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.
Bottom line? WE DO NOT HAVE TO ASSIMILATE. THAT IS JUST CONVENIENT FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE A PROBLEM WITH US, AND FEEL THREATENED BECAUSE OF OUR CONTINUING STRENGTH AND DEPTH THAT CANNOT BE BROKEN OR TAKEN AWAY, AND WHICH MANY OF “THEM” CANNOT UNDERSTAND BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO TRUE DEPTH. WE HAVE ADAPTED AND KEPT OUR TRADITIONS AND CULTURE, AND CAN ALSO BE SUCCESSFUL AS INDIGENOUS PEOPLE IN THE MODERN WORLD.