Below is a recent article which I just finished as a critique of California Indian Day celebrations. This work will soon be published as part of a joint Native/First Nations publication.
Enjoy the article!
27 September, 2014
“What’s your problem? We gave you a day to celebrate” – A reflection upon California Indian Day
26 – 27 September, 2014
The last Friday of September was designated on August 12, 1968 by, then, Governor Ronald Regan as being “California Indian Day.” This day was established in order to celebrate and recognize the diverse Native cultures of California. California Native People have come to hold a special place for this day as one where they can share the breadth and depth of their cultures with the non-Native communities. Typical festivities range from simple elementary school presentations through large community gatherings. Notable elders are offered the proverbial and literal “stage” upon which they can share their life-long “stories.” Non-Native tourists are given the opportunity to purchase Native art, complete with the feeling that they are participating, in a “safe environment,” alongside the “local Natives.” Certainly, the climate on this day, California Indian Day, is one of polite sharing, remembering, and momentary tribal recognition.
Being a California Native person – I’m Lusieno/Maidu – this day certainly provides a sense of expanded pride for my traditional cultures, and my fellow California tribes. However, with all the celebrations that I’ve attended, and helped organize, there continues to be a subtle undertone that peers its query head every now and again. Events that take place on the reservation normally follow a very family-oriented, community style gathering. Literally, it’s as if a large family reunion has been called on the rez. In contrast, events that take place off the reservation – which, I’m afraid, is the large abundance of celebrations these days – seem to hold a more folkloric bent, that being, Native Peoples performing for non-Native audiences. It is this point of cultural misunderstanding which continues to reverberate throughout the years as the final Friday in September – California Indian Day – is acknowledged.
The title stamped upon this last Friday – “California Indian Day” – appears rather awkward, to say the least. The subtext – or rather, theme – of this day outlines a racialized hegemonic definition stating that there is only “one” California Indian. The remaining other hundreds of tribes which exist presently in California – both federally and non-federally recognized – therefore, must have been eliminated (read: terminated) in an earlier point and time in California history, presumably to make way for the colonization of California. This standard of racist hegemony, applied in cultural mis/representaion, thinking, and action, is what I have termed the Ishi ideology: the last remaining artifact of “his” tribe – where a specific focus is upon the Indian male, since no female Native representation is historically available being that California Native women/girls were either enslaved, raped, killed, or all three collectively – localized within a museum style container for audience viewing, probing, and experimentation.
To counter this perspective, it becomes necessary for California Native Peoples to reclaim their own histories from the prisons of books and shackles of misrepresentations about Native People authored by non-Natives. Utilizing the visibility of this day, for socio-political equity and justice, in order to challenge the atrocities forced upon California Native People, becomes a critical first step in securing agency for radical change.
However, year after year, there are those who attend events on this isolated day of California tribal recognition with the sole intent upon striking an apologetic appeal toward the Native communities. It is as though their mere attendance – complete with apology in mind, heart, and pocketbook – and recognition of California Native People on this singular day will abolish the genocide of Native People that took place in California. This largely non-Native audience, therefore, attends various Native cultural events on California Indian Day, prepared to reconcile historic injustices and establish peace, once and for all, with California Native Peoples through one or more of the following actions: 1) the desire to find their inner shaman – which they firmly believe will then realign any differences between Native and non-Native people, 2) the intent of repeatedly apologizing for the bloody history of California Native People – without realizing the current realities which are a direct result from the multiple abuses (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, environmental) colonialistically produced, 3) a personal desire to state just how much – or, rather how little – Indian blood (read: heritage that they learned from someone in their family who heard something over the years) they have, or, 4) to complete some exercise in diversity for either/both academic or professional purposes. Each of these intentions lead to a further entrenched misunderstanding of the complex cultural dynamics of California Native Peoples. These burdens continue to reverberate yearly, and magically coincide with California Indian Day, without any cross-cultural or authentic resolution in sight. Least we forget that there are those who may attend these Native-centric cultural events with a pure sympathetic tone. However, the larger non-Native attendees who come in the name of “post-modern salvage archeology” often cloud this marginal non-Native community.
The celebrations for this year’s California Indian Day (2014) have now come to a safe close. These now past events have, once again, found their resting place alongside the majority of knowledge – either spoken or written – about California Native Peoples. That being, in the failing memory of those who attended these events on a single day, set aside, as a political apology, offered vis-a-vis left-handed compliments to contemporary California Native Peoples.