By Humaira Taz
The Belk Lecture is an annual event supported by the Religious Studies program at Wesleyan.
Dr. George Tinker is a member of the Osage Nation and a professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions at Iliff School of THeology in Denver, Co. His endeavors consider seriously not only the liberation of the Indian people from historic oppression but also the liberation of white Americans who are the oppressors of the Indian people. As the 2010 Belk Lecturer, he discussed “Humanity and Nature” with Wesleyan students and faculty on February 4.
Dr. Tinker spoke of the beliefs of the Indian tribe that bond the people closely to nature. Human beings, animals, trees and all the other objects in the Universe are tied by a flow of energy. This energy that permeated through everything is known as Wakonda, and it is not a substitute for God, as misinterpreted by many people. In a society of masculine dominance, God is also made masculine.
However, Wakonda has no gender traits. In the community of the Indians, the world is all about getting a balance between males and females. Women are the creators of the future nation while men have the responsibility to sustain the nation that women create. During times of drought, men live without food to feed the women and children. For them, “men are dispensable” whereas women must be protected to carry on the nation. Their community is empowered by women in the sense that they give the final nod for the men to act.
The European community often claims the rituals and ceremonies of the Indian people as primitive and devoid of proper education or civilization. According to Dr. Tinker, this is simply a misconception. During the “moon cycle”, a monthly ceremony for women when they go away from their village for four to five days, the idea is not to cast women away but to make the men do all those things starting from cooking to cleaning that women do every day. In doing so it is hoped that they understand the significance of women’s roles. Meanwhile, the women pray for the men and children since it is believed that during this period of time, the prayers of women have the strongest power.
As an act of sacrifice in order to win some equality with women, men perform the “Sun Dance” where they dance under the sun without food or water for four consecutive days. On the fourth day, they cut their chest, tie one end of a string to their flesh and the other end to a tree and they dance until the string breaks. Pretty painful! But it’s all about strengthening their core values.
When asked how such principles of the Indian people would be helpful in solving the economic crisis, Dr. Tinker replied that since most contemporary people tend to believe that human beings are superior to animals and the other creations of nature, they have used up resources at a much faster rate than that at which the resources could be replenished. Unlike the Indian people, they have no respect for the provisions of nature. They have abused it and might, one day, find it “trying to get rid of humans.” This instantly made me think of all the natural disasters we are having all over the world. Moreover, the patriarchal society of Europe has completely disregarded the strengths that women can provide to the society. The bottom line is that if we had been more kind to nature and thought of the balance in social roles of men and women, we might have avoided the economic crisis.
Another question inquired, “How are we to dismantle or deconstruct the master’s house using the master’s tools” implying how are we to change this patriarchal society when we ourselves have created it and supported it. To this, Dr. Tinker answered that this is not something that can be achieved drastically over a single generation. For this, our narratives about women and the portrayal of women have to change, which is certainly going to take a long time. In his words, “It will take all the energy and wisdom of women to stop men” from dominating the society.