Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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When Stories Change

The Sioux Nation has succeeded in purchasing Pe'Sla -- 1,942 acres in the Paha Sapa or Black Hills, to be protected as a sacred site for all nations.  Mitakuye oyasin.  We are all related.

I read this news, and it fills me with joy and satisfaction.  My heart soars like a hawk.  I'm a historian; I'm a storyteller.  I know that sometimes stories change, and that's a good thing.

America has a serious problem with racism which goes right back to its roots.  People came here from far away and murdered most of the residents to take their stuff, then dragged in a bunch of other folks to serve as slave labor and build a "great country" founded on governmental principles also substantially taken from the Iroquois.  The end does not justify the means; the means determine the end.  Begin a nation with racial conflict, dehumanization, fighting over land, and you will be dealing with those problems for the foreseeable future.  The only way out is to change the roots.

History becomes story.  Sometimes, there are history books written by the losers, though it can take a long time for them to surface.  Songs have a way of whistling themselves back out of the wind.  Legends dust themselves off and take new shapes.  Fragments at first -- caricatures, cliches.  What the winners hear and repeat is distorted.  Then gradually those bits begin to fill in again, become three-dimensional, recover nuance.  Chop up a comfrey plant and it will regrow from a sliver of root, all over your yard.

Early depictions of Native Americans were one-dimensional: villains, clowns, or objects of pity.  As people began to question this, new tropes arose.  One of those is a favorite of mine, although a lot of native people hate it: a plot in which a white person joins a tribe and helps stave off an incursion by his own culture.  It's reviled as an implication that tribal folks are incapable of saving themselves or solving their own problems.  That's not an unfair criticism, but it's also incomplete.  I like this plot because it implies that if you recognize your culture is doing something wrong, you can and should try to change that, even if it means walking away from everything you knew.  Change is possible.  Cooperation is possible, at least on an individual level.  You are not stuck with  following the herd over a cliff.  Conversely, if you are being violated, it is not inevitable; there is a chance that, aside from saving yourselves, someone else may step in to help.  Friendship is possible.  Alliance is possible.

Another reason people hate this motif is exactly another reason why I like it: because this story is current.  Powerful corporations and nations, not all of them even white, are still murdering people to steal their land, mineral rights, or other goods.  It is still not okay.  Some people look at movies like Avatar  as exploitation of tribal cultures.  I look at those movies as a clue-by-four indicating that land grabs are villainous behavior.  Stories can teach.  People can learn.  Maybe if we run this often enough, people will start looking at those events in the news  and connecting them with favorite books or movies and they'll think, "Hey!  That's what the villains do.  That sucks.  Somebody should stop them."  Well, we're all Somebody.  We can all choose to do what the heroes do, and stand up to say, "No, it's not okay to kill people or make them homeless just because you want their stuff."  If enough people stand up, sometimes the incursion gets stopped.  Stories can change.  Stories can change us.  And we can't change the history that's already happened, but we can sure change the history that is happening now.

And we are.  The purchase of Pe'Sla has been fraught with controversy.  It's awkward to buy something that should have been yours all along.  It's awkward to hand money across a culture gap.  It's especially unsettling for everyone who has ancestors on more than one side of that, which this far down the genetic river is really quite a lot of people.  Some folks are uncomfortable with the idea of "owning" land at all.  But this is what we have to work with, and that's the argument made by many of the folks who spearheaded the purchase effort.  This is a way within our grasp to regain some of what was taken, so that it can be protected and shared as it was meant to be.  It's not perfect, but it's a start, and it got the job done.

Here's the key: it was done with crowdfunding.  It was done by mobilizing a huge group of people, not just from the Sioux Nation but from other First Nations who helped by spreading the word and chipping in donations, and by folks of other heritage who felt that the Sioux ought to have this piece of holy land back.  Instead of this tribe here, that tribe there, descendants of invaders and invaded carrying on the same centuries-old arguments, people cooperated.  We changed the story.  We did it with tribal social technology.  That's going to ripple out to affect a lot more than just this one event.

See, tribal cultures run on a gift economy.  The more you give away, the more rich and respectable people consider you to be.  It's the exact opposite of the capitalist economy which measures hoarded wealth.  I wrote an article on this, "The Richness of Giving," about gift economies in different cultures and what they can do for us today.  Crowdfunding is a sweet spot between the two; it uses the native ideas of gifts, sharing, and cooperation alongside the modern western medium of money.  It makes possible things that couldn't happen any other way.  That's amazing.

Right now, crowdfunding is just getting started.  It's been around for a handful of years and is really starting to gain momentum, entering the mainstream consciousness.  It's also starting to catch on in tribal cultures.  I'm seeing a steady trickle now of small businesses and field trips and such that are being crowdfunded by native folks.  And then ... then this happened, Pe'Sla came up for sale and people raised millions of dollars  to secure it.  That's not just amazing, that's epic.  This success will stimulate more interest among tribal folks and others to use crowdfunding for new projects, thus increasing opportunities for more people.. 

So here we are at the beginning of a new business model, which is really a fresh iteration of something very old.  It just did something huge and stupendous ... in the Black Hills, the sacred heart of the land.  There's an engine of creation under those hills.  What happens there, spreads.  For once, we did something right and we did it in the right place. 

Stories can change.

Stories can change us.

The means determine the end.

I am eager to see where leads the path upon which this means has placed us.
Tags: economics, ethnic studies, news, spirituality

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