The speaker series which occurred two nights ago centered on the subjects of medical practices and midwifery and how the counterculture interacted with these two fields. At some point in the evening it became starkly clear to me (as often it does) that there was a gaping hole in our conversation: the Native community. The conversation had been circling around the question of choice, namely the choice to have a caesarian or vaginal birth (or as was also failed to mention the choice to adopt or even to not have children). The midwifes in the room adamantly spoke against caesarian births from the position that they were linked to higher infant mortality rates but also also more passionately from the personal belief that vaginal births were the more spiritually potent method for a mother to connect with their child. I found it slightly ironic that one of the midwifes had mentioned “the business of birth” because I wondered how much of their defensive nature came from a need to maintain their financial security —though that was probably a secondary reason, the first being rather conservative views of womanhood or authentic way to be a woman… which I frankly find to be bullshit.
Beyond direct issues of gender, I found the midwife position frustrating because it seemed obvious that only certain privileged women can choose to have a home-birth through midwives and perhaps only privileged women who would find home-birth appealing seeing as how other peoples and communities have been having home-births with or without midwives who were or were not trained for a very long time. Which makes midwifery an obvious appendage of the back to nature movement which seemed largely based in playing indian. This is what seemed to me the grand irony: as hippie women got to choose to return to their view of some pristine spiritually connected method of giving birth at the same time the native women they might have wished to be were being robbed of their right to give birth.
Seeing as up to this point not one mentioned had been made about the Native communities, I made a comment about sterilization programs mobilized against Native women and would now like to elaborate a bit on the issue and lead people where to find further information on the issue. I first learned about the extensive sterilization programs, which were at their peak in the early 70’s and finally ended in the late 80’s, from Andrea Smith’s book “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.” While genocide is a fraught term for many people I do not hesitate to call the sterilization program a genocidal practice. There are estimates that 25% of native women were sterilized without consent. These operations were often performed directly after birth without consent or after abortions in which doctors withheld any sort of pain reliever or anesthesia although native women were disproportionately encouraged to have abortions. Also considering the adorned birth control pack we found in the trash pit I find it important to mention how birth control was used against native women as a way not to give them further freedom but further rob them of any sort of choice regarding their bodies. Andrea Smith also details this in her book specifically how birth control akin to a more archaic nuva ring (which is inserted into the body and must be removed to avoid health problems) was administered for free to Native women but when the time came for women to have the birth control removed complications arose and many women could not find a doctor or nurse to have the procedure done. This lead to many harmful effects among them sterilization.
My conclusion from such issues are perhaps generic but it was startling clear that as I stated in my earlier blog post the appropriation of supposedly Native practices come from a privileged position of the ability for the colonial settlers to transcend whereas Native peoples are only repressed. While I was willing to take a gentler look at appropriation in my previous post, I think in some cases the appropriation of Native practices or the desire to play indian or get back to earth casts a shadow of ignorance over the actual state of Native communities and the genocidal practices mobilized against such communities. If the hippies of the past and earth-loving quasi-hippies of today were to play indian “authnetically” it would not be a very fun game… and perhaps if the movement had not been so self-centered awareness for issues in the Native communities could have entered the national consciousness as opposed to images of anglo-made teepees and barefooted ladies.
For more information on the issues of sterilization read the Smith book and check out this extensive well informed blog post : http://prettybirdwomanhouse.blogspot.com/2009/04/forced-sterilization-of-native-women.html
It has been quite some time since I graced these pages so I will start my story a week in the past.
Approaching the evening at Jim’s I was full of skepticism towards anything a neo-shaman proposed to do in a pseudo-ritual fashion. I was not necessarily upset with the idea of people engaging in such acts..I just doubted any sort of palpable rewarding effect to come of it. I realized also as the evening went on that I was perhaps a little bent by the pressure of false expectations that no one actually put upon me but were projected from one side of my double-conscious to the other. So as I was blessed by the power of the eagle feather and bathed in sweet sage I didn’t know whether to scoff or stare stoic.
Then the drumming began and a small jolt shot my back and I felt a surprising descent. After only a few minutes I heard a few low notes of flute music. My still leering rational mind groaned at the prospect that Jim had snuck in a cd of traditional native american flute music….then my more free-flowing subconscious enlightened me to the true source, my Uncle Leonard At the same time I had the image of myself pulling a newspaper out of the ground with his image (although at first I couldn’t tell if it was truly Leonard or my grandfather). The rest of my journey involved alternating visions of attempts to reach the large white mesa where the flute music and Uncle Leonard were and random successions of various colors, moth wings, a certain someone recently departed and shafts of confused light. Near the end of the journey I approached a large white hot air balloon which I realized was my way to the mesa. Just as I put me legs out from the wicker basket to plant myself at my destination the mesa seemed to crumble away from me and suddenly everything was yanked away from me as the drums ceased.
While I haven’t yet decided if my spirit animal is a hot-air balloon, moth or Uncle Leonard, I have done some deep considering of the overall journey and how surprisingly “successful” it was for me. I walked away thinking that these sorts of strange little ceremonies are not as harmful as I had been willing to believe… harmful in the sense of demeaning native traditions and planting all sorts of delusions in non-Native settlers that now that the land has been stolen the traditions and spirit are up for rape and conquest as well. Further discussions in the day that followed during the dig lead me to consider that appropriation is not necessarily an evil and that I had been completely bias in privileging Native appropriations of settler and other culture while automatically rejecting settler appropriations as complete bullshit…although it is still obvious that the settler appropriation of native culture comes itself from a privileged position. Hippies chose to come back to the land and live in relative hardship on the fringes of mainstream society while natives were simply forced into the situation. Yet the experience at Jim’s showed to me that despite the veneer of native appropriation the journey itself is a beneficial and spiritually rewarding act. As I told my lunchtime circle at the summer solstice: white people could be really cool folks if they weren’t so insecure and culture vulturing.
Anyway I would like to write more at length and with more cutting intellectual insight on the subjects of appropriation (such as indians playing hippie and “rez up my myspace”) but I said I would be at the site two jiffs forty winks ago.
Just a brief thought about how the southwest desert attracts the utopian visionaries and weirdos of Americas. Perhaps it is a strange residue of Manifest Destiny that allows Americans to perceive the West as the canvas for the projection of all their hopes and dreams. The acid soaked preacher man Bill and the earthship folks made me think of this. What a strange inversion of eden what with the often dry and unrelenting sun pierced landscape. Yet this seems to be a paradise of simplicity for many souls wandering through America trying to salvage some sense of humanity.
Also started thinking about the frequency of U.F.O. sightings in New Mexico. And the sometime connection between U.F.O.s and aliens being part of the deep spiritual knowledge of southwestern tribes (see the X-files episodes with a Navajo elder.) I always thought it sort of funny that the threat of yet another invader (this one from space and not Europe) would be first sensed on a deep level by Natives.
It all seems to relate the ultimate alterity of the landscape. How many times I have heard people describe the Southwest as alien or like another planet. Native peoples then often get conflated with the land (and with Bill conflated with a closeness to god) thus becoming the symbol all that is alien from civilized whiteness and the key to escape through appropriation. And in the case of the the X-files Natives being conflated with alien landscapes leads to a closeness with actual aliens.
Sev mentioned that the hippies at New Buffalo claimed not to be trying to play indian. To me it seems the ‘indianess’ of their pursuits were sub-consciously evoked through their efforts to live in an alien landscape associated with raw primitiveness and visions of utopia and salvation for the white man (think perhaps of Dancing with Wolves).
Still thinking about the harmful and otherwise effects of such logics…..
Before today my only archeological experience was overshadowed by a preoccupation with Harrison Ford’s chest hairs.
After today my only archeological experience is overshadowed by struggle bafflement and weak wrists.
There seemed to exist an entire esoteric ritual of “levels” “mapping” “plumb bombs” and other such processes that serve some sacred purpose such as preventing us from simply jumping in with shovels and searching as our wills and fancy dictate. I realized that the latter meandering methodology is my usual modus operandi and am now forced to confront the harsh realities of actual research.
I also realized just how strange of a practice archeology is only because it is this whole other approach to reality that appears alien to me, although the objects we are dealing with in this project are almost overwhelmingly mundane. How strange we might all appear glaring at Unit 1 for their discovery of a few bullet casings and pennies. I also had this lingering sensation all day that millions of microscopic secrets were being sifted away and we would never Know New Buffalo….which is probably true. I suppose it seems especially strange to me because I have little idea or experience of how to piece together these minute pieces into a meaningful conclusion about the people and ideas of New Buffalo.
Though I do enjoy the physical hardship necessary for acquiring knowledge in the field I must admit I that I have always been a bit of a head in the clouds nose in the books thinker and learner. I am curious to tie the two realms together and see what is lost, what is gained. Just as I would like to believe that the “social experiment” of communal living is not just a utopian ideal from a fleeting generation of weird but a feasible model of society I would also like to believe that beautiful ideas are not compromised in practicalities and quantification…though perhaps both desires require a reworking of notions of purity.