I love going to Pow Wows. Always have. If there’s one within my ability to drive to it, I’m there.
Anyway, I was at the Pow Wow hosted by the Cabazon Indians at Morongo Casino when I heard a guy first say that he was an “illegal European immigrant” before asking one of the tribal police officers “What tribe are you from?”
I’m sure he felt maximally politically correct, this guy.
The police officer responded, “I’m from the American tribe.”
He wasn’t an Indian, you see. The Indians being tolerant enough to hire people based on something other than the color of the applicant’s skin.
Well, I couldn’t help but say to the “illegal European immigrant” that “I’M a native American.”
I’m olive-skinned and rather tanned, and I tan DARK, so he assumed I was Indian (a pretty Navajo girl who laughingly called herself “a Res girl” was amazed a little bit after this that I wasn’t an Indian when she sat down next to me to flirt). And so he asked, “What tribe are you from?”
And I said, “I’m from the tribe of Judah.”
Of course, if you follow your Bible, you know that Judah is the tribe of Israelites that Jesus came from (see Revelation 5:5). And for the record, just to help you see the picture even better, I was wearing my Star of David around my neck for all to see (P.S. I’m not Jewish, either, but God made this Gentile part of the seed of Abraham, just the same).
Anyway, the “illegal European immigrant” didn’t quite get it. I don’t even know whether he realized that there is no “native American” tribe of Judah. So I completed the picture for him by stating, “I’m a native American because I was born right here in America.”
Mr. PC said, “That doesn’t make you a native American.”
I said, “Maybe it doesn’t to you. But it sure does to me and this officer here.”
The politically correct “illegal European immigrant,” said, “Tell THEM that.” And of course he’s referring to all the Indians around.
I pointed out the fact that I HAD told them that, on multiple occasions in discussions I’ve had with the many Indians I’ve enjoyed conversing with. I love in particular to have the opportunity to chat up the Indian artists. And for the record, nary a one of them ever became upset by my view of myself as a “native American.”
I pointed out to Mr. PC that the interesting thing about his view was the question-begging that necessarily had to follow one question on my part: “If I’m NOT a “native American,” then from what or where AM I a “native”??? You see, I may be of European ancestry, but I am hardly a “native European,” because I wasn’t BORN in Europe and frankly neither were my parents. That’s what “native” means in ANY other context except where politically correct stupidity gets to shove its way in and change the universe to fit its bigoted foreordained conclusions.
I was not only born in America, but I served in the United States Army of America. And to take it even further, I FOUGHT for America. And I don’t get to be a “native” of the land I was born in, served and fought for???
I’m not a native of Europe due to simple common sense, and I’m not a native of America because of a total abandonment of common sense? WHERE do I get to be a “native” then??? I mean, seriously.
I pointed out that I refuse to hyphenate people. If somebody wants to insist to me on being “African-American,” for instance, I merely ask which one they want to be, “African” or “American”??? I tell them I’ll call them whatever they want, as long as they don’t ask me to hyphenate them and let them be all things simultaneously even though it literally has them as standing on two separate CONTINENTS at the same damn time.
And I don’t call Indians “Native American” because, while THEY are most certainly “native Americans,” I’M one, too, like it or not. I was born here every iota as much as they were. I fought for the right to be a “native American,” just as MY ancestors also fought. In fact, my grandmother from my father’s side of the family was a “Daughter of the American Revolution.” So we’ve been fighting for that distinction for quite a long time now.
When I am referring to the “Indians” in question, I always use the term, “American Indian.” And I do that because there happen to be a WHOLE BUNCH of “Indians” from India and Pakistan. And we don’t need to make them confused.
Our Indians are uniquely “American,” and I believe that “American Indian” is a title of honor.
And I most certainly don’t mean this as any form of insult to American Indians. I don’t call them “Native Americans” to deny them that status, because they fully deserve that status. I’m merely pointing out the obvious fact that they aren’t the only ones who were born here. I’ve got a lifelong admiration of all things American Indian. But they are hardly the only “native Americans” around here.
When I was in the Army, I served with several American Indians. And this gets me to discussing why it is that I’ve always loved going to pow wows.
What’s the point of a pow wow? Maybe the American Indians themselves would have a slightly different way of putting this; but these events are significantly underwritten by tribal casinos to accomplish what I believe is a very special and even sacred purpose.
I’m not a gambler and somebody could easily get me started saying casinos are a bad thing, but in the case of the Indian casinos, they aren’t all bad simply because they have become so involved in doing one thing: they are helping to unite American Indians together, they are striving to maintain cultural American Indian tribal identity, and they are serving to foster American Indian pride. And I applaud them for their efforts.
To this end, they spend a significant amount of money hosting the pow wows and funding the prizes that hundreds – if not thousands – of American Indians compete for at the events. And these events are intended – again on my view – to tie the American Indian community together and foster a unique sense of identity.
I always watch the American Indian dancers in their beautiful costumes. I most love to watch the young girls dance to the drums with so much grace and enthusiasm. It’s just such a beautiful, magnificent thing to watch.
What I think I love the most is to see very old Indian men and women, their sons and daughters, and their grandsons and granddaughters, etc., all participating.
The outfits that the dancers wear are each unique; and they cost a whopping bundle to make. Here is a list that I’m sure isn’t comprehensive showing some of these various outfits and their purpose.
I love to admire the dance outfits. I love all the creativity and imagination and cultural history that is poured into them. I love to listen to the heartbeat of the drums and watch old and young alike do what these aboriginal people have been doing from time immemorial. And I walk away from every pow wow feeling like I’ve witnessed and participated in something special. And those drums are still beating in my head and in my heart.
And I love the fact that I am not only allowed to participate, but yes, actually ENCOURAGED to participate. At most of these events, parking and admission is free to encourage as many to come as will. American Indians are not people who want to shut off their culture; they want to invite everyone around to see them live that culture to the fullest.
Like I said, when I served in the infantry, I had a fair number of American Indians serve alongside me. One day I started asking why so many Indians served in the military. And I was told that the Indians have always viewed themselves as a warrior people, and that serving as a warrior was a critical part of their society.
Every pow wow begins with a tribute to the American flag. And American Indian veterans are specifically honored for their service. I always like to be there for that moment in particular. I see aged men who fought against the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese; I see old men who fought in Korea; I see aging men who are veterans of Vietnam; and now I’m seeing younger men who have returned from their service in Afghanistan and Iraq escorting the Stars and Stripes. And as a “native American” I share the same pride that they have as I stand to honor both the flag and the men who carry it.
And I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of American Indians I served with took their role as “warrior” seriously – and that they were an honor to the noblest aspects of their ancient heritage for serving as warriors for the United States of America. It is a tradition and it is a great tradition indeed. And I mean that as no bull – unless you want to talk about the great Indian warrior chief Sitting Bull.
I was telling a few of my friends about the upcoming pow wow to attract more interest, and one of them asked me what I found so fascinating about these events. It was an excellent question that made me think.
I’ve always been the kind of person who roots for the underdog, for one thing. If I find out a football team is favored to win by a thousand points, I am one of those people who instinctively root for the team that is supposed to get slaughtered.
I’ve also always been a romantic at heart, and the image of a tribal society living in harmony with nature beyond the pale of “civilization” has always stirred me far more than the tales of the pioneers and their frontier lifestyle in log cabins or the cowboys and their gunfighter sagas.
At the same time, I’m also an “American” in the sense of being very proud of my identity as being part of the history of the United States of America.
As such I view the westward expansion of the United States across the continent as being both incredibly tragic and at the same time incredibly necessary. Because while many terrible things were done in the name of such concepts as “manifest destiny,” only a nation that united the Atlantic and the Pacific could ever have had the power to stop the rabid fascism of Hitler and Tojo and then stand up to the totalitarian dictatorship of Stalin and Mao after that.
There were a lot of crimes committed against the American Indian. And yet one way or another, “the United States of America” had to exist in order to stop far more horrendous crimes.
Many of the American Indian tribes were “foolish” or “insane” to attempt to stand against the westward migration that was necessary for the United States of America to be born; the odds against them were beyond hopeless.
And yet, they fought for their families, for their tribes, for their nations, for their way of life. They fought heroically.
And that is what made them such a great people. And it is why greatness adheres to them to this very day.
As a child, my dad didn’t think the family had enough money to fly to family gatherings in Iowa (coming from California). So we drove.
I didn’t much like those long drives as a child, but now, as a grown man, I treasure the treasure of history and culture that I garnered by driving through “fly over country” rather than flying over it in an airplane.
I saw so many things, such as Western ghost towns, U.S. cavalry forts and historic tribal sites, such as the Betatakin Ruin at the Navajo National Monument and the Anasazi Manitou cliff dwellings and the Mesa Verde Petroglyphs and the Puye cliff dwellings (all near Four Corners). I also got to see Montezuma Castle. Dad would figure out different ways to travel so that we could see something different every time we visited our kin. I couldn’t imagine how these ancient people had built these structures so long ago that were still here for me to see so many centuries later. And I guess one of the things that grabbed me as a child was that the ghost towns were full of nothing but tourists and ghosts, but the tribal sites were still filled with colorful, living people.
I love to go camping and backpacking. I’m a trained soldier. I’ve even had a fair amount of survival training compared to the average camper. But I tell you what, if I didn’t get to bring my food and my water with me, I would almost certainly be spared of dying of starvation only because I died of dehydration first. These people LIVED where most people would have DIED. Even as a little kid, I got that.
I remember seeing Indian boys my age who lived on the reservations we saw, and wondering how cool their lives had to be. Maybe they wondered the same thing about my life.
And so when it came time to play “Cowboys and Indians” as a child, I always chose to be an Indian. It wasn’t that I hated on the cowboys; I just liked being an Indian. And since most all the other kids wanted to be cowboys, I never had to worry about not getting what I wanted.
Anyway, what attracts me about the America Indian is what also attracts me to the Jews who form such a vital part of my “Judeo-Christian faith and worldview”; here are a people who have gone through hell on earth and they are still standing and ready for more if need be. Here are a people who fought even when the odds against them were beyond hopeless; here are a people I don’t mind being around – and so when they invite me to their events to share their culture, well, like I said, I’m there.
I am one who believes that every people from every people group has something in their culture – something in their history – to give them reason for pride. In my case, as one from predominantly English ancestry, I have a rich heritage to study and take pride in. We each of us have only to explore our ancestry to find the greatness of our roots.
That said, allow me to reveal a little bias toward American Indians: there are aboriginal people all over the world, of course. But part of what makes the United States of America the greatest nation on earth is that we’ve got the greatest, most fascinating, most heroic and most colorful aboriginal people of them all in our American Indians. And American history is so much more colorful and beautiful because American Indians were a part of it. And while there’s an ugly side to American history, there’s an ugly side to ANYBODY’S history – yours and mine included – if you’re looking for ugly sides. There comes a time when a people who have suffered – be they Jews or Indians – need to look past that time of suffering and focus on the things that make life beautiful and worth living to the fullest.
Hope to see you at the next pow wow.