February 23, 2009

What is the name that is big enough to hold your life?

After reading Dave Pollard's response to Chris Corrigan's and Meg Wheatley's question of "Big Question", I thought about it myself.

From Meg: How do you call yourself? How do you identify yourself? And have you chosen a name for yourself that is big enough to hold your life's work? I have a colleague who first suggested this to me. And he said, "So many of us choose names that are too small for a whole life." So, we call ourselves, 'cancer survivors;' that seems to be a very bold name, but is it big enough to hold a life? Or, 'children of abuse.' Or, we call ourselves 'orphans,' or 'widows,' or 'martyrs'.... are these names big enough to hold your life?

From Chris: What is the name that is big enough to hold your life? This is a name beyond who we are and who we have been - it is a name that we tremble to live into.
From what I understand, Coast Salish language's are built with less of an emphasis on nouns, but more verb-based. Very few things have "terms" for when you compare it to European languages such as English, or even comparing it to northern language's like Kwak'wala. The vocabulary has more terms and words for actions, and few things exist that have "names for things". This also includes place names (village site, resource sites, historical sites, spiritual sites, etc). The names of people, called ancestrials names are the same.

Some names mean "She Wears Two Mountain Goat Wool Blankets", or "Weaver of Mountain Goat Blankets", or "First Man to Appear", or "Travels Across the Inlet by Canoe to Gather Medicines". The ancestral or kweshamin are given to decedents of those who previously carried the name. That is what it is, to carry the name, but not own it. For one day, that name will be passed on. This inter-passing of time is a reoccurring theme amongst my peoples history and culture. The names themselves are passed on for distinct reasons. In some cases, elders of the village will note the similarities of the child and their ancestors that they remembered from when they were younger. It's from this connection it would be decided where the name would carry forth. In some cases, the names came with positions of prestige and responsibilities, and the person best suited to fulfill those would carry on the name of their ancestor. Then it could also be that the characteristics of an individual best suited the meaning of the name held by one of their ancestors.

In one re-told case I know of, one Sḵwxwú7mesh was given a name by the community. He was a warrior who completed an difficult task for his peoples well being, as well as attained supernatural gifts from the Creator. This earned him the admiration and respect of his people, and they gave him a name to show this in honoring him, and his work. This could be how ancestral names are Created. Not by the will of a few, but by the members of a community.

Imagine this. You are gifted a family heirloom stretching back thousands of years (yes, thousands!) to hold, to carry, and to cherish with respect. You have the strength of dozens of pas ancestors who once carried the name, and their legacy and achievements flow through you now too. It comes with a responsibility, to uphold the value of this, for your ancestors, for your family, and for future generations that will carry the name on too. Is this a name big enough to hold your life?

Titles and positions are tricky things. In some cases, they are used ferociously to create a front denoting power, superiority, and self-induced prestige. In other cases, they contain power of liberation and freedom from pre-determined definitions. In indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest though, titles and positions carry with them the implicit actions that apart of the title. It is simply not enought to "hold" that position, using it as a letterhead for life, but that it is a way of life. That what that position or title is, carries with it the way in which you inter-act with the natural world, with human systems like community, and with the circumstances that dictate your own existance. This ain't the same in Settler/Colonizer society. Unfortunately, many of our people don't realize this and either unknowingly or ignorantly adopt Euro-Canadian titles and positions, and use them in the same way as our colonizers forgeting from memory the nature of our ancestors roles in their community.

So that's how I define myself, if I am to define myself. For proposals I write or events I am asked to speak at, what do I put for "titles" next to my name. Dustin Rivers - Amazing son, or perhaps, Dustin Rivers - Shitdistuber!. Both very true, but information you need to know for different contexts. What titles or positions do people assume on me? Up and coming leader? Role model? So twho am I? Activist. Artist. Community organizer. Cultural teacher. Traditional singer. Who knows!

Naming things is a strength. In naming things, you can identify it, and then people can identify with it. It's a way to connect around something simple and complex at the same time. We name things to bring people together.

My life purpose is big enough to hold my life. To bad it isn't a single word, and that could be my name. Perhaps one day I will be given an ancestral name, and that will be big enough to hold my life, and the lives of many before me, and many to come. In any case, we are defined by others and ourselves. It's just a matter of which is defines us more, and which one we let define us more then the other.

My life purpose is:

I Am A Confident Man Who Gives Breath to the Noble Way As A Humble Emissary to Restore Balance to Community


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