Monday, October 8, 2007

Happy -- uhm....

Happy Native American Day! This is a brilliant diorama at the Kenosha Museum and shows an old Anishinaabe storyteller, relating the history of his people.

The history of his people changed in October, 1492, when an Italian with a pocket full of Spanish coin, made landfall discovering a New World!

Only he didn't, of course. He interjected himself onto a continent peopled by many nations of diverse people with no understanding of their history, their cultures, their daily lives.

As a Living History Interpreter I've become quite the Armchair Historian; as a Wisconsinite I've developed a passion couched in affection for the territory I now call home; as an Unrepentant Hippie I feel inclined to celebrate the Indigenous People and their histories - and "Columbus Day" seems as good a day as any to do that.

Native American Day is celebrated formally in a number of states - California and South Dakota come particularly to mind. And rather than being a negative thing or antagonistic, it's actually celebrated. To quote from the description of the holiday in Indian Country Today, a newspaper out of the Dakota territory:

American Indian culture is celebrated in a spirit of reconciliation on Native American Day; not as a tribute to the so-called ''discoverer of the Americas,'' but to the indigenous people who live on the continents today. Education plays a very important part in the understanding of the cultures to achieve the goal of reconciliation. (Emphasis is mine.)

I've mentioned (I'm sure) that we're Living History Interpreters...that's an adult scholarly way of saying "reenactors". OK, OK.....we're grown-ups (?) who play at Frenchmen and Indians. We dress up and pretend that it's 1780 or 1810 over long weekends with other kids doing the same thing.

HOWEVER! it really is "reenacting". We study, a lot, hunting down information from legitimate sources, we compare notes, we immerse ourselves in the lives of the people who were here then, both red and white. We each (meaning all my fellow reenactors) study the aspects of the time period of greatest interest, and apply it at our Events, replicating as closely as we can what our personas (characters) would have, would do, would act like...even would think as closely as our imaginations allow. In my case - it's the women's daily lot -- recipes, clothing, herbal medicines, child care....

There are Civil War reenactors, French & Indian War reenactors, Rev War, medieval, Roman, even World War II reenactors (which strikes me as peculiar, being as I was, like, around then...). It's a hobby, an avocation, - and Mr Dearling and I relish our times at Events, but return to the 21st century in between. We "vacation in the 18th century".

I portray a Native American woman, born and raised and living here in the Great Lakes Woodlands; Mr Dearling is a French-Canadian voyageur and trader. Our little camp at events is pretty accurate and I love cooking over my fire and enjoying the company of the friends we often see only once a year. Our favorite trip is to Grand Portage, up in the Arrowhead (or nose) of Minnesota. In the early mornings and evenings (when the visitors to the historic site have gone back to their modern motels and campsites) we gather around campfires, eat our authentic foods, and revel in the woodsmoke and camaraderie. We have what we call "come-real moments" - when all the "modern" falls away, and we are "dancing with the Ghosts of New France".

Here's an admission: at night, when Mr Dearling ("Paul L'Aventure dit Longwalker") is out enjoying the company of his fellows, I creep into my wee lodge, light both of my lanterns -- and knit. I generally work on my ever-continuing toques, the French knitted caps you see on artistic representations of voyageurs. They're often portrayed in red...zee Franch, zey are tres bon, very 'andsome you know, and zey LOF ze toques rouges....but sometimes the dusty blue called "French Bleu" or a deep green. I have a pattern that is documentable: it is a double toque and there's one been found in a shipwreck in icy Canadian waters, perfectly preserved, from the middle of the 18th century! Our fellow reenactors admire them, and I've been able to sell them. I'm proud that my work is sought after, and I'm lucky in that it's an easy pattern which of course I've memorized at this point. It's "movie knitting" - the center part is just plain straight knitting. I use Cascade 220 or Lamb's Pride worsted and usually size 7 DPNs.

Another admission - and please promise me you'll never rat me out -- when I'm at home, or in the car going AWAY from an event -- (shshshshsh) I switch to a circular needle. Oh heck, as long as I'm coming clean here - even when I'm knitting in camp, I use my beloved Clover bamboo DPNs. Why not, you might ask, surely there was wood in New France, surely a woman could have her husband carve her a set.... well, yeah, but there's no documentation. Seems that steel "knitting wires" were brought from France to New France by the middle of the 18th century.

Oh - all right, I hear someone saying "Yeah, but how *authentic* is it for an old Indian woman to be knitting, ex-cuuuuuse me?" {ahem} OK - that's true, and generally that's why I hide in my lodge to knit. HOWEVER! It is NOT beyond the realm of possibility that I might have accompanied mon mari back to Montreal (passengers didn't generally go east like that unless they were the Bourgeoises) but think of this: I've gone back to visit with his family, or having become Christian I might've gone to see the great church of Ste Anne de Beauprais -- while there, I might have stayed in the convent house and les soeurs might've taught me to knit..........hey, it could happen! (I haven't found actual documentation, though, so I'm dicey about knitting in public while visiting in the 18th century. So there you are.)

So - go out today and read some facts about some of the Indigenous People, the First Nations, the Native Americans, the way of celebrating the day. (Heck, check out a tribe on Google, or stop by the Wik.) And Happy Native American Day!


Yarnhog said...

That was a tremendously entertaining and informative post! An "unrepentant hippie," huh? I wasn't old enough to be a hippie the first time around, but I think I'd have made a pretty good one. Can I be an "honorary hippie"?

Mea said...

Howdy!! I made my way here from Chocolate sheep. You probably don't remember but I think we emailed back and forth a few times last year. Glad to see you blogging. I hope you enjoy the trip. . . as much as I enjoyed this post!

Mea said...

You've been blogrolled by me! he he he