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Reversing the Damage, Part 2

August 3, 2009

I’m finally getting around to finishing the second installation of this post, having been more focused on my physical health in the meantime (as mentioned in my last post). The journey in the direction of duyukdv continues, if slowly. 🙂

In the first part, I touched on some of the ways in which forced assimilation into a wétiko, patriarchal, society has hurt Native women. The process applies just as well to other women, but the harmful socialization is easier to point out when it’s laid over a very different culture, with some speed; it’s bleedingly obvious that this isn’t “just the way things are”, and have always been. It’s easier to see though all the dominant culture’s assertions–in the face of so much evidence–that we’re equal now, we’re better off than we ever have been, and hey, Progress is grandly marching on. I hope that more Native women will see that we don’t just have to accept abuse that, had anyone even considered levelling it at our great-grandmothers, that person would have done the social equivalent of bursting into flames and dying on the spot. Also, that other women can build on the idea that maybe things have not always been this way, in every time and every place.

Luckily, there does seem to be at least a glimmer of light at the end of this particular tunnel, and I can see it in oral history. As touched upon in my recent post on snake handling, in the Eastern Woodlands*, we managed to overturn wétiko, male dominated, social structures before.

A bit of clarification: I am purposely placing the wétiko designation first; looking around the world, and back through history, you don’t really find patriarchal setups outside a larger wétiko framework. One may as well leave the “male dominated” bit unspoken. You don’t get patriarchy if you’re not dehumanizing large portions of the population, the better to use them, in the first place. If you’re unfamiliar with the wétiko (cannibal) model of contagious cultural sickness, Jack Forbes has outlined it very well.

To quote from that post:

Compare to the example of Adodaroh, ” the deeply feared and powerful shaman of the Onondagas, whose snake and cannibal [wétiko] cult had terrorized the people into submission for many years” further north, at about the same time. Also the deposed Ani Kutani among the Cherokee (also overthrown for their wétiko behavior, by most accounts).

Barbara Mann, once again, covers this period of change–about a thousand years ago–among the Haudenosaunee well in her Iroquoian Women. AFAICT, similar happened among a lot of other Eastern nations, though there are more publicly available accounts of it from the Haudenosaunee and Tsalagi. John Mohawk describes the state of affairs well in this piece.

In short, belligerant male dominated factions managed to take control of society, and there was a lot of fighting and bloodshed, with women and children caught in the crossfire all too often. You may note that the last straw, helping get a revolt going against the Ani Kutani, is sometimes reported as their perceived ability to rape with impunity. (Compare to usual Tsalagi attitudes toward rape and other forms of abuse, in the endnotes.) These same power-hungry factions also tried to use religion to control other people. Sounds familiar, eh?

Things had to change. Both Barbara Mann and John Mohawk offer brief descriptions of how the Haudenosaunee managed to change the situation. Not incidentally, making things safe again for women and children was a major goal. To balance things out, women insisted on having a great deal of official power. Women insisted on official recognition for the important work they were doing, and for being the progenitors of the nation on so many levels. It took a long time, but they did achieve an egalitarian social setup, which took care not to harm any of its own people. The Tsalagi, and other nations, did similar.

As Mann notes:

After the Iroquois League was overrun by the Americans in the Revolutionary War, every attempt was made by settlers and their government to destroy Iroquoian culture. This included massive assaults on the rights and powers of women. The United States attempted to wipe out the office of the Jigonsaseh, abolishing it in 1848. The Iroquois secretly continued granting the office, however.

On a more personal level, today we’re mostly just left with the responsibilities of what’s deemed not to be “real” work–along with other women in the dominant culture–and are supposed to forget we ever had rights to go along with it. Even if fairly traditional circles, the clan mothers have lost official power, while still doing a lot of the same work, because someone still needs to work to keep the people going. Some more assimilated people just assume they’re interfering old biddies, by now.

No wonder the dominant culture has also tried hard to erase and obscure information about and from non-wétiko societies they’ve overwhelmed. It was not coincidence that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott called a conference in Seneca Falls, but American women have mostly forgotten this. Settler propaganda has almost extinguished this source of hope. (Not surprisingly, a lot of the same propaganda has been at work on gender roles in large portions of Africa, as well.)

But, to quote the Chili Peppers, “there is a secret I keep, it’s called the talking leaf.” Sometimes (OK, more than occasionally) I despair that there is not much I can do to fight the wétiko on a larger scale, and help improve life for other women. But, the way the dominant culture works to suppress dissent (the very concepts of heresy and sedition, anyone?), information really is power here. And, as Jigonsaseh and the Peacemaker show us, change on a larger scale just isn’t going to happen until a lot of consciousness raising happens. Maybe I am doing some good by keeping plugging away, pointing out that there really are other, less harmful, ways to live.

I have to admit that I am not so optimistic about progressive pragmatism, as Mohawk describes it, prevailing in the face of wétiko. When you’re dealing with people who have set themselves up in postions of power over others’ lives, who are so caught up in a worldview of oppositional duality that they just don’t care if other people starve or get murdered if it serves their Grand Purpose, negotiation becomes difficult. There is not much common ground to build on, but as Mohawk points out, “You have to negotiate with them; they are the people who are trying to kill you!” Dealing with a cannibalistic system the size of a state may well require modifying the approach, which is pragmatism in action!

The terrorists may have grabbed onto more power and more social structures by now–would that it were as simple and clear-cut as Jesuit-recruited thugs, these days–but women are dealing with terrorism on a daily basis. We have to figure out how to dismantle the master’s house; otherwise, these terrorists just don’t have any reason to stop what they are doing.

In the meantime, the best thing I can think to do in order to create some change is to keep talking and finding common ground with other individuals. True grassroots approaches–not the too evident perversions, but real individual action–to build consensus have worked well in past, anyway. Once more people figure out that a better outcome is, indeed, possible, maybe it will encourage them to stop going around literally and metaphorically knocking one another over the heads. Maybe the path will become clearer.

Maybe, eventually, we’ll be safe again, walking around alone at any hour in any place. It’s hard to imagine, by now.


* Again, not necessarily just there, but this is the cultural complex I know well.

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