AISES, Akaka Bill, Alaska, Anchorage, beer, Case Western, culture, dancing, Flat Top Mountain, friendship, Hawai'ian, Mexican, Native American, Navajo, Northern Lights, Potawatomi, powwows, solo travel, stories, student
Continuing from our previous adventure, three more valuable points were learned tonight:
- Although we, as Natives, live worlds apart and seem different on the outside, our cultures are unusually alike.
- Native rights are not just an issue where there are reservations; the Hawai’ians have been victimized in incomprehensible ways as well.
- There is a struggle even among Natives to properly identify our Alaskan, Hawai’ian, and Mexican cousins as ones of the rest of us.
Back at the hotel, the different brews were distributed. One was actually made with pine needles. I tasted all the different types we got, including the Hawai’ian kind Nathan insisted I try. Everyone had criticized him for buying Hawai’ian beer until he explained it was for the non-Hawai’ians. We played card games and laughed and wrestled. As the night got later, we got louder and were warned a couple times to calm down. The problem is, we’re Natives. Give a Native a couple drinks and that’s about all it takes. Even Tylynn, proud of her partying, was tipsy halfway through her second beer. We all began questioning her stories, but in jest. But the night wasn’t about beer, it was definitely about our last night together. After some time, the beer was completely forgotten and we were showing each other pieces of our cultures.
I told the histories of my family, with the slave trade that had caused my 5th-great-grandfather to be imprisoned and forever abandon white society, even though he was half Pekowi Shawnee. I actually have a copy of his mother’s handwriting as she divvied up goods to his siblings in her will. She thought he was dead. Years later, he returned with a son from his Potawatomi wife. He inherited some of his father’s goods, then returned to his tribe. His grandson, my 3rd-great-grandfather, lived through the age of the Removal Act and ran his family into the mountains of West Virginia, then the wilds of Virginia.
My story fascinated the others, who had their own sad histories. Karina grew up on the Navajo Reservation, with its known struggles and deficiencies. Now she was at school in Hawai’i to get an education away from the Reservation. She wanted to get out, and her story perfectly reflected the sentiments of Doug Littlehat, my other Navajo friend who left for Wisconsin and joined the Menominee Nation College.
Points 1-3, part #2: Hearing stories of suppression and difficulty, we all felt the impact of Europe on our ancestors and, to an extent, our current lives. Not all of us were full-blooded, such as me, Nathan with his Irish father, and Kelsey who is an eclectic mix of Hawai’ian and Chinese with a Hispanic last name (Lopez). Regardless, our lives were made drastically different because of the paths our ancestors were forced to take.
When Areidy spoke, she asked if I knew what she was. “Mexican, right?” I said. “Yeah,” she smiled. “So… what tribe?” I asked. “Mexican,” she answered, laughing. “But aren’t you still… Aztec or something?” I asked. She laughed some more. “That’s the age-old question,” she said. “We’re not Native.” “But you are,” I said. “Your people were here before the Europeans.” “Yes,” she said, “But we’re not American.” “You’re North American,” I said. “But we’re Mexican,” she frowned. “It’s a difficult identity.” “Same as us,” said Nathan. “We’re Native Hawai’ian.” “But that makes no sense,” I argued. “Because you’re in America now. You’re all still Native peoples. Why do we have to identify Alaskan Natives and Hawai’ian Natives separately anyway? Especially Alaskan Natives. They’re from the same genealogical path as the mainland ancestors!”
Thus began talk of the fall of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, white man’s deception on the Natives, the Akaka Bill, and how homeless people used to be shipped to the island. “It’s so small…” I imagined. “How can you stand having so many tourists on your island? I bet they make up a huge part of the population year-round.” Nathan nodded, “It’s true.” They were all from the “Big Island”. Although it was frustrating, they at least had their little secret coves and mountain tops to get away to with friends. I couldn’t imagine my native land being a popular destination point. And hearing the history of Hawai’i, I felt so angered by how Europeans had simply plucked the Queen from her throne, confined the Natives, then forced tourists and Americans onto the islands. What an invasion of privacy! And, for the first time in my life, I mourned over the absence of a Reservation. The Reservations I had grown up knowing were always presented with evil connotations, as dry lands where people are imprisoned in order to maintain any sense of their identities. But Hawai’i was in need of some kind of Reservation, of some kind of protection from the vast numbers destroying its tiny land and small group of people. That was the purpose of the Akaka Bill: fighting for the restoration of some Native Hawai’ian identity. But, Nathan said, not all Hawai’ians were in favor of it. Those Natives felt it was “all or nothing”, meaning either give me my island and my Kingdom back or else you can have what’s left of it.
Just then, someone pulled out a pamphlet about Native scholarships. Nathan pointed at the eligibility lines. “See!” he said. “For Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. This one, oh this one does say for all three!” He pointed at a line that included “Native Hawaiians”, but frowned at the spelling. “So you can’t apply to ones that don’t list you?” I asked. “No,” Nathan said, “We could probably still apply, because it technically counts, it’s just we’re considered something different and yet always left out…” “But you’re not that different, are you?” I asked. “I don’t think so,” he said. Then he turned to me and Karina. “Tell us about your cultures. We don’t know anything about the Mainland Natives.”
The next hour was full of me telling stories about the Northeastern Indians and Karina brushing over the tribes of the Southwest. “What about dancing?” Nathan asked. “Pow-wows!” Karina and I both answered, then I looked at her. “Karina, are your pow-wows dancing competitions and drum competitions and food booths and the such, too?” I asked. “Yes!” she answered. “And the men have such cool dances, but the women… not so much.” “Boring, right?!” I said, realizing what dances she was referring to. She laughed and nodded. “How do you dance in a Pow-wow?” asked Nathan. As the others watched, Karina and I began stomping around in a circle to some music she found on her laptop. We smiled at each other because it was exactly the same on both sides of the country. Then she went, “The men dance like this!” and she imitated movements of the men who wear regalia and stamp with bells on their ankles. “And the women, like this!” I said, extending my arms and hopping from foot to foot. We laughed at how silly we looked.
“Wow,” said Karina. “I never realized how alike we are.” “Where do those dances come from, anyway?” I asked, knowing they couldn’t be from both of our cultures. “I think they’re from the Plains Indians,” she said, which made sense. Then Nathan cut in, “Your Pow-wows, that sounds just like our dances and drumming events!” he said. “I never would have thought we could be so far apart and so different and yet…” “Exactly the same,” we all finished together. And it was so true, because we were.