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Archive for June, 2008 Line

We are thrilled to be in the newest edition of Seattle Metropolitan Bride and Groom Magazine! The Summer 2008 edition of the mag should be hitting the shelves any day now, but I will tell you that it looks amazing!!! Sneak peek to follow! Stay tuned!

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Forrest Borie is reporting live from underneath the Califonian sun.

“RM, the tribal chairman, is clear with me that I have no business assembling cultural preservation projects on this Rancheria. His sentiment is shared by those community members who ask me: “Oh, you’ve come here to teach me about my culture?” I spent the first five months of my service battling an assumption that blocked me from organizing cultural projects about the ways of living of the Mono Indians. It is an assumption with roots, however, both physical and psychic.

Pre-colonial California was comprised of small tribes living in close proximity, but maintaining such a degree of cultural solidarity that there would often be five spoken languages within twenty-five miles. This highly-specialized cultural ecology was decimated by two waves of Europeans. First, came the Spanish missionaries with their monotheism and smallpox, then came the gold rush of rednecks who received five dollars from the California government for every Indian scalp. Three hundred tribes were reduced to just over a hundred.

There is a marked depreciation in traditional knowledge between generations of California Indians. One tribe hired a linguist to reconstruct their language by utilizing pieces of the various regional linguistic roots. Other tribes rely upon members to practice those traditional ways of living and pass them on to children, an exchange that is often mediated by poverty and alcoholism. Some, like the tribe I work with, found the only way to preserve their culture was to guard its integrity with secrecy and rigidity.

Despite the fact that Mono practices are traditionally passed down by family members, I felt that a change in cultural hierarchy would be fortuitous if these practices were to survive past one generation and suggested a series of cultural classes. This suggestion was rejected because those subjects we might explore cannot be transplanted from practice onto the blackboard.

Those first five months were stagnant. I had, in fact, attempted to put a box around a sinuous and lucid culture, and this action marked me. But as much as my actions determined my status in the community, so did the ingrained and highly justified apprehension towards white people. The recent movement in my organization of cultural preservation projects (which is often-times overpowering) is a reaction to the fact that I accepted my status as a didactic Westerner.

The roles I can fill in cultural preservation for the Mono Indians are severely limited by who I am. In the end, all I can do is facilitate cultural programming with a blindfold on. Five months ago, I would have been resistant to such limited job freedom, but now I realize that by building resources for community members to use in the preservation of their culture I will make a greater impact than if I actively worked to preserve their culture for them. The romantic notion I had of going out with an audio recorder and collecting old stories is not practical. A single man cannot infer the correct answer over the tried methods of an entire people. My intellectual stimulation will not save a culture.

This is a mistake I made in the shadow of my own ancestors. We Westerners are a people that are thirsty for knowledge, but so psychically empirical that we have trouble understanding each other, let alone the elemental underpinnings of the California Indians”.

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Forrest Borie – traveler/adventurer/writer and The Adventure School guest blogger, contemplates a relationship greater than commerce with the land on which he is currently living/learning.

“To you, this is just dirt, but our people lived on it, had ceremonies on it, were buried in it,” LB says as he looks over the rich black soil piled at his feet. The soil came from a desecrated gravesite.

“The integrity remains in this soil.”

Two long black braids of hair hang before LB’s rotund shoulders. His torso is heavy and his legs thin and athletic. We are at an isolated power station called Balch Camp. Before the arrival of Europeans Balch Camp was a meeting place for regional tribes, including the Paiute, who lived on the other side of this impassable mountain range.

LB walks over to a greater pile of soil. It stretches twenty feet long by ten feet wide. A loose blue tarp billows over the soil like a sail and the eagle feathers tethered to his baseball hat whip across the brim.
All this soil was taken from a trench dug to fit a sewage line. The trench was dug without notifying the Mono Indians. Eight or so feet down, the workers struck a body. They left the body in the open for two weeks and piled the soil up where we are, on a tall hill beside a massive pipe at least ten feet wide. There is more soil piled down by the trench, on which all work halted. It has been patched with plywood and is surrounded with yellow tape. Much of the soil has already been sifted for artifacts and human remains that in a Western mind infuse an archaeological site with meaning (arrowheads, leather pouches, etc…). The artifacts and remains now sit in a drawer over at the Forestry Service offices awaiting repatriation (return to the gravesite). The Mono Indians are stonewalling that effort however. They won’t accept only a partial repatriation.

“All this soil should be designated as a sacred site,” LB says, flicking one of his braids over his shoulder. Together, the artifacts, the remains, and the soil constitute the archaeological site. One aspect cannot be separated from the others without compromising the site’s holistic nature. That is, to rebury artifacts in the same spot with a new batch of soil is pointless. Not only was this soil part of a gravesite, but people lived on it, had children on it, they ate on it, slept on it, and performed ceremonies on this soil. These acts of living, performed without respite for thousands of years, have turned the soil the deep brown color, the same tone as LB’s complexion.

“Midden soil,” LB says.

As neither the tribe nor the power company are willing to compromise, this soil is still baking under the blue tarp. It’s hard to say which party is making the process of repatriation more difficult as both are working in the shadows. The power company is trying to register Balch Camp as a spot of historical importance for the state of California, which would pave over its true indigenous heritage. Meanwhile, the tribe is working to register all of Balch Camp as a sacred site, which would force the power company to leave, taking all their buildings and their power station with them. This pile of black soil rests between this tension, its essence and heritage the true mitigating force between the parties disputing over Balch Camp”.

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Forrest Borie, our man in the Sierra Nevadas reports . . .

“They were talkin’ about water babies. They heard a splash up by the swimming hole, saw them little footprints,” IM says to the other Elders gathered around the card table. It’s the second Elders Committee meeting, which I am facilitating for its infancy. “There’s another story about a tribe of three hundred Indians up North. Bigfoot took them away to a secret valley.”

There is an air of reverie in the room.

“Myths, what the white people call them, right?” IM says, putting a piece of cheese on a cracker.

She is unfazed that, I, a white man, am sitting beside her. Her face is stoical. I admire the way her skin is textured like the land, with sandy divots and wrinkles like valleys. Her eyes are moist and sharp like two still pools and her complexion is deep and dusty.

IM continues: “they say that the lost tribe is filtering back into California, coming up in all these tribes…”

I wonder if IM is suggesting the psychical return of the missing tribe. The consciousness of Bigfoot (or Stickman as he’s often called) and the secret valleys will wash over the Mono Indians.

This is contradictory to the didactic secular Anglo-American reality that stifles the culture of the Mono Indians. The Mono way of living encompasses everything from food preparation to spirituality into the same cultural system. Each practice is reliant on others. There is a right way of doing things and everything is done for a reason. Early on, when I was looking for ways to preserve the tribal culture I ran into the roadblock wherein there was no territory that was less sensitive. Even erecting a sweathouse, something I figured was more about architecture than anything else, required a long sequence of practices that would extend well into the next year.

The Rancheria I work on is in a hole in the otherwise sinuous topography of the Sierra Nevada foothills. With mountains on all sides, this community of around one hundred and twenty California Indians is windless and dry. There is a Baptist church by the Tribal Offices. I have never seen anyone go in or out. The Sierras rise impassably on the Eastern side of the congregation of double-wides and for sixty miles halt the flow of civilization, their bald rocky tops breaking from the deciduous pine.

With such physical hardship, stories of rapture, of Stickman and water babies offer psychic support in an up-hill battle to maintain traditional tribal culture. Recently LB, a friend of mine down there told me about a footprint he’d found in the mud hole. It was over two feet long. For the Mono, Bigfoot is real, but not in any way that would elicit a cryptozoological study. He is one piece of a greater spiritual structure. He is an elemental, I suppose you could say, and as LB once described to me:

“He’ll be there and then fffffff,” he hissed through his teeth and waved his hand to suggest the sudden disappearance of the entity. “Leaves behind a rainbow up in the sky. Goes to a new place.”

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Our friend Forrest will be guest blogging for the month. We think that there is no better time for him to start than today, the solstice!!! So here is a short bio about Forrest by Forrest!

“I was born and raised in rural Vermont. My first memory is of two grey skinned anthropomorphs above my crib. They are ruthlessly tickling me. I cried to my father that these creatures were ‘zines,’ that is: ‘designs’ and so they would truly be a design upon my life. In one moment my psychic and physical selves were permanently blurred and while every other child gazed open-eyed at a world full of adventure I only saw the deep recesses of my own psyche.

Others leapt off bridges to feel the gushing adrenaline while I walked slowly through the woods tweaking the nerves of psychosis in order to alter my perception of the size of my body. While my peers pushed themselves to the physical limits of alcohol consumption, I reprogrammed my brain in order to become the eye in the Illuminati pyramid. I experienced severe hallucinatory paranoia and absolute bliss, all without the crutch of psychedelics!

Recently I realized that this internal exploration was inhibiting my physical, that is social, success. After a life spent naval gazing into a dark and infinite void, I found that I could utilize the blurred relationship between my psychic self and my physical self as a lens through which I could explore the fundamentals of the human psyche without risking my own sanity. All I needed was a catalyst.

And so here I am, completely alone on the hot side of the mountain, the land dried up and dead. I live in a trailer on an ancient Indian campsite. The burial grounds are somewhere in the vast cattle ranch on the Western side of the creek. Cats howl in the darkness, rattlesnakes slither in the undergrowth, frogs proliferate around the leaky irrigation, and mountain crab spiders as big as your hand crawl in through the air vents. I am volunteering full-time with the Mono Indians of the Western Sierra Nevadas. Practicing a sort of applied anthropology, I am assembling a sustainable cultural preservation program that will protect both sacred and non-sacred ways of living practiced by the Mono Indians. Utilizing both my physical and psychical dexterity, I am treading around culturally sensitive territory, dealing with Anu (spirits), and working to find my place as an “outsider” on an isolated Indian Reservation.”

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Cal Anderson Park. Last night, Dave, Chelsea, Kenny and I headed down to the park to place some whiffle ball and the summertime fun was in full effect complete with babies, drunken kickball kids, dogs and some young child who kept trying to peg me in the face with my own whiffle ball. Fun!

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