A good day. A good week. I’ve spent these last warm days of autumn on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with John Willis, a photographer and professor at Marlboro College in Vermont, and his wife, Pauline. John and I are collaborating on a book of his photographs. My charge — and it is as wonderful a charge as a writer can get — is to use my words to create a parallel text to John’s photographs. I am not to provide commentary or to write cut lines. This is a book of two artists responding to the same environment and experience through their respective art forms. I am both honored and excited to be able to share pages with John.
John has been going to the Rez for well over a decade. He and I first met through a program he runs there in the summer. It is called “Exposures,” and it attracted me with its authenticity and integrity. In Exposures, he takes young people from Vermont, the Bronx, the Navajo reservation, and other disparate cultural settings and brings them together with young people from Pine Ridge. They all work together on photography projects that document the people, places, and life on Pine Ridge.
So many projects, well intentioned and necessary as they are, focus on providing assistance and service. John tries to build upon strength. If he gives, which he does regularly, it is quietly and personally. In that way he echoes what I so appreciate about NANAI, the program from the Netherlands about which I just wrote. There is so much need on the Rez and so much sadness and poverty, that it is hard not to focus exclusively on need and deficiency. When you find people who acknowledge the need and deficiency, but try to build upon strength, you have found rare people, indeed.
I am excited to work with John on this book of his photographs, because we both see something far deeper and far more important than the sadness and poverty. We see the power of the people, the culture, and the land.
I invite all of you to view a few of John’s photographs at http://www.jwillis.net.
This is in the “comments” section of the last post. I want to make sure all of you see it. It is from Leo van Kints, who is in charge of the Amsterdam event:
Dear readers of Kent’s blogs.
I would like to give some more information on Kent’s visit to the ‘Low Countries’.
My name is Leo van Kints and I am Director of the Netherlands Association for North American Indians, NANAI. This organisation was founded in 1972 by my mother, Maria and some friends. In the late Sixties she was invited by a Dutch woman who thought English to Dineh (Navaho) children in Rockpoint, Arizona.
There she also met Raymond Nakai, leader of the Dineh. They talked about the bad living situations on Indian reservations, about the poverty, the high rate of unemployment and so on.
Maria asked him: “What can we, in Holland do to help change this bad situation?” Raymond’s answer was: “Tell the people in Europe that we are not lazy, that Indian people go to work in the morning to bring food on the table, that we are not all drunks, but also that we are not all Holy people, we have our good and bad habits. We are just people who want to live our lives in our own way. We accept and use modern ways, but also do not want to forget our traditions and culture. Tell your people the truth about us, that is how you can help.”
(Do I hear Dan talking?)
And that is what the NANAI still tries to do. We have two motto’s: ‘Honor the dead, help the living’, and ‘The’ Indian does not exist. The first one is clear, the second one tells that there are only in North America almost 600 Indian Nations, recognized by the Federal Government. All with their own language, culture, traditions. So do not compare the Tohono O’Odham from the Southwest with the Six Nations in the Northeast. They are completely different Nations.
In Europe ‘Indians’ have been a hype (Dances with Wolves). People started reading books about Indians, but often the wrong books. They learned about Indian ceremonies like the Sweat lodge and wanted to live like Indians and take part in these ceremonies. Some ‘Indian’ people came to Europe and performed those ceremonies for Europeans and even gave white people the right to perform the Sweat lodge ceremony. There was a lot of money involved too and that makes a ceremony worthless.
There are different opinions about Non Indians taking part in ceremonies. The Arvol Looking Horse group is very much opposed to it, while others say that there is no colour on ceremonies, as long as it is pure and there is no money involved.
NANAI tries to explain all this to the people in Holland and Belgium who want to hear it. We want to be the voice of the Modern Traditional Indians. My partner Franci Taylor, N.Cheyene/Choctaw(enrolled) with even some Dutch blood, lives in two worlds. She works on her laptop (email female, like her students say) and a week later she takes part in Sundance. She has sage in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, traditions and modern technology together.
We never say that we tell the truth, but that we give a realistic view.
After reading the News Letters and NANAI Notes that we issue through the year and after checking our site www.nanai.nl or www.indians.nu , we hope that the people get another perspective on the ‘Indian subject’.
On a regular basis we invite Indian people to come to Holland to tell their story, their truth to our donors and the media. This year we ‘celebrate’ our 35th birthday. On September 30th we have a multi cultural event close to Utrecht in a beautiful park http://www.antropia.nl/.
We invited Darlene Walks Out, a Lakota woman who works in healthcare and is the director of Habitat for Humanity on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Dan Agent, a Cherokee/Choctaw journalist/photographer/writer, who will give a lecture about stereotypes and the negative way Indians still are portrayed in the media.
Kent Nerburn, well known to all of you. I was very impressed with the book Neither Wolf nor Dog. I read it whilst travelling in the US and coming home I found out that it had been translated into Dutch. A real good translation but with ‘special’ cover. A Hopi Indian in front of Monument valley. Nice picture, wrong choice. It was a rather expensive book in Holland so people often were doubtful about purchasing it. But then I told them to send it back for a full refund if they did not like it after 25 pages. I never got one back.
Not too long ago I checked Kent’s website and read some of his ‘blogs’ and short stories and about the Red Lake project. Then I decided I had to try to get him over to Holland, to speak at our NANAI day. I sent him an email and within some hours I had a very enthusiastic return mail.
I love the way Kent writes. Even his short emails are sometimes like poetry. Now I hope, or even more, expect that our donors and other interested people will have the same feeling. I am very much looking forward to meet Kent and discuss many (Indian) subjects.
If you want more information on NANAI and the NANAI event on September 30th in Holland and October 6th in Antwerp (Belgium), please visit our site. It is all in Dutch, but the program of the day will be (partly) in English too. http://www.indians.nu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=147&Itemid=77
Amongst the aforementioned speakers, you can also meet a Mapuche (Chile) delegation who will sing and dance, demonstrate Mapuche weaving and give information on their struggle; a small music/dance group from Peru; Flor Buchuck, a Peruvian Indian woman will dance and give workshops clay-pottery for children; Trisha Jacobs – Cherokee, also gives information about stereotypes; NCIV – Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples will be present with an information booth. There will also be a children program with Indian games.
Franci Taylor – Choctaw/N. Cheyenne, will be the person to approach if you want to get in contact with one of our Indian guests during the day. She is coordinating this day together with Angelique van de Laak and the undersigned.
If you are around, you are all very welcome to this special day. There is no admittance fee. For people who come by public transport, the railway station is abut the park and there is a special fare from every station in the Netherlands. You can order your train ticket through http://www.antropia.nl/.
We hope too see many of you on September 30th.
Leo van Kints