Unraveling the Spreading Cloth of Time: Indigenous Thoughts Concerning the Universe
Edited by MariJo Moore and Trace A. DeMeyer, Dedicated to Vine Deloria Jr
This anthology includes short pieces by Suzan Shown Harjo, Gabriel Horn, John Trudell, Dean Hutchins, Lois Red Elk, Suzanne Zahrt Murphy, Amy Krout-Horn, Jack D. Forbes, John D. Berry, Sidney Cook Bad Moccasin, III, Trace A. DeMeyer, Clieord E. Trafzer, William S. Yellow Robe, Jr., Bobby González, Duane BigEagle, Carol Wille`e Bachofner, Lela Northcross Wakely, Georges Sioui, Keith Secola, Mary Black Bonnet, Kim Shuck, Trevino L. Brings Plenty, Dawn Karima Pe`igrew, Stephanie A. Sellers, Natalie bomas Kindrick, Basil H. Johnston, Barbara-Helen Hill, Alice Azure, Phyllis A. Fast, Doris Seale, Terra Trevor, Denise Low, Vine Deloria Jr., Jim Stevens, ire’ne lara silva, Susan Deer Cloud, Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Tony Abeyta, MariJo Moore.
Vine Deloria Jr. held degrees in both law and theology. His father was an Episcopal priest and missionary on the Sioux reservation and his aunt, Ella Deloria, was an anthropologist. He was a ground-breaker, a trail-maker, and an iconoclast, a revisionist historian and an institution-builder among Native Americans -- taking on the larger society on their own ground with their own assumptions. He was five years older than me and died in 2005, leaving a huge body of work, including twenty influential books. I saw him speak in Portland, OR, and visited with him via email. (I am white with a long history on the Blackfeet reservation.)
I think Deloria was consciously and deliberately both participating in and creating a great shift in world-wide thought away from the European Enlightenment, which was a system of scientific, evidence-based ideas that have been a great source of technology and a certain kind of progress, but which have also been misused to oppress people who didn’t fit what were sometimes mistaken conclusions. Deloria’s most famous dissension was rejecting the land-bridge that was supposed to be the access of Native American peoples to the American continents. This notion has been proven and disproven in many dimensions, which didn’t bother Deloria. He just wanted people to think -- and then to act in conscientious ways.
The paradigm shift he accepted was called by some the Aquarian or New Age idea that had American roots in the renewed contact with the Asian world that created the Transcendentalist movement in New England. Through the Sixties and Seventies it has resulted in renewed understanding of women; LGBTQIA issues; a wave of lyrical poetry and romance novels; the spreading practice of Buddhism, Hinduism, and the other Asian world-views; mysticism, especially mystical science-fiction; the legitimacy of the sensual; and the inclusion of all peoples. Slowly, it created a new awareness that allowed us at last to see the People already here. It has justified the Pan-American tribal culture grown up around Pow-wows and a hybrid material culture as well as promoting political solidarity among the whole planet’s indigenous people, even the ones who have barely discovered the rest of the world and those, like Wiccans, who are in a wonderful new term, “chrononauts,” cruising time as much as place.
This shift in the way of looking at things has been met by a parallel shift in physics and cosmology which no longer uses only the principles of Newton to explain existence. If you don’t see the elegant irony of that, you’re not Vine Deloria Jr. and you should hang around with indigenous people. I agree with William S. Yellow Robe, Jr. from Fort Peck who said the best response to life is laughter and supplied a celebration of that idea in his short piece.
I’m reviewing this anthology from a pdf rather than from a paper book. Computer technology has been -- in that two-sided way that so many things operate -- a great gift to the indigenous people who immediately saw the value -- but also made it possible for some to invade the great online Pow-Wow, confusing it through flaming paranoia, opinions from the uninformed, and mouseholes where the publishers came and went -- always making money for themselves -- not the writers. In that busy boundary too many people were sorted on the grounds of genealogy as determined by the White Eyes who keep lists and databases. It is impossible to determine tribes by genetics but only by treaty-governed descent from listed parents. The better criteria is whether the writer participates in this deeper understanding of human survival and contributes to the principles that protect it. For millennia the tribes prospered by pulling in new blood.
The tone of this anthology suggests that we have gotten past the arguing and legal quibbles that undercut the very sources of understanding. Tribes were given the right to determine their own membership and then, when Ward Churchill was declared an Indian by “his” tribe, their decision was mocked, undercutting NA sovereignty. People like my close friend Tim Barrus (whose work was praised by Marijo Moore, one of these editors) were attacked as fake when in fact they saw the world in the same heart-shaped way as the indigenous and ought to have been pulled into their world. Only the suicides of two fine and honored NA writers brought us back to reality, but in a horrid way. We don’t know how many indigenous people stopped writing out of fear. We do know that the publishers abandoned Native American literature as too much trouble. No money in it.
Now we know better. The people represented here write out of love. This anthology is assembled from memories, essays, poetry, and unclassifiable writing to form a knotted shawl for the universe. Don’t make it into something it is not and does not need to be. The epigraph declares: “All the tribes say the universe is just the product of mind ... It fits perfectly with the Quantum. Indians believe the universe is mind, but they explore the spiritual end of it, not the physical end.” Vine Deloria Jr.
The editors say, “This anthology does not reveal secret ‘how-to’s’concerning the ceremonies of Indigenous peoples, neither does it reveal the ‘power’ of medicine people, nor reveal knowledge meant to be kept in tribal protection.” Well, actually it comes awfully close to providing a lot of material for wanna-be shamans, but one of the shifts in this massive, universal, essentially autochthonous understanding of life, is that things cannot be confined in boxes, trademarked for commercial profit, or hoarded to benefit only one’s small group.
A principle of the quantum is that things cannot be nailed to the floor or “owned” but that the more explored, the more given away, the more stars and galaxies named, the more there are. The problem is not acquiring “enough,” but rather to find space to shape one’s small corner from the plenty of the planet. These writers have done this work and the editors have performed the service of spooning the ceremonial soup into bowls for you to sup from. Some of this work has appeared other places and much of it will be quoted again, the pdf escaping into the googley world. In the European paradigm which depended on things brought home and measured out of ships’ holds for profit, this would be bad. In the cosmic Vine Deloria Jr. paradigm, things fly on their own and find new mates, creating in their polyamorous way an even Newer World.
We must honor this anthology and these writers. I included their names so you could seek them out and buy their work. Some have websites. Some are academics. Some are dead. All are verbal fancy dancers. Fly with them.