"The Great Spirit is in all things, is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us; that which we put into the ground, She returns to us...."
"What we committed in the Indies stands out as among the most unpardonable offenses ever committed against god and mankind, and this trade in Indian slaves as one of the most unjust, evil and cruel among them."
-Bartolomé de las Casas
"If you really want to know about the spirit of American generosity, ask an Indian... if you can FIND one! We've made them a little bit difficult to locate."
If you were raised or if you lived for any amount of time in southern New England, you'll instantly recognize the reference in the title of this journal, even if the full meaning I'm trying to imply in using it hasn't become apparent just yet.
For those of you uninitiated, the title is an immediate reference to the famed commercial jingle for Foxwoods Casino, in Mashantucket Connecticut. [link]
Growing up in the nutmeg state, east of the titular river which bifurcates the southern extremity of New England, it's hard not to have at least some familiarity with the two great casinos that we have tucked away in the southeast corner of our state.
Ten miles apart, north of Mystic and Groton on Long Island Sound, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos, owned by the legally-recognized Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Indians respectively, these two casinos in nondescript corners of what is largely an underwhelming and overlooked representative of the union, are two of the largest casinos in the entire world, dwarfing even the titans of the Nevada desert.
Annually, each one grosses nearly one billion dollars.
Naturally, my time in Connecticut being my childhood years, I had little to do with either establishment, each only about an hour's drive from where I grew up. The only exceptions would be when my kindhearted and indulgent father would take me and sometimes my sister to see various shows that the large and lucrative locales have the power to attract.
Together we saw the masterful stage duo, the bad boys of magic, Penn & Teller at Foxwoods twice and famed TV personality Jon Stewart once. While at Mohegan sun we took in a Paul Simon concert, as well as one of the very first performances of "The Blue Collar Comedy Tour."
(That's right. I was into Ron While way before ALL of you!
Of course, in going to the casinos you would have to be very, very obtuse or simply preoccupied with gambling to not notice the themes and atmosphere of the establishments and realize fully the nature of the forces that made them.
We here, in the United States, have an unavoidable identity derived in many ways from the people who originally inhabited this landmass.
As Bill Bryson so aptly said; "Most places in America are either named after the first white man to arrive or the last Indian to leave." And indeed, even our grade-school geography is an unending laundry list of Native American influences; "Connecticut," "Massachusetts," "Alaska" and "Mississippi." Just to name a few.
And while the great American melting pot has given us denizens from every corner of the earth, there are still genealogical representatives of the original stewards of this land floating around the general population. Some less diluted than others.
Probably my longest-standing DA friend
can claim 1/16 of his ancestry from the former indogenes of Upstate New York and eastern Canada, the Oneida tribe.
And perhaps one of my most lasting college friendships is with my good chum Kathy, a three-time mother, one-time grandmother with the distinction of being the first child born into the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana after they obtained legal status as a sovereign tribe.
In American popular culture, Native Americans have played as vast an array of roles as their have been different tribes. Of course we're all familiar with the many, swishy stereotypes the cultural scene of the 19th century and early-to-mid 20th century was populated with. [link]
Now days, Native Americans inhabit a number of roles, anywhere from the emo werewolves pining for the affection of a tween romance protagonist to the subjects of serious, professionally-executed artistic endeavors with higher aspirations. [link]
And of course it probably goes without saying that the middle ground would be a transparent analogy set on the stage of a big-budget, holiday action movie directed by James Cameron with the Native Americans replaced by Smurfy Cats.
And whether you're aware of it or not, if you're in America right now, the ground you're sitting on probably had some significance in the culture of the tribe that inhabited your area at some point in the nearly eight millennia since the migration across the bearing straight began.
Just as two examples right in my current home-state are this monument in Wellfleet Massachusetts
And this sign post right off the road from my morning commute in Walpole Massachusetts
Now, as much as I'm going to mention the elephant in the room later in the body of this journal, and believe me I will, it is worth addressing here briefly.
We all know the reason English is the lingua franca of these Unites States instead of Navajo, Hokan or Wakashan is because what happened to the indigenous population of the North American continent is more or less the same thing that happened when the British colonized Australia.
In the mid 19th century in Arizona, a record was submitted into a county court of a governmental official who was making note of an encounter a rancher had with a Native American woman who stuffed sand into her vagina to stop the rancher from sexually assaulting her.
The only reason this report was filed in the clerk's office was because of the unusual nature of the Native American woman actively resisting the sexual assault. Had she not resisted, the encounter would have been like uncounted others and gone undocumented.
This one small example is one of possibly uncounted millions of individual examples of mistreatment of the American Indians at the hands of white settlers, farmers and so on. If I had to write down every account I'd still be writing well into retirement age.
Of course, in bringing up said elephant in the room, visa vi the savagery brought against the peoples who originally inhabited this land, I run the risk of marking myself as just another whiny, ignorant, insincere, liberal white person who speaks without knowledge on the subject.
I think it's telling enough that this kind of sincerity now has it's own entry on urban dictionary. [link]
But in all honesty, I'm comfortable with that identity. And being a white, New England native, I think the association with me and this stereotype embodying hypocrisy and well-meaning but ultimately ignorant stances on positions is pretty much unavoidable.
Between being an unintentionally hypocritical, annoying, liberal, whining pseudo-hippie or a proudly-ignorant, loud, bombastic, vapid, borderline racist jackass... I definitely, definitely chose the former over the latter.
Well, now to steer this journal back from the little tangential cul de sac I took it down.
Really the whole genesis for this journal came from the fact that exactly nine days ago I had the opportunity to visit Mohegan Sun casino in the capacity of a "Wine, dine and gamble" event.
Now, apart from some experience with my paternal grandparents, half of whom are sadly no longer consigned to their earthly vessel, I have no real experience with card games. Playing five card draw, five card stud and blackjack for pennies, it turns out, does not prepare you for the arena of gambling, which the great John Hodgman called "The sport of the asthmatic man."
But, in the spirit of adventure, or more accurately "Why not?" I decided to go and partake. I figured I grew up a stones throw from two of the mightiest casinos on earth and never gambled in either. Why not give it a try?
It was not fun.
Granted, I enjoyed myself more than I would have if I had stayed home alone on saturday night, as I nearly always do. But as Penn Jillette put it when I saw him with my dad when he performed at Foxwoods:
"Now, I don't know how many of you in the audience are good at math and, well... Lets face it. This is a casino. This whole place is nothing more than a prom for people who are bad at math."
Needless to say, not being a member of America's effete, affluent class, I don't have liquidity enough to burn vast reserves of capital. So I set aside a certain amount, promising myself it was absolutely ALL I was willing to lose, and I lost it in the first twelve minutes. Leaving me to wander around bored, anxious and alone until the bus was due to come back four hours later.
While I looked around I couldn't help but be struck by the ambiance of the casinos themselves (for there are actually several within the complex)
Now, granted, being one of the most profitable enterprises in the whole U.S., the chairmen in charge of decor likely have a considerable budget to work with in making the grounds flashy and appealing to the eye.
But one thing I noticed was I wandered around was that nobody else seemed at all taken by or even interested in the vast, manmade artistry that went into creating the place.
Beyond that, near the entrance to one of the parking garages there was a long display featuring reproductions of tribal artifacts and plaques naming significant dates in the tribe's history and outlines of some of the tribes many customs.
I found all this fascinating. But as I stopped to look I saw a slew of other people coming from or going to the casino. Maybe some two hundred in the few minutes it took me to peruse the displays.
Evidently I was the only one in two hundred, maybe even a thousand who actually gave two shits about the history of the people who built the vast honeycomb of concrete and fiberglass we were all sheltered in.
In light of this new experience, I now see two shades of this institution as both a beautiful and ugly place, simultaneously.
All in all, though it was a change of scene, it was a rather disheartening experience. I had more fun with my parents the next day at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, a hall of knowledge dedicated to a legacy of maritime cruelty and butchery.
But the experience did get me to wondering.
When I was in high school I went on a field trip to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, a stones throw from Foxwoods casino, effectively the Lex Luthor to the Superman that is Mohegan Sun.
I remember the trip as being very brief with time only to see a handful of exhibits.
The memory of Mohegan Sun fresh in my mind and the realization that I am an adult with a car, some free time and disposable income, I decided to re-visit the place. Try and salvage a good experience out of the two largest and most successful of Connecticut's surviving Native American tribes.
Firstly, after the 75-mile drive, my GPS threw me for a loop. Technically "Mashantucket" is not recognized as a legally-zoned town in Connecticut. It might have been the name of the land long before any white man ever set eyes on it, but my GPS doesn't know that. Thus, creating problems.
Fortunately though, the world's largest casino can't be too difficult to find and I ultimately found my way there.
Now, getting there under my own power and not in the comforted escort of a bus, you tend to, of necessity, pay more attention to your surroundings. And frankly I didn't have any preconceived expectations for driving onto an Indian reservation with no interest in gambling.
This is not to suggest that the Mashantucket Pequot tribe is unwelcoming. But for those paying close attention in driving onto the grounds, you are left in very little doubt as to how seriously the tribe takes security and their own, distinct propinquities in what it technically their own sovereign nation.
Well, after much rigamarole, I finally found the museum.
Probably one of the most well-funded museums I've ever visited which was not in a major city, i.e. the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution and so on, due again in large part to the vast liquidity of the main earning force behind the reservation, the museum itself was clean, beautifully-designed an an all-around impressive spectacle.
But, that being said, there were two nitpicky things that nonetheless detracted from my visit considerably.
Firstly, as you can see in the photo, one of the most distinctive things about the museum is it's observation tower, which allows a vast, panoramic view of the surrounding Connecticut woodland.
It was closed when I went.
This is, of course, nothing more than a bit of bad luck on my part. Still though, it was a sticking disappointment nevertheless.
My second point of contention was that the museum didn't allow photography.
Now, for someone like me who's taken somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty thousand pictures in the last five years alone, both in a professional capacity and as a hobby piece, it was quite distressing to learn that I would be making a 150-mile round trip only to find that I wasn't allowed to ply my trade.
If there was any indication that photography wasn't allowed on any of the museum's webs sites and promotional literature, I clearly missed it.
And even in spite of the fact that the museum has a "No photography" policy... about forty seconds of searching on google images showed clearly that more enterprising souls than I have managed to bring back visual documentation of their journeys.
We can only guess how the progression of the digital age will compromise the exclusivity of the exhibits.
But, having said all that... I can't honestly say I don't recommend visiting this museum.
As previously stated it's exceedingly informative and visually arresting in the extreme. With untold amounts of professional crafting and presentation paid for from the endless profit center that is the main earner for the tribe, it's a very impressive and informative place to visit. And even in spite of the "No Photography" policy, I did manage to have fun in spite of myself, relishing in the richness of what I was so painfully denied in my high school days.
If you're in eastern Connecticut, or ever will be, check it out. It's definitely, definitely worth the price of admission.
Only don't make my mistake and go alone. Otherwise it's much more boring than it has to be without a friend or a loved one for company... Oh, and don't bring a camera either.
Well, in any case. Onto the real meat of this journal.
My whole experience with visiting these two tribes from my home-state on their turf got me to thinking. And in observing the plush opulence and comfort the tribes doubtlessly enjoy from the casino revenue, it was all but impossible not to spare thought for my friend Kathy. (remember her?)
From what she described of her people, the Coushatta Tribe in Louisiana, the situation for their lot is, well, not destitute and desperate certainly. But definitely far from the kind of peace of mind that a billion dollars a year can buy.
When we think of Native Americans in our society today, with the picture of large, profitable casinos like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to draw from, it might be easy to conclude that opportunity has allowed the Native Americans to bounce back from all the hardship they've suffered from the clash of culture which began when Europeans began to explore and colonize North America.
Not the case.
Not all Native American's have casinos. And not all of those casinos are successful.
Not a month ago I heard a story on NPR about a tribe in northern California who are struggling with the conundrum of not being able to get sufficient internet access to educate their children, and all the problems that come with getting basic supplies to isolated, rural areas.
The reason they "Don't just move" is because the tribe is living on their ancestral land. The land that was the birthright to over four hundred generations of their ancestors. To leave would be a tragedy, but to stay means certain hardship.
This in turn raises a new question: how can Native American's maintain their culture and stay true to their traditions in the face of modern influences?
Are native Americans still holding true to their ancient beliefs and practices if they take advantage of modern medicine?
What exactly constitutes staying true to your culture in a land saturated with modern conveniences?
And should cultural rights be granted to Native Americans that are denied to others? Should, for example, the Inuit of the Arctic be allowed in their traditional, subsistence hunting of the endangered bowhead whale? Is it still technically holding true to cultural traditions if one uses guns, air rifle harpoon launchers and speedboats where before only muscle power and kayaks could suffice? (is it really fair to tell the Inuit they can't hunt an endangered species when it was commercial fishing by white men that made the bowhead whale endangered in the first place?)
None of these are questions with easy answers. And I certainly don't have the faculties or the capacity to even attempt. But maybe I can call for some outside help on this one.
If we really want to help see more equality and better living standards for ALL of the nations' Native Americans, maybe we would do well to listen to the advice of one Frank James.
In 1970, the Massachusetts Department of Commerce asked the Wampanoag tribe to select a speaker to mark the 350th anniversary of the landing on Plymouth rock. The tribe selected Frank James, but first he had to submit a copy of his speech to the white people in charge of the ceremony. When they read what he planed to say, they would not allow it.
Had Frank James been allowed to speak, the closing line to his speech would have been:
"Although our way of life is almost gone and out language is almost extinct, we the Wampanoag still walk the lands of Massachusetts. What has happened can not be changed. But today we work toward a better America. A more Indian America. Where people and nature are once again important."
I think this is very worthwhile advice that each and all of us would do well to take to heart.
Native American tribes from all across the continent called the earth our "Mother." And in a very literal sense they were correct.
Our bodies, carbon atoms and water are molded of the substance of the earth. From the earth we are born and to the earth we return. And yet a greta many of us seem compelled to ignore this truism in favor of exploiting our planet for the sake of material greed.
The following passage is an exerp from the writings of 15th century Spanish priest, historian and social reformer, Bartolomé de las Casas.
"Learning that the Spaniards were coming, one day the Kasik (leader) gathered all his people together to remind them of the persecutions which the Spanish had inflicted on the people of Hispaniola. "Do you know why they persecute us?" He asked. The people replied; "It is because they are cruel and bad!" "I will tell you why they do it." The Kasik stated. "And it is this: because they have a lord whom they love very much. And I will show him to you." He held up a small basket made from palms, filled with gold. And he said: "Here is their lord, whom they serve and adore. To have this lord they make us suffer. For him they persecute us. For him they have killed your parents, brothers, all our people. Let us not hide this lord form the Christians in any place. For even if we hid it in our intestines, they will get it out of us. Therefore let us throw it in this river, under the water. And they will not know where it is. Whereupon they threw the gold in the river."
las Casas transcribed this story from Arawak Indians he met on Cuba. The Kasik descried in the story fled into the wilderness after unsuccessful attempts at armed resistance against the Spanish. Several weeks later, the Spanish caught him, and burned him alive.
And I'll buy you a steak dinner if you can find that story in any grade school American history textbook.
Now, please don't misconstrue the point I'm trying to make here in telling this story. I'm not suggesting throwing your money in a river is a viable or even good idea when you could be using it to enrich your own life or to bring comfort to the afflicted. Nor indeed am I trying to advocate some kind of socialist paradise. I'm just trying to bring up the point of why we value, and ask the question of why we value it.
it is in all of humanity's interest to make sure we have clean air and drinking water for our grandchildren. But if short-term economic gain continues to eclipse long-term environmental impact, well, that's not a very nice way to "Honor one's father and mother."
Rather than letting the pursuance of wealth be an end in itself, perhaps we as a society would do well to heed what the real fathers of this country knew well for over eighty centuries.
The world is more beautiful and intricate than any science or religion can ever show us.
It would indeed be a healthy thing if we all remembered that from time to time and took some time to relish the grandeur that is "The wonder of it all."
... This journal has no eloquent ending really. Now that I've been as preachy and annoying as James Cameron I DEMAND my bagillion Oscar nominations!
Ah well. Long story short, don't chase money and check out the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center if you're in the area.
And now, what better way to conclude this journal than with the face of Native American culture that it's... pretty safe to say we're all the most familiar with.
And this thing delivers it's message the way I like my messages; airbrushed and unrealistically pretty.
This is an interesting movie as it's tantamount to the "Saving Private Ryan" for Native Americans.
By which I mean it's the closest thing to capturing the true spirit of what it was like to be in the Americas when it's natives were untouched by disease and bullets... But still COMPLETELY off the mark.
And it was, of course, pointing out those faults that made Lindsay Ellis the paragon of Interweb cleverness and hawtness that she is today. [link]
... Oh Nostalgia Chick...
... ONE DAY YOU WILL BE MINE!!!
Enjoy, everybody! [link]
Hega hega yam-pi-ye-hega
Hega hega yam-pi-ye-hega
Steady as the beating drum
Singing to the cedar flute
Seasons Go and seasons Come
Bring the corn and bear the fruit
By the waters sweet and clean
Where the mighty sturgeon lives
Plant the squash and reap the bean
All the earth our mother gives
O Great Spirit, hear our song
Help us keep the ancient ways
Keep the sacred fire strong
Walk in balance all our days
Seasons go and seasons come
Steady as the beating drum
Plum to seed to bud to plum
(Hega hega yam-pi-ye hega)
Steady as the beating drum
Hega hega yam-pi-ye-hega
Hega hega yam-pi-ye-hega