October 23rd, 2010


spirit beads

When I was in elementary school, a speaker came into our class to teach us about Native American art. He brought elaborate beaded garments. Something about it has stuck in my mind all these years... the spirit beads. Every garment had some little bead out of place; a single black bead where there should be a creme-colored one, something like that. He said that this was done on purpose. Those imperfections are called "spirit beads", to remind people that only God is perfect.

Since then I've learned more things about native americans... partially from Marc, partially from books I've read. And incidentally if you've never read anything by Sherman Alexie, you have to. He's brilliant. You could read Vine Deloria too but only if you feel like getting angry. Sherman Alexie can also make you angry, but he makes you laugh too, and you can feel sad and hopeful and a million other things.

Oh, so anyway the one reliable truth I've learned about native americans is that they love bullshitting white people. Wouldn't you? Your culture is complex and beautiful and completely original, and here come all these idiots who want to learn about it during one special month in the fourth grade. They think you're just something to dress up as for halloween or a football game. They've made it perfectly clear they are not interested in deeper understanding. They want to feel "deep" or "spiritual" sometimes but you know that's just to boost their own ego. So what else can you do but roll your eyes and have a little fun with it, sell them some not-quite turquoise and move on?

I have this sneaking suspicion that the spirit beads might be bullshit. They might just be there because people make mistakes. But if it's true it's a nice thought. When I sew now, every time I mess something up in a small way, like accidentally sewing a pucker into a seam, it makes me think about God. I don't know if that's me stealing from a culture I don't totally understand, or just borrowing a good idea... is there any harm in borrowing a good idea? It's in my mind, I can't get it out.