Indigenousness

Writing Native America

As preparation for a presentation at the Eastern Oregon Word Roundup at Pendleton in late October, I am writing a series of essays about “Writing Native America” dealing with indigenousness, identity, and literary authenticity, the latter from the perspective of a publisher.

As those who have followed my earlier essays may know, my personal approach is strongly informed my the idea of “Creolism” as put forward by the Martinique philosopher, Edouard Glissant, as well as my own metis identity. I am hoping these articles will become a source of information for authors, especially those who might consider submitting works to our press. This first article consists of a slightly revised version on an essay I wrote several years ago, entitled “On Becoming Indigenous.”

The essay follows:

On Becoming Indigenous

Indigenous — autochthonal: originating where it is found; Living or occurring naturally in a specific area or environment; native; the native people of a place

Indigenousness is a relative concept. Among mobile humans, it is especially so. Cultures, from the beginning of human history have replaced other cultures, often violently, but more often through a slow process of assimilation or displacement.

One group of my ancestors, the Cherokees, are often said to be the indigenous people of the Smokey Mountains. The Mississippian culture that existed there before them might dispute that claim, if it still existed. But even the Mississippian culture did not “originate where it is (was) found.” Only Africans can claim that.

Still, in the broader sense of native, it is fair to say that the Native Americans in general are the indigenous people of the Americas, just as we are all an indigenous species of Planet Earth.

This is not to denigrate the idea of the indigenous. European, African, and Asian peoples are newcomers to this hemisphere, and it is essential that we recognize the importance of the displaced natives, because they are the ones whose roots go deepest in the soil.

My point is that in ten thousand years, if our species survives that long, our current mixture of native and invasive cultures will all be blurred together in history, and our commonalities will be considered the indigenous culture of the ancient past.

We are all becoming indigenous in that historical sense. We are becoming of this place and this history and this road forward together.

With the arrival of the first European invaders, Native Americans were violently uprooted from their past, cut off from their traditions, and their language, and their sacred places. African slaves, also, were pulled up like a crop from its soil, and replanted in a strange land. Others have fled imperialism, war, persecution, and impoverishment to arrive here. In the wake of this disruption, all of us, Native, African, Asian, and European, have constructed a new identity for ourselves. An American identity. Here I am talking about all of the Americas, not just this nation we call “America”.

As individuals, we have the capacity of making choices. We can take the best our ancestors have to offer us, combine that wisdom with our own knowledge and experience, and take that path forward. Or not. But our combined wisdom is what we have to offer the future. So, take it or leave it to die in the dustbin of history. Our choice.

Among the many Native American stereotypes is the wise elder who respects the earth and honors the ancestors. Like the noble savage, this stereotype is a romanticization, displacing the reality of a people in cultural decay, faced with poverty, alcoholism, unemployment, and lost heritage. Somewhere in there is a truth, but we must take the whole package. Wisdom requires knowing what we want and what we don’t want. We must understand what we have lost, in order to avoid losing it again.

The history and culture of all of our ancestors, red, black, white, or brown, contains wisdom and truth. It also contains folly. In this ever-changing sea of cultural fluidity and displacement, we have a choice. We each, individually and collectively, create together the culture and ethos of our time.

 

 

My 2012 Goals

It’s been over a year now since I’ve last blogged here. Since then I’ve spent six weeks in Europe and Great Britain; Patricia and I have moved into a new home in Portland’s Milepost 5 arts community; we’ve done some vital work in getting Elohi Gadugi and The Habit of Rainy Nights Press on a more solid footing; we’re on the verge of releasing Navigation, a new book of poetry by Brittney Corrigan; and I’ve nearly finished Entanglement, the second novel in the Sweetland Trilogy. All of that is not meant as an excuse for neglecting my blog, however.

I thought, getting back into the blogging game, I would talk a bit about our goals for the coming year.

At the top of the list for The Habit of Rainy Nights Press is launching Brittney Corrigan’s Navigation, which has a street date of April 1st, and an official launch party here at Milepost 5, on Sunday, April 15th. We’ve learned a lot about internet promotion and marketing since our last book in 2010, and we have a new poetry editor, Ger Killeen, on board, to help us give it the push we need. We also have plans to publish a new book of poetry in the fall by Ralph Salisbury, and we are searching for a work of fiction that fits within our criteria.

After a few years of false starts, we want to finally launch Elohi Gadugi Journal this year. We are still in the design phase. Elohi Gadugi Journal, an online literary magazine, tag-lined “Narratives for a New World”, will feature poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, artwork, and editorials. We will have semi-themed quarterly “issues” which will continue to be updated through the duration of the issue. There will be an annual print edition of the best of Elohi Gadugi Journal.

We currently sponsor a monthly reading and open-mic event called Readings@Milepost 5, which occurs every second Tuesday. We hope to take advantage of the theater at Milepost 5 to sponsor author events for poets and writers whose works or presentations fall under our mission.

On the personal front, this is the year I finish Entanglement, and move on the The Uncertainty Principle, the third novel in the Sweetland Trilogy. It’s undoubtedly going to be a full year. Oh, and did I say I plan to blog regularly, again.

Wordstock – Portland, Oregon

We went to Wordstock today walking the mile and a half there in a steady drizzle. One umbrella between us, which I used because Duane has a hat. Just the one umbrella. I’ve lost too many of them to be trusted with one of my own. It really didn’t seem like that much of a rain, but we were damp by the time we got to the Convention Center. There were not many attending Wordstock. Not like in years past. Something a little depressing about it this year. I don’t know when they started charging for the event, but I think that has something to do with the lower turnout.

We cruised the booths. I had a nice chat with a couple of vendors. Duane and I went to our friend’s reading and there really wasn’t anyone else we were interested in hearing until much later in the afternoon and even though we paid $7 to get in, we left to find something to eat and go home. We talked about why Wordstock seemed so unsatisfying this year. We figured that most of the attendees were writers or people involved in the publishing industry in some way. The exhibitors were much the same–writers and publishers. Nothing wrong with that. Except that something is missing. It isn’t creative or exciting. It’s restrictive, traditional, stodgy.

Portland has a tendency to be stodgy in spite of all the young creatives everyone claims have moved here in droves, in spite all the tattoo parlors and micro-brew pubs, at heart Portland has always been the sort of city a little afraid to color outside the lines. At least on the surface and it is on the surface where Wordstock takes place. What Portland needs is an underground literary festival for all the fringe dwellers and marginalised folk, the ones who can’t afford the Writer’s Dojo or writing jaunts to Prague with their favorite author. It should take place on the streets and in the coffee houses and small bookstores. It should take place in the tattoo parlors and brew-pubs.

A proper literary festival would be a celebration. It would be a recognition of language as the primary medium of culture. It would explore the history of story, the politics and economics of literature, the state of the publishing industry, how literature has been shaped by invention–the printing press, the internet. There would be discussions on the impact of film on literature, the search for authentic voice, and translation. It would involve theater and meaningful workshops.

People would read their work, sell it, trade it, give it away. We might come to understand that the tradition of word is an endlessly evolving creative stream and we could walk away dazzled by our own dreams, which is how it should be.