In a recent conversation with a friend we talked about what we were going to do and shared goals and ideas about what might be feasible given the current state of the economy. Granted we both understood that money doesn’t buy happiness, I subscribe to the words of one of my favorite artists, the artist formerly known as Prince who stated, “money does pay for the search and ultimately we find out that none of us are really free.”
The conversation with my friend made me think about what my ancestors did in historical times. As a modern Native I am certain the lifestyle I am accustomed to is convenient in comparison to what my ancestors endured. If we look at what our ancestors did to survive, they didn’t blink or think twice about what they needed to do. They did it because it meant survival which means to me, in the words of Christopher Boykin a.k.a. Big Black, to “Do Work”.
Big Black’s words make me think about the daily hustle, which I believe is by the far the “freest” form of earning a living, but also the most challenging. In many regards it involves a feast or famine mode. One day you have a gig, the next day the opportunity is gone due to time sensitive circumstances or seasonal living. An individual must act on an opportunity and throw caution to the wind if it means feeding, clothing, and keeping the family in a home. In another instant, there is opportunity that may last longer than anticipated and is always a bonus, but seasonal, just like our fishing season here in the Pacific NW.
As modern Natives I know we are no longer as tribal as our ancestors were, we have a value system that stems from them culturally, but economically our cultural capital is no longer valued as it was in historic times. Instead we thrive off of the dollar bill. I think about how our ancestors did work and how they survived. When I look at photos and see the dangers in fishing season, I think about how fishing was done in a time sensitive manner, seasonally. The danger of providing for ones family and “Doing Work” through fishing in today’s society is not valued as much outside of the Pacific NW region. As the local and regional Northwestern area tribes are harvesting salmon other tribes are in their ceremonial season. Both ways of life in this modern world are equally important and sacred to our Native people. One is a dangerous job and the other involves a sacrifice and both are spiritual ways of reconnecting with the creator. Both require tribal members to sacrifice a part of their lifestyle. In some instances, people have lost their lives harvesting fish. Ceremonially those Natives who continue to practice an old way of life that goes back time immemorial, honor and pray for all our People.
At this time, I just wanted to share how practicing an old way of life requires work. The following photo’s are of the Celilo Falls, a historic and sacred fishing site that no longer exists and one that has become a legend. Take note of the size of the raging waters and the men who are fishing. I can only imagine what fishing was like and how dangerous it was in comparison to today. Our ancestors did work for survival just like we do today, but under different circumstances.
Today, I know I can share that I don’t think twice about what I’m going to do when it comes to “Doing Work”, because I know what I need to do. More often, I think about how I’m going to get there and what I need to do to get there. My Nez Perce ancestors had to travel by horse to certain gathering, hunting, and fishing sites which could easily take a day and lasted for several days. Often times experiencing the dangers of enemy tribes, wildlife, and the natural elements. Today we don’t have to think about those dangers, but we have other concerns.
I view the loss of culture as a danger. I also view the 70% drop out rate of high school students, drugs, alcohol, and suicide as a danger. When asked by a friend, “What do you want to do?” Although I wanted to share some grandiose idea about what I think could be done, I knew that wasn’t the answer. I also knew at that moment, that my hopes of working with and bringing people together in the name of helping our People is not an easy process, but an arduous one. Yet that is something I believe in. And I don’t I mean through attending a conference and “gathering” but to actually do work together and get the job done. Essentially I want to “Do Work!”. Now what that process looks like and how is it going to get done is another story.
The way I see it, we as Natives and non Natives do work for a fee, some of us are salaried, some of us are paid hourly, some of us work contractually, and some of us live for the daily hustle. To me, “Do Work” means doing more than I did yesterday and continuing to do what I do as it pertains to my role as an educator and member of the Native community. I recognize and acknowledge that for some it means practicing our treaty rights and ceremonial ways to keep the spirit of our ancestors alive. And in my opinion, those jobs are more important than any doctorate degree or worldly achievement.
In closing, my intent was to talk about Doing Work and what this means. What does it mean to you?