Larry Sellers, a noted Native American actor and spiritual leader, was working the audience without a script. When one is not impassioned by the conversation, it’s easy to think, “Holy Sheboygan, what is this guy talking about.”
Unfortunately, I missed his morning talk at Fox Farm Whole Food on 32nd street in Joplin, where he was scheduled to discuss herbal medicine—what works and what doesn’t. I would have found that particularly interesting, since I haven’t discovered anything on the shelves that works better than a mental cure. It’s amazing what one can do with mind control.
Speaking of mind control, in the afternoon I finally ran into Sellers, down the road apiece at Eccentrix, and an audience mesmerized by his words. They looked white to me, but he had them listening to their inner Indian. By and large, they appeared to be a docile group, but they were riled up by Sellers’ words against the ills of white society.
“Displaying respect: don’t lie, cheat, stab people in the back” Sellers re-iterated throughout his talk in describing what was meant to be an American Indian. “But,” he said, “survival changed all that living in white society.”
What the historian side of Sellers was referring to was the popular racial slur, “the only good Indian is a dead one,” but he expanded it to mean not dead physically but spiritually, economically and socially. Social historian, Roy Pearce in his book, Savagism and Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American Mind, backs up Sellers arguments. In quoting from the 1779 journal of Major James Norris which expressed the frontier truth: “Civilization or death to all American savages," Pearce mentions that Indians had to change their ways or assimilate the rules and lifestyle of the white conquerors and settlers or die. Anybody resisting this policy was used as an excuse for bloodbaths or for driving survivors into inhumane reservations.
Larry Sellers intently listens to questions from the audience while speaking at Eccentrix in Joplin.
“There’s not room for honor and dignity in this society. How to get on top, make more money than me” were words Sellers used to describe peoples’ priorities.
How to make native people human again is the challenge Sellers took up as early as 2001. Working with the Osage people in Oklahoma, Sellers conducted workshops in parenting with traditional values.
He blames a white “boarding school method” of discipline for creating fear and encouraging lying and manipulation. He called an “honest white guy,” an oxymoron and said that creating “nice little brown white people” destroyed a whole race.
Traditional tribal rearing included no abuse of kids, he pointed out, adding that it allowed self-expression and forced the concept of parenting. “A human being from the womb should be treated with respect,” he said.
Sellers also called attention to misguided comments he’s heard from educators, like “You still live in teepees?” In his role as a Cheyenne medicine man named Cloud Dancing in Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Sellers said that he often suggested script changes that made native people more human or multi-dimensional. He refused to speak in pigeon or broken English. “While the townsfolk sounded like idiots, I spoke proper English,” he noted.
Pictured is the person Sellers decribed as his "girlfriend." In responding to whether he were a traditional Indian or not, Sellers said, "I would have come on a horse instead of a Grand-Am...and my girlfriend drove it."
Critical of group regimentation, Sellers took out all the cards he had in his wallet identifying himself as an Indian. He also suggested that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the proliferation of tribal councils may be the source of many problems.
After making a somewhat derogatory reference to Middle America and the Bible belt, Sellers told the audience to embrace the Bible if it made them “better human beings,” but not to let organized religion “control [their] thoughts and actions.” Instead, they should re-discover their own spirituality.
With laws on the books in Missouri sanctioning abuse of American Indians until as late as 1996, Sellers called attention to the designation, “Black Dutch,” which appears on many local genealogical records. Check your records further, Sellers advised the audience, describing the use of the term by Melungeons, people who moved from the Virginia-North Carolina border to the Ozark area who were an amalgamation of various mixed race, non-white people, particularly remnants of Indian groups. “They hid their Indian origin while trying to explain their being darker than most whites,” he noted.
While changing the white man’s ways as a whole is a nearly impossible task, Sellers hopes that he will convince small groups of people within larger divisions who have Indian ancestry to increase their spirituality. “Look at your family tree for your Indian heritage,” he said, “and gain a greater understanding of it.”
Ron Erwin is owner of both Fox Farm and Eccentrix. He and Eccentrix manager, Brian Speer hope to schedule more speakers in the future. Erwin also hopes to convince the Native American Student Association (NASA) at Missouri Southern to sponsor a Native American entertainer in the fall.
To encourage local Native American artists, Erwin, with the guidance of Speer, have set up a corner of Eccentrix to showcase a variety of cultural material. “We hope to do it in a respectful way," Erwin said. Among the items, which are available for purchase, are jewelry, dolls, beaded work, fetishes, and bronzes.