Slavic Prelude

April 11, 2016

I recently had the privilege of seeing a performance of Preludium Słowiańskie (Slavic Prelude) by the Art Color Ballet in Krakow, Poland. The Art Color Ballet is a modern dance company established in 1998 by Agnieszka Glińska, an award winning Polish dancer and choreographer who earned her M.A. at the Akademia Pedagogiczna studying under Piotr Jargusz. Combining modern dance with the art of body painting she has put together numerous shows and competed in Body Art Festivals internationally with her company. This particular performance was a celebration of the pre-Christianized Slavic people, an artistic representation of their ancient Polish ancestors and an acknowledgement of the nation’s tribal roots.


Like many Native Americans from Brazil to Illinois the pre-Christian Slavs also had a mound culture (there are four mounds in Krakow alone) which was most likely inherited from the Vikings who themselves possibly picked it up from Native Americans in one of their many trips across the Atlantic to lands they called “Vinland” over 2,000 years ago. Cultural exchange was a sign of mutual respect among people encountering each other and establishing mutually beneficial relations. It is from the Vikings that the Iroquois borrowed the longhouse and the word sachem which meant “a gathering”. The word is rooted in the Nordic and Slavic word sejm meaning the exact same thing and still used today. Not only did the eagle play an equally significant role in the Slavic world as it did in that of my ancestors but they also shared the totem pole in common with the people of the Northwestern US, Canada and Alaska. The Polish version is exhibited at the Museum of Archeology in Krakow. Native Americans had medicine men who were frequently referred to as Shamans by Europeans because the word Shaman was a Slavic (Russian) word rooted in the Hindu Shramana which meant a “seeker” or “mystic”.

These various parallels are surface similarities, however. Beneath the surface they were much more like our ancestors in that they were a tribal people living with their natural environment as extensions of it. They didn’t view their mountains and rivers as scenery they moved through or backdrops that they stood before as so many modern people do today but saw a connection and interdependence in all living forms. We today are divorced on many levels from those ways of living and thinking if we are completely honest with ourselves – both Poles and modern Native Americans. For this reason the show was titled “Slavic Prelude” because it was a symbolic representation of the lifestyle once lived that now exists only in our collective memories, rooted in oral traditions and archeological evidence. It was not meant to be a portrayal of the specific tribes or how they actually lived.


In the performance the drumming, dancing, singing, body painting, lighting and other elements revolved around the four seasons and celebrated the Slavic deities attributed to them. There were four particularly beautiful scenes that remain with me still. The first involved drummers and painted women dancing to celebrate the harvesting season. At one point, synchronized with the drums, the women began seducing the men by throwing grain up and outward in all directions onto the stage perfectly timed with the beat. The effect was hypnotic. A second scene involved a thunder storm and a woman dancing chaotically in the rain while paint seemed to appear as if by magic covering her hands and spreading up her arms to the rest of her body. Later in the show leaves of various colors fell from above and the entire tribe danced around a man, symbolizing a god, who crouched throughout the scene on a post. As the rhythm picked up and the song ended he stood and they closed in around him. To watch the show was like seeing the spirit of a people reborn – something I can relate with personally.

Leaving the theatre I was wondering why I have never seen a show like it celebrating Native Americans prior to European colonization. That is something I would personally love to be involved in creating. It occurred to me that the reason is rather obvious. Unlike Poles we Native Americans are an occupied people who do not control our lands and we’ve been on defense mode for so long just trying to survive under a government that has been actively trying to destroy us that we haven’t had the opportunity to turn our focus toward the future . . . until now. A Native American Renaissance is currently underway. To see a Polish artist creatively looking back to pre-history and drawing inspiration from her research told me that this renaissance is going to be a global movement as people around the world turn toward their Native origins to root themselves as nations in ancient traditions. But, perhaps that is my own personal interpretation (and dream). What makes shows like this so great is each viewer is free to understand it however they do.


If you have never seen a performance by the Art Color Ballet and are ever in Krakow (Poland) I would highly suggest that you look them up online, find them on Facebook or contact them directly to inquire about their next performance dates. You won’t be disappointed.

The Art Color Ballet



Interview with Robert A. Williams, Jr.

October 16, 2015
Robert A. Williams

Robert A. Williams, Jr. is a Lumbee Professor of Law at the University of Arizona. A Native American lawyer, author and legal scholar with a focus on Indigenous Rights and Colonial Theory he received his B.A. from Loyola College in 1977 before going on to earn his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1980. As the Director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program he is also the project leader for a virtual university devoted to Native Nations. He has worked with the United Nations and served as a co-counsel for Floyd Hicks in the United States Supreme Court case of Nevada vs. Hicks.

Last week I read “Savage Anxieties” by Williams and reached out to him to discuss the book and some of the ideas within it. What follows is an excerpt from our discussion (my questions are in bold):

How did you end up going in the direction that you did?

“I was 14 in 1969, the year Vine Deloria, who was himself a lawyer, published “Custer Died for Your Sins” in Playboy. I really did read the articles in the magazine at 14! The Alcatraz Island occupation and those signal events, along with all the craziness of the Vietnam War were really the birth of my own political consciousness. My father was a lawyer and even at 14 I knew I wanted to use the law as a way to advocate for change as an Indian rights lawyer. I was the only American Indian in my class at Harvard Law School when I entered there in 1977, so I thought there was a real need for Native lawyers. What I didn’t realize was that there really weren’t all that many places one could go to be an Indian rights lawyer. Only a couple of law firms in D.C. specialized at the time and I spent a summer working at one of those firms after my second year, eventually deciding that wasn’t the type of practice I wanted to do at all. In fact, it was there that I realized that what was really needed were people who could teach Indian law and train Indian lawyers from an Indian perspective – the type of perspective Vine Deloria was writing from – so I decided to see if I could get a job as a law professor, teaching, writing about, and advocating for Indian rights in a setting where someone else was paying my overhead to do what I loved to do.”

I had a subscription to Playboy beginning at 13 also and always read the interviews, articles and stories . . . after looking at the photos, of course. Haha Your book Savage Anxieties highlights how Western Civilization has defined itself from the time of the Greeks to the present in relation to the savage, whether real or imaginary, and is entirely dependent upon the perennial other as an inferior brutish or childlike primitive. Do you think that the dichotomy of the noble savage vs the violent savage is really just a universal projection of man’s own struggle between his two inner voices onto that perennial “other”?

“Absolutely, I always try to make the point when I speak to non-Native audiences that other cultures engage in the same type of “othering” process I describe in Savage Anxieties. The Chinese regarded the Taiwanese indigenous peoples they invaded as “raw savages” or “cooked savages” depending on whether they accepted the sovereignty of the Chinese over their island. Dehumanization through denigration of other peoples’ culture and religion, or even physical appearance or dress, is encountered among most of the cultures in the world. What makes western civilization unique is how the term “savage” has been operationalized to justify global domination and colonization over non-Western peoples so consistently throughout its history.”

Right, I recall in one of Bruce Lee’s films, Fists of Fury (called The Chinese Connection in English) there was a scene where the Japanese attacked the Chinese students and left a sign calling them “The sick man of Asia”. In the scene Lee goes alone to their school with the sign and a fight ensues ending with him feeding the sign to one of the men responsible.

If we could travel back in time and bring people from the past to the present to see where we are in the world today and who we’ve become as people . . . what do you think our ancestors would make of us?

“I think many of our ancestors would be proud of the way we have persisted, continually struggled, and kept our language and traditions alive, despite everything done by non-Indians to destroy us.”

At the end of your book you said, “the burning question that should occupy our time then, I believe, is whether Western Civilization will be able to reinvent itself and its law of indigenous people’s human rights without using the idea of the savage.” I don’t believe they can but I wonder if we, being viewed currently as Noble Savages, can become a nobility and bring a new modern form of our traditions to the modern world, giving it the civilization that they have been talking so much about creating. I’ve come up with the concept of U.N.N.A. (United Nations of Native America) as a sort of Pan-Indian Government which all of the Native Nations could collaborate to form. Perhaps we could all work together to bring this about and establish some sort of Nativist Philosophy and new political party to invite non-Natives to join . . . a way to give America an authentic American identity.

“Great point Jonathan, and quite frankly, I don’t think Western civilization is capable of surviving and thriving (at other peoples’ expense) without the idea of the savage. Is it any coincidence that a culture that devalues the environment and the land we depend upon for survival first attempted to destroy the peoples who stewarded that land and maintained its balance and integrity for centuries prior to its own arrival on the scene? In one of my earlier books, Linking Arms Together: American Indian treaty visions 1600-1800, I read and digested hundreds of early Indian treaties with European colonial powers. In fact, what I found was an incredibly coherent, powerful vision of our human potential to make connections of law and peace across cultures and boundaries. The traditions of North American Indian diplomacy are one place we might want to start the type of project you outline.”

[I’d like to thank Robert Williams for taking the time to discuss his book with me and being open to me sharing this portion of our discussion. I believe that it is time for all of us, as Native Americans, to come together and speak truth to power. It doesn’t appear that I’m alone in this belief. If you haven’t read Savage Anxieties and can find a copy for yourself online or order it through a local bookstore I highly recommend it.]


Savage Anxieties

October 8, 2015

In Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization Robert Williams opens the first four chapters of his book by showing that from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to Hesiod’s Works and Days the savage was used as a rhetorical tool to establish the Greek identity. While Homer’s savage was a fierce, monstrous enemy of civilization that needed to be conquered and subjugated Hesiod’s was a hyper-sexualized noble natural, disinterested in civilized pursuits such as art and philosophy, who roamed naked all day and frolicked in pleasure. In both cases the savage lived a lawless ape-like existence (either a psychotic chimpanzee or a simple minded bonobo but never a human being). Dissecting the language of savagery with its various clichés and stereotypes Robert leads the reader on a linear journey into the hells of Western Expansion like Virgil did Dante through the Inferno to limbo where all pagans have remained forever cursed to dwell in the minds of colonizers.

From the Ancient Greeks into the Roman Empire the savage played a pivotal role in the establishment of Western Civilization as a centralized urban ideal. It is by inventing the savage that the civilized could be defined. When the Roman Empire collapsed from within and inserted itself into the church its conquering spirit evolved to take on a new religious form. Popes, the new Emperors, set out to civilize the wild men of the world (i.e. any who were not Christians). Unlike the Greeks and Romans after them, however, Christians rejected the existence of the noble savage entirely and exaggerated the qualities of the barbarian, in many instances identifying the pagans with devils, witches, wizards, goblins, trolls and other half human beasts. Throughout the Dark Ages of Europe the “wild men” once again became the Cyclops and Centaurs, Satyrs and Minotaur and the church fancied itself as a Theseus sent to slay them in all their forms either by conversion or eradication.

The concept of the noble savage, however, returned once more during the Italian Renaissance as the classical texts (both Greek and Roman) were reclaimed by priests and re-introduced to Europeans through artists and poets. Portugal, Spain, France and Britain began competing for new territories and each went forth across the waters conditioned and primed by over 2,000 years of savage thoughts. Sailing into the unknown and uncharted seas they set out to explore the two new continents expecting to encounter savage men living savage lives – some noble and others monstrous – and “discovered” precisely what they were seeking in order to justify their invasions.

Many of the savage fantasies of the Greeks, Romans and Christians are recognizable today still in literary and Hollywood depictions of Native Americans. At the present time we, as NDNs, are back to being the harmless noble savages, spiritually attuned to nature . . . a rare bird hunted to the verge of extinction. It doesn’t take much, however, for us to once again be transformed in the minds of many into the “merciless Indian savages” that the Declaration of Independence deemed we were when the United States became a Nation. The savage, never a reality but merely a tool, is conjured up like fire to destroy the perennial “other” whenever they aren’t being used like water to cleanse and purify the civilized society.

I can’t recommend this book more to anybody interested in issues relating to human history, civil rights or Native Americans. Professors teaching the Classics, Communication Theories, Sociology, Psychology, Critical Theory or Theatre may also find this book to be a valuable addition to their academic arsenal.

Robert A. Williams, Jr. is a Lumbee Professor of Law at the University of Arizona. A Native American lawyer, author and legal scholar with a focus on Indigenous Rights and Colonial Theory he received his B.A. from Loyola College in 1977 before going on to earn his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1980. As the Director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program he is also the project leader for a virtual university devoted to Native Nations. He has worked with the United Nations and served as a co-counsel for Floyd Hicks in the United States Supreme Court case of Nevada vs. Hicks.


Adrianne Chalepah

August 19, 2015

Adrianne Chalepah, a 29 year old Kiowa/Apache comedian, formed the “Ladies of Native Comedy” group in an attempt to bring Native female voices to mainstream America. When I asked her about her motivations she said, “I feel like Native female entertainers are largely overlooked. Our voice is one that’s inaudible to mass America. I’m trying to give us a louder voice because we deserve it. We’ve carried generations of traumatized victims of genocide on our backs and survived it all because of several different things – but one of our tools is humor. We Native women are very funny. The world doesn’t know it but they should.”

With most Native cultures traditionally being matrilineal clan societies the survival of various indigenous identities and communities of North America must be credited primarily to Native American women, our mothers and grandmothers, aunts and cousins. It has been the Native women, tirelessly dedicating themselves to the communities and preservation of our cultures, who have held us together as people. While knowledge about our people, the true Americans, is severely limited not only around the world but also in the United States where we should be best known and understood it has almost completely been “chiefs” and “braves” who have been celebrated (and turned into mascots). Because the Spanish, French, Dutch and English invaders of South, Central  and North America  came from patriarchal societies and European women were treated as inferior and often irrelevant members of European societies that attitude was applied to the little celebration of Native American culture there has been in Mainstream America. Just as the Native male was presented as either a “merciless Indian” (a phrase in the Declaration of Independence) or a “noble savage” the Native female was treated in dime novel and Hollywood representations as either a “noble virginal squaw” or a “savage whore”. This imagined dichotomy served to make the Indian either a friendly or foe, human or beast.

Her love for stand up began when she got on stage for the first time for an open mic in college during her sophomore year. Her five minute set turned into a 17 minute rift of which she recalled, “I left the stage floating on a cloud, in love. Going up on stage I was so nervous that I thought I was gonna die but knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t try.” Growing up in Anadarko, Oklahoma she loved watching Cheech and Chong, Saturday Night Live, Monty Python, Dave Chappelle and Larry the Cable Guy. Her subject matter often plays to the fact that she comes from a mixed background, her mother being white. Aware that there have been no Native American comedians to really break through into the mainstream world of comedy I asked her if she felt that there was a cultural barrier that she’d have to overcome to attain that level of success. “When I perform for Non-Native crowds,” she said. “I try to focus on universal human experiences instead of those of a Native woman. I try to be inclusive.” It’s a juggling act between trying to connect with the audience but simultaneously educate and maintain her identity. She said that she feels “it’s a challenge trying to bridge that gap” but is one she is “familiar with and welcomes”.

I’d like to thank her for taking the time to talk with me and wish her the best with her career. If you haven’t heard of her before you can see a brief clip from one of her sets here, visit her website ( and follow her on facebook.



Ray Young Bear

August 2, 2015
Ray Young Bear and Son

Ray Young Bear, a Meshkwahkihaki (People of the Red Earth) poet and novelist, sent me an e-mail  a couple days ago to let me know that he’s having a new poem published in the New Yorker tomorrow (August 3 – 2015). Born and raised in Iowa Ray spoke Meskwaki as his first language and began writing poetry early on, publishing his first poem in English in 1968. His writing focuses a great deal on the cognitive dissonance felt by many Native Americans today who are being pulled in different directions culturally. Finding it easier to express himself and accurately convey the dislocation that he sees in the people he often includes Meskwaki in his English writing. His fiction includes the two novels Black Eagle Child (1992) and Remnants of the First Earth (1996) along with his collections of poetry Grandmother (1975), Winter of the Salamander (1985), The Invisible Musician (1990), The Rock Island Hiking Club (2001) and The Aura of the Blue Flower that is a Goddess (2001).

With my new move to Krakow (Poland) I’ve slacked off for a couple months so I’d like to thank Ray for getting me back on track with this post and congratulate him on Four Hinterland Abstractions. Here is the cover for the new issue (pick it up if you can) and I’ll include the poem below for those internationally who don’t have access to it.


“The Endless Summer” by Mark Ulriksen (The New Yorker cover, August 2015)

Four Hinterland Abstractions

today a truck
carrying a Tomahawk
missile reportedly tipped
over on the interstate
labelled an “unarmed warhead”
its fabulous smoke had to be
placated with priestlike
words being murmured by
authorities & while covering
the dormant but cross entity
with tarps that had paintings
of blue mountaintop lakes
they affirmed
their presence with nudges
& reminders this valley
was sculpted by the once lovely
wings of a vulture & here
is where
you will quietly attend to
the disorder we heard plainly
over the traffic’s ubiquitous
din & before a smoldering
star’s song

from one winter night
an inquisitive firefly has directed
itself toward my three children
& through its testament
of cold light
floral patterns appear over
their snowy tracks replacing
shadows with light that’s detailed
& compelling us to place ourselves
beside the weeping
willow grandfather to ask him
please behold the witness

previously as a winsome
ghost that’s awash in green
& yellow pulsating colors
it taunted the blue heeler
Simon simon ese who lunged
thereafter fishlike into the night
arcing its scaled torso in order
to bite the protoplasmic wings
so make note
of this psychically attuned
defender i scratched on
the frosted car window
without looking around

on a hot windy afternoon in
downtown why cheer he walked
across the street from where
the dime store used to be
to a remnant column he said
ke me kwe ne ta ayo a be i yo e te ki?
do you recall what used to be here?
having just arrived from
& wearing boots covered
with ochre grains of distant
battlefields he reached down
& crushed several into small
that sped over the sidewalk
as i nodded yes


Indian Givers

March 8, 2015

Excerpt from Indian Givers: How Native Americans Transformed the World by Jack Weatherford (with other references such as photos and quotes inserted by myself in bold letters):

“Despite the ideal government sketched by Plato in The Republic, and the different constitutions analyzed by Aristotle in his Politics, the Old World offered America few democratic models for government. Democratic government had no fortress in the Old World. Despite the democratic rhetoric that came into fashion in eighteenth-century Europe, no such systems existed there at that time. The monarchy and the aristocracy of England were engaged in a protracted struggle that would eventually lead to the supremacy of Parliament (and a closely limited electoral franchise until the reforms of the nineteenth-century). France had not yet begun its experiments with participatory democracy. The Founding Fathers of the United States judiciously assembled bits and pieces of many different systems to invent a completely new one. In fashioning the new system, they even borrowed some distinctive elements from the American Indians.

The Founding Fathers faced a major problem when it came time to invent the United States. They represented, under the articles of Confederation, thirteen separate and sovereign states. How could one country be made from all thirteen without each one yielding its own power?

Reportedly, the first person to propose a union of all the colonies and to propose a federal model for it was the Iroquois chief Canassatego, speaking at an Indian-British assembly in Pennsylvania in July 1744. He complained that the Indians found it difficult to deal with so many different colonial administrations, each with its own policy. It would make life easier for everyone involved if the colonists could have a union that allowed them to speak with one voice. He not only proposed that the colonies unify themselves, but told them how they might do it. He suggested that they do as his people had done and form a union like the League of the Iroquois.


‘We have one thing further to say, and that is we heartily recommend union and a good agreement between you, our brethren. Never disagree, but preserve a strict friendship for one another, and thereby you, as well as we, will become stronger. Our wise forefathers established union and amity between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable, this has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring nations. We are a powerful confederacy, and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh strength and power; therefore, whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another.’ – Canassatego (Boyd, Julian P., ed. Indian treaties printed by Benjamin Franklin, 1736-1762. Philadelphia, 1938.)

Hiawatha and Deganwidah founded the League of the Iroquois sometime between A.D. 1000 and 1450 under a constitution they called the Kaianerekowa or Great Law of Peace. When the Europeans arrived in America, the league constituted the most extensive and important political unit north of the Aztec civilization. From earliest contact the Iroquois intrigued the Europeans, and they were the subject of many amazed reports. Benjamin Franklin, however, seems to have been the first to take their system as a potentially important model by which the settlers might be able to fashion a new government.

Benjamin Franklin first became acquainted with the operation of Indian political organization in his capacity as official printer for the colony of Pennsylvania. His job included publication of the records and speeches of the various Indian assemblies and treaty negotiations, but following his instinctive curiosity, he broadened this into a study of Indian culture and institutions. Because of his expertise and interest in Indian matters, the colonial government of Pennsylvania offered him his first diplomatic assignment as their Indian commissioner. He held this post during the 1750’s and became intimately familiar with the intricacies of Indian political culture and in particular with the League of the Iroquois. After this taste of Indian diplomacy, Franklin became a lifelong champion of the Indian political structure and advocated its use by the Americans. During this time he also refined his political techniques of persuasion, compromise, and slow consensus building that proved so important to his later negotiations as the ambassador to France and as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

Echoing the original proposal of Canassatego, Franklin advocated that the new American government incorporate many of the same features as the government of the Iroquois. Speaking to the Albany Congress in 1754, Franklin called on the delegates of the various English colonies to unite and emulate the Iroquois League, a call that was not heeded until the Constitution was written three decades later. Even though the Founding Fathers finally adopted some of the essential features of the Iroquois League, they never followed it in quite the detail advocated by Franklin.

The Iroquois League united five principal Indian nations – the Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca, Oneida and Cayuga. Each of these nations had a council composed of delegates called sachems who were elected by the tribes of that nation. The Seneca Nation elected eight sachems to its council, the Mohawk and Oneida nations each had councils of nine sachems, the Cayuga Nation had a council of ten, and the Onondaga Nation had a council of fourteen. Each of these nations governed its own territory, and its own council met to decide the issues of public policy for each one. But these councils exercised jurisdiction over the internal concerns of that one nation only; in this regard they exercised powers somewhat like the individual governments of the colonies.

In addition to the individual councils of each separate nation, the sachems formed a grand Council of the League in which all fifty sachems of the six nations sat together to discuss issues of common concern. The sachems represented their individual nations, but at the same time they represented the whole League of the Iroquois, thereby making the decisions of the council the law for all five nations. In this council each sachem had equal authority and privileges, with his power dependent on his oratorical power to persuade. The council met in the autumn of at least one year in five in a longhouse in the Onondaga Nation; if needed they could be called into session at other times as well. Their power extended to all matters of common concern among the member nations. In the words of Lewis Henry Morgan, America’s first modern anthropologist, the council ‘declared war and made peace, sent and received embassies, entered into treaties of alliance, regulated the affairs of subjugated nations, received new members into the League, extended its protection over feeble tribes, in a word, took all needful measures to promote their prosperity, and enlarge their dominion.’

Through this government the nations of the Iroquois controlled territory from New England to the Mississippi River, and they built a league that endured for centuries. Unlike European governments, the league blended the sovereignty of several nations into one government. This model of several sovereign units united into one government presented precisely the solution to the problem confronting the writers of the United States Constitution. Today we call this a ‘federal’ system in which each state retains power over internal affairs and the national government regulates affairs common to all. Henry Steele Commager later wrote of this crucial time that even if Americans did not actually invent federalism, they were able to take out an historical patent on it’. The Indians invented it even though the United States patented it.”


Native American History

Tecumseh’s Tomahawk

February 17, 2015

The Tomahawk, an American Indian Battle Axe, gets the origin of its name from the Powhatan word, tamahaac. Tecumseh was a Shawnee Chief who led a major resistance against the United States and their invasion of Shawnee lands in the Ohio, Indiana and Illinois Valley. As a young man Tecumseh was a follower of Tsiyu Gansini (Dragging Canoe) during the Tsikama’gi (Chickamauga) wars (1776-1794) and lived near Chattanooga with the Lower Cherokee. The time that he spent fighting under the leadership of Tsiyu Gansini and alongside the young Sequoyah taught him a great deal and set the foundation for his own revolution up north during the war of 1812. This Tomahawk was presented to Tecumseh as a gift from the Colonel Henry Proctor at Fort Malden in Amherstburg, Ontario. The Shawnee war chief Tecumseh had been good friends with the British General Isaac Brock because of his willingness to prosecute the American Revolutionaries who were pushing their way into Indian Territory. When Brock was killed in 1812 Colonel Proctor took his place. Tecumseh didn’t like him because he lacked Brock’s courage and was constantly second guessing every decision. In order to keep the Shawnee aligned with the British Proctor repeatedly gave them various weapons as gifts. This Tomahawk presented to Tecumseh by Proctor was one of those weapons. On one end was the blade for war and on the other end was a pipe for peace. The axe itself was both a weapon and  a peace pipe. The term “Tomahawk Diplomacy” is rooted in this style of Tomahawk with a peace pipe on one end.


Assassin’s Creed 3: Rise

February 12, 2015

I realize that this game has been out for quite some time but I remember when I first saw the UK Trailer for it. That night I went out and bought the game because let’s be honest, how often do they come out with games revolving entirely around Native American characters? The game has it’s flaws but even with its flaws it’s an incredible creation. Here’s to hoping that more games come out revolving around Native American characters. I’ve wanted to see the creators of Black Ops come out with a game where you get to decide whether you’re an early American fighting for independence from Great Britain or a Native American leader who aligned with Britain to fight the Americans from moving in on your land. It could be an amazing game online also where players get to pick which side they are on in open stage combat. The early Americans had their reasons for fighting and the Native Americans had their reasons for resisting and the game, if done well, could easily show both sides objectively with highly developed story lines.

This scene was actually really powerful for a video game as well. If you haven’t had the chance to play it and like video games give it a shot. It’s one that will keep you busy for a while. The fact that the creators also turned to the Native Nations for linguistic accuracy also is nice.


Hard Rock Pow Wow – 2015

February 8, 2015

This weekend the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida is hosting a Pow Wow. My wife and I weren’t able to make it yesterday but stopped by today. If you’ve never been to a Native American Festival you’re missing out. It’s a great time with cool people, great food, good music and unique events reflecting the culture and region of the host Nation. The Seminoles offered an Alligator Wrestling show, a tent with various arts and crafts for sale, BBQ and Frybread. The main event, however, is always the drums and dancing. Against all odds our people are still here and Pow Wows are part of the reason why. It’s a time of Native solidarity and inter-national celebrations. While you do have to belong to a Native Nation to compete and some Pow Wows are closed to Non-NDN’s there are numerous which are open to the public . . . so you don’t have to be a Native American to experience the celebrations. Below are some of the photos that my wife and I took today . . .


© Jonathan Rex


© Jonathan Rex


© Natalia Rex


© Natalia Rex

From April 23-25 the Gathering of the Nations Pow Wow will be going down in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As one of the largest Native American events people from over 500 Nations originating in the United States and Canada travel to New Mexico to compete in 32 dance categories. There are also singing and drumming contests as well as a Miss Indian World contest with winners chosen on their personality, cultural knowledge and dancing abilities. Along with the Pow Wow Competitions there’s a Trader Market for Native American arts and crafts to be sold/purchased.

The Fancy Shawl Dance is my personal favorite as an uptempo dance, as performed by Candace here:


One on One: Winona Mesotawi Linn

February 6, 2015

Winona Mesotawi Linn is a 25 year old Meskwaki with dual Canadian/American citizenship. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of King’s College, Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. Recently while roving through youtube I stumbled across a spoken word poem of hers, enjoyed it quite a bit and decided to reach out for a one on one. This is the exchange that followed (her words are in italic):

As a little kid I was obsessed with Dr. Seuss; in High School it was Shakespeare. On the surface the two probably seem as different as they could possibly be but what they both shared in common was that they had no problem making up words. I was 13 the first time that I heard a Spoken Word poem. It was Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie by Bob Dylan. His voice, enunciation and delivery were terrible but the words and ideas stayed with me. His song “It’s Alright Ma” is also probably my favorite song for the same reason – it had that same feeling to it. What were your early poetry influences and how did they grow throughout your life and mature? Was there a specific moment that you realized, “Wow . . . spoken word is where it’s at!”?

I’ve always been a writer, but my earliest poetic influences were undoubtedly shaped by my relationship with my father. My father is a poet and a songwriter, with a gift for improvisation, and he used to think up poems and songs for my brother and me while he helped us with our homework, built canoes in our backyard, or made dinner. When I was in middle school I started writing down what he would come up with, and then later together the two of us would edit the little poems into finished works. I’ve still got those around somewhere. There were books of them. As for spoken word, I was first introduced to it when I was 16, and my high school invited a spoken-word poet to come and speak to the English and Creative Writing classes. She was absolutely amazing, and really opened my eyes to how engaging poetry could be. I skipped the rest of school that day, went to the park and wrote my first 5 slam poems. I fell in love then, and haven’t looked back since.

You definitely have a gift for it. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future. Being a man all of my role models growing up were males. They were from various ethnic groups, religions and periods but always males. Whether it was Yeshua and Buddha, Bruce Lee and Jean Claude Van Damme, Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur or Leonardo da Vinci . . . all of my early influences were Non-Natives, especially being born and raised on U.S. military bases in California and the Philippines. I always knew that my mother was Native American but the military schools that I attended never taught me anything at all about my people. Public schools I attended after my father retired weren’t much better in that sense either. Native Americans got one chapter in my freshman history class. Tecumseh was mentioned briefly and then a few others from the plains Nations were discussed. There were plenty of photos of men in headdresses taken by Edward Curtis. They covered the Dime Novels and Wild West Shows and that’s honestly all I remember hearing in school. The rest came from the media. When I began reading up on the Chickamauga and one of my ancestors Tsiyu Gansini (Dragging Canoe) I had to order out of print books such Old Frontiers by John P. Brown to get sources to follow up with and it pissed me off that this man, a great man that I am descended from, could have played such a significant role in American history and not be taught in American schools . . . not even a whisper that he ever lived. That’s part of what motivated me to create this site to learn and share what I’m learning and inspire others to do the same. As a Native American woman did you grow up within your Nation’s culture or was it something you had to seek out and re-immerse yourself in?

That anecdote about the history textbook really resonates with me. I still remember reading about the “savage Iroquois” and the “noble Huron” in eighth grade! I grew up mainly in Canada, but my dual citizenship and family all over the States meant that I spent a lot of time South-of-the-border too. I have an interesting split, I suppose, when it comes to heritage, because my mixed identity is divided along political borders too. My mother, who died when I was 16, was a white Canadian from Deep River, Ontario. She met my father, a Meskwaki farm-boy from Ohio, and moved to Kingston, Ontario, where I was born. Both of my parents were adamant that my brother and I know about our culture, and be raised in the ways of the Red Earth People. Kingston (and the surrounding area) is actually the ancestral lands of the Meskwaki, who were forcibly relocated Southwest to Iowa in the 1800s, but the town the way it is now is not exactly a diverse city, if you know what I mean. I have always known who I am, but finding a community of Native people (who weren’t my immediate relatives) didn’t happen for me until university, when I was able to move to a bigger city, and get involved in Friendship Centres and such. To use your term, I definitely “re-immersed” myself in my Nativeness. It’s something that a lot of us displaced people face, the finding of ourselves later in life. My early role models weren’t primarily Native women, although there were some. I wanted to be a biologist when I was a child, so all the women I looked up to were scientists of some kind. I did have a definite Buffy Sainte-Marie phase when I was a teenager, and I still have a crush on Evan Adams (but only as Thomas Builds-the-Fire, I love me some braids and nerd glasses.)

Sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. It’s funny, you wanted to be a biologist and I remember one of the first things I said I wanted to be as a kid was a marine biologist. I’m not even sure if I knew then what it was. We lived on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay and I used to play by myself with the crabs around the seawall rocks and pretend it was my job. Haven’t thought about that since I was a kid, actually. Anyway, back to you . . . your poem addresses an issue that a lot of Native Americans of mixed ethnic backgrounds have to deal with.

People wanna classify “Black-Indians” as Black and “White-Indians” as White . . . at least in the United States. Unless you’re in the brown zone you’re automatically suspected of being a “Wannabe” or “Knock Off”. Europeans, Asians and even Semitic people who can tan can land roles playing Indians over Natives who are lighter skinned for the simple fact that people have been programmed to a specific image and the popular opinion of those programmed masses dictate the casting director’s decisions since believability overrides reality when profit is the primary motivating factor. It’s crazy. It’s actually a complex issue among Native Americans also. European-Americans have been appropriating the Cherokee culture (and continue shamelessly doing it) to such an extent that when Native Americans from different Nations meet a real Cherokee they’re surprised they actually exist – it’s actually a running joke in the U.S. that every white person in America has a Great-Grandmother who was a “Cherokee Princess”. Your poem was great but it doesn’t really touch on a lot of these issues and I was curious what your thoughts on this were.

Absolutely it’s a complex issue. And as someone who does not fall into the “brown zone” – your term- I’ve come up against anger and suspicion with regularity from both sides. Blood quantum, tribal enrolment, tribal recognition- all of these institutions have flaws, although I do believe that they are in place for the good of our people. The 1491s do a great parody of a casting call for “Twilight,” that expresses these same concerns, where four Native men lose out on the part to play one of the werewolf-pack. Don’t even get me started on “Twilight.” 

With multiculturalism through the internet and the constant misrepresentation and appropriation of Native Americans by the mainstream, such as in Twilight – I jokingly refer to the fictional characters as Quaaludes because they’re depressants – what do you see as a possible solution to this growing problem of identity?

I think one of the great things that’s happening today, if we can move to a positive note, is the Native pride that our young people are demonstrating. For example, when A Tribe Called Red asked white people to stop wearing feather headdresses to their Electric Powwows, or when the “Urban NDN” hashtag started picking up speed. These kind of actions resonate strongly within our community, and show the rest of the world that we exist, and are no longer willing to be culturally-appropriated by every white girl with a hot-glue gun. It is very important for young Natives to feel proud of who they are, and to be vocal about it. Identity is not something to hide, and I think that if more of us are active in the community, and act as leaders, we will be able to do away with this “knock off” and “wannabe” problem.

Did somebody actually call you a “Knock Off Indian” or was the individual in your poem more of a character/catalyst to breach the subject? If so were they Native or Non-Native and what was the story behind the event that led to you writing that piece?

Yes, it is based on a true story. I was performing a poem about the state of Canadian reserves, and after I left the stage, a drunk man (white) came up to me and told me that I was a “knock-off Pocahontas.” I was angry, but not quick on my feet, so I went home and wrote down everything that I would have liked to have said to him, had I been a little less tongue-tied. Although my poem doesn’t delve too deeply into these issues, as it is a personal experience, I do have a line at the end where I refer to myself as a “Meskwaki princess” which is my own personal joke at the “Cherokee Princess” bullshit. I’m my father’s only daughter, and spoiled rotten, and that’s the closest I’ll ever get to being a princess.

Wado, Mesotawi
“Thank You”

Those who want to keep up with Winona’s work can follow her on Facebook and Youtube. She’s currently participating in the CanLip Poetry Contest from Feb 2 – Feb 15 with her video “Homeward Bound” on youtube. Check it out and hit the thumbs up below her video to help her win.