There is this story I have been working on that I would like to see become a book, one day. In this story, one of the key groups of people are the plains Indians… or Plains Aboriginal Americans, as I feel more comfortable calling them.
To prepare for this, I have been doing a great deal of reading and researching on the various tribes that covered the great plains. Reading what I can and speaking with those that will talk to me. And that is where my problem lies.
When I was learning ASLAN (American Sign Language), my teacher warned me that not only is ASLAN itself a difficult language to learn, but the deaf community, as a whole, is a very closed one. He warned me to not expect to be “accepted” into deaf groups was a whole, just because I could communicate with them. And I did learn that this was true. With the exception of a couple times I stepped in to help with a person asking, in Sign, for help or directions, many times I have tried to interact with people that were obviously signing, I was treated curtly or, in one case, ignored completely.
I have found that my efforts to learn about the Native tribes in my area have had similar results. I have spoken to local members of the Yokuts, Cherokee and Chumash tribes, and while I find that they are willing to talk to me, I feel more that they are trying to give me the information and then dismiss me than wanting to help educate me.
I understand that I am not part of their community, I also understand that I am part of, historically, the reason that they have lost their land and their ways of life. I will not deny any of that, but there is little I have had DIRECTLY to do with it, so I am not sure why there seems to be this wall I have to contend with.
I suppose that I do, in part, understand their point, if I really do look at it. There are many cases throughout history where a people have been put in dire circumstances like that and those that survived or those that were survived by their elders to continue their stories, have been remiss in sharing with those that were considered outsiders. Take, for example, those that survived the Holocaust. I have known, personally, two people that survived the death camps, and both of them were very difficult to get to talk about it. Not because they did not want to share, but because… as one of them put it for me… “How do you share your emotions with another over your own pending death and the genocide of our people?”
What happened to the Aboriginal Americans was no less than genocide… and as the offspring of Irish and Scottish immigrants who came over with the initial wave of colonists, I am sure that somewhere in my history, my lineage shares in that responsibility and guilt.
I have learned a lot through my writing and reading about the peoples that made up the Plainsmen. This is a piece of history that we are rapidly losing, and while the story I am writing is not going to help that history, I will continue to work on getting all I can from those that are willing to sit with me and learn.
As always… thank you for your time and your comments are encouraged.