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June 18 Assumptions, Questions and Will

By K. Shuck

I am often floored by the things that people think they get to ask each other. I should have been keeping count of how many folk have asked me about my religion. I should have been, I didn't. Sigh.

Most of the people who come into the Kimball are respectful and engaged. There does seem to be a major confusion about bringing glasses of wine in (big sigh this time, NO FOOD OR DRINKS... still with the wine). At least the wine bearers were careful. We like careful. Still most of the folk who come in are fun, some of our guests are even gems. Some... some are taxing. We have had just the most intrusive questions. Even the intrusive questions aren't as disturbing as the people who will ask something off the wall and then want to argue with the answer (seriously, my Polish mom was a Campfire Girl and taught me to do loomed beading... really and yes, I know it isn't the picturesque answer). So the purple gorilla in the room whenever Native people go anywhere to talk about anything (rocket science, family planning, elbow macaroni) is that fact that many have been taught that there are no Native people left. Then there is the film industry contribution: most incidental Native roles used to be played by either Italian or Dine actors (yes the Dine are a Native group... one of many and often with a specific look). Many Native people playing Native people are made up to look darker based on the existing stereotypes. Between the belief that we are gone and the misconceptions about what we look like, whenever Native activists/scientists/humorists speak there is always some wit who points out that we do not look Native. We are a whole continent of different groups. There are five hundred mumble federally recognized flavors of Native but there are well over 1000 different bands, language groups or culture groups in the US existing at some level. We are a multiplicity. Irish folk may or may not look like Albanians. Seminoles may or may not look like Tlingits. I understand the stereotyping, really. I taught Native Studies classes at a University. I get it. What I don't get is the way that people will insist, angrily, that not fulfilling their stereotype makes one somehow inauthentic. They want to argue about it. They want blood quantum. They tend to refuse to learn. Here we come to my assumptions.

I assumed that the vast majority of people visiting a high-profile museum would be coming to learn things, not to reinforce their already held beliefs. I understand the disappointment when assumptions are proven wrong. My belief in people's inherent desire to evolve is dying a long death... haven't given up (sound of teeth grinding). Often when I am really at the end of my patience, after an encounter with someone who is sad that I didn't arrive at a presentation in a canoe, when faced once again with a gift wrapped stereotype, at that tenuous moment there usually arrives some form of bliss. This has not been my favorite week. A few things have happened, one in particular, which got seriously up my nose. I am, not to put to fine a point on it, in a bit of a snit. I am trying to shake it off, I will eventually succeed. Not there yet. It is in these moments when I am generally given an encounter that justifies my faith in peopleness. Today it was Will.

Most kids coming into the gallery have wanted to do Michael's drawing activity rather than my beading activity. I don't know if that's a caregiver looking at a sharp thing and deciding for them, or their own actual impulse. There were a few kids tonight who wanted to bead. Will came in at the end of two very capable young ladies' experiment. They tried, neither loved it, they moved on. While I was replacing the thread Will asked if he could try. If he'd been allowed he's have sat there the rest of the evening working on the group project. When someone else came to sit at the table he explained the process to her. It was successful for both of them. YAY! I'm obsolete.

Conclusion? People who come to the table open to learn, interested and patient, leave the table with new skills. I keep reminding myself to only ask questions I want a real answer to. I keep reminding myself to hold my assumptions and presumed knowledge with a light hand. Tomorrow we get up and do it again.