Reflections about the Importance of Knowing Our History

Years ago, when I was forced to confront the egregious representation of Indigenous People in the public school my daughter had attended, I read an interesting book by David Wrone and Russell Nelson, Jr. (1982). “Who’s the savage?” The school district decided to sue me, along with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction as a co-defendant, to prevent the use of “The Pupil Nondiscrimination Statute” to end the demeaning name and cartoonish images they used to promote their high school.

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I spoke with Dr. Wrone, who, along with a distinguished list of other scholars, agreed to be an expert witness in the case. They were never called to testify. I was not allowed by the judge to testify, either. Only the courageous pro bono attorney from ACLU who agreed to represent me was allowed to speak on my behalf as I sat silently beside her. The school district won the case, but lost the larger battle in a later ruling by the State Attorney General. Although I could not use the statute to end the school district’s use of racist caricatures, others could use the statute to challenge local school districts in the future, and many did. (My first post on this blog describes the process in more detail.)

I was reminded of this experience when I watched the following video that features a friend, Carl Gawboy, an Ojibwa scholar and artist.

What’s killing Minnesota’s moose?

YouTube suggested two more.

Why the US Army tried to exterminate the bison

And

How the US stole thousands of Native American children

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I leave you with a question that, tragically, is still relevant today. “Who’s the savage?” Who will benefit by erasing history about the true costs of invasive colonialism across the globe?

Work Cited

David R. Wrone & Russell S. Norton, Jr. (Eds.). Who’s the Savage? Malabar, FL: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company.

Reflections – September 10, 2021

What I noticed this morning …

As I took my morning shower,

I had to fiddle with the faucet

to get the right water flow and temperature

gratitude struck me as the warm water

massaged an achy neck

and I wondered

“What percentage of the world population can take a warm shower in their own home?”

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Curious, I googled the question and found an interesting list of responses. I think it’s worth sharing the first 9 to illustrate something important – at least it’s how goggle’s search engine assesses my interests. I added links for each entry below in case anyone is interested in some of these topics.

  1. Which Country Showers the Most – https://www.mirashowers.co.uk/blog/trends/which-country-showers-the-most/
  2. 60 percent of the world population still without toilets – https://slate.com/technology/2013/02/60-percent-of-the-world-population-still-without-toilets.html
  3. Bathing Habits of the World – Soakologyhttps://www.soakology.co.uk/blog/bathing-habits-of-the-world/
  4. How Often People in Various Countries Shower – The Atlantichttps://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/02/how-often-people-in-various-countries-shower/385470/
  5. The peculiar bathroom habits of Westerners – BBC Newshttps://www.bbc.com/future/article/20191004-the-peculiar-bathroom-habits-of-westerners
  6. Global WASH Fast Facts/Global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene – https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/global/wash_statistics.html
  7. See Fewer People. Take Fewer Showers – The New York Timeshttps://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/06/health/shower-bathing-pandemic.html
  8. Population and environment: a global challenge – Curious – https://www.science.org.au/curious/earth-environment/population-environment
  9. 2.1 billion people lack safe drinking water at home, more than … – https://www.who.int/news/item/12-07-2017-2-1-billion-people-lack-safe-drinking-water-at-home-more-than-twice-as-many-lack-safe-sanitation

This list was surprising to me. I don’t think goggle’s search engine views me as a serious scholar even though I have been online a lot recently looking for research articles as I graded student papers and updated course materials for the undergraduate research course I teach.

I’m curious to know how google would respond to you if you ask this question. I hope you will try and let me know what you find, although it may take some time for me to respond back to you. The first class meets tomorrow via Zoom! A busy semester awaits as the students in my class craft a research proposal and actually conduct a little study. Their studies will need to be done remotely to keep them safe given the current COVID context.

Something else I noticed today:

reflection about privilege september 10 2021

One of the last blooms, a Coneflower or Echinacea, a North American native that is fairly deer and drought resistant

Reflections – September 9, 2021

Greeting the morning from my porch

gazing at the drought-yellowing leaves

highlighted by the rising sun

without a whisper of breeze to move them

muted calls from geese in a practice formation

flying toward the dark western sky

signals of the changing season

reflections september 9 2021

I realize how deeply saddened I am

by the growing distance and silence between us

work is my only solace

as it has been through the years

now especially so during these troubling times

of ever-increasing confusion and fear

looking deeper within for strength and vision

to keep walking this “lonesome valley”

Reflections – August 30, 2021

Grateful for the privilege

to sit peacefully at my computer

while others flee from bombs,

fires, floods, and devastating storms

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Grateful for small things I can do

to make the world a little kinder

by sharing the bounty my gardens yield

with those who wait in line for food

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waiting in line for food August 2021

Reflections – August 25, 2021

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A misty morning view of the front yard gardens – 8/12/2021, 5:59 am.

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How we treat the world around us

expresses profound differences

in what we learned to value

by forces outside of our control

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august 25 2021

A sunny midday view from the back yard – 8/25/2021, 12:23 pm.

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The challenge remains how to peacefully

and patiently coexist with others

whose values are not the same

for reasons outside of their control

History Keeps Repeating – A Reblog

The news about Afghanistan this morning was heartbreaking and decontextualized. How easily we forget the tragic U.S. and global actions that led to so much needless devastation, suffering, and death. It brought to mind my memories from the aftermath of September 11, 2001, almost 20 years ago. It seems important to reblog something I wrote in 2017. I hope it helps provide another perspective in these troubling times when news seems so one-sided.

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History Keeps Repeating

(April 19, 2017)

I wonder how many have experienced being a sensitive child born into a world of chaos and abuse. Perhaps your first memories are similar to the ones described in a post I wrote years ago for a friend’s blog.

My first memory as a child is so clear in my mind even though experts in brain development say it is not possible. It was my first Christmas. A February baby born on the cusp of Pisces and Aquarius, I lay in my crib as the winter sun streamed through the window. My mother and father stood on opposite sides of my crib, arguing. The personal pain and insecurities that led to their argument were so clear to me. But more compelling were the strengths and beauty I saw in both of them. I struggled helplessly in a body that could not give voice to what I saw. All I could do was cry.

Thus began a life lived in the tragic gap between what is and what could be. A life straddling cultures, socio-economic classes, and religious beliefs. Surviving childhood abuse and rape as a sensitive soul brings powerful insights and abilities as well as deep wounds that may take more than one lifetime to heal. Compassion, sorrow, and rage at callous injustice compete in ongoing inner struggles. “Breathe. Detach. Reflect. Do what you can to inspire others to see their own beauty and create new possibilities even though you know it’s not an easy journey. Try anyway, even though you don’t always see yourself worthy of walking this path.”

Events like the bombing of Afghanistan – again – remind me why it’s important to try anyway. History keeps repeating itself. Maybe this time I’ll be able to communicate the message in a way that can be heard.

In 2001-2002, I conducted a critical ethnographic study of child welfare in a rural Ojibwe community. The topic was important to me because Native American children continue to be removed from families and communities in disproportionate numbers. Removing children is a continuing form of cultural genocide. Many previous studies of Native Americans offered justification for this practice. They portrayed Native communities as though they were isolated from the rest of the world, and cultures as if frozen in the long ago past destined to inevitably disappear. I still wonder how anyone could ignore the obvious and profound effects that colonial subjugation has continued to have for Indigenous communities and cultures.

The past and present socio-political context of U.S. Indian and child welfare policies were an important part of my research. I wanted to understand the community and culture from as many different vantage points as possible during my time “in the field.” My first week, I was lucky. An Ojibwe elder shared a story about his childhood that provided a crucial framework and foundation for my study. The information would have remained significant in any case. But the date of our conversation, September 10, 2001, made it clear that even in remote areas global issues have profound effects.

As I work on editing the book manuscript I wrote about my research, I can’t help reflecting on our inability as a nation to learn from history. Two weeks ago, I edited and revised the following excerpt.

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Research Fieldnotes: Monday, October 8, 2001

I’m eager to return to the border town and reservation. The morning is cool and clear as I set out for the long drive. But my heart is heavy with news from the world far from the ceded territories of the Ojibwe. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan began yesterday as the U.S. and its ally, Great Britain, launched an intensive bombing campaign. Retaliation against a poor nation that is not responsible for 911 is so senseless. There will be no positive outcomes for killing other innocent people. “Operation Enduring Freedom,” as the invasion is named, will not bring freedom. I fear it will only result in more death and suffering.

As I drive, I remember President Eisenhower’s observations from so many years ago.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. (Chance of Peace speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC on April 16, 1953)

War will affect the hopes of all of the children in the U.S. and Afghanistan. I have no words to express the deep sadness I feel. So I sing, belting out verses of songs and prayers for peace as tears stream from my eyes. I notice the bald-headed eagle flying above my car, circling overhead as I pray and sing. I wonder. “Is the eagle’s presence merely a coincidence? Or is it a sign that what I’m doing will forge a path to build understanding and peace?

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Present-day Reflections. I don’t remember ever learning anything about Afghanistan in school, even though it’s been inhabited for at least 50,000 years and is the location of some the oldest farming communities in the world. It has been a predominantly Muslim country since 882 CE comprised of diverse indigenous tribes ruled by a central monarchy. Despite its land-locked location, Afghanistan has remained an important connecting point between the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.

In recent history it once again became the site of competing interests. In the mid-1800s, Great Britain imposed colonial rule over Afghanistan’s neighbor, India, leading to an ongoing struggle between Britain and the Soviet Union for control of the area. Internal conflicts within Afghanistan between those with differing views of governance, monarchy versus communism, erupted into civil war. Both the Soviet Union and United States provided cash and weapons to aid and arm competing armies. In 1979, the Soviet Union finally sent in troops and took control of the country. It’s estimated that 1 million Afghan people were killed by Soviet troops and their Afghan allies. Many more Afghan people fled to other nations before the Soviet Union withdrew their forces in 1989 (Admin, PBS, 2006).

During the 1980s in the U.S., funding was significantly reduced for the social welfare safety net programs intended to help poor families and children with access to health care, education, housing, income security, and nutrition (Karger & Stoesz, 2010). At the same time, billions of dollars flowed into Afghanistan to arm and support insurgent anti-communist forces that were fighting against Soviet occupation (Coll, 2005).

Due to ongoing wars, Afghanistan was one of the poorest countries in the world when Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001. Between October 7, 2001 and January 1, 2002, an estimated 1,000 to 1,300 civilians were killed as a direct result of bombing (Conetta, 2002a). By mid-January, 2002, another 3,200 had died of starvation, exposure, illness or injuries related to invasive bombing by the U.S. and Great Britain (Conetta, 2002b).

Eisenhower’s warning proved to be true. Children and families in both nations have continued to be affected by the costs of war on many levels.

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Research Fieldnotes: Monday, October 8, 2001 (continued)

The eagle and long drive give me a chance to compose myself before I reach the reservation.

I arrive at Henry’s house at about 10:40, only ten minutes late for our scheduled meeting….

Community members gathered at the elder’s center the next day for lunch, as they did most weekdays. “I can’t understand why the Afghani people don’t like us,” Maymie says. The elders talk of anthrax, gardens, and making apple cider. They don’t seem to be concerned about the threat of terrorism here, but they do express their confusion about why others in the world seem to hate Americans.

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A few days ago, the U.S bombed Afghanistan again with “the mother of all bombs.” Operation Enduring Freedom? Other choices are possible and far more likely to be successful if that really is the goal of U.S. international actions.

I honestly don’t know how to effectively communicate with those who don’t seem to be able to listen or hear. Sometimes all I can do is find moments of beauty despite the deep sorrow I feel. Other times, I just cry, as I did on my first Christmas. Today, I choose to share this message along with my prayers for peace despite the risk of being ignored, criticized or misunderstood.

Works Cited:

Admin (2006, October 10). The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. PBS Newshour. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/asia-july-dec06-soviet_10-10/.

Coll, Steve (1005). Ghost wars: The secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Conetta, Carl. (24 January, 2002a). Operation Enduring Freedom: Why a higher rate of civilian bombing casualties. PDA: Project on Defense Alternatives. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.comw.org/pda/0201oef.html .

Conetta, Carl. (30 January, 2002). Strange victory: A critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan war. PDA: Project on Defense Alternatives. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.comw.org/pda/0201strangevic.html.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1953, April 16). Chance of Peace. Speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chance_for_Peace_speech on March 15, 2015.

Karger, Howard Jacob & Stoesz, David (2010). American social welfare policy: A pluralist approach, 6th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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Reflections from the Margins – August 15, 2021

Honestly, there are times

when I prefer not to bridge cultures

to make thoughtless people feel comfortable

for behaving in ways that are childish,

offensive, invasive, or disrespectful to others

because they take their unearned

unquestioned privilege for granted

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I reserve the power to simply walk away

without a glance or comment

and let them think what they will

but sometimes I feel called to stand

with others in solidarity against insanity

the sad fact is that self-absorption

has a toxic impact on everything else

and threatens life-sustaining connections

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Protect Our Water (Stop Enbridge Line 3) Demonstration in Duluth, Minnesota on September 28, 2019 – an ongoing issue https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/10/protesters-line-3-minnesota-oil-gas-pipeline

Edited to add an important information shared by Diane Lefer:

August 17th (this Tuesday) there will be solidarity actions in several cities around the US. (Especially for health and science workers, but all are welcome) Check out the map and links, please: https://sites.google.com/view/healthagainstline3/home?emci=1785537b-51f9-eb11-b563-501ac57b8fa7&emdi=4f4f27c2-1dfa-eb11-b563-501ac57b8fa7&ceid=155049

Reflections – August 8, 2021

As the beginning of the fall semester draws near, I find myself remembering “The Clicker.”

If you haven’t read this old post, you might find it interesting. The post describes one of the encounters I had during my years working as a faculty member in academia. I survived those years by writing fieldnotes and reflections to record what I witnessed and experienced. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t share what I wrote then. One of the reasons I began blogging about six years ago was to finally share some of the stories. Although I did my best to remove all personal identifiers, one person did recognize a few of the protagonists since she, like me, was a target of theirs because she was different.” Today, one of those experiences came to mind and inspired the following reflection.

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as she stood by the cutting board

slicing up an old apple

before it finally became too rotten to eat

she found herself once again

looking back at her social awkwardness

chuckling about petty colleagues

who thought they were

meting out punishment by

ostracizing her from their social gatherings

when in reality, from her perspective,

they were actually sparing her discomfort

from the meaningless small talk

she would have had to endure otherwise

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august 8 2021

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I am truly grateful that I retired early and now have the gift of a position teaching groups of diverse, amazing students with the support of competent, supportive colleagues. But it’s time for me to get back to the apple before it turns even browner…

Reflections July 12, 2021

On the homeward stretch

of my solitary morning walk today

I saw two young women walking their dogs

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Words I heard a month ago

given voice by a lonely soul

came to mind

“I used to walk my dog…”

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I used to walk my dog, too

For the third day, I am walking alone

not knowing what to do with my empty hands

They used to hold my little dog’s leash

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for Pinto 1

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Some days I have followed the familiar routes he chose

other days, I have expanded my horizons

remembering our times together as I walk

with both sorrow and deep gratitude

for the wounded soul who trusted me to care

despite a previous life of abandonment and abuse

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I used to walk my dog

Now I walk to give thanks for our time together

and will continue to explore old places and new

with a different perspective that he helped me discover

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for Pinto 3

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For my Beloved Companion, Pinto

Born September, 2010 – Adopted October 29, 2013 – Died July 9, 2021

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