|http://www.sina.com.cn 2004/03/02 07:54 英语沙龙|
In the morning, after a long drive and well-deserved sleep, I awoke to a panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains, the home of my ancestors, where I was a stranger. My grandmother’s grandmother had left the reservation generations ago.
As the day grew warmer, I decided to step outside and explore the surroundings. I took off for the shopping district.
There, shop after shop, meant to lure the tourist, provided colorful commentaries on the culture of my ancestors.
With all the festive colorful commercialization you felt lost in the commodification of a people. Identities bought and sold. No example portrayed this more succinctly that photogenic "Smiling Chiefs." Like Santa Clauses at Christmas time, several Chiefs worked at different locations. They greeted tourists. For a small sum of money tourists may have their picture taken with a "Chief". The Chiefs dress in the traditional attire of Plains Indians, not in Cherokee regalia. Tourists, the Cherokee believe, like to see a Chief dressed in buckskin and ornamented with a grand feather headdress that encircles that Chief’s face and trails down his back to the ground.
I saw several "Chiefs" while I was there, but one stood out among the others as he wore the finest full regalia of a Plains Indian. He chatted with a vendor at the candle shop and leaned against the park bench. The Chief must have been weary from a day of smiling that great big Chief smile. But a sudden surge of energy brought him about face as a couple of tourists and their children asked him to post for some pictures. He put his arms around the white family-like the wings of an eagle embracing them. Click, click-a Kadak moment; Click, click-a photo opportunity. Unfolding his wallet, the tourist-father pulled out a couple of bills and paid the Chief. My gut reaction was that the Chief was selling himself and prostituting his culture. Worse yet, his did this after he had corrupted it by confounding it with another Native culture. After all, he was dressed like a Plains Indian, not a traditional Cherokee. I shook my head at the sight. But the "Smiling Chief" saw me shake my head. He stopped smiling. He gave me a pointed and pedantic stare. I had been caught judging one of my elders, and I suddenly felt ashamed.
Who was I to judge this man's behavior? Who was I to say that this was not acceptable? Did I live on the reservation, a place where salaries are less that half of the poorest salaries in America? Did I have children to feed under such circumstances? Did I even know the history of how the headdress was accepted by many Native Americans as a symbol of Indian-ness to be worn with pride, even by those whose ancestors never wore them? He spoke no words. His eyes said all of this to me. But there was something else deep inside his dark eyes. There was a sorrow and a shame, which my judgmental attitude had forced to rupture like an ugly scab torn from the skin. I felt ashamed. I left the shopping district wanting to leave the reservation. But I had several days left within the homeland and I would have to learn to live with myself.
In the days that followed, I hiked through the mountains with my companion. We attended the living history museum. A much more accurate portrayal of my grandmother's people and early indigenous culture was presented at Oconaluftee Indian village. I learned much about the old ways. We chatted with a man who demonstrated the art of making and using a blow gun.
An elementary school teacher sat on a folding chair behind a card table. "Three for a dollar," I asked her what cause the raffle supported. Following her explanation, I bought raffle tickets in support of the Cherokee Elementary School's efforts to raise money so that fourth graders might attend space camp. Space camp. Shaking my head, I thought to myself, here I am reaching for my past as these children are reaching for their future. But the next few displays acknowledged that the past was not forgotten.
I packed slowly the day we left the Qualla Boundary. The television newscaster's voice drone in the background as I filled my suitcase. Suddenly his words caught my attention. He reported on the Columbus Day events that had taken place the day before. I had not realized it was Columbus Day. I smiled to think that I had quietly spent the day unscathed by the heroics of newscasters. On the other hand, it warmed my heart to realize that I had spent Columbus Day as an insider on the Qualla Boundary eating fry bread. But I also felt like an outsider, one who did not know how to relate to the "Smiling Chiefs", one who was surprised to find the children seeking money for space camp, one who found the museums tacky, but the baskets and pottery collectible by“western”standards. I was/am as torn as the place itself. A Cherokee insider and outsider.
Robin Patric Clair
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