The boundaries of Great Turtle Island or what we now call the North American continent is now moving eastward across the Atlantic; a series of distinct seas separated by time and events transported by people; was not merely a land discovered and colonized by Europeans, but as a land inhabited and stewarded by a collection of rich, diverse, and civilized nations. But as early as 1498 the Italian captain, Giovanni Caboto or John Cabot, sailing for England, became the first European explorer since the Vikings to reach the mainland of North America and the first to search for the northwest passage, would put two civilizations on a collision course.
Frequent intercultural conflicts eventually allowed European civilization to reap the benefits of the New World like, tobacco, beaver pelts, gold and the kidnaping of Indians to be sold as curiosities or slaves, while leaving the legacy of its impact on indigenous populations. However, if we move the clock dial forward, time has permitted Europe’s colonizer cultures to re-asses its role in the subjugation of two continents and its peoples by trying to replace the light of a movie screen, with the light of the truth. The writers of Creating Meaningful Study Abroad Programs for American Indian Postsecondary Students (2003) state, “Cultural exchanges can equally privilege all shareholders, and not just corporate America; Pan-national, [and international] alliances might be better described as serving mutual needs and not benefiting one side to the exclusion of the other(s).”
Writing, studying, or teaching from this perspective could be an opportunity of re-education, a time for critical review of times and themes during the more than 500 years of intercultural encounters—giving opportunity to tell a more balanced story of the opening of the Americas and a celebration of diversity among cultures from Europe, the Americas and Africa. This could also be a time of cultural renewal—the commemoration of the greatest effects of Columbus’ voyages and by other early explorers —the creation of a new mixture of people, a hybrid of cultures on the New World meeting ground of diverse people. The Columbian Exchange for example, had dramatically caused the widespread movement of animals, crops, culture, human populations, and ideas between the Western and Eastern Hemispheres, seasoning humanities great big melting pot. Individual tastes, however, determine how sweet or bitter the broth.
Knowledge of other cultures and social norms, opportunities to achieve fluency in a foreign language, art, music, food, insights into the socio-political nature of different governments support future positions of Native youth as cultural and social brokers for their tribes, or for others simply wanting to learn. No longer do we have to remain disgruntled with everything involving the white man. It’s time we move from civilization’s tools of divide and rule to a circle of equals, and seek up-lifting experiences to enrich our lives collectively.
It seems the popular protest movement Idle No More is doing just that. It has led to demonstrations across Canada and parts of the United States, and is now gaining support from grassroots organizations and individuals in Italy and France, and by extension, opportunity to reshape our cultural attitudes.
Spearheading this revolution is the Idle No More French Chapter, initiated by twenty-four year old, Anthony Shwartzmann, living in Dijon (France) with Mohawk grandparents from Louise Ville Canada (Quebec). Anthony has been given the green light and support from the Canadian Chapter. The movement right now has been joined by many French associations, including the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Atlantic Ocean, and French Guyana in South America, supporting Native American issues and also providing help with school supplies and clothing to Indian reservations in the U.S. and Canada. Shwartzmann says, “I am happy that Europeans are beginning to take an interest in our culture, and the recent movement led by Chief Theresa Spence.” You can keep up with Shwartzmann on his facebook page.
David Constintin, creator of Regagner Les Plaines (Regain the Plains), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the rights and culture of Native Americans in Europe, was called in by Shwartzman to help organize peaceful protests throughout Paris. Their most recent Idle No More campaign was held at the Eiffel Tower in February.
For Jean Michel Wizenne, a French musician says, “It’s personal. I use my music to testify about what I see on the reservation and while visiting my Native friends; and a relative being held in South Dakota prison.” He continues, “I am just a man who sings about other men (American Indians) who seem to have been born guilty.” Most of Wizenne lyrics focus on the role of the Judicial System and its assimilation of American Indians. Wizenne claims, he is doing a lot of concerts, conferences and radio on the subject and has made friends on the other side of Atlantic. Wizenne and Medicine Grove’s electronic press kit can be viewed at: http://www.medicinegroovetrio.new.fr
Davide Canazza, who looks remarkably like the late John Lennon and performs throughout Europe; and like Lennon, an activist. Canazza also serves as secretary for Hunkapi; an association started in Genova in 1996. Their purpose is to carry on the culture and the traditions of Native Americans. He asserts, “We organize conferences, lectures, exhibitions and events like the Festa della Madre Terra or Mother Earth Day; and of course, we always stand beside the natives in their fights.” For more information go to: http://www.facebook.com/#!/hunkapi.genova
Alessandro Profetti and his wife, Bianca Frassi, editor and owner of the Italian blog, “Nativi Americani.it” have also joined the movement by posting a Facebook page, Idle No More-Italia. Profetti and his organization believe, “The demands of the First Nations are right.” They have created a youtube video to show their support.
When we look across the ocean remember there is no one left alive that created the problems that existed 500 years ago; we can either learn from those mistakes, or be cursed to continue such small and brittle thinking that allowed them to exist. It’s a new age of possibilities and abundance cause together “we all shine on.”
Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.