Sunday, January 28, 2007

HUM 221 -- comments below

So you don't miss it ... I've posted an overall comment to your comments last Wednesday on the four artists from the Aleutian Islands. Link to last Wednesday's blog or just scroll down to it.

HUM 221: In class Monday

Today we'll look at poems by Navajo (Dine) poet Luci Tapahonso.

(But first a tangent on names and languages. The Navajo people call themselves "Dine" ... which is pronounced "dee-NAY" and means something like "the people." We got our English name for them from the Spanish, and the Spanish got it from neighboring tribes to whom it apparently meant something like "enemies [or livestock rustlers] who live in a large field." In recent years, "Dine" has come to be preferred by many, but you still hear both. For more on names, see my explanation of my usage in our syllabus (scroll down to Roman numeral XII) and a table of census figures on the names that blacks, whites, Hispanics and American Indians prefer to be called.)

There's a good bio of Luci Tapahonso on the website. Read it, and go to the links at the bottom of the page. Surf around and check out her poetry. (If you pay attention to poetic lines, set your browser on the next-to-smallest text size or they won't come out right.) Be sure to read these poems and answer these questions:
It Has Always Been This Way. What does it tell you about Dine culture? What about it is unique to the culture, and what is universal? How do you respond to it? What in your culture, background, taste in literature, etc., makes you respond that way?

Hills Brother Coffee. Ask yourself the same questions. (If you want to see a picture of the coffee can, there's one on line.) The poem is about family, too. How imporant would you guess family is to the poet? To the Navajo or Dine people?

Hard to Take. Ask yourself the same questions. Have you had the same kind of experience she describes? (Few of us get through our teenage years without at least one.) Does she convey what it's like? Is the poem about discrimination against Indians or is it about snobs in general? Or is it about both?

A Discreet Conversation. Ask yourself the same questions. What does it add to the poem when Tapahonso quotes the grandfather in Dine? Is the poem about American Indians, about drunks or basic human nature? Or all three?

In 1864. Same questions. You'll need some background on this one, which you'll find -- with a good map -- in Wikipedia. In this poem, Tapahonso and her daughter are driving across New Mexico; when they get near Bosque Redondo, where the Dine people were exiled, she tells her daughter about a friend who had a job there but got freaked out, quit and went back to Dine country. After they stop for a Coke, she tells the family story of Bosque Redondo and finds some good that came of it.
Post your reaction to the poems as a comment to this blog.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

HUM221: Sherman Alexie (Friday's assignment)

For Friday we'll read some material by and about Sherman Alexie. He's a writer and filmmaker, of Spokane and Coeur d'Allene heritage. Very sarcastic at times, but he expresses a viewpoint that has to be acknowledged. And he's funny, very funny.

Start with an interview on artistic and cultural values in his work in the online magazine BookPage. Then read an op ed piece he wrote for The Los Angeles Times, "I Hated Tonto (Still Do)," and his poem "How to Write the Great American Indian Novel," in our textbook Brain Swann, ed., Native American Songs and Poems, pp. 28-29. Bring Swann to class, and we'll compare Alexie's poem to traditional poetry in the book.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

HUM221: Responding to art

Today we'll look at some art shown on the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association website by Dimitri Philemonof, Klaudia Klaudi, Hugh Pelkey and Gus Skaflestad. And we will write our responses to those works of art.

First, ask yourself some questions about the artwork. To answer them, you may need to review what the APIA website says about art, culture and history and the Alaska Native Knowledge Network says about Aleut/Unangan values. Here are the first questions: How do economic (subsistence) activities seem to you to be reflected in their art? How does Aleut history seem to be reflected in their art? How do Aleut values seem to be reflected in their art?

You won't be able to answer each of these questions about each of the pictures. More likely, you'll find one, two or three pieces of art that make an impression on you.

Next, choose a piece and think about your response to it. Ask yourself these questions:
1. What about this work stands out in my mind?
2. What in my background, values, needs and interests makes me react that way?
3. What specific things in the work trigger that reaction?
We'll ask ourselves variations on these questions all semester. Please note: If you were taught in English class never to say "I" in a paper for school, you're off the hook in this class! There's no way you can write about these questions without saying "I." I guarantee it.

How to post your response

Scroll down to the bottom of this post. On the right side of the last line, there will be a link that says "___ posts" (with a number filled in where I've left a blank, depending on how many comments have been posted). Click on that link and fill in the comment field on the right. Sign in (make a note of the username and password you choose because we'll keep on posting to the blog), review your comment if you wish and publish it by clicking on "Publish Your Comment." Logical, isn't it?

A footnote. The lettering at the top of Dimitri Philemonof's page is in an old-fashioned Russian alphabet. I have no idea what it says, or even what language it's in. Both Old Church Slavonic, the language used in Russian Orthodox services during the 1800s, and Unangan were written in the script.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Chief Illiniwek background in Trib

A story in Sunday's Chicago Tribune by Jodi S. Cohen, higher education reporter, (with an assist from staff reporter Michelle S. Keller) gives some useful background on how the University of Illinois first obtained "Chief Illiniwek's" costume from Frank Fools Crow, a Lakota elder, during the 1980s.

The money graf is well down in the story, subordinated to a controversy that arose later (and thereby presented an irresistable fresh angle) over who has the eagle feathers originally belonging to the headdress. Well, it's more than one graf (journalese for paragraph) long. It's two grafs:
On Friday, the tribe got a boost from the former university band director who arranged for the school's purchase of the ceremonial dress in 1982.

"They should have it back because it is part of their cultural history and belonged to a legendary Native American," said Gary Smith, director of the Marching Illini from 1976 to 1998. "I feel that they are entitled to have it back, but they should not have offered it to us in the beginning."
Here's the story of how the U of I got the costume:
Smith said he traveled to the tribe's South Dakota reservation to seek help in finding a Native American artist to make a new outfit for Chief Illiniwek, whose earlier outfits were based on the Oglala Sioux style.

Chief Anthony Whirlwind Horse suggested that Smith buy an outfit belonging to 93-year-old Frank Fools Crow, an elder who had once traveled with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show.

Whirlwind Horse "requested that rather than have an outfit made, we purchase one from Frank Fools Crow, who was destitute at the time and needed the money," Smith said.

Smith paid $3,500 for moccasins, a tunic, breastplate, leggings, peace pipe pouch and war bonnet with eagle feathers, according to a May 25, 1982, voucher and other documents.

In fall 1982, local businessmen flew Fools Crow, Whirlwind Horse and a representative from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the U. of I. on their private plane. The regalia was presented during a halftime ceremony that included the smoking of a peace pipe, Smith said.
The Trib also confirms that Fools Crow's family wants the regalia returned:
Fools Crow's grandson, Mel Lone Hill, confirmed in a telephone interview Friday that he has the feathered headdress. He said the executive committee shouldn't have demanded that the feathers be returned. Still, he said, he wants the rest of the regalia back.

"I have another one, but it would be nice to have that old one back. It is rightfully mine," said Lone Hill, 58. "If they want to sell it back, I'll buy it back."
This story, by the way, correctly identifies Fools Crow as an elder. Earlier wire stories said he was a "Chief," but to my knowledge he never held that post, which is an elective position in federally recognized tribes. His reputation was more as a spiritual leader. He died in 1989.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

HUM221 -- Aleut (Unangan) art and values

Today (Monday, Jan. 22) we'll follow up on our discussion of Native American values by taking a closer look at how values, history and culture intersect among the Unangan, or Aleut (pronounced Al-yoot) people who live on the Aleutian Islands and the Pribilof Islands between Alaska and Siberia. They aren't typical, but none of the Native peoples are.

They live where the earliest indigenous peoples of America are thought to have migrated from Asia. So they're as good a starting point as any.

Let's start by reading the webpage "VALUES of the Unangan/Unangas" put up by the Alaska Native Knowledge Network at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. You can follow this link or get to it from the ANKN's overview of Alaska Native values linked to our syllabus for Humanities 221. Notice how important it is to them to preserve the language. How many of their values relate to respect? How many relate to other common human values? How many relate to people who traditionally made their living (subsistance) on the sea?

Once you've read through the values, open another window and visit the website of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association. It is a "non-profit tribal organization of the Aleut people in Alaska providing services including cultural heritage, health, education, social, psychological, employment, vocational training, environment, natural resources and public safety services." It is the federally recognized tribal government.

From the APIA's homepage, click on the "History & Culture" link to get a quick sketch of the Aleuts' history, especially their relations with Russian fur traders and missionaries and what happened to them during World War II. By clicking on the "Culture" link, you will get to an excellent webpage that tells you more about the Russians and, after the U.S. bought Alaska U.S. in 1867, the Americans ... plus how the Aleuts made a living from the sea, how they still do ... their traditional houses ... their baidarkas (in the "lower 48," we call them kayaks) ... their baskets ... their hats ... and their artists. By clicking on the "Region Artists" link at the top of the culture page, you'll see the work of four Aleut artists. How do their paints, prints and carvings reflect their culture? Their traditions of subsistance? Their values?

If you're interested, the Amiq Institute has a 12-page survey of the Aleut people of the Pribilof Islands of Alaska and the the Commander Islands of far eastern Russia and links to several fascinating picture galleries that shows villages, subsistence activities, Russian Orthodox churches, a Fourth of July picnic and a sack race.