The Land

It’s always a pleasure to find an author from whom you want to read more.  It was my wife who told me about Ernestine Hayes’ The Tao of Raven.  We were both so taken by the book that we turned to Hayes’ prior Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir.  Learning how badly the United States has treated the indigenous population of this continent is one thing.  Learning how badly we still treat them is quite another.  For all of that Hayes writes a memoir that is reflective and perhaps sad, but seldom angry.  The stories told in Tao of Raven start here—we meet the characters who will be further developed in the next installment and become even more curious about them.  The reader wants to reach out and help.  To tell the government, “enough!”

The indigenous peoples of North America (and likely South too, for that is a realm requiring further learning) feel, and have always felt, a close connection to the land.  Europeans see land as a resource for exploitation, not for living in harmony with.  We came, we took, we destroyed.  As if that weren’t bad enough, we left the original inhabitant trapped in grinding poverty, shoving them into places we wouldn’t see.  Until we discovered something we wanted on that land, and then we shoved them again.  The impetus to do this was, unfortunately, Christianity.  I doubt it’s the religion Jesus had in mind, but then he lost control of it millennia ago.  Believing in one’s divine mandate is a sure way of making unwarranted claims on what belongs to someone else.  Remember “thou shalt not steal”?

Hayes’ reflective style is an honor to read.  Feeling a part of a place is a rare privilege.  Born into a mobile society enamored of technology, the modern American has difficulty feeling too attached to any one place.  Of course, many people stay close to where they were born, but to become a “professional” you have to leave.  Blonde Indian is about returning home.  The land knows us.  Many of us don’t know it back.  It’s just a place to set our feet temporarily until a better opportunity comes along elsewhere.  Being tied to no land we lose something of our souls.  Our connection with nature.  With the planet itself.  Hayes is a gifted writer with a story that must be heard.  Wisdom comes through on every page.  We would do well to pay attention.

Raven Wisdom

Just twenty pages in and I was reflecting on how Christianities and the cultures they cultivated have caused so much suffering in the world.  Assuming there is only one way to be, and that way is pink, European, and monotheistic, has led to so many displaced people thrown aside as collateral damage.  Ernestine Hayes’ The Tao of Raven is a remarkable book.  A native Alaskan, Hayes participated in the colonialist venture of higher education to try to also participate in the “American dream.” If this book doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin, I don’t know that you’re human.  As I mentioned in a recent post, I have a deep interest and lasting guilt to learn about indigenous peoples of the country where I was born.  About the culture that is so Bible-driven it can’t see the human beneath.  The capitalism that takes no prisoners.

The Tao of Raven is one of the most honest books I’ve ever read.  Hayes refuses to sugar-coat the alcoholism, the broken promises, the poverty offered to native Alaskans.  Even as Trump’s final rages go on, he has opened the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge for drilling, to the highest bidder.  Apart from those whose wealth will increase as a result, we will all suffer.  Those who lived in Alaska before the colonists arrived the most.  The idea of colonizing, without which capitalism just can’t work, reveals its evil here.  When a voice like that of Hayes is able to make itself heard we cannot but feel the condemnation.  When over seventy-million people vote for a hater, we all tremble.

The book ends much as it begins.  A sincere regret for those who’d been fed the contradictory messages of missionaries.  Those told to accept suffering on earth so that they could go to the white person’s Heaven, while those inflicting the suffering lead comfortable lives with modern conveniences.  The double-standards that allow people to die on the street like dogs.  The double-standards that can’t see that you need not be Christian to upend the tables of money-changers.  Indeed, the last time someone dared to such a thing was two millennia ago.  When Christianity slipped its fingers between those of capitalism a monster would surely be born.  The cost would come in human lives, even as a quarter-million lay dead in this country from a virus a rich man can’t be bothered to address.  Do yourself, do the world a favor.  Read this book.  Read it with your eyes open and learn from Raven.

Double Exposure

Back when I was teaching full time, one of my favorite television shows was Northern Exposure. In fact, the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska, had quite a lot in common with Nashotah House. Both were populated by quirky characters in a relatively remote location. Both were small, insignificant places with visions of grandeur. Both were effectively run by conservative forces that liked to imagine themselves as benign or downright noble. Both distrusted outsiders with ideas that might challenge the status quo. One of my favorite characters was Maggie O’Connell, the woman in a man’s world who refused to let the male establishment set the limits to what she could do. A strong woman character whom the men all respected served as an antidote to daily life at the seminary. My wife and I liked the program so much that we even stopped in the town of Roslyn, Washington, where the outdoor scenes were shot, a couple of times on our way out west.

We don’t have television now, so we have to watch Northern Exposure on DVD. While at a hotel recently, however, the name of Janine Turner on the television made me look. I had known that the actress portraying Maggie O’Connell was a political conservative in real life, but here she was advocating an “anyone but Obama” type campaign or some such nonsense. I felt as if I’d been sold a false bill of goods for all these years. Like Margaret Thatcher, Turner believes in socially conservative causes. Margaret Thatcher, that contradiction of a woman who felt that females belonged in the home, had undue influence on a once great Britain. Where was the woman who played such an ardent feminist in a male world? How could anyone pretend that kind of passion in front of a large audience for six years and spent her real life trying to deconstruct a cause that has everyday ethical implications? It’s all an act.

Women have been relegated to positions of lesser prestige for millennia for the crime of caring for their offspring. Men have been free to abandon responsibility and seek selfish ends, if so inclined. No matter what our gender, we pursue in life what is most meaningful to us, and it amazes me when strong women support a structure that has consistently shown itself interested in keeping them down. Vaunted as a show where diverse characters come into constant conflict but always “strive to accept their differences and co-exist,” Northern Exposure displayed depth without eschewing what is laughable about the human condition. Real life, I suppose, it is much more like the small town of Rosyln, Washington. For a few years it was an out-of-the-way tourist stop where actors could play characters they really didn’t believe in while living in a fictitious town where everyone at least attempted to tolerate everyone else.

Do you recognize this character?

Lions, and Politicians, and Bears

A man was eaten by a lion in Zimbabwe yesterday. A boy on his way to school in Alaska was attacked but relatively unharmed by a brown bear. Predation. Much of the way humans act is based on our long history as both predators and prey. Evolution (may not apply in Kansas or Texas) has designed us to cope with these constant stresses of finding enough food and avoiding becoming food. A great deal of religious behavior can be traced back to avoidance of predation and success in the hunt. We like to think that we are somehow not animals, but animals are smart enough to disagree. Just ask that cheeky squirrel that finds ingenious ways to circumvent all the deterrents you put in place to assure that those seeds go to needy birds, not fat rodents. We are part of the mix. Our opposable thumbs help immensely; we build our own ecosystems to keep lions and bears out.

Yesterday was a day of predation. Even within the human sphere we find that killing others is permissible, as long as it is done slowly by those in fine clothes and fancy automobiles. Depriving the less deserving is a time-honored human behavior, after all, survival of the fittest only applies to animals, not us. Right? By backing policies that protect the wealthy in their lofty sanctuaries while others shiver in November’s Tuesday chill we show human nature. Humans are predators as well as prey.

Intriguingly, many politicians who support laissez faire economics deny evolution exists. Instituting policies that ensure survival of the wealthiest, they deny up and down that evolution has anything to do with the way that we are. It’s all in the nature of the evidence. And nature itself is evidence. We may be the smartest, most well adapted of the mammal class, and yet we can be eaten. What does the evidence suggest? From the point-of-view of a lifelong observer of religion, it suggests we are still the prey. When religion stealthily crawls into bed with politics, it is evident that even religion itself may be a deadly predator.