Dead World Indians
North American Indian: a type of human being found sitting nearly naked on the Belly of the Mother Earth, before a small fire, holding a rattle and an Eagle Feather, singing…until they were reduced to the size of a small pill and we were forced to swallow them.
I recently went through Pisa Italy during their one day a year street festival. Americans spell it differently. It is a beautiful, historic old Italian city…the one with the Leaning Tower.
I was presented with the strange sight of Inca Indians pretending to be North American Indians. Where they got the clown suits they were wearing is a mystery. They were wearing plastic and fake feathers. They had on the most insulting imitation Plains style crap I have ever seen.
Why? WTF? If they showed up on American tribal lands with such clothing there would be serious violence, perhaps even murder. Here, there was only a huge crowd of beer-drinking Italians. They seemed to like it.
A friend explained that Native Americans are very “in”, very popular right now in Italy. So, to make money these guys make music that pretends to be Native American. They have art posters, music CDs, T-Shirts, the whole package. All these things are designed to make them look not like Inca Indians, but Plains Indians. We saw two performing musical groups and dozens of tables with Incas selling the most horrible fake Indian crap I have yet seen. It seems like a weird new epidemic. Now Indians from one place are pretending to be Indians from another place. WTF?
After enjoying the huge crowd and a fantastic meal, we started our way back to the hotel. This time as we passed one of the performing Indian Clown groups….the crowd had thinned, things were getting more quiet. I had one of these guys pretty close to me, with his fake feathers tied to a plastic band around his pointed head. I grabbed one of the feathers and tugged on it, from behind. The fellow turned around and looked at me. I asked him what was up. I said to him “What are you doing here with this crap on your body?” I said several other tense things. Slowly, he seemed to understand me. Apparently he knows a little English and he told me he was “Inca”. When I asked him about what he was wearing he said it was his clothes. I pointed out that these were fake clothes from the fake Plains. At that point he asked me if I was an Indian. I told him that I was, yes, an Ojibway. He said “Fantastic!”. That seemed the limit of the English between us. He seemed pathetic and proud and stupid and lost and sweet…the little bastard.
I have no idea what to make of this. Is it harmful to parade and pretend before the uninformed masses? I would have to say yes. The whole business did not make me angry so much as it made me just sad.
This street festival is to honor the patron “Saint” of Pisa. Every city in Sicily has a patron saint. These patrons are the product of the Catholic Church and this “tradition” is apparently imposed upon every Italian village one day each year. I have no idea how these festivals looked in the older days. In these modern times, in Pisa, the streets fill up with vendors of color, from Hindus, Africans, and these “Indians”, and the whole affair becomes something from another dimension.
If you listened to their music it was very strange music. It was made up of largely Peruvian flute music, played in poor imitation of North American flute music, and singing that was trying very hard to be of the Plains style, but far wide of the mark. My friend said that Indians are popular and this was one way these “poor boys” had to make some money. I have been without money. Not once, but many times. In those times when I had no money it never came into my mind to pretend to be anything or anyone. How many Indians over time put on clown suits to dance for stupid tourists?
Remember Black Elk, the so-called Holy Man of the Lakota? He spent quite a few years dancing and performing for tourists at the construction of Mount Rushmore, one of the most hated places on earth for tribal people. Most people do not know that. Twice a day in the summer he would perform Indian Healing Ceremonies for the crowd. Sitting Bull did some performing as well, but he did not play anyone other than himself and did not perform tricks.
How many Indians have tricked themselves into becoming dancing clowns for white people so they could have some money in their pocket?
When I say the first group in Pisa, I wanted to get fruit and start throwing it at them, or maybe beer bottles. It was a real shock. There was quite a crowd of young Italian people all around them, really taking it in. Since most people know almost nothing about tribal people and culture, I guess whatever is presented will work.
While I, and people like me, do try and work as near to the truth as we can, it is really this kind of trash that gets the attention and is more common. I wonder if we are fighting a loosing battle? Personally, I believe the truth matters. I was wondering what my old teachers might have thought of this picture of plastic Indians. I could feel their tears and humiliation somewhere inside my own semi-composed sadness at having seen this situation.
May the Great Father Bless and Watch Over all His Children, the sorry bastards that they are. After so many years and years of Indian bodies being killed by the church and the white man’s governments, we Indians are now killing each other’s souls, for pocket change.