Thursday, May 25, 2006

War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality

I was bored last night, so I started cruising the internet looking for some information on Lakota "mythology"--although I guess a better, less offensive term might be Lakota spirituality. Eventually I came across this site, which is very full of information and is a little bit dry, so I wasn't able to penetrate it too far.

What I did read, though, was the Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality. Here are a few brief pieces from that:
WHEREAS for too long we have suffered the unspeakable indignity of having our most precious Lakota ceremonies and spiritual practices desecrated, mocked and abused by non-Indian "wannabes," hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers and self-styled "New Age shamans" and their followers . . . .

WHEREAS sacrilegious "sundances" for non-Indians are being conducted by charlatans and cult leaders who promote abominable and obscene imitations of our sacred Lakota sundance rites . . . .


1. We hereby and henceforth declare war against all persons who persist in exploiting, abusing and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices of our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.
A few other places in the Declaration they mention the "wholesale expropriation and commercialization of Lakota spirituality," which I agree seems detestable. I'm not sure how much room this sort of attitude leaves for cultural exchange, though. I mentioned the idea of Indian "wannabes" the other day, and Nate predicted that I would become one. I'm resistent to that label for these various reasons, but in going out to the reservation I do hope to learn about their culture and see what affect that culture might have on my own life. Does this make me a wannabe? The authors of the Declaration seem to believe that only someone who is ethnically Lakota can legitamately practice any element of their spiritual ceremonies. A different article I was reading, sympathetic to the views espoused in the Declaration, offers responses to various criticisms of such views. On whether or not one can be "Indian at heart," the article responds,
If you are a blood descendant of any of the indigenous People of the Western Hemisphere, then you are American Indian/Native American/First Nations/AK Native, or whatever your People may call themselves. If you are not - you are not. It's just that simple. It's DNA and genetics, not your lifestyle and how you "feel". Period.
I don't think I will ever claim to be "Indian at heart," but still, I'm not sure about this. I read another Lakota's dissenting response here, and while it is heartening to see that not everyone is so strictly exclusionist, the claim here that "People who ask for war are not people of peace" rings false with me. Though I know little about the Lakota culture, I'm not sure they were always "people of peace."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wanblee, SD

The information is beginning to come in. It looks like I will most likely be teaching at Crazy Horse High School in Wanblee, SD, just south of the Badlands on the Pine Ridge reservation. The population of Wanblee in 2000 was 641, and as far as I can tell, the only places of business in town are a health clinic and a dental clinic. I will be about 25 miles from Interior, SD, a tourist town just outside Badlands National Park, and 35 miles from Kadoka, SD, where there are some restaurants. I'll be 111 miles from Rapid City, the big city for those of us from Western South Dakota. You can see a map of Wanblee here.

From the pictures I posted a few days ago, here is a shot of the Badlands "just outside" of Wanblee:

Monday, May 22, 2006

Some more cheesy preparatory thoughts: I've been reading River-Horse by William Least Heat-Moon, about his trek across America by river. As he crosses Lake Oahe in South Dakota, he writes:
Considered truly for what they possess, the High Plains are as exotic as any oriental realm at the end of the Great Silk Road—their flora, fauna, and their native habitants whose ancestors learned to hunt and sing and chip flint points in Asia long before Great Walls, pagodas, or paddy fields. Those nomads out of Mongolia came in search of a Northeast Passage that led them into a new world where mammoths and mastodons died out and the horse and camel were born.
Of course, for all the nice sentiments there, even Least Heat-Moon's ideas might not fly with some of the locals. I was glancing through a book by Vine Deloria, Jr., an important Lakota writer and thinker, and he denies the "Bering Strait theory of migration," claiming that it is a result of "residual guilt . . . over the manner in which the Western Hemisphere was invaded and settled by Europeans."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"Go West, young man, and grow up with the country." - Horace Greeley

Graduation out of the way, the time has come for me to grow up: time for a real job. So for the next two years I will be teaching math and coaching track on a reservation in South Dakota (I'm not sure which one yet--either Pine Ridge or Rosebud). For all my claims of Midwestern roots, I've grown up in suburbia on the East Coast. On this journey West I'll be leaving behind friends and family and entering an entirely new world--so I hope this blog will allow me to illustrate that world for everyone back East.

To prep myself for what comes next, here are some pictures of the area that I'll be living in.