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