Been busy. Finished big huge exam that almost melted my brain, though it's mostly in tact now. I started to forget words like "Jello" and "dustpan." No, really, one day I had to describe "that thing you use to put stuff in after you are done sweeping, the sweeping shovel, that thing" to my Husband. My brain was full. Full of information you may someday hear me go on and on about like the gendered aspects of the Spanish missionization process in California, or why Allotment can suck it. But I'm coming out of the woods slightly, enough that I'm finally posting blogs that I started a while ago. In this episode we finally learn about my penchant for hashtagging and why I'm going to never use my PhD (because when I become a famous t-shirt designer I will say so long academic craziness! Hello hashtag empire!)
A few weeks ago I got a phone call.
In case you didn't know I am the Executive Director for a nonprofit organization called The Native Women's Collective. We are an entirely volunteer organization (for now, but we are working on becoming a fully fledged awesome sauce nonprofit- donate if you can!) dedicated to arts and culture.
"Art" is a funny thing if you think about it because a lot of what we call "art" now was tied to Indigenous ways of life, where we didn't separate "art" from health, well-being, spirituality, politics and community.
There were anthropologists who when they came to California said (and I am paraphrasing) "Man, these California Indians live such a life of leisure! All they do is make beautiful things that we want to buy and put in a museum. Where are their banks? Or their office buildings? How come they don't have posters that complain about Mondays? When do they work?"
The "work" was a part of life and "balance" was the name of the game. And balance took time, energy, forethought, organization and -- "art."
Anywho- the phone call.
I'm not going to provide a summary of the whole thing (actually two things, it was two phone calls) but I will say, buried deep within what I think could have been some interesting constructive feedback was precisely the attitude that persists about how Native peoples are "supposed" to be. Within this one phone call the identity or "blood quantum" of people on our website was questioned, as if these people were somehow not "real" Indians simply because of the color of their skin. That is most likely what this assertion was based off of, because the caller would really have no idea "how much" Native any of these people are. (And really, it's none of their business.)
The truth is, these continued misinformed ideas about who Native people are "supposed" to be are really based in the continued attempts to de-legitimize Indian people and their continued existence. They are challenges to our identity because, in reality, many people (Native and non-Native) have been taught that one day all Indians will cease to exist, that the further you get away from some romanticized version of a Native person created by Western history, the less Indian you are. And people tie this loss of identity to things like eating at The Olive Garden or getting an education or using Facebook. Like any non-Native pioneer person was already using Facebook. Like "real" Native people are stuck in the past somewhere. We learned this about Native people, because there has always been a desire for Native people to just disappear. When this couldn't be accomplished through genocide. When it couldn't be accomplished through allotment, termination and relocation, they redesigned it as a "scientific" system and they called it "blood quantum."
Blood quantum is an issue that continues to be debated and referenced in many Native communities. It was not a value built in Indigenous societies where being "Native" was based on kinship and marriage and spirituality and culture and where you lived and many other systems utilized by each tribe. But once the federal government got involved somehow Native people had a quantifiable amount of "blood" that could be tracked through generations. Suddenly, we were 1/2 breeds and 1/4 bloods and "mixed bloods." This should have led to the ever important question of "what part of me is the Native part?" (And the answer is always, my super fantastic good looking cheekbones). Another important question would have to be "Can I get a blood transfusion from a full blooded Indian person and become a full blood myself?" (That would be fun to watch, some small, non-Native hipster in a headdress goes in to the blood bank, requests a full blooded Indian donor, and proceeds to get a blood transfusion where you slowly watch them morph into a beautiful Indian. Ta da - I'm an Indian too!) Blood quantum is complicated.
Also within this one phone call, the legitimacy of our ties to our culture was challenged. How could we claim to be doing anything "Native" when our website was so "bouji." (Spelling? I have no idea - I guess cause I ain't all that bouji...)
And finally, the caller seemed irked that we were content to ignore the "real" issues of Native people and instead talk about how cool and awesome and talented Native people are. Because - as the caller pointed out - Native people have many more problems than positives. And if we, as an organization, don't reflect that, we are ignoring it. And that, the caller asserted, would contribute to these problems. The caller was also personally aware that many of our people are in rehab. (I believe the caller said half, half of our people are in rehab.)
The caller ended with "because there are so many other problems besides I'm so busy and cute and Native."
That stuck with me.
I thought - but I am #BusyCuteAndNative (I hashtag in my mind all the time BTW. I'm one of those annoying people who will, in real conversation, actually say the words "OMG hashtag #YouAreAwesome hashtag #ICan'tBelieveYouSaidThat". Sue me, I watch Happy Endings. #Save Happy Endings!)
I am #BusyCuteAndNative. I also have a lot of people I know or have known who are alcoholics. I am also the good friend of Native women who have been in abusive relationships. I have also been in an abusive relationship. I know lots of people with diabetes. I know many people in rehab. I have family who are addicted to drugs. I know that many Indian people struggle. I know that many Indian people continue to fight for basic necessities in life. I also know that we laugh a lot. That we tell some pretty great jokes and have twisted senses of humor. That some of us have #FirstWorldProblems and many of us #AreReallyGoodAtBasketball.
Maybe half of us are in rehab. But guess what - half of us are in rehab! We are trying to heal. We are lots of other things besides --tragic.--
We are funny.
We are smart.
We are activists.
We are artists.
We are dancers.
We are poets.
We are movie makers.
We are funny (part II).
We are designers.
We are wearing headdresses and dancing to FUN at festivals in really hot climates that are exceptionally dusty with a limited supply of bathrooms. Wait. No, that's not us.
We are busy.
We are cute.
We are Native.
I guess I want to think of it as a good thing. #BusyCuteAndNative can represent that (Woo Hoo!) we are #BusyCuteAndNative because despite the systematic attempts to keep us from maintaining our connection to the landscape where we came into being, we are still here and many of us are busy. We are busy helping our communities. We are busy supporting each other. We have a lot of issues facing our communities and to this day our statistics continually demonstrate that our community healing is a process that we must prioritize. And we are busy working on this healing process.
I don't want to focus only on the "deficits" in our communities. I don't just want to talk about what we "lack" or how we "struggle." Those things are real. But we are also so much more than that. The things I do are because I want to support Native people to do the things that they love, to believe in themselves, to ground themselves in our culture and our ideologies, and to revitalize our communities.
So - I made a t-shirt. Proceeds from the t-shirt help to support the Collective to do things like our upcoming basket weaving retreat, or our demonstrations at various events. I don't make any money off the tshirt myself. I made it because I am #BusyCuteAndNative. I I made it because it's true. Also because I think we should all wear our Hashtags loud and proud.
Plus - I like hashtagging stuff.
Once I went to this workshop for "women in the academy" where we had to write down on this huge poster thing something about ourselves that we were really proud of and I wrote #MyMadHashtaggingSkills #TrueStory
P.S. Our next limited edition t-shirt will be coming out soon. It will be for sale through the NWC with the hashtag: #ActivelyDecolonizing
I have this very clear memory of my Dad coming up to the pitchers mound at one of my softball games and telling me "It's not that we need to have a time out, it's that we want to make them think I'm telling you something really important so they get scared. After this you're going to strike this girl out because I'm going to lean in and whisper to you and make it seem like I'm giving you all the secrets to the greatest play in the world."
I wouldn't normally post on my vote for Tribal political positions, mostly because I grew up with that whole "oooo you better not tell people who you vote for" and "You never talk about politics and whether or not you like or hate the grumpy cat. You obviously like the grumpy cat. EVERYBODY DOES." (No pressure)
But this year my Dad is running for Tribal Chair. And I'm voting for him.
Of course people will say "well you have to vote for him because he's your Dad" and also "well you obviously have a little bit of a biased opinion in this case." Although I would respond, I know a lot of people that would not actually vote for their own parents and I think my long association with my Dad actually provides me with some insight into just why I think he's the person to be Chair. (Take it as you will though, there are other candidates for the Chair position as well, research will probably help you make the best decision. I offer here my two cents and my fully thought out, whole hearted endorsement for your consideration).
First, random people have walked up to me on the street to tell me how much they like my Dad. They like to tell me about how hard he works. He's a worker. He likes to work. He probably got this from his Dad, who also liked to work. Sometimes in high school this would make me crazy because mostly in high school all I wanted to do was sleep. People respect him because he's always going to do a good job. I once went to a conference and this guy asked me if I was related to Steve Baldy and I said yes, and he said "congratulations." And I said "thanks. I would highly recommend being related to him."
I don't want to say "he's the best person for the job" because I don't just think of the Tribal Chair position as a job. It shouldn't just be a job. Part of it is the day to day work that it takes to be the Chair of a multi-million dollar tribal nation and the other part of it has to be something else. It has to be the thing that makes a person be conscious of the many issues facing our tribe who still believes that they can make a difference. It has to be about more than the bureaucracy of a government position. It has to be about knowing that Hoopa is a place of incredible importance that deserves a good Chairperson who listens, is thoughtful, is respectful, and who believes in our valley. It has to be a person that doesn't just want a job. And it also has to be somebody who doesn't just want to feel important, but somebody who has always wanted to see Hoopa doing well and being balanced.
I love that word balance and it makes me think of my Dad. My Dad taught me a lot of things. He taught me how to catch a fly ball. He taught me how to gut a fish and filet and smoke it. He taught me how to clean a net (not the hardest thing to teach someone, but I can remember spending what felt like hours and hours picking moss off of the net with him.). He taught me how to write a grant. He taught me how to over cook chicken, how to order pizza after over cooking the chicken, and how to make really good abalone.
And he taught me about Hoopa. He taught me that Hoopa was the center. That no matter how far away I went or how far away I might feel sometimes from my family or my home, that Hoopa was there and that when I came back, my center would know it. I respect our valley. I respect the river that runs through and nourishes us. There was a reason that we fought a war to keep our center. And sometimes it might feel like we're still fighting. There are drugs and there is violence. Sometimes there are bad things that happen. But we are still here. For many years, many BIA agents, and superintendents, soldiers and settlers, they thought one day we would all be gone. They thought they could break us apart. But here we are. We dance. We sing. We love. We are.
When my Dad told me he was running for Chair I thought about the time we went down to the river together to check out the place where he used to go fishing below his house. I asked him what he thought about Hoopa and he said "Hoopa is home." He told me about how important it was to understand that. It's the reason why we did ceremonies and sang for the fish and danced. It's also the reason why we voted in the elections.
I'm voting for my Dad because he does things in a good way. Because when I listen to him he doesn't talk about what he wants for the tribe, he talks about finding ways to help our tribal members be more involved. He talks about listening. He talks about building a nation and finding ways for all of us to work together. He doesn't talk about himself, he asks questions and he listens. And then he tries to find solutions that will work, that he can implement, that will make a difference. He's practical. He's smart. But he's also creative. He's open, he's honest, he's accountable, and he's also funny. He also has the experience. He's built institutions from the ground up and he did it because he wanted to help Indian people.
I love him because he's my Dad. But I'm voting for him because I have watched him work on a grant to help rehab houses for Indian families. I'm voting for him because he works hard for Indian country. I'm voting for him because he will work hard for Hoopa -- because Hoopa is home.
Vote-- April 30, 2013 (or like me, via absentee)
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
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