Futile Wisdom, Clever Folly

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” I Corinthians 3:20

Yesterday I stopped by the 4th Annual Pow Wow at Conestoga College. If you have never been to a Pow Wow, I highly recommend it. Here is an event teeming with life, the drum beating like a heart at the centre of the circle, and all around the community gathers, as a body: to celebrate, to mourn, to reconnect, to sing, and above all, to dance.

As I watched those with winged feet whirl about the circle – ever clockwise in this territory, I chatted with my good friend Jim. Jim grew up in Haudenosaunee territory years before I was born. As a young lad he attended the Brandford Mohawk Institute, one of the many residential schools committed to the infamous Canadian policy of assimilation. He commented that as an Indigenous child he never saw such dancing. It was, of course, deemed illegal. The “wise” ones of those days had outlawed the traditional practices of those who have loved this land for many, many generations before settlers arrived. In their “wisdom” – both futile and horrific – they imposed rules that have inflicted pain on too, too many of Jim’s generation and those that followed.

I came home from the event with a purple ribbon on my jacket. My wife asked what it meant, and I told her that I purchased it at the Wilfrid Laurier University Aboriginal Services table. I also bought a cookie there, and the money from the cookie, and the donation for the ribbon were being used to pay for the funeral of a young woman in the community who had taken her life. Only the Lord knows the reason for such despair, but certainly generations of Indigenous cultural denial by mainstream settler “propriety” and greed inform the why of such a tragedy.

As Jim and I watched the dancing, I pointed to a young man, whose whirling and intricate foot work mesmerized me. He brought to my mind a bird, nesting a world. Jim said that this was Scott, the son-in-law of his youngest sister, and that Scott wouldn’t have grown up dancing, but clearly mastered it along the way. About that time a little one, maybe four years old, feathered and sequined and at one with the drum ran and danced and danced and ran. Jim smiled and said that this one will always know dancing. And I thought, this is how it should be: dancing your way into life, foolishly losing yourself to the drumbeat, the heartbeat, the heart, the hearth, the fire, the flame.

Such is hope: folly to the “wise.”

10 thoughts on “Futile Wisdom, Clever Folly

  1. diannegray says:

    It’s very sad to know that entire languages and cultures have been lost because of those ‘wise’ ones. But it’s wonderful and inspiring to hear that these cultures are now celebrated and encouraged xxx

    • agjorgenson says:

      Yes, indeed. Canada and Australia share some same sad stories, although they are also each different in some important ways. What is most important, however, is that change is in the air and on the ground!

  2. shoreacres says:

    The post I’m currently working on involves buffalo, and while I’m not concerned specifically with the decimation of the herds because of human greed and thoughtlessness, I am reminded that when the buffalo disappeared, so did a way of life.

    Today, as the commercial and conservation herds of bison continue to rebuild, it seems interesting that a parallel growth of respect for indigenous cultures is taking place. Personally, I think some of the political correctness in the US is laughable and irrelevant. Changing the name of a football team from Redskins to – whatever – isn’t going to affect attitudes of the prejudiced. In fact, the loss of such traditions hardens attitudes in some respects.

    But helping to make cultures more accessible, and teaching about their significance is something else. We need more of it – much more – if we’re going to learn to dance.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Yes, thanks for your thoughts. We really do need to move beyond PC if significant change is to occur. I think it needs to involve rubbing shoulders with our neighors – indigenous and not.

  3. Diane Rivers says:

    Amazing – and sad – how quickly “assimilation” turns to injustice and indignity. Sad, too, that people have done this to each other throughout history.

    I love the vivid image of the young man dancing as a “bird, nesting a world”. I can imagine the scene. We should all be so free as to dance our way into life. Powerful, thoughtful post, as always.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the nesting picture! I am learning much from my indigenous neighbors as I learn about them. it is a rich, although sometimes very sad, journey. On the other hand, there are always moments of intense joy.

  4. jannatwrites says:

    I find it rather ironic that assimilation was instituted by newcomers to the land. I would think that the newcomers should assimilate to the ways of the inhabitants of the land. I’ve lived in the southwestern US for most of my life and have seen many pow wows of Navajo tribes. It is fascinating (mesmerizing) to watch!

    • agjorgenson says:

      I agree. At choir tonight we sang a song based on a speech from Chief Seattle, in which he tells us that we cannot own the earth, and that all things are connected in a web so that all things impact one another. The fellow beside me leaned over and said; “And to think that our ancestors called them savages!”

  5. I love the connection of the dance to the holy and powerful divine foolishness of 1 Corinthians. Thanks for the powerful images.

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