“The past is constructed, composed, negotiated and built up, but also demolished, dismantled and rejected.”
-International Society for Cultural History
When I moved to Mongolia the similarities between their indigenous customs and my own resonated with me. It made me want to learn more about my culture and, in the process, I decided to share my thoughts, since most people haven’t heard a similar viewpoint before. This question is one that I’ve really struggled to answer.
What does it mean to be Indigenous in the world I live in today?
Over the past few months, I’ve come to the conclusion that this question, IS the problem because… There’s no way to answer it.
Many of the issues we face, as indigenous people, stem from this difficult relationship with our cultural identity in an increasingly westernized world. Mongolia is amidst a strong shift in their cultural identity, prompted by quick economic growth as a result in foreign investment in mining.
Mining on the Navajo Nation created short-term economic growth for our community, caused irreversible damage to our community’s health and further instilled a sense of distrust in our government. Mongolia’s economic growth was short lived as it is currently in a recession. Unfortunately the effects of this has been, and will continue to be, a source of mutual detriment in the future, as both communities move forward in addressing this question.
Suggested: Broken Rainbow a documentary about Mining on the Navajo Nation.
How indigenous was I today?
This is a new question that I heard recently at a Peace Table discussion at the Queens Museum regarding the San Carlos Apache tribe’s fight to defend their religious area known as Oak Flat from mining. Even if you’re basically starting from square 1 in constructing your own cultural identity, as I did a few years ago, it is a personal journey.
This question should not be a source of pain or pride, it’s just a question to assess personal growth.
Did I speak a single word of my native language today? What action did I take to stay true to my identity? Am I questioning my societally imposed desires? Am I treating my body well? Am I honoring Mother Earth? These are the things I try to reflect on each day.
Can we learn more from art than history?
My problem with history is that often times the parts that are highlighted, lose the forest for the trees, so to speak. I’ve learned so much about my culture and Mongolian culture from art. History is simplified, then distilled down to a few notable dates and events. Personally, learning about history from a Navajo perspective makes me inconsolably upset, which is emotionally taxing.
The nice thing about art is the communication of an idea or a feeling, understanding comes from a variety of viewpoints. In the Navajo culture, weaving and silverwork speaks to our adaptability to the changing societal atmosphere following early foreign influences. In Mongolia, the recent rise of abstract and surrealist art marked a youthful and distinctive shift away from a long past of Russian influence. All this is learned while critically engaging with art.
So while it’s great to learn about history, what does that really teach us about … regular people? What’s being left out? What’s being exaggerated? What biases are included, but not addressed? … and why?
Suggested: Can We Learn More From Art Than History, an essay I wrote.
I’d love to know your thoughts, leave them in the comment section down below or send me an email through my contact form!