.  I’ve probably mentioned this previously here, but I had been hanging out with a friend of a friend several years ago, and when our conversation turned to my mixed-race ancestry, he said that I had to make a choice to be one or the other, that it wasn’t fair for me to be able to be both.  This took place during a time when I was really struggling to figure out who I was and how to self-identify racially, so I felt very conflicted hearing that.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it is pointless to try to fit into someone else’s categories.  I’m never going to be fully Karuk, either ethnically or culturally.  But even though I’m mostly white and have been raised in American mainstream culture, I’m never going to be fully Caucasian either.  This became most apparent to me after my divorce when I had come out and was heavily enmeshed in the looks-oriented gay bar scene.  It didn’t matter that, at that point, my internal identification was white.  I still physically looked just different enough from the gay ideal of an all-American-boy because of my mixed race, and it suddenly hit me that I was striving to be something that I never could be.  

 

That was about the time I started to think of myself as being “white enough.”  And as difficult as it may have been for me internally, I still recognize how lucky I am to have had the luxury to grow up as a middle-class American, to be able to document my ethnicity and enroll in my tribe, to have a tribe that would allow me to enroll with slightly less than 1/4 Karuk “blood.”  While it may be confusing to belong to more than one group, it has also given me a fluidity to observe and experience life from various perspectives.  And this is what I bring to the table as an artist, designer, and human being.