By Fumiya Nagai
Have you ever given any thoughts on American Indians? Do you have any images of them?
“Right things happen at the right time.” This is what I learned first from my first American Indian friend as one of the concepts in the American Indian spiritual world, and it has become and remains one of my favorite quotes ever since
I assume that many of you, especially if you are Japanese, would not know much about American Indians. Neither did I. Not only did I know anything about American Indians but also I was viewing them as people who are completely irrelevant to myself or the world in which I live. Yet, my first encounter with American Indians was truly beyond what the word “shocking” could even convey.
A year ago, I was studying abroad in Superior, Wisconsin, which is located on the edge of Lake Superior, where the Ojibwe tribe live. I had a slight interest in something “ethnic” or “exotic,” but my interest was mainly towards so-called ethnic fashion such as the hippie style or necklaces and bracelets made in India or Nepal.
When I came across the word “Ojibwe,” I was not familiar with it. My advisor told me that it is Indian. Yet, I was so stupid that what came up in my mind first was that Ojibwe might be some minority group from India in South Asia. It never occurred to me that the word was referring to American Indians.
Ojibwe is one of the American Indian tribes living around the northern area of the States and also some parts of Canada. American Indian people have many cultural goods that have spread to non-Indian people such as Dream Catchers, which are said have originated from the Ojibwe tribe. Ojibwe people call themselves Anishnaabe, which means “first” or “original people” in the Ojibwe language.
When I started being attracted to the “new world,” I was wearing turquoise bracelets and necklaces, hanging Dream Catchers on the wall and growing my hair long. I even got my ears pierced, because I wanted to wear earrings that American Indians wear. If I had asked myself “what do you want?” at the time, I would have answered, “I ‘wanna be’ like an Indian.” Yet, looking back, I realize that I had completely been overlooking and ignoring the other aspects of American Indian history and the present
situations. I was just sitting in front of the sea called the beautiful Indian spiritual world and ornaments, and had never pondered on the underwater world.
Because of the civil rights movements for first nations such as the American Indian Movement, the spiritual world or lifestyle of American Indians are getting acknowledged and are becoming attractive to non-Indian peoples. Yet, I believe it is no exaggeration to say that indigenous peoples around the world today including American Indians are experiencing the hardest time in the world as a result of the historical persecution by non-indigenous people, and many of non-Indian people who are interested in American Indians like me are looking at only one aspect of their culture and history.
Wannabes are the most conspicuous people who see one aspect of American Indians, regarding them with contempt. Although more and more non-Indian people recognize American Indian, if the recognition is biased, it can cause worse results than not recognizing them. Regardless of their race, ethnicity or nationality, people mostly avoid looking at the inconvenient and uncomfortable parts of history. American immigrants, especially white people, have been looking away from the tragedies of American Indians, because the white people caused them and have to compensate.
Many people know about and are interested in America, but this nation was built upon the sacrifice of American Indians, which are rarely recognized. American Indians are still present all over the United States today. They still exist there. They still live there. You cannot see America without taking American Indians into account.
The University of Tokyo started providing a class about the American Indian from the summer semester of 2013. Yet, the first class had just two students, and neither was majoring in North American studies. How “invisible” American Indians are. I do not know how many people who are identified as or identify themselves as American Indians have come study at Komaba campus. Yet, I hope that the number of them increases, and more students at Komaba become interested in American Indians.
Since my encounter with Ojibwe, my world has completely changed. I hope that you find something special that turns out to be “the right thing” that “happen at the right time” in your life. It might be studying abroad. It might be meeting new people. It might be a conversation with your friends. For me, I believe it was encountering the Ojibwe people.
Fumiya Nagai is a fourth year student majoring in International Relations at the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo.