I recently went on a business trip to Phoenix Arizona. I had never been in the state and the desert environment was entirely new to me. We were shuttled to a place called Scottsdale and we stayed in a luxury hotel.
Now I had heard of this place called Scottsdale before. Many older rich people had raved about it and a lot of young people I knew bragged about living there. As I walked through the hotel, I payed particular attention to the other guests and what they were like. It seemed to me as though many of the women were auditioning for a place in the show Desperate Housewives. This idea came to me so strongly that I actually mentioned it to a few I had met at the bar and they had a very good laugh. Not only that, but they told me I was right on the mark. There was so much wealth there that a sort of competition had emerged and the inhabitants really did portray the characteristics one would find on the show.
If you haven’t seen the show “Desperate Housewives” it is basically a caricature of the white upper class living in privileged suburbia who have nothing better to do but create drama. This is exactly what I found in Scottsdale.
But this is not what was impressed upon me most strongly. At the luxury hotel all of the art were of Native Americans.
Now, if you read my posts with any frequency you can probably guess where I am going to go with this. I pride myself on understanding the mentality of others and try to put myself into their lives and see the world through their eyes. To me, this is what a Global Citizen should be about. The constant effort to understand and see the world exactly as others would. This is an exercise I practice almost daily and in doing so, discover that we simply do not understand each other.
We go about our lives only seeing the world from our own very limited point of view. We believe we can judge right and wrong based on our own very incomplete understanding and miniscule point of view.
Now I know very little about Native Americans except from what I have read and the songs I have listened to. My favorite descriptions of the Native Americans come not from Western historians but instead from George Catlin who, in my opinion, understood them as much as any white man could. He traveled into their lands and painted their portraits while the Natives still inhabited a large amount of the USA. I would highly encourage taking a look at his website. What he did was create a record of a people who did not write, in a time where their world was collapsing.
I tried very hard to get into the mindset about how a Native American would feel about all this art. In order to do so, I awoke before dawn and took a walk in the Cactus Garden that was laid out beside the hotel. From this place I could study the landscape which included an enormous desert mountain and very distant terrain.
In this peace and quiet I reflected on how a Native American might feel about all the sculptures representing his people that were placed in the garden. Perhaps it was the silence of the desert, or the quiet solitude one feels while walking in the desert at night but an incredible feeling of sadness came over me.
These sculptures represented the lives of people long ago wiped out by the very people now attempting to honor them with a piece of art. As I looked at the sculptures I saw these people being murdered by white men on horseback, children screaming and women being shot in the back as they fled.
I expected tears to start flowing from the sculpture depicted above as I imagined all of these things. It was almost as if the spirits of these long deceased spirits were calling out to me in the silence of the desert night. I could feel their presence, their energy and in my mind I responded, yes, I know what happened to you, you are not forgotten.
I found it unsettling that this luxurious hotel had been built upon land which was stained with Native American blood. The guests swimming in the pools, drinking, eating find food and not giving one thought to the suffering that had occurred a century or two ago. These are the people that would look upon the sculptures and only think about how nice it would look in their mansions.
I soon came upon another sculpture with this inscription.
“From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
I did not know this quote and so promptly looked it up and found that it came from Chief Joseph. As I read, two ideas quickly came rushing into my mind, perhaps with the aid of the spirits that were whispering to me.
The first is that this Chief had taken a Christian name. The influence of the white man had already penetrated the tribe but this was not enough to appease them. They required more. They wanted the Indian lands but, with no Indians on them. Even though the tribe had excepted the white man’s religion he wanted more and what he wanted was to have them disappear.
You can try to appease the devil but in doing so will only add to his desire for more. This desire will not abate until the giver is completely destroyed.
The second thing that occurred to me after reading the description was that Chief Joseph was not from Arizona. He lived in Oregon and the US army wanted his people relocated to Idaho. Thus, the “white man” who erected this sculpture did not even bother to try and honor a local Chief but must have thought that any Native would do.
And to add insult to injury, according to Wikipedia the quote was made up by an Army lieutenant.
“The popular legend deflated, however, when the original pencil draft of the report was revealed to show the handwriting of the later poet and lawyer Lieutenant Charles Erskine Scott Wood, who claimed to have taken down the great chief’s words on the spot. In the margin it read, “Here insert Joseph’s reply to the demand for surrender”
As if this was not enough insult I came upon one other sculpture that left me in complete despair in regards to our understanding and sympathy for each other.
This one is called “The Future” by Alan Houser. What I find in this piece is irony smacking me right in the face. There is no future for Native Americans. They were decimated and what remains are in the squalor of reservations except for those lucky tribes that have been awarded casinos. And what do they do with these casinos? Well, what one would expect of humans in our current state of development,,,, horde all the profits for themselves while their brothers and sisters languish on the reservations.
I was thrown a twist when I looked up who Alan Houser actually was. It appears he is an Apache Indian. Now, perhaps I simply do not understand his aims or purpose and I sincerely hope my conclusions are the result of misunderstandings.
Yet, I cannot help but feel the ire, the disdain of the Native spirits seeing their image being sold to the wealthy ancestors of the conquerors who most likely have no real understanding of what has occurred.
Perhaps I feel too deeply. Maybe I understand history too clearly. I could have traveled too much. Yet, I simply cannot understand how people can so quickly forget the past. An entire civilization erased and even when presented with the images of the long deceased they only think of how great a piece of art would look in their foyer.
The spirits remain in that desert and they have not forgotten.