Thursday, July 11, 2013


I had the opportunity to listen to Tink Tinker speak in dialogue with Friends this past week at the FGC Annual Gathering in Greeley, Colorado. Dr. Tinker is a member of the Osage Nation and the Clifford Baldridge Professor of American Indian Cultures 
and Religious Traditions at Illif School of Theology in Denver.

He came as part of a dialogue with Friends gathered and Dr. Vincent Harding (link to his Veteran of Hope Project), elder in the freedom movement and religious and social change leader. In a room of almost 1000, these two men attempted to converse with Friends about the truth of the history of this country, and the growing edges of faith that call us to seek a more perfect union with those who have been on the losing side of USA imperialism—both overseas and on this continent.

It was a very extensive conversation, with a lot of pieces to it, and I can’t do it justice. I hope someone else does. What I want to write about is something Tink Tinker said in response to a question about the project to carve an image of Crazy Horse into a mountainside.

A woman stood up and asked him to speak to the project, and to the legacy of Crazy Horse. Tink Tinker said—and I paraphrase here—that the project of the Crazy Horse Memorial was something a group of white people are trying to do to compete with Mt. Rushmore, and that for Native Peoples, both of these projects are defacements of the inherent rightness, the sacredness of the mountains themselves.

And then he said something that has been sticking with me for days. He said something like “You white people, you are always making things romantic! Always romanticizing things.” And he went on to honor Crazy Horse as a powerful icon and hero of the struggle for Native freedom from European destruction.

This has just stuck with me, echoed in me every damn day, as I have been driving, visiting, driving, and driving some more, back to the east coast. We white people, we are a romantic bunch. What is this about? 

When I think about this specific type of romance with ‘the other,’ the native, the war hero, I think about fetish. Not so much the sexual type, but the magical type, the special something we want to keep close to us for its properties, the something it gives to us by being in our possession, something we fixate on or give almost unnatural power to. This feels like a piece of the romantic relationship that Tink Tinker is referencing.

But there’s more. The romance of white folk with just about everything from our forebears, is everywhere. In our pop art, in our fashion shoots, in our incomplete history lessons, in our new age seeking, in our critical consciousness work. A friend enjoys the joke about how we name our streets, our housing developments, our sports teams, after things that we killed in order to build them.  

What motivates this flattening, this fetishizing? Is it a cloying sense that our whiteness has expunged any depth or value? Is it guilt? Is it fear? What makes white folks so afraid to really see, with wide eyes, what is? 

I think about authentic vision these days. I think a lot about the need to not idealize the life I am living, the decisions I am making, the work I am doing. In a previous post I wrote about excrement, and the need to really see where the shit is. Shit is useful. And it can be deadly if it is not dealt with well and with integrity with the land. 

I am thinking that I, as a white person, am swimming in a sea of shit. The history I have benefited from could drown me, and I can't spray perfume on it anymore. The excrement of my forebears has made the privilege and opportunity I experience now. I cannot divorce myself from this privilege. But why would I front about this-- deny its existence? Or, conversely, why would I want to lose my own sense of power and authority in the face of this excrement? Both sides of this coin are wrong. 

I know, the desire to flee pain is large. I know, the desire to self-flog in some Catholic sense is strong—at least in me. I also know that the truth is much stronger than any fantasy or fetish I can fabricate. 

As I plan to start farming in Vermont, I encounter folks who are both fascinated and repulsed by this plan. Some folks think it is an impossible task, others express envy. Both of these responses are incomplete, and flat. There is nothing impossible about farming, and there is nothing easy about it. When I was first learning about farming, I confronted the actual work involved with bringing food out from the wild. It was not pretty, and it still isn’t. But it’s real. 

And as I sit with this notion of romance as a limitation of my heritage, I ask myself, what else will I let go of idealizing, fetishizing? What can I do to truly know the shit of my ancestors, as well as the well tended compost, and fruitful fields? 

For me, I need to learn more about this land we are moving to, who has lived there, what it has carried. For me, I need to stop idealizing my ancestors, my mentors, the cool kids with the jobs and the nice lifestyles. For me, I need to stand on the land, feel its movement, be humbled in the years long task of learning to listen, again. Then, maybe I’ll know something more. 

Without romance. And without its opposite, shame.

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