In the Spirit of the Ancestors: Reconciling Post Tribal Stress Disorder
by Patrisia Gonzales
Patzin (Nahuatl for Venerable Medicine): a monthly feature on indigenous medicine
Column of the Americas �� May 1, 2006
I once heard an Ojibwa woman tell a group of Chicanos working on indigenous liberation that our ancestors did what they had to, to survive.
Our indigenous ancestors survived by passing as Mexicans or mestizos, or being defined away as mestizos by governments. And many married mestizos. As a result, the Mexican community is a pan indigenous community comprised of native peoples of both Mexico and North America. Indigeneity became private and individualized in families. They survived by hiding the indigenous knowledge so deeply that some of us could no longer recognize it. Some were taught to forget and to fear and disconnect from our place in the natural world and the power of nature within our own hands. There was no need for the Inquisition once forced conversion could be regulated by the community itself. Choctaw scholar Karina Walters says that part of historical trauma was established through forced conversion and separating people away from their original instructions, the ancestral agreements and covenants about how to treat each other and how to honor their responsibilities to the natural world.
I believe that among those defined as mestizos many suffer from PTSD or Post Tribal Stress Disorder. I use this term to refer to the suffering and afflictions that result from de-Indianization. Invariably, there is someone who remembers in their family that they are Indian. Or they will recount how one of their grandparents told them to never forget, "we are Indian." But like historical trauma, not all suffer the soul wound of de-Indianization.
Part of their historical trauma is the void where there should be remembrance of the names of our ancestors and nations. They are the other "disappeared" of the Americas, by the processes of social control. Some argue that mestizos are like a brown clay pot, emptied of a native spirit that was claimed by impositions. Others argue mestizos indigenized Spanish culture and that it is, in fact, only a shallow topsoil that covers indigenous Mexico, which is indigenous in the spaces also claimed as mestizo or urban. We are another kind of Indian that does not fit into the current boxes on identity.
Many scholars concur that Mesoamerica's indigenous legacy remains in traditional agriculture and Mexican traditional medicine - and protective factors against disconnection. Zapata asserted that the land belongs to those who work it -- Mexicans still work the land and have relationships with this natural world. But many are taught to deny their Indianness, to even hate it. A Kickapoo elder once recounted to me how a group of Mexican kids in Coahuilla, Mexico, got mad when he proclaimed to them, "you're Indian."
Those people identified as mestizo, Hispanic, or Latino suffer from a particular kind of historical trauma. They are told that they are both the oppressed and the oppressor. Many Mexicans are largely Indian by heritage and do not descend from Spanish colonialists, and when they do, it may be through rape or forced marriage, such as with one of my Kickapoo grandmothers. It is hard to determine who is the "we/they,"� who of the relatives were/are the mestizos who benefited from controlling "the Indian." The Mexican (read Bolivian, Ecuadorian etc.) community has been in a constant process of de-Indianization and each family has its own particular relationship to that process.
In my work, I identify some symptoms of PTSD:
1. Anehlos -- a feeling of longing and that something is missing.
2. Cracked mirror --a feeling that something wants to break through, or break open and that your sight is refracted from cracks in perception, with some parts distorted and others clear.
3. Rejection -- feeling rejected by Latinos and mestizos as being too Indian and by some Native Americans as almost or maybe Indian, but then again not really (while others welcome you as cousins, brothers or sisters.)
4. Loss-mourning the loss of ancestors, nations and the spiritual teachings that were wrested away and in which you had no say or control.
Fortunately, there are numerous native elders working with, or in, these communities as people resist de-Indianization, particularly the more recent indigenous migrants from the southern hemisphere. Some people argue that mestizos and Latinos should accept their historical conditions, that they have no right to renew or strengthen their indigeneity. Yet, that goes against the spirit of self-determination. If we could hear them speak in the spirit world, would they not ask for their children to return? to fight? to renew knowledge in the spirit of their ancestors? To do otherwise, is to accept colonization, something no community, native or not, can justify as an acceptable human condition. To proclaim their Indianness, someone once said, is the biggest paradigm shift since the Spanish debated whether Indians had souls.
� 2006 Column of the Americas
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