As an avid Facebook user, I enjoy the ability to stay in touch with friends, have people post news headlines I might otherwise miss, and play (well, really, lose) the occasional online Scrabble match. What I find interesting, and somewhat disturbing, is the number of little self-examination quizzes that come my way. “Where should you be living?” “What kind of old person will you be?” “What is your fashion style?”.
A few days ago, I noticed a few friends had taken the latest quiz – ”What is your Native American name?” You type in your name and then the program generates a Native name for you. Things like “Dances with Wolves” and “Princess Pow-wow.” As I looked further, I saw that there were similar quizzes for other groups of people. “What is your white trash name?” “What is your ghetto mama name?” Yikes. For the record, I did not see, “What is your white middle-class working mother name?” It got me thinking. Why is it so easy to create stereotypes?
Growing up white and middle-class, here are things I was taught about Indians: (1) “They” like wild rice. (2) “They” wear moccasins. (3) “They” live on reservations where “we” do not go. That’s about it. Generations of rich tribal history summed up in three limiting statements.As an adult, I’ve met and become friends with a few of “them.” My friends have been patient in answering my questions about their lives and the traditions with which they were raised. Slowly, I’ve learned some of the commonalities and, more importantly, some of the differences between tribes. As it turns out, “they” don’t all like wild rice, I have never seen one of my Native friends in moccasins, and my two closest Native friends live in suburban Minneapolis.
Stereotypes of “them” continued to be shattered for me when, as a guest at a Women of Nations fundraiser, I was given a tobacco tie. I asked the giver to explain the tie’s significance. She told me that she didn’t really know but that it was a very old tradition. She pointed at an elder across the room and said that I should ask him. So I did. He told me that he was Lakota and that the tie signified a promise made to Wakan Tanka. He also told me that other tribes would have different meanings. He pointed to another elder across the room and told me to ask him. So I did. This man told me that he was Chippewa and the tobacco in the tie should be used to make a sacred offering. Two elders offered two different explanations with one common thread – the tie was sacred and should be used that way. From what I can tell, to be Native means to be sacred.
I’d like to tell the Facebook quiz programmer to do some research about Native names. My friend who is Anishinabe explained to me that a naming ceremony includes a medicine person, the parents, and a ceremony introducing the child to the Spirit World. To me, it sounds beautiful and intentional. I imagine other tribes have their own ways of naming that are unique and special traditions to their people. If I dare point out one commonality of Native people, it is that they, unequivocally, do not use a Facebook quiz to choose a name.
I did not take the quiz. If I were to do it, I would not enter my own name. I would enter “Facebook.” I believe the quiz result would be, “He who cheapens sacred rituals.”