Ignorance Is Not Always Bliss

Have you ever felt so completely ignorant about something that you were actually ashamed? I’ve felt that way a couple of times in the past year about one particular issue.

One of my assignments for my freelance work recently was to research attractions in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona for a “vacation planner” for an art exhibition happening in New Mexico later this spring. Throughout my research, I learned a lot about the Navajo Nation and Navajo traditions.

It stirred in me this strong desire to travel out west again, to hit places like New Mexico and Arizona. A desire that I had no idea I would feel when I went to Montana last October. But it was that same sense of ignorance and a desire to learn that made me crave the West.

As an educated 24-year-old woman, I know very little about Native Americans. The people who were on this land long before the colonists, the people who lived and loved and worshipped the land.

For those who may not have been reading my blog at the time I was in Montana having my first experience with Native American culture (click the link to read the whole post!), I want to share this excerpt of a post with you:

It was a group of six men called the Chief Cliff Singers from the Kootenai Tribe in Montana. They are led by a man named Mike Kenmille, and his fellow performers tonight were all his sons and nephews. They used a large drum that is, get this…1,000 years old. When they first struck the drum, I got chills. They all play it together and sing and while I have absolutely no clue what they were saying, I couldn’t help but shiver at the sheer significance of it all.

For the second song, Mike told us that he also had his great-nephew there, an adorable little boy I had noticed dancing in his mother’s arms, and brought him up on stage. He told us about how in their tribe, children learn the songs and how to play the drum while still in the womb. As this little boy sat on his dad’s lap on stage, he was mimicking the drumming actions of his father, uncles, cousins and great-uncle. During this song, I teared up. I was on the verge of completely sobbing and I couldn’t really explain why at first. But then I realized why.

I am 23 years old. And this is the first experience I have had with the native people of my country. Their traditions are so strong, so sound and so much a part of their lives that I couldn’t help but wonder what they would have been like had their land not been taken away from them. And why…why in the world did I never have an experience like this earlier in my life?

I would love to get the opportunity to experience reservation life someday and write about it. To learn the history and the traditions and the culture. To get to know the people. To go back to Montana and watch the Kootenai children learn the songs. To understand why it’s so important that Navajo children learn how to weave. After all, their history is, in a way, our history.

I know more about aboriginal Australians than I do about my own country’s indigenous population, and that is unacceptable in my mind. But I think it’s representative of our society these days. People are fascinated by aboriginal Australians, by African tribes, by the Aztecs and the Mayans (if only because they’re telling us when the world is going to end). But not many Americans will seek knowledge about Native Americans.

I’m hoping to be able to change that for myself in the future. Maybe that’s an angle I’ll have to take in a travel pitch sometime soon.


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