Category Archives: Bridging Cultures

White Pony Reflections

Carol A. Hand

Fall is really here. It was time to take my little “White Pony” in for a check-up and oil-change today. Yes, my 11-year old car has a name thanks to my granddaughter and an Ojibwe friend I haven’t seen in years. Here’s an excerpt from a poem that describes my car’s naming ceremony.

***

La Joie de la Vie

My Granddaughter Dancing in the Rain – July 2015

“What can we do that’s fun in the rain?
Do you think we should wash the car?”
“Oh yes, oh yes!,” you said.
So I grabbed a bucket and two new sponges,
yours orange and mine purple.

Carefully Washing “White Pony” – July 2015

“Does your car have a name?”
I thought quickly of one of your favorite toys – Pink Pony!
And I remembered an Ojibwe friend from long ago
who teased me about riding my White Pony
when I drove another white car
through the forests, past lakes and farmlands
to tribal communities and the State Capitol
in our work on tribal social justice issues.

So my car was given its predecessor’s name – White Pony.
But this White Pony mostly stays in the driveway now
even though it once climbed mountain passes
as it brought me, in a round-about way, to my new home.

***

I had time to read as I waited for my car to be serviced. The book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Kimmerer, 2013), is one of the most beautiful ones I have ever read. Perhaps it’s because Kimmerer blends science, poetry, and spirit from an indigenous perspective.

“A people’s story moves along like a canoe caught in the current, being carried closer and closer to where we had begun. As I grew up, my family found again the tribal connections that had been frayed, but never broken, by history. We found the people who knew our true names.” (Kimmerer, p. 36).

Decades ago, when I first entered college, my major was a blend of chemistry and biology. Nature has always fascinated me. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to be an ecologist, but that was not a subject the college I attended offered or even recognized. Nonetheless, my advisor and botany professor, Sister Lorita, offered me much more even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I described her lesson in a previous post

***

Teaching and the Wonder of Life…

Through example, she taught me what it means to teach. Students made fun of her because of her weight and because of her enthusiasm for her subject, a subject they found boring. One day when we were meeting, Sister Lorita looked at me and said, “I know students laugh at me, but I don’t care if people make fun of me. It’s worth it to me if they learn to see the wonder of life in a blade of grass.”

Wikimedia Commons

***

It would be many years before I would realize what a precious gift she gave me that day. Instead of becoming an ecologist or botanist who saw the wonder of life in plants, I ended up in social work, focusing on gerontology and organizational theory. I finally earned a Ph.D. in social welfare, although it took me an extra ten years. First, life led me “home” to my roots through a series of divergent events. It’s how my first white car ultimately got its name.

I was working as a teaching assistant and official note-taker for a diversity class at the university I attended. As I rushed up the hill to class one day in fall, I was contemplating a successful career in academia. I had just received notice that I was awarded a grant-funded position as a research assistant on a prestigious study. It was a fast track to likely success in the world of academia. Here’s an excerpt from an old post that describes the pivotal event.

***

You Need to Remember…

(There were no public domain photos of the plaque…)

As I crested the top of the hill, I neared the site of the last battle of the Black Hawk Wars. Just shy of the plaque commemorating the war, a tribal elder appeared dressed in an unlikely outfit – blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. He looked at me with severity and simply said, “You need to remember what is really important.” I didn’t have time to reflect on the message then, but in the decades since it is something I contemplate often, although this isn’t a story I share with others for obvious reasons. The challenge of walking in two worlds, one based on rationality and empirical evidence and the other based on a deeper spiritual awareness are not easily reconciled. It turns out that I didn’t finish my degree based on elder caregiver issues. It would take more than a decade and many experiences later to finally complete a study on Indian child welfare, but that’s another story.

***

Reading about Kimmerer’s experience with academia connected me with my own. I made a connection that I hadn’t even contemplated before. Perhaps I would have dismissed the elder’s appearance as too bizarre to consider. It would have been easier to simply ignore the message even though it made me feel a tinge of guilt.

In all likelihood, the study I would have been working on wouldn’t really have made a difference for people who were marginalized. It might, at best, have added to scientific knowledge about caregivers of adult children with mental retardation. But I doubt that I would have based a life-changing decision solely on a “vision” I couldn’t scientifically verify as “real.” At least at that point in my life. Fortunately, life had already set in motion a context that would lead me home in my yet-to-be named White Pony, both to seek refuge and to work on issues close to my heart. Tribal social justice issues. Following are excerpts from older posts that describe the context.

***

We’re Honoring Indians…

When my daughter was a senior in high school, she received a commendation notice from her French teacher. This was not the first or last, but it was the one I noticed on a different level. I remember “seeing red” when I noticed the logo on the top, yet I immediately reflected on the message – my daughter had demonstrated excellent work. So I complemented her. Then, I contacted the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) to explore what protections they had in place to prevent racial stereotyping of indigenous peoples. The response from WDPI changed my life.

A Mixed Message

At the time, I was working on a federal grant to address elder abuse in eight pilot counties in Wisconsin. In an effort to promote awareness about the project, I met with a reporter from a local paper. In the process of talking about the project, “Tools of the Trade for Men Who Care,” the reporter and I became friends. We were both outsiders in the largely white, Christian community. She was Jewish, and I was Ojibwe. I mentioned the appalling name and logo used by the local high school, and mentioned that I had been advised by WDPI to wait until my daughter graduated to pursue any action. But, I was told, there was a state statute, the Pupil Nondiscrimination Act that I could use as the basis of a complaint. The WPDI staff added that although the statute had never been tested for its relevance to discriminatory logos and team names, filing a complaint under this statute could set an important precedent. My friend asked me to let her know if I ever decided to pursue the issue.

The months passed and my daughter graduated and went off to a university. I stayed in touch with my friend at the newspaper as the project I was working on gained momentum. Then, I added another job. I was completing my doctorate in social welfare at the time, and began as a teaching assistant in a sociology class on diversity and discrimination. As I faced the 465 students, I realized that ethically I needed to walk the talk and address the discriminatory use of logos by public schools in the state.

My education thus far had taught me two things that appeared relevant to this issue. First, when approaching community change, it is always best to start on the assumption that others may easily agree if approached from a position of collaboration. So I drafted a letter to the superintendent of schools in the district. I asked my diplomatic and thoughtful university advisor to review the letter, and when he commented that it was well-reasoned and balanced, I sent it off. I also sent a copy to my friend at the newspaper.

Second, I expected a thoughtful diplomatic response from the superintendent of schools. If one believes the physics theory that every action results in an equal and opposite reaction, a well-reasoned letter calling attention to unintentional discrimination toward Native Americans should result in the willingness to dialogue, right? That was not the case. The response of the superintendent was to send a copy of my letter to the weekly newspaper in the local community. My friend also broke the story in a larger newspaper on a slow news day. Within a week, I was the topic of hundreds of letters to the editor in local and state newspapers, and featured on the nightly TV news. The community reaction included nasty, degrading personal attacks and threats.”

***

Memories and Prophesies

When my partner lost his job as an assistant manager of a lumber retail company, in all likelihood a response to my very public and unpopular advocacy, I was forced to withdraw from the university in the final stages of completing my doctorate in order to get a full-time job. I wanted to escape from the world of Euro-Americans for awhile and accepted a position as the deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency. I moved to the Ojibwe community where my mother was born and bought an off-the-grid cabin in the woods…

Amik Lake, Lac du Flambeau, WI – Early 1990s

***

Life circumstances led me to a place where I felt at home. The animals, trees and earth sometimes spoke to me. Although my job was not an easy, I had a clear sense that what I was learning and doing mattered. Perhaps the elder who visited me by Blackhawk’s memorial marker would agree.

“There was a time when I teetered precariously with an awkward foot in each of two worlds – the scientific and the indigenous. But then I learned to fly. Or at least try. It was the bees that showed me how to move between different flowers – to drink nectar and gather pollen from both. It is this dance of cross-pollination that can produce a new species of knowledge, a new way of being in the world. After all, there aren’t two worlds, there is just this one good green earth.” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 47)

My old White Pony drove so many miles she finally had to be replaced. These days, the White Pony I drive doesn’t travel far. I make sure she’s taken care of because I rely on her to get me to and from the tribal and community college where I teach research and co-teach social work macro practice. I often think of Sister Lorita’s example as I try to weave science and wonder together, encouraging students not only to count and measure, but also to see, feel, hear, and sense the wonder of life all around.

Hawk’s Ridge, Duluth, MN – October 13, 2017

 

I am grateful to Sister Lorita and thankful for the memories sparked by Kimmerer’s eloquent book today. I appreciate the opportunity to continue learning from yet another generation and the chance to share some of what I have learned in exchange. Ah. But that reminds me of the papers I have to grade today…

Work Cited

Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Crossing Divides

Carol A. Hand

 

Finding common ground,

It’s not as easy as it sounds

Just try it once or twice

Crossing divides

into discomfort and uncertainty

Suddenly your attention is heightened

Searching intently, listening deeply for clues

about how to act, what to say

unless, of course, you think you’re there to save others

But it’s definitely worth trying in either case

You’ll learn more about yourself and the world

than you ever thought possible

***

Community Clipart
Community Clipart

***

It seems in divisive times such as these

We need more peace-builder boundary spanners

People who genuinely want to understand

The essence of our shared humanity

***

Celebrating the Peace-Makers

Carol A. Hand

This morning I awoke early, feeling the urgency to finish writing something I began before going to sleep in the wee hours. It was a rambling incoherent reflection that explained my absence from WordPress this week.

There are days when “real world” responsibilities keep me away from blogging – preparing courses, working on a book manuscript, paying bills, chipping ice from my sidewalk and driveway, buying groceries, and weaving new social networks. Other times, I need to retreat and re-energize, taking time to balance and reflect. Especially now. The fear, anger, and divisiveness are palpable, even virulent at times. It’s a delicate balancing act to remain hopeful and objective in tumultuous times.

This evening when it was movie time for my parakeet, Queenie, I opted to explore dramas based on real life on Netflix. Queenie prefers movies with music. So the first choice, toward the end of a long list, was the movie “The Idol,” the story of Palestinian singer Muhammed Assaf. The second was among the recommended videos when our first movie ended, “East Jerusalem West Jerusalem.” The movie chronicles David Broza’s initiative to bring Israeli, Palestinian, and American musicians together to produce an album. Both were hopeful examples of artists using their gifts to spread a message of peace and human connections.

Today, while the USA erupts into divisiveness, it seems fitting to celebrate the artists and peacemakers among us who focus on reaching across borders to unite people in our shared humanity.

The Idol” by writer-director Hany Abu-Aassad tells the story of Muhammed Assaf whose talent as a gifted singer gained worldwide recognition despite the oppressive reality of life in Gaza that he was able to escape.  Through his art, Assaf raises awareness about oppression and possibilities.

Following is a video that highlights Assaf’s work.

East Jerusalem West Jerusalem,” directed by Henrique Cymerman and Erez Miller, follows David Broza’s work bringing artists together across cultural divides (Israeli, Palestinian, and American) to collaborate on an album in a recording studio in Arab (East) Jerusalem. “Over eight days, the artists build cultural bridges, finding common ground through their music and their commitment to peace.” (Skirball.org)

Following is a video of David Broza’s account of the process.

The video and lyrics from one of the songs on the album, Jerusalem by Steve Earle, underscore the contributing artists’ shared commitment to peace and unity.

“Jerusalem”
By Steve Earle

I woke up this mornin’ and none of the news was good
And death machines were rumblin’ ‘cross the ground where Jesus stood
And the man on my TV told me that it had always been that way
And there was nothin’ anyone could do or say

And I almost listened to him
Yeah, I almost lost my mind
Then I regained my senses again
And looked into my heart to find

That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Well maybe I’m only dreamin’ and maybe I’m just a fool
But I don’t remember learnin’ how to hate in Sunday school
But somewhere along the way I strayed and I never looked back again
But I still find some comfort now and then

Then the storm comes rumblin’ in
And I can’t lay me down
And the drums are drummin’ again
And I can’t stand the sound

But I believe there’ll come a day when the lion and the lamb
Will lie down in peace together in Jerusalem

And there’ll be no barricades then
There’ll be no wire or walls
And we can wash all this blood from our hands
And all this hatred from our souls

And I believe that on that day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

It’s easy to divide people. The divisiveness will continue to be trumpeted and fomented by mainstream and social media today and for months to come. However, I wish to celebrate another possibility today by honoring the peace-makers who grace the world. I realize there are many ways to deal with these times.

While some are celebrating the US presidential inauguration and others are protesting, I’ll be at home chipping the ice that still covers my sidewalk and driveway if weather permits and working on a PowerPoint for the first meeting of the social justice course I’m co-teaching tomorrow. I’m grateful to artists like Muhammed Assaf and David Broza who use their talents to promote peace and unity.

How can one remain uninspired by their examples? I do question if it’s possible for us to find common ground. For the sake of my grandchildren, I know I have to continue trying. And I know I’m not alone.

Imagine World Peace
Imagine World Peace

***

Reflections – People on the Bus

Carol A. Hand

Yes, I know I look old dressed in funky well-worn clothing
Perhaps you’ll ignore my presence or view me with loathing
But be careful not to judge others too quickly as one thing or another
The substance of people and life holds many miracles to discover

I met a man at the bus stop a few days ago who proved this lesson so clearly
A younger man, down and out, who talked conservative politics nonstop for eternity
Yet I watched him on the bus as he looked down at the child he obviously loved dearly
A powerful man, still he held his son in a gentle embrace for anyone who cared to see

We’re not that different, he and I, although our political views are diametrically opposed
The superficial traits that separate us – age, gender, ancestry, education – only matter
when we can’t see the essence of others because our hearts and minds are closed.

father-and-son-2

Drawing/Photo – Carol A. Hand

***

Reflections and a Reblog – “Why Are You So Different?”

Why Are You So Different?
Posted on November 6, 2013
Carol A. Hand

Years ago, I accepted a position at a university as an assistant professor. I did not know at the time that I was only the second Native American faculty member the department of social work had ever hired for a tenure track position. The first left 30 years before I came because of the anti-Native discrimination she experienced, a perception that the state district court affirmed in a decision that awarded damages. The anti-Native bias was still palpable and unrelenting during the 3 years I spent there. Unlike my predecessor, I chose not to pursue legal action. Doing so would have locked me in an angry, ugly battle for years. Instead, I turned to writing, grateful that I could escape from a toxic environment with such unhappy people. The following essay is drawn from the series of stories I wrote about my experiences and reflections during those years.

************************

Why are you so different?,” my colleague asked. I suspect that, in part, my response to this question contributed to being ostracized and pathologized by faculty who were unable to hear the many ways this question could be asked and the many possible, legitimate, responses.

As I read this neutral question on a written page, there are so many possible meanings. There are so many ways tone of voice, spoken inflections, facial expression, and body language suggest intent. Meaning or intent is also nested within context. The individual histories of the person who asks and the person who is asked frame the meaning, the way the question is interpreted. The history of relationship between the asker and responder matters, as do differences in history and degree of belonging within the system where the question was asked. Power differentials, both in terms of hierarchical status and long-term relationships with the system, matter as well. And equally important is the congruence between how the question is asked and the publicly stated mission of the agency in which it is asked.

As a child, I asked this question many times. As I pondered the amazing diversity of the six-pointed shapes of snowflakes that fell on my dark mittens on a winter day, I asked, “Why are you so different?,” with a sense of wonder and awe. As a child who grew up between two cultures yet not fitting neatly in either, I asked myself, “Why are you so different?,” with a sense of genuine puzzlement. Embracing that sense of difference actually led me to engage in authentic efforts to learn to understand the world from as many diverse perspectives as possible. My favorite children’s story was about the Churkendoose, a little bird that was a mixture of a chicken, turkey, duck, and goose (Ben Ross Berenberg, 1946). “Difference” in this story was simply that – difference. Ultimately, there were no values assigned to being one creature or another, and no interpretations of being superior or inferior as a result of difference.

IMG_0609

As a teenager, the question was more emotion-laden. I wondered why I could not simply be a part of the cliques that reached out to include me, but not others whose difference was more visible and seen as inferior. (Those who were excluded were the most interesting to me.) Difference that meant inclusion or exclusion was based on family socioeconomics, religion, appearance, perceived intelligence (either too much or too little), or being “cool,” whatever that meant. I respected peers who did not seem to care about their exclusion. Instead of joining cliques, I reached out to those who were excluded, not in an attempt to forge an anti-clique, but to understand the position of difference as a somewhat consciously chosen stance of resistance. I admired the courage of those who were willing to carry the responsibility of thinking critically, who were willing to challenge norms and social expectations in visible, creative ways.

As a young person searching for a place to belong, for a role and career that had meaning, difference had new connotations. It was time to believe in the message of the Churkendoose, a time to explore as wide a range of diversity as possible. I spent time in the hills of Appalachia and on Indian reservations, and worked in the inner city of Chicago while I attended an exclusive Catholic women’s college. I survived the streets of Hollywood, and experienced the possibilities and disappointments by being part of a New Age commune. Among my friends, I have counted priests and prostitutes, artists and legislators, people who were poor and rich, blue collar workers and university professors. Difference enriches my life and my understanding of the world. Like the snowflakes on my mitten as a child, it is a source of never-ending wonder and engenders curiosity.

I did not hear this sense of wonder and curiosity in my colleague’s question. It was intoned in a way that sounded more like an indictment. For more than a year, the indictment remained her preferred way of relating to me. It is at least honest to ask, accusatory or not, “Why are you so different?” “Perhaps,” I wondered, “is there a possibility of building deeper understandings across our differing perspectives?” Unfortunately, it was not possible with this colleague or others in positions of power at this particular university.

I was reminded of a passage from Hyemeyohsts Storm’s work, Seven Arrows (1972). If we place people in a circle, facing inward toward a multifaceted object in the center, each will see only one side, and each view will be incomplete. If each person can share their perspective with others in the circle, a fuller picture will be possible for all. Afraid of difference, we will see only what falls within our limited gaze. How can we teach this partial frame as the one truth? Why would one want to insist that this is the only true reality? And why would anyone be willing to believe such a ridiculous assertion? Difference is the rule, not the exception, and a wondrous gift promising the possibility of wider, deeper vision and understanding. The alternative is to live trapped in a small prison, much like the hell Sartre (1976) describes in Huis Clos (No Exit), surrounded only by people with whom we feel no affinity, consigned to a life that has little possibility for exploring the wonder that surrounds us every day.

snowflake-554635__180

Photo Credit: Free Images on Pixabay 

***

Works Cited:

Berenberg, B. R. (1946). What am I? New York, NY: Wonder Books.

Sartre,J.-P. (1989). No exit and three other plays. New York, NY: Vintage International.

Storm, H. (1972) Seven arrows. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

***

 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Carol A. Hand

In my last university faculty position, I taught an undergraduate practice class – interviewing lab. As one of the few faculty who was not an expert in clinical practice, I found it a rather odd assignment. And then I realized that it was a topic I had used in a variety of cross-cultural settings. Ethnographic research does involve many opportunities to “practice” this skill.

Working on a chapter of my book today, I was reminded of some of the more challenging learning opportunities I have had. Crossing cultures and disciplines is uncomfortable, but in this case, it was crucial. I wanted to understand what was happening in the educational system. Schools were the primary source of referrals for child protective services for both Native and Euro-American children. More importantly, few Ojibwe youth graduated from the local high school.

Many Ojibwe people in the community had raised serious issues about their education. Like Native youth on many reservations, they attended public school in the town outside of the reservation. These “border towns” are typically controlled by the dominant Euro-American setter population, and anti-Native prejudice is sometimes particularly virulent.

At the end of August, 2002, I set off for an interview with a teacher in the border town high school. Following is an excerpt from my interview with Mr. Hanson (not his real name), a teacher who had been teaching at the high school for more than 30 years.

***

Research Field Notes Wednesday, August 28, 2002

I headed back to the border town for my interview with Mr. Hanson. When I entered his classroom, I introduced myself.

He replied. “To be honest, Agnes, I left my schedule at home today and had forgotten when we scheduled the interview.”

We shook hands, and sat at the two corner desks closest to the door. Before we began, he asked if I was Indian, and I told him I was and where I was enrolled. Then, I handed him a copy of the paper I had written about my research for the U.S. Children’s Bureau. He briefly leafed through it.

I could tell from his nonverbal cues that he was uncomfortable and I tried to put him more at ease.

“I realize you’re concerned about confidentiality Mr. Hanson, and how any information you share might be used. The consent form and project overview spell that out, but the paper demonstrates how the information will be used. I’ve been meeting with people to make sure they approve of my interpretations of what they shared. As you can see from the paper I’ve written, there are no personal identifiers or place names in order to protect identity.”

He still seemed reluctant, but he read through the consent form and signed it, admitting that he was still reluctant.

“It is a small community and word does get out. And I don’t know anything about the child welfare system, so I’m not sure how helpful I can be.”

I told him that was okay – he did know a lot about kids. And since schools were a major referral source to child welfare, it was important for me to learn what I could.

….

Again carefully choosing his words, he responded. “Bias is not obvious in the class. It is present in the hallways, but it is hidden within the student culture from which I am excluded. It’s there.”

At this point in the conversation, he wanted his comments to be off the record, so I stopped taking notes and just listened. It’s a challenge to reconstruct the conversation, since I was often the one being interviewed.

….

It was hard to keep him talking, and his reluctance remained obvious so I packed up my briefcase and stood up as I thanked him. All of a sudden, he became more animated and started telling me what he teaches his students in the Native American class. He was excited as he talked about his class, and he grabbed a piece of yellow chalk and went to the blackboard to illustrate his points. He said that he draws four circles on the board to illustrate Native American culture, which he illustrated:

Mr. Hanson interview

“If you want to destroy a culture, you take the youth and put them in boarding schools – they don’t pass on the culture when they become adults and elders. It isn’t true that Europeans didn’t understand Native American culture – they understood it very well. Taking youth shows how well they understood.

Carlisle_pupils

Photo: Carlisle …

“The government located settlers on the borders of peaceful, well-functioning Native societies, knowing full well what the settlers were like given where they came from. It was Jefferson who sent out Lewis and Clark to survey Indian Territory and planned how to create indebtedness among Natives so their land would become forfeit.”

He was excited about his Native American class, so I asked him if he involved local community members.

“I used to,” he replied, “but now it’s taught through distance learning. It was meant to be much more hands-on, but it still seems to work. I developed it when I first came to the school and have been teaching it ever since. “

He also listed a number of projects tribes have asked him to participate in, including language preservation and the creation of a museum.

Even though this was a tough interview with someone who clearly was not willing to give many specifics, it was a good beginning. I noticed that he was skillful at dancing around my questions. But he seems to be a good teacher who encourages critical thinking and presents a balanced and very well-informed view of culture and history.

As I left, I told him that I thought the high school was lucky to have him there.

***

I’m grateful for the chance to revisit this uncomfortable interview more than a decade later. And I’m grateful to Mr. Hanson for sharing his gifts as a teacher in a challenging context. Yet I was left with deep concerns. He noted that things have improved for Native American youth. One to two Ojibwe students from each class in recent years have stayed in school long enough to graduate.

Taken by itself, this should be cause for alarm. Other interviews added crucial context. County child welfare staff reported that 45 percent of their juvenile justice caseload were Ojibwe youth. The tribal staff person who worked with child welfare voiced her concerns about Ojibwe youth, described in an earlier post.

***

“The youth now are being taken by the criminal justice system.” (Tribal Staff Person 1, June 26, 2002)

I asked her what might help. “What activities might help provide a positive focus for youth? Were there adults in the community who might be interested in working with the youth?”

She had positive responses to both questions. Kids wanted the tribe to build a skateboard park, and she was willing to work with them as were several other community members, but the tribe wasn’t interested. And then, a possible resource appeared.

Early on, my study drew the attention of some national child welfare researchers. I was invited to submit an abstract of my study to be considered for possible development as a commissioned research paper that would be presented at a US. Children’s Bureau conference on racial disparities in the child welfare system (Hand, 2002). My study was selected as one of eight in the country, with a cash award for the commissioned paper I was asked to write and present to an invitation-only audience of child welfare experts in the country. (An edited version was later published in 2006.)

When my fieldwork ended and I was officially finished with my research, I contacted the tribal staff person and asked if she thought it would be helpful for her to have some funding to work with the teens on a skateboard project. I offered some of the money I received for the commissioned paper. (The rest went to offset the costs of a study funded only by my university salary.) My offer came with some conditions. First, if she agreed, I would send her a personal check, but I didn’t want anyone to know where the money came from. She could use the money to help support youth, but the youth would have to agree to some structure. Together, we developed some guidelines.

  1. The youth would need to find at least one adult to volunteer to work with them on the project.
  2. They would need to invite all youth in the community to participate.
  3. Using internet and library resources, they would need to conduct research on skateboard park designs and select one that was feasible.
  4. As a group, they would need to prepare a formal proposal for the tribal council to ask for additional financial support. And,
  5. They would need to present their request during a council meeting.

I was surprised when she called to let me know that the teens were excited and eagerly agreed to all of the conditions. But they were mystified that somebody was willing to provide some money to help them. They were deeply touched that “Somebody cares about us!”

Four months later, the tribal staff person called to let me know that there had been no new juvenile justice cases since the youth started working on the project. They had found a community mentor and even included youth from the surrounding Euro-American community. They had presented their proposal to the tribe, and the prospects for help looked promising.

***

As I reread these old interview summaries and fieldnotes, I descend once again into the discomfort and self-doubt I felt long ago. I question why this study is worth writing about. And then I remember why it’s important to ask questions and care about the answers.

Perhaps the most important thing to emphasize when we teach interviewing skills is to be clear about our purpose. When we interview others about their lives, we carry a responsibility to listen deeply and care enough about the people who share their lives with us to give back in whatever ways we can.

***

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Unity in Diversity

Carol A. Hand

Métis, Melungeon, Mulatto
Mixes of many nations
Often shamed and assigned
To societies’ lowest stations

Sometimes produced by conquest
Other times by choice
Signifying shared humanity
Giving diversity – a unified voice

It’s time to stand together
Clothed with wisdom and pride
Leading the way to understanding
Overcoming distinctions that divide

rainbow 2

Photo: Embroidery by Carol A. Hand

Descendants of the rainbow
No matter the circumstances of birth
Regardless of the names assigned
All beautiful humans of immeasurable worth

 

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Possibilities for Building Connections

Carol A. Hand

Many of the stories I was privileged to hear during my research years ago left me feeling sad. Not all of them were stories about children who were taken away from their families and community and placed in abusive situations. Not all of them were stories told by Ojibwe people. I just revisited two of the stories shared by Euro-American community members and find myself pondering why they evoke such a sense of sadness, of possibilities lost.

As someone who has studied gerontology and Native American issues, I’ve had an opportunity to see the importance of history and context as a foundation for understanding the present. This particular study reinforced another insight about storytelling and the powerful role it can play in building connections among people and to places.

[Please note: The names of people have all been changed in the following accounts to protect identity, and the names of states and towns have been removed. These stories could come from any of the states where Ojibwe reservations are located.]

jigsaw 1

Image: Microsoft Word Clip Art

***

Research Field Notes Thursday, October 25, 2001

I left the tribal elders’ center about 4:30 p.m., and headed back to my motel room. After eating, I went to the small gas station next door to ask directions. I had an appointment to talk with Ward Wright, a respected Euro-American county resident. He was among the community residents who were highly recommended by the librarians at the local technical college. Mr. Wright had graciously agreed to meet with me at his house at 7 o’clock this evening.

It was a dark, windy, snowy night, making it difficult to find Ward’s house as I drove along the road that wound along the shore of the lake.

I noticed a house on the west side of the road on top of a hill, with bright light radiating from the wall of windows along the front. I drove up the steep driveway hoping it was the right house. A tall, athletic-looking man was visible through the windows. As I walked toward the house, buffeted by strong winds, he motioned me to a door on the back porch. I entered the porch, and then into the bright kitchen.

After introductions, Mr. Wright asked me where I would like to sit. I suggested that we sit wherever he felt most comfortable, so he led me to the table in the dining room/living room. It was a large open room with a two-story cathedral ceiling, a stone fireplace, and an upstairs loft. Mr. Wright said that he had built the house, and pointed out the oak floor he and his son had just put into the kitchen, the dark cherry ceiling in the kitchen, and the sky lights over the kitchen table. He said that he had once worked in the lumber industry, and processed all of the materials himself.

On the table were boxes with old photos and articles from the border town’s past. He began telling me how the “Kintucks” were the primary non-Indian settlers in the area. He asked if I knew anything about “Melungeons,” and when I said no, he explained.
“In the 1500’s, the Portuguese landed in North Carolina, and some were left there. They intermarried with the Cherokees, called Melungeons, and over time became more Cherokee than Portuguese. My great-great grandmother was Melungeon.”

According to Wikipedia, “Melungeon … is a term traditionally applied to one of numerous ‘tri-racial isolate’ groups of the Southeastern United States…. Tri-racial describes populations thought to be of mixed European, African and Native American ancestry. Although there is no consensus on how many such groups exist, estimates range as high as 200. Melungeons were often referred to by other settlers as of Portuguese or Native American origin.” (Hyperlinks and footnotes have been removed, see original at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melungeon.) Interesting that Mr. Wright didn’t mention African ancestry as part of this heritage.

“The Potawatomies lived in Michigan, and in Chicog, the ‘land of stinking waters.’ The Sioux and Ojibwe fought here for control of the rice beds, and when the Ojibwe won, the Sioux moved out of the area.

“During the civil war, the US feared that the British would recruit Native people to use the conflict as an opportunity to attack US forces. The US built a military road from Fort Howard in Green Bay to Fort Wilkins on the tip of the Kewanaw peninsula in upper Michigan. The Canadians supported the south and were interested in the copper in the area.

“The oldest house in the county is in the tribal community. [It is the building the elders have proposed to renovate.]

“In the 1860’s this was a hard wood area, not pine. In 1864, the area was surveyed and pronounced as unredeemable. There were Indian huts and a French trading post. It is one of the latest areas in the state to be settled because it was so rugged. A stagecoach ran twice a week from a community on a major road to the southwest of here to the first town in the area. The trails were so bad, people often walked beside the stage.

“In 1892 the Northwestern railroad first came to the area from Chicago. It was a forested area at that time, not farm land, so the tracks zigzagged between the hills. This town was named after one of the men who worked for the railroad and settled here. At that time the State gave every other section of land to the railroad.

“One of the major lumber companies that harvested timber in this area had their corporate offices in Kentucky, in an area where they made moonshine. The largest feud in the US occurred in Kentucky between two families. My grandfather was from one of the families. He originally came here to escape the aftermath of feud killings. Fifty-two people were killed in the feuds. This is why my ancestors came here.

“’Kintucks’ were outdoorsmen: they could make it on the land and the area here is a lot like the land they knew. They lived off the land like the Native peoples, and did almost as well. My grandfather got busted for making moonshine. During the depression, people made big money on moonshine, which they ‘ran to Chicago.’ The feds ‘followed the sugar trail’ to catch the moonshine makers. The Kintucks and the Native Americans have lived together harmoniously. They could hunt, trap, fish.”

Mr. Wright showed me a number of photos, old articles, and booklets on the history of the area. Among the resources were an article from a major newspaper that described history of the area, and two booklets that are available at a store in town.

“Am I telling you the kind of things you wanted to hear, Agnes?”

“Yes Mr. Wright, these are fascinating stories about the history here. I wonder if you could also tell me more about the relationship between the community and the tribe and whether you’ve noticed any cultural differences that have relevance for children and child welfare.”

“I was the principal of the school in the tribal community for three years, when the elementary school was closed. I served as principal for the border town elementary school for more than 30 years. Of the seven guys who were in my cohort who were principals or in high stress jobs, four are dead and two had strokes. This is why I retired from a job I loved.

“I was born in a one-room log house close to the Ojibwe reservation. I was logging by the age of 12. I learned to hunt and I went to school with many of the kids from the Ojibwe community.”

He told a story of how he went on to become a teacher. When he was about 19 or 20, he was working at a factory in in a large central city. He would set his alarm for 2 a.m. every day and drive to work and come home. Some of his friends were visiting, and told him they were going down to begin their semester at the normal school in a city about 150 miles away the next day and they invited him to come with them. He told them he couldn’t: he had to go to work. His mother told the friends to stop by on their way anyway. When he awoke, it was 7 a.m., and his friends arrived shortly after, so he decided to go with him. His mother had turned off his alarm. It changed his life. He did enroll, and went on to the university in another city close to the school where his friends were enrolled.

“The Ojibwe tribe here has gone up and down. The casino has been good, it has increased ‘self-pride.’ People had a job and money, and they were generous. A low was the spearing rights controversy. Everyone has accepted the situation now.

“The 1960’s were a time of downswing with the VISTA [Volunteers in Service to America] program. I was asked by a VISTA worker when I was in DC how they could help tribes. My response was that tribes needed to help themselves. The VISTA program was a hand-out program.

“There are many cultural positives. There are differences in how they discipline kids, or worry about tomorrow. Homework may not be as important, or worry about education when they turn 20. They are very generous. They are very caring over kids. They love their kids as much as or more than white parents, but sometimes other things get in the way. They are more caring for grandkids, and uncles and aunties are often responsible for kids. Everyone takes part in raising kids.

“The negatives are not really different than those other populations face. Alcohol is a problem when it becomes a priority. It may lead to neglect. To be needed and wanted is a big thing for the ladies – to have a guy takes priority in life. If one relationship ends, a new one is started instantly.

“Over the years, the system has taken away self-pride. They are very giving people – a great positive. Ogema had great ability to bring Kintucks and Native Americans together. He filled community needs. He commanded respect and carried more responsibility than anyone else since. He was fair, generous, honest, forth-right. He was a tall man, and when he walked into a room, he had a commanding presence. After Ogema died, there was not a lot of leadership in the community. I was in school with Ogema. One of his descendants had some of this presence and leadership ability, but he got into trouble.

“Native Americans lose a lot of kids in adolescence. There was a straight-A student whose dad died. She started partying, and never reached her potential. Native American youth are so talented. They have so much athletic ability. It’s almost as if they don’t want to excel too much sometimes – they sabotage themselves. Some of the best Native American athletes have parental background. It seems to make a difference. Kids from one-parent families seem to get lost.

“The Ojibwe are friendlier than other tribes, and the non-Indian community is more accepting of the Ojibwe than others. Ojibwe people are very generous, giving, outgoing, more trusting. Other tribes stick to themselves.

“Per capita has had some negative consequences for tribes that do well with gaming. Now, a lot of teens are killed as a result of accidents. They can afford to buy cars, and replace them repeatedly if they are wrecked.

“Native Americans represent 25% of the population in the lower grades, but adolescence is hard on Native American kids. They do fine in grade school but get lost in middle-school (ages 13-15). Most Native American parents want their kids to do better than they did when they we in school.

“Social services has changed a lot. Directors have changed a lot, and there is high turnover. Allen James was raised here. His mother was raised on a farm near here, so he grew into the culture. The social services department is more stable now that he’s there as director. Allen knows the kids and the community and is pretty good to work with – he’s one of the better ones. He always has time for people, and is compassionate. There is a problem trying to find families that are willing to take on another person’s kids. ‘Kids are faithful mirrors.’”

This is a statement Mr. Wright repeated frequently to emphasize the impact of parents on how their children behave and ultimately turn out.

As we were talking, the wind grew stronger, propelling snow against the windows that lined the front of the house that overlooked the lake. The lights began to flicker and I realized that I was very cold – more from fatigue than from the room temperature. It seemed wise to end our meeting because it was late (after 9 p.m.) and the weather was deteriorating.

As I drove, I thought about the interview. It had been intense and uncomfortable. Mr. Wright talked about many things: his travels and hunting; his wife’s hunting; his philosophies on a fulfilling life. He had prepared for the interview by bringing boxes from his basement. He scheduled the interview when his wife was out: she went to a play in the small city nearby. He also spoke of his grandchildren. His granddaughter is engaged to an Ojibwe tribal member. It seemed he used this to emphasize his lack of prejudice toward Ojibwe people. He appears to be a man who is used to being in a position of authority, and using the position to help kids feel good about themselves and succeed.

The snow covered the road in places, but I made it back to my room, very tired. Too tired to type notes, I simply curled up under the blankets and slept.

***

Research Field Notes Monday, October 29, 2001

I packed quickly on this sunny day, and headed for my motel and then, on to my interview with Elizabeth Garrett in a nearby town.

When I arrived in the small town, I turned on the road by the high school, the directions I was given at the gas station in town, but I couldn’t find the elders’ apartment complex. After circling the block several times, I decided to ask some of the students who were playing in the field behind the school. Their directions got me to the building just a few blocks away.

The complex of two apartment buildings was surrounded by single family homes. The two buildings were well-kept and appeared to be of fairly recent construction. As I entered the building, I noticed a prominent sign which read: “Absolutely no children are allowed to run in the hallways.” It struck me as a profound contrast to the tribal elder’s center where children were ever-present – running, laughing, sitting in the laps of mothers or elders and often the center of attention.

Elizabeth Garrett was initially contacted by Fiona, the Benefit Specialist for the County Aging Department. Fiona had told her that I was interested in the history of the county. I wasn’t sure that this interview would be relevant, but I went out of courtesy.

Mrs. Garrett’s apartment was on the first floor of the building. I knocked, and she invited me in. As I entered, I noticed her mail piled around a corner chair closest to the door and window. She took my coat and hung it in the closet. I noticed that she was stooped over and her movements seemed to be painful. I sat in the chair nearer to the kitchenette area. She handed me a booklet that had been written about the history of the town done by the local copy shop, and a copy of her 1933 high school yearbook. The booklet included an interview with Mrs. Garrett, and I quickly scanned the summary.

Reflection December 23, 2015

As I reread this portion of my interview with Mrs. Garrett, I tried to remember when I first met Ken Laurent, the owner of the local copy shop and author of the booklet that included Mrs. Garrett’s old interview. But I couldn’t remember even though Ken would become such a crucial source of information and support for me in the future. I’m eager to revisit those notes. For now, though, it’s important for me to stick to my original plan. To follow the history of this study to see how I changed because of the people who shared their stories with me.

Research Field Notes Monday, October 29, 2001 (continued)

I also leafed carefully through the year book. The sepia-colored paper cover was brittle with age. The headings were done in hand calligraphy, with hand-drawn illustrations, no photos or typed comments on students. The copy was mimeographed. As I looked through the booklets, Mrs. Garrett continued to sort through her mail. When she was done, she began telling stories.

“In 1895, my grandfather walked the area and estimated the lumber. His wife came two years later when the railroad went through. In 1928, we lived in another Great Lakes’ state. My step-father and mother came to the town by train to visit.

“Cars went 25 miles an hour in those days, and the roads were sandy and had big holes. Farmers would dig the holes deeper so cars would get stuck, and the passengers would have to hire the farmer to pull the car out with his horses. My parents stayed overnight at the hotel, and put a down-payment on it. When I finished sixth grade, we moved.

“I remember that the road used to curve. I started the seventh grade here. I was one year older than the others in my grade, so I decided I wanted to finish high school in three years, and I did. There were no school buses in those days, so we walked to school. There was no lunch room in those days, so we had to run home at noon for lunch. I ran home to the hotel that was also the only restaurant in town then. I waited on the customers who came on the train at noon, so I really had to run. I never dawdled around like kids today.

“It was a bad time after the crash – they were always bad times. People were living outdoors from the camps. We used to call it “the jungle.” They didn’t have any shelter and slept and cooked outdoors. For meals, one would come to us and ask for an onion, another would ask for a carrot, and then go to another house for a potato, or to the butcher for bones. They would cook the food in a large can outside. They sometimes would steal chickens from my grandmother’s house. When my grandmother went out back, she would find the chicken heads.”

Mrs. Garrett recounted stories about a number of men who lived in “the jungle.”

“Porkchop Pete had a shack built from cardboard and pieces of tin next to a local pond. He would sweep the floor at the bakery in exchange for old bread. He gave some to the men who lived in the jungle. Chinaman Joe, Fiddler Joe, and Hemlock Joe were lumberjacks who didn’t know how to spell their names. Hemlock Joe would come to town with a big fish in a bag that he sold to my mother. He had a shack on Hemlock Lake. Humpy was a humpbacked man who lived on a creek. Chinaman Joe showed us a big geography book. He was a Cossack in the Russian army and he said he stole it in St. Petersburg. He did the Russian dance – he could balance on one leg and kick out the other one. The Cossacks rode horses – they were not part of the regular army.

“When we were living in our previous state, we lived next to a jewelry store and we got different records from all over the world, including the Mazurka. There were men from all over the world there, and I remember one day I played records from each man’s country and they would pay me $1. I made $15.

“Humpy John was a ‘chore boy’ for the hotel. Before he started at the hotel, he worked for a year in the lumber camp and ended up $17 in the hole.

“Then Roosevelt got in.”

mhc_mhm_ccc1_46090_7

Photo: 1933 – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – Michigan (Source)

ccc minnesota

Photo: Date Unknown – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – Minnesota (Source)

10648-file04-23-CCC-CO-F-104-Moving-Camp-to-Bismarck-ND-Fair-Park-AR-1936-cor

Photo: Date Unknown – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – North Dakota (Source)

camp-657-recruits

Photo: 1933 – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – Wisconsin (Source)

“Humpy John worked for room and board and got a small salary. He was like a grandpa to my youngest son – he would buy him things. He was kicked by a horse when he was young, and his lungs were in bad shape. My son, Lenny, went to see him, and came to tell me that Humpy wouldn’t get up when he called. He died in his sleep.

“My husband drove a school bus. I worked in the kitchen of the hotel, and Humpy John tended bar. One day, a man came in and asked where the john was. Humpy responded that he was standing right there. The customer asked again and again, with the same answer from Humpy. Finally, I pointed out the restroom, and the customer headed toward it. When Humpy found out that “john” meant toilet, he was mad. Another customer came in and asked for Ham’s (meaning Ham’s beer). Humpy told him to go to the butcher’s shop if he wanted ham.

As she told these stories, Mrs. Garrett laughed heartily.

“In spring, the loggers went to the river to roll the logs. They had nails in their shoes so they could ride the logs. They worked in the woods all winter. Farmers from the southern part of the county would come up and work cutting trees in winter and would return home in the spring to plant their crops.

“When camp members were buried, no one knew how to spell their names, so they guessed. Many have no grave markers.

“In the past state where we lived, mother cooked at a camp and delivered food on a wagon. It’s where she moved after she married my real dad in Detroit. When she first came to this country from Finland, she went to Ellis Island. Then she lived in Boston and worked for a Swedish family, so she learned Swedish. Then she went to Detroit. My father was a band leader, and they lived in every town in the state. We lived in a log house in one town that had a breezeway. Fall was rainy season, and during one storm, we stood in the breezeway watching the lightening. We learned not to be afraid of storms.

“My mother decided that we kids needed to go to school. She worked at camp in the winter. Then in the summer she worked at a resort with kids from Chicago who all went to school. After that we went to a country school. Mama made me a dress out of a flour sack. [As Mrs. Garrett spoke, she worked on an imaginary dress, showing how it was cut like a box.] My mother put ruffles on the hem and sleeves and dyed it pink. She made pants for my little brother that had four sets of buttons as fasteners: front, sides, and back. The first time he wore them to school, he couldn’t get the back buttons unfastened without help so he was teased because his sister had to help him get undressed so he could go to the bathroom.

“My mother was cooking in a hotel before we moved here and my family stayed in the hotel. People who lived there adopted two girls, and one day, they gave the children something to eat that had nuts in it. One girl choked to death. This was a sad thing for a kid.

“Mama wanted to have a restaurant, so she got this place. One day when we were there, we saw a drunken man heading our way. We all hid under the counters. Finally, mama got up and waited on him.

“One day when we came home from school, the house was closed. We didn’t know what was happening, so we got in and hid in the basement. My mother married my stepfather, and called us when they got home. After she married him, she found out that he was a gambler. He had a photographic mind and could remember all of the cards that were played so he would win. They bought a house but decided to move. Mother took care of her new husband’s brother who had TB until he died. My step-father bought the hotel.

“Chore boys were the closest thing I had for grandfathers.

“All of the poor guys lived outdoors in the jungle until Roosevelt was elected. He built a soup kitchen and a place with beds. That’s why we were always Democrats – because he was kind.

“There was a poor farm up north not too far from here. We would drop off juice that my mother made for a man who was injured in an accident. His mouth was blown up when he was setting up a dynamite cap.

“We had to help out a lot of people.

“Elmer and I eloped. There was a depression. Mother sent me to the big city in the southern part of the state to go to beauty school. I wanted to be a teacher but my family couldn’t afford it. While I was gone, Elmer wrote me every day. When my roommates graduated before me and were leaving, I knew I couldn’t afford rent, so I worked for families for room and board to save money.

“I wanted to go to church in the community. I was Lutheran, but I was confirmed in a Finnish-speaking church. My confirmation certificate was written in Finnish so I couldn’t prove that I was confirmed to the local church. They wouldn’t let me go communion because they couldn’t read Finish, so I didn’t go to church.

“I became Catholic when I was living with a family in the city – Elmer was Catholic. He came down to visit me and we got married there. A taxi driver and the priest’s housekeeper were witnesses. We didn’t let anyone in the community know, but the announcement was put in the local paper and people knew anyway. When we arrived in town by train, the whole town was there to meet us. They shivareed us right away. [Shivaree, or charivari, is a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noise makers given for a newly married couple. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/shivaree ]

“We stayed to care for Elmer’s folks, and stayed with my folks and saved money. Elmer drove for the fire patrol. We picked berries every day and canned them. We canned partridges and deer. We saved money and bought the hotel. My mother gave us her half and we bought out my step-father. There were 2,500 people in the area during hunting season, lumberjacks, veterans, and nine boarders. We raised three children while running the hotel. My daughter, Patty, went to the university.

“I met all kinds of people. There was a millionaire who used to drink and had an accident. His tongue was sewn in, and it was hard to understand him. I understood him because I grew up with people who came from all over the world and who spoke with all different kinds of accents.

“Tourists started coming then. There was another millionaire who came once a month. My husband would take people out hunting – doing deer drives.

“My son, Lenny, the youngest, was not doing well. He had a big belly, so we spent the winter in Arizona. One of the hotel customers made the arrangements for us. Lenny was in pre-school or first grade. There were a lot of little Mexican kids, and Lenny could understand them. We lived next to Jewish people. One family was from New Jersey and I offered to set their hair. Lenny got healthy after the trip. He came home brown as a berry.

“I miss the customers and my garden. I planted apricot trees. They did well at first, but then stopped producing fruit. I was told to use wood ashes, and they helped the trees produce. The branches were so loaded with fruit that they broke.”

At this point, Mrs. Garrett got up to go to the restroom. When she returned, she asked me if I would like some tea. I said yes, so she made tea, put a pastry with whipped cream on the kitchen table at my place. We moved to the table for the rest of our talk.

“My daughter is picking me up on the 15th and taking me to Kentucky for the winter. I will spend the summer here. My daughter is a teacher, and three of my grandchildren are teachers. I always wanted to be a teacher. One granddaughter is in Alaska – she is the head of social services in one of the cities there. She just got married.”

Mrs. Garrett spoke of her other grandchildren, and her two sons.

“Lenny became ill and is on dialysis now,” she said tearfully.

It seemed a good time to shift focus. “Mrs. Garrett, can you tell me anything about how the community has viewed Native Americans?”

“We were always good friends with one of the tribal leaders. He used to walk ten miles to town and ten miles back. At that time, Elmer used to drive out to set minnow traps and drive back to collect the minnows. The tribal leader and his family would wait for Elmer to take them to town. The leader took kids to North Dakota and put them in schools. My daughter has a book about this. The county took the tribal leader’s daughter to Chicago and put her with a family in a bad neighborhood. She came home pregnant. Her father walked ten miles to town for milk and kerosene for the heater for the baby. She didn’t have any money, so the daughter picked strawberries to pay my husband and back for anything we gave them.

“Some people in the community are jealous now that the Native Americans are successful. I’m not. They deserve to be successful. One of my teachers told us how the government marched them west, but many whites didn’t listen to her.

“When the tribal leader needed money, he would leave things in exchange for what he borrowed. We always gave it back when he paid us. The butcher would store things in the window, and the tribal leader’s drum was destroyed by the light and moisture. The butcher wouldn’t give the leader’s things back. Some people are so greedy. Another tribal member, a woman, would pawn things – TV, radio. She was honest and pointed out that she owed more than my records showed.”

Mrs. Garrett ended the interview by telling funny stories about Jewish customers, and about her cousin who fought in Finland’s war with Russia. Russia was trying to get a seaport. Her cousin was captured and put in jail, where he died.

As I left, I thanked Mrs. Garrett. She expressed her hope that I would write up our conversation so she could give it to her grandchildren, so that they would know all about the community and her life. She was kind and generous, and laughed frequently as she related stories from the past.

(On November 7, 2001, I received a handwritten note from her relating stories about the Native American woman she had told me about during the interview. She shared stories about the ways she and her husband had tried to make her life a little easier.)

***

I wonder how lives might have been transformed if the high school students who gave me directions to the elder apartments in the small town had assignments that connected them with elders. I wondered how the stories that the former principal shared might be able to transform community relations between residents of the reservation and the border town. What if there were historical skits that brought the two communities together to learn from each other?

jigsaw2

Image: Microsoft Word Chip Art

I also think about what these two different perspectives offer in terms of the neighborhood where I live now. Across the street is an elders’ apartment building, with an elementary school and high school within walking distance. For many elder residents, the highlight of the day is waiting for the mail to arrive. The lobby of the building is filled with eager anticipation as residents wait. I’m not sure how many are disappointed. I wonder what could happen if connections were made with the schools. There are so many things elders can teach. Not just history, but all types of practical knowledge and skills – gardening, food preservation, sewing – that have been lost with our focus on standardized tests that only measures the ability of students to regurgitate “factoids” without context.

What if connections were made to have students interview or work with elders on projects? I think of all the relevant subjects that could benefit from this approach. But more importantly, from my perspective, I’m excited by the possibility of the human connections that might evolve. And the deeper sense of connection to one’s place that could be rewoven.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What’s More Challenging than an Empty Page?

Carol A. Hand

Today, I feel like procrastinating rather than facing the daunting task ahead. It’s no longer an empty page that I face as I work on finishing the project I began on November 1. Instead, here I am with a mere 5,200 more words to go to meet the NaNo goal of 50K. And I’ve only covered the first month of a nine-month study.

The transcript of the interview I need to edit today would easily put me over that goal. It’s 30 pages long, and over 10K words. This first interview with the director of a county social service agency began in a rather interesting way. As we walked into his office, before the tape recorder was running, he warned me that he wasn’t going to try to be politically correct. He was going to share what he thought honestly. “I really hate it when people talk about cultural competence. There is no Ojibwe culture anymore.”

Over the course of time and many follow-up interviews, his views did shift. Asking the right questions can sometimes do that. People have time to reflect in between the series of interviews. They have a chance to think about what they’ve said and question it for themselves. I remember how he ended our last interview. “I wonder how the tribe defines kinship. I don’t think it’s the same as the narrow definition in state policy.

DSC01060

Somehow, I have to cull the gems out of this long, often boring transcript. I do remember typing it out. It took me hours and days. I became truly annoyed with my voice and each question I asked. I remember repeatedly saying to myself, “Oh why can’t you just let it end? PLEASE shut up now.” But the interview droned on for more than three hours. And this is just the first long transcribed interview. But in many ways it’s the most important part of a critical ethnographic study. It’s the foundation for understanding the ways in which the child welfare system at the time imposed cultural hegemony.

Well, now it’s time to descend into the task before me, even though I’d rather work outside on this lovely, sunny November day. Before I do shift focus, let me wish you all a pleasant day.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Memories and Prophesies

Carol A. Hand

It was early spring, and the snow had just melted in the northwoods. I referred to this time of year as “mud season.” It meant I needed to park in the graveled parking area at the end of the dirt road that led to my cabin. (I had learned the hard way how difficult it was to dig out my car after it was swallowed up to the axels and undercarriage in a puddle of “quick mud.”) It would mean hiking seven-tenths of a mile down the muddy dirt road that led through the clear-cut national forest land, down the winding hill, and into the uncut forest that surrounded my cabin in the woods.

I had just returned from a conference where I led a workshop on Native American mascot issues. As I hiked, the straps of my laptop, purse, and suitcase were digging into my left shoulder with each step, but I barely noticed. I was lost in thought, reflecting about a comment one of the workshop participants had voiced.

But before I tell the rest of this story, I need to go back and provide some background about why I was asked to discuss this topic, and how I ended up living on the Ojibwe reservation where my mother was born.

***

“More than two decades ago, when my daughter was a senior in high school, she received a commendation notice from her French teacher. This was not the first or last, but it was the one I noticed on a different level. I remember “seeing red” when I noticed the logo on the top, yet I immediately reflected on the message – my daughter had demonstrated excellent work. So I complemented her. Then, I contacted the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) to explore what protections they had in place to prevent racial stereotyping of indigenous peoples. The response from WDPI changed my life.

Untitled

“At the time, I was working on a federal grant to address elder abuse in eight pilot counties in Wisconsin. In an effort to promote awareness about the project, I met with a reporter from a local paper. In the process of talking about the project, “Tools of the Trade for Men Who Care,” the reporter and I became friends. We were both outsiders in the largely white, Christian community. She was Jewish, and I was Ojibwe. I mentioned the appalling name and logo used by the local high school, and mentioned that I had been advised by WDPI to wait until my daughter graduated to pursue any action. But, I was told, there was a state statute, the Pupil Nondiscrimination Act that I could use as the basis of a complaint. The WPDI staff added that although the statute had never been tested for its relevance to discriminatory logos and team names, filing a complaint under this statute could set an important precedent. My friend asked me to let her know if I ever decided to pursue the issue.

“The months passed and my daughter graduated and went off to a university. I stayed in touch with my friend at the newspaper as the project I was working on gained momentum. Then, I added another job. I was completing my doctorate in social welfare at the time, and began as a teaching assistant in a sociology class on diversity and discrimination. As I faced the 465 students, I realized that ethically I needed to walk the talk and address the discriminatory use of logos by public schools in the state.

“My education thus far had taught me two things that appeared relevant to this issue. First, when approaching community change, it is always best to start on the assumption that others may easily agree if approached from a position of collaboration. So I drafted a letter to the superintendent of schools in the district. I asked my diplomatic and thoughtful university advisor to review the letter, and when he commented that it was well-reasoned and balanced, I sent it off. I also sent a copy to my friend at the newspaper.

“Second, I expected a thoughtful diplomatic response from the superintendent of schools. If one believes the physics theory that every action results in an equal and opposite reaction, a well-reasoned letter calling attention to unintentional discrimination toward Native Americans should result in the willingness to dialogue, right? That was not the case. The response of the superintendent was to send a copy of my letter to the weekly newspaper in the local community. My friend also broke the story in a larger newspaper on a slow news day. Within a week, I was the topic of hundreds of letters to the editor in local and state newspapers, and featured on the nightly TV news. The community reaction included nasty, degrading personal attacks and threats.” (Carol A. Hand, We’re Honoring Indians, October 25, 2013) We’re Honoring Indians

When my partner lost his job as an assistant manager of a lumber retail company, in all likelihood a response to my very public and unpopular advocacy, I was forced to withdraw from the university in the final stages of completing my doctorate in order to get a full-time job. I wanted to escape from the world of Euro-Americans for awhile and accepted a position as the deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency. I moved to the Ojibwe community where my mother was born and bought an off-the-grid cabin in the woods. When Native American educators in the state took on the issue of Indian mascots and logos a year or two later, I was asked to lead a workshop about my experiences at their state-wide conference.

***

As I walked down the road to my cabin, I was still trying to sort out my feelings about dealing with Euro-Americans whose privilege often made them feel it was their right to remain oblivious to the history and present day oppression and suffering of Native peoples. Did my unresolved anger and frustration show in my response to the comments made by a workshop participant?

“You’re so lucky you have a culture. As a white person of mixed ancestry, I don’t have one.”

I did respond, but I wasn’t really satisfied with my answer even though it was honest.

“We all have a culture. But those of us who are not part of the dominant culture have to learn to see our culture in contrast to the one that most others in society share. We have to learn to understand both in order to survive.”

But that wasn’t what I was thinking about as I walked. It is tempting to think that one’s own culture is superior. I found myself thinking about the differences between the Ojibwe Midewiwin Code, the “Path of Life,” and the Christian Ten Commandments. I realized that there were many reasons why I prefer the tenets of the Path of Life. I was tempted to see it as superior. And as that thought passed through my mind, it seemed as if the earth itself spoke to me, or perhaps it was the spirits of my Ojibwe ancestors who had once lived here.

“Codes of conduct and spirituality may differ, but the existence of a code signifies that people need rules to live by because no culture or individual is perfect. You may prefer one approach over others, but that doesn’t make it better. All codes of conduct serve the same purpose – to help guide people as they live their lives or when they lose their way.”

I suspect many who will read this post know the Ten Commandments by heart, but few have heard of the Midewiwin Code.

  • Thank Gitche Manitou, the Great Spirit, for all of the wonders around you and the miracle of life
  • Honor elders and you honor life and wisdom
  • Honor life in all its forms and your own life will be sustained
  • Honor women and you honor the gift of life and love
  • Honor promises – by keeping your word, you will be true
  • Honor kindness – by sharing gifts you will be kind
  • Be peaceful – through peace, all will find the Great Peace
  • Be courageous – through courage, all will grow in strength
  • And be moderate in all things – watch, listen and consider so your actions will be wise.
    (Adapted from Basil Johnston, 1976, p. 93)

It would be years later when I would learn about the Ojibwe “Seven Fires Prophecy.”

“ … when the world has been befouled and the waters turned bitter by disrespect, human beings will have two options to choose from, materialism or spirituality. If they chose spirituality, they will survive, but if they chose materialism, it will be the end of it.” (Wikipedia)

“The Seven Fires Prophecy is an Ojibwe prophecy that encourages the union of all four colours of the human race to ensure a kinship that will lead to peace and harmony. The prophecy warns that without a union of the earth’s people the earth will cleanse itself.” (http://ojibweresources.weebly.com/prophecy.html)

I’m sharing these memories and musings today because the times foretold by Ojibwe ancestors have arrived. As I said in the ending of a play I recently wrote (You Wouldn’t Want to Hear My Story),

“The waters have been poisoned by our disrespect for the earth and each other.”

Kids_for_Peace_logo

Image: Kids for Peace

I don’t believe it’s ever too late to do what we can to help our communities and world, no matter which spiritual codes of right-living we follow. It’s in our power to reach across the illusory divisions that keep us from living in peace with each other and in balance with the earth we share. The well-being of all children and the health of our world depends on each of us to use the skills and knowledge we’ve gained to create a peaceful future even though the times ahead may be difficult.

Work Cited: 

Basil Johnson (1976), Ojibway heritage (p. 93). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.