Saturday, March 8, 2014

Becoming native to this place
(with thanks to Wes Jackson)

Toward the end of February, My-Minnesota posted two photo essays on the American Indian Cultural Corridor in Minneapolis. The photos were taken last Summer and a good opportunity to post them didn't come up until recently. Accompanying the photo essays, was a written essay questioning Minnesota's need for a statement of cultural identity, using the Dakotas' statement (North and South) as an example. At the time those postings were published, My-Minnesota was unaware of the impending show at All My Relations Gallery. We were delighted by the serendipity when we learned that Maggie Thompson's solo exhibit, Where I Fit, which features her textile works, will be on display through the end of May. My wife is a textile artist, and I'm increasingly interested in the question of emerging cultural identity in a changing Midwest, so maybe we'll see you at Where I Fit.

"Later in March, there's a different kind of American Indian cultural event, The Native American Literature Symposium 2014. It will be held March 27-29 at the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I'd really like to attend but will need to check my budget very carefully. At least if my biggest problems stem from having too many desirable options to choose from, I have to admit "things" must be going pretty well.

American Indian Cultural Corridor street furniture
American Indian Cultural Corridor street furniture  © harrington

I think I've mentioned previously that I'm originally from Boston, of Irish "extraction," and that one of my biggest heroes is Robert F. Kennedy. Recently, when I was doing some background research on RFK, I discovered a book by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., with this description of the history of the Irish: "The nineteenth-century Irish saw themselves as the victims of history. Memories of dispossession and defeat filled their souls. They had lost their national independence, their personal dignity, their land, even their language, to intruders from across the sea." [Robert Kennedy and His Times, page 3]. I was struck by the similarities between the treatment of the Irish in their own country, and the treatment of Native Americans in what would become the United States. My-Minnesota hopes those who have been disposessed successfully regain a sense of identity and culture. Perhaps the American Indian Cultural Corridor, and exhibits such as Where I Fit, will offer a better kind of home than that described by Louise Erdrich. I hope so.

American Indian Cultural Corridor street furniture
 American Indian Cultural Corridor street furniture © harrington

Indian Boarding School: The Runaways

By Louise Erdrich 
Home’s the place we head for in our sleep.   
Boxcars stumbling north in dreams
don’t wait for us. We catch them on the run.   
The rails, old lacerations that we love,   
shoot parallel across the face and break   
just under Turtle Mountains. Riding scars
you can’t get lost. Home is the place they cross.

The lame guard strikes a match and makes the dark   
less tolerant. We watch through cracks in boards   
as the land starts rolling, rolling till it hurts   
to be here, cold in regulation clothes.
We know the sheriff’s waiting at midrun
to take us back. His car is dumb and warm.
The highway doesn’t rock, it only hums
like a wing of long insults. The worn-down welts   
of ancient punishments lead back and forth.

All runaways wear dresses, long green ones,
the color you would think shame was. We scrub   
the sidewalks down because it's shameful work.   
Our brushes cut the stone in watered arcs   
and in the soak frail outlines shiver clear
a moment, things us kids pressed on the dark   
face before it hardened, pale, remembering
delicate old injuries, the spines of names and leaves.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.