Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tribal Losses

This Saturday, I spent the morning with people from the indigenous tribes of North America and the afternoon with people from the indigenous tribes of Burma. I had never before made a connection between the two.

I grew up with a close friend who was a descendant of the Ojibwe people. Her family brought me along to cultural events and powwows and I saw how native american traditions were incorporated into their weddings, prayers and everyday life. I witnessed a stronger relationship between nature and spirituality, and a stronger connection to God as Creator and Jesus as the Way. I also discovered that there is nothing in this world more delicious than a Navajo taco served on homemade fry bread.

I've been meaning to share a powwow experience with my family for years, but kept missing the boat. This Saturday was a beautiful introduction. We were able to witness an opening ceremony where all of the dancers entered the circle. The announcer shared the history behind of each group of traditional dancers. There were elderly Goard Dancers, many of whom where veterans of U.S. wars., fringy Grass Dancers, swaying Buckskin Dancers, and my personal favorite, the Northern Fancy Dancers (pictured above). Us northerners sure know how to do it up fancy.

But as the ceremony came to a close, I couldn't help but get a little teary. I looked down and saw hundreds of people with beautiful regalia, each one unique, each one representing a different family or tribe, each one representing loss. It was a reminder that Native Americans weren't (and aren't) one group of people, but hundreds of tribes with thousands of unique cultural traditions, many of which have become tragically extinct.

The women of Hill Country Hill Tribers represent a vast array of cultures and traditions as well. In our meetings, we've slowly learned not to expect common language, even among members of the same tribe. Dialects among the Chin people vary as you travel from one valley to the next. Some tribes wear red for ceremonial dress, others yellow and others green. Weaving and farming were central to the hill tribe way of life for many of the women we know. During a recent interview, Ko Meh (at right) pointed to her cement patio on her second floor apartment and said she missed the soil. My heart is heavy with all that they must miss--extended family, childhood haunts, village traditions, dirt. And I worry about the weight on their shoulders as they struggle to pass on their tribal language, traditions and customs to a younger generation surrounded by the deafening cultural influence of American media.

I can't wait for Artreach. It's a time to celebrate the work of hill tribe artisans and help them incorporate their ancestral home into their new one. Like this weekend's powwow, it will be a colorful demonstration of intricate artistry and beauty. Bound up in the beautiful strands of thread on display that day will be the bittersweet sense of what has been lost and the hope of keeping age-old traditions alive.

1 comment:

  1. I've felt weepy all afternoon after our meeting this morning. They were so sad about what is going on in Burma. It's hard enough to know they're grieving, but it's at times like this that I realize that we can't make a dent in their suffering. I hate what war has done to their cultures, their villages, their families and their lives.