Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hey Ya Ya Ya

My recent morning runs can only be described as slogs. I worry that my wheel bearings may be worn out and my left leg ready to separate from its axle, leaving me to jog in circles the rest of my days. This mechanical malfunction is probably the result of a sore right knee cap, which has caused me to rely more heavily on my left side. In any case, I am beginning to pay the price for years of running on pavement, and am also starting to realize the complications of being middle aged. Whoever made up the advertising tag line, "You're not getting older, you're getting better," was clearly not referring to me.

Native American Drums @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

Yesterday morning, I was well into my run when Johonaa'ei, the Sun God, sire of the Hero Twins, Monster Slayer and Born for Water, and illicit lover of Changing Woman, crested the horizon, riding his blazing yellow steed. As I ran east towards the sunrise, I had to pause a few times to realign my slightly askew frame and marvel at the majesty of Mother Nature. As I approached my turn around point, I heard a strange sound and began searching for its source.

It took a while, but I finally realized the noise was internally generated. I often find that fragments of certain old songs stick in my mind and play incessantly as I run down the road, but this was something altogether new. Tumbling out of my head and pounding through my chest was an unending string of, "Hey Ya Ya Ya"s. Never had I experienced such a occurrence, and I began to wonder whether it might be a sign of early onset senility.

After thoroughly considering the possibility that my brain had gone soft, I decided the more acceptable explanation was that old Westerns and the trading post were to blame. I had recently purchased two large drums for the store, and our customers regularly use them to bang out Hollywood Indian rhythms. The drums are in constant demand by both children and adults, and the music our visitors make is almost universally reminiscent of the faux Indian drumming found in John Wayne and Tom Mix movies.

After a few miles, the chanting stopped, and I remembered a conversation I recently had with one of our customers. The customer wanted to know how the Indian Arts and Crafts Act affected our business. One sure way to get my hackles up is to mention the statute that created the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Jana was President of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association at the time the legislative debate heated up, and she and I had many spirited conversations about it.

The law is basically a federal consumer protection statute which includes both civil and criminal penalties for those deceptively marketing products as "Indian made" which are not produced by Native Americans who have been properly recognized by their tribe. The underlying premise of the statute is that the making and selling of Indian arts and crafts are restricted to tribally affiliated members, because such items represent ancient tribal traditions which must be protected. No accommodation is made for Native Americans who choose not to be affiliated with their tribe. These individuals, despite their heritage, have no legal right to market their work as Indian made.

To me, it is more than a little ironic that the entity doing more to destroy Native culture than any other is all of the sudden interested in protecting and ensuring its continuation. It also troubles me that there is no similar statute protecting African Americans, Jewish Americans, Hispanic Americans and a whole host of other ethnic groups that have ancient traditions in need of protection.

What bothers me most, however, is that, as an outside culture, we rarely know what is tradition and what is not when it comes to Native Americans; thus the Hay Ya Ya Yas and a variety of other stereotypes we commonly promote. I have often wondered how the federal government can ensure and protect a culture it neither understands nor embraces. Not that the government's stance is unprecedented.

As I sat there stewing in the summer heat, a young family walked into the store. The kids immediately snatched up the drum sticks and started banging out Hey Ya Ya Yas. Climbing down from my soap box, I noticed the children smiling broadly. It is hard to know whether their misunderstanding promotes or demeans Native American culture. What I do know is that the children were happy to be making "Indian" music, and were extremely proud of their Native American brothers and sisters. Maybe the federal government can learn a thing or two from those kids. Honesty, integrity and even a nontraditional beat is more effective than statutes and court orders when it comes to protecting and preserving Native American culture.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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