Interior and Exterior Landscapes: Art is Life

Glimpses into the world of Indigenous arts and culture.

Movement

Creative identity 

Visioning a future

Weaving a worldview 

Hands on


Pathway of empowerment 

From the heart of the Indigenous world — and the lens of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development

www.7genfund.org

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Interior and Exterior Landscapes: Indigenosity

Indigenosity: Generosity, Spiritual Commerce and Cultural Assets

Through ceremony and every day life, Indigenous Peoples throughout the world engage in an ongoing process of re-balancing and interacting with highly complex spiritual, cultural, social, and familial relationships. Where these energies unite they form a synergy and create a dynamic matrix of spiritual commerce vibrantly expressing cultural continuity and building cultural assets. These are often expressed in artforms and other creativity.

In North America, generosity of person, family, clan and community through material gifting, honoring, and wealth re-distribution is actualized in a multitude of ways. Among many of the people of the Pacific Northwest, “Potlatch” is a way to express generosity, spiritual understanding, and graciousness in life. As with many tribes and communities, among the pueblo people, ancestors’ spirits are honored and nurtured each day through prayer, the offering cornmeal, or corn pollen, or other sustenance. For other Native Nations it may be through the giveaway during ceremony or social events.

This may happen after the birth of a child, the graduation from high school, following a year of mourning a departed loved one, after overcoming a great struggle, or when a dancer first dons regalia and enters that venue. The giveaways are the gifts given to those who helped, those who showed support and love, who provided protection or advice, a song or suggestion, or even simply those present. Such gifts can be given to anyone, and are often widely distributed to elders and young ones.

Significant gifting of food, clothing, money, jewelry and regalia, among other items are given to ceremonial and spiritual leaders throughout Native America. Such gifts may be a star quilt, a basket, a feather, a case of soda pop or juice, new blue jeans, smoked salmon or deer meat, socks, really anything, or even, simply a small pinch of tobacco in the hand of the receiver. Some tribal protocols include offering monetary or regalia “payments” to bereaved families upon the passing of a tribal member. And many Nations have ceremonial adoptions through ritual initiations and public displays that maintain social, cultural and spiritual order and fuse Indigenous peoples with the spiritual world through collectivity. There are also many who have traditional adoptions of orphaned persons even of those who have reached adult maturity but who have lost a parent or other family member. This not only reaffirms the orphaned place in the community but also maintains family roles as other tribal members step forth in responsibility to be a father, mother, aunt, or sister. In such communities, there is no one without a father, a mother, an aunt or a sister. There are no orphans. Such generosity builds community cohesion, and reinforces tribal identity and reciprocity, and prevents isolation or anomie of a community member. It is a cultural process of strengthening and expanding familial bonds and clanships.

The giving spirit is a feature of Native life that permeates everything. And it is not limited to human centered – or anthropocentric generosity. In fact, the essence of this cultural protocol is the relationship with the Earth as our common Mother – which receives our gifts also, in tobacco offerings. This is expressed in the gentleness and mindfulness as we walk upon Her skin, in our protection and reverence of sacred places which are the land’s portals into the spiritual realm, and through songs and ceremonies conducted in time with the rhythm of the landscape. We know the Earth as inherently sacred and requiring our ongoing respect and engagement. Indigenous peoples fulfill this by gathering basketry materials, planting corn, controlled burns for traditional resource management, and in prayers to heal and fix the Earth.

Part of the responsibility that Native peoples hold includes not only learning when and how to give, but when and how to receive. It is considered a grave insult to not accept a gift being offered, however large or however humble the offering. And, the ripple of that offense may not only be felt by one person, but vibrate throughout a family. So would an act of generosity. The good deeds, gracious hospitality, gifting and compassion positively expand in minds and hearts to one’s family, extended family and beyond.

What is most essential in this paradigm is maintaining harmony and enlivening that which is the collective spirit within us all, keeping in mind we hold this world only as stewards for the generations yet to come. This is more than an empty gesture or words alone. It allows us to engage in assuring that no one is hungry, longing or alone, and to set that as a policy, a standard of action. We are empowered to be a part of the collective spirit that helps the world stay in balance, and to know that in our deepest core as the truest strength that exists in the universe – our connections, not our emptiness, our opportunities to make relations and build solidarity, not our deficits and limitations.

This has guided the organization for which I serve as executive director, the Seventh Generation Fund for the last 33 years in terms of understanding how community development and cultural revitalization does not happen overnight, or in a vacuum. This is easy to see when knowing our founding principle, the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee that says, “In every deliberation we must consider the seventh generation to come.” Plainly and simply, we must walk gently on the skin of Mother Earth, and in harmony with all our relations, as a way to maintain our balance and contribute most effectively to the community of life through our work, our words, our actions, which ripple throughout time.

Indigenous generosity–Indigenosity–empowers us to be focused on holistic well-being. This allows us to think first of others, rather than just self. It is an orientation toward responsibilities to family, clan, and reciprocity with community, Nation and to the Earth. For artists, culture bearers, community organizers, social profit organizations, foundations and surely for humanity, this is a viable and replicable creative model.

© Tia Oros Peters, 2010

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Interior and Exterior Landscapes: Art and Transcendence

This is a time of Earth Healing and Renewal. As you read this, world healing has been happening and takes form in the White deerskin and Jump dances. Songs call out remedies to honor and revitalize our common mother, certain steps smooth out the rough edges of evil and wrongdoing, obsidian blades cut through time, and baskets open up passages to new eras and the collective good mind. Here, behind the Redwood Curtain where I live and have married into the Pohlik-lah People, this is happening, and not just for Native Peoples, but for the world community. It is here, in the landscape where I have raised a family and where I make my professional life, that there is one of the few places and peoples in the universe that devotes itself fully to Earth Healing and Renewal.

It’s a special time that only occurs once every two years for the Pohlik-lah. This is the time in the cycle of our lives when the most precious artworks, sometimes very ancient and sometimes newly created, join with their Pohlik-lah People to celebrate, honor, and revitalize Mother Earth. Endless strands of abalone and dentilium shell necklaces sing with the People and the Earth. Redwood canoes dance and cleanse the river, linking otterhide quivers together with scarlet red-feathered eyes adorning white deerskins. Together they fill the days and nights with the dancing and songs, fasting and food, tears and laughter that is northern California Indian ceremony.

How can that be so? You may wonder how a basket can help heal, how a canoe can dance, or how a necklace sings?

I am expressing a core value of Native life – that everything is alive, purposeful, and vibrant. You may have already heard how Indigenous Peoples believe that a spirit pervades everything – places, peoples, artwork, animals, elements, instilling in all an existence and function, making the spirit world and the everyday world inseparable and cooperative. These worlds mutually interact and are true. It’s a symbiosis where each is reciprocal and responsible to the other. This paradigm holds that in their deepest essence, everything from birds to trees, abalone and ocean, wind and rain, has a spirit and can communicate, possess a state of consciousness, and serve a purpose. Artistic creations, whether baskets or sculptures, poetry or songs, also are animate beings.

It may be that the occupation of humanity is to link these dynamic elements of land, community, and collective spirit together through artistic expression. Perhaps part of fulfilling our obligations to the world as members of humanity, to our nations, clans, communities, and families, and surely to the Earth’s diverse societies, is to in some way create, innovate, produce art.

Indigenous arts are the oldest enduring traditions of creative expression that exist in the world. The earliest expressive art forms we know of including rock carvings, body painting and ground designs, which date back many tens of thousands of years in the Americas, continue to be created in our tribal communities today. Their intrinsic connection to spirituality also endures. Beadwork, basketry, literature, music, and painting are also among the many evolving manifestations of our unique cultures and distinct worldviews. Such creative expressions continue to be an inherent part of Native peoples’ core existence, linking the ancient and contemporary worlds and weaving together aspects of our lives, a nexus of the mundane and the metaphysical. It is there that Earth Healing is born.

“Fixing the Earth” will continue in ten-day cycles until nearly the end of September. The Pohlik-lah say that how you feel, behave, and think during this very critical time shapes how you will be for the next two years, until the next cycle begins. That will be in 2012 – a time when many are talking about prophecy and change.

What is the power of a song, a flint, a ceremony? Can a dance realign the Earth, our relations, our hearts? What is our role in transcending the individual rights and privileges into the responsibilities of the good mind and collective spirit?

We all have a role to heal the Earth.

“Fixing the Earth” will continue in ten-day cycles until nearly the end of September. The Pohlik-lah say that how you feel, behave, and think during this very critical time shapes how you will be for the next two years, until the next cycle begins. That will be in 2012 – a time when many are talking about prophecy and change.

What is the power of a song, a flint, a ceremony? Can a dance realign the Earth, our relations, our hearts? What is our role in transcending the individual rights and privileges into the responsibilities of the good mind and collective spirit?

We all have a role to heal the Earth.

© Tia Oros Peters, 2010

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