SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2007        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Renée Glass

A Tale of Convenience

   “The strangeness of this life cannot be measured: in trying to produce my own death,
I was elevated to the status of a living hero.” Lt. John Dunbar, from the 1991 movie,  Dances with Wolves

    In 1995, my eldest son turned 10 and my youngest son turned six. My youngest son received a Nintendo Game Boy for his birthday, my eldest son - video games for his Sega. They both had small televisions in their rooms which they could play video games on.  We were an average middle-class household, living the average middle-class American dream.

    We would soon learn that not all Americans lived this dream first hand. Life on the reservation was as different from what was depicted in Dances With Wolves as it was different from our American middle-class lifestyle. 

    In 1996, my husband befriended a contingent of Native American elders who were in Phoenix meeting with a lawyer. The elders were engaged in a legal battle with other elders from the same area about bringing water pipelines to their village. One day, when the group was finished with their day in court, they could not make it back to Northern Arizona because of a snow storm and we invited them to stay in our home.  It was an excellent experience to talk with them about their culture.

    The highly charged issue of bringing water to the village through building a pipeline infrastructure was a divisive and troubling issue on both sides of the debate.  Some elders and traditionalists wanted to preserve features of their land that the pipelines would disrupt and which could mean an end to their “traditional ways.”  My family was sympathetic toward the Native Americans who were situated against development in their village; however, we did not fully realize the argument of those on the other side of the debate.

    On several occasions, the elders invited my husband and me and our sons to the village for dances. The elders who were our friends believed it was okay to share Hopi religious ceremonies with White people; however, other members of the Hopi village felt quite the opposite.  After going to dances several times by himself, my husband talked me into going and bringing our two young sons along. 

    “I will not be rude to this “other” woman who has been introduced to us - neither will I make her welcome.  Surely she knows she does not belong here. She should not have been invited in the first place.” 

    It was hot and dusty in the center of the village - we found some shade near the wall of a building and waited for the dances to begin. Accompanied by the drums, the men began to sing in their traditional language. The words were foreign to us but we sensed the importance of them and of these traditional songs. Soon, the drumming and chanting called out the dancers.

    The women looked especially beautiful dressed in all white with green sashes around their waists. Their legs were somehow wrapped in white fabric as well and I was surprised to see that their feet were bare.  It was hot outside and I wondered how hot the packed earth beneath their feet was becoming as the day wore on.

    As we stood watching and talking with another visitor to the village, someone threw an empty coke can down at us, which hit me in the face. No one saw who threw it. Someone said, “it was probably just some kids.”

    Didn’t we tell them that we did not want outsiders taking part in these ceremonies? Why can’t they see that our ways are for us only and that these outsiders are adding to the division between us?

    After several rounds of dancing, we decided to walk back to the house. On the way there, our sons walked a bit ahead of us and before we knew it, one of them had been hit with a rock.  He was not badly hurt, but I was angry. Again, no one saw the perpetrators nor did anyone appear very concerned about the incident.  The most frustrating thing was that even if I had seen who had thrown the rock at my son, there was really nothing I could do. We were outsiders. Our friends were kind and sorry about what had happened but there was nothing they could do either.

    When she returns to the house for the feast she is visibly upset.  She and her sons have had things thrown at them. I can see the anger in her eyes and in the red spots on her cheeks.   Someone tells her it was probably just kids messing around and there is nothing that can be done.  I do not say it but I think to myself that this is not her place and she has no business being here. That is why it happened.

    My family and I were the personification of the disparity between assimilation of modern conveniences and doing without. The elders who wanted to bring the pipelines into the village were trying to make life easier for the people living there. Those who were opposed to them were fighting to retain traditional ways and sacred places.

     Social injustices handed down from white supremacy go back a long way in American history and I am sure those who did not want us there were tired of what they saw as intrusion into their lives. 

    She is uncomfortable being here. She should be. She does not belong.  When she and her family are leaving, she looks relieved.  I am also relieved. 

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