Thank you for posting such a thoughtful commentary on an important topic.
Balance is not an easy thing to maintain. It takes much out of us as humans: mindfulness, attention, contemplation and an awareness of ourselves and the world, patience, tolerance ... and we could just go on and on. Most of us just run on automatic and ignore many details that would make a world of difference in any given situation.
As for the names above mentioned, they undoubtedly deserve our gratitude, honor and respect. Yet, I would take it further and state that every single person who calls themselves Taino, in the face of the current mainstream belief system, is worthy of honor and respect. Each and every one of us is worthy of this for while our leaders may be the "face" that is more often publicly seen, the work they do would be incredibly limited and possibly ineffective, without the support of those they lead. :)
As for what can we do to improve our structure and unite people...
Kelvis :) You deleted your post and this was my answer to it.... :)
Ahhhh, Kelvis.... la pregunta de los 64,000 chavitos....
We all have our individual opinions with regards to what the Taino Movement needs by way of national and international representation, socio-political activism, cultural action, philosophical debate, spiritual processes, etc. We have no shortage of opinion and commentary. :) What we do have is a lack of balance, maturity, focus, and organization. As a child I recall hearing the critical comment regarding the Caribbean people and the way we do things: a bucket full of crabs has a better chance at organizing their escape from the bucket than we do of agreeing on any given topic.
The Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, the People of the Longhouse, as you mentioned, is an excellent example to follow. Their society has been governed bv the “Great Law of Peace” for the past 5-6 centuries. Have you ever read it?
Here is a link to one version: http://www.iroquoisdemocracy.pdx.edu/html/greatlaw.html And another :http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/iroquois.asp
It's an incredibly interesting document. It's very clear regarding responsibilities and expectations, and everyone has expectations to meet. There is more than one governing body and each answers to another body or council and these all act together- interdependently- for the good of all. Anyone is allowed to bring up a topic to the council and how far it goes up the ladder of authority depends on the nature of the concern, but everyone's voice counts. Everyone's concerns matter. The driving principle and the ultimate goal of the Great Law is that of encouraging, creating and maintaining peace, justice and solidarity among the People at all times. This is the goal, and everything is said and done with this goal in mind.
Imagine that! An agreement encouraging, creating and maintaining Peace, Justice and Solidarity among the people! An agreement that values each member of the community and involves the whole community, making everyone responsible for this peace-keeping!
This agreement has within it the requirement that anyone in a leadership position model and maintain the values expressed by this Law in their daily behavior and interactions.
Article 24 :
“The Lords of the Confederacy of the Five Nations shall be mentors of the people for all time. The thickness of their skin shall be seven spans -- which is to say that they shall be proof against anger, offensive actions and criticism. Their hearts shall be full of peace and good will and their minds filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the Confederacy. With endless patience they shall carry out their duty and their firmness shall be tempered with a tenderness for their people. Neither anger nor fury shall find lodgement in their minds and all their words and actions shall be marked by calm deliberation.”
And if the People complain about their Lords as being indifferent to the needs of the people, (A.19) disobedient to the Law, is overstepping his authority,(A.25) is gossiping or in any other way working against the ideals of Peace, Justice and Solidarity, (A.27) they are deposed of their title by the Women of his family who are responsible for naming him(A.17-19,53,54). And if the women (A52)who named the irresponsible Lord do nothing about it (A.49), then their authority is deposed and another family is chosen and given the responsibilities and honors of the title of Lord. And if push comes to shove, and the Lord doesn't listen or change his ways, he can be clubbed to death! (A.59)
This is no joke! These people really wanted Peace and anyone not with the program was replaced with someone who was willing. They recognized that this “Peace” they wanted so badly was not just going to fall from the sky in a neatly wrapped little package. They knew they were going to have to work for it, they knew they were going to have to create it. They knew it would be hard to commit to Peace when their normal response was to go to war. I believe that this understanding is reflected in the law itself, since this commitment is written in the law and must be followed. They knew that tolerance was necessary. They knew that to keep Peace they couldn't afford to be “thin skinned, quick to anger and sensitive to any criticism.” They knew they wanted community, but to create it they needed tolerance between people and groups. This is why “patience”, “calm deliberation” and “good will” towards the people of the Confederacy is written into the Law. Follow the links and read the Law yourself. The Great Law of Peace makes it crystal clear how the leaders of the Six Nations are expected to behave. They are to be socio-political and spiritual leaders of the people and their behavior is to be exemplary.(A.26) “Mentors” is the word used most in translation! And, as I understand it, mentorship implies that the people are to follow that example.
The Great Law has been recorded for 5-6 centuries now, first in Wampum and then in european languages, and this is still the Law that guides the Six Nations today. So yes, Kelvis, it's an excellent example to follow.
You are also right when you say that internet searches will find find plenty of Taino groups out there that publicly claim to desire Peace, Unity and Fellowship. As a matter of a fact, I think they all do. Yet, while lofty proclamations fill the air in public ceremonies, are eternal blips on the internet and are stated in any documentation any group asks you to fill, no Taino group so far can claim to have done much more than proclaim this desire for “Peace and Unity”. Yeah, it looks good on paper and it fills the Indian Speak stereotype in oratory, but we rarely see it among us in action, much less from our leaders.
And that, in my opinion, is the ultimate crux of the matter. We have a whole lot of “saying” and not much “doing”. There is a whole lot of “proclaiming” and “declaring” without much thought as to what exactly is being stated. And because what's being said is not really being thought of, it's not being acted upon either.
It doesn't take much to provoke an argument among our people- including and especially those who have taken on the mantel of leadership or the few apple-polishers they choose to surround themselves with. We see it on line all the time. Both, leaders and their apple-polishers, rationalize, justify and intellectualize their arrogance and disrespect. They excuse their behavior as part of some self righteous crusade in defense of the“Taino culture and traditions” as their group would have it; insisting that their group is the only one that has the “REAL Taino culture”, “REAL Taino traditions”, “REAL Taino language” and the only “REAL Taino spirituality”. The message is clear: unless you belong to their particular group and follow their rules, you are not a “REAL Taino” and not worthy of dignity, respect or even common courtesy.
You would think that's pretty bad, and it is. And it gets worse.
The extremes to which this imposition of ideals can go to includes banishment, ostracism, ridicule, gossip, exclusion.... People are kicked out of social groups in real time as well as on-line. And for the people who's Taino connections are mostly via the internet, this could be devastating. It could even be considered a form of exile.
I have heard Taino grandmothers, activists, who sit on governing bodies, call others “Wannabe Indians”.Apparently these grandmothers feel that we haven't had enough of that garbage from the conquerors, so now they've taken over and our own very elders devalue us instead. I have spoken to Taino leaders who boast of the amount of research they have done and the cultural knowledge they have accumulated over the years, who then follow this boast by stating they weren't going to share it or they were sharing it with a chosen few. Now, I can't say whether they had any special information or not, but it's my opinion that the statement alone is manipulative and mean-spirited. Apparently, this is what our leaders feel we need.
I have seen how Taino leaders proclaim peace and unity while ridiculing, insulting and provoking ire at the same time; holding their “declarations” in one hand and throwing stones with the other! I have seen Taino leaders use their position to define who is “valid” and who is not, who's opinion is worth listening to and who's is not... I have heard Tainos attack other Taino's identity because of the religions they choose to follow, the clothes they choose to wear, or the words they choose to use. I have seen groups, their leaders and their followers, act as if Taino-hood was some sort of blessing that only they and their group can bestow upon another, or a condition that comes from wearing white cotton, Caribbean seeds, shells and feathers.
And God forbid you should pick up a book and come to your own conclusions. Thinking for yourself is NOT encouraged. Quite often our leaders and their “yes-men” become frustrated and lash out in words and actions against those who refuse to obediently conform to their vision of what a “REAL Taino” should be, do, wear, say... not once considering how their actions contradict the very ideals they proclaim to uphold. It's just amazing to see how the irony of these inconsistencies is lost on those who don't bother to take the time to think about what's being said and what's being done.
It's our inner awareness, what beliefs we have allowed to take root in our hearts, that determines our outer behavior. If the proclamations of peace, unity and fellowship isn't moved from paper and oratory into our hearts, how are we to see it in our interactions? And if our leaders aren't willing to lead by example, to step up to the plate and be our Warriors of the Heart, it's not surprising the People haven't done so either. There are no examples to follow, and those who attempt it are discouraged or invalidated by the very people who are supposed to be modeling this behavior in the first place!
Don't get me wrong... there are groups and organizations out there, well known and not, that are doing great work at interacting with other indigenous groups (non-Taino), forming alliances and affiliations and making sure the Taino group is “recognized” as a legitimate indigenous American group. This is great for matters of federal representation. And yes, many of our ancient artifacts are being returned and the bones of our ancestors re-interred, ceremonial songs are being sung and the teachings are being held openly... It's undeniable that our past is being well taken care of and this is all good.
Yet, while our past is important in telling us where we have been and what we have done, the present is all we really have. Our children are more than just a few broken pieces of pottery in the bottom of an old well. They are more than the color of their cotton dress, the seeds they use or the feathers they wear. Who we are is all about relationships among us. Not just the relationships we have with our family, friends and the groups we get along with, but the relationships we have with the Taino community as a whole.
What do our relationships look like? How are we caring for these relationships? What are our intentions in these relationships? What are our expectations in these relationships? Are we living the values we claim to have in these relationships?