Monday, December 17, 2012

Movies In Lakota

So, I've been on this kick where I've been taking pop culture things, namely movies, and re-imagining them in with Lakota text. 

So, here's how I kind of imagine The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as a Lakota story. "Wangi" is the Lakota word for the little people, or little spirit people. "Kin" is a Lakota word but its origin lies more with the Jesuits and other missionaries who've used it as the word "The." "Canku Okokipe" is the "Road Dangerous."

Here's a famous quote by Arnold from the movie "The Terminator." Arnold says, "I'll be back." In Lakota, the term toksa [dohk-SHAH] is a future tense word that is most often meant to mean "Next time." Ake [ah-KAY] means again, and po, is a suffix men use to finish what their statement. 

"Move yourself, my day is good."
"Dirty" Harry Callahan from the movie Sudden Impact.

Star Lodge-Door
Stargate, one of my all-time favorite movies.

The Day Is Good: A Difficult Death
A Good Day To Die Hard

"...and monkeys out of my butt will come!"
Wayne Campbell [Mike Myers], from the movie Wayne's World.

"Luke, it is so, here I am, you're father."
Darth Vader, from The Empire Strikes Back.

Always Be Prepared Mother Russia
Yippie-Kai-Yay Mother Russia, A Good Day To Die Hard

With-Energy The Fifth
The Fifth Element

"On behalf of my little friend say 'hau.'"
"Say 'Hello' to my little friend," Tony Montana, Scarface

The famous quote "You Shall Not Pass," Gandalf The Grey [Ian McKellen], The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Rings.

Friday, December 7, 2012

No Smoking in North Dakota: Local History and the Atlantic World

By Aaron Barth for The Edge Of The Village
My commentary is in italics.

This evening from my post office box I retrieved several envelopes, one of which was the “SmokeFree!” announcement to inform North Dakotans of the latest smoke free Century Code 23-12-9 to 23-12-12. This got me thinking about tobacco in both a local and global historical context. Tobacco as a cash crop is one of the reasons Great Britain continued colonizing Virginia, and tobacco was cultivated by Native America long before the Columbian Exchange.

Sometimes, I find myself thinking of history-related things. I probably would have stood out there beside Aaron with glazed eyes and a far off gaze until a pressing need brought me back to reality. I received not just the smoke-free mailer, but an e-newsletter. I didn't realize that I signed myself up for that until Monday.
As for a local historical context, tobacco appears in a variety of sources. One of them is through Guy Gibbon’s thorough work on the Sioux. Gibbon indexed the word “tobacco” seven times in The Sioux: The Dakota and Lakota Nations (Malden, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2003). Gibbon notes the archaeological sites around Mille Lacs Lake in east-central Minnesota as yielding a variety of botanics, or plant remains, including locally cultivated tobacco.

The native varieties of tobacco on the Northern Plains are maybe a quarter to half the size of the commercial tobacco which is grown today. One leaf is about as big as my open hand. 
From Paul Goble's "White Buffalo Cal Woman"
A cultural and socio-religious story concerning tobacco in the Lakota historical record comes in the form of “The White Buffalo Calf Woman,” a story set down by Black Elk, an Oglala wicasa wakan (“holy man”) and Catholic catechist. In 1931 and in the late 1940s, Black Elk embraced a hybridized version of Euro-American Christianity and Native ways, and he narrated a story where “the sacred messenger of the Great Spirit, brings the People the peace pipe, tobacco, and seven rites.” Students of American literature have considered this story for quite some time, and as Gibbon also notes, “A popular current trend is to devalue Black Elk’s teachings because they seem compromised by Christianity.” (Gibbon, 2003: 149) Whether it is used in customs on behalf of old and new ways, the role of tobacco remains central throughout Native America.

There are variations of the story of the coming of Pte Hincala San Win, The White Buffalo Calf Woman, and Black Elk shared one. In one variation I've become familiar with, the pipe was first seen by the Cheyenne, Tsitsistas as they name themselves, at the sacred site Mahto Tipila, Bear Lodge, popularly known as "Devil's Tower." When a Cheyenne was made to choose between the pipe and seven arrows, he took the arrows back to his people, and when he turned back to look the pipe and the tunnel in Bear Lodge had vanished. The Cheyenne heard later that the pipe was brought to the Lakota.

The story of the pipe is different than the story of tobacco. The Teton Lakota, or Western Sioux, didn't cultivate tobacco but traded it from the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan. 

I don't smoke, but I always carry a bag or twist of tobacco in my car in case I need it to express gratitude or if someone renders a traditional prayer. In the long ago days, when the northern lights filled the night skies, the Lakota people would burn incense. On foggy mornings people would leave a pinch or twist of tobacco for the relatives who've taken their journey. Once I gifted someone from Fort Berthold a tie of tobacco and his relatives whispered, "That's a Sioux thing," but he and they graciously received my gift in the spirit it was given. Maybe it is a "Sioux thing," but I'm happy to carry the tradition. 
The second history of tobacco text to come to mind upon receiving the update to the new ND tobacco free century code was from James VI and I, a primary source from 1604 entitled, “A Counterblaste to Tobacco.” As the English found ways to bring this cash crop across the Atlantic from the new to the old world, King James felt provoked to respond for the sake of the mainland British common wealth. The paradox remained: England profited financially from tobacco on the one hand, and yet the aristocracy critiqued it on the other. Keeping in mind his use of elitist language, and his complete and raging mischaracterization of the use of tobacco throughout Native America, in 1604 the King of England, verbatim, said,
“…For Tobacco being a common herbe, which (though vnder diuers names) growes almost euery where, was first found out by some of the barbarous Indians, to be a Preseruative, or Antidot against the Pockes, a filthy disease, whereunto these barbaous people are (as all men know) very much subject, through the intemperate heate of their Climat: so that as from them was first brought into Christendome, that most detestable disease, so from them likewise was brought this vse of Tobacco, as a stinking and vnsavourie Antidot, for so corrupted and execrable a Maladie, the stinking Suffumigation whereof they yet vse against that diesease, making son one canker or venime to eate out another.

And this goes on for some length.

Don’t smoke cigarettes, kids, because yes, they do stink, they are unhealthy for you, and they no doubt will cause and/or contribute to cancer. Yet also remember that not every culture uses or has used tobacco the same way, individually and throughout history. Every cultural historical perception toward tobacco is always in flux. And also there is a difference between cigarettes and leaf tobacco: the former are jammed with additives (even with fiber glass, they tell me!) while the latter is not.

I don't smoke as a recreation or past time. I tried it once down by the Missouri River after school with some friends when I was in the sixth grade and coughed so bad I nearly threw up. It was such an awful experience I never tried again. In high school, I never kissed a girl who smoked either. So, to reiterate what my friend Aaron said, don't smoke. If you do, grow your own tobacco, there's less additives. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Winter's Kiss Reminds Me Of My Grandfather

A lovely dusk just north of Fort Yates, N.D.
A Reflection:
Childhood Remembered 
By Dakota Wind
FORT YATES, N.D. - The morning arrived on the Missouri River valley with a slow swell of purples and reds. The air hung heavy with a thick curtain of fog which slowly dispelled as early morning became go-to-work morning. The fog had turned to frost and heavily clung to every surface. Windows became frosty effigies of stained glass with fantastic whorls and impossible leaves. The trees had clothed their bare winter branches with thick delicate coats of frost. The trees were so heavy with frost that the morning shadows they cast were as the summer shade again.

I started the car, my little beast, and he came to life rather reluctantly, as though he would rather sleep in. “I feel the same,” I said and patted him on the roof. I imagine another man in the days of warriors in the same spot I stand, rousing his horse and talking to it in a like manner.

In the old days, when fog smothered the land with its cool, almost tangible embrace, it was an in between time and an in between place between our world and the next. Some might leave a pinch of tobacco or an offering of food for the spirits visiting the people. My grandmother shared a tall glass of water with the world and gave thanks for living.

There’s frost on my windshield and for a moment I regret that I must scrape away winter’s kiss on my little beast. I spend a minute tracing the stitches of frost on my window, lost in thought, and I am reminded of my lala (grandfather) just then. Though we lived maybe six blocks from school, he insisted on giving my brother and me a ride on the coldest days, sometimes even when it was warm too. Wordlessly, we did a lot of things without words it seemed but I cherish the memories, he would rouse his car and scrape its windows and I would watch him scrape from inside the car and we would share smiles when he cleared my window.

...for a moment that I am my grandfather and he is me...

I felt the sweet heavy pang of memory in my heart as I cleared my son’s window. He’s eleven now. When he was a toddler and sat in a car seat in the back, I scraped the windows in wintertime and we would share smiles and wave as I cleared his window. For a moment, I saw that little boy again waiting in my car and I wonder if that’s how my lala saw me, a juxtaposition of past and present sharing the same space. By looking at me and smiling, did he see the future? Did he see my son reflected in my eyes? I like to imagine, in the in-between times like dawn, and the in-between spaces created by the fog, that for a moment that I am my grandfather and he is me, and I can feel love surrounding me, holding me, lifting me, as I look on my son. Maybe, just maybe if look carefully I’ll see my grandsons as he looks to me and see his grandfathers.

I hate measuring time, but the world I live in draws me from that place of fog and frost and memory. I get in my pony and put on some Def Leppard. I indulge my imagination once more, and see a warrior dusting off his blanket and settling it on his horse’s back before getting on. I settle into my seat and buckle up, and he straightens his pony-drag (travois). I am ready for the day and my work is the hunt.

It’s my turn to take my son to school.