Thursday, March 05, 2015

Cultural Appropriation

"To deny that there are remnants of Stonework of many kinds that illustrate an Indigenous presence on the Sacred Landscape of Turtle Island is a form of Ethnic Cleansing."

    You don’t want me on your debate team. I can’t often come up with a snappy retort instantly although hours, days, weeks, months or years later I’ll come up with an (almost) eloquent reply, steeped in a wisdom that acknowledges that I really don’t know much more than I actually do know.
    I’ll give you an example…
    Let me take you back to November 2014 when I found myself sitting at an Archeological Roundtable I’d been looking forward to for a long time. The proper name for this was the “9th Annual Native American- Archaeology Roundtable “Stone Cultural Features and Ceremonial Landscapes.” The description for the event at The Institute for American Indian Studies website read like this:
“This year’s roundtable explores stone cultural features and ceremonial sites or landscapes. Our speakers share their experiences with this expansive category of which until recently, have gone largely undocumented by cultural resource professionals in the field. Our goal is to introduce new information and elicit suggestions for how professionals can consider and record these resources in their future investigations.”
     Scheduled guests include: State Archaeologists Dr. Brian Jones (CT) and Dr. Timothy Ives (RI); CT State Historic Preservation Officer Daniel Forrest; Schaghticoke elder Trudie Richmond; Mohegan Deputy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Elaine Thomas; Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Kathy Knowles; Mohegan elder Faith Davison; Eastern Pequot Vice-Chair Brenda Geer; researchers and authors James Gage and Mary Gage; Mohawk-Abenaki consultant Donald Aubrey; archaeologists Dr. Greg Walwer and Dr. Curtiss Hoffman; and geographer Dr. William Ouimet.
    How could I not attend? Less than 20 minutes from my house via the back roads – wild (and possibly un-groomed and rabid) poodles couldn’t have kept me away.
     Imagine my surprise as one of the speakers began his presentation by flashing up a power point slide that showed some websites that he accused of committing “Cultural Appropriation” when it came to the Stones that were supposed to be the focus of the Roundtable. The one that stood out in big red letters was “Rock Piles.” I can’t clearly recall the others (Polly Midgley, sitting quite near me, probably could tell you. She was being very good and taking notes, unlike me who was acting more like “a Kid in a Rock Candy Store.”). I can’t tell you exactly what I was thinking as I saw that slide but be assured that a great deal of profanity was involved.
   Now, Cultural Appropriation is defined at Wikipedia as “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group. Specifically, the use by cultural outsiders of a minority, oppressed culture's symbols or other cultural elements. It differs from acculturation or assimilation in that cultural "appropriation" or "misappropriation" refers to the adoption of these cultural elements, taken from minority cultures by members of the dominant culture, and then using these elements outside of their original cultural context. This cultural property may be forms of dress or personal adornment, music or art, religion, language, intellectual property or social behavior, all of which may have deep cultural meaning to the original culture, but may be used as fashion by those from outside that culture.

     In practice, cultural appropriation involves the appropriation of ideas, symbols, artifacts, image, sound, objects, forms or styles from other cultures, from art history, from popular culture, or other aspects of human-made visual or non-visual culture. Anthropologists have studied the process of cultural appropriation, or cultural borrowing (which includes art and urbanism), as part of cultural change and contact between different cultures.”
     Now he could have picked anyone of the many what I call “Sideshow Pseudoscience Monetized Anyone but Indians” websites that sell books and videos, have pseudo conferences of their own for big bucks –and offer, again for outrageous prices, unofficial guided tours to Indigenous (Native American) sites from Tierra del Fuego to whatever the northern most point of Turtle Island is that some molehill of circumstantial evidence (or outright fraud) has been built into a mountain of proof that lacks a single actual artifact with properly documented provenance to back up that ancient Somebody from Somewhere Else Theory.
     I wanted to stand up and say, “Hey – go pick on Scott Wolter and his stupid TV show that reaches millions and leave me and my friends alone!” – but I didn’t.
    I should’ve – but I didn’t.
    I was going to when the floor opened for questions and comments after his own “Indians didn’t leave a mark on the Landscape until taught by European Farmers” Show but then Doug Harris spoke up before I had a chance to. Anything I could have possibly said after he spoke would’ve been like me playing some guitar for you after Jimi Hendrix was done playing his.

    In hindsight, right here and right now, I’ll tell you who I think committed the first acts of Cultural Appropriation: the first Europeans who put up wooden rails over an Indigenous made row of stones and claimed  - no, let me change that – appropriated a piece of Indigenous Traditional Homeland.
And furthermore (I continue) that was also the first step in what I consider to be the Ethnic Cleansing of Turtle Island, something still in practice today, every time someone in a position of power says something like “That’s an agrarian field clearing pile of stones made after European Contact Period” and gives the go-ahead to destroy a possible Indigenous grave, such as one of the many my good friend Peter Waksman is trying to get recognized and protected, no pay check involved for his efforts to seek the truth.
    I’ll say it again: to deny that there are remnants of Stonework of many kinds that illustrate an Indigenous presence on the Sacred Landscape of Turtle Island is a form of Ethnic Cleansing.

    I did step up and make a comment, saying something to the effect that the stonework (cultural elements) showing up on LiDar (after that presentation) is probably more indicative of how Indigenous People shaped and maintained the landscape for thousands of years rather than that of Post Contact Agrarian Farmers in the last few hundred years, appropriating/misappropriating/using these cultural elements outside of their original context. Having thought it out for a couple months, I would have included that to do otherwise is actually the most widespread example of Cultural Appropriation - and a form of Ethnic Cleansing, something that Rock Piles is definitely not in any stretch of imagination.
   As Wikipedia says, "the adoption of these cultural elements, taken from minority cultures (or in this case "Indigenous Cultures that became the minority culture," I will interject) by members of the dominant culture, and then using these elements outside of their original cultural context."  

   A Link or two – and let the future research decide who represents the truth of the matter:
   “In a Dec. 12 written assessment (Dr. Timothy) Ives prepared at the request of the land owners, he stated that he believed the cairns were evidence of old land-clearing practices.
“This parcel contains numerous stone pile features, consisting of stones that have been stacked or piled by hand,” Ives wrote. “Constructed on varied surfaces, including the forest floor, ledge outcrops and freestanding boulders, these features vary substantially in form and size, as well as in the range of stone sizes they contain. While I cannot directly date their construction, they appear to be clearance cairns associated with past farming practices.”
But Doug Harris disagreed. Appearing at the Planning Board meeting, he referred to the cairns as “ceremonial stones” that had been “left by the ancients” on the property. He thanked Kingman and Devine for not having disturbed them, and proceeded to explain their spiritual significance.
“I have a lot of respect for my colleague in historic preservation, Timothy Ives, but he is not a specialist in tribal historic preservation or tribal culture or tribal ceremony, Narragansett or any other tribe,” Harris told the board.
The room fell silent as Harris described the spiritual meaning of the cairns to the Narragansett people.
“Stone is a vehicle for receiving and transmitting prayer. So every one of those stones, as we do in our tradition, was placed by someone, some man, some woman, in prayer. A prayer was spoken into it and placed on the earth and that was to be received by our Mother the Earth and we as her children were to be balanced and harmonized by virtue of that relationship,” he said.
“In a very different sense, it is our church. We have that kind of an intimate relationship with the landscape … Now I can’t tell you what you should do with regard to what’s on your property. I don’t have that right,” he told the landowners. “I do have a responsibility to ask of you to look for a moment through our eyes and open your spirit to what most people feel when they are in the presence of those stones.”


  1. Who was it accusing me of cultural misapropriation?

    1. Ives assumed that you make a great deal of money proposing that Indigenous People had something to do with "field-clearing" stone piles, unscientifically sensationalizing the cultural remains.