Monday, September 17, 2018


Misnamed, misunderstood, misappropriated -- from the first moment a Euro person stepped onto these two linked  continents, the "Americas" named for a Euro, and got them all wrong, there have been attempts to understand but only misinterpreted everything.  All attempts to claim one thing or another have ended in atrocity, impassioned opposition, and subversion.  Never resolved, but tolerated because the indigenous people were stymied: couldn't speak English, didn't understand the idea of Rule of Law, had no boundaries or flags or declarations.  But now they do.  (Are they still "Indians"?  I say yes, but transformed.)

Two recent scientific studies add to the mess with things we didn't know, could never have known before.  One is from genetics and the other is from geology.  They mesh.

Let's look at them one at a time.  I've noted the two website posts that I'm considering.  The first is about a jump in the genome that made a certain kind of persons (including the American indigenous) better able to nourish their children.  It assumes that this genome is basically Asian.  

In the past indigenous people have passionately resisted the idea that their genome is Asian-based, but that was during a time when we were at war with Japan and Korea.  Now "Asian" means "California" and is more acceptable; in fact, considered so superior that their numbers are limited at Ivy League universities to keep them from dominating.  But the new loop in the story is about hominins, pre-Homo Sapiens (like Neanderthals and other pre-humans) and the evidence that the Naledi genome accumulated in the Asian countries.  Much to explore!

The other web-posted idea is about the continents that we now know are always moving, and our ability to figure out and prove where they were and likely what humans were doing in relation to the change in land.  We've known that the Pacific Ocean is forcing itself up between China/Siberia and Alaska/Canada, but that there is still a kind of strand between the two continents, like pulling apart something gooey as warm cheese.  

In the imagination, we thought of a "land bridge" for people and animals and artists created a long line of evolving specimens marching across, mixing it up with Darwinian ideas about evolution.  The single-file on a horizon is an old figure in Europe.  It shows up in Ingmar Bergman's "Seventh Seal" for example and is often headed by Death with his scythe.

Now that we understand that "sea level" goes up and down, depending on things like ice burden at the poles, the height of the water on coasts also moves, much to the distress to people living on waterfronts and islands.  At the same time we have learned that what we call evolution is not a tree, but a bush.  There are many versions of living beings and they interweave with each other, like the recently discovered skeleton with both Neanderthal and Naledi genes in the bones, meaning that they were not separate species if you accept the definition of species meaning that they are not fertile with each other.

Now the proven nature of the Beringia area, called the Standstill, and the culture of the people there is that the land was a kind of low country, not so far above the sea, submerged by a rise in the water.  This is recorded without clues to culture, because we haven't searched underwater for signs of villages or tools, but we have scouted along the Western coast of America and we do find them even submerged.

There's a lot of justifiable pride in feeling that a category of people have been in one place so long that they have always been there, and truth in the idea of them forming a distinct group with shared physical characteristics as well as a culture based on the place -- the buffalo, or the corn, or the salmon.  

The Euro idea of God making little creatures and posing them around the landscape is a made-up story.  The principle that all hominins, including us, arise from the land is closer to the actual, but not complete.  Still, wolves, coyotes, and collies can interbreed fertilely, but are normally separated by their cultures.  They don't do things or occupy places that support the mix.  If humans interfere with that, they get coydogs and mules and ligers for no particular reason -- deadends.  So what are we all?

Humans are not like that.  All existing hominins are fertile together, BUT that is a premise based on the whole category.  Cultural groupings still persist to the extent that they are supported by economics, but no one lives off buffalo now. There is no culture based on baloney sandwiches alone.  In a transition period the culture on the rez was reliant on commodity cheese and second-hand Euro clothes.  No longer.  So what is the cultural content of indigenous people?  The first attempt was pan-Indian marketing, mostly through the movies.  It served its purpose which was at least in part political.  

Probably culture cannot be designed, in particular from the outside.  It slowly arises and will be in tension in this case between a unity of ALL indigenous people and the particularity of the place where they formed "tribes."  Deeper than that are the assumptions that these people have had about all life and even landscape.

Instead of the direct experience the elder people had when I first came to the rez (the old people had been born in the 1880's -- both indigenous and Euros) these are the things that we've just learned recently: airports, computer tablets, sugar, passivity.  A jumble to be sorted.  Below are ideas to think about when figuring it out.

Human identity is a combination of genetics and culture.

Culture arises out of environment and the resulting economics.

The body, genomics, arises out of human relationship.

Conflict is relationship -- the opposite of attachment is indifference, which prevents human happiness.

There is no such thing as race -- there is only variation which can sometimes be grouped by EITHER genome or culture, or both.

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