MNN Column for April 2009

I’m in the last week of my show here in Los Angeles. A few days ago I took a break and hung out with Charlie Hill, the Oneida comedian. We had a late lunch at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, one place in town that serves Oklahoma/reservation food. Then we walked around near Sunset and Vine, browsed around record stores and visited. Friendship is one of the finest gifts, worth more than nearly anything on this earth. Charlie is funny, deeply philosophical and he’s given me helpful notes that have improved my performance. We stopped at an ATM machine and there in the middle of a city of over nine million human souls, we just happened to meet a young woman who just happened to be half Oneida, from Charlie’s home, and half Seminole. (Her father is an Osceola). Yoklot Cornelius is a student at the fashion institute and has been finding her way around, just as Charlie did when he came to the city years ago at about the same age. After meeting Yoklot Charlie reminisced about leaving home up North for California those many years ago. He might as well have been going to the moon. He talked about walking around the streets alone, knowing no one, and always keeping an eye open for other Indian people. I consider what it took for him to leave home, and to find his way into performing at the highly competitive, fiercely paced comedy clubs of the city, as a reservation kid. He followed his dream, and being a comedian isn’t an easy dream. (I’m convinced Charlie and I were standing at the back of the line when they were passing out careers: comedian and poet!) Look for him and a crew of other native comedians he’s mentored in a Showtime special soon. Charlie will be featured with: Larry Omaha, Yaqui; J.R. Redwater, Lakota; Jim Ruel, Ojibwe; Vaughn Eagle Bear, Colville; and Marc Yaffee, Navajo. Cheer them on.

This is from my friend Candyce Childers from Eagle River, Alaska. Her comments on subsistence remind me that the system of the "over-culture", or, commodity-culture is torqued by selfishness. It is coming undone.

" I went to a public forum at the university discussing the future of subsistence. It was interesting to hear people's perspective on subsistence as a concept. One panelist (Yupik) commented that subsistence and the myriad ways it is regulated is insensitive and bizarre. He drew a comparison between the land as our Native grocery and the grocery stores in the city. He asked the audience to imagine that in order to get food from the grocery in the city we all had to apply for permission. And imagine that we were told we could only go grocery shopping two weeks out of the year during which you must get everything your family of 6 will need for the next winter. On top of that, you could not use a car, bus or other mechanical transport to go to the grocery but must walk. It was powerful and moving.

Another interesting point that a panelist made was how our ancestors handled individuals who were selfish. Even if a man was a good hunter it wasn't a guarantee that he could remain a community member. The community survived by living communally. Everyone had to share their resources and when an individual failed to do so they would banish or kill him. The reasoning was that he would eventually cause the death of the entire village either literally from starvation or from division. Imagine how disruptive it was to have missionaries and teachers move in with their values of individualism and competition."

Thanks Candyce. The over-culture is failing because it didn’t have roots deep in the earth. We will learn to live right again, all of us.

Finally, I just got a report from home. Now there are two redbird families in the yard: two males with their wives. The guys are chasing each other around the yard. The females are sitting together on the telephone wire, visiting each other.

Isn't that exactly how it is?


Keeping it Up

Okay. I haven't blogged in awhile.
Can there be too many words?
Too much communication?
We can only hear the soul in silence.



Spring at Gila River Reservation

c Joy Harjo March 2009

I walked around in the desert a few weeks ago. Nothing else smells like the desert in the early morning. Remembered how Josiah Moore told me many stories of this place.