Thursday, July 8, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane

This isn't proving to be an overwhelmingly prolific summer in the blog-posting department... a lack of preschool and a 4-year-old who feels naps (indeed, sleep in general) are a waste of valuable drawing time do not make for wonderful contemplative opportunities. Fall should bring more opportunities for insightful commentary.

In several hours, I depart again, this time for one of those experiences that could rightly be termed a "trip of a lifetime" -- two weeks in Ireland with my husband, the pint-sized artist and my parents. I am sure I will have thoughts upon my return. Hopefully they will be worth reading!

Meanwhile: a few interesting bits and pieces. The Irish potato famine of 1845-51 precipitated the first great wave of non-British immigration to the United States (some Germans and others came earlier, of course, and Ireland was under the dominion of Britain at the time). The famine was so immense, death so rampant and the migration abroad so extensive that even today, Ireland's population is smaller than it was in the early 1840s. Ireland is and always has been such a verdant land that even ascetic monks had a hard time maintaining their asceticism... it was simply too easy to grow food. So why did such a tragedy occur? The key lies in colonialism. The Irish were growing plenty of food throughout the famine... for export to Britain. They did not have access to that which could have saved them; meanwhile, the only food they did have reliable access to -- potatoes -- was overtaken by rampant fungal infection.

Once they got to the United States? Irish immigrants were among the first to discover that in nineteenth century America, "white" was a considerably more restrictive term than that which we use today, and most Americans had no qualms about discrimination. Signs excluding dogs and Irish, or equating Irish with African Americans (who were still enslaved in the South) were commonplace.

We tend to think about colonialism and conquest as deeds perpetrated upon the rest of the world by Europe (and perhaps the United States). There are good reasons for doing this, given the continuing scars that run across so much of the world as a result of this extra-European colonialism. Ireland, however, is a good reminder that the full story is more complicated.

Well, onward and upward (to cruising altitude)! The kid has expressed that what she most wants to see in Ireland are sheep. I am sure we will be able to accommodate her...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Notes from Lummi

Returned Friday evening from that youth trip to the Lummi reservation just outside Bellingham. It was a good week -- good for the kids, and good, I hope, for the people whose yards were weeded and fireworks stands were painted.

We had a chance to experience the Lummi canoe culture firsthand. As mentioned previously, the Native American cultures of the Pacific Northwest relied heavily upon the inland waters that trace through the landscape of the region for their livelihoods, transportation and communication (they even ventured out onto the open sea). While the overwhelming force of mainstream American society has curtailed these traditional patterns, tribes like the Lummi have taken significant steps in recent years to renew and hold onto this vital part of their cultural heritage.

Accordingly, the Lummi and many other tribes participate annually in an event called "Tribal Journeys," during which groups of canoe paddlers from various tribes travel from reservation to reservation, sharing songs and stories and regaining the lived experience of a long canoe voyage. The Lummi were preparing to head out toward the middle of this week for this year's Tribal Journey.

Last Wednesday, several of the song leaders and canoe paddlers came to sing their songs for us. These are the songs that help power their journeys. They tell of tribal lore and traditional themes, but they are also a living, evolving history of the tribe. New songs address the struggles of life on a reservation in the twenty-first century and the triumphs of helping modern Native Americans negotiate the shoals of "outside" and regain their heritage. Some young Lummi even danced for my kids, who were their peers in age -- brave kids! I was struck by the power of their dances; it is easy to see how Europeans would have been alarmed by the strength and physicality of young warriors when they first encountered Native tribes centuries ago:

The Lummi have a wonderful saying: once you share a meal with us, you are family. They demonstrated this the next day, when they invited the kids into their canoes for a trip around the bay. They shared a prayer with the kids on the water that had them talking long afterward about the way the Lummi see the spiritual qualities of all creation. They enjoyed the silence on the water, the seabirds and small crabs. I am sure it is an experience they will never forget.

And when they got back to shore? Well, there's one more set of Lummi traditions. First, demonstrate your respect for the canoe after your first journey. And second? Never call it a boat...