Sunday, September 13, 2009

Numbers and diversity, weaving and threads


Most scholars agree that previous estimates of California Indian pre-contact population are now too low. The numbers usually given are between 250,000 - 350,000 at the time of Spanish contact. Contemporary population estimates for pre-historic/contact California of up to 750,000 come from scholar Russell Thornton; in a personal communication, William Preston (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo) writes, “At this point I think that Thornton's high number is totally reasonable. In fact, keeping in mind that populations no doubt fluctuated over time, I'm thinking that at times 1 million or more Native Californians were resident in the state.”
*
That number of around 1 million souls had fallen to around 5,000-10,000 when my grandfather, Tom Miranda, was born in 1903. Slowly, the number began to creep up again. It's this reinvention of California Indian identity that so interests me. How do you start from scattered shards? How do you re-form community? culture? Change is inevitable. How much change can we survive, and still be California Indians? Or does our idea of California Indian evolve and change too?
*
Cultural identity has been described as a long, long rope, woven of many strands, some of which come to an end, only to be wrapped up by other strands that then continue on further. We don't say that the rope itself has become something else; it is still a rope. But is it the same rope that we started with, when we've gone 50 feet? Is it the idea of the rope that makes it still "a" rope, one rope, the same rope at one foot that it is at 50?
*
A culture would have to come completely unraveled, lose connection to the past, in order to end. Some California tribes suffered so terribly that they actually did become extinct. The strands of their rope were cut off and thrown away. The end was clear. But those of us who survived, like my grandfather Tom - we threw ourselves into life, adding on to that rope, changing it, changing materials and methods maybe, as when one weave picks up a line started by someone else in the same village. You can tell there's a difference; you can pinpoint the ways one weaver is unlike the other. But the rope, itself, survives. Goes on. Holds on.
*
*
*

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive