“F— Assimilation”: Keeping it Real as Native Americans

Here it’s not exactly often, but it’s definite when it happens, but if someone mentions Native Americans, you’ll have someone who moans and shakes their head saying something like, “I’ve seen how they live, it’s horrible. Drugs. Alcoholism. Just awful.” Wasn’t very different in the USA. I correct such people when I can, attempting to balance them against stereotyping, and usually pointedly question their source of negative generalization. Either you’re automatically an addict of some kind or something equated to a clown or performing animal who is expected to look and act a certain way.

If you range anything outside that, especially evidencing intelligence or modern competence, you are a threat or couldn’t possibly be an Indian because all Indians are: 1) in feathers and buckskins, 2) drunk or 3) a very limited performance on a very limited stage, ah! or agree with everything they say because they are so-called experts on Indians (see my upcoming article on the subject at ICTMN). No free-ranging competent Indians here either, please (unless you behave exactly they wish)! If you even bother to bring up the fact there all Indians are not the same, citing some of the points I make? They’re afraid of you in some way, either that they may give offense when all we’d prefer is someone ask us about ourselves now instead of relying on skewed information, or just treat us like equals simply as humans.

I’d had an email in an on-going communication with another writer, an Asian person, who had emigrated from their own country to Australia as a young person. They spoke of assimilation, and that how after a couple of decades in their new land, of how they had difficulties understanding why some older ones still didn’t “integrate” so well, equating that situation to Native Americans of North America. As I’d spoken previously of the divide that continues, they understandably questioned the lack of submission to assimilation (yes, I know the difference in terms but chose to use this phrase) as a way to better move in “new” American society. Not a critique of this writer or their views do I write this post, but because I can see it from both sides.

As I replied to the writer of whom I have respect and always enjoy hearing from them, equating Asians or any emigrants voluntarily seeking intergration into another country and society can in very few ways equate to what Native Americans experienced in North, Central and South America. We had cultures/societies that were invaded by those who systemically, regularly and maliciously killed off the indigenous populations for their knowledge, goods but mostly for their lands, and who still suffer from that indirectly yet pointedly and even in a more modern sense by fiscal and governmental slashes.

When I replied to the other writer, I acknowledged their query and could equate to myself as an American Indian who was born in and currently lives in Germany. To live in Germany, it is not strictly necessary but better that I learn the language, to know what their general cultural guidelines are, the personality characters, and such things because I voluntarily came back to and wish to live here. Conversely, although I can, do and have academically learned and worked within the U.S.A. and moved between middle and north America (Canada) it is absolutely unthinkable and incomprehensible to me that I should concede my Native American culture, beliefs, personality or any other way of being to confirm or “assimilate” as to “intergrate” into new American USA society.

That someone suggest such as a way to survive/succeed/exist? If you are not living in North American or the Americas, I can more understand the suggestion, but there are some that claim (and may/do actually have) a percentage of native blood, but do not know, understand or comprehend even the most base aspect of what it is to know/feel/be Native American. The point that is seemingly and sometimes pointedly, obtusely missed by both is that many Native Americans do live “between worlds” keeping our native beliefs and traditions, yet still can competently and successfully move in “modern” society.

This past week I had to interact with classmates at university about successful or negative work experiences and what might have been the determining factors for those views. My presentation was of a job I had in my very early 20’s where I was paid excellent money in a nationally known company, but where…you worked six days a week, no windows, no music or any such thing allowed. Academically, I could remind myself of the money, the experience, but I was dying inside. I couldn’t see the sky. I don’t care what they paid me, it was like a prison for me. I was ridiculed for leaving, even after they offered me more money, but that life couldn’t meet the needs of my native soul. To them I was incomprehensible according to their culture.

One of my favorite films and books, and where once the book at least matched if not exceeded the film, yet the performances of the actors involved was outstanding, exquisitely suited and indictative of what they represented: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Next. In the end scene, from the Creek Nation, Will Sampson who’d played the mute/deaf American Indian in a psychiatric hospital who was not mute or deaf but only just getting by yet had been touched by the salacious yet honest defiance of a character played by Jack Nicholson, broke free from that flawed institution. It can always be an inspiring thing for me to see, to feel, and imagine but not just based on a film but because I’ve seen it enacted in my life by others, and which I’ve had to do a couple of times myself.

Fuck assimilation. There is no such thing for real Native Americans, and I don’t say that lightly. There are many who have Native American blood to some degree whether they know it or not, but who neither acknowledge, understand or feel it and simply “trotting out” their blood quantative levels is meaningless to us, though unfortunately such ones are the type government officials wish to hear, court and promote. Being of the People, proud, knowledgable, and strong enough not to give into their pressure or demand is inconvenient to them.Will Sampson’s portrayal really fits what I’ve felt at various times when I did try to “assimilate” in some way. Gotta break free. I cannot do that. It is not in my blood or nature or being, nor should it be required, expected or demanded of me or any of my People.  Watch, feel, learn.



12 thoughts on ““F— Assimilation”: Keeping it Real as Native Americans

  1. While I would never suggest I understand the Native American feeling for the need to break free from any social assimilation process, I do understand what it is like to be an individual who feels outside of the beliefs and activities of the majority. In my old age I’m finding my voice to speak out, even if only on my FB page, and sometimes my blogs. I can no longer keep quiet about the ignorance of others, but even more, they willingness to maintain that ignorance because of their belief it is more right to them than my facts. I can only feel a little pity for their shortsightedness and turn to more productive endeavors. I have found that my words often fall on deaf ears so I have placed the quotes of others to make a point. I am astounded at even the lack of response there. When a group, whichever it is and whatever their purpose, believe as they wish without listening or considering others, it is a group which will not experience growth and, thus, die from within. Time is no always our enemy.

    1. I can certainly understand your realization and feeling as you have detailed here. It is a thing, which some people complain of natives protesting this or that. For example, fashion shows making a mockery of sacred objects or crass displays like I mentioned in a posting here (What’s a Real Native American) we have a harder time dealing with those who’ve read books, think they know “us” but have actually spent little or no time with or trying to understand us. The type of groups you mention, whatever their demographic make-up, but especially if it is the majority in any country: have often forgotten their roots, except when its convenient or to market a quaint celebration of some kind. You are consigned to many academics who have studied written word the majority of which is not written by natives, who are then “stamped” as experts only by their own sort. No, they won’t or rarely will respond, and if they do as, I’ve experienced, they just spout their superiority of view basically objectifying and ultimately dehumanizing natives.

      You wrote: “When a group, whichever it is and whatever their purpose, believe as they wish without listening or considering others, it is a group which will not experience growth and, thus, die from within.”

      Very much so, I live with it all around me.

      1. Thank you for your response.
        I’ve had a slow internet connection today or would have answered sooner. I tried and failed, sorry.
        I did come across something I thought you might be interested in. I’ve had trouble getting it to come back up to listen to again, so I’m hoping it works okay for you. It’s Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman, a Lakota Elder, in a short video. I had great admiration for him and I know he passed away a few years ago so finding this was a surprise. If you have any comments I would love to hear them.
        The YouTube site is: http://youtu.be/uZ8zcAVLIqw – you may have to copy and paste this. The title is: News Alert Native American Indian Elder explains why this world is DOOMED!!! [Mirroed].mp4
        Of all the Dec. 21, 2012 videos I could watch, this is the one I consider to be most meaningful because it’s spoken by an Elder. All the other stuff in interesting, but I believe him because I know some of what was lost with the European invasion. If I could step back in time and have it happen in reverse fashion, the Europeans assimilating to the Indian way, I would. I’m one of those who wants to be connected but know that can only be a wish because I am not Indian and thereby handicapped. My heart knows what I cannot truly grasp, but I’m trying.

      2. Yes, quite I knew of Red Crow Westerman and had seen the message. I agree with his words but not the title given to the video per se because when they use “world” it is all inclusive, and I do not believe the world is doomed when using that sense of the word. When the father of my close friends who are Lakota visited to speak at our Indian Ed group I recorded what he said in my article on my blog.

        “We people have mysteries. Things we cannot explain. Things we don’t know how they came to be or how they stay alive but it’s all part of life. For some things we have legends and tales passed down from our ancestors, and they’re enough though now we have science and all kinds of stuff which explain how things work inside. Or they try to anyway. There are still mysteries and will always be. There are some things you don’t need answers to in order to have a happy life or just get by even.

        Every body should just be how they are and be allowed to. I can be happy with very little because their definition does not apply to me. They might be unhappy with what I had. I think that’s why they are so unhappy and so far from the earth. They’re always looking at someone else and trying to change them when they don’t really know themselves in the first place.” From Two Spirit: Tradition, History & Future.

        Infinitely complex yet very simple, but there are people: cultures, societies who complicate themselves unnecessarily in abstract searches that reveal no provable truths, and this is what they demand, and thus they cannot be happy nor be content if anyone else is happy…So they destroy, either slowly or quickly. In that sense, yes, they have doomed themselves but not the world as some of us don’t accept their reality and we will endure.

        And with true irony, and how I cannot understand them at all, is that because some of us can have such belief, this surety, they can find it threatening, unsettling, so that they can hate you and wish you stop being that way. They want you to assimilate, to not show this side of yourself which is actually your whole self because it can make them feel more empty. Yet they do not have to have emptiness or strive for goals just for strivings’ sake, searching for mathematical probabilities to predict everything from eyeblinks to behavior responses, but can’t even be bothered to speak politely to someone who addresses them. Will never make any sense to me, but I can find it curious.

      3. Well said. I appreciate your response.
        What is in your last paragraph doesn’t apply to just your situation. I have seen within my own family how they become afraid if something is said that contradicts not only what they have been indoctrinated to believe, but they think everyone else should believe as they do. I have given up explaining myself, thank them for the support where they give it and allow them to go their own way. We do respect that we can disagree.
        But their fear tells me they are uncertain in what they believe, yet cling to it for a false sense of safety from what they fear, which is what they don’t understand. They make no effort to try because of indoctrinations which are strong.
        My interest in the Native American way of life came from a desire to break away from the indoctrination I disagreed with and find a way to grow stronger spiritually, which is more than just surviving.
        Thank you for your responses.

      4. I know similar behavioral issues, both on the individual and societal level, both pro and con, can exist everywhere, whatever your background, ethnicity, belief system, etc. for a variety of reasons, although yes since this article was solely about a Native American issue I was dealing with then, naturally, that is what I specifically addressed using applicable examples. I am native but haven’t just lived with natives, and even the natives were varied also as we didn’t all have the same beliefs, because as I’m sure you know history, languages, beliefs, and such thing vary from tribe to tribe, though some think of us as homogenous. But I have had a much more varied experience than many because of my life experiences, the professions I’ve had, the countries and cultures I’ve lived and worked in around the world, and the social stratas in which I’ve moved besides the paths I’m walking now such as my degree in psychology.

        In all of those things, and having comparatively studied many aspects of spirituality from many cultures, the ancient ones who still move and exist in the modern world, keeping both ancient and new, have agreed as I belief: whatever one is searching for can ultimately be found in the self. That is not impossible for anyone, but one has to believe it is possible, and utterly face the self with honesty no outside medium can give.

      5. You do have a unique background and a variety of experiences. I’ve never traveled much and missed my one opportunity to visit Germany. I’ve known several from there and have a nephew married to a woman he met in Germany. I’m what Karen Blixen wrote, as Issak Denisen, in Out of Africa. She called herself a mental traveler. That’s what I am.
        You say things I can agree with and I appreciate them. I hope you find your studies in psychology helpful. I have a Master’s in psychology, but did little direct work in the field. I do find it useful in creating characters, especially since so many of my main characters seem to have emotional problems or some traumatic experience. I think it’s self-theory, in a way.
        As Dec.21 inches closer I have been trying to put a lot of things in my mind together. I no longer believe it will be a non-event, though it will appear that way to many. It has a lot to do with what we’ve said here about the different outlooks. I wish you the best. We may communicate more, occasionally, but not now.
        Since I sent my book to you for review I don’t want to affect your honest and straightforward comments about it. I will wait for that.
        Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

      6. I remember your sending the book, and the previous dialogue where I expressed I did not agree with changing the spelling of Native American names for ascetics which I explained to you, so it is not on my list of books for review, as my site is closed until 2013 in any case. As a disclaimer to this comment, since all of mine are viewable to the public: my feelings on a specific topic regarding a work does not reflect the quality of the work or the author’s perspective.

        Red Haircrow

      7. I thought I would share this with you even if you may have seen it. It’s a beautiful presentation.

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