Friday, September 16, 2005

The Four Gaels: Re-Weaving The Diaspora with the Homeland

The Four Gaels:

Re-Weaving The Diaspora with the Homeland

She seemed shocked that I’d suggest it.

It had actually seemed like a good idea.

“We have our own elders,” she said firmly. “We should be connecting youth with them instead of bring in people from the outside.”

It made sense.

I was in the car with a Frances MacEachern, a prominent Gaelic activist in Nova Scotia. We’d been talking about the importance of youth involvement and the importance of traditional elders.

I’d suggested bring in Tom Cowan, author of Celtic Shamanism. I’d been to a workshop with him and found him to be a grounded, non-new agey elder of the Celtic tradition. The real deal if you will.

It has got me thinking though about the differences between the types of celts and gaels out there.

I’m seeing three main groups: the Community Gael (not Celt), the Individual Celt and the Clan Gael (plus, I suppose the Tourist Celt).

I’m seeing real differences between them. Differences that often go unexpressed, lead to the kind of misunderstandings and hidden assumptions that were exposed in my conversation with Frances.

I would have to classify myself mostly in the “individual celt” group.

Each group has its range of folks. The Individual Celt goes from the legit folks like Frank MacEowen, John and Caitlin Matthews and Tom Cowan to new agey, pagan, dress up in robes, "celtic tantra" etc.

boo.

These are my thoughts on the groups:

The Community Gael

· Retains the culture and language and many aspects of their culture but struggles within the Suicide Economy

· Lives in a community that loses more gaelic speaking elders and tradition bearers every year.

· Is searching for a way forward (and young ones just want a way OUT)

· Is not sovereign in their use of the resources

· Is mandated to send their kids to English, state run education – forced to play into the system – but want to retain their culture

· Feels compelled to leave the old world behind to survive in the new one.

· Feels that they are the real Gaels as they still speak the language and live on ancestral land. They really see other 3 groups as outsiders.

· Still lives on ancestral lands

· Still speaks language

· Lives in a community where gaelic is still spoken

· Is more often musically talented than those outside the community

· Knows some Gaelic songs

· Is most likely Christian (catholic or Protestant) in their orientation

· Is very focused on their present circumstances

· Is very focused on the present and struggle with the relevance of their culture and history in today’s world. Many have decided it’s NOT relevant.

· Listens to oral folk stories

· has not questioned their own “colonization” to much of an extent.

· Increasingly feels that “that’s all in the past now” – that their history and cultural/spiritual wisdom isn’t of much use today. it seems irrelevant.

The Individual Celt:

· “celticism” is an abstract concept here, not rooted to any place

· Celticism something to study and practice vs. participate in.

· has a strong feeling of wanting to go back to the “celtic twilight”

· feels that they embody the “real” spirituality and traditional ways of the Celts.

· is largely – if not entirely - Ignorant to the economic realities & direct lineage of oppression & colonization the Community Gael dealt with

· doesn’t speak Gaelic

· doesn’t live in a community where gaelic is still spoken

· reads books on druidry, shamanism and wicca

· have likely gone to workshops on “celtic spirituality”

· are largely “pagan” or “animistic” in their beliefs

· are very into the PRE Christian era of celtic history and see Christianity as a form of oppression from the outside that destroyed – or sought to destroy - much of the culture

· have an assumption that all Gaels want to live in an indigenous, earth based, clan based community and would if they weren’t prevented by outside forces

· enjoys Celtic history as a “personal interest”

Clan Gael

· Goes to highland games

· Reads the Outlander series

· Doesn’t speak Gaelic

· Wears tartan, kilts, clan badges etc.

· Very interested in family history in an abstract way – geneology.

· Doesn’t speak Gaelic – though they like the notion of being able to.

· Most often doesn’t live in a community where gaelic is still spoken

· Is very into the Lordship of the Isles era – they see those as the Glory days of the Gaels.

The Tourist Celt

· Self explanatory

Some Important Points:

1. There are strong divisions between these groups: What strikes me is how divorced these groups are from each other – despite the identical ancestry - and how little support the Individual Celts and Clan Gaels give to the living breathing communities of the Community Gaels. It is important to note how “Celtic History” has become an abstract, personal interest vs. a living political and economic reality.

    1. The difference between individuals and communities is critical: The same day of my conversation with Frances I was in a car on the winding roads of Cape Breton with Rob, a Gaelic activist in Scotland. His eight year old son sat in the back. “The question is not “will the Gaelic die off” in his life time,” he said nodding towards his son. “I’m not worried about that. There will likely still be learners. The real question is “will there be any Gaelic speaking communities left?”

    1. Each group has an important role: I think that there are likely powerful roles for the Clan Gael and Individual Celts to play – not the least of which is as FUNDERS to the work of the Community Gael.

4. The Future of Gaelic Community is Outside “The System”: And it is also getting clearer to me that the future for the Community Gael will not be found in the suicide economy and in “joining the system” but rather in creating its OWN conscious, locally based economy. I think there is actually a profound opportunity for the Gaelic community to step to the forefront of the conscious economy movement.

    1. I think what can or could unite these three or four is, let's call it, "the search for ancient wisdom."

I see that core desire - perhaps worded differently or felt to varying degrees in all for groups - the "being pulled" to something more real. i'm reading this book of Gaelic proverbs and what keeps striking me is how wise and true so many of them are. i was going to say ALL of them are but i think this is the generational challenge to weed out what isn't affirming of life and foster the growth of what is.

As Tom Cowan put it “The search is both intellectual and personal, or can be. It's not unlike searching the Tao Te Ching for both Chinese wisdom and a way to live your life. Or Plato for that matter, or medieval Catholic mystics. Ancient wisdom transcends time and place and if taken seriously demands rigorous study, practice,commitment. It doesn't depend on what blood flows through your veins or what language you speak (although the language is a major help in understanding the ancient and wise mind and heart).”

    1. Individuals from each category meeting others from other categories is the main way that these divisions will be bridged.

There is an important challenge of understanding for us to bridge these gaps in Celtic experience. Probably only real people will do it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Fear and Loathing on the Celtic Fringe - A University Paper from 2004/2005

There were once two kingdoms: One had become very powerful but dead inside -- rumor had it that they had once been happy and alive like their neighbour but that - as their power grew - they had become twisted with time. It was said that they had become strong on the outside but weak on the inside. They were also said to have an endless hunger for more power. So, eventually, after they had conquered their own people they attacked and defeated their neighbour. But the King was not satisfied. He did not just want their lands and their labour – he wanted their hearts as well. He called on his wizard, but his wizard told him that it was beyond his power to take the hearts of other men "Then,” said the King. “you will put a spell on them – you will wipe their minds clean of who they were – you will make them forget. And what memories you cannot erase . . .” the King paused, looking out his window at his newly conquered land. “ . . . make them hate.” The wizard said, "But, if I do this, there will be a great confusion -- they won't know who they are." The King plucked a hair from his head and gave it to the wizard "put this in your brew... and make them want to be just like us...”

Why We Aren’t On The Map

"The most powerful tool in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."

Stephen Biko

The job of the oppressor isn’t done until you hate yourself enough to take over their job of abusing you.

Self hatred is a subtle thing. It’s not something people wear on patches sewn to their bags or tattoos on their biceps. But it’s real. And the Celts have, over all, come to hate themselves. Or, as they might word it, they have come to hate who they were. Or, more distantly, who their ancestors were once upon a time, far, far away . . . but hatred felt long enough no longer feels like hatred. It can come to feel like resignation and helplessness. It can begin to feel normal – “that’s just the way it is”.

For example:

I was looking at a map of indigenous people from around the world. There were a lot more than I had thought – over 7000 indigenous groups representing about 5% of the world’s population *– in every area of the world . . . except Europe. There’s only one indigenous group listed for Europe – the Sami of Finland.

Now my ancestors, the Celts, come from Europe. One could certainly say that they were (and perhaps are still – this is the sticking point) one of the indigenous peoples of Europe.

The Celts, however, were nowhere to be seen on the map. At some point, they seem to have been erased. Certainly, they would have been on such a map two thousand years ago – even, arguably, 250 years ago. But, at some point, that name (and more disturbingly that concept of Celts as indigenous) was erased. Or, more realistically, it probably happened over time. But happen it did. I know because I looked and I couldn’t find us anywhere. I could find where our people are – or, more distantly, our descendants are. But I couldn’t find the “indigenous people” called the Celts. In its place, unwritten, are “white people” and “Europeans”, “French”, “Germans” , “Scottish”, “Irish” and “English”.

We got erased.

But who was holding the pencil?

I’m beginning to fear that it was us.

* * *

"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

Milan Kundera, (Jensen p, 345)

“No matter how many miles or how many years separate a person from their homeland, we still carry the village in our hearts. Something of this spark is always passed on.”

Malidoma Some

It took me a while to piece it together that the Celts hate themselves.

Certainly, the opening monologue of a character in the cult classic movie version of Irving Welsh’s book Trainspotting is not exactly the most subtle of indicators: “It’s shite being Scottish. Some people hate the English; I don’t. They’re just wankers, but we were colonized by wankers. We couldn’t even find a descent country to be colonized by.”

I don’t think this self hatred is absolute. Scotland, to its own utter surprise and slight embarrassment, loved Braveheart. When the Stone of Destiny was repatriated by a bunch of university students Scotland shocked itself with the flush of pride and defiance it still felt.

Some part of us remembers where we came from and won’t be erased. Maps be damned.

So, the self hatred isn’t complete, but it’s deeper than we think.

But let’s back up.

It’s no great surprise that England – the first on the British isles to lose its indigenous identity to the Romans would move to subdue its neighbours. And, therefore, no great surprise that Scotland – their closest neighbour bore the brunt of the violence. Sometimes the schoolyard bully just hits whoever’s closest who has a lunch they want. If you happen to have a great lunch and you’re the closest you either will give up your lunch or get pounded. Nothing personal, really. And, it’s no great surprise that centuries of abuse and degradation have left deep scars. I suppose that there’s even no great surprise that, when given the choice between more violence and conformity, the masses eventually chose to live as the colonizers. No great surprise that Scottish mothers who loved their children – like African mothers who would viciously chastise their children to stamp out any sign of rebelliousness (to save their lives) - increasingly raised them to be subservient and follow the rules. For the African mother it was a matter of their child surviving – they would be killed if they showed the least sign of rebelliousness. For the Scottish mother it was a matter of whether the child would fail or thrive in the new culture.

And, who wants their child to grow up a poor outcast?

Of course, one might be tempted to say, “That’s all in the past. Where’s the self hatred you’re talking about? Bad things happen to good people and you get over it.”

WHO DO YOU TRUST?

People who have been abused often have a very hard time advocating for their own rights, their self esteem, their belief in themselves and the value of their own ideas and experiences. Fundamental to the success of any abuser is the ability to which the abused stops trusting their own inner wisdom but begins to trust outer authority.

Consider white people’s incredible fear of conflict -- the fear of people being mad at us. Now, white people wouldn’t say they are afraid of conflict. But, then again, the fish were the last to discover water. Many people of colour notice this pattern strongly. There is a fear of discussing some issues. "Oh don't say that!" Deeply rooted in us is a fear of disapproval. But why do we care so much what other people think? Is it possible that we have come to value the opinions of others more than out own? That we have come to trust the perspectives or outer authorities over our own inherent, inner wisdom?

When you no longer believe in yourself, your ability to stand up for your own rights and opinions is crushed. This can also result in a sort of passive aggressive behavior. It has, to use a small example, become common place to go to meetings and not honestly express our frustrations or appreciations with each other but then go home and really let loose with all of our complaints -- but never to the persons face.

After all, what would they think?

On the surface, people say it’s about being “nice” or “polite” or not wanting to the seem "ungrateful” (which is very, very different from wanting to be gracious out of love). But it’s really not about them. It’s about us. We are afraid that people don’t like us; that they will disapprove. And that’s only a problem because we don’t like who we are. But when one likes oneself and respects oneself one stands up for oneself. One doesn’t fear conflict (or seek it out). One doesn’t fear speaking one’s truth.

Consider the response given by Oisin to St. Patrick when he was asked "What was it that sustained the Fianna through all of their battles?" Oisin replied that it was "The truth in our hearts, the strength in our arms and the promise on our lips."

Crucial to them was the ability to know what their own truth was and to trust it. This was a hallmark of a warrior: to know the truth and to speak nothing but the truth.

Things have changed since then, we live in a day and age where, arguably, we no longer embody any of those qualities to any great degree. One might even say that our very society is based on their opposites: self deception, laziness, lies and over-promising.

But of course, this sort of wisdom is “outdated” our ancestral cultures were “backwards” and best left “in the past” because we “need to move forward” and “join the world”.Deep down we believe that the way our ancestors lived was primitive, less-developed and, somehow, not as good as the way we live now.

A fellow student once told me of her Gaelic speaking friend who, when she attempted to impress him with her newly learned Gaelic over dinner, was abruptly and forcefully interrupted with the words "don't you speak that at the table!"

It would seem that we still have the eraser in our hand.

SCOTLAND DOESN’T FEEL WELL TODAY:

Of course, if the modern way of living really was better – there would hardly be a problem. But it isn’t. Not only is it destroying the natural world, based on the slavery of millions and the exploitation of millions more . . . it doesn’t even feel good. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer, for those of Scottish descent, than in the home country.

“In the most detailed study of health and wellbeing under taken, the affluent oil capital (Aberdeen) was said to have a level of suicide and self-harm 75% higher than the national average.

The figures make Aberdeen Central the self-harm and suicide blackspot of Europe. Already, the UK is known to be the continent’s worst area for recorded instances of self-harm and Scotland’s level of suicides are known to be much higher than south of the Border.

Each year in the UK more than 24,000 teenagers are admitted to hospital after deliberately harming themselves. But only a small proportion – around 13% – of self-harm episodes are thought to result in a hospital visit. Previous, smaller-scale research found that people who self-harm were more anxious, depressed and had lower self-esteem than those who don’t.” (McDougal)

The situation is bad and it isn’t improving.

The suicide rate amongst men in Scotland is now 75% higher than it was at the start of the 1970s. Currently over 600 people kill themselves every year and there are around 10,000 admissions to hospital following episodes of deliberate self-harm.” (Reducing Suicide Rates in Scotland)

I’ve had a number of friends who have attempted, or wanted strongly to, attempt suicide. A hallmark of all of them was an incredibly, overwhelming sense that they were worthless a feeling that they were “a waste of space”. What if suicide was a form of erasing not only our pain . . . but ourselves?

"It is through the legacy of this cultural colonialism that many Gaels internalized a sense of inferiority and lost the conviction to carry their language and culture forward to a new generation. The effects of accepting a subordinate, inferior status can be seen in the entire nation. Scottish teenagers are, according to the 1997 World Health Organization survey, the least self-confident and most prone to depression in Western Europe. Without self-esteem, a society cannot make sacrifices and toil together, recover from crises and imagine a better future for itself and work towards it."

(Newton, Handbook, 32)

That the Hebrides have some of the heaviest drinking in Britain is no secret. My own family has a history of alcoholism. The alcoholism exists, perhaps not coincidentally, on the side that most recently came from Scotland.

Christine Grahame a member of the Scottish Parliament from the South of Scotland and she had strong words for her fellow M.P.’s in January of 2000: “There are 200,000 people in Scotland who misuse alcohol.” but, as she points out, over the last 25 years the rate of deaths caused directly as a result of alcohol has jumped over five times for men and over seven times for women. But even these figures are, “gross understatements, as they refer only to cases in which the death certificate records the death as an alcohol death. There is also an increase, up to 64 per cent, in the number of children in the 12 to 15 age category who partake of alcohol. More important, the number of units that they are taking has doubled.”

To put it simply: they’re drinking younger and their drinking more. To make matters worse, we’re probably only aware of a fraction of it because of “the time lag in the production of statistics, all those figures will be understated. We are well aware that, because of the social acceptability of taking alcohol, much of it goes on, hidden, at home. Like cocaine addiction, alcohol abuse and addiction takes place at all levels in society. Unlike cocaine addiction, it is socially acceptable. One third of general hospital beds contain patients who have an alcohol problem. All indicators—liver disease, suicides, accidental deaths, and so on—demonstrate that alcoholism in Scotland is 60 per cent to 40 per cent greater than in England.”(underline mine).

But what if these increasing numbers of those struggling with alcoholism is really increasing numbers of people attempting to self medicate their depression? What if we are drinking to forget in a deeper sense than we had thought? Maybe we stimulate ourselves because there’s something we’re trying not to see – that it shouldn’t be this way.

In researching this paper I kept struggling with the question of how this all started. Then I ran across an article in Transition Magazine by Donna McCloskey which said it clearer than I’d ever heard it.

“To find the roots of addiction, we must look at what psychoanalyst Eric Erikson called “psychosocial integration.” All children are intensely motivated to maintain close social bonds with their parents, and with other caregivers and family members. Unless this drive is badly thwarted, older children and adults later extend their social bonds to friends, school-mates, and co-workers, and to recreational, ethnic, religious, or other groups. Erikson saw this as a life-long struggle to achieve psychosocial integration, a state in which people flourish both as individuals and as members of their culture. Psychosocial integration is essential for every person in every type of society; it makes life bearable, even joyful at times.

Insufficient psychosocial integration can be called “dislocation.” When severe, prolonged dislocation is forced on people—through ostracism, excommunication, exile, or solitary confinement—it is so hard to endure that it has been used as a dire punishment since ancient times. If severe enough, dislocation often leads to suicide.

Dislocation can arise from a natural disaster that destroys homes, or from a debilitating accident or illness that bars a person from fully participating in society. It can be inflicted by violence, as when masses of people are driven from their territory, or when a child is so abused that he or she shrinks from all human contact. It can be inflicted without violence, as when a parent instills in a child an unrealistic sense of superiority that makes the child insufferable to others. It can even be voluntarily chosen, for example, in the single-minded pursuit of wealth.

No matter the cause, the pain of severe dislocation provokes a desperate response. Dislocated people struggle to find or restore psychosocial integration—to somehow “get a life.”

The historical correlation between severe dislocation and addiction is strong. Alcoholism gradually spread with the beginnings of free markets after 1500, and eventually became a raging epidemic with the dominance of free-market society after 1800. Opium use, which had been unproblematic in England for centuries, was first perceived as a widespread addiction problem in the nineteenth century. Other kinds of addiction spread too, from aspirin addiction to workaholism.

The highlands of Scotland provide an example of the dislocating effects of free markets on traditional society. Until the late eighteenth century, highlands clan society was little touched by free markets. After the British defeated the Scots at Culloden in 1746, the British government began to systematically destroy highlands society, and the free market completed the destruction. The evictions that ensued were so vast in scope that they came to be known as “clearances.” For thousands, the only option was to emigrate to Canada or elsewhere.

Alcoholism in the highlands is poorly documented. Distilled liquor was abundant and part of clan life, but I can find no mention of it as a problem. In the aftermath of the clearances, however, alcoholism became a significant problem.

The history of Canadian Aboriginals presents another example of dislocation leading to addiction. Before they were devastated by Europeans, all native cultures in Canada provided a level of psychosocial integration unknown to modern people. But the British and Canadian governments’ policy of assimilation aimed to move Aboriginal lands into the real estate market and Aboriginal people into the labour market. One notorious instrument of the policy was the “residential school” where children, often forcibly taken from their parents, were taught to despise their own language and customs.

Although some Canadian Indians developed a taste for drunkenness when the Europeans first introduced alcohol, for a long time many abstained, or drank only moderately or as part of tribal rituals. It was not until assimilation that alcoholism emerged as a crippling and almost universal problem for native people, along with suicide, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and so forth.

A popular explanation for the widespread alcoholism of Canadian Indians is the idea of a racial inability to handle alcohol. But this seems unlikely, given that alcoholism only became widespread once assimilation subjected them to extreme dislocation. Moreover, if Aboriginals have a “gene for alcoholism,” the same must be said of Europeans, since they too almost inevitably become alcoholics when subjected to extreme dislocation in the vast Canadian wilderness.”

As one of my professors at University pointed out, "They are in between two worlds, with one foot in one and one in the other -- they have had their culture torn from them."

These are people engaged in a seismic scale cultural shift every bit as unnerving as a level 9 earthquake.

“Defining what colonization means is difficult because dictionaries define colonization without including in its meaning the effects of it. The effects of it are truly what define it. One way of explaining colonization is that it is the act of possessing or inhabiting a distant land by a group of emigrants or their descendants. What this does not explain is how these lands were colonized and what effects the colonization had on the indigenous people whose land was being settled. This is my concern—the effects of the colonization on the Indigenous people of this land, the land itself, and the colonizers. Duran and Duran (1995) explain in detail how devastating the effects of colonization and western-minded thought and behavior have had and continue to have on Native American communities. Problems such as alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, intergenerational genocide, posttraumatic stress disorder and internalized oppressions to name a few.” (Noel 75-76)

Consider what has changed over the past two thousand years for the Celts (with a sharp acceleration and intensification in the past 250 years):

  1. The physical relocation from the land to cities -- first forced and later voluntary

  1. The forced virtual extermination of their language (that grew out of and was shaped by geography from which they came).

  1. The introduction of the Christian Religion – the sharp separation of spirit and matter, the introduction of such ideas as: Heaven, Hell and original sin.

  1. A 180 degree shift in the leader's role from being a protector and provider married to the Lady of the Land to being a political chief, to being a land-lord to being an absentee owner.

  1. The shift in values towards "progress" and “modernist values”.

  1. The decision making authority of how they live their lives is no longer in their hands.

  1. There has been a deep psychic shift from trusting themselves to trusting others.

  1. Even the landscape has changed entirely from being a well populated forest to a largely deforested country.

  1. The shift from communities of geography to communities of affinity. Connection is no longer found with those people who live close to you but amongst those people who share your interests. (e.g. my housemates and i have lived together for almost a year but we haven't once shared a meal together. We share the same bathroom, fridge, cupboards, stove and washer and dryer. We secretly pilfer each others food. We sometimes watch TV together and occasionally talk and hang out)

  1. Perhaps the most staggering shift has been the development of compulsory state run education/schooling vs. education within community as a part of living.

  1. And most importantly: All of this was done first by outsiders but now it is being maintained and is perpetuated by themselves.

How to Destroy a Culture With One Simple Move:

Imagine that you live on a tabletop.

The tabletop represents the culture in which you live. When the table top is stable, your community feels safe. The ground beneath you is firm. You are held up. If the table has enough legs and pounding on the table produces little result. That table is very resistant to oppression. Like a drum -- the harder you beat of the louder it gets.

The institutions of the culture – the song, dance, stories, ceremonies and rituals are the legs of the table. The more legs the table has the stronger it is. In the Celtic world these institutions would have been things like: fiddling, piping, poetry, the Druidic and Bardic order, dancing halls, ceilidhs, seasonal fire festivals, storytelling, and traditional education.

(Talking about the arts, dances, ceremonies etc.) "It seems to me that within societies that suppress peoples experience of these forms, whether the suppression's economic or ideological, the function and coping ability of the people within those societies begins to break down." (Jensen, Listening, 295)

The table can be broken with brute force but that requires the time and effort of a virtual genocide. But, if you can remove the legs one by one, the tabletop can become incredibly unstable and the slightest wind feels like an earthquake for those living on it. If you remove enough legs it will eventually fall on its own or with the lightest of taps and then the pieces can be rebuilt into whatever form the oppressor should choose.

"once people are taught to despise the modes of thinking, customs and prejudices of their ancestors, and consider as barbarism and vulgarity all that in their childhood they were accustomed to regard is excellent and elegant -- the whole Web of thought and feeling is unraveled, and cannot be readily or easily made up in a new form." (Grant 1811, 126)

But this metaphor isn’t totally accurate. For one, a table isn’t alive. So perhaps a web is a better metaphor. But also, it doesn’t speak to the intergenerational nature of these issues. For example, it’s been well documented that when various organisms (from sea sponges to human beings) are subjected to high stress situations there are clear biological symptoms and affects they exhibit. This is not surprising. What is surprising is that their off-spring – who were never directly subjected to the stress -- exhibit many of the same symptoms.

Indigenous cultures are incredibly interdependent webs of relations. The colonizers job is to break that Web and reduce people to a state of dependence on them. The oppressed must be made to need the oppressor. Those abused must be made to rely upon the abuser.

And, assuming the colonizers don't just kill everybody, the survivors will likely go through a predictable pattern of response:

  1. Resistance

  1. Dependence (but with resentment and mourning and helplessness)

  1. The sense of being torn in two

  1. Assimilation/Reclaiming – at this point individuals and communities must choose whether they will leave the old ways behind or reclaim their roots (but this is usually only possible once one's community is no longer seen as a threat to the dominant power. Plus, once community is sufficiently broken all that may be possible as for people to reclaim their roots as individuals. There is an old Gaelic say that says "a person by himself is not a person" which raises the question. Is it also true that "a Celt by themselves is not a Celt"?

Can’t Get a Witness - Why The Community Doesn’t Care:

It would, of course, be understandable to think that things are going better than ever for the Celts. There has been a boom in all things Celtic. But what isn’t so obvious is what this boom is covering. We’re faced with two problems that go largely unseen:

  1. First, the recent massive increase of interest in “all things Celtic” is largely an illusion. The expressions of Celtic culture are thriving but the cultures that birthed them are dying. The promised land of this Celtic Revival seems to be a mirage. Not that the communities in Celtic countries ever particularly bought into the revival – except to make money off of it. People go to their Highland games, their ceilidhs and read their books on Celtic shamanism and spirituality -- they engage in the superficial relationship with the trappings of the culture all the while ignoring the fact that the culture itself is dying... and may not survive. One wonders if this fascination with the trappings of the culture, and our studying it in isolation, will leave us all admiring the beauty of a star in the night sky -- long after the star itself is burned-out.

  1. Secondly, the majority of the communities themselves don’t seem to be very interested in preserving much of anything of the past. Again, one wonders if this will leave us all admiring the beauty of a star in the night sky -- long after the star itself is burned-out.

Because no one thought the star was worth saving.

The Three Opponents We Face:

All great stories are, at their core, about the journey from slavery to freedom.

A core theme in the mythical journey of the Heroes quest is that of the “worthy opponent”. First, the hero sets out on some quest. The hero is then beset upon by various opponents that test their commitment to their quest. And these opponents usually come in three forms: the external opponent, the intimate opponent and the internal opponent.

And a hero can only be initiated by an opponent. The greater the opponent the greater the hero. Perhaps this is why Caesar gave such a glowing and appreciative appraisal of the Celts as warriors. The more worthy his opponent – the more worthy his victory.

“The greater the obstable the more glory in overcoming it.”

Jean Baptiste Moliere

If the protagonist succeeds in facing these three opponents they become a hero – they succeed. If they do not, they fail and we have a tragedy on our hands. I remember my high school English teacher Mr. Carson pointing out the difference between the tragic/tragos and the pathetic/pathos – in the pathetic stories you knew the hero was doomed to failure from the beginning (e.g. The Hunchback of Notre Dame . . . not the Disney version) but in a tragic story it could have been different. There was a point at which the hero could have turned back, but they choose not to.

And, perhaps it is easy to think of what is happening in this world as somehow inevitable – that people are a bad animal and what else could you expect from them? Many have come to see humanity as a virus or cancer spreading over the face of the earth. They consider our situation to be a pathetic situation – full of pathos.

But, what the world really has on its hands is a tragedy.

We not doomed to this. Despite Margaret Thatcher’s adamancy that “There is no alternative” there are thousands of alternatives. There are many, many ways to live in this world. Western Civilization is not the inevitable and inexorciable drive of history. We did not naturally evolve to this point as humanity. We chose this path. More to the point – a few forced this fate onto the many at the end of a sword, or gun . . . or missile. We are not doomed to this. We are not doomed to this. This is what makes it tragic – it could have been different. But, the story isn’t over yet. Humanity’s tale is not yet complete – it is up to us to decide how and when it ends – as a heroic tale or as a tragedy?

"I am in blood

Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o'er."

Macbeth III, iv, 136

Oppression: The External Opponent

"The Indian must be made to feel he is in the grasp of a superior." -- Massachusetts clergyman George E. Ellis, 1882(Hughes 73)

My friend Paula Noel, of Irish descent, has been one of the first to point out that little has been written exploring the impacts of colonization on white people, on westerners – but found stunning parallels when she did comparisons between her own Irish history and that of African Americans.

“The most cogent statement of the psychology of decolonization comes from the African American writer Kenneth Stamp, who studied the documents of slave owners in the South. Stamp presents the five stages slave owners used to enslave human consciousness. As an experiment, I substituted the terms Irish and British/Roman where Stamp used Negro and White.

1. Establish and maintain strict discipline with unconditional submission. The [Irish] should know that the [British/Roman] is to govern absolutely and he is to obey implicitly. That he is never for a moment to exercise either his will or judgment in opposition to a positive order.

2. Implant in the [Irish] a consciousness of personal inferiority, “to know and keep their places” to “feel the difference between the [British/Roman] and the [Irish]. To feel that ancestry taints and that color is a badge of degradation.

3. Awe them with a sense of the [British/Roman] enormous power. “The only principle upon which slavery/colonization can be maintained is the principle of fear. We have to rely more and more on the power of fear.”

4. Persuade the [Irish] to take an interest in the [British/Roman] enterprise and to accept his standards of good conduct. “The colonizer should make it his business to show his [Irish] that the advancement of his individual interest is the same time an advancement of theirs. Once they feel this, it will require little compulsion to make them act as becomes them.”

5. To impress [Irish] with their helplessness, to create in them a habit of perfect dependence upon their colonizers.

(Noel 71-72)

It could be tempting to think that Paula Noel’s thinking is a stretch. That the situations are too different. But oppression and colonization, unfortunately, follows similar patterns wherever you find it. The British understood it, the Nazi’s understood it, the CIA understands it, pimps teach these things to each other. The attitude of the ruling class in England (or Scotland or Ireland) to those who were different from them, to those who were, or could be, in their way, was no great mystery.

“The Scottish crown did not passively accept the continuing existence of a separate culture in the north. When James I and VI convoked and assembly of clansmen on Iona in 1609, the resulting statutes urged island landowners to submit at least one child for schooling in English, a policy backed strongly by the Privy Council in 1616, which demanded that "the vulgar Inglische toung be universallie plantit and the Irische language . . . abolisheit and removeit." While verbal declarations that little in practice, they set in stone official attitudes to the Gaelic language that the Islanders would eventually internalize. It was universally associated with "barbarity and ignorance" and seen as an obstacle to the formation of a unified British state.” (Tanner 52)

And these attitudes found there way onto the ground in many forms. But perhaps none is clearer than the school system in the transparency of its hatred.

“As in Ireland, many parents who barely spoke a word of English supported the systematic punishment of their children for failure to use English. These punishments were public and often deeply humiliating. Of the teacher in Glenurquart parish school, it was recalled:

He made it his duty after the opening prayer to hand the boys a roughly carved piece of wood... the boy transferred it to the first pupil who was heard speaking Gaelic. That offender got rid of it by delivering to the next, who in turn placed it in the hand of the next again... at the close of the day it was called for by Mr. Kerr. The child who happened to possess it was severely flogged.

These kinds of punishments did not die out as the century progressed." (Tanner 52-53)

Betrayal - The Intimate Opponent:

Sometime the betrayals which cut the deepest come from those closest to us.

Findlay MacLeod, one of Scotland’s leading Gaelic language activists once told me "the grand parents often stop passing on Gaelic even when their grandkids go to university to learn Gaelic -- they figure that the university Gaelic is probably better -- they don't want to screw their grandkids up." Even in the most intimate of matters, they have come to trust those in positions of power.

Of course, for a long time British attitudes about the inferiority of the Gaelic language and culture found little purchase amongst the Gaels. They came, after all, from the British. They were disregarded. The Gaels had little time for the religion or politics of the south. But a crucial turning point came when those criticisms were delivered in their own language by their own people – at that point, the audience was listening. No longer was the message of the inadequacy of the Gaels coming from without – but within from their own Chiefs, Ministers, teachers and poets. The modernist world view no longer seemed to be some “outsider thing”. But poison is poison no what package it comes in. Some Gaelic poetry of the early 1700s,

" . . . encouraged Gaels to internalized the English-speaking world's prejudice that they were a barbaric society and a missionary field just as savage and primitive as native America. While this had been the outside view of the Highlands, Gaels had previously rejected it because they held English speakers in disdain. Now, however, the sense of inferiority was accepted as a consequence of the Faustian bargain of incorporation into greater England." (Newton, Indians 232)

An English translation of this Gaelic poetry, celebrating the spread of the Gospel around the world equated, very unflattering, the former “barbaric state” of the Highlands with other “pagan lands”.

"The Gaels were ignorant and blind

Learning was scarce in their midst

Their knowledge was so slim and slow

That they could not judge their loss..."

(Newton, Indians, 233)

But it’s important to pause here. It would, after all, be tempting to make this about the English and blame it all on them. But this is a much older and bigger game than that. Here’s the short story: The Romans colonized the continent and then stuck it to the English. The English Oppressed the rest of the Celts and all of them came over to North America to oppress the Aboriginal people here. Oppression: the gift that keeps on giving. It’s not about the English. It’s about two different worldviews: one based on the virtue of accumulating and hording wealth and the other based on sharing it. One based one centralizing power and the other based on distributing it. Accumulation vs. allocation.

It’s also not about the British for a second, and perhaps more important reason. Often some of the deepest injustices inflicted were not done by the outsiders.

"Few nationalisms do not incorporate a wound. The icon of national identity is not complete without the scar left by a foreign sword.... Scotland can finger such scars, almost all of them the work of English over the centuries. But, remarkably, the Scots are not obsessed by the evil which others have done to them. Instead, the iconic wounds are self-inflicted ones: the massacre of Glencoe, the battle of Culloden (perceived accurately enough is the last act of the Civil War within Scotland, even though the core of the army which defeated the Jacobites was English), and the Highland Clearances.... it is often assumed "down south" that the Highland estate owners who drove out people and replaced them with sheep must have been English aristocrats and plutocrats, and that the Scots hate English for it. But, with a few exceptions, the clearing landlords were not incomers from south of the border. They were traditional clan chiefs, Highland gentlemen or lowland capitalists and speculators. Scots cleared other Scots, and the Scots know it.... The "other", the aggressor whose black crime sets off the angelic whiteness of national essence, is not out there but in here." (Ascherson 174-175)

For example, the Patronage Act of 1712 gave the government the power to appoint ministers, a feature of which the rich landlords were behind. After all, like the U.S. President’s power to appoint the Supreme Court Judges, this one decision had far reaching implications. If you had religious control of the people, and one can’t underestimate the power of religion in that particular place and time, then you also had political control. So, a particular breed of sympathetic ministers were appointed and “radical” ministers – who might rock the boat and actually oppose the policies of the government, were not.

These were ministers who would carefully craft messages that would encourage assimilation into the new way of life offered up by the British and who would condemn anything that smacked of traditions that might lead to free-thinking or the possibility of rebellion. For example, the Ossianic tales and ballads were very popular amongst the people. Not so amongst the clergy. Consider that the Fianna lived in the wilderness unchecked by Christian principles, warring with enemies and enjoying long hunting expeditions for exotic game. They lived “outside” the very system into which the priests had been paid to bring people.

"Such was the popularity of this secular material that the clergy periodically attempted to discourage it, such as when the introduction to the Gaelic translation of the book of common order (1567) warn people about their sins in preferring the "vain hurtful lying worldly tales composed about... Fionn mac Cumhaill with his warriors." (Newton, Indians, 237)

During the clearances there were ministers who would, with a straight face, tell their flock that they were being sent off of their land because they had sinned against God. What is so puzzling about the clearances is how quietly many of the Highlanders left. As Neal Ascherson puts it, there were many possible reasons such as

" . . . the preaching of Presbyterian ministers who warned their flocks not to resist what must be there will of the Lord; the failure to develop any alternative leadership when the clan hierarchy abandoned its duty of protection; above all, perhaps, the hopelessness of resistance when the consequences would probably be mass arrests of the men and separation from their women and children who would be packed off to Canada on their own.... On a much slighter scale, there a are echoes here of the moral agony inflicted on the post Holocaust Jewish generations by the fact that most Jewish communities in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe went quietly to the slaughter, urged by their own leaders to board the trains and lorries without a struggle." (Ascherson 209-210)

The bitter irony in all of this is that there was actually a higher survival rate amongst those Jews who participated in the Warsaw ghetto uprising than amongst those who went along. And, make no mistake, we’re still going along.

“And there are modern reasons why some Scots resist our language. Some Tories and other Unionists still see Gaelic as a bulwark for Scottish independence. And the neo-liberals view all minority languages as a barrier to the free expansion of global consumer-culture.

This leaves Gaelic in a vulnerable position today. On the one hand, Gaelic is experiencing an unprecedented revival. Gaelic is again being taught in schools in the Highlands and even in the urban areas of the Central Belt. There is a successful Gaelic college on the Island of Skye, and Gaelic-language radio and TV is broadcast throughout Scotland. On the other hand, the old biases remain and stand in the way of a serious renewal of the language. Only 2% of Scots have any proficiency in Gaelic and each year, five Gaelic speakers pass away for each new person who acquires the language.” (http://www.millahuilerud.com/what.html)

Self Hatred - The Internal Opponent:

All great heroes must, at some point, face themselves. They must see that they are lacking in a certain quality: if they see this and dig deep into themselves to pull out the most needed quality – whether it be courage, compassion, empathy or honesty - then they are a hero. And it’s the internal enemy that is most important. But sometimes we do not face it because we have already resigned ourselves to defeat – “what’s the point of standing up for ourselves?” we think. “We’re just going to be knocked down again.”

People in the Circus are full of all sorts of tricks.

For example: while it takes a lot of effort to keep a wild elephant from running away it takes almost no effort to prevent a tame one – no matter the size. Here’s the trick: When the elephant's young they will attach a huge shackle around its leg which is linked to a very heavy and cumbersome chain which is attached to the ground with a massive iron spike. Try as the baby elephant might, there is no way that it can gain freedom. And try it does. But, over time, it eventually learns that, no matter how much it tries, it will never escape. So, it gives up. A short time after this the circus folk don't need to go to all of the trouble of hauling out that heavy chain. They can use the lightest of chains with the smallest of spikes and the flimsiest of shackles. The elephant never even tries to escape.

Scientists are also full of all sorts of tricks.

For example, while studying the phenomenon of learned helplessness, they decided they would torture some dogs. They would put a dog into a room where half of the floor was electrified, giving off small electric shocks, and the other half wasn't. Well, dogs aren't idiots. Very quickly they made their way over to the non-electrified side and stayed there. Then, and this is the horrible part, they would put dogs into a room where both sides of the room were electrified -- the entire floor. The dog would scamper around the room trying to find a place where they wouldn't be shocked. Of course, they couldn't find one. So, in the end, the scientists, objectively of course, recorded such phenomenon as the dogs: biting themselves, whimpering, vomiting and defacating on themselves. Then they would bring dogs from the first experiment of into a similar room. But this time, it was divided in half with a foot tall wall -- a height that the dog could easily jump over. Dogs from the first group (where half the floor was electrified and half of it wasn't) quickly jumped over the barrier and stayed on the other side. The dogs from the second experiment -- trained and conditioned into state of learned helplessness -- never even thought to attempt at, but merely lay down and exhibited the same horrible symptoms the scientists had seen before.

"If you've been punished for showing autonomy, initiative, or independence, after a while you're not going to show them. In the aftermath of this kind of brutalization, victims have a great deal of difficulty taking responsibility for their lives. Often, people who try to help get frustrated because we don't understand why the victim seems so passive, seems so unable to extricate themselves or to advocate on their own behalf. They seem to behave as though they're still under the perpetrators control, even though we think they are now free. But in some ways the perpetrator has been internalized." (Jensen, Language, 353-354)

But it gets worse. It’s not just that people have been conditioned to feel helpless: that they’d like to change but feel they can’t, that they’d like to reclaim their cultural roots but feel too thwarted to want to try again. The problem has become much more profound. We no longer even want to reclaim our roots. We no longer even want to trust our own experience of life. We no longer even want to re-learn our ancestral languages. We no longer want to preserve older institutions and practices. It all goes back to the “shite” of being Scottish.

This feeling doesn’t exist in isolation. There is an inherent comparison. It’s incomplete statement. The more complete statement might look something like “it’s shite being Scottish – I wish I were American/British etc.” But it gets worse . . .

If we truly think that being Scottish is "shite" and, if we grew out of that culture... then clearly we must be "shite". Plum seeds grow plums -- what do Scottish seeds grow? After all, why did we leave something if it was so good? Why don't I still live like that? And, if it's so great, then why don't we all want to go back to it?

But, at the end of the day, colonization is not successful until it is internalized by the oppressed: the job isn’t done until those oppressed hate themselves as much or more than you hate them. After all, there’s nothing like the zeal of the newly converted.

“ . . . hatred had become self-hatred and the Scottish Gaels -- like their Irish counterparts -- could not now be persuaded of the worth of their own culture. Many people remained bitterly opposed to the policy of the Gaelic School Society, which they saw as "fruitless attempts to preserve that on which the hand of death is already irremovably fixed," John McCulluch wrote in a published letter to Walter Scott in 1824." According to Mr. McCulluch "... it was to Gaelic that Scotland was "indebted for the long series of misrule, rebelling, rapine and disorder in which it was involved before the final termination of Highland independence." He could hardly wait for the day when Gaelic, Welsh and Breton would follow Cornish to extinction, as these tongues had rendered their speakers "a minority of foreigners in their own country. . .” (Tanner 52)

The carrot and the stick have been used for millennia by those in positions of power. These are particularly effective when dealing with communities – especially when it is combined with the most fundamental principle of those in power: divide and conquer. Eventually someone in the community or group you are targeting will break down. Once the community is divided against itself victory is all but assured. There are three keys here:

  1. You must be punished for holding onto your culture, your indigenous nature and any old ways of living (whether that punishment looks like: genocide, clearing you from your land, or ridicule and derision)

  1. You must be rewarded for embracing the new ways.

Compare the experiments about learned helplessness on dogs to the pattern of oppression. If you are told that every move you make is wrong, that every natural instinct you have is wrong, if you are given pain no matter what you do or no matter where you turn -- you will be immobilized... or take whatever pain-free alternative you are offered. But you'll stop trying to preserve those past patterns.

  1. As much as possible – this should all be invisible and feel like it’s simply the inevitable result of history. Most crucially - you must not be seen as the source of the pain, only pleasure (the more you do this the more they will turn to you not on you). The pain must be seen as the inevitable evolution of history. You must be seen as a beneficent savior... only if it's too much trouble to kill them all. As R.D. Laing put it, "Exploitation must not be seen as such. In must be seen as benevolence. Persecution preferably should not need to be invalidated as the figment of a paranoid imagination; it should be experienced as kindness..." (Jensen, Culture, 77)

And, since the new game you will be playing is either stacked against you or utterly impossible, you must believe that any failure you experience is your fault personally, not the inevitable results of a corrupt system. We must come to believe that we can all be billionaires by the time we’re thirty, that we can all be disease free eating what they feed us and that we can all be perfectly free of sin if we would only “try hard enough”. Of course, this game is rigged against us. The house usually wins. But when we don’t see this, we end up hating ourselves for not being “good enough”.

“We are not good enough for ourselves because we don’t fit with our own image of perfection. We cannot forgive ourselves for not being what we wish to be, or rather what we believe we should be. We cannot forgive ourselves for not being perfect.” (Ruiz 42)

Rupert Hemsted, from the office in charge of the Masai Reserve in Kenya in 1921 was recorded to have said, "The Masai [sic] are decadent race who have survived through being brought under the protection of British rule... they remain primitive savages who have never evolved and... in all probability, never can evolve." (Hughes 32). The worst impact of these centuries of oppression and condescension is never the broken armies but the broken hearts and spirits of the people. The will to fight is gone. The tragedy is not so much the lies that the oppressors told about them – but that they come to believe them.

“Centuries of anti-Gaelic propaganda has trickled into the minds of modern Scots. Many Scots are slightly embarrassed or hostile to Gaelic without being consciously aware, or understanding why.” (http://www.millahuilerud.com/what.html)

Of course the Brits themselves are living out their own legacy of internalized oppression. I remember taking Latin in grade 10. In our textbooks there were pictures of Quintus and Caecillius -- not actual photographs you understand -- going through their day's work. Luckily, they didn't have to work that much. They had slaves. British slaves. But there was one problem, though slaves were so lazy. They never seem to want to do their work. There were drawings of them leaning on their pitchfork's. Imagine that! Not wanting to work all day for low pay. The outrage! Those indigenous Britons will just never get ahead... maybe a lot of people in Britain read those same Latin textbooks. Maybe that's why they don't want to admit that the vast majority of their population are actually the living descendents of those indigenous British peoples.

And while the elite British of the time may have found much in common with the Romans, and an easy way to accumulate more power, I seriously doubt that the common folk and peasants did.

* * *

Author of “The Four Agreements” Don Miguel Ruiz talks about how we are constantly "putting spells on each other". For example: If you tell young child "your voice is ugly" they may never sing again. They may believe you. When opportunities come to sing they'll hear your voice putting them down -- even though you are not there. They are now in a trance -- maybe for the rest of their lives -- but they don't even know it. They think it's the truth. "Oh no! Don't ask me to sing -- I have such a ugly voice."

And this can happen if a small child only hears this once -- and it isn't addressed. Perhaps an older child or an adult might be more resistant -- but a constant drip of water can wear away even the hardest stone.

For 4 years I worked with a group in California organizing and leading week long camps for youth aged 15 to 25 who wanted to make a difference in environmental and social justice issues. One of my favorite activities we would do was the “Stereotypes Exercise”. The group would be divided in two – half of which would leave the room. The remaining half would stand in a circle facing inwards. On their backs, are placed index cards with the names of different groups on them. One person might have the word "vegetarian" on their back. The person next to them might have the word "logger" or "corporate executive" or "Native American". They are then told to close her eyes and hold hands with the person standing next to them. The other half of the room is invited to return, to walk around the outside of the circle and whisper in the ear of each person their very first reaction to seeing that label -- no matter how offensive or politically incorrect it is. For the people in the middle, this ends up being a being a very powerful experience. Most of them hear a mix of messages, some positives some negative. And here's the trick: nobody knows what's on their back.

At this point the two groups would switch roles and once both had been in the middle we would all sit down in a big circle. We would then ask people to share how that had felt. People are blown away. Some people, even though they know that the comments were directed at the label, not at them personally, are visibly shaken. A comment I often would hear was, "what on earth did I do that was so horrible?" After a short discussion we would go around the circle clockwise and have people share specifically what they could remember people whispering in their ear and then take a guest, based on those comments, of what the label on their back said. I remember my first time during the exercise having the extremely embarrassing and eye-opening moment when it was my turn and I guess that, based on all of the comments, I must be Native American. It turns out that the label on my back was "alcoholic".

But none of this is why I share the story.

Here's the point: most of the people did not enjoy the feeling of being put down even once (and again, even when they knew it wasn't specifically about themselves). So, I would say to the group, "that didn't feel good to hear those things, but imagine if because of the job you had, the color of your skin, your gender etc. you heard those comments every day of your life. What would that do to your self-esteem? What would that do to your belief in yourself?" It's a sobering thought to consider because it is at the very heart of internalized oppression.

Imagine the impact of being told you're stupid not just once but dozens of times a day. Perhaps people don't say it to you verbally -- but they roll their eyes, they look at you like you're a moron when you make an honest mistake etc. Imagine how deeply that message by become ingrained. Now imagine your whole culture is being told this daily. Imagine you overhear derogatory comments each day about your culture. Imagine the media is full of demeaning and inaccurate stereotypes about people who look like you.

Think you might start to believe them? Think you might start to hate yourself? Think you might want to assimilate into the dominant group? As Michael Newton put it in his book, We’re Indians Sure Enough, “The lack of enthusiasm on the part of immigrant Highland communities to establish Gaelic services made the statement about their desire to assimilate rapidly and Anglo-America." (Newton, Indians, 247) Newton also noted the irony that “so many people of Scots descent, and even the Scots themselves, often perceive the predisposition of Scots to assimilate into English-speaking society as a praiseworthy trait and the secret to their success." (Newton, Indians, 262)

And, in some ways, who can blame them? Many were caught up in dynamics so much larger than themselves. Imagine the choice: hold onto your roots and cultural identity and risk poverty and possibly starvation for you and your children or give it all up, lose the accent, become “white” and survive (possibly even thrive). If you were a parent, what would you do?

“Yet [Douglass] Masson sadly drew the same conclusion as Patrick Butler, namely that the teacher's Kulturkampf enjoyed most parents' support. "The parents in many cases, even those who themselves new little or no English, were dead against the teaching of Gaelic; they wished their children learn English that they might get on in the world." (Tanner 53)

“The elders, [Douglas Hyde] added, were not so enthusiastic. "In the older generation that did not come under the influence of the recent language movement, I do not see any particular affection for Gaelic. Whenever they are able, they speak English to their children, to render the more capable of making their way of life." (Note a life defined by English) (Tanner 90)

You do what you need to do to survive and make sure your children survive. When you’re hungry and cold, bread and warmth become God.

I remember the hungriest I’ve ever been. It was a tight month financially and there was no food in the cupboards, the fridge or the freezer. I finally broke down and ate fish. And, I must have been pretty hungry because I’d already been hardcore vegan for a year or so. I remember not liking the fact that I’d had to do that. That I couldn’t even hold out for a day for something that isn’t of crucial importance humbles me in understanding that what faced these parents every day was infinitely more complex and intense. When you’re hungry you do what you gotta do.

* * *

According to 1866 article in the Sunday Times, "all the progress and civilization in Wales has come from England, and the sensible Welshman would direct all his endeavors towards inducing his countrymen to appreciate their neighbors, instead of themselves." (Pittock 11)

Culture as Mother:

But it gets worse.

I remember reading an article in a magazine about child abuse. A little girl, maybe 3 or four years old, was frequently beaten by her mother. This day it had been a hairbrush used as the weapon. The neighbours finally convinced the police to intervene – they’d been trying for a while. The article detailed the kinds of abuse this girl received from her mother. But, as shocking as that was, it isn’t what stayed with me most strongly.

The image I will never forget is this: as the police carried her away from her home (remember, she had just been severely beaten) she was reaching back towards the door where her mother stood, screaming for her, wanting to go home.

Apparently this pattern is not uncommon. And, really, not surprising: don’t all little children love their mothers? The dynamic of “imprinting” is powerful. It seems to override, for a long time, even our survival instinct. At some profoundly deep level we see our mother as our refuge, our shelter – a safe place. We see them as a source of pleasure even when they are the source of our pain.

And this isn’t unique to humans.

"Harlow and another scientist, Stephen Suomi, wondered if they could induce psychopathology in primates by removing baby monkeys from their natural mothers and placing them in cages with "cloth surrogate mothers who could become mothers." They created a cloth frame "monster mother" that would "eject high-pressure compressed air" and "blow the animal's skin practically off its body." They created another "that would rock so violently that the baby's head and teeth would rattle," and finally, a "porcupine mother" that on command would "eject sharp brass spikes over all the ventral surface of its body." In the former cases, the baby simply clung tighter, because, as the scientists reported, "a frightened infant things tightly to its mother at all costs," and in the latter case the monkey waited until the spikes retreated, then returned to cling to what it perceived to be its mother." (Jensen, Language, 38)

Here’s the point: what if we bond to our culture as strongly as we do to our mother (even if it's an abusive mother)?

The depth of the impact of colonization on us all – even those who have become colonizers - can’t be overstated. Consider the depth of the shift: no longer is the Earth our mother, civilization is. No longer is our indigenous culture our mother to which we cling with affection and for safety – now we cling to modern society.

And here’s the problem: modern society, Western Civilization, is based profoundly, on coercion and abuse. It is an abusive mother. But, it’s the only mother we know, so we cling to it.

It's hard to kill our deep instinctive need to bond with our mother. I’ve noticed how strongly people react to any suggestion that modern society could be, at its very root, flawed. When the ideas come out that challenge our modern culture it is as if our mother is being challenged and we rush to defend her.

So, we have come to defend the very system that abuses us. We support the very system of thinking that destroyed our indigenous cultures and continues to erode any indigenous sense of ourselves. The thoughts of actually dismantling the core institutions of our day is balked at as unrealistic and undesirable.

This shift from Mother Earth to Mother Civilization has led to the:

  1. ignorance of our roots
  2. denigration of our roots
  3. dismissal of our roots as irrelevant

And all of this has led to inaction to preserve it and a lack of awareness about how precarious the situation is.

There are of course two possible endings to the Heroes Quest: they succeed or they fail. As in Star Wars, Luke Skywalker came close to failing, to giving into the Dark Side. The greatest defeat a hero can endure, and the most heart breaking one to watch, is not where the hero is defeated squarely but where the hero becomes what he or she fought against. Where Lucifer, the Morning Star and brightest of God’s Angels becomes the embodiment of Satan, where an Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader.

And, it was to this fate that many of the Celts ultimately fell, to become that which their ancestors had fought so hard against.

"The logic internalized and Gaeldom by being incorporated into the Imperial framework, however, and serious consequences: if Gaels were now being civilized by incorporation into the British Empire, and a two to join in the subjugation of savage peoples. Likewise, if the Gaels were now progressed by being incorporated into British society, would they not to other peoples of favor by assisting in the British Imperial Mission? This dynamic of the conquered joining in the process of conquering others have been repeated in many other places and periods in history... Empire supplemented local and national allegiances and provided and you imagined community with which to identified." (Newton, Indians, 234)

"As a church as the church was a state institution, it is not surprising that fostered identification with a greater British mission, even incorporating news of British victories into sermons. The 1745 Jacobite rising was denounced in pulpits as far away as Boston. Many Church of Scotland ministers were active in the cause of recruitment in the Highlands for the British military in the 18th-century." (Newton, Indians, p, 231)

Making the conquest of the Scottish Gaels much easier was the destruction and unraveling of the Gaelic customs, institutions and ways of life

"It is into the social chaos, and into the distraught and anxious minds of an oppressed people, that religion created an alternative form of leadership and a "cosmological revolution in Gaelic society". Lacking the native institutions and secular social leaders that previously acted in interest Gaelic society, the church filled the power vacuum with little opposition ... the church had a mission to "civilized" the Highlands according to the norms of English-speaking society the cultural loyalty of the ministers to the state can also be seen in their use of the pulpit to promote the ideology of provisions... the Gaels, according to theory, had a place within the British empire as loyal soldiers who would make it possible to bring civilization to the world." (Newton, Handbook 70)

“A people without a knowledge of their history and culture is like a tree without roots.”

African Proverb

There is a lot of healing work to do to undo the long legacy of self hatred. Perhaps, it can begin with the awareness that our ancestral cultures have much of value that is needed in the world today. As Jeannette Armstrong, an Okanagan native elder and leader points out, "One of the things Okanagan activists were saying is that we have something ourselves worth maintaining, perpetuating, and reestablishing, because we see things in society that aren't healthy or good for any human being." (Jensen, Listening, 282)

And perhaps, as descendants of the indigenous people’s of Europe we can gain strength in this process of reclaiming our own culture, our own indigenous sense of ourselves, by seeing that what happened to our ancestors has happened to countless indigenous people’s around the world. Michael Newton points out that "The Gaels have great deal to gain by comparing their role in imperial history with other peoples who are regaining their self-confidence and self-determination after generations of colonial rule. By fighting against the prejudices that still stigmatized Gaelic and the eyes of many in Scotland, they may yet be able to rescue their language and culture from extinction." (Newton, Indians, 269)

But this moving ahead is not just political. It’s deeply personal as well. It’s both. The two are, perhaps more deeply connected than we have thought before. What if we are clinging to an abusive mother that is killing us? What if she isn’t our real mother? What if our healing will be found not in economic progress and endless hunger of civilization but in a returning to our indigenous, cultural roots? “Treatments for alcoholism in Indians that do not recognize the importance of dislocation as a precursor of addiction have been only minimally successful, but treatments based on fostering a cultural and spiritual revival have been more successful in several communities. The motto of BC’s Round Lake Treatment Center is “Culture is Treatment.” (McCloskey)

I’m left with a final thought. We may not be on the map. We may be holding the pencil that erased us from it. But a pencil has two ends. Maybe we might yet rewrite our names on a map that matters. Maybe the process or remembering who we are is intimately tied with the end of self hatred. Maybe we might yet wake up before it’s too late. The stakes have never been higher.

If we are to survive, we must learn a new way to live, or relearn an old way. There have existed, and for the time being still exists, many cultures whose members refuse to cut the vocal cords of the planet, and refuse to enter into the deadening deal which we except daily as part of living. It is perhaps significant the prior contact with Western civilizations many these cultures did not have rape, nor did they have child abuse... it is perhaps significant as well for these cultures did not drive the passenger pigeon to extinction, nor the salmon, the wood bison, the see mink, the Labrador heath hen, the Eskimo curlew... Would that we could say the same... the task ahead of us is awesome, to meet human needs without imperiling life on the planet." (Jensen, Language, 16)

* * *

APPENDIX:

Internalized Oppression

External oppression is the unjust exercise of authority and power by one group over another. It includes imposing one group's belief system, values and life ways over another group.


External oppression becomes internalized oppression when we come to believe and act as if the oppressor's beliefs system, values, and life way is reality


"Self-hate" and "internalized racism" are other ways of saying internalized oppression.


The result of internalized oppression is shame and the disowning of our individual and cultural reality. Without internalized oppression, we would not now have previously unseen levels of violence, especially against women and children.

Drunkenness, disrespect for God, fighting, cussing and disrespect for women were "foreign" behaviors modeled by the Cavalry, and eventually worked their way into our communities through internalized oppression.

Internalized oppression means the oppressor doesn't have to exert any more pressure, because we now do it to ourselves and each other. Divide and conquer works. We resist internalized oppression by relearning how to live respectfully and harmoniously together -- WITHOUT VIOLENCE.

Examples of Internalized Oppression:

· "If she'd just stay home/clean the house/be quiet, he wouldn't hit her."

· "Women need to know their place. Men have to tune 'em once in a while to remind them."

· "She was yelling at him/flirting with some guy/didn't clean the house. What did she expect?"

· She's an adult; she makes her own choices...we have to do something for the kids."

· "Children need a father. Fathers have rights, too. He hit her, not the kids, right?"

· "Nobody wants to be with a mouthy woman."

· "She needs to stand up for herself/quit being a victim/be a better mother."

· "Men are threatened by all this women's lib stuff."

· "Men are naturally jealous and aggressive."

· "It's just another domestic/family fight."

· "Traditional Indian women are subservient and quiet."

· "Geez, she's asking for help again./She just wants to vacation at the shelter./Just manipulates the system."

· "If she won't help herself, why should we?"

· "Damn advocate's back! They're just a bunch of man-hating, lesbian control freaks!"

Women's Rural Advocacy Programs

Works Cited:

Ascherson, Neal. Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland. NY: Hill and Wang. 2002.

Grant, Anne. 1811, page 126 -- Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland

Hughes, Lotta. The No-Nonsense Guide to Indigenous People’s. Toronto, Canada: Between The Lines Publishing. 2003.

Jensen, Derrick. A Language Older Than Words. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. 2002.

Jensen, Derrick. The Culture of Make Believe. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. 2003.

Jensen, Derrick. Listening to the Land White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. 2000.

McCloskey, Donna TRANSITION MAGAZINE, Summer 2004, VOL. 34 NO. 2, Addiction in Our Families

Newton, Michael. A Handbook of The Scottish Gaels. Oregon: Four Courts Press. 2000.

Newton, Michael. We’re Indians Sure Enough. Auburn, NH: Windhaven Press. 2001

Noel, Paula. Remembering Our Ancestors: Recovery of Indigenous Mind as a Healing Process for the Decolonization of a Western Mind, USA: Ancestral Publishing House. 2004

Pittock, Murray G.H. Celtic Identity and the British Image. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. 1999.

Ruiz, Don Miguel. The Four Agreements, New York, NY: Amber-Allen Publishing. 1997.

Some, Malidoma, Water and the Spirit, New York, NY: Penguin Group. 1994

Tanner, Michael. The Last of the Celts, USA: Yale University Press. 2004.

McDougal (source temporarily lost and unable to be found in my late night stupour. I am beyond the redemption of coffee. All hope of finding said reference is lost. )

WEB RESOURCES:

Reducing suicide rates in Scotland, The Challenge facing the implementation of a new national framework http://www.show.scot.nhs.uk/sehd/publications/mhm92/mhm92-11.htm

Scottish Parliament, Thursday 20 January 2000, [THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30] http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/officialReports/meetingsParliament/or-00/or040402.htm