Posted by: MC | June 21, 2010

Delta Park Powwow: Fathers’ Day for a Change

“It will always be important to have a community of people
who support each other and work together for the struggle,
I guess.  Yes, for the struggle for all people.”

Bruce McQuakay

It took a bit of coaxing by the emcee, but today, 50 or so fathers made their way into the dance circle at the center of the Delta Park Powwow gathering for the honor song led by the Four Directions drum group.  As is customary with an honor song, we all stood while the fathers moved in a circle, each foot making a double step – once with the ball of the foot, then with a full step in the cadence of 2-2 time.  Most of the dancing fathers were Native, some in regalia for the traditional exhibitions and competitions to follow.  A few of the fathers in the circle were non-Native (“All you fathers get out here,” the emcee had called out earlier.  “You all have something to be proud of.”)

Earlier an Elder had sung an ancient song.  Alone his voice rang out across the Columbia River encampment.  His body was old and tired, but his voice was clear and strong offering up the syllables intoned as they had been for time immemorial.   In the words he spoke following the song he asked for a change:  More attention to and care for preserving the traditional songs and stories and teachings.  The change he asked for was related directly to what is vital to have remain the same.

The Elder’s song, the dance of the fathers, the powwow all draw on tradition.  They all stand on a foundation of “the same.”  This day we recognize as Fathers’ Day arises from the obvious fact that, as long as there have been and will be people and communities and nations, there have been and will be fathers.  And mothers.  And children.

Commercialization of these parents’ days aside, constants like parenthood and childhood shored up by traditions that teach respect and beauty, are vital to the possibility of change.  Where do we stand?  What do we rely on as we face change?  What is our solid ground – the ground upon which we garner courage; loose creativity; mix passion, patience and intelligence to enact changes that leave us all happy and well?

Yesterday, the Elder called for careful attention to traditions.  The voices of EX:Change echoed this call.  Here is a sampling.

Kate, artist, Portland, OR. “It is essential for me to retain my core values – the things that make me who I am – that drive me.  Love of family, profound belief in the good of people, belief we must take care of the place we live – the environment, respect for diversity in religion, sociology, belief.  These are core values that simply can’t change in me.  They are what drives me.”

Shams, Masters of Divinity student, Berkeley, CA.  “I think a lot of the values – the really sort of stogy foundational American values – are actually still really inspiring.  The problem hasn’t been that we have them.  The problem has been either that we haven’t lived into them or that sometimes we pretend we’re living them when we’re not.  The idea that each person is created equal; the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I think those are still really inspirational.  There are always ways you can tap into those.

“Having a notion of the Divine is important.  Sometimes the way we conceptualize or frame that might need to change, but the idea that there’s something bigger, greater than ourselves, I find that useful.”

Barbara, comptroller, Kerrville, TX.  “Basic things like security, food and shelter – means of survival.  Also peace of mind, that’s very important to me.  I like to know I can go home in the evening and not worry about the next day.  Worries like whether I will still have a job. or if my job is not on the line, whether I’ll be able to job well.”

Clarke, photographic technician, Jackson, MS.  “We also need to keep our grounding in law.  It beats the alternative of anarchy.  Law is the only thing I can think of that’s a universal social contract.  It’s often a last resort, but it gives people a standard of behavior.

“And, I’d like the climate to stay the same.  I guess it never really has, but there’s a real good possibility that we need to keep from budging it any further in a direction that might be dangerous to the planet.”

Mike, stay-at-home dad, Omaha, NE.  “My initial response is that I think there are ideals, principles that we want to have stay the same.  ‘We the people,’ democracy.”

Mohammad, social service administrator, Multnomah Co., OR.  “It is important to have things that keep you stable.  It’s hard to say what because it may be different for everybody.  I know I still want to be able to have some control over my healthcare and my assets.  I want to be able to have the basic freedom – freedom of expressing your opinion or practicing a certain religion.  The basic tenets of what makes a society a good society where you feel safe.  The safety aspect is important – to make sure I and my family are not subjected to crimes.

“The basic human interactions with people – neighbors – help with stability.  You’d hope to keep your job because that gives you a sense of accomplishment and identity.  Some of us men – and I may not be correct, but for me I know my job is kind of like everything although I’m learning to want to spend time with the family and to enjoy other things besides my job.  The things that make you feel secure – your security blanket – you want it to still be there, whatever it may be.”

Yesterday’s powwow had another high point.  I ran into Bruce, the Native American activist I’d interviewed in Albuquerque (EX:C blog, Tigers and Valentines, 2-16-2010).  Bruce is nearing 29.  He continues an activist.  He is on the move in his life, so it’s hard to know where he will be these days.  But there he was smiling, joking, every bit of his personality and character in effortless harmony with the drums and dancing, with the songs and the concessions of fry bread and beads, with the meeting and greeting among the people all around.

Back in Albuquerque, Bruce had described the necessary grounding for change.   “It will always be important to have a community of people who support each other and work together for the struggle, I guess.  Yes, for the struggle for all people.”

There he was.  Here we are – everyday for a change.

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