Thursday, April 17, 2008

You Say Katsina, I say Kachina

Okay, I have to admit it, lately I am feeling a bit put off; cranky, crabby and more than a little cross. I have become confused about how to compose myself in modern society. After all, wasn’t I, a middle-aged white male, supposed to have answers to all those socially difficult questions, and shouldn’t I be in control of my own life at this point? I have realized, however, that this ideal is in fact a fiction; I have no answers and no direction. I fear something has gone desperately wrong for all the white bread, milquetoast, over-the-hill men like me.

Hopi Koshare
Pueblo Katsina

This is not, as you may think, a new realization, it began to dawn on me in the mid-1970s, and has been building ever since. First came Title IX, then Affirmative Action. It wasn’t enough that the girls took all the athletic funding, they soon got all the jobs too. What was an unqualified, unskilled guy with unsightly legs to do?

Now, you may wonder why it has taken me so long to gin up the steam to complain. Well, I have never been very clever, so these complex questions take time for me to sort out; sometimes decades.

Okay, I agree the guys had it pretty darn good for quite a while. Never mind that the girls had been neglected from the beginning of time, that they had been oppressed and depressed; this was not about them, it was about time-tested institutions that were under siege and beginning to crumble. The girls has stormed the Bastille, and the guys were being cast into the streets to shift for ourselves.

This is not, however, what has gotten my goat, no pun intended, lately. My latest paranoia is that those same individuals who were responsible for Title IX and Affirmative Action have taken aim at the Native American community, and are bent on remedying generations of missteps associated with tribal members. The problem, of course, is that as I near the age of 50, my ability to adapt to new situations has become ossified and mortified; I am no longer able to easily adapt to a rapidly changing world.

Peace Koshare
Hopi Kachinas

This latest round of problems began several years ago, when all of us with pale faces were informed we could no longer support athletic teams with names like the Chiefs, Braves, Indians, Runnin’ Utes and such. Hoping to be sensitive to these new philosophies, I asked many of my Indian pals what they were feeling about this situation. “Nuts,” they responded, refusing to trade in their old ball caps and comfortable shirts for new ones that had nothing to do with tribal affiliation and everything to do with political sensibility. Thinking I was on firm ground, I continued my support of those insensitive sporting institutions. That was my first mistake. Well, maybe not the first, but surely the most significant.

Next came the directive that we could no longer refer to our indigenous acquaintances as Indians; Native American was the term of choice. I did wonder where that left me, since I am in fact native to America. That oversight was soon corrected, and we were notified that American Indian was the proper term. All that was okay with me, so long as everyone agreed and we didn’t have too many amendments to the phraseology of choice. Oddly, my Native pals seemed to be singularly uninterested in these discussions.

And, what were we supposed to do about the Anasazi, who had recently become the Ancient Puebloans. Unfortunately, I was having a difficult time making that transition. I liked the old term, and it was firmly embedded in my vocabulary. After a few sidelong glances and impassioned lectures from my archaeology buddies, however, I did finally get that one right, but not without significant fussing. But now I have come to the end of my ethnographic rope.

Just when I thought all the past ills that had been visited upon the American Indian community since Columbus landed on these shores had been remedied, I learned that we had, once again, been wrong all these years and Hopi dolls were no longer called kachinas; they must now be referred to as katsina dolls or tithu. At this point I have become convinced I will surely be consigned to the political asylum for the chronically and criminally insensitive. Visitors will recognize me as the one wearing the Atlanta Braves ball cap and listening to Redskin Radio.

With warm regards,

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