Mary Beth Writes

I’m reading a new book about the Upper Midwest, late 1500’s - 1750ish.  The book is Indian Women and French Men; Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes, by Susan Sleeper-Smith - and I am reading it as avidly as my granddaughter listens to story hour. 

This is from the introduction: “In kin-based societies, behaviors change as people struggle either to attain or retain symbolic capital – what people sense as honor, prestige, respect, or authority.”

Kin-based societies: Most Indian nations were comprised of loose but related groups of kin-based smaller families.  You might live with 50-150 people who were more-or-less related to you.  Several times a year your kin-group might travel to some mutual place and hang out for bigger ceremonies, meetings about issues that were coming up (those Iroquois that will not stop decimating you), flirting among those who were of an age to flirt, admiring each other’s babies, sharing and coordinating the assets and knowledge gained in the past few months or year.  But your primary living group was small enough so that you knew how you belonged to it, who was in charge of you, and what your role in your society was. 

We still often live like this. We may belong to a nation of 330,000 people, but if your people told you to not wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day – you might wear white shorts to your town’s 4th of July parade because it’s okay to do that on the 4th.  It’s part of your kin-based values.

I grew up understanding that my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all believed that regular church attendance was part of “our values”. We also always wore clean and modest clothes, baked things for people we liked, washed our cars, did our homework, were ALWAYS on time to our jobs, plus we didn’t swear, sing, or act joyously in public.  We had VAULES: respectability, reliability, understated sense of humor, kindness, and being determined about our religious faith.

Then I grew up and moved away. It was weird getting used to people who did not adhere to my kin-group’s rules.  I mean, large people who wore TIGHT pink pants?  OMG, the world is ending.

But I kept meeting great humans who wore tight pants, didn’t even know how to bake (how do they live?), and who drove terrible cars held together with dirt and duct tape. (I had a taped-together car for a while. You can’t wash them.)  I met and liked immensely people who sang in train stations because the echo was awesome, didn’t go to church, who didn’t have high school diplomas or jobs.  So I have been reassessing my values for decades now and I’m not done yet.  Sometimes these days I wear the same t-shirt two days in a row.  Sometimes I skip church.

Here we are, 4th of July in America for all 330,000 of us.

Way too many of us are still living as if the only values to have are the ones from our kin-group. 

You know what I mean. They are dirty. They are lazy. They are criminals. They don’t belong here if they can’t speak English. They wear head coverings I am not familiar with, so they must be terrorists. Those women dress like sluts. Those men all drive trucks with engine problems. They are all Catholics. They don’t believe in anything. Their voodoo gives me the heebie-jeebies.  

I already know the point of the book I am reading, although this writer is clearer and the whole book is going to be about what I read in one chapter in one book last year.

The point is this:

For nearly 200 years Illini Indians and French fur traders encountered and married each other. They lived in prosperous communities along the upper Mississippi and Lake Michigan. They became aware there was money to be made and handsome, strong children to be reared if they could figure out how to live and work together.

 It was a complicated but interesting piece of the American story. Everyone wanted safety, income, respect, and healthy kids. Yes, there many parts to this story that were not great, but the overarching reality was that people from extremely different societies changed parts of their core values in order to live in peace and prosperity.  

So next time you think “Those people…” stop yourself.  When someone from your kin-group lays in on “They are so bad, lazy, unwelcome because…” argue back because it is unamerican. 

This nation has been strongest when we encounter each other, consider and respect each other, and then together figure out how to cook amazing food, build amazing businesses, and raise amazing children.

Together we invent new and mutually-held core values - curiosity, a humorous humility, persistence, and the low American hum of modest greed.

Comments

Beautiful

Fascinating subject followed by intelligent analysis. If only the lessons you have extrapolated from the book could be taught to all...what a wonderful society we would then have. I will start by learning myself and just maybe set an example for another.

I try but don't always succeed in excepting others not like me although I do pretty well... I was raised catholic but didn't buy in to the indoctrination the church was trying to impose on my young brain... I couldn't believe that a loving god would be sooo cruel as to condemn me to eternal damnation because of my feelings so being excepting of other religions came naturally to me.It's a start...

You always make me think combined with a little laughter.

Great post. Thank you. Patricia/Fl

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