Friday, January 22, 2016

"Not really indian"

I read an excellent paper yesterday exploring the intersection of the constructed Indian by the white observer and the European/capitalist ideas of time.  The paper is called "Why [,] These Children Are Not Really Indians" by Cheryl A Wells.  First off, this piece was very readable.  She effectively used examples and clearly set our her argument.  She also situates this specific question within the wider context of the time and hints at the similar processes that were going on for other "non-dominant groups".  Overall, the questions of identity formation are of interest to me right now, but more specifically, I really clearly remember a conversation with my dad about the purpose of schools as being in large part to get us used to following the clock in order to turn us into good little workers.  This is one of the few conversations I remember with him.  Not sure why it stuck.
'ish watch' - because in India, time is not Science but an ART. And we know that art can never be rushed.:
The other "Indian time"

Wells starts us out in the post-civil war US, where there was a search for a modern identity and the corollary, "authentic historical identity" both for themselves and others, in order to address the anxieties related to emerging modernization, capitalism and industrialization.  She argues that "having already "defined their own states as inauthentic," Americans "located authenticity" in the figure of the American Indian, who served to reflect Other.  They came to increasingly measure Indian authenticity in opposition to the symbols and processes of modernity." (here she is referencing Deloria's "Playing Indian")  So that there came to be an obsession to construct the Indian as untouched by the currents of modernization.  One of the symbols of this purity was the lack of relationship to the clock, so that those Indians who embraced the clock were denied their indigenousness. Here she references the labeling of the Cherokee, who embraced the clock, as "negative Others" and not authentic Indians.  Pure Indians were ignorant of the clock and thus timeless and real.

However this construction is based on privileging European ideas of time over indigenous ideas of time.  She argues that this, "marriage between authenticity and temporality has its roots in European colonization."  That the very process of immigration - time on the boat, as well as the differing time cultures of the new immigrants, culminated in a desire to recreate the European ideas of time, often expressed by the tolling of the church bell and its related focus on task orientation.  One bell to wake up, next bell to eat and on and on through the day and week.  Given this history, the colonizers failed to recognize the time structures of the Indians based on the sun and moon or to understand that these two ideas of time could exist together.  Indians could understand the clock and use it as required, but they did not necessarily see it as the only time that mattered.  She gives a couple of examples of workers who were punctual most of the year- until it was hunting season or salmon run when those cyclical time cues dominated. She notes an Edward Curtis photograph where he erased the clock in the home of an Indian couple as it was, "not authentic."

She provides some interesting examples of some of the cyclical and linear time systems used by different Indian groups and notes that in places where there indigenous time systems were obvious to the colonizer they were destroyed as uncivilized.  Think of the Latin American indigenous calendars.  She also describes the use of sun dials by the priests as an intermediary time system for the Indian, with the tasks shown pictorially, so that the Indian would know exactly what to do at what time.  This was all new information for me, so I found this section quite tantalizing.  She also explains the use of the clock in the school (often residential) where disobedience to the clock could mean going hungry or facing violence.  "Death often resulted from resistance to European - imposed temporal systems" and she shares some examples that are disturbing.  I never thought about that aspect of the schools.  But how important are the bells in school even now?  Just yesterday, there was a message about how being late to school hurts your child and their classmates.  Not to say a strict note is like a beating, but times late are still tracked and judged.  Why would church people so fear lateness that it was better for the person to die than be late?  Being late was a greater sin than murder.  That is so insane. 

The clock she argues, was a weapon of deculturation and assimilation, as the clock was seen as the path to civilization as it was conceptually closely related to virtues such as "work, money and progress."  Why would you listen to your body and eat when you need to and sleep when you are tired or hunt when it is the season, when you can do these things in an institutionalized manner that is more convenient for administrators?  But at the same time, the lack of the clock became an indicator of authenticity.  She cites a case where a mixed breed man, went to court to have his children places in the white school due to the fact that he was a clock repairer and thus lived a civilized life. 

SciFi and Fantasy Art Steampunk Dream-catcher by Kathleen Hardy - This is so neat! Love the steampunk flair...:
Steampunk and Indian and
fantasy and Si-fi
She also explores this juxtaposition using the example of the Indian villages at the 1904 St Louise World's Fair where the example homes of the "authentic Indians" had no clocks or "modern items", even while the Indians who worked in these displays were on the clock, on duty at specific times of the day.  The sample Indian school in this display was fitted with multiple clocks and the children were in European clothes doing proper chores as guided by theses clock.  On seeing this part of the display, tourists were noted to exclaim "Why [,] these children are not really Indians." (Ida Little Pifer "World's Fair US Indian Exhibit") 

To be authentic, you had to be without time, while in reality those without this time or resisting this time were being harmed and harassed.  There was really no good answer, dammed if you do and damned if you don't.  She finishes by looking briefly at modern spaces where Indians reject these colonial ideas of time i.e., the idea of Indian time.  She notes that this connection between time and authenticity continues in the modern environment.  I think that this observation leaves lots of interesting spaces to explore how time works in the urban indigenous context and how it affects modern constructions of indigenaity.  This was a really well written article with lots of examples and a good context.  The author seems to be a civil war historian interested in issues of race.  The piece is from just last year, but it will be interesting to see what else she works on.

I personally love the clock.  During my first labor, the mid -wife tried to take the clock away as she thought it was distracting me.  I found it calming to see that time was actually passing and resisted her.  On the other hand, having anxiety, being late would tip me into panic.  The first time I knew that the medication could help me was when I was late for work and not panicking.  I could let the clock go.  How do you think about time?  How does it feed into your ideas of self?  Have you read anything else on this subject?  If so leave the name in the contacts.  I want to do some more exploring.

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