Last night I gave a musical performance with Larry Mitchell for the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. We were given a numbered parking permit for a covered meter at the front of the student union. When we drove up the space was illegally taken by a red sports car with emergency blinking lights. No one was in the car. We couldn’t load for sound check until we could park. The university police were called to tow the car. Shortly, four young jocks strode from the union with overnight bags to the car. Once they saw us, and security warned them to move, they slowed with a deliberate hatefulness. In their eyes, we had no business being on campus. We were not white. Fury rolled over me. I thought of the words George Coser, Jr. told me that had come from his parents, and had come from their parents; all the way back to the original teachings of our Mvskoke people. His words were something like this: “no matter what happens, stay in the direction of kindness.” I restrained myself from leaping out and pounding the driver with words (and yes, I have succumbed before) and turned my energy toward what I was there for that night. I saw that if I had acted on fury I would have given the sick man some of my energy. And in turn, I would have taken on some of that hatefulness. This is the school that has been at the center of the Indian mascot controversy.
In the last month I have been to Anchorage, Alaska, to the En’owkin Centre, a native arts and cultures center on the Okanagan Reserve in British Columbia, Canada. I assisted in the visioning of the International Native Writing School. They were having a thirty-year anniversary. And then I flew to Berlin, Germany, to New Mexico, and now here. I carry stories from each place and have met our people in many of those places (except Berlin, but our people have traveled there. Some things that belong to us are in their museums) but the most touching and powerful story along the way recently was from last night, at the concert.
A Ho-Chunk and Hopi recent graduate, Angie Naquayouma, from Wisconsin brought her husband and four young children to the performance. They all sat on the front row: a beautiful native family. I was impressed with the behavior of the children. I did perform some things specifically for children, and children always love the saxophone and flutes. The children were well behaved throughout the hour and a half performance. At the end of the performance we had our photograph taken together. But what was most impressive and what I will always carry in my heart is that each child, before they left, beginning with the oldest, came over and expressed how much they enjoyed the performance. The oldest child, a boy of about seven, told me that he was happy to get out of a boring meeting to come and he really enjoyed the music, the next three young ones came in turn, and each very eloquently spoke. They have been trained to be real human beings. Yes, we will make it somehow, through the delusion of fast food and fast culture. This kind of behavior and speaking elevates all of us.
And finally, during a break at the one-day Indigenous Sexualities Conference, I heard that when the movie “Dances with Wolves” came out, the Native American Educational Services College in Chicago was called by area sperm banks for donations by Indian men. Now, why does this not surprise me?