Friday, November 8, 2013

A Place Called Wolf Creek Indian Village Part 4!

It's been a whirlwind few weeks. Sadness in the local community of losing neighbors and friends, my birthday, (in my mind I'm 20, and my body says, "YOU WISH!),  doctors appointments and just trying to live and function the best I can with these "illnesses". 

This is the Fourth post for the Wolf Creek Village series of my blog. I have learned so much from that place that I'm sure it won't be the last mention of it.

Inset from John Smith's 1612 Map of Virginia
When I first became involved with Wolf Creek Indian Village, I began as a guide. The first thing they did was give you a leather costume and sort of tried to dress us up like what an Indian might have dressed in 500 years ago?  Yeah, my thought was how accurate could we be with that?  Especially when all the documentation in the early reports shows Europeans had a perception of the first Natives they encountered to be "savages" mostly because of their custom of dress or lack there of. Such can be seen in this depiction of Powhatan people from John Smith's map of 1612.

To see the entire map click Virtual Jamestown John Smith's Map
I'm trying to find the documentation of Pocahontas. She was recorded as a nine year old doing somersaults in Jamestown not entirely clothed. So dressing guides authentically as they did 500 years ago...sketchy at best, and probably would have had guides arrested for indecent exposure especially in the summer.

The purpose to dress guides and have them "play Indian," was for tourism purposes only. Because when people think of Indians or Native first people, they think of leather clad and feathered Indians of the movies. So much so that in reality, the differences in tribal clothing are so numerous, it is hard today even for REAL native people to wear their own real clothing and be accepted by the general public. Most judge Indians by the perceptions that were given from the movies. 

I know of one chief of an Eastern tribe who sent his children to college on money he made wearing a Plains head dress and charging to have his picture taken. He told me it is because the general public would not recognize the real head dress of his tribe but expected all Indians to wear the plains head dress. He wore the Plains head dress all the way to the bank.

My first Wolf Creek costume was leather pieced together in a hap hazard fashion. What I called "cave man" clothes. It was a requirement of the job to, "play Indian".  I fought this requirement so long it was unreal.  At one time I was threatened with firing if I did not wear the costume. It was that bad. I had to relent if I wanted to stay at Wolf Creek. There were many more reasons to stay and wear the costume.


So I tried to at least make my costume one that would be believable for a later time period of Eastern Woodland tribes with a more modest skirt, a cape and fringe. Fringe had a purpose and was adopted by the Long hunters for use. It was also recorded on women's dresses in the 1600 and 1700's. At least I wanted my costume to look more finished than cave clothes.  I had to prove that they could have fringe at the time of the village with no metal tools and I did by making it with a sharp rock.

The costume was not "regalia". Regalia is much more sacred than that. Regalia has a personal purpose, most times a ceremonial tribal meaning and affiliation. Some folks told me it would be regalia because how the dress was made out of leather. I have leather shoes and a leather pocketbook and we don't call those regalia.

After many years there, I successfully petitioned the powers that be to get rid of the costumes for the guides. Instead to invite real Native Americans to WCIV and let them teach about their culture, their tribe and their regalia.  After we put on uniforms, you still would not believe how many times I would hear when a visitor came through the gates of the village to ask, "Where are the Indians?" and I would ask them, "What does a real Indian look like?" And I would get the answer, "You know feathers and leather."   Though it was daunting, I took it as an opportunity to educate about the first people here and why we should not dress that way.

I had many experiences while in costume. Some visitors would actually talk down to you as if wearing that costume made you less than human. That was something I didn't experience in regular modern clothes. The prejudices against Indians really showed. Others would treat you with this mystical reverence that was bordering on, if not completely, CRAZY!

I once gave a tour to a man and after he finished, he said he planned on returning with his family. That he was very impressed with the tour. The next week he shows up with his "family".  A group of about 9 people, none really related when they introduced themselves, in which some were dressed with Egyptian type make up and carried staffs. It was all very strange.

What unnerved me after I gave them a tour was they said their purpose was to take "me" back, right then, that day, to their "shaman".  That their shaman prayed about it and said I was the person to lead their people on the journey to the "center of the universe".  Wherever we are, we are the center of the universe, so I had no idea where that journey was going to go!!!

That I was to live with their people and to teach them how to live without all the modern conveniences. This included teaching them about natural medicines. In their group was a lady that had Parkinson's disease and she was quitting her medications that week. It was so alarming! This occurred about the time of the Heaven's Gate cult out in California, so I always called them the Heaven's Gate visitors.

I was stunned!! Bless their hearts. I'm not even the guide who taught about natural local medicines at the village. I just looked at the group and asked them, "It's the outfit, isn't it?" and told them, " I'm sorry, but I'm not going anywhere with you. I go home to a microwave and electric heat."  The group was actually waiting for me at the gate at closing time. The director had to threaten to call the police to get them to leave. I was terrified driving home and for about a couple of weeks afterwards I was so much more cautious, making sure I wasn't going to be kidnapped.

This was just one incident. But there were many more positive visitor experiences. Many Native American Indians, not only graciously shared their how-to craft knowledge and history, but also brought back their families for a history lesson that the village itself taught. That was an HONOR!!!

The first group of guides Wolf Creek Indian Village hired were artisans.  We were teaching, "living archeology." We actually recreated the artifacts found using the methods the first people would have had available to them to furnish the displays in the village. We had a basket maker, a flint knapper/fire maker, a potter, hide tanner, tool makers and gardeners.

I began as the basket maker, then the potter, learned to tan hides, make bone tools, garden, (we talked about agriculture) and discussed different gardening methods as shown used by different archeology sites. We used the 3 sisters method for gardens around the village. We would take in "road kill" that would normally be taken to the dump. We used it to show how adept the skills of the first people were at processing animals using just rocks, no metal. We were teaching about the original village, the environment and the skills one would need to live there.

Oddly enough, if you go back in time far enough all over the world, people developed the same skills. The argument comes from why did the first people here not have iron?  Why were they not, as what is thought of as, "developed" as those from Europe.

I once saw a gold bead from a long string of beads, under a magnifying glass the Mayans or Aztec had created. It was the size of a pencil lead and had intricate designs carved into it and was absolutely amazing in detail. People who could create something so tiny and so perfect shows the technological abilities of the people on these continents were not primitive.  Their stonework rivals anything in Europe.


Reading about Cahokia Mounds I realized that it was a civilization that existed for over 100 years, much in the same way civilization ebbed and flowed in the old world.  I realized the first people did not lack anything that Europe had. They had technology, trade, government and agriculture.  I believe after working at WCIV for so long, what I had learned is the reason the iron age wasn't developed is....... because it wasn't needed.  That is, until those who had that technology, showed up.

My next post will be about my partner Eddie Atwell. I met Eddie when he was the head guide at the village. There were other artisans that began with WCIV but this mountain man stayed and it's his knowledge of these skills, which he gladly shared, (and others would take to developing to an art, like Sam Wright) that helped put WCIV on the map.

This picture to the left is the new uniform we wore and at the end of that rope was a small bear that had been hit on the interstate by a car. Brought to us by DOT personnel. We had permits and we processed and tanned the hide for an educational display. Most children never get to touch bear fur or touch to see how long even a bear cubs claws can be. At Wolf Creek they did.

Since it's fall, I have an apple cake recipe to share, that will be next and then a blog post on Eddie.

A Place Called Wolf Creek Indian Village Part 1