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What Defeat Looks Like

Sky Hopinka

764 words

I went with some friends to see a Native American art show called: What Was Always Yours and Never Lost. The group show (seven video installations) was curated by Sky Hopinka who is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.

My friends and I were sorry to learn we’d missed the big powwow held on opening night when Native Americans filled the large art gallery to have a party, sing, drum, and do traditional dances. Scenes from this gathering had been captured by Sky Hopinka and played as a fifteen minute HD video, as part of the show.

I watched a little of this video when we first came in. You could see the Native Americans in their traditional garb, doing the classic dances.

Then I went to the food table and helped myself to grapes, cheese, and sparkling water. I chatted with an Irish art critic and some gallery personnel. Everyone was feeling good about having diverse artists from the Native American community in the gallery.

I walked around and looked at the video installations. The first one, Faces in the Crowd, showed old footage of indigenous student protests in Mexico City in the 1960s.

Another showed a young man paddling a canoe along a river in the Canadian wilderness.

A third video was a humorous narrative about two lesbian Native Americans who had been left behind by white people after the earth was used up and everyone had moved to Mars.

After I’d worked my way around the gallery, I found myself back at the beginning, at Sky Hopinka’s fifteen-minute video of the opening night powwow. This time, I sat in the chair provided and put the headphones on so I could get the full experience.

The drumming was compelling, and I began to tap my foot to it. The dances were cool too, the slow hopping motion, the gentle rotating of the individual dancers as they moved in a larger circle with their fellows. Some of the dancers had the full costume: colorful head-dresses, face paint, moccasins. Other people had more normal clothes but participated nonetheless.

As I watched the powwow this second time, I found myself looking at the Native Americans not dancing. Some were sitting at tables. Others were standing with their friends. They had the distinctive features and coloring of their race. The thing I noticed: they looked sad.

Not all of them. But a lot of them. Even some of the people dancing had a vacant, troubled look on their faces.

They had probably driven long distances to get there. They had come to support Sky Hopinka, one of their own, a young ambitious filmmaker/artist who was making a name for himself, taking advantage of his opportunities, getting educated, learning the culture of the art world and experimental film.

Sky Hopinka, has done things like teach Native American languages for a time at Portland State University. He is also a Radcliffe-Harvard Film Study Center Fellow. At thirty-four he is staying true to his roots and also succeeding in the white man’s world. He is doing everything right. They should be proud. They should be happy for him. But that’s not how they looked.

Then it hit me. I was looking at a defeated people. Their homelands had been invaded. Their ancestors had fought bravely and to the death to defend them. But they lost. And here they were. The handful of survivors. The descendants of a once thriving people. Reduced to a tiny sliver of their original population, in a state of permanent economic and cultural imprisonment.

Once this thought occurred to me the entire video changed. It was painful to watch. It was heartbreaking.

I had to collect myself before rejoining my friends. They are default liberals. They do not think in terms of “you have to fight for your freedom.” That would sound totally backward to them.

They think in terms of “cooperation” and “compassion” and “helping the less fortunate.” They think “building communities” is what humans do.

Yet here was the alternative story staring them in the face. Here is that other thing that humans do: one group challenges another for their territory. And if the second group cannot or will not defend it, they lose it. And the results are not pretty.

Fortunately, my friends had begun talking about where we should eat. I followed them out of the gallery and we walked down the street. With the car traffic and people walking by, the video eventually faded from my mind.

10 Comments

  1. Headz
    Posted June 5, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Funny isn’t it. When the romans conquered a people they wiped them out and so Dacia became Romania and the jews wandered through the world as landless refugees for almost 2000 years yet the british colonialism thrived on playing one side against another. It wasn’t redcoats who decimated the american indian and it wasn’t even so much the US cavalery, it was most likely some other tribe armed with guns and powder by either french or british manufacturing that did the dirty work. And now diabetis and alcoholism slowly eat away that what musketballs and smallpox blankets left behind. And good ridance. I don’t care how long your pissant little tribe wandered this land we gona take it and use it efficently to build the most powerful country in history.

    • Jake
      Posted June 7, 2019 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      To Headz. Agree with your martial outlook, but all indications are that your good old US of A is on the downward slide, too. Your politics is disfunctional. You are so deep in debt it can never be repaid, and you are methodically chewing each other to death. The whole world hates your guts because of your constant wars generated by the profit motive, and diabetes, alcoholism and drugs are tearing your society apart. The hose noses control everything you do and the electorate has become disenfranchised and powerless. You are being invaded by tens of millions of coons without lifting a finger, so your Ametican citizenship is not worth a fig. Good luck anyway.

  2. Peter
    Posted June 4, 2019 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Gee…. so there WAS an eventual twist in the article! First I thought… ok what´s the point, Native American culture show
    -> then I got it : multiculturalism is great, right? It´s obvious… all the harmony, right? And we should move there, and are moving there. So… let´s see HOW do FEEL people who have ALREADY moved there ! Who do already have made this experience to go from their own culture forward to multiculturalism: so we take the look at the Native Americans… oh the surprise they DO NOT LIKE IT !

    Turns out… what appears soo logical in theory… to all live together in harmony… wouldn´t you guess, once you actually do it IT IS SH*T !!

    And that is the fundamental conundrum of the White man: he does not feel! He only “thinks”. Oh sure multiculti makes every sense in theory and NEVER does the White man ask: yes and how does it actually FEEL !
    Woe to us for our biggest fundamental weakness: our thinking mind, as opposed to applying to FEEL !

  3. Kingston
    Posted June 3, 2019 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    There is a story about an assimilated Iroquois who was present at Appomatox, and Lee supposedly commented on his presence as a Union officer. I don’t know what Lee said, or if it happened at all, but it was supposed to be something like “you and I know what it’s like to be a defeated people.” I wish someone could get to the bottom of what that was all about, if it really happened, if Lee really knew the Indian from his West Point days.

    • Peter Quint
      Posted June 4, 2019 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      I read a different story, that Lee was aghast at the idea of an indian wearing the uniform of a northern general, and Lee made a comment about it to Grant, who was definitely in favor of it.

  4. Alexander Wolfheze
    Posted June 3, 2019 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Then it hit me… Mitch Smith’s ‘wake-up moment’ hits the nail. Greg Johnson is trying to have us wake before it is too late. My review in Greg Johnson’s support shows how the ‘Native American’ perspective can help us wake up: http://www.amerika.org/politics/operation-belisarius-seven-archaeo-futurist-perspectives-on-greg-johnsons-the-white-nationalist-manifesto/

  5. Posted June 3, 2019 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Very insightful article. Thank you.

  6. Posted June 3, 2019 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    If this is what awaits us, it’s better to go down like Crazy Horse than live in shame like Profits from Casinos.

    • Esoteric Du30ist
      Posted June 3, 2019 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      Of all North American Indian tribes, the only one that I can think that has truly and unequivocally thrived in the years since the US officially became white man’s country from sea to shining sea (until all that started ton change in the middle of the last century – not a good look for the outcome of the American Experiment!) is the Seminole Tribe of central and south Florida. The tribe owns the Hard Rock casino brand and all subbrands, including restaurants, concert and event venues, and all over the world too. Needless to say, the tribe is not hurting for money these days. Being a mixture of Amerind peoples from the beginning of their history and being relatively early adopters of nominally Christian belief if not euro-Christian religious practices (this is pretty much what I am sure the Lord himself intended when he set the boundaries of the nations and so forth), the Seminoles have adapted remarkably well to their new reality.

      The fact that they staked their claim to swamp land that nobody wanted except them notwithstanding, the Seminoles’ real secret to success is that they always negotiate with the US from a position of spiritual strength: they never surrendered and were never really defeated by the combined might of the US military over the bulk of the first half of the 19th century despite solid evidence that their fighting strength was never more than a few thousand individuals. I also remember seeing a source once that indicated that Winfield Scott’s writings about his experiences fighting the Seminoles was studied by no less than the Soviet DEVGRU and Spetsnaz when they formulated their special forces/guerrilla battle tactics, so that’s pretty cool too. One would hope that if it ever came down to it, we could hold our own like the Seminole and less like the Cherokee. No trail of tears for the white man!

    • DissesMyIsland
      Posted June 10, 2019 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      Death before dishonor

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