In spite of a genocide of unthinkable proportions, the Native Americans are still here. They continue to guard and revive their languages, their cultures and traditions. A hundred and fifty years ago, they were snatched from their way of life, their children were sent to government schools and ceased being Native Americans as we knew them. Their lands were stolen, their food destroyed, their self respect slashed, their independence lost, their values derided.
During the sixties, the hippie movement created an icon of the Native American, made a romance of the tribal and nomadic life. A resurrected spirit began to seep into our so-called civilization. We had killed them off, but they returned. Their ghosts had hovered above the land, waiting for a time when they would be called.
Now, we are calling them. There's a pathetic romanticism in this revived nostalgia for an aboriginal lifestyle. It's pathetic because underneath the sentimental reverence for everything Native American lies a desperate plea for help from a culture that has lost its moorings.
Some people, mixed and full blood Native Americans, remain aware of their culture. They are working in subtle ways to bring some redemption out of the horror of their genocide.
Indian ways are viewed with increasing respect and admiration, as the values of our own culture decline, disintegrate and leave us grasping for something that will help us re-design our lives so they make sense.
It is a painfully barbed irony that many tribes now make their income soaking white people in gambling casinos. This method of making a living may be a two edged sword. It is an industry built on a foundation of vice and the creation of addictions. But consider a quick capsule history: squeezed into reservations by expanding white settlers, Native Americans were put on starvation-level welfare. What lands they possessed were confiscated whenever minerals, natural gas, or anything of value was discovered. In 1934, The Indian Reorganization Act allowed tribes to ‘buy back’ lands that had been confiscated. The capital to purchase these lands they once freely used came in the form of royalties on production of said natural assets. In essence, it’s like a situation where someone steals your car, and then sells it back to you. After all, you needed a car, right? And this car was YOUR car, you liked it, you bought it once, you might as well buy it again instead of buying another car. We’ll just let you pay for it by forking over a fifteen percent gasoline tax, or a ‘transportation tax’, or something that will keep your debt alive and delivering interest to the government.
It could be that gambling casinos are the last but only viable choice of a way to get a return on Indian lands. They are tax exempt. All you need is a parking lot, a building, some slot machines, electronic poker and blackjack computers, a bar, a restaurant, and you are in tax free heaven.
Lately I've gotten suspicious of Native Americans. I think they're fucking with white people's heads. It would be typical of their humor to go all Trickster on us. Let's say, hypothetically, that a white person approaches a well known shaman. White person is seeking knowledge, initiation. Shaman sternly instructs white person: go into the desert and kill a badger with a dinner knife. Eat its liver and bring the pelt back to shaman and await further instructions. White person accomplishes mission. Shaman takes pelt, puts it with inventory of other pelts and brews up peyote tea mixed with Belladonna. Whoo whoooo! White Seeker hallucinates legions of coal-black skeletons dressed in scarlet Nazi uniforms. The shaman puts White Seeker through a year of increasingly bizarre hi-jinks. He bestows dignified Native name on White Seeker: White Seeker. The literal translation in the native tongue is Buffalo Farts.
You get the idea. I saw this in Carlos Castaneda's work. Don Juan and Don Gennaro were cackling behind their hands. Let's make Carlos believe that his car has vanished into thin air! Then let's make him believe something else. Let's make him believe that an owl is capable of stealing his soul and trading it to Mescalito for power. How long can we keep this Anglo dangling? Dangling Anglo? Hahahha! Danglo! Let's pretend that's his Yaqui name. He'll go around telling his white friends at college that his name is Danglo. Hahahaha. Pass me some of that mescal, amigo.
I know that Native Americans have been hurt by their casino bonanza. It’s a crappy form of reparation. It generates a lot of cash and a lot of corruption. I am not qualified to understand the situation. It’s like being paid a cash amount for your soul. Thank you, Mephistopheles, thank you very much.
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