What’s In A Name?

The racial insensitivity of the phrase “Off the Reservation” rarely, if ever, occurs to non-Indians. But for Indians, it’s as intolerant as having an Indian as the mascot for a sports team. It would seem crazy to root for the New York Jews, Indianapolis Caucasians or Washington Negroes, but we’ve got the Braves, Indians and Redskins.

Over the past two weeks, my inbox has been jammed with comments related to an “Off the Reservation” column regarding the Republican Party. One of the more humorous e-mails begins with “off the reservation doesn’t begin to describe where you are.” Some pose the question as to the origin of the column title, which I have yet to fully explain within these pages. A little clarification is in order.

The eagle soars with the American, Iroquois and Canadian flags at Akwesasne

The majority of the observations in this column are political or environmental and Long Island-centric. But a personal mission is to highlight and, when necessary, advocate for issues related to American Indians. The title “Off the Reservation” refers to the land mass located outside of reservation territory, or if you prefer, the United States of America. As a true American mutt, the most significant percentage of my heritage is Mohawk and I have found the Indian cultural perspective an interesting lens through which to view the world, our nation and this little Island of ours.

Predictably, most of the pushback regarding the title comes from Indians who happen across the column online and take issue with the derogatory nature of the phrase. Once explained, they are extremely forthcoming in expressing their frustration at how the “white media” covers Indian issues. It’s hard to disagree. Much of what I read about Indian life in non-native publications is woefully devoid of context. Virtually nothing is straightforward in Indian country, no matter where the territory is located. Every tribe, every reserve and every generation is different, complicated. To get inside the heads of America’s indigenous population is a perspective-altering experience that opens the mind to how insane our world has become.

Perhaps this is due to the keen understanding they have of their past and current circumstances. While our culture moves in nanoseconds, Indian culture is stubbornly and beautifully rooted in tradition; a tradition that presupposes land is free to roam on, Earth provides all we need for life and embraces us again in death. The notion that we are not independent of our environment but merely a small part of the ecosystem is the only prevailing thread I have discovered among the tribes I have met with. It is why there is little wonder most Indians have gotten on terribly in so-called modern life. They are confounded by restrictive borders and an increasingly poisoned Mother.

The racial insensitivity of the phrase “Off the Reservation” rarely, if ever, occurs to non-Indians. But for Indians, it’s as intolerant as having an Indian as the mascot for a sports team. It would seem crazy to root for the New York Jews, Indianapolis Caucasians or Washington Negroes, but we’ve got the Braves, Indians and Redskins. There’s probably a few pissed-off Swedes and Danes out there that think new grandfather Brett Favre isn’t much of a Viking either.

I’m of two minds about the wave of political correctness that has washed over us. On one hand, 10 years in the catering/restaurant business taught me to celebrate diversity and that stereotypes exist for one profound reason—they tend to be partially accurate. But elaborating on cultural idiosyncrasies is only safe in the purview of comedians. On the other hand, if uttering a particular word or phrase requires you first look over your shoulder, you probably shouldn’t. Still, I’m amazed at how flip most people are when referring to Indians.

Last weekend my wife and I met up with friends from New Jersey and two other couples we had never met. At some point over dinner the conversation turned to someone they know who was acquitted from shooting and killing an Indian near a reservation in New Jersey. None of them looked over their shoulders when declaring “there are no real Indians,” “they’re all black these days” and “they live like animals anyway.” None of them looked over their shoulders when uniformly concluding, when it comes to protecting reservation territory, “those people are crazy.”

They’re funny that way. At least that’s the way it seems over here. You know, off the reservation.

Author: Jed Morey

Jed Morey is the publisher of the Long Island Press, LI's Cultural Arts and Investigative News Journal. The Press has a monthly circulation of 100,000, and www.longislandpress.com, welcomes more than 500,000 unique visitors every month. He serves on the board of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Nassau County, as well as the President's Council of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Long Island. In addition to the contributions on this blog, Morey authors a column for the Long Island Press titled "Off The Reservation" and is a staunch advocate for Indian rights. The column was voted Best Column in New York by the NY Press Association in 2010 and third overall in the nation among alternative publications by the Association of Alternative Weeklies in 2012. Morey lives in Glen Cove with his wife, Eden White, and their two daughters.

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    On Sunday May 23 a fundraiser for Kanatsiohareke, a traditional Mohawk community in Fonda, NY will be held at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY. Participants will experience Mohawk ceremony, spirituality, song and dance, stories and history. The event includes short films on Mohawk culture and a live performance by Ghosthorse, a Native American musical group that performs both traditional and contemporary music. Tom Porter, founder, director and spiritual leader of the community will lead the event. He will start the day with the ceremonial “Thanksgiving Address,” as well as a lecture on Mohawk spirituality and teachings. As Robert Vetter, Long Island anthropologist explains, “This is a rare opportunity for Long Islanders to experience Mohawk teachings and cultures firsthand. And Tom Porter is probably the most insightful and sharing spokesman for this culture alive today.”

    Kanatsiohareke is an off-reservation community located on the ancient ancestral homelands of the Mohawk nation. It was re-established in 1993 under the leadership of Tom Porter, Mohawk/Bear Clan spiritual leader. The community, a non-profit organization, must raise its own revenues in order to survive. Kanatsiohareke is a small group of traditional Mohawks who farm, cultivate and preserve their land in the Mohawk Valley with the hope that others will follow in their footsteps. Their struggle is to maintain a place where Mohawk people can revitalize their culture, language, traditions and spirituality for generations to come.

    Schedule for the Fundraiser:

    9:00-9:40 am Introduction/Thanksgiving Address with Tom Porter. Breakfast and meet and greet

    9:45-10:20 am Storytelling with Mohawk storyteller, Kay Olan (former Brentwood, LI school teacher)

    10:25-11:00 am Traditional Mohawk singing and participatory dancing

    11:00-11:35 am Mohawk Spirituality, talk featuring Tom Porter

    11:35-12:15 pm Performance by indigenous musical group “Matou”

    12:15-1:15 Short films on Mohawk culture: “Walking the Same Land,” and “These Are My People”

    1:15-1:45 pm Panel and Audience Discussion

    1:45 Informal gathering with Tom Porter and Tiokasin Ghosthorse in Cinema Garden, weather permitting; otherwise in Sky Room.

    Tom Porter will have copies of his books available for signing

    Tom Porter has been a nationally recognized Native American leader and lecturer since the 1960’s. He has served numerous positions on the Mohawk Nation of Chiefs Council over the past 25 years. In 1998, Mr. Porter launched the first Iroquois Immersion Program, a language and lifeway restoration project for the Mohawk and other Iroquois nations. Tom Porter is the author of “And Grandma Said: Iroquois Teachings as Passed Down Through the Oral Tradition” and “Kanatsiohareke: Traditional Mohawk Indians Return to Their Ancestral Homelands.” Mr. Porter is the recipient of the Rothko Chapel Award for Commitment to Truth and Freedom, The Human Rights Award from Earth Action, and the twenty-first Gamallel Chair in Peace and Justice Award.

    Tickets to the fundraiser cost $15, and can be purchased at Cinema Arts Centre’s website: http://www.cinemaartscentre.org, or at the door. The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Avenue, Huntington, NY 11743; telephone 631-423-7611. ###If you’d like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview, please contact Robert Vetter at 631-878-8655 or email him at BobV1111@aol.com

    *CONTACT for Photos, Information, and Interviews: Susan Finkelstein, Publicist: Susan@CinemaArtsCentre.org 631-423-7611 x14 M-Th 11:30am-6pm

    Since 1973, presenting the best U.S., International, Independent & Repertory films on 3 screens 365 days of the year, in a comfortable ambience including the sculpture garden & The Sky Room Café, the Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave (just south of 25a), Huntington, NY 11743 (25 miles east of New York City). Admission for regular programs: $10.00. Discounts for members, seniors, students & children.

    For further information call 631-423-7611. To sign up for weekly email schedule: info@CinemaArtsCentre.org Membership and Schedule: http://www.CinemaArtsCentre.org

    Cinema Arts Centre is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization, whose mission is to bring the best in cinematic artistry to Long Island, and use the power of film to expand the awareness and consciousness of our community.

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