There was a time, or so I am told, that a person was born into a life and that was that until they died. Cultural mobility was pretty much non existent. You were either a ruler, a fighter, a prayer or all the rest. A strong clan and class system with a little wiggle room but not much.
For significant cultural change to occur required either an invading horde of Vandals or something like the Black Death to decimate the population and force a societal change. I realize that I am making a broad generalization and that there are multiple exceptions to what I have just stated but still and all it holds true over most of the world most of the time.
On the west coast of what is now Canada about 150 or so years ago both Vandals and disease showed up. The Vandals took the form of Scottish traders and then Anglo European settlers. The diseases were ‘Smallpox’ and the ‘Flu Epidemic‘ of the early 20th century.
For thousands of years there had been a stable ‘High Culture‘ on the west coast. Incredible artistry, sophisticated religion, a complex social and class system, philosophy, and lots and lots of rules and regulations about who could and would do what. But then came the vandals and the diseases and 10,000 years of tradition began to unravel.
The traders brought the first disruptions. Traditionally a leader was accepted only after they had proven themselves worthy by being able to gather the needed wealth to ‘buy’ the position. This could take decades and needed someone who could earn the loyalty of the people by showing that they made good decisions more often than bad ones. But when the Scot’s brought better traps, knives, guns and new forms of wealth the old ways were in trouble. Suddenly fewer people over fewer years could amass more wealth.
Art Cross who has passed away told me of a time in Kitamaat when there were not enough children to play a game of soccer. It was the time of sickness and it was gruesome. Villages were wiped out and in many places the survivors would create a single village where there had been two or three before. Hereditary lines mingled, commoners and royalty came together. Clans merged and the old ways no longer worked.
Anyone who takes the time to look into the history of the world will see this pattern repeated time and again. Two cultures meet. The militarily strongest culture comes out on top. The loosing culture either learns to adjust or is wiped off the face of the Earth. It was touch and go on the west coast of Canada. The government of Canada tried cultural genocide but the People fought back. It has not been easy and it has forced cultural changes that nearly destroyed the People but now a new stronger Native Culture is emerging.
A culture rooted in the past with roots growing into the 21st century. One example is Jess Housty (the lady in the pictures). Heiltsuk by birth, 21st century by choice. She is educated in both Western and Native systems. Is comfortable on both University campuses and the traditional fishing grounds of her people. She is multi-cultural and on occasion may seem to contradict herself. But then I have never met a human that didn’t.
I believe that it is people like her (and there are a growing number of people like Jess) that hold the key for our future. She has found a way to bring the good from her Peoples past into the present to try to create a better future. We all need to find our own way to do the same thing. The old ways gave us war, hatred, illusions of grandeur, greed and so much that was just plain evil.