Somewhere to Somewhere

Faded marble, faux labyrinthine cathedral architecture — a fitting mausoleum  for a bygone age.  Three quarters of the  structure roped off, closed, abandoned for years.  The trains look so rusted and tired.  The baggage handlers, clerks, conductors, all old, cold efficient, move with beleaguered weariness as well.

Denver for a moment, though where I am does not matter.  Limbo is my true abode.  Boston is my destination.  Falling through the cracks, getting lost in the gearworks of America, torn to pulverized gristle, is my true direction.

Something seems so colossal and terrifying about this monolithic, technological world.  Can a person be an alien to a place, a time, a society, they have been enveloped within for twenty years?  I’m an enormous man, yet I am so small in the metropolitan anthill of anonymity.

I take in the persons surrounding me with an alien’s perplexity.

A woman with a son perhaps four years old latches to whomever will listen to her talk about riding these trains to find herself, her desire to start over someplace new.

An older man in a raincoat talks to the woman about his ministry.  His tone too happy glibness, stinking of snake oil and used car salesmen.

A travelling performer, part of a troupe of five, entertains the woman’s son by juggling scarves.

At some point the PA crackles on.

“We regret to inform you, the 11 PM train coming in from from Santa Fe will not be arriving.  There has been a break in the tracks.  The train will now leave 11 PM tomorrow night.”

I throw my backpack behind my head as a cushion.  I guess this beaten down wooden bench is my bed tonight.  After awhile, I relocate to a dilapidated carpet down a closed hallway.  The carpet is quieter, red glow of an exit sign almost soothing.

I lay, half-sleeping.  Two security guards emerge from a door and look at me.  They do not tell me to move.  They say nothing.  Yet their glance tells all.  I will not be allowed to linger.

So I walk out of the station, rose hued dusk creeping the downtown skyscraper facades.  A melange of lights, melted candy colored, twinkle, strobe, pulse, and dance.

It is near Christmas.  Totally alone, you forget these things.  Holidays cease to have meaning when you are outside of everything.

Women and men in business casual wander storefronts, looking for the latest techno bauble to buy their children.  Yet look, and it is obvious two worlds overlap on the street.  The business casual world doing their best to pretend the other world does not exist, even when it is walking alongside them.

The other world, the less polished human detritus, my world, looks for a heating vent to warm their backs against.  Suburbanites, mostly 9-to-5, middle income, middle class, make haste between buildings.  We the dregs, the driftwood, castaway, world wanderers, addicts, all who never fit anywhere in this machine, shuffle leisurely.  When you are going nowhere there is no reason to arrive quickly.

We will still be here in the cold when the rest huddle from the bonechill winds in their houses.  We will press our face against the plexiglass watching lights of yet another town fade behind us, no roots to lay, as they enjoy their family and friends.

Walking the streets of an unknown place where you know no one is cloaked with strange invisibility.  People are aware of the dimensions of your physical being, moving so as not to collide into you.  But no one notices you.  You could lay on the ground, curl in a fetal position and die.  No one would notice.  They would just step around you.

A man with a placard around his neck declaring that the end times are near in bold red letters meanders downtown hollering.  Most shoot him an annoyed, amused glance and move on.  One perhaps college aged woman yells “right on dude”.

Always amazing what the unknown streets bring and take away in an instant.  A woman, short, maybe not even five feet tall, captivates my attention as I stand waiting for a stoplight to change.

I don’t wish to stare.  Yet dying sunlight catches her hair on fire and it is absolutely resplendent.  She is talking to a homeless man on a bench.  Something about her poise impresses me.  I catch a snippet of their conversation:

“I saw you, and wanted to see if you were alright…”

And I want to meet this short woman who talks to the homeless in the downtown.  I’m curious about her story.  Yet I move past, saying nothing, to never see her again.  It is for the best that I remain unattached.  It is for the best I move like a ghost through the world.  Barely seen, barely heard, just passing through everything.

And really, what did I think could possibly happen doing otherwise?  Would I make a friend?  But what good would that be, when in a day the trains would take me away forever?  Was I attracted to the woman?  Should I have asked her on a date?  But where could that possibly go?

“Hey, I’m riding the edge of oblivion, with next to no money, jumping trains to avoid the emptiness of life, hoping what’s over the horizon is better than what I left behind, filled with questions that have no answer, and journeying without destination.  I like you.  Care to attach yourself to this rolling stone?”

Sounds romantic, but there is nothing safe about the journey I’m undertaking.  And involving anyone else on this road is probably irresponsible.  I have no idea where this all leads.  The road sometimes spins such beauty before me, persons that intrigue me so much.  But I leave them behind.  I rarely try to delve too deep into knowing anyone.  Because the deeper I know them, the deeper it will gouge when I have to leave them.  When they are just relics of the lights of a town fading further down the highway.

The sun is gone now.  Several persons huddle against the exhaust grates for warmth.  Some settle in alleyways, wrapped in large coats or blankets.  I return to the train station.  I sprawl out on one of the giant wooden benches.  They have turned some of the flourescent lights off.  The glow is not so harsh.  I tie my bags to my hand, so they cannot be easily pilfered should I fall asleep.  I try to get as comfortable as possible with a backpack for a pillow, an ancient wood bench as my bed.

We Are Nature: An Attack On The Environment Is An Attack On Human Communities

Speaking on protests in North Dakota staged at Standing Rock reservation over the construction of the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline, American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks had this to say:

When they threaten the environment, they’re threatening you. We are part mountain. We are part ocean. We are part river. We are part flower and grass and tree. All of this, we are part of all of it, so that when they threaten the environment anyplace, they’re threatening you.

In one sense, nothing could be more unalienable and self-explanatory.  Human beings exist within a great chain of multisplendent flora & fauna, within a wonderful array of seismic, hydrological, chemical, meteorological, climatological processes.  As a species, we are inside everything in nature and outside nothing.  Dial any of nature’s processes up or down even slightly and human existence, human society, human civilization faces massive change and disruption.

We need the sun.  Our planet’s distance from the sun provides a temperature range where life can flourish.  The sun provides energy for plants to metabolize through photosynthesis.  No ecosystem exists without plants, and without plants every other being tumbles into non-existence, there being no sources of food for anything living.  We need the land in a state of arability so we can grow or farm.  Without rich topsoil to grow things, famine rules the land.  We need water, clean and drinkable, non-toxic to the biology of everything from a plant to a person.  Any person goes without water about three days, they will die.  We need every step of the ecosystem, the various creatures and plants, in so many ways.  Ways often unforeseen but crucial — just look what the extinction of bees may do to the entire earthly system of life.

I cannot make this point enough: we are nature.  We are inside of it all.  We are a part of it all.  Our existence as human beings depends on and is affected by every process and living entity that collected together we call nature.

Again in one sense, nothing could be more unalienable and self-explanatory.  Yet in another sense,  in a sense that may be the default view of technological, industrial society, no concept is more alien and hard to understand than our own human connectedness to nature.

Many of us live in a world abstracted from nature.  Intellectually, we could assent to the fact that we would die without water, that we need a cornucopia of sustenance from the soil to be healthy, that breathing air burdened by a thousand toxins will kill us if not immediately then probably of some kind of cancer as our years in the poisoned air accumulate.

Yet many of us, especially in the modernized industrial world, are removed several layers from the necessity and vitality of nature that under girds our everything as human beings.  These basic facts of human existence remain merely an intellectual thing.  As if we are several stories up a massive tower, where it is hard to even see miles below to the foundation our whole structure depends upon.  We can logically assent to there being a foundation, but often don’t connect with it in a way that registers as being of high importance.

The cause and effect is not so easy to see when we live in glass and concrete megaliths, surrounded by so many miracles of the progression of knowledge and science.  Our electrical girds, modern medicine, blocks of asphalt, the domicile cellworks of apartments and suburbs, the water that appears from the tap almost as if magic, seemingly infinite and summoned with ease, the grocery store housing every variety of food, it all has an obscuring effect on much of society.  It is hard to see our human roots in the water, earth and air through so many abstractions of convenience.

This fog of abstractions is so thick that many people simply cannot see through it and ask questions like: why would you fight an oil pipeline?  And the answer is simple, yet perhaps needs reiteration: because it could poison the water, and water is life.  What would any of us be without clean water?  Water is a foundation and every single other thing we may stand for topples without clean water to drink.  Our human communities are not separate from their most foundational needs for water, air and soil.  The roots might be hard to see, as far advanced into the rarefied clouds propelled by technology and progress that we have risen.  Yet sever those roots of water, earth and air, and all of this comes crashing down quickly.  We eventually find we are part of the chain we are so determined to poison and dominate.

In a sense, this should not need to be explained.  Yet the fog of abstractions has removed many of us so far from the viscerality of the natural world human communities are inextricably dependent on.  So I think maybe some benefit exists in going back to step one: we are nature.  Our communities are nature.  Our well being will forever be tied with the health of the rivers, the oceans, the mountains, the forests, the soil.

Until the day comes where we can drink toxic potpourri instead of water, where we can subsist on desertification rather than fruits of the earth, where we can breathe the contents of poison smog instead of air, then we need to care about what happens to all these things.  For the sake of ourselves, for the sake of our families and communities, and for the sake of the generations that will follow us.

And for all the technological marvels and wonderment this society has bestowed on its inhabitants there is one place I think it has often significantly erred.  That error is viewing humankind as separate from all the naturalistic processes we are always and have always been encompassed within.  It is foolish to think we can destroy or pollute with impunity and think it will not eventually come back around to hurt us most of all.  For how backward and primitive industrial society thought Native Americans were throughout history, many Natives understood this basic human connectedness to the natural world, like this quote from Chief Seattle illustrates:

All things are bound together. All things connect. Whatever happens to the Earth happens to the children of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. (Chief Seattle)

To come full circle to what is occurring right now at Standing Rock, and many frontlines for indigenous struggles around the world, I think many of us retain some understanding of this basic truth of connectedness.  Even if we walk in two worlds, and adopt some of the technological world to fit our current situations, we still understand our communities will suffer and die if the natural world is poisoned, if the clean air, water and soil is allowed to be desecrated with toxins.

Though it may be hard to see beyond the fog of all the abstractions of convenience, I wish more people would try to connect with those basic necessities of water, soil and air.  Realize how important they are to protect.  How much more infinitely precious they are than the temporary monetary gains of a handful of persons at the top of an oil corporation.

It is not just an indigenous issue or struggle, though it tends to affect us lopsidedly as we are toward the bottom of society and seen as an acceptable place to offload the risks of these oil ventures.  It is something that affects everyone, as soon as they see past the fog, and realize the foundation every human thing rests upon, that the air, water and soil is everything.

Resistance Is Love: On What I Love

Contrary to the opinion of some I don’t get high on fire.  I take no joy in pushing collapsing things toward their doom.  Destruction, even of what deserves to be destroyed, is no cause for elation.  I do not spit acid for the sake of burning scatter shots in the fabric of everything good.

Sometimes I am asked: why do I not talk about the things I love?  Why am I taking aim at something all the time?  Why am I destroying rather than building?

Yet the question “what do you love?” is an indicator someone has not been reading or listening closely.  Even at my most acerbic there is love.  My discontent has its roots in love.

I’ll quote a song by Remember Me Feral that resonates with me:

“People often mistake the spirit of resistance.  They see it as anger and hatred, and imagine its taste to be bitter.  But resistance is founded in love.  We find some things so beautiful, and love them so deeply, so urgently, that when we identify systemic oppression that endangers them, we must resist. People often misjudge this motivation, and feel it is a personal attack on them as individuals. But resistance is not something to be feared or to hold disdain for.  Resistance is a passionate movement for the preservation of beauty.”

Though not in the least mysterious, leavened through absolutely everything as I think it is, I have no problem answering that question “what do you love?” directly.

I love the land.  I love the soil underneath me.  I love the air surrounding me.  I love the water and the nourishment it gives.  I love the sun.  I love all the iterations and tonalities of light.  I love the darkness, the dusken autumnal winds.  I love the sunrise, the sunset, and starry night sky.  I love the heat of summer, even as it incites wildfires that clog the sky with acrid smoke.  I love the winter, even as its  blizzards swarm the roads I must travel with ice.  The land is so beautiful.  Even as it is lethal, towering above and beyond me, liable to snuff out my existence with with even its gentle roiling.

I love the seasons.  I love the cycles of the land coursing through history without botherment.  I love the creatures.  Their struggle, their formation, how they fit their environments, how they make what they can of their brevity.  I love their beautiful ephemerality.  I love the million skulls and skeletons cradled by dust where they fell.  I love the plants.  I love the grass, sunbleached, or green and pregnant with rain.  I love the trees, tall and venerable, casting shadows.  I love that the earth is not a dead place.  Nearly everywhere you step there is life.

Loving this land, why should I not oppose the pipelines that will cut across the purity of water with their oil poison?  Why should I not oppose the efforts to extract the uranium poison that is the most lethal substance humankind has ever known?  Why should I not lament all the old things that used to grow, but have gone nearly extinct in the last hundred years or so?  Why should I have any respect for the systematic exploitation and destruction of this beauty for the profiteering of a miniscule few on top of the capitalist pyramid?

I’m on the side of the pine forests, the porcupines, the prairie flowers, the aquifers, the rivers, the springs.  And I think this is a foolish world that does not realize destroying flora, fauna, and multitudes of biomes, we will ultimately destroy ourselves.

If it is unclear where I stand, or where my opposition comes from, let it no longer be a mystery.  Let it be said here without obfuscation.

I love where I am from, the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, the Oglala Lakota.  I love our history.  I love our resilience.  i love our values and philosophy.  I love how many persons make it through a stacked deck of adversity.  I love how many are not broken, despite having so many institutions of bureaucratic red tape, forces of systematic enfeeblement, working against them.  I love it when my people smile and joke.  If they smile through teeth broken through the inadequate care of the Indian Health Services system, that is all the more beautiful, emblematic of a deep resilience.

Contending with alcoholism, with dysfunctional family environments, with a lack of opportunity, with a whole community fallen through the cracks of America,  with historical trauma — I love how many triumph.  I love how many Lakota I meet ripe with genius.  Whether gifted artistically, musically, in the industrial arts, or in the sciences, in the legal professions, or being stellar human beings who care and uplift everyone around them.  I love that we are still here despite two hundred years of quarantine, placed in political structures never built for our success but instead built for our failure and ignominy.  I drive down highway 18, and I see Lakota youth, runners getting ready for the track season.  It fills me with such pride.  I am so glad to see anyone doing anything positive for themselves and for their community.  I am glad to see elders recording their stories, see how much love they have for the art of storytelling.  I am glad to see youth enroll in education to seek a better world and solutions to all the problems we face.  I love how easy it is to connect with persons from indigenous communities all over the world, how similar and intersected our struggles tend to be.  How I wish I had more power, to put it all right.

Loving these communities, these people, my family, my friends, how could I not stand against the caricatures, the straw Indians, the ignorance, the blind hatred, the oblvious invisibility, the prejudice, the whitewashed lying rosiness of American history?  How can I not stand against the continued erasure, exploitation and subjugation?  I’m going to let the voiceless inhabit my marrow and have their say.  I’ll remember in a world of forgetting because who else will?  When police use the shotgun for execution against an unarmed Native, and next week find the beanbags to subdue an armed white guy I’ll stand against it.  When uncaring far off bureaucracies try to defund everything that helps, try to terminate us through attrition I’ll be there opposing it.  When oil and uranium companies view Natives as an acceptable sacrifice for the profiteering of their greed, I’ll be there, ready to cut off the head of any poisonous snakes that try to pass.  When the bordertown cowboys, prairie ignorant, want someone to look down on, want to mock Natives, merely so someone will be at the bottom of American society other than them I will speak up against it wherever I encounter it.  When shady preachers and non-profits see they can quench their lust for dollars by exploiting our poverty and need, I’ll call it out where I see it.  If that makes someone uncomfortable they can go ahead and be uncomfortable.

I love every pocket of life, of compassion, of creativity, of escape from the status quo that I find in the anxious, ever creeping, all consuming, prosaic, apathy loving, inhumane uniformity of American society.  I love the human connection of two vastly different persons that should be isolated in separate cells by their socio-economic status, finding some commonality, breaking invisible barriers.  Even friendship is revolutionary sometimes.  I love the woman who can take a moment out of her busy day, the rat race of money gathering and needing to pass exams, to appreciate a song, a piece of writing.  I love the street art that blankets alleys of business districts.  I love the anarchy symbol on a light post in front of the bank.  I love the underworld, the echoes of its vibrancy, its whispers that all is not dead and drab.  I love when persons begin to see each other, not as objects in the metropolitan monolith,  but as tangible persons, teeming with real breath.  I love when communities begin to question the myths that nothing can ever change and that they are powerless.  I love when persons start to see each other as non-disposable, not easily discarded, not merely means to some greedy end.  I love passion.  I love when someone is not too cool to care.  I love when someone comes out of the cocoon of their sneering to be vulnerable enough to have their heart eviscerated by the insanity of these ways of life.  I love when someone is unashamed of carrying the scars of everything.

Loving all not afflicted with the disease of prosaic, consumerist, authoritarian dictated systematic uniformity, how could I not declare the emptiness of all we find ourselves ensconced within?  From Atlantic to Pacific, I have not found hardly anyone happy.  It is the same worries, the same worker drone imprisonment, lavish yet desolate, the same sad stories of existential lament and unfulfillment howled over and over again.  Everyone wants this harmony and contentment in their lives but most seem to have forgotten how to treat one another, have forgotten anything other than ways of disharmony.  I stand against it and am glad to find anyone doing the same.  Even if it is something so monolithic and huge it is hard to name or label with a description you know resistance when you see it.

Even at my most critical when I seem venomous and high on fire to some, I may be spitting acid, yet it will be in service of love to things I value, things I find beautiful.  I don’t think any of this was ever hidden, or mysterious.  Pay attention and what I love was shouted loudly in every polemic I ever wrote, every criticism I ever lobbed, every ideological fight I ever entered.  Yet here it is said as straightforward as possible, if somehow someone missed it.

To end, let’s look at that line from the Remember Me Feral song again:

“Resistance is a passionate movement for the preservation of beauty.”

Atlantic to Pacific: Discontented Stagnation Among The Ruins

I reside, and always have resided, within a land some call the USA.  I do not feel like I belong here.  29 years here, and I travel these pothole highways estranged.

I have been soaked in temperate rainforest downpour in the old Duwamish lands.  I have watched the sun rise over the waters of Coeur d’Alene.  I have seen the Montana cornucopia of wildflowers fold into kaleidoscopes of color from a bus window.  My feet have touched the badlands sandstone, the sandhill remnants of the ancient inland sea of the Dakotas.  I have wandered the ripe cornfields of Iowa.  I have searched for a job in the lake effect blizzards of Michigan.  I have drove the Massachusetts coastline, peeking through sleepy used book and record stores.  A cold seeping through layers of winter wear to bite my skin.

Atlantic to Pacific could be, and maybe once was, a beautiful land.  But today, everywhere, it is a place of poisoning, alienation, and asphalt uniformity.  The ghosts of what used to be haunt my every step in America.  And I am not enamored  with the new world taking over.  The new world looks like ruin to me, even though it is supposed to be progress.

America is forest and clay, ocean and mountain, scarred by concrete, choked by smog.  Everywhere you go there is cellophane and glass.  Everywhere something beautiful is dying for the sake of more cold corporatized uniformity.  Water supplies are poisoned by oil, uranium, sludges from coal mines.  Usually the water of the rural and poor are the blood sacrifice to these poisonous profiteers.

America is such a lonely place.  Everyone is so segmented, stratified by class.  There are so many invisible lines, infinitely subdividing us all, until we can scarcely even relate to another human being.  American life is almost a series of transparent isolation chambers.  Always surrounded by neighbors, by throngs of people, by classmates, by coworkers, yet almost always alone.

America is a place where human automation has replaced humanity.  So many cells on roadway grids, leading to jobs most find no fulfillment in.  Sometimes enough money to get by, but never enough to break a cycle of subservience.  Sometimes not enough to get by, and just existing costs an astronomical sum in America.

I look at our vast arsenal of death, the bombs, the arms, our ever booming industries crafting new novelties of human dismemberment and obliteration.  It seems so utterly senseless,  and bound to backfire.  Like monkeys playing with atom bombs.

The whole system always seemed rigged. A pyramid barge floating on a river of blood, built from the bones of numerous atrocities.  With enough hypocrisy to say we stand for things like justice for all, to try to play world arbiter.  Sucking dry the world marrow, and calling it liberation, bringing democracy, humanitarianism.

Decadent skyscraping luxury and wealth everywhere.  While people freeze to death homeless in the cold huddled next to these monoliths of wealth.  Such disparity, all fed by the lie that if you work hard enough you can earn your ticket to the decadence feast.

I could name so much more wrong.  So much more that makes me sick, has me going down the highway thinking “how the fuck did this come to be?  Who thought this was a good or satisfactory way of life?”  But I would have to write a book, or a whole volume of literature, to get at the root of my discontent.

And I am filled with discontent.  Condescending parrots mimicked the apologetic for this system to me when I was younger.  Assured me I would grow out of my thinking, that I would see things their way.  Everything was ok with this place called America, and I was wrong, what I experienced was wrong, what I looked around and saw was wrong.

Yet my discontent only grows as I age.  And I am more convicted of a sense of fundamental wrongness.   I am more an alien, in a strange land, that seems governed and structured so irrationally, so cruel, so backward, and corrupt.

And nothing seems to change, from where I take it all in.

Conservative politicians openly advocate for the misery of most the population.  Pretending to stand for fiscal responsibility, while shovelling millions out to their crony industries.  Austerity for the poor, yet every day is welfare day for lobbyists, industry, upper class.  Selling this agenda through propaganda of bootstrap tough talk, cynical religious appeals, xenophobic fearmongering.  The old hegemony and dying worldviews, everything backwards and outdated, clutching to a ledge overstretching a dustbin of irrelevance.

Liberal politicians talk, but never do much.  They come around Native American reservations, making promises.  Then get in office and sign Native lands away to oil pipelines owned by foreign corporations.  They come around promising education and solutions to the poor neighborhoods and communities.  Then get in office, and its more school to prison pipelines.  More toxic, institutionalized brutality as jackboot cops murder with impunity, and use race and poverty as target practice for abuse.  They promise peace, responsibility to environment, and enlightened governance.  Yet get in office, and its more drone bombings, more war, more drilling, more razing the natural world, more exploitation of humans in what we have designated disposable parts of the globe.

And I am not sure how any of this can be fixed.  And that fills me with dread that this great pyramid barge floats the rivers of blood toward nothing good.

We have a presidential race going on in the USA right now.  Lucy Parsons once said “Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth”.  And that seems true in that the status quo is near totally immune to change, though your average person is given these tokens like voting to foster the illusion of a voice.

Something like a political race comes too much to resemble choosing a savior.  How common the attitude that we just vote for so-and-so, and that is where our part in changing anything ends. Just wait for the lord to overturn the tables of the wicked in the temple.

Yet there are no saviors.  And I think the biggest obstacle to change may be apathy.  Looking for someone else, some avatar, to do what we should be doing. Revolution isn’t voting for an aging socialist in a corrupt system.  Revolution is how you raise your kids, what you are doing in your community, how you treat your spouse, how you honor the land you exist on, how you treat the lowly in society, and how you project these values outward, and demand the institutions you are a part of and the people who represent you live up to these values.

Nothing effective starts from above.  Everything with the slimmest hope comes from below.  Transform everything.  Start with yourself, gather a community, keep going far as you can.  Build movements, rather than gather around another savior avatar every election cycle, who will not, and cannot do everything they promise and you hope for.

How can consciousness, justice, equality, compassion, education, care for persons and planet became as infectious  as apathy, injustice, inequality, cruelty, ignorance, and viewing everything and everyone as disposable?  How can the former come to replace the latter until the former is normalized?

I’m not sure how we get there, but observing this land from Atlantic to Pacific coast, I think this is the needed movement.

Stereotype, Tradition, and Artistic Evolution: Thoughts On Native American Art

An old philosophy professor of mine was fond of Procrustes from Greek mythology and liked to tell the Procrustes story to illustrate a point:

Procrustes was said to be a bandit with a den on Mount Korydallos.  Meeting every passerby, he would offer them the hospitality of allowing them to sleep in his own bed. Yet there was a catch. Anyone too tall had to be amputated until they fit the bed perfectly. Anyone too short had to be broken with a hammer and stretched until they filled it out.

In philosophy, a Procrustean bed refers to the error of stretching all evidence to conform to a pet theory.  I’m sure nearly everyone has had the experience of running into a zealot, who is utterly enamored with some system of ideas.  And nothing is allowed to exist outside that system to the zealot, or count against the system.  Even what refutes the system becomes reinterpreted, becomes stretched into supporting it.

That is a Procrustean bed.  If too short, you must be broken until your dimensions fit the ideal perfectly.  If too tall, you must be chopped until your proportions are exact to the ideal.

The typecasting of Native American artists reminds me too of Procrustes and his bed.  Stereotype tends to be the standard of measurement.

Native artists are often judged by how much they live up to romanticized notions of shirtless savages chasing the buffalo under orange and purple sunsets.  Commercialism, rather than anything culturally intrinsic, often drives the prevalence of the stereotypical in Native American art.  Stereotype is what sells.  Stereotype is what outsiders with romanticized misconceptions want to write checks for.

And I am not saying there is no place for the familiar in Native art, or that all old motifs should be razed in a discard pile.  I think tradition, and artistic traditions can be beautiful.  I am not saying that a painting of a buffalo or an eagle cannot be moving.  If as a Native artist, buffalo running the plains, and eagles soaring through the badlands, are what you love and want to portray, I am casting no shade in that direction.

Yet what I am saying is that when Native Americans are limited to stereotypical expressions, it is like the full extent of our humanity is denied.  Room should exist for a Native artist to go off the stereotypical script.

Perhaps a Native artist wants to make something that does not immediately present itself as a ‘Native’ piece.  Perhaps a Native artist wants to create something, without having to first apply the filters of stereotype, old motif, familiar iconography, commercially comfortable symbolism.

We are so much more, as artists, as musicians, as writers, as people, than the stereotypes that pigeon hole us. Like Procrustes, the popular conception of Native Americans tends to cut off a few inches, or stretch a few limbs, to make sure we fit a preconception of what Native American is.

Native American art is always changing, since Native American culture itself is always evolving.  We are not dead.  Our artistic traditions are not dead.  And that is why I reject the essentialism, the notion that anything after a certain cut off point in history should be disqualified.  We are alive.  We never stopped evolving as a culture, and we never stopped interacting with and interpreting the world as artists.  Native American art is not some dead piece of taxidermy, embalmed forever in one era, but something alive, well, growing and breathing.

If we’re ultra purists, and disallow this evolution, in art, and in culture, then the only things admissible as true Native American art are relics of history. A person would have to go back before European contact, and look at perhaps a deer skin drum, or a winter count drawn on a buffalo hide, to find true Native American art.

Not even those paintings of buffaloes, or our beadwork, or star quilts, would count, because they probably incorporate modern techniques and materials, even if the subject matter is retro Native American.

A lot of those buffalo paintings are made from pastels purchased at the local Hobby Lobby.  A lot of that beadwork is made from things a person could buy at any Walmart.  And I’m not saying that is a bad thing.  To the contrary, I see no problem with any of that.  It is all a natural evolution.  It is where many of us find ourselves, at the crossroads of the collision of worlds.  It is real.  It is subversive in a way.  Keeping tradition alive in new mediums we adapt ourselves to.

Native American culture is a living, growing thing, rather than something locked in one particular era of history. So Native American art lives and grows also, taking influence from trends and techniques outside the culture, learning to interpret itself through new modes of expression, while at the same time often honoring its roots and traditions.

This is ok.  It is ok to be Native and make music with a guitar, or rhyme over a beat.  It is ok to be Native, and paint or craft with modern materials.  It is ok to be traditional, and create around traditional things.  It is ok to venture beyond the traditional, and create in non-traditional modes.  It is ok to do both, and at different times, for different reasons.

(It is my intent to offend no one with this, but merely push against a closing of the mind I commonly encounter when talking of Native American art.)