Saturday, February 28, 2004

That reminds me.

Saddened by the Adeline Skultka Garcia's passing. My first job out of college was with the Seattle Indian Health Board, it's an amazing social service, and everyone should be proud of the work done by the people behind it.

Gotta stop reading the Seattle paper every day, though, it just makes me homesick. But reading today's article reminded me of something I tried (failed) to puzzle through last time I was in Washington. I'm really interested in this topic of passive appropriation of someone else's culture--although I'm not sure if appropriation is exactly the right word, because it carries an essence of deliberate activity with it. If you're white, and you grow up surrounded by the visual culture of coastal Indians, the public part of the culture, meant for display, is there ever a point where it becomes partly your culture, too? I mean, some of it is actually offered up for consumption by natives and whites alike, in public ceremonies and art displays, but as a white person, you can't really participate in the entire cultural system. So, it puts the white person in a position of belonging to an outsider culture, instead of the Native American, not allowing full access to the meaning behind the symbols/ceremonies. But on the other hand, it's still part of the white person's self-identification process, and it's still part of his or her visual and spatial world.

The thing is, I really miss the raven. It's not my creation myth, but I know the trickster's story, and I miss seeing his wooden beak hovering over my sidewalks. I miss the verticality of Haida totems against blank coastal skies. I miss the reds and the blacks and the blues superimposed on the green of a coniferous forest. These aren't things I created, and they're not even things I spend a lot of time trying to understand. But they're still a large part of my childhood, and they're still symbols of the geography that I consider home.

I think the membrane between "mine" and "yours" is perhaps more diaphanous than I was led to believe when I was younger. Partly I can be defined by who I am not, and in that sense, the visual culture of the different coastal tribes reminds me of that (white Americans don't embrace this concept very often, they're too busy defining the rest of world from the comfort of their living room). But along the way, all the signs of things I am not also become partly mine, even if they signify different things than was originally intended in the culture that produced them. I don't think it's an active moment of appropriation, rather more of a slow cultural leak.

But I'm prepared to be proven wrong.

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