November 20, 1998 (Ira Pilgrim)

Cowboys and Indians

Many moons ago, I prayed to The Great Spirit to...

Cowboys and Indians was a popular game when I was a kid. I don't remember how it was played, nor which side I preferred; although I suspect that it was the winning side. The difference between the Cowboys and Indians was simply that the cowboys had better press agents, better weapons and their side won the war. What's the big deal about herding cattle? It's not very different from herding sheep or goats, but good press agentry has given it much more status. In the days of the Old West, Cowboys and Indians both lived about the same and, since bathing wasn't in vogue, they both stunk.

For that matter, what's the big deal about being anything? We all have the same physiology: we all eat, defecate and urinate the same. Within any group there are clever people and fools, good people and bad.

The first person who translated an Indian legend into English, said "many, many moons ago...". It was quaint and it showed how primitive the natives were. The basic assumption was that if you were truly civilized, you spoke English. Even the French were looked down upon. The correct translation is "Many many months ago" or "A very long time ago". What's so quaint about measuring time in months(moons)? All cultures did it. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar one and most Christian holidays are based on the cycles of the moon. Our calendar is a compromise between the cycles of the sun and the moon. The correct English translation for what writers of Indian stories called "The Great Spirit" is "God."

Once I was invited to go to an Indian dinner, but before deciding whether to accept or decline, I inquired as to what was on the menu. When I was told that it was "fry bread, fried seaweed and refried beans," I said "No, thanks."

If someone invited me to a French dinner of Tornedos Bearnaise and described it as dead cow covered with glop, I wouldn't go either.

The last time I was at the wedding of a member of my tribe, we were served "pate". It looked the same and tasted the same as when it was called "chopped liver," and it was just as delicious. For those of you who are not familiar with the dish, the liver flavor is masked by onions and spices. People who like European food find it quite tasty. Maybe it was a good idea to change the name, considering the reaction of most kids when liver is mentioned.

Wise up, brothers, don't translate fried seaweed; use the original ethnic name, or something else that no one understands. It's your honesty that's killing you. We eat enchiladas, tacos and refritos. No one would dream of calling them leftovers wrapped in damp cardboard, salad in a cracker shell and mashed kidney beans.

The Inuit have pemican (from pime, the Cree word for fat). I haven't tasted it, but I have been told that, to someone who was not brought up with it, it's as repulsive to taste and smell as Limburger cheese. While it will never make a European gourmet guide, at least it is treated with respect as an "ethnic food" and the name that the Inuit use is retained. The name "pemican" is now used for concoctions that no Inuit would recognize.

Almost every nationality has a few of its words as part of the American language. Words such as wigwam(Ojibwa), wikiup(Algonquian), tepee(Dakota), the names of half the states, and other words are already a part of the American language. There are words in American that come from almost every language.

Using words from a person's language is a gesture of acceptance and respect! Pizza and pasta have given Italians more status and respect in America than Columbus, Giuseppi Verdi, or even The Godfather.

Next column

Return to the Unclassified Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page