Friday, September 23, 2011

California Indian Day 2011

Today was California Indian day. 

So few people are aware of this holiday. Even natives of California are unaware of this official holiday. Notice that I used the lower case form of the word "native". There is a difference. A California native is someone that was born here. They are a native of this state. But at California Native is an indigenous person from the State of California. That seems like such an obvious distinction that needs no explanation. However, most people are unaware that California Natives even exist. 

Ask someone about the image that comes to mind when you say Native American. You will likely be given a description of one of the Lakota actors from Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves. The reality is that, depending on the region you visit, Natives look completely different. For some reason people are able to accept that Africans and African-Americans come in different shades, heights, hair textures and facial features. The same is true of white Americans and Latin Americans. When it comes to Native Americans, there remains only one true image. 

The tall, dark, long-haired, stoic images that first come to mind remain the most prevalent. Perhaps this is the reason California Indians have yet to be "discovered". If no one ever thinks of the wavy haired woman with the basket hat or the barefoot baby in a cradle basket, the California Indian will not exist. Even in moments when they are on the verge of discovery, they are erased. Case in point, the ghost dance. Most frequently the ghost dance is attributed to the Lakota and the Cherokee. In reality it originated with the Paiute on the California / Nevada border. Though I have met many of Lakota who play "Indian celebrity" to the occasional groupie by taking credit for this dance, I have yet to meet one that acknowledges it's origin. Even the language used during the dance is Paiute. Yet, few people know who they are. 

Every year I set out on the pow wow trail or powwow trail if you prefer. I like to watch the younger dancers that are in training. I like to look at the craftsmanship of the regalia. Occasionally, I even dance. Not much to say about that, I'm a Northern Plains Indian. However, I live in California. Though I may receive flyers requesting my attendance at a local big time, one I arrive there I see nothing of the sort. Babies are in cradleboards rather than cradle baskets. The regalia looks strikingly similar to that of the Lakota or my tribe, Siksika.

Perhaps what California Indians need is more than just a day. Perhaps they need a movie to show they exist. There was one back in approximately 1996 called Grand Avenue. It was about a Pomo family, though the actors were Menominee, Inuit, Metis, Cree, Dakota, and Ojibwe to name a few. The movie was about Pomo Indians and none were cast as the lead characters. 

My hope is that one day, California Indian Day will become a federal holiday like Columbus Day. Then California Indians will no longer be invisible.

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