Tonight is cold in Oklahoma, colder than usual, and my Oklahoma winter memories go way back. Since I arrived here yesterday morning from Honolulu I’ve heard many stories of the big storm of snow, ice and cold. I’ve heard of ice several inches thick and solid. Of a week of days missed at work, of spectacular wrecks and close calls. Without question, the weather patterns are changing: snow in Malibu, saguaros crusted with ice in Tucson, and a record-breaking 56 degrees in Hilo, Hawaii a few nights ago. We know we’re in a shift of meaning; we’re not sure of where it’s taking us and how we’re going to get there. I suspect that uncertainty is tied to the prodigious amounts of drugs taken by the population. Most are prescription drugs given for depression, for inability to sleep, or wake up. And then drugs are given to counteract the effects and side effects of those. And then drugs are given to counter what happens when you mix the drug with the antidote. What happened to: how are you feeling? And where does it hurt? How’s it going at home? How are your children? What can we do about it? The manifestation of disease or pain isn’t always physical. It can take awhile for trauma to settle into the bones, muscles, nerves, organs, or the consciousness.
This is year of the Oklahoma Centennial. Oklahoma, the 46th state in the United States is celebrating one hundred years of statehood. The state’s motto is the “Sooner State” has always confounded me. Why elevate the Sooners who were those who crossed over the line illegally to stake land claims in one of the largest organized (illegal) land takeovers?
Consider this, Oklahoma: a takeover of Oklahoma as you know and love it, the Oklahoma you have created with all of its malls, institutions, churches, schools and houses, by a society of people who believe you don’t really live here because you don’t embody their idea of human, your institutions aren’t like theirs, or you aren’t really using the land in the manner in which they would use it. They have an edict by their God who tells them that they are a righteous people. These lands are theirs by birthright. You don’t matter. They have firepower and numbers of them pour in to take whatever resources are there in your beloved lands. And because they can takeover they believe that this is proof they are right. And you who are here aren’t really here, unless you conform to their ways, recreate yourselves in the new mind, within the new system of belief they have instituted over yours. And now they want you to celebrate with them the creation of this state of being, even as they have essentially erased you from their history, their land, their civilization.
I believe that most people are good people. Light shines through human mistakes. Those who took over the land, and their descendents who continue the takeover attitude and still believe they are right are young in their souls and misguided. I believe most would do better if they knew better. Some would not and will not. The Oklahoma story is the story of colonization throughout the whole world, and it’s still going on, even in Iraq. At the core is disrespect for others: humans, plants, animals, minerals, earth, ocean, and sky. Or the belief that these are things to be used for the benefit of one group of humans. So how does Indian Oklahoma recover such an assault of the spirit? We can fight, but we will lose. Fighting will destroy us. We can give up, or despair. Indian America has one of the highest suicide, alcohol, diabetes, and other social ill rates. We cannot ask the implanted society to give us our dignity, our rights, our sovereignty. We must turn within, towards that which has always sustained us, vnvketkv, our root ways, which are characterized by respect. We must create and nurture our own Mvskoke State of Mind.
When I had the band, Poetic Justice, Willie Johnson, from Isleta Pueblo was my right-hand guitar player. His day job was as a judge at another pueblo. The job was frustrating because he dealt directly with the fallout from grief, anger, self-hatred, and depression in the cases that came through his court. His hair had begun to turn white. One day he lost it, he said. He demanded that the whole tribe be brought in for counseling, together! (He eventually quit that job, and his hair stopped turning white.) Maybe we need to start there.
Why not use this centennial as a wake up call, to take hold of our beloved nation and remember who we really are in this time and place. We must take the lead in how we will re-imagine ourselves. We can find everything we need to stabilize ourselves within our culture, our language. Within that security and growth, we can then synthesize and grow. Cultures resemble bio systems. We need a flow in and out for a healthy and live system. Navajo rugs came out of taking what was useful from the Spanish and Pueblos and making something that has become quintessentially Navajo. Our Mvskoke music is at the root of the American musics of jazz, blues and rock, and we don’t even know it. We need to claim our place. No one else is going to give it to us. Right now we appear stuck between what the “over-culture” has demanded of us, our acquiescence to a system of belief that doesn’t honor us, and our own culture and knowledge that we are holding on so tight to keep safe, that as those carriers die we are losing everything. It won’t be easy. We have to take a look at everything at the most intimate level. Does what we are thinking, eating, doing, being sustain or celebrate who we are? Do our dreams, thoughts and deeds honor us?
Earlier this month I began two classes from a native Hawaiian organization Native Nations Foundation: an ukulele class in which we learn songs in Hawaiian, and a Hawaiian chant class taught by master chanter and cultural leader, Keali’i Gora. As I learn I can’t help but think about our Mvskoke language and culture. In these classes we learn songs and song forms; some are of a distinct cultural synthesis. The ukulele came from Portugal, brought in by Portuguese immigrants. Now it’s become essentially Hawaiian. The chants are haunting and beautiful song-poems in Hawaiian that hold within them culture and spirit. They are used for protocol and honor and dignify everyone wherever they are used. They were nearly extinct a few years ago, even outlawed by the over takers, until the people made a decision to recover them. There are other classes in hula kahiko (the old style hula, not the tourist style) and other cultural forms. The children are being grounded in these forms, and even the kapuna, or elderly are learning. Keali’i pointed out in class that he is amazed at the number of kapuna who are learning the forms, after they were turned from them in younger years, and are now traveling around the Pacific performing. We Mvskoke have our own forms that would be honored if we used them, revived them. Let’s start here.
There are more snowstorms coming. Use this weather to gather together the materials we need to grow our nation.