Native American Culture/Friendship within Native Amercians
Dear Mr Sutton,
Please forgive my email out of the blue - I'm doing some research for a UK TV Documentary and I came across your details on the internet as an expert in Native American culture aand hoped you might be able to give me a few pointers or advice, which I would be extremely grateful for.
I am working on a documentary which involves a central presenter travelling the world and sharing his experiences as an "everyman". The episodes in the documentary are thematic and the one I am filming is about the topic of friendship. As part of the episode, I wanted to explore the meaning of the Friendship Feast and the Friendship Dance which are prevalent within Native American culture. Also, I'd like to look into aspects of spirituality and animal friendships if that is something that could also work in the programme. We have filmed with a huge array of cultures and I am keen to have Native American representation as it has so far not featured at at all.
However, I am unaware of how best to progress - I want to come over to the US to visit some tribes and people who might be willing to take part in the documentary but I don't know where to concentrate. Where would you recommend? I have found some potential options with the Cherokee Tribe but there are a few different centres to see very far apart from one another. Another consideration for me is that I really want to feature an authentic experience on the programme that isn't in a modern environment but that doesn't feel too staged, so I'd really appreciate your guidance in this area.
Thanks in advance for any help you can give. I am happy to answer any further queries you might have at all.
I applaud your decision to want to bring some Native tradition into play in your documentary. Any overview of North American culture, in order to accurately express the varieties of experience that have informed the present should include it. When you mention a Friendship Feast, I assume you are speaking of a Potlatch Ceremony which is a deep culturally significant tradition of the Northwest Coast as far South as Washington State. Early traders and sailors visiting the area were often the unawares recipients of overwhelming generosity connected with these observances, but they were not strictly speaking, friendship. More like interclan warfare of a kind, where one "headman" would try to shame other clan's leaders through the most grand, selfless show of generosity. Literally destroying his wealth in the process of a long observance, he would reach the point of the highest respect, and of course, it would all flow back to his house in greater amount than what he "spent". During these times, no one would be turned away.
Another tradition is that of Lagniappe, or giving with no expectation of return, the little extra shown a gu4est or visitor, which exists in the Southeastern States particularly in Louisiana and Mississippi where trade along the great river has been going on for many thousands of years. Hospitable treatment of traders sharing traditions across barriers of language and culture and bringing news is a long-honored tradition there.
A similar experience can be found on feast days upon the Pueblos of New Mexico's Rio Grande Valley, whose cultural traditions are deeply connected with sharing of wealth and generosity. During our years as active traders we developed several friendships with artisan families on a few Pueblos. These groups are divided by culture and language though often only a few miles apart, physically, but share some similar traditions when it comes to hospitality on feast days. These events celebrate the Catholic Patron Saints, but also overlap with celebrations connected with ancient religious and agricultural teachings timed to seasonal and astronomical markers. As a result, during a celebration, often involving impersonation dancing and other religious ceremony (much of the deeply spiritual observances are hidden from the uninitiated in the Kivas, where such ceremony is done), everyone that is there is fed, very well, and treated as friends. This is to show the intermediary spirits, emissaries of the Creator that the people are living as they have been taught, and to secure their blessings on the next crop, children, animals. It can get to be problematic as no one is ever turned away. We were at such an event once on a Pueblo where we had several families of friends. It was later in the afternoon, and there was a non-Native man from the nearest city, probably Albuquerque, irritating the Pueblo women. He had put out word that we wanted a Pueblo wife, and was hitting on any that appeared to be unmarried with a real vengeance. We had brought a friend along, who was a collector of one family's fine arts, and he and I are pretty big guys. One of the grandmothers approached us with her daughter, to ask for our help. No eye contact was made, and all references were made obliquely, but we were in effect asked to tell the amorous fellow that he had worn out his welcome. That it was time to leave, but none of the Pueblo people could do this without a serious breach of their etiquette and the spiritual ramifications. Clearly this guy thought nothing he asked fo5r could be refused and his requests were beginning to get really out of line. I could tell that it wasn't easy for our hosts to ask for this favor, but we did what they asked. He left, and no one ever mentioned it again. I would think that for your purposes, especially since New Mexico has a really engaged film industry with lots of crew available, that a visit to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos would connect your audience with a Native tradition more than ten thousand years old that has been accommodating European visitors, priests and land-grabs since 1540 when Coronado spent a winter along the Rio Grande in Bernalillo. There are several institutions, especially the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center that can help you with setting up interviews, etc. Hop[e this is some use to you. Fell free to also contact me through our website http://www.kivatrading.com
as well if I can be of any help to you.