As a mother of grown children, I appreciate the days when we can get a majority present at Sunday dinner, with the grandchildren, a few guests, good food and reciprocity of ideas and interchange of opinion. We have always encouraged this camaraderie and oneness. Our tribal beliefs rest on common mores, one being: “bay kee igh bah ‘taw yee’ (Treat everyone with respect). We learn that through practice. What better place than at home, over the healing, welcoming space of eating together? It’s by design, neutral, a sanctuary.
My grandparents used to say, “haun day ohn day aihm tsaun”. It brought the warm invitation and secured emotional positioning by saying in effect, “I’m so glad you came through my door”.
We are a social people. We are a people whose basic existence is based on that protectiveness of collective consciousness. Aware of each other, of each other’s presence, and absence.
Dylan was right. Times they are ‘a changing’. Communication is changing. The sociality upon which our tribal mores depend for survival are changing. For instance, in our tribe, we are dealing with the disintegration of language, which brings about deterioration of the understanding of why we do what we do, and how we do it. This rising generation is living in a different space, a different time, and working within different mediums of communication. The essence of our tribal soul is at risk, because in this intercultural global world, we have not traversed the chasm of a progressive future to repair the damage of post-colonial oppression and scraping a survival in the dominant system. My daughter recently spoke of the importance of understanding the spatial placements of our persons and how that affects and reflects upon the standing we have within our cultural community and class system. This understanding is becoming displaced in this modern world of social media.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that the advent of social media is going to be the catalyst, the instrument of progress and restoration to many indigenous nations. (By indigenous I mean those tribes and societies who were affected by colonialism with loss of social structure and/ or land, those now living under the dominant system of colonialism.) Social media, more specifically Facebook, has become a think tank, a learning space of the younger generation to connect genealogy, learn language, dance, songs and history. A history not taught in schools, or recorded properly in books, accessible in real time. These millennial, computer savvy minds, have taken a form of media and turned it into a tribal space.
I applaud much of the interchange. Facebook has replaced the camp crier. Even to the formed habit of fellow tribesman actually saying in English, “Good morning, it’s time to get up”. I shook my head and smiled the first time I saw the trend and wondered, ‘is this intentional, or just our ethnocentrism showing?’.
Five years ago there was more caution on social media within the native audience. More guardedness in presumptive knowledge, and then there seemed to be a season of a ‘free for all’. Assumptions being stated as fact, facts being put aside as invisible. To a society as ours based on strict social structure and protocol, this was a frightening trend. I thought, our mythical creature who teaches life lessons through his trickery and deceit was reborn. Sayn-Day has come back, this time empowered by the ‘like’ button and fueled to life through ‘posts’ and ‘shares’. One thing became very clear.
Our culture stripped of space and placement, of the emphasis of silence and facial gesture, can be taught and perpetuated. We just become more like a Picasso. Reflective of his analytical cubism, we become two dimensional, at best. One-dimensional for the most part, fragmented and distorted into a semblance of our true form.
Without the extended elements of basic communication and language, ocular cues, intonation, infliction, we become interpretable through fragmentation and shadows. A circular culture defined, delineated into this linear space. We transcend from the viewpoint and depth of a Rembrandt of my grandparents and their parents world, the one filled with warriors who fought in the Indian wars, pocked with arrow wounds and full of humor and depth of their living history and their parents history, sitting outside the house in a willow branch arbor under the breeze, talking and eating food that had been prepared for them from a camp fire so they could ‘be’ in the element of existence they preferred. We transcend from that ‘light’ of conversation to the analytical, emoji-filled, one-dimensional acronymically expressed grunting of social media. But, #YOLO and this is the world of the modern day Native.
Cubism for Picasso was the great metamorphosis of his art. He like our rising generation was in his prime, the highlight of his successful career. “He was a ‘success’ at what he had done, but that was not enough…this was a period of self-examination.”(Greenfeld 10) It is the same for our millennials, and many of our post Vietnam generation, it is a time of self-examination, and we are doing it through the ‘looking glass’ of social media.
We are doing it more often in a new tribal circle, a space we have walked into as in nomadic days of old “Gyah Saw Mee”, there is something to see.
This habitual trait of our people, the Kiowa people of the Great Plains in Northern America, to venture, to ‘see what there is to see’ holds true in the looking glass of social media. I have watched our elders trickle into this arena of Facebook, slowly, cautiously, sometimes, silently, bringing not only their wisdom, but more importantly their presence to this new place. With their presence comes the inclusive ‘spiral shape’ Picasso used in his analytical and synthetic cubism to represent the connection between the two and three dimensions. I love seeing them here, in this space of social media, because though I live a hemisphere away and multiple time zones, I feel them and it is like looking into the light. We find a way to express, humor, familial connotation, the inferred gestures of our old sign language and non-verbal communication has found a way to be expressed in this analytical, linear space, awash with spectators and eyes from many tribes.
I thank Picasso and Apollinaire for being able to see and appreciate this changed and contrasted passing of oral history in the space of social media, to be aware that we are looking at a fragmented representation that is co-existantly malleable and very much open to interpretation. Failing to appreciate this, could appear to be a fatal flaw. We would sit in the same ideology that was to permeate the Native American existence for over the past one hundred years. The idea that we were incapable of competent communication. This question is climacteric, when from the inception of a dialog of communication the assumption has been that we are inferior at best. Perhaps the darker reasoning behind this gross misrepresentation can be blamed on the colonial practice, where land acquisition and Indigenous removal, was the end goal. We were deemed, incapable of disseminating or effectively transferring competent communication. In this arena of social media, even as a Picasso, we are more than competent, we transcend.
Apollinaire once wrote of Picasso,
For Picasso is one of those who according to Michelangelo deserve to be
called eagles because they surpass all others and rise through the clouds
into the sunlight. And today all shadows disappeared. Goethe’s last dying
cry, “More light” rises from the sublime and mysterious work of Picasso
as it rises still from the work of Rembrandt”. (Read 81-82)
So I pose the question, in our current existence, are we to be free in the realm of social media, in our current metamorphosis of change? Are we able to be seen hermeneutically; communication taken at face value? Or can the reaction be compared to Georges Braque first saw Picasso’s work Les Demoiselles, ‘he said that he felt burned’, “as if someone were drinking gasoline and spitting fire.” (Sayre 1122)