Thunderbird Pow Wow

On Saturday, we went to the Thunderbird Pow Wow at the Queens County Farm Museum (click on the flickr badge on the right for more pictures). It's one of my favorite pow wows, and I had been looking forward to it for weeks. There's nothing more rejuvenating to me than sitting on a blanket in the grass, gnawing on a buffalo rib, listening to the pow wow drums and watching the dancers. It means summer. It means reconnecting with the family, with my history. With American History.

The day started off with sort of a funky vibe. They started some new shit at the gate; buy a bracelet good for the morning "session" (12-5PM), buy a bracelet for the evening session (7-10P) or buy a three day pass. Reasonable, except they tried to say "It was always like this!" Uh, no, Hon. I've been coming to this pow wow for a few years now, and it's always "pay one price, get a ticket, stay till you can't stay no more". Usually if you came in early for the first Grand Entry, you'd stick around and stay for the second unless you were really hot or tired. I heard later that the real issue wasn't the two Grand Entries, but the fact that people (probably mostly local folks from that area of Queens) were using the same ticket stub to get in for all three days. And that I totally understood, but it annoys the crap out of me when I feel like people are trying to "snow" me.

Added to that, I had to spend some time around a member of the extended family I'm not all that crazy about. It's like this: there are some people who wear their accomplishments with ease. They are forthcoming about their travels and experiences, not pushy about sharing but enjoy telling you things when asked, who can poke fun at themselves and never make you feel threatened. Invite you to enjoy their experiences, and enjoy that you get enjoyment from their stories. You feel good about sharing their time. There are others who wear their accomplishments like body armour. Won't "give up" anything when you ask them; just give a "knowing" chuckle like their whole lives are an inside joke and won't clue you in. Yet, if you have a story or experience to share, they've got one better to tell.

I have no patience for people like that, and while I'm competitive in a bunch of other things, I'm not competitive when it comes to the Personality Competition. So I'll generally shut down and fade into the woodwork, and/or disappear. And it annoys the crap out of me when I can't. For a short while the ability to fade into the woodwork wasn't an available option but then it was, and life was much nicer. After awhile though, especially after sundown everybody mellowed and it turned out to be a fantastic day.

But there was another annoying thing bothering me during the day; I've noticed yet another Disturbing Trend in the pow wows up here which is that there are beginning to be rumors of serious divisions along racial lines. "Black Indians" and "White Indians" and now "Taino Indians. " More than a lot of other things, this pisses me off immensely. Matter of fact, Racism in general Pisses Me Off. Because it's such a snow job, and as I just said, I hate feeling that someone is trying to snow me. The Humanity Critic posted a piece a few days ago about how Spike Lee would have directed the last episode of 'The Sopranos', and it made me laugh but it also reminded me of the whole "Wake up! WAKE UP!" thing. Cuz Lordy, I frequently feel like screaming "WAKE UP, PEOPLE! CAN'T YOU SEE THAT THIS RACISM THING IS THE BIGGEST SNOW JOB OF THE CENTURY???!!!!" And we all believe it, and whenever something starts up that isn't about "race" somehow or other the whole "Black/White" thing seeps into it. Which is funny because it isn't really about "Black/White"--it never has been.

Before Europeans got here, Native Americans--particularly those from the Northeast, were a matrilinieal society. And so were the Africans that the Europeans brought over. And when people began mixing--and despite what you think they were mixing from the very beginning and a good portion of the mixing was "free-will", a baby was whatever her mother was. If Mama was Cherokee, then baby was Cherokee even if baby had distinctly African features thanks to Papa. Consequently, around the late 1700's-early 1800's, Southern colonists suddenly looked around them and discovered a whole lot of "Indians" that couldn't readily be visually identified as being different from their "Black" slaves. More disturbing to the colonists and slave owners was that all these dusky people were "free."

Cue in major freak-out, particularly since that time period was spiced with some pretty nasty slave rebellions in the West Indies; one on Barbados in 1816, one in Demerara (Guyana) in 1823. Where incidentally, many of those slaves had mixed with Taino and Arawak natives (read about the Maroons in Jamaica--and although history officially says that all the Indians down in the Caribbean were wiped out/extinct by then, there is evidence to the contrary). News of the rebellion in Guyana reached as far away as England. And while a lot of the news about rebellions wasn't made available to your every day Joe farmer so as not to spread fear and panic, it was still pretty much common knowledge, especially to slave traders. Interestingly enough, 1823 is when the Virgina Legislature passed a Race Law, declaring that any child of an Indian, and any descendant of a Negro, up to the great-grandchild, would be counted as "mulatto." During that same year, another law was passed in Virginia, stating that free blacks or slaves accused of raping a white woman would be hung (Virginia had previously done away with the death penalty for all crimes except murder). The law had nothing to do with rape, and everything to do with preventing sex between white women and non-white men. (There was no law punishing the rape of black or Indian women.) The main objective in both laws was to stop the intertwining of folks, and when you get right down to it, it was about protecting property and money. There were white colonists who would pass their property on down to their duskier progeny, and this really threw folks into an uproar.

After a while, not only did the definition of "mulatto" get redefined, to mean being mixed with white, it got to be a better thing to be "mulatto"--black mixed with white--than it was to be anything "half-breed" (and half-breed was anything mixed with Indian), especially after 1828 when Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. Which President Andrew Jackson signed it into law as soon as he could (it took him until 1835 to actually do anything about it, but he was working on it). Before he became President, Jackson had been instrumental in enacting some other race laws, as well. (I've decided, as I go through history and read about him, that the man had some serious issues with brown-skinned people.) This put a new spin on being Indian. If you were Indian, or "half-breed" and living as an Indian--therefore you were Indian, you were subject to "removal". And you have to keep in mind how frightening this must have been, because by now in Virginia and Georgia and parts of the Carolinas, many of the "Indians" had become completely assimilated... had property, slaves, wore western dress. We're not talking about "removing" people who were "living like savages" or "living in the woods" like they make you believe. We're talking about people who were literally kicked out of their houses and all their things repossessed.

So as time went on, being "mulatto" got to be an interesting thing... because since people were showing up in all shades due to the generations of mixing, census takers would walk into a household and could arbitrarily state who was "black" or "white" or "mulatto" solely based on the way the person looked--their hue of brown. And especially among the Cherokee, who had been assimilated early in the game, this was a big problem, since many of them had intermarried with the Africans, the Scottish and the Irish. Many of them even had slaves themselves, although their concept of slavery was a little different than the Euro view. They would marry their slaves; leave them property, treat them like family.

In my own family, the official written story was that Annie Cox (my great-grandfather's mother) was the product of a "black" woman and her husband/owner, a "white" man. It didn't hit me until Great-Grandfather (who had all the carriage and determination of a Chief and was a leading businessman in his day) wrote in his autobiography that his mother had been disdainfully referred to as "that half-breed" by his father's family. It was confusing as hell, particularly when I found his father's family on a census, and they were all referred to as "mulatto." So how could they possibly have issues with her? When my Grandpa got to writing his own autobiography, he wrote that the family story was that Annie's mother would continually run away from her "white" slavemaster/husband to hide with the Seminole, because she herself was Seminole. And her husband/slavemaster, who apparently loved her as well as owned her, would run down to Seminole country and bring her back to Georgia.

Except the Seminole were known for not giving up runaways. To anyone. Least of all, white people. So how was it that Mr. Cox could go down to Florida regularly to bring back his wife? Except maybe he was Indian himself???

This is what sent me down the path of doing some serious digging into American History. At times, the official "history book" version was so amazingly different from documented, hard core facts that it was enough to make my head spin. I began to realize that this whole scenario we've been sold on about "Race Relations" in America is a crock. I encourage people to really start digging... and don't just accept the cleaned up version you were spoonfed in high school. Find some censuses. Read some laws. Dig in your own backyard.

Then I started going to the Pow Wows with Mima. The first time I went I called my mother up, beside myself. I was surrounded by a whole bunch of folks who looked exactly like her. And Grandpa. And Aunt Alberta. And at first, particularly at Thunderbird I was warmed by the many different hues of folks in the circle, all dancing, all reclaiming their roots for just a day... and the only thing that mattered was being Native.

But lately, thanks to the lure of BigMoney in the Casino industry, outside forces are seeking to Divide and Conquer. And the easiest way to do that... the way it's always been done, is to divide along the color line. The Cherokee just tried to kick out all the brown folks who came to be known as "Cherokee Freedmen"; descendants of Cherokee slaves. But how can that be, when the Cherokee mixed with their slaves??? So who's more Indian? White Blendians? or Black Blendians? If you're a descendent of Chief John Ross, himself mostly Scottish, but Cherokee thanks to his Mama, you're Cherokee, but this elder, in her traditional Cherokee Tear Dress, isn't?

I hear the Pequots are starting to fight along the Divide, too. There's an awful lot of money to fight over. And on Saturday, I could really feel the Divide. It seems that the more brown skinned people reclaim Old Grandmother Minnie's heritage, the more "intimidated" the White Blendians feel, and bow out.

At least that's the way I see it, and it makes me so sad.

All that being said... the Pow Wow was still great, especially when the big Bonfire went up. The boys--The Sun, The Moon and Perpetual Motion had a blast. One of my favorite parts was looking over and seeing the usual finicky and proper Moon, sitting cross-legged on the grass, gnawing on a buffalo rib (The MicMac Chef rocks) with barbecue sauce all over his face.

I bought another Bear fetish... a beautiful black marble one. I finally bought my Painted Pony--"Many Tribes", she's called, since that's what I am; a product of many tribes. The one's I've found/been told of; Seminole, Cherokee, Blackfeet and Cheroenhaka (Nottoway).


Unknown said… the little "black" boy in the orange shorts is Native American simply because he wills himself to be so?

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