Ethics

We returned on Sunday night from Santa Fe having purchased 1.5 pounds of ground Chimayo chili, woven place mats that came from Guatemala, a Green Chili cook book, a New Mexico history book, and two Pendleton baby blankets for some new arrivals of our acquaintance.

A person could sure spend a lot of money in Santa Fe on all sorts of Native American  jewelry and clothes with Indian motifs, but there is something about them that make me very hesitant to wear such things. I don’t normally like to draw attention to myself, and I would feel so fake and pretentious wearing silver and turquoise jewelry.  I think one of my problems with all this is that we have so many Indian friends.  I would feel so odd and out of place if I showed up wearing their sacred cultural symbols on my clothes and jewelry.  If we had more time and luggage space I would have bought pottery.  I love the rugs and textiles. I know that many native Americans depend on the tourist trade for a living and want us to buy their wares. This makes me conflicted. I think I would rather donate to the American Indian College Fund.

We purchased a kachina corn god figure many years ago at the Mesa Verde National Park gift shop. I find the kachinas fascinating, but now that I know more about their meaning and significance, I would be hesitant to buy one, and I now know that I have to care for the one we purchased and not treat it as a decorative object.  Sometimes knowledge can ruin all a person’s fun.

How do your ethics influence what you purchase?

 

17 thoughts on “Ethics”

  1. You show an unusual degree of cultural sensitivity. There are few sacred objects for white citizens in the US. That can prevent us from perceiving that some objects are sacred for people living with different values. A cultural artifact with deep spiritual relevance to a Native American can be enjoyed simply as a decoration by someone who fails to sense all of its meanings in the culture that created it. A gesture meant to reflect respect for another culture can be resented as cultural appropriation.

    The main way ethics alters my purchases is that I try–mostly–to make purchases that are as respectful of the environment as is possible. That is a goal I routinely miss. It gets complicated. I recently saw an article that suggested thin plastic bags were more environmentally friendly than cloth shopping bags. We often ask which purchases are kinder to Mother Earth than others when the real issue is whether we should make any purchase. My car doesn’t go 40 miles on a gallon of gas, but it was made in 2002, so sticking with it is environmentally wiser than buying something new and theoretically better for the planet.

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    1. It’s funny that you should say that there are few sacred objects for white citizens. I was just reflecting on a photo taken yesterday at the Trump rally here in Minnesota. A woman is holding an American flag and wearing some sort of neckwear in a flag motif. Behind her is a modified flag with Trump superimposed over the stars and stripes.
      The right wing has appropriated the flag, imposed their own meanings on it and proceeded to use their philosophically-corrupted flag as a bludgeon. In their hands, the symbology of the flag is no longer mutable. It’s a magical object. By their reckoning has power of its own, over and above that we assign to it. If one flag is powerful, lots of them and also flag-like objects are mathematically more powerful, totems that comfort and reassure them that they are among the chosen.

      Because of that complete and unreflective appropriation, I could not fly a flag or wear anything with a flag motif for fear of being associated with that group and their thinking.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Bill, when I wrote my comment I was thinking that one exception–for some groups–is the US flag. As you point out, some people have hot emotions about that. It is hardly universal, though. What is often called the Confederate Flag is another example, but it has potency only for particular groups.

        In the Sixties and Seventies young people were angry that conservative groups had appropriated the flag as a sacred symbol. One way they expressed that anger was to display US flags upside down, a way of saying they rejected many of the values currently associated with the flag. When my personal anger about warped values was hottest I still could not bring myself to defile the flag because I knew that would be painful to people who didn’t–who couldn’t–share my anger.

        On a somewhat smaller scale, Christian iconography (especially Christmas symbols) have been appropriated in the culture war.

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        1. That’s the danger of embracing symbols and especially if those symbols have taken on a numinous power of their own—they can get away from you.

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        1. Somehow, Steve, I didn’t have you pegged as a person who had in their wardrobe a lot of ties of any color. 🙂

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  2. We have a cement West Highland terrier on our front stoep and a cast iron winged pig in a front yard flower bed. I don’t know what that says about us.

    Our neighbor across the street switches out the flags on his house from a confederate one to one that says “Don’t Tread on Me”. His politics are pretty clear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our neighbors across the street from us also switch out flags. The purple Go Vikings flag is out during football season, and then they have an assortment of various holiday flags which alternate with the rainbow banner, Black Lives Matter, and Stay Woke flags. No doubt about their politics either.

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  3. Thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Renee. Thank you.

    I suspect that Kachina dolls and many other “primitive” artifacts are bought by collectors for their artistic value or interest. I think this is true for a lot of “primitive” art from many cultures. I consider my small collection of Inuit tupilaks carved from walrus tusks to be such objects. Looking at them you’d have no idea what they were originally used for. Tupilaks are not considered sacred, they are more akin to voodoo dolls, but I wouldn’t be surprised if modern day Inuits resent them being sold as souvenirs. Back when I lived in Greenland in 1965, they gladly sold them to white folks like me.

    When gift shops in places like Pipestone National Monument sell peace pipes or ceremonial objects, they often fall into the hands of people who do not appreciate, or have any idea of, or even interest in, their symbolic meaning or value. My brother-in-law bought a beautifully crafted (and expensive) peace pipe there, and it’s now hanging on the wall in his very beautiful wine cellar in Aalborg. I know my Native American friend, Mitch Walking Elk, is not happy about that. I think of it more like a Rosary, an item that is sacred to a Catholic only after it has been blessed. Since this pipe has never been used ceremonially, it’s not sacred to me, but I know Mitch sees it differently. I don’t know what the answer is, but showing appropriate respect for the icons of other cultures is important, I’m just not sure if there’s one right way to do that.

    As far as the silver and turquoise jewelry is concerned, to me that’s more a matter of taste and style. To my sensibilities it’s better suited to someone with a little more pigmentation of their skin than I have. To my eyes, tt doesn’t look good on pale skin.

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  4. I’ve avoided buying Hormel products for many years, because of P-9. There are alternatives, and I don’t know if the alternative companies treat their employees much better, but the name Hormel still makes a negative impression.

    I try to buy used stuff if I can. Make use of something that someone else didn’t want, rather than driving demand for new merchandise.

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  5. I suppose personal ethics affect both what I buy, where I buy it, and from whom. I categorically refuse to buy anything from Walmart, and I much prefer to buy from local businesses rather than national chains when I can afford it.

    There are some corporations that I try to avoid, but that gets really tricky. So many large corporations own so many different brands in so many different categories that it’s difficult to remember and keep track of. Take Nestle, for example. We all know that Nestle sells chocolate and instant coffee, but they sell everything from bottled water (Perrier and S. Pellegrino), to cereal, baby food, cat and dog food (Purina and Alpo), and frozen pizza. The list goes on and on.

    We’re not big consumers of red meat, but when I buy it, I purchase it from either my local butcher shop or a local farm. With the farmers’ market season upon us, it’s very limited what I’ll buy at my local co-op or ALDI. Yes, I realize that ALDI is an international chain, but some things I just can’t justify buying at the co-op.

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  6. i plugged in ethics in 1969 when i declared i wouldn’t kill stuff for any reason any time under any circumstance
    when i used to be a heavy drinker and smoker i had some explaining to do. today i am a model citizen. even my marijuana comes from places that don’t kill stuff. i knew a guy who wouldn’t do diamonds because of the blood diamond aspect of that industry
    i heard the 350 guy talk in the radio about going away with fossil fuels and it makes so much sense.
    life can be easy. just don’t do stuff you wouldn’t want done to you
    ethics !!!

    Liked by 1 person

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