27 September 2008

Tsa Kiaakaanistsitsspommihtaahpoaawa Maahkohtoomaaistaistsihpi Kippaitapiiwahsinnoon?

llll ) llllllllllllllllllllllllll Tsa Kiaakaanistsitsspommihtaahpoaawa Maahkohtoomaaistaistsihpi Kippaitapiiwahsinnoon?

My thoughts of late have been entirely consumed with the classes I’m teaching this semester. One course in particular, kainaissksaahko, is becoming a great pleasure. It’s an annual round of harvesting the gifts of kitawahsinnoon ki visiting aitapisskoistsi, with weekly thought assignments that we all post responses to on a blog we’re calling our Project Journal. Even niisto ki naahsa ki’naksaapo’p (who is co-instructing) have to do these assignments. I have a feeling that much of my private journal for the next year could be combined with my efforts for this course. Thus my final entry for annohk naato’si, like the contribution prior, is drawn from it:

Tsa kiaakaanistsitsspommihtaahpoaawa maahkohtoomaanistaistsihpi kippaitapiiwahsinnoon?

My first thought, when Ki’naksaapo’p recorded this question for us, was that before I set out to respond to it, I’d better at least learn how to say it myself, and then give some consideration to what it’s asking. So that’s what I did. And like any important question, its simplicity was deceptive. For me, it evoked a number of things.

There are ways in which I can honestly say I live everyday in response to the spirit of this question, that I carry a strong sense of duty with my claim to both Kainaa citizenry and manhood, and that I act on those responsibilities by investing my efforts in long-term projects of benefit to my family and community, risks that I hope will help ensure the persistence of kippaitapiiwahsinnoon. In this respect, I believe that I am continually living-up to my obligations in the following ways:

First, I try to ensure that my daughter has a good life – that she can rely on the strength and stability of her parents’ marriage, that she feels loved, that she has a quiet and secure home, moral support, non-authoritarian guidance, and a healthy degree of creative control over the decisions that will effect her future. I feel bad for some children in our community who are used like pawns in the negotiation of on-again off-again relationships between parents who are still just children themselves, and for those who have to live in homes where they are demoralized or subjected to violence. I’m critical of those fathers (young or old) who do not work hard to give their wives and children a good home and stability. I’m also critical of those mothers (young or old) who do not challenge their men to be real husbands and fathers.

The truth is, I don’t believe a person can be of much help to either wider family or community if he or she is unwilling to hold their own. By keeping our home life stable, Piipiiaakii and I have been able create a place that others can turn to when they’re going through transitions in their own lives. For instance, there was a summer where we took in one of our nieces and one of our nephews, whose mom and dad weren’t really interested in being parents at the time. And during that same period, we also had one of Piipiiaakii’s cousins with her two children staying with us for most of the term of her pregnancy. We take all of the children as our own. That summer, our little family at home was expanded from three to eight.

I don’t think a year has gone by that we haven’t had someone come stay with us for an extended period. It’s tough and expensive for young people to get out on their own these days. It’s not like in the past, where young newlyweds were provided their own lodge right off the hop. If our parents hadn’t helped Piipiiaakii and I out with room and board in the first couple years of our marriage, it would have been pretty rough. We try to play that forward by making sure that, if one of our younger siblings or cousins comes to stay with us, financial burdens like rent and food are lifted, and they don’t have to worry about the intrusions of whatever chaos they might be escaping. On the other hand though, while we’re happy to host our relatives, we’re not about play the role of enabler. Our home isn’t the kind of place anyone can come to avoid their obligations, or sit around in self-pity. If they’re adults, we expect them to use the opportunity to build-up some savings with work or invest in some skills through education, so that they can make the transition into whatever’s next for them.

So that’s one way I feel as though I’m doing something to feed the persistence of kippaitapiiwahsinnoon. But I’ll be the first to admit that, in terms of family relationships, that’s really not enough. I’ve heard so many times the memories of older people who’ve lived in our community for awhile, before Western forms of political organization and social services were adopted. They tell me that, back then, kimmapiiyipitssin was really lived. If a couple needed their own home, they didn’t have to wait to get a mortgage or for the Band to select them. They set to work themselves, called some of their family in, and got the thing built. Everybody just pitched-in. The same with work. Just a few decades ago, a lot of men worked together, more or less in business partnerships, to farm or ranch, what have you. That’s not too much the case today.

I’ve been told that this approach to life drastically changed in the 1960s, when the current form of government was adopted, and when welfare came about. Not that kimmapiiyipitssin was eliminated completely, mind you. There’s a lot of ways that we still help one another out. Heck, if it wasn’t for my relationships and the people I depend on, I certainly wouldn’t be where I’m at. Unfortunately though, when we work in partnerships today, a lot of times people say its nepotism, as if that’s a bad word.

There are a lot of things I’d like to do in my lifetime to support the persistence of kippaitapiiyssinnoon, and one of those is to build some good partnerships and relationships, where a number of us can pool our resources and commit to collaborative projects. The kind of endeavors that our children could take over when we get too old. The kind of partnered investments that would support us in our older years, as well as future generations. In other words, I think what I’m saying is that I’d like to be involved in renewing ohkowaipisstssin as more than just a label for kinship or a position to place our camp at aako’kaatssin.

This brings me to another aspect of the way I feel that I’m living the fulfillment of the spirit of our assignment question. My strongest personal and working relationships, those which I feel carry the potential to renew ohkowaipisstssin, have been those forged in the context of service to our community. Namely, through the pursuit of repatriations, and in the context of pommakssin.

When I was twenty-three years old, I decided to take on a project. I wanted to learn the significance of certain symbols and drawings, the ones we see in beadwork, on tipi designs, in the winter counts, on rock art. I wanted to be able to understand more about what these meant. I figured one of the first things I’d have to do is find as many examples of these symbols as possible. And at the time, the logical place to look seemed to be in museum collections. This was a mistaken perception, of course, but one that turned out to be beneficial, because as I began surveying the museums, gathering inventories, and learning where things were, my project grew into a resource for everyone. Before long, I was recruited into repatriations. I had the opportunity to travel and work with Ki’naksaapo’p, Ponokaiksiksinaam, Mi’ksskimm, Ninnaisipistoo, Mi’ksskimmiisoka’simm, Stamiksisiksinaam and others, many of whom have become both my relatives and my greatest teachers. And through this journey, I’ve had a hand in helping to bring home four ksisskstaki amopistaanistsi, a ninnaimsskaahkoyinnimaan, part of the leader’s bundle for the kakoyiiksi, a motoki headdress, and the leader’s bundle for the sinopaiksi at aamsskaapipiikani. Each time our efforts to bring something home is successful, I get this overwhelming feeling of having done something really important with my life. The first time this happened, when we brought ksisskstaki amopistaan out of Harvard’s Peabody Museum, my exact sentiment (said to myself) was, “I could die today, and I would have no regrets. My life has served a purpose.” And I felt that strongly because, for five or six month prior to that, every aspect of my being was consumed in assuring its release. I was in communication with the museum daily, and I felt very much guided by that bundle itself.

Having said that, it’s important to note that I would not have been involved in any of those repatriations if I waited for someone else to pay my way. I’ve spent thousands of dollars out of my own pocket to do this, and I’m by no means rich. This was a sacrifice. Which is not to say that I think anybody owes me anything. What I’m saying is that I have paid for the opportunity to serve our community, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so for the rest of my life. Nothing good comes without investment.

A very important lesson for me, in this regard, was something that happened about ten years ago. I won’t go into intimate details, because it’s already past now. What I will say is that there was a dispute between some relatives over the disposition of a particular bundle. It got ugly. A lot of people were concerned about what was going on, but nobody wanted to step into the midst of this conflict and put an end to it. Finally, one man did. He went and talked privately to both parties, explained to them how each of their positions made sense, and also how each had been mistaken… and ultimately, how they could amicable resolve the whole thing and put it to rest. They followed the advice they were given, and the issue was settled. For me, the learning came in what happened next. My father-in-law went to go pay the man who had acted as mediator on this occasion. I think he gave him a hundred dollars or so. Why did he pay him? Because he had learned something through that man’s actions, and he knew that in order to really take that lesson and make it his own, he should pay for it. And so he did.

These are the kinds of decisions and moves we can make, as individuals, to keep kippaitapiiwahsinnoon strong. There are so many little and big things we can do. It just takes commitment and diligence. One of my goals is to be able to speak niitsi’powahsin fluently. How am I going to get there? It’s not going to come through taking classes, or wishing about it, or talking about it. The only way it’s going to happen is if I make the decision to do so, and act on it. Maatsiiyiiko.

I’ve been to a number of other reserve communities in both the United States and Canada. Almost nobody has their language or ceremonies in-tact, anywhere near the way we do. We owe it to all those who came before us not to lose what we have here.

Today, Piipiiaakii and I take care of ksisskstaki amopistaan, but we could never do this on our own. When it comes time for our ceremonies, we get a lot of help from our family… including nitakka, Kiitokiiaapii, and his family. Ksisskstaki amopistaanistsi were almost lost completely. In 1963, Akaikinaam, Mike Swims Under, opened his bundle for the last time. He was alone. Not even his family joined him. So afterward, he wrapped it back up, brought it to the creek and made an offering with it. He told the birds and animals in his bundle, “Wherever you float and settle, that will be your new home.” A lot of people criticized him for this. But I wonder, if he hadn’t made this offering, if he had really given up our ways and sold his bundle, or just kept it around as an heirloom, would we have iiyaohkimiipaitapiiyssin today? Akaikinaam wound up, just a couple decades later, being the only man alive who still new this ceremony when finally some people were ready to pursue it again. Now there are over a dozen active aohkiiyaohkoyinnimaanistsi. All of us iiyaohkimiiksi owe it to Akaikinaam, to his father Staahta’potsimi, to his mother Soyii’kayaakii, and to Bad Marriage, and Ponokaatsini, and so on all the way along the line of pommakssin to Matoyaapii, the man who was first transferred ksisskstaki amopistaan. We owe all of these ones who did their part to make sure it was here for us still today. The same could be said for any aspect of kippaitapiiyssinnoon.

One of the practices I maintain, to ensure I’m living up to my obligations to these akaitapiiksi, is that on my way to Mi’kai’stoo for work each morning, nitaatoyinihki. There is no end to the songs of mopistaanistsi, and I feel it’s my obligation to learn as many of them as I can in my lifetime, so that others will continue to have them down the road. Plus, I really enjoy singing them, and I learn a lot from them.

This morning, nohtootaomaahkaani Sikoohkotoki nitainoaa ksikkomahkaayiiksi. Swans. There were three of them in Innoikimi, by B.T.A.P. I haven’t seen them since spring, and their return tells me we’ve only got one more moon left till winter. So I pulled off on the side of the road and sang their song, and then took a picture of them. When I was finished at work today and got in my truck, the first thing I thought about was those ksikkomahkaayiiksi. I couldn’t wait to see if they were still there on the drive home. As I pulled out of Mi’kai’stoo, I tried to pull up their song again. Something else came instead. Just a simple tune, nothing fancy, but I liked it. It sounded like something that would be good to sing to myself when I’m out walking around. And I thought, since we’re going to be travelling together this year, maybe I’d share it here.