Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans & Native Americans

Today was Veteran's Day; a day nationally gifted to all Veterans as well as governmental employees. This morning I thought to myself, "how nice that Veterans get a day decreed to them, but what about the other historically important peoples?" My husband and I visited Tohono Chul Park to honor Native Americans on this day. The United States' earliest Veterans defeated these first Americans, and so inhabitation of the U.S. continent by my ancestors was possible. No one nationally commemorates Native Americans for fighting for their designated rights to the land, and for persisting culturally despite the violent ways their land was taken from them.
An old docent at the park approached and directed us to an exhibit of woven basketry, and spent his time commenting on the few facts he remembered from his years of docent-hood. One comment he made struck me. He pointed to a Tohono O'odham basket called "The Man in a Maze", which consists of seven concentric semi-circles with a circular center and a man positioned at the top of the labyrinth. The docent said, "The 'Indians' think that if the Man ever makes it out of the Maze, it will mean the end of the world. This is the Tohono O'odham tribe’s symbol." For one thing, it was irritating to me that he called the Natives "Indians", but I accept that he may not be hip to the politically correct times. Aside from that, I thought it quite intriguing that the Tohono O'odham people tell a story that has a clause for the end of the world, instead of Christianity’s personal heaven/hell clause. I shall investigate further to find the real story behind “The Man in the Maze".
I have found that the old docent's interpretation of "The Man in the Maze" is a slightly distorted version. Of course, interpretations of the symbol vary from person to person and from tribe to tribe. The common thread among all stories deals with the struggle of the journey through the Maze towards death (the center). The Man could be the Tohono O'odham tribe or an individual life. To some anonymous persons I know, the man could readily signify civilization. According to the symbol, civilization can be viewed as an entity taking its course through the complex labyrinth of time. The clock ticks away as civilization makes its journey toward the center of the labyrinth, toward its eventual collapse and death. Maybe this is how the old docent interpreted the "The Man in the Maze" basket.
I wish I had talked to the docent for a longer time. Soon after leading us through the basket exhibit, I noticed he was wearing a Veteran’s shirt. How appropriate, I thought, for my theme of the day. I did not want to negate the observation and recognition of Veterans on this day, so I enthusiastically wished him a happy Veteran’s Day. He responded with a calm smile and said, “I had no choice… World War II, you know. France, Britain, Germany…” I could tell it was not a topic he wanted to go into depth about. After this uncomfortable exchange, he shuffled backwards semi-apologetically and pointed us toward the meditation garden. Meditate I did, meditate I have. I meditated over the heavy anti-war bucket on my head that made me under appreciate the Veterans, and the lack of choice most of them had in their service. I realize now that Veterans and Native Americans are much alike: both have struggled for rights, recognition, and bore no significant alternative to the place in which they found themselves fighting and struggling.

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