Carol A. Hand
This post is my first assignment for Blogging 101 🙂
Question 1: “Who Am I?” This isn’t an easy question for me to answer. Perhaps the following essay I started a while ago will explain some of the challenges this question involves.
Am I Catfish Clan or Eagle Clan?
Photo Credit: Ojibwe Moccasins
This is a question I may never be able to answer definitively. My mother was Ojibwe, born and raised on the Lac du Flambeau reservation in the north of what is now Wisconsin. My father was descended from English immigrants, the second generation to be born in the U.S. Because my mother was raised by her aunt and spent pivotal childhood years in a Catholic Indian boarding school, she was denied access to her father who could have answered this question for her. Her mother and the aunt who raised her didn’t practice traditional ways.
As we drove to visit an Ojibwe elder who had documents pertaining to my ancestry, my mother suddenly said, “I’m not sure if we’re catfish clan or eagle clan.” That was all she said before she switched the topic. My mother never mentioned this topic until her later years. She avoided speaking about her past because she carried a deep and lifelong shame about her Ojibwe heritage, instilled during her childhood and boarding school experiences. Soon after our visit with the elder, she developed Alzheimer’s Disease and lost any memories that might have given me some clues.
Photo Credit: My grandson, Mother, and Me – 1999
Over the years since that conversation, I have pondered the meaning of clan membership and done a little research in my spare time. The question is significant, not because I believe that our life path is set by our birth – the time, place, culture or clan – but because the question itself is a reminder to periodically reflect on the directions our life takes and what our actions say about who we really are.
I have realized that the distinction between the Catfish Clan, the scholars, and the Eagle Clan, visionaries, has been a central tension during my life. By nature, I am a scholar who prefers to stand on the margins “to watch, listen and consider” so my deeds will be prudent, a tenet of the Ojibwe Midewewin Code or path of life (Basil Johnston, 1976, p. 93). My life’s path provided me with opportunities to develop those propensities through education and employment. Yet growing up between cultures and becoming increasingly aware of past and continuing colonial oppression, standing on the sidelines without action felt profoundly unethical.
Even as a little child, I felt a sense of responsibility for those who were oppressed. I had to take on leadership and advocacy roles that were extremely uncomfortable for an introverted scholar without the support of a clan structure to guide the way. My light skin tone, education, and ability to communicate across cultures were gifts that I felt obligated to use on behalf of others whose lives were not as privileged as mine.
Because leadership positions are almost always nested within colonial structures of individualistic competition and socially-constructed status distinctions, they have proven dangerous for me on many levels. Even though power is an illusion, it is seductive. It’s easy to lose the clarity of one’s perspective, values, and purpose, to believe that one is special and somehow superior, to forget what is really important in life. It also invites understandable reprisal from people who feel belittled, and the response is sometimes virulently destructive on professional and personal levels.
Now, I am taking some time to reflect. Although I have always lived in the U.S., I have always lived on the margins – between cultures, religions, and socioeconomic classes. Not surprisingly, I see the world from at least two different perspectives and always feel the need to question everything. I genuinely want to understand how others make sense of the world, but I am always uncomfortable with colonial hegemony. I guess I am both a reclusive scholar, a catfish that prefers the quiet depths of a placid lake, but who has sometimes been forced to serve as a reluctant visionary leader, an eagle that soars high to see the world from distant heights, who sometimes speaks truth to power if there is no one else who can.
Question 2: “Why Am I Here?” For the sake of brevity, I’m defining “here” as “Blogging 101.” I’m here to learn. When I first started blogging in June of 2013, I had no idea what a blog was. More than 80 posts later, there are so many things I have yet to understand. Technology is still challenging for me and there are many aspects of the blog I share with a geographically distant partner that I know could be improved.
What more is there to say? I look forward to the adventure, the opportunity to meet new people, and the possibility of developing a more welcoming space for dialogue.
Basil Johnston (1976). Ojibwe Heritage. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.