Saturday, October 26, 2013

Land, Culture and Grudges

Yesterday, a friend told me about a new member at Rotary with the endorsement that his family goes back five generations in the valley.  That seemed to put an indelible seal of approval on him as a man of worth.  I wonder why?

What is it about generations of rootedness in a place that become a mark of authenticity and approval?  How does that add up to the mythic assumption that families with generational roots have a greater say in and ownership of the community than do newcomers?  It’s an especially poignant question considering that generational roots in this part of the country were laid down barely 150 years ago on land that was taken from Indians who consented to the taking only at the wrong end of a rifle.  

I don’t have answers, just questions, and a few guesses.

Part of it might have to do with our human desire to shortcut the assessment of others by imputing worth according to the accumulated deeds or misdeeds of previous generations, which is hard to do if previous generations are unknown.  Some current generation families assume a degree of social standing for themselves based on their ancestors’ successes, and are not reluctant to judge others on the failures of theirs.  It’s a handy way to judge self and others without bothering to look very deep, but it’s a pain in the neck when newcomers, whose families are not known, settle in.

Part of it might have to do with a desire to preserve and value the history, culture and traditions of a place.  Hawaiians have a word, kama’aina, that means someone who belongs to and loves the land.  In contemporary usage it means anyone with a State of Hawaii drivers license, but the more traditional sense separates someone who is kama’aina from visitors who have no vested interest in the land and its culture, and cannot be relied upon to respect it.

The Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes that once populated our valley understand that because early European settlers did what they could to erase the tribal culture that permeated the land in order to replace it with their own.  In like manner, families representing several generations of European settlement fear that newcomers, and the social changes they bring, will erase the cultural values that their people sowed, replacing it with something unknown and probably disrespectful.

How long does it take to get over that kind of thinking?  Considering the current movements in Britain calling for the secession of Wales and Scotland from the United Kingdom, it takes more than a few centuries.  The Picts and Celts are still angry about the invasion of those upstart Anglo-Saxons, who are still smarting over the drubbing they took from the Normans.

We hold nothing closer or longer than a good grudge.

Obviously there is more to this subject, but that’s all for now.

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