Anthropologist William “Bo” Taylor gave an exciting and interactive presentation, discussing stereotypes, personal history and what it means to be a Native American in the modern age in Cherokee History, Language, and Culture from a Native Perspective. He is a member of “Ah-ni-gi-lo(la)-hi,” translated from Cherokee as “Cherokee Longhair Clan,” teaches traditional dance to Native youth and is a Museum of the Cherokee Indian archivist.
Taylor conducted the presentation in Cherokee war regalia, wooden club in hand, warning the audience of his unconventional style. “I’m like an apple,” he exaggerated, “red on the outside, white on the inside.” Laughter filled the room, and he began to speak about political correctness and the need to laugh at ourselves from time to time. He requested we keep an open mind, to not get mad and to allow the presentation to evolve on its own.
Come Back Wolf, Taylor’s Native name, danced his way through college and traveled across the U.S. He mentioned briefly strange looks that came from Native festival-goers and the sensationalism behind their interest in the culture. A volunteer accompanied Taylor onstage to help exemplify differences in Native dress and the annoyance resulting from cultural ignorance personified by visionless indulgences of an unknown heritage.
Taylor concluded his presentation and informed us that questions would make him talk more. Laughs emerged yet again, followed by equally excited questions. Inquiries centered on his clothing lingered in the conversation, accompanied by a sad story about him and two Native youths at a past football game where drunken Washington Redskin fans bellowed chants and derogatory terms next to the three as they watched the game. He explained that the children looked down during most of the event, losing excitement in the game because of the shame felt from another’s perversion of their culture.
Responsibly appropriating Native culture is key to preserving its value in communities that gave birth to it. Fascination is okay, but it can’t be based on stereotypical visions of the lost and romanticized Native American. Taylor urged the audience to dissolve preconceived notions of race and replace this need for titles with feelings of acceptance and connectedness.
Connecting culturally significant objects or actions to their natural counterpart is a part of this concept. The color red symbolizes life and beauty to the Cherokee, and is the same color as the cardinal. Through this idea, meanings are connected to living, breathing beings.
Learning and growing within his own culture helped Taylor to feel whole after being raised in an environment that shamed him for his heritage. It took getting faced with discrimination to self-actualize into the passionate and dedicated individual he is today.
Krystal S. Tsosie, from Vanderbilt University, will present The Controversial Nature of Genetics Research in Native American Communities next Monday, Apr. 13 for the Spring 2015 Honors Lecture Series.
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