Encounter with an American Indian

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Once in awhile, you get to meet persons that even if you listen to them talk for just a few minutes, they leave you with lasting impressions. Such was the case one Saturday morning when my family and I braved the January wintry weather to participate in cultural presentations at the nearby library. The events program listed a particular presentation as American Indian Dances. I thought that my boys would be interested so we joined other families at the library conference room.

The speaker was an American Indian from an Illinois tribe. He was garbed in what he described as his tribe's attire. He said it wasn't a costume, since costume is what you wear during Halloween. I thought that he looked like a normal white American, not having the features that we watch of Indians in Hollywood movies. He hosts a radio program and he introduced his wife, who he says works as a banker. He spoke on which particular tribe he was a part of, and shared some information that I took some mental notes on. Among other things he shared were:

  • The word "chicago" was derived from a local word that sounded like 'shikaag' which meant skunk. Apparently, if you added an "o" at the end, it denotes a place. Chicago would have meant a stinking place.
  • Tribes in the US that are known as "American Indians" do not really see themselves as such. They go by the actual name of their tribes / nations. Most of them wouldn't know much about other tribal cultures.
  • Different tribes organize pow-wows where they gather together, eat, and participate in dances.
  • In the US, few institutions / individuals are legally allowed to hold eagles feathers like the one he was wearing as a headgear. This include museums, research institutes, and native Americans.
  • There is no truth that original native Americans crossed land bridges from Asia. All their creation and migration stories do not include such stories.
  • In native American mythology, there are 8 phases in this world. The current time is nearing the end of the 7th phase, and the 8th phase would be the arrival of a new earth.
  • Most depiction of Indian culture in Hollywood movies are far from reality.
Listening to him talk, I sensed the deep love he has for his roots. I fully understand it. In a way, both native American tribes and the Igorots share something in common. We've managed to keep our values despite the influence of the outer world. We also share being misunderstood and misrepresented.

This guy did warn of one thing - it's about losing one's dialect. He said that once the dialect is dead, everything about the culture also dies. Amongst my children, only my 10-year old understand Kankana-ey, our dialect in Sagada. But he cannot speak it. He's also the only one amongst my children who speaks and understands Tagalog. I know I've been procrastinating about it - but something must be done. My children also need to learn how to speak Kankana-ey and Tagalog. It will make them appreciate their roots more, and somehow, allow them to understand where they're going.


Banya March 27, 2009 at 12:43 PM  

I agree. In a sense, Native Americans have a lot in common with us, Igorots.