Monday, July 23, 2012

perhaps Zephaniah was a Ghost Dancer

"Big Foot" at the Grass Dance, August 1890, taken by Major Sherman Miles, Smithsonian Collection

Just four months after this picture was taken, most of the People in this photo were murdered at Wounded Knee. Many of these folks were also Ghost Dancers.... I know this because I have seen the Ghost Shirts... literally.

...it has occurred to me... since the People who were murdered at Wounded Knee were from the northeast corner of this Reservation... I might have an incredible and untapped resource for finding descendants and relatives that pre-date the massacre by a decade --the handwritten volumes of baptismal records.

Except I can't access them, because the names are all written in Lakota, and most families today use English translations --like Circle Eagle or Swift Bird.

But, the parents of those baptized are all listed... some dating back in to the 1820s. Whole families are listed.

I am not sure how all that family information might help, just have a hunch it might. Somehow.

And that all the survivors and injured of the massacre were taken to the Episcopal Church... leaves me wondering what other type records might exist.

And just when I think all the reasons for doing this Wounded Knee work are obvious, whole new panoramas click in to place... --and I read:

“They tried extermination, they tried assimilation, they broke every single treaty they ever made with us,” White Plume said. “They took away our horses. They outlawed our language. Our ceremonies were forbidden.” White Plume is insistent about the depth and breadth of the policies and laws by which the U.S. government sought to quash Native Americans, but his delivery is uncomplainingly matter-of-fact. “Our holy leaders had to go underground for nearly a century.” It wasn’t until Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, in 1978, that any interference in native spiritual practices was made a crime. “And yet our ceremonies survived, our language survived,” White Plume said.

Buried deep within the pages of the 2010 Defense appropriations bill, signed by President Barack Obama in December 2009, is an official apology “to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.” The resolution commends those states “that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes,” but there is no mention of reparations, nor of honoring long-broken treaties.

White Plume lit one of his rolled-up cigarettes and squinted at me through a ribbon of smoke. “Do you know what saved me from becoming a cold-blooded murderer? My language saved me. There is no way for me to be hateful in my language. It’s such a beautiful, gentle language. It’s so peaceful.” Then White Plume started to speak in Lakota, and there was no denying the words came softly.
--and I know this fight is not mine, except what is given to me to do, by the People. And, so, today, I will go and meet with the People... the ones I meet with trying to get the objects in the custody of the tribe known, seen, used --or copied and then the originals buried, as they should have been so long ago.

It is a very white thing to hang on to objects, trying to preserve them....

In the 1990s I worked the NAGPRA (Native American Grave Repatriation Act) from the other side --when I was a museum curator in Oregon, and appointed by the Governor to sit on the State Historic Preservation Board. I remember saying at that time that the objects needed to be returned to the tribes, and hearing the cascade of laments and criticism --that the objects would not be properly cared for.... and me saying that wasn't our problem --our problem was to return the objects --a minority voice among preservationists. So, I am not surprised that now I stand with many of the descendants saying the shirts and other objects must be buried for the healing to begin.

But, it is so conflicting... because here and now, these same descendants are wanting to show the artifacts to a group trying to raise awareness about Wounded Knee... to educate and inspire.

While other descendants are objecting, to the point of law suits... the objects being imbued with the spirit of those who wore them, and they must not be exploited --and showing them is exploitation.

--and there is so much I cannot say.... So much that I saw last week... and I cannot/will not say --cannot/will not do. For the sake of the people.

And so I will pray.

At prayer this morning on the Feast of Mary Magdalene (Zephaniah 3:14-20)

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

Dang. Perhaps Zephaniah was a Ghost Dancer....

--yeah....

5 comments:

motheramelia said...

I had just brought home my copy of National Geographic from the post office when I read your post. It made me pick it up and read the whole thing. Some of the story I know from my short year and a half in Gillette and I cry every time I learn more. Broken promises. Disrespect of cultures other than "ours". The good news is that there ate people who survive and work for change even when things seem bleakest. Your own history as story teller and advocate and your priestly ministry of blessing and forgiving are soooo needed where you are. Prayers and blessings.

Joel said...

Hmmm... ... the objects being imbued with the spirit of those who wore them...

Been thinking on this all morning. Thank you. Could we say that these, or this-particular object, literally relates me to this person or event, NOT "spiritually" i.e., non-materially, but actually, hence sacra+mentis+ ly? A third-thing relating me to the wearer. Yes, I am "spiritually" (hate the word) to Jesus, but in the Eucharist I am materially related to his body in the flesh and blood other persons, and we together-as-one (συν), together-with him and the bread/wine, thusly 3 things in relation, a Triad, in real time and place (κοινωνία). Otherwise there is no relation between me and the shirt or me and the person, directly at all, no relation between me and the Living or Incarnationalist God or the bread/ wine, or another person at all.?

kishnevi said...

sounds like we have a case of "saint's relics" here--which is a useful device to get us to focus, and maybe "relate" in some way to the person associated with the relic--to get them to "realize" what those people were in te most basic sense of "making it real"; but the moment you start focusing on the relic and not the saint, the relic begins to lose its purpose.

My rational mind tells me that keeping these relics to help others realize what the People endured is A Good Thing, but my irrational mind reminds me that, not being one of the People, I have no idea how the matter feels to someone who is one of the People and had therefore better keep my mouth shut. But being Jewish, I can offer a parallel that might help.
Normal practice for Torah scrolls, prayerbooks, prayer shawls, phylacteries and other holy objects which have in or them the Holy Name of God are, when too damaged to be used or repaired, buried in a "grave" in the middle of a normal Jewish cemeteries, in a manner similar to a funeral for a human--although usually the objects are stored until enough of them are gathered to fill up one gravesite. However, those objects which survived the Shoah but could not be repaired afterwards, are often not buried, but have been purchased over the years by synagogues, Jewish communal groups, or even simply individuals, and displayed as a sort of small scale Holocaust memorial. (Some of these objects are actually not damaged, or have been repaired to a degree that allows them to be fit for use, but are fragile enough that it's better to keep them as relics, and some have simply been repaired and returned to use, although sometimes kept for special occasions.) My synagogue has one such Torah scroll displayed in the lobby, partially unscrolled so that some of the parchment frames can be read through the glass case.
The ordeals of 1933-1949 (because it's actually more than just what the Nazis themselves did) more or less break, or at least bend, all the rules. And for the People, I would suspect that the ordeals of the 19th and 20th century break and bend all the rules too.

But I guess what you have here is a case of the Greater of Two Goods (isn't that a pleasant change from Lesser of Two Evils)--respecting the dead and the tradition by burying them, or respecting the dead and their suffering by keeping the relics available for others to "connect" with them.
And it's obviously up to the People to decide which Good is the greater one.

David said...

Whoever thought Ruach would find an Episcopal priest with your background in museum curatorship for just this time at Eagle Butte? lol
what a wonder!

kishnevi said...

David, no wonder at all.
Co-incidence, after all, is just God being more obvious than usual.