Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Buffalo and the china

Today I would like to introduce, "The Buffaloes are Gone" or "Return: Buffalo"? - The relationship of the Buffalo to Indigenous Creative Expression" by Tasha Hubbard.  Hubbard sets out to understand how the relationship between the plains indigenous peoples and the Buffalo changed since colonization and suggests that, "...by replacing the value of stories about the Buffalo, we can reinstate this animal and others as sites of learning, which can then result in a revitalization for creativity and literary expression."

I have an emotive relationship to Buffalo.  I remember my Mushum showing us his stuffed buffalo head that he kept in a giant dusty crate.  He never really talked about being Métis, so maybe this was his way of trying to show us where we came from?  It mostly scared us, with its glistening glass eyes set deep in that giant head.  Last year, I bought the girls a stuffed buffalo so that we could keep the story of that buffalo alive.

Hubbard begins with the history of the Buffalo, their decimation during colonization and the resulting impacts on indigenous peoples.  In building the myth of emptiness, settlers were encouraged to feel entitlement to the lands.  This involved the disappearance of both the people who originally occupied the lands, their ways of knowing and their animal relations.  She continues by outlining the continuing symbolic importance of the Buffalo to modern plains peoples with the, "education is our Buffalo," quote which she attributes to Glair Stonechild (Cree-Saulteaux).  She explains that the continued use of this concept, can be seen as a rejection of the belief that the plains peoples died out with the buffalo and that it is a reassertion that we are still here, ready to participate in the modern society.  We are not a historical curiosity like the buffalo.

Hubbard notes the challenges of education and indigenous peoples that I have written about already.  She also cautions that indigenous peoples not fall into the fallacy that western education is the only source for healthy economic futures.  Instead, she suggests, that we need to reintroduce older ways of learning.  We should not fall into believing that western education is our buffalo and we need to remain vigilant to the ongoing colonization in these institutions.  She notes that in embracing education, we need to work on multiple levels and spaces, in ways that honor the traditional ways of knowing and belief systems.

She suggest that perhaps we are better served to think that, "the Buffalo is also our education".  That we can take heart in our historical relationship.  As the number of Buffalo is growing, perhaps its role in our minds should also grow, so that by learning about Buffalo and renewing our relationship to it, we may access and support a rebirth of indigenous creative expression.  We can come to Buffalo as student and as those in need of healing.  We can be stronger by acknowledging our bonds to these animals.

She notes the persistent belief that the Indian and buffalo were similar.  Both were too stupid to resist the colonizer.  They both needed to be eliminated to make space for the "Civilized" folks who knew how to make "productive use" of the land.  Hubbard has a great quote from Len Findlay on the "vanishing Indian", where he notes that, " ..while the Indigene's otherness is savored most intensely at moments of its most acute endangerment and supreme rarity, as colonized difference splits into memory and décor."  The buffalo and Indian survive in this narrative as only a historically oddity.  Or a dusty box in a basement?

Hubbard feels that we need to access the animal teachings by removing the cages in our minds, and by reclaiming the sacred teachings of these relatives, so that we educate ourselves fully, as whole people, recreating that previous relationship and accepting the confusion that may exist in these spaces.  We should see them as containing challenges to create and be unafraid.  A challenge to exist as together and separate.  To be dead and renewed.  To be historical and modern and to use the Buffalo to teach us about the cycle of life that we inhabit. 

We can take to survival of the buffalo as a symbol of our own survival, a reminder that the Indian did not vanish.  We are still here and we can use the learning's of all our relations to re-imagine the spaces we now inhabit.  Hubbard reminds us that the buffalo bones were used in making fine bone china, and that people who used these dishes were really eating on the bones of a genocide.  It was all very genteel.  She asks us to question that gentility in our own lives, and enquire at how our patterns of consumption may rest on the backs of others.  (Here she is quoting work from Dana Claxton (Plains Lakota)).  This is certainly something I can do in my urban space.  Am I honoring the buffalo in making a purchase or using an item?  Perhaps she questions, buffalo can be our guide between the world we face now and the knowledge that we need to reclaim for a healthy future?

This genteel genocide discussion reminds me of Hannah Arendt, "Eichmann in Jerusalem".  It hits me viserally.  I like my cheap clothes and food, but I am going to think on Buffallo and make some changes in my life.  What has Buffallo taught you?

No comments:

Post a Comment