We are indigenous as well...
Conversation with Marek Maciolek, TAWACIN’s editor in chief, on the occasion of the journal’s fiftieth issue

Question: TAWACIN used to be subtitled “Indian Friends’ Paper”. Why isn’t it so anymore?

Marek Maciolek: Well, this subtitle disappeared from the journal’s cover exactly one year ago - issue 2[46], summer 1999. I wonder why you haven’t asked about it before... Anyway, hardly anyone noticed the change in the first place and I think one shouldn’t make a sensation of it, especially since this subtitle is still featured in the editorial note. It cannot be found on the cover anymore mainly because
referring to TAWACIN as a “paper” irritated me. Papers are for hobbyists and fans. TAWACIN was a paper, that’s true, but only up to its 15th issue when we stopped making copies and turned to printing it. Then we registered the journal in court, received, from the National Library, the ISSN number and so, ever since, TAWACIN has been formally the only journal in Poland devoted to American Indian issues.

Q: I have heard gossip that, at any moment, one can expect to find in TAWACIN articles about other than “Native American,” indigenous cultures from all over the world. Should we expect it to happen this year?

MM: Here we go with another sensation - due to gossip that must have reached you in the most intricate way. The truth, however, is prosaic. TAWACIN will definitely not cease to be devoted to Native American issues and I wouldn’t expect any radical changes.
Nevertheless, the hardships indigenous peoples go through all over the world are much the same, to name only the loss of lands and territories, the necessary change of the way of life, ethnic annihilation due to co-existence with whites, assimilation, and, finally, attempts at restoration. Native Americans were the first to go through all these. In a way, they were pioneers and it is to be noted that not only Canadian First Nations, indigenous peoples from Mexico as well as Latin and South America, but also Aborigines from Australia and Polynesian indigenous peoples made use of Native Americans’ experiences. They enabled and facilitated other indigenous peoples’ entering the struggle for their rights as well as choosing appropriate methods since after military confrontation, the purpose of which is to show the mainstream society that the indigenous peoples are still there, the time comes to fight by means of law procedures. Nowadays Native Americans say there are too few lawyers among them, which proves that the legal way is more effective.
American Indians’ experiences, therefore, are very precious for other indigenous peoples and one should keep that in mind. Now, to answer your question directly, we have never avoided publishing articles about other indigenous peoples. There have been a number of such articles published in TAWACIN for the last couple of years. Indigenous peoples as such are constantly present in our journal. I have to admit that in this way we refer to the tradition of the once biggest Native American journal — Akwesasne Notes, the example of which we tried to follow. The Mohawks also began by dealing exclusively with their local issues, then they went on to making the journal available to the indigenous inhabitants of both Americas and, finally, they started to deal with the problems of indigenous peoples worldwide. They wrote, among others, about European Sami or Aborigines.

Q: In TAWACIN no. 49, on one page we read a column whose author claims that Polish American Indian Friends Movement no longer exists and, a page earlier, that same author invites people to come to American Indian Friends Winter Meeting he’s organizing himself. How would you explain these two contradictory statements? Would you say that PAIFM no longer exists?

MM: First of all, I can see here no contradiction. As far as I remember, in no place did Cien [Marek Nowocien, the author of the column] write that the Movement did not exist. He just mentioned at the beginning that “in Poland there aren’t any Indian friends anymore”. This double-dealing sentence (absolutely allowed in a column) refers to something deeper. Marek simply expressed his concern that the Movement becomes less and less visible, especially on the pages of TAWACIN, that its members do not take part in the discussion about its condition, and that the only way the Movement “exists” is through the announcements of various events containing the adjective “Indian” in their names. At least that’s what one might think in a few years looking in our journal for the information on PAIFM.

Q: More or less a year ago you said you were “sick of this PAIFM”. Do the changes to be noticed in the contents of TAWACIN constitute your slow but systematic cutting off from PAIFM? Will the announcements of annual summer camps be the only link between the journal and the Movement?

MM: I may have said something like that but I cannot remember its context anymore. I’m sure, however, that I meant something particular. I do not know what “noticeable changes” you mean, either. Am I turning my back on PAIFM? No, I disagree with this charge. I do not really approve of some manifestations of PAIFM’s existence, I’m not in favor of its main direction of development — that is, stressing the spectacular value of Native American cultures, dressing up “Indian.” In the beginning of my “indianistic” way, I also considered preparing a costume, Plains Indians’ costume of course, making camp equipment, etc. It’s not “bad.” I do not think it proper, however, when this way of being interested in Native Americans starts to dominate, which happens in Poland at the moment. We are considered freaks, all dressed up in Indian costumes. We become “exotic,” when featured in women’s tabloids. In an effort to free ourselves form the communist control, in which everything that wasn’t allowed was forbidden, the society fully embraced and accepted our extravagancy as a display of the freedom of an individual to express their opinion. At the same time, pretty soon we became labeled: an attractive curiosity for children’s day, the feast of the city’s patron saint or in a commercial of margarine, etc. I don’t identify with it. It is absolutely contrary to my views and opinions. I don’t want to use too pathetic words, but, as it seems to me, many people turned 180 degrees away from their previously held ideals. The purpose of establishing the Movement was, among others, to oppose the stereotypical views of Native Americans and propagate accurate information about them. Today, the very same people approve of the stereotypical picture of the “redskin” wearing a warbonnet. If, therefore, there’s anyone turning their back on the Movements’ ideals, it’s not me.
TAWACIN constitutes a strong alternative to that dominant line. PAIFM used to organize two big events a year: a camp in summer and scientific lecture sessions in winter. Summer camps take place every year and, in the view of the fact that there are no more scientific sessions, the task of spreading the knowledge about Native Americans was taken over by the journal. I’d like very much, of course, the movement to be noticeable on TAWACIN’s pages, but that doesn’t depend exclusively on me. A number of times we published controversial articles about PAIFM, hoping to provoke discussion. I know that these articles were discussed and argued about, but none of these discussions took the form of writing, a text to be published in the journal. What I need are texts, and it looks as though either people didn’t want to share their experience, which was mentioned by Cien at the end of his column, or as if they didn’t have anything to say.

Q: Apart from general, annual summer camps where everyone is welcome there are also camps — called Takini — which are organized secretly and to which one needs to be invited. What is your attitude to these camps?

MM: What we deal here with are two phenomena. First of all, I do accept the exclusivity of these meetings. They are open to those who fulfill certain conditions. That’s obvious, if I’m not a member of a certain political party, I’m not allowed to take part in its meetings, unless I’m invited as an observer. If I don’t have an Indian costume, I’m not interested in participating in ceremonies and everyday, Indian-style camp life, why would I go to Takini? I (as a “textile” — read: without Indian costume) would feel uncomfortable and, in addition, other participants would feel bad due to my skepticism. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that actually everyone, having met certain conditions, is allowed to participate in Takini. I’m sure it’s not a totally closed group and since they set higher standards — very well, the group will last longer.
The second phenomenon is more complicated. Takini meetings are invested with some sort of mystery, which makes them seem more attractive. Their participants feel they are a part of something exceptional. And that is true. I’m sure the mood is exceptional – it is always so in a group the members of which like spending time together. No doubt, the fact that people integrate is a big advantage of Takini. The social perception of this initiative is the disadvantage, however. And I don’t mean exclusively Takini, but all camps and meetings during which some pseudo-Indian ceremonies are held. The inexperienced think that the participants of the ceremonies have undergone an initiation into the “Indian way,” that they are almost Indians themselves. I think, however, that the so–called “traditionalists”[as opposed to textiles] mislead people. They either create completely new societies or associations or try to refer to old traditional Native American societies, mainly from Plains nations. Even though the “traditionalists” don’t claim that outright, to many people what they do seems hundred–percent Indian. Nobody opens peoples’ eyes to the truth. That’s where I see the next way of forgetting the Movement’s ideals. There have never been among Native Americans the societies and associations that exist in the Polish indianistic movement!
I have talked many times to the “traditionalists,” trying to persuade them to present their point of view, which would, no doubt, solve many misunderstandings and would let them take a position. Unfortunately, my attempts brought no results. The people I talked to were not able to rationally explain their opinions, which makes me think they do not really know what they are doing.

Q: More and more people complain that TAWACIN becomes more and more boring and that one cannot read it with flushed cheeks like before. There can be no doubt that it is because there are more and more well educated people writing for the journal, publishing more specific articles that apparently lack “action” and aren’t able to wake readers’ imagination. And it seems that it’ll remain so. Aren’t you worried that TAWACIN’s readership will grow smaller and that not only will the journal drift away from the Polish indianists’ issues but that they will drift away from TAWACIN as well?

MM: In your question you took up a number of issues and it’s not possible to answer it in one sentence. First, one needs to know what kind of texts one is looking for as far as Native Americans are concerned and then make a choice where to look for them. TAWACIN is not for everybody. As I mentioned earlier, most members of PAIFM succumbed to the pressure of “traditionalists” and try to meet their ideals by outward appearance - Indian costumes. It’s up to them. TAWACIN, however, is directed to the readership who, in indigenous cultures, seek a more universal idea, the common ground of history, an understanding one’s life in reference to the richness of other cultures, the realization of one’s humanity through intercultural relations and an exchange of values. We are Polish and we’ll never be Indian, definitely not Indians in Poland. We can, however, refer to Native American - or more generally indigenous - cultures to enrich our perception of the world. After all, we are indigenous as well in our part of the world, for Native Americans we are Native Polish! They can learn from us a lot as well. Meanwhile, the traditional, stereotypical image of an Indian is still no more than the petrified picture of the 19th century. There are no more such Indians!
So, the question appears whether we should revive the 19-century corpse, trying to restore its one-time greatness by all means or whether, keeping in mind that greatness, we should portray contemporary Native Americans as they are, with all their problems. Which of the two pictures is more realistic and true? The latter one, definitely, is less attractive.
Next, we all grow up and grow to understand the phenomena of our lives more deeply. All the same, shouldn’t TAWACIN develop in a similar way? I agree that some articles are difficult. But, should we keep on writing the same things over and over again or stay on the same level? I’m afraid that here, in Poland, we have created a certain picture of the Indian, we cling to it tenaciously and we want the articles to reinforce our belief that it is true. We don’t like verifying our ideas. Many of us, for example, keep on living the beautiful dream of AIM of the 1970s. At the same time, nowadays American Indian Movement is practically of little importance on Native scene in America. It was indispensable for the time of war, now the time has come to rebuild. The situation within Native communities undergoes such rapid and radical changes that I’m not all that sure we are intellectually ready to take in all of them. I can’t help being haunted by the thought that we know nothing about contemporary Native Americans. W still lag a few years behind. Just look how much Washington changed its position as far as Native American issues are concerned! Look what president Clinton (it’s just a pity that at the end of his last term) is doing for Native Americans! These are facts. But, who cares? Still, to get to know Native Americans one needs to know about it.
Finally, I’m puzzled by the “complaints” you heard. I just wonder why nobody wrote to me anything like that. Hardly ever do our readers send critical notes. If they are writing letters, these are usually positive opinions approving of the direction TAWACIN has taken. I can risk and say that at least 50 percent of our readers do not consider themselves members of PAIFM and don’t attend summer camps. I cannot, therefore, take into account the needs of PAIFM members exclusively. And if indianists drift away from TAWACIN, it’s because they are interested in Indians they have created for themselves and they don’t really want to know real Native cultures.

Q: What surprises can we expect in the coming issues of TAWACIN?

MM: That is the most difficult question you’ve asked. A number of times
I promised the authors of articles that their texts would be published and then, unexpectedly, I had to change the concept of the issue and postpone the publication of these articles, which — given that TAWACIN is a quarterly - can be annoying. Some people took offence. That’s why I’d rather restrain from any specific announcements. We have some projects in store, which would systematize basic information and provide the readers with a sort of compendium of information about the indigenous peoples of both Americas. We are also trying to acquire permissions to publish excerpts from contemporary literature by authors of Native American descent. We also hope to be able to present some of contemporary Native musicians, artists and actors. No doubt, the web page (www.tipi.pl) will be a surprise and even though it will be loosely connected with the printed version of TAWACIN, in a way, the journal will come into being in the virtual world as well.

May 20–21, 2000

transl. by Beata Skwarska