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  • Elliott Adams

The Color of My Cultural Glasses

Working with the indigenous nations people, I am aware of the crossing of cultures on a personal level. It is easy to view their culture as either quaint or to mythologize it. But if I want to see and accept them for what they are, then I must see myself for what I am. It is hard to know what we look like without looking in a mirror, and their culture has served as a mirror for me to see my culture. We frequently view European cultures as a contrast to ours, but they are so close to us they don't serve well as a mirror.

Sunset with sundog (bright spot to right) in North Dakoda

I grew up in a colonizing culture: we colonized Europe, we colonized the Americas and elsewhere, we colonized across what became the US, and then we went on to colonize where every we could around the world. My culture is one that has figured out a million ways to justify and live off colonization. Colonization is not the only way to live. Many cultures and nations have shunned it.

Sunset and sundog a little later showing the rainbow colors

I grew up in the Christian religion, one of the three Abrahamic religions which share the teachings in Genesis 1:26. “Let them [people] have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” By contrast what I hear in some indigenous cultures is the understanding that people are literally a part of the land and the animals, we are all connected and relatives – man, bird, grasses, the earth. They feel, for example, that their cousin a deer freely offers its life so that they can live. This is in harsh contrast to our culture where, for example, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said about the Iraq embargo “I think this [that half a million children have died] is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”

The capitalist economic system in which I live is fundamentally rapacious, even in comparison to other Euro/Asian developed nations, many of whose economies lean in the communist/socialist direction. Our economy is not about surviving. It is about endlessly getting more, and it externalizes the needs of, or costs to, all other people. Many economies around the world are about everyone collectively surviving.

We are also a culture that worships, or at least tolerates, elites. Kings through aristocrats, Robber Barons through billionaires, popes through televangelists, the powerful above us, we have glorified and served them all - even though they are all scoundrels. By contrast in many cultures it is unthinkable that anyone would choose to, let alone have, the power to give others orders, it is fundamental that each person's voice is heard, and people are very reticent and avoid ever speaking for someone else.

I need to be able to see what growing up as part of this culture means. I can work at changing my perspective but I will never be able to completely shed it. But by seeing the culture I grown up and the color of the glasses I see the world through, I can better accept and respect other cultures as equals and different.

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