Friday, December 19, 2014

A Minority Among Minorities: Being American Indian in Kansas City



Abstract:

American Indians continue to be under/misrepresented in mainstream culture thus causing non-native Americans to lack exposure and appropriate knowledge. Using the personal experiences of Moses Brings Plenty, a Lakota Indian and Community Outreach Liaison for the Kansas City Indian Center in Kansas City, MO, and previous academic research, this essay examines three aspects of living in Kansas City as an American Indian: a) discovering common identities with non-native Americans through cosmologies, b) the persistence of discrimination and stereotyping, c) and the benefits Indians may have through association with and knowledge of traditional culture.

Keywords: american indians, culture education, discrimination, stereotyping, democracy 
 
Kansas City, MO in 1869

Long before Kansas City had paved roads and skyscrapers, before it had become an important hub for westward-bound pioneers, even before European explorers had first mapped out the land in the early 1700s, indigenous people had already inhabited this region for thousands of years. However, throughout the period of Euro-American colonization in the continent, a marginalization of American Indian culture took place in a relatively short time span. Unlike the French who were more tolerant of intermarriage and more accepting of indigenous worldviews, Americans tended to either force the Indians off of their ancestral lands or persuade them into signing over their land in legal treaties. Otherwise, attempts were made to assimilate the Indian through formal reeducation. The struggle for American Indian existence was also exacerbated by factors such as poverty brought about by continuous relocation, diseases that were previously unknown to indigenous populations, and armed conflict against colonizers including the United States of America.
            The goal of this essay is to examine whether or not such marginalization has improved over the past two centuries and what challenges still need to be overcome. American Indian culture in Kansas City is examined through the experiences of Moses “Mo” Brings Plenty, a Lakota Indian and Community Outreach Liaison for the Kansas City Indian Center in Kansas City, MO and previous academic research concerning American Indian and mainstream non-native culture. Three specific aspects of being American Indian are examined in three sections: discovering common identities with non-native Americans through cosmologies, the persistence of discrimination and stereotyping, and the benefits Indians may have through association with and knowledge of traditional culture. A conclusion will review the main points of the essay and address one possible avenue for future research.

1) Common Cosmologies
            The Kansas City Indian Center (KCIC), also called the Heart of America Indian Center, was first recognized by the United States federal government in 1971 as a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. Much of the KCIC’s work is dedicated to food-assistance and outpatient substance/alcohol abuse treatment through the Morningstar Outreach Program. Moses “Mo” Brings Plenty, who has worked at the KCIC for four years, currently fills a public relations role within the organization. He acts as a liaison between the Center and the community, offering cultural education and spiritual advising. Brings Plenty states that his “main objective in life is to rehabilitate the minds of Indian people. […] To help people remember who we are as tribal individuals” (personal communication, November 25, 2014).
            Such a statement reflects the turbulent relationship that has existed between the United States and Indians for centuries. From a demographic perspective, the preservation of Indian culture through education and remembrance has as much to do with pride as it does with survival, if not more so:

From about 1500 to 1890, the American Indian population collapsed and seemed destined for extinction. American Indians may have numbered as many as ten million before European contact, but at the close of the nineteenth century, less than a quarter million survived (Snipp, 1992).

While their numbers have rebounded significantly in the twentieth century, “until recently, data for American Indians have been sparse, and Indians have been largely invisible in national recordkeeping systems” (Snipp, 1992). According to Brings Plenty there are about 30,000 American Indians living in the Kansas City region.
            An important part of the Center’s cultural education services includes traditional teaching sessions that are held once every month. Brings Plenty emphasized that these sessions are important opportunities for the entire community to better understand Indian culture and values:

A lot of people, when they think about [an] indigenous way of prayer, they will almost classify it as individuals who pray to many gods when, in fact, there’s only one Creator of all Creation. But, we honor those who gave us language, gave us a song, and [who] shared with us how to structure our community, to show us “socialism”. They (people) are the true democracy. We share the understandings and the connections of that (personal communication, November 25, 2014).

While cosmologies are certainly not uniform across indigenous groups, many non-native Americans may be surprised to learn how similar their values actually are to those of American Indians. Previous research has looked into the seemingly incongruent natures of Indian and non-native American culture, specifically Indian education and the democratic ideal. Some fear that tribal sovereignty may undermine American democracy. According to Lomawaima and McCarty (2002) “many Americans view diversity as a threat to the national fabric, as a problem. [From this perspective] if the United States is going to realize its potential as a democracy, its citizens must face the Indian “problem”.
            Such views are not foreign to political theorists and policy makers. In fact, great support for such views is maintained in certain European democracies. Yet, Lomawaima and McCarty “view diversity and democracy as inextricably linked” (2002). Rather than suppressing diversity, the United States should promote it in an effort to create what Lomawaima and McCarty call “critical democracy”. “To flourish, individual human beings as well as social groups need room – and opportunity and resources – to develop and implement their values, philosophies, and beliefs” (2002). A common view of democracy between the Indian and non-native American may actually be a unifying quality, not a divisive one.

2) The Persistence of Discrimination and Stereotyping
Two problems that contribute to this persistent misunderstanding of Indian values are discrimination and stereotyping. When asked about his personal experience with challenges faced as an American Indian today, Brings Plenty had several examples to share:

The biggest challenge that we are facing is the preservation of our identity, […] meaning our languages, our lifestyle, our ceremonies. Here in Kansas City we can go anywhere within a half-mile radius and we can count how many churches [there are] within a half-mile radius, yet Indian people have no property in their own homeland, in this area, to be able to have a ceremonial ground. So, we’re still looked down upon; we’re still being swept under the rug; we’re still being disrespected. Look at the football team in the city, for example, [the] Kansas City Chiefs. They’re named after [former] Mayor Bartle, but they’re not using his image. […] They’re utilizing ours. There’s no existing relationship between the Kansas City Chiefs and any of the Indian organizations in the city that have been here for 40-plus years. […] Not that these organizations did not reach out to them to see if they can build a relationship, it was the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs declined them. They made the attempt once in the 70s. It didn’t go so well (personal communication, November 25, 2014).

Moreover, many American Indian stereotypes continue to be reinforced in popular culture. Fryberg and Stephens (2010) addressed such harmful reinforcements that often go unnoticed:

Mainstream America (e.g., the media) generally prefers historical representations of American Indians to contemporary ones. In fact, popular media most commonly depicts American Indians as 18th- and 19th-century figures, such as Pocahontas, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, and Chief Joseph, and rarely depicts them in contemporary ways, as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or business people.

These representations have the effect of “obscur[ing] or actively deny[ing] the perspectives of minority groups (i.e., American Indians)” (2010). Meeks (2006) has also observed the powerful negative effects of stereotyping, specifically those of “Hollywood Injun English” in white public space:

The ability of consumers of movies and other media to equate one style of speech with an entire ethnic group (and erase all political, cultural, and linguistic diversity within the group) […] reflects the socializing effects of the consumers' experiences. 

Non-native Americans are led to believe that all Indians talk in a certain way because Hollywood (using a stereotypically incorrect English) depicts them in this way. It may seem harmless to the majority culture, but it can be very harmful for both the majority and minority cultures in that any meaningful dialogue towards intercultural understanding becomes less likely. It is frustrated by cultural misrepresentations.
            Brings Plenty helped stem the influx of American Indian stereotypes in Hollywood by co-starring in the 2013 film The Cherokee Word for Water, directed by Charlie Soap and Tim Kelly, which tells the story of the Bell Waterline Project in Oklahoma in the early 1980s. Placing the American Indian more often in modern-day roles and settings will expose non-native people to more appropriate portrayals. Brings Plenty illustrated his feelings towards cultural misrepresentations by stating:

There shouldn’t be a dialogue when it comes to racism. If there is a dialogue, the non-native people should be addressing the Washington [football] team. They should be calling Snyder’s office saying, ‘Get over yourself. Come back to humanity!’ We shouldn’t have to worry about a dialogue when it comes to racism. Period (personal communication, November 25, 2014).

Some scholars may argue that racism could be eliminated through a policy of “colorblindness”, but Fryberg and Stephens (2010) warn that such a policy may render American Indians invisible. That is to say because they must eke out an identity as a minority among minorities, ignoring their unique experience in a landscape that already tries to homogenize them may further diminish what Fryberg and Stephens call their public ways of being. “In domains where American Indians are invisible, these spaces, in effect, communicate that American Indians are not welcome or do not belong there.” Brings Plenty articulated the importance of multiculturalism in the following way, “The Creator of all Creation is the One who wants diversity. […] If the Creator wanted everyone to be the same He would’ve made it so from the very beginning.”

3) The Benefits of Traditional Culture Education
            Manson, Shore, and Bloom (1985) have noted that “depression within particular American Indian communities may be ‘four to six times higher than that observed in the U.S. population at large’” (as cited in Whitbeck, McMorris, Hoyt, Stubben, & LaFrombroise, 2002). While this statistic is a little dated, it’s evident that the issue persists in American Indian communities today. As noted above, one of the main activities carried out by the KCIC is outpatient treatment for substance abuse. In addition to this program, research has demonstrated the positive effects of cultural education. The latter enterprise may have little to no significance to a member of the majority culture, but to a member of the minority culture, the mental health benefits may be invaluable:

Although factors related to culture (e.g., discrimination, culture conflict) may result in psychological distress, it is possible that aspects of traditional American Indian culture could serve as protective factors. […] For example, being strongly grounded in one’s culture may buffer against the stress of being considered an outsider by the majority culture. Cultural identification and cultural practices have been shown to contribute to prosocial behaviors such as academic success among American Indian adolescents (Whitbeck et al. 2002).

Other potential benefits discovered by Whitbeck et al. (2002) may derive from “an important interaction between perceived discrimination and traditional practices.” Although it remains unclear what actually produces the behaviors in this interaction, an increased affiliation with and/or increased knowledge of traditional culture appears to decrease perceived discrimination in American Indian individuals.
            Such findings appear to reinforce the research of Lomawaima and McCarty which promotes a nation where all ethnic groups are given a platform for expression, thus deriving the benefits from a critical democracy. American Indians have yet to fully realize this practice within society. Cultural education is of the utmost importance to Brings Plenty who informed the author that the KCIC is considering an increase in the number of traditional teaching sessions during the year.

Conclusion
            In many respects, the experience of being American Indian in Kansas City is not unlike those of other minorities. Yet, native history and the present situation demand a special consideration. Moses Brings Plenty took the opportunity to explain how he believes the American Indian story is unique by stating, “The only thing that’s different with us is that we’re slowly dying, not because of blood quantum, but [because of] the language, the preservation of our traditions” (personal communication, November 25, 2014). This essay sought to demystify certain aspects of American Indian culture in Kansas City, MO by looking at three specific aspects. Common identities between the non-native American and the Indian through cosmologies may potentially create a more unified democracy. This contradicts certain beliefs that diversity, not to mention Indian sovereignty, is harmful to the American democratic ideal. The persistence of discrimination and stereotyping in the media and popular culture hinders intercultural communication while further marginalizing American Indian culture and alienating minority individuals. However, the benefits Indians may have through association with and knowledge of traditional culture appears to reduce depressive symptoms and perceived discrimination. Further research may pay close attention to the relationship between cultural misrepresentations in mass media and normative behavior towards ethnic minorities. Zero-tolerance policies towards American Indian discrimination have yet to be implemented in certain areas of American society, especially popular culture.

References

Fryberg, S.A., & Stephens, N.M. (2010). When the world is colorblind, american indians
are invisible: A diversity science approach. Psychological Inquiry, 21, 115–119.

Lomawaima, K.T., & McCarty, T.L. (2002). When tribal sovereignty challenges
democracy: American indian education and the democratic ideal. American
Educational Research Journal, 39, 279-305.

Meek, B.A. (2006). And the injun goes "how!": Representations of american indian
english in white public space. Language in Society, 35, 93-128.

Snipp, C.M. (1992). Sociological perspectives on american indians. Annual Review of
Sociology, 18, 351-371.

Whitbeck, L.B., McMorris, B.J., Hoyt, D.R., Stubben, J.D., & LaFromboise, T. (2002).
Perceived discrimination, traditional practices, and depressive symptoms among american indians in the upper midwest. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43, 400-418.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fort Osage National Historic Landmark

Fort Osage is located in Sibley, MO in Jackson County. The structures that now sit on the site of the original fort were reconstructed between 1948-1965. According to the fort's NRHP nomination form filed with the National Park Service, "Fort Osage was the first outpost of the United States in the Louisiana purchased territory. It was established in 1808 by William Clark for the protection and promotion of trade with the Osage Indians. [...] The fort was closed during the War of 1812 and was regarrisoned in 1815. In 1822, the trading house was closed due to the abandonment of the factory trading system by the Government." By 1827, the rest of the fort was completely abandoned.

Near the entrance to Fort Osage.

A view of the Factory.



Furs waiting to be appraised inside the Factory.

Goods for sale inside the Factory.

This building is a personal favorite. The Interpreter's Cabin housed the man who spoke French, English, and Osage, the three most common languages that were heard in the fort.

Painting of an Osage by George Catlin. He was named Shin-ga-was-sa, or Handsome Bird. (Photo taken at Missouri's American Indian Cultural Center)



Bunks in the Soldiers' Huts.

An education center is located next to the fort. On the bottom floor, this dugout canoe is on display. It was found on the Big Blue River and is believed to be around 200 years old.

There are many events that take place at the fort during the year. The "Star-Spangled Banner" flutters in the wind on the Fourth of July, 2013.



View of Fort Osage below the bluffs that overlook the Missouri River.

Two living history interpreters converse on the porch of the Factory during the Grand Festival de Chez les Canses.

A living history interpreter carries out the daily activities of an Osage woman during the Grand Festival de Chez les Canses.

An interpreter tends the pot in a kitchen below the main floor of the trade house during the Grand Festival de Chez les Canses.

I like to take part in the fun sometimes, too.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

10 Ways Christianity Perfects Masculinity

What does the Bible teach about God’s intended gender role for men? Are we supposed to be effete weaklings deprived by the constraints of a moral code? This seems to be a favorite stereotype in the world. Or are we present-day sexist cavemen living by the antiquated standards of a Semitic culture? Neither of these two views is even remotely close to the biblical truth. What then? Here is a non-exhaustive list (in no particular order) of ways in which Christianity, as opposed to the ever-changing norms of the world, perfects masculinity.

1. It distinguishes between a male and female sex/gender (Genesis 1:27-28).

In the scientific community, the term ‘sex’ has gradually been falling out of use the last 30 years or so in favor of ‘gender’. The majority of complex organisms on the planet are biologically predestined to be either male or female. A small percentage has the ability to reproduce asexually, e.g., slugs, snails, various plants, and some species of the whiptail lizard from the Aspidoscelis genus. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/asexual-lizards/). Some animals even have the ability to biologically change their sex after they are born without undergoing any chromosomal mutations, but this is not so with humans. Some sex chromosome disorders do exist in human populations, such as Klinefelter Syndrome, but this particular disorder is very rare (0.002% in any ethnic group) and usually results in sterility. Successful reproduction, thus far, has only been possible with advanced medical technology. The bottom line is that God had intended for mankind to have only two unique sex groups without the ability of conveniently traversing them as some other animals possess. In today’s world, this natural barrier is clawed through by changing ideas of gender groups. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) official website has this to say on the subject: “’Gender’ refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.” (http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/) With that said, some societies of the past and present have added a “third gender” to their cultures. This is not part of God’s plan.

2. It reaffirms a heterosexual marriage (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6).

Christian men are to have only one woman as a wife and to be faithful to her. We’ll just leave it at that.

3. It teaches that physical strength and prowess are not fully equatable to a man in God’s eyes (Psalm 147:10-11; Proverbs 16:32; 1 Timothy 4:8).

This certainly won’t speak to everyone, but I was a two-sport athlete in high school. I understand the culture. On top of that, I’m an American and the stereotypes abroad aren't always nice ones. We have a reputation for being loud, impatient, cocky, and aggressive. If you've read a history textbook in the past century, then you’ll see that these are well-deserved descriptions. Our culture prides itself on the strong and robust male. The salaries of our professional athletes dwarf those of our professional educators. We also have, by far, the world’s largest military and this fact doesn’t go unnoticed or concealed in everyday American society. In the past, God has most certainly used physical strength through men to show His power. Do you think of Samson and the jawbone of a donkey or the two temple pillars he destroyed? How about David and his confrontation with a lion and a bear or his song of “ten thousands”? Indeed, the Bible says that the "LORD is a man of war” (Exodus 15:3) and “sought for Himself a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). He found that man in David, but these qualities are not God’s preferred attributes. David acknowledges this fact when he told his young son: “It was in my mind to build a house to the name of the Lord my God; but the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.” (1 Chron. 22:7-8) He would later declare the same thing to all of the leaders in Israel. Instead, his son Solomon would be granted the privilege of building a temple for the Lord. What made Solomon a more worthy man than his renowned father in the eyes of God? A peaceful kingdom and wisdom.

© OH Football Players by User: Casey Bernard / Wikimedia Commons /  CC-BY-SA-3.0

4. It acknowledges that godly men can learn from the wisdom of women (Proverbs 31:1-31).

Eve was created to be a companion for Adam because God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) She was also to be a helper comparable to him. This idea of a comparable helper is important. You know that chapter in Proverbs where it talks about the virtuous wife? It was written by a king who learned the teachings… from his mother! I quoted the chapter at my wedding and I resent the claim that Christian men are chauvinists.

5. It acknowledges the leadership role of the husband (Ephesians 5:23-24).

This passage upsets many in the world today, but these people fail to understand that this passage, and Christianity as a whole, enjoins the husband to do something in turn….

6. It teaches men how to love their potential wives (Ephesians 5:23-29; 1 Peter 3:7).

This may seem like a no-brainer, but believe it or not, not all young men will have a dad (or even just a strong male role model) to teach them this while they’re growing up. But the Bible teaches them how to do this. We should love them like our own bodies. In case you started reading this article just now, see number 2 above. In a spiritual sense, a husband and wife are one body.

7. It acknowledges the physiology of the male (and female) body (1 Corinth. 7:1-9).

Contrary to certain teachings, true biblical Christianity does not condemn marriage. In fact, the Bible explicitly warns us about this false teaching (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Fornication and adultery, however, are condemned (Hebrews 13:4) and one of the most merciful things God has ever given mankind to combat these temptations is marriage. Furthermore, the apostle Paul made it very clear in 1 Corinthians 7 what was his personal opinion on the matter of marriage and what was the commandment of God. If you’re not familiar with the writings of Paul, then read the chapter mentioned above to consider what he has to say. Mainly, notice this part: “For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” God does not want us to deprive the body He gave us, but all things must be done according to His will. Paul writes that “the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Sobering words for a post-second wave feminist world and a pop culture accustomed to the sexual degradation of women.

8. It lauds temperance over indulgence (Proverbs 9:6; Proverbs 11:22; 1 Peter 4:3-5).

The idea of one-upmanship is not foreign to the male psyche. The apostle Peter, himself, admitted to doing just about whatever he wanted in his younger days, like the Gentiles. In other words, there may be a learning curve for many of us. In my experience, very few make it to adulthood without making stupid choices. But, it’s up to us whether or not we learn from them. What’s so cool about sitting in a police cruiser after a raided house party anyways? Or listening to your drunk friend from the other room while he unloads in the porcelain throne? How many 20-something rock legends/movie stars can you think of who died from a drug overdose? Lack of temperance is not supposed to be cool.

9. It teaches us that longevity is not to be abhorred but celebrated (Proverbs 16:31).

This one could be applied to women as well. However, in men the effects may be a bit different. Aging is accompanied by a loss of physical strength and vitality, traits that tend to be prized by the young because they are often used to attract the opposite sex. Once this begins to fade, a sense of worthlessness or failure may begin to set in. Mainstream culture tells us this realization may trigger a “mid-life crisis”. But is this really true? Better yet, should this be true? As I begin to find more gray hairs on my head, I wonder how I will handle the “prime” of my life. Society tells us to abhor those gray hairs, but you know what? The Bible tells us the exact opposite. While my physical strength will begin to markedly fade away one day, my spiritual strength should be markedly strengthening.

© Old Man (Imagicity 515) by User: Graham Crumb / Wikimedia Commons /  CC-BY-SA-3.0

10. It teaches us how men ought to be at every stage of their lives and gives us real examples (Psalm 147:10-11; 1 John 2:12-14; 1 Corinth. 4:9-10a).

Do you desire to be truly masculine in today’s world? Then strive to be strong in the faith and humble in heart, leaders in our homes and in the world, as well as servants. Follow the example of Christ and His Apostles:

"He does not delight in the strength of the horse; 

He takes no pleasure in the legs of a man.
11 The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, 

In those who hope in His mercy." (Psalm 147:10-11)

"I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one." (1 John 2:13b-14b)
14 

"I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men." (1 Corinth. 4:9)

~ Sojourner84