The "One Tract Mind" series explores the loss of land, culture and identity due to the overdevelopment of housing in California during the last decade (before the economic downturn). Many of these developments sit upon ancient village sites and numerous cultural artifacts have been destroyed.
Here's the essay I wrote to accompany the exhibition.
America tends to view the American Indian as the nation’s supreme environmentalists. From the historic speeches of famous Indian leaders like Chief Joseph to the crying eyes of Iron Eyes Cody, the lasting image that America has forged of native cultures is that of “walking as one with nature”. When we speak of the American Indian and stereotypes, one typically hears of negative aspects of Indian culture: the drunk indian, the lazy indian, etc..... But, if we consider other ideas that people hold concerning Native culture as stereotypical, then the “green indian” is also a part of the American Indian mystique. It seems to give Americans a warm, fuzzy feeling that someone still has a strong connection with the natural world.
"From the historic speeches of famous Indian leaders like Chief Joseph to the crying eyes of Iron Eyes Cody, the lasting image that America has forged of native cultures is that of “walking as one with nature”.
Today, more and more tribes are educating their membership. Native communities throughout the nation are producing their own doctors, lawyers and business leaders. Many Native Nations are also engaging the American political process through campaign contributions, hiring their own lobbying firms and developing their own political action committees. These developments mirror some of the goals that the United States’ Bureau of Indian Affairs had envisioned in their own policy of assimilation, but it is not clear that BIA policy is to credit for this. The increase in economic status due to Indian Gaming and better access to education are important factors that need to be considered. America seems to take pride in the fact that Indian communities are beginning to bring themselves out of poverty and become a more active strand in the fabric of America.
But, accompanying this new activism is the desire of Native nations to have their treaty rights and basic human rights recognized. As sovereign nations, most tribes hold senior water rights in the areas surrounding their reservations. Many tribes have lobbied the federal government and individual states to enact cultural protection laws such as NAGPRA which require that artifacts and human remains be returned to tribes for proper preservation or reburial. California’s own SB 18 forces developers to consult with tribes when developing any projects that might disturb Native artifacts or sacred sites. It is at this point were conflict can occur.
It seems that many Americans who are inconvenienced by the assertion of Indian Rights efforts tend to view Indian nations as receiving special treatment or as obstacles to progress. The warm, fuzzy feeling that the “green indian” provides is replaced by an adversarial position that can and has lead to conflict and charges of racism and reverse racism. Continued development in America helps create jobs, tax revenues and happy investors, but at what cost? With our slowing economy and the collapse of the housing industry, now maybe the time to pause and consider the long term effects of development on our environment and our nation’s prehistory.
The melting pot of America has a new ACTIVE ingredient and it may take time for us all to get accustomed to the flavor.