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.


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.


“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.”


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.

Reflections about Bridging Cultures – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

Oddly, I referenced bridges in yesterday’s post but I didn’t really comment about the importance of the metaphor they represent in my life experiences. Born of parents from different ancestries – Ojibwe and Anglo American – I needed to learn to span different cultures, socio-economic classes, and spiritual beliefs. Often in the past, it wasn’t easy to figure out where I fit.

Ryansinn-bongbridgeatnight (2)

Photo: Blatnik Bridge – View of Duluth, MN from Superior, WI by Ryansinn Photography

There was a time not too long ago when I described the liminal space between cultures – and bridges as a culture-spanning metaphor – in the following way.

“Rupert Ross (1992) observed, “When you try to be a bridge between two cultures, you should expect to get walked over by some people from both sides.” (Dancing with a ghost: Exploring Indian realities, p. xx). This is true from my experience, but not the most difficult challenge to overcome. Because I was in-between, I had to learn to listen and observe others intensely to try to understand who they were and what was important to them. Not surprisingly, this often meant I learned to bridge many differences. Because I learned how to stand up against abuse, I was most interested in working with people whose experiences were in some ways similar to mine. By watching and listening to people from many different cultures, I became increasingly aware of the larger structural issues that underlay their shared oppression. But to be an observer who also sees a broader context is a space of distance that prevents one from really ever just “being” with people.” (Living in the Space Between Cultures, posted on Jeff Nguyen’s blog, Deconstructing Myths)

As a result of taking the risk to share my thoughts and experiences on my blog, I’ve met many friends who understand what it feels like to be different. Some have presented alternative ways of viewing the freedom of difference. Part of Diane Lefer’s comment on the above post gave me a new way to envision possibilities.

“… I wish instead of being a bridge to be walked on, you can be a bird, able to alight on any side of any boundary and then go back to watching from above as you fly.” (Diane Lefer, 2014)

This morning, Silvia di Blasio’s profound and eloquent post offered another perspective.

“There are places in this world that act as portals. Places where we find our tribe, even if for a short moment in time, tell us we are not alone, show a mirror where we can see our own truth … the wound just cracked open and the crying won’t stop until a decision is made: going back where I belong” (Silvia di Blasio, 2015)

Woven together, these images and metaphors inspired a morning poem.

I meet the members of my tribe for precious brief moments
In the center of high bridges
Suspended between earth and sky
Connecting lands that only appear separate and different

We need to learn to look deeply enough
To see that we’re all really connected
With the earth and sky, and with each other
Otherwise our loneliness is too much to bear

Sometimes we dance and blend our voices in song
And sometimes we travel together for awhile
Working our collective magic to rebuild caring communities
That still may never really feel like our own

Buffeted by the winds of change
In our solitary vantage points
We learn to treasure memories
Of the truth of oneness, communion, and home

At this stage of my life, I realize that I can find members of my tribe everywhere if I look deeply enough. I send blessings to all of my relations, but today, especially to those who sometimes feel alone…

Work Cited:

Rupert Ross (1992). Dancing with a ghost: Exploring Indian reality. Markham, ON, CA: Octopus Publishing Group.

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.

“You Need to Tell Them How I Was with the Children”

Carol A. Hand

Winter was sometimes warm and mild in the prairie lands where I lived while I taught a double-load of classes and finished writing about my research study on Indian child welfare. The weather was warm and calm on the day I finished my first draft in February of 2003.

I’m not sure how I ever ended up as a doctoral candidate in social welfare, but here I was – finishing what I had started more than a decade before. I printed and collated the 320-plus pages of my draft dissertation as one of my colleagues tried to distract me and draw me into an ongoing intradepartmental conflict. Somehow, I managed to keep my focus on assembling the six thick binders I needed to mail to university faculty, my doctoral committee, who would judge my work as “pass, redo, or fail.”

After visiting the post office to mail six packages, I headed to my little house in the working class section of town. I parked my car in back, the alley side, and started walking toward my house, probably lost in thought. Suddenly, a vision of the Ogema I had heard so much about during my study appeared in the air to my right. He had died long before my visit to the community. I only knew about him through writings, stories, and old photos. When he appeared, all that I saw was his face – it was as if I were peering through a window into another dimension. He was laughing as he said, “You forgot to tell them how I was with the children. You need to tell them this.”

Maybe I was just tired enough for my imagination to play tricks on me, or maybe this was real – an important message I needed to heed. It’s true that the draft I had just mailed off didn’t emphasize the crucial role model he was for all of the elders who shared their stories about their childhood years. Ogema was often a central figure in their accounts.

As March 12 approached, the day I would face a six-member faculty committee to defend my dissertation, I reflected on Ogema’s words, and on the challenge of walking in two worlds. I doubt that many of the Ojibwe elders I had spoken with during my study would find my vision of Ogema to be odd. But what about my committee members? Would they even need to know?

I prepared my presentation for the committee, carefully connecting relevant theory and past research to support my research approach and conclusions. But one never knows beforehand what questions faculty will ask and whether they will need to challenge the merit and trustworthiness of one’s work. As I climbed Bascom Hill at the University of Wisconsin – Madison the day of my defense, I struggled to balance the obligatory refreshments for faculty and the thick black three-ring binder that held years of work and the key to a future I had never envisioned when I was a child or young adult.

As I walked, I wondered if the years of work compiled in this document would address the concerns one of the committee members raised at the beginning. “Rescuing children or homogenizing America [the short title of my dissertation]? That’s a very provocative title [meaning ‘critical and emotionally charged’]. You’d better be able to defend it.”

A little winded by the climb, I finally arrived. After introductions and small talk, it was time to begin. I’m not sure why I began my presentation as I did, but in the end, it proved to be wise on many levels. I began with the story about Ogema’s appearance and spoke of the challenge of walking in two worlds – white and Ojibwe, the challenge of reading histories of oppression and suffering and past research literature that referred to people in my grandparents’ and mother’s generations as “the children of savages.” And I spoke of the difficulty of remaining objective as I strove to weave it all together after listening to people’s stories and observing present conditions and power dynamics.

Ojibwe speaking communities

Location of all Ojibwe Reservations/Reserves and cities with an Ojibwe population in North America, with diffusion rings about communities speaking the Ojibwe language. (Source)

The defense was a long and arduous process, but I did pass with two unexpected gifts. The faculty member who warned me that I needed to defend my title had tears in her eyes at the end. She hugged me and told me that she was deeply touched by the stories of adversity and resilience, of oppression and Ojibwe innovation and resistance. And a faculty member who had graded another student’s work with pointed critiques in red ink handed me his copy of the draft I had sent him with his penciled comments in the margins – stories his Native American father had shared about his experiences growing up.

Since then, my files and notebooks have been biding their time, waiting for me to share the story about how Ogemawas with the children” with an audience that is larger than the six faculty members who were present during my defense in March of 2003. And perhaps this post is a draft of the preface for the book I’ve begun to tell Ogema’s story…

Imagine what the world would be like if national and corporate leaders were as eager as Ogema was to be remembered for how they treated children during their tenure.

Note: Ogema is not the name of an individual, but is used to designate his position in the Ojibwe community in the past. In his case, the title represented not only his hereditary status as chief, but also a recognition of the respect he earned from community members through his wise leadership, kindness, and generosity. He was kind to the children, he protected them in times of need, and he enacted policies and built alliances to protect them in the future.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the members of my doctoral committee for their support and encouragement, as well as the Chair of the Social Work Department in the prairie lands who provided support and flexibility for me to complete my dissertation.

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.

The Street Where I Live…

Carol A. Hand

The challenge of living on the margins is seeing both what is and what could be. Yet using that perspective to raise awareness and inspire people to work together has proven to be a challenge that has gotten me into trouble many times. Sometimes our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses. It’s something my friend Maxine Jacobson helped me realize.

“I was anything but an ally during my Native American colleague’s first year in the school. I responded defensively when she commented candidly on the social justice mission of the department as more fluff than substance. I wished she would take more time before making judgments to understand the culture of the department and all the work that had gone into creating what White faculty members believed was an innovative program. In retrospect, I find it disturbing that what I expected from her was something I was not willing to give: I was not at all prepared to see “our” world through her eyes. It was okay for her to direct her critique at the child welfare system. But when she directed it at the organization I had invested inordinate amounts of time building, that was too close to home.” (Maxine Jacobson, 2012, pp. 275-276).

I moved to Duluth Minnesota in October of 2011 to be closer to my daughter and grandchildren. I was also seeking a sanctuary to heal from decades of battle wounds, but it didn’t take me long to see the inequities and divisiveness in my new community, as I described in a post some time ago, Communities of Relatedness. Blogging has helped me work through the wounds and find hope, to remember past lessons and share them with a network of gifted people from around the world. I am deeply grateful for the gift of knowledge, creativity, kindness, and love that blogging has given me. Yet I’ve reached a point where I’m finished telling stories from the past, at least for now. Facing my greatest fears – the possibility that I would lose my sight and perhaps not survive corrective surgery – has awakened my excitement about living and learning new things.


Photo: The view of my house from across the street – March 31, 2015
(It’s the white one in the middle, set back from the street behind the large weeping willow tree)

In the past, I really didn’t always taken the time to understand the newest contexts that surrounded me. And because people sensed my openness to difference and my sensitivity and compassion, they started downloading their troubles as soon as I arrived. I listened to their stories about all of the factions and observed the conflict and power struggles. Of course I felt people’s pain and wanted to do something about it – immediately. I am quick to see oppression and unfairness, but I haven’t always taken time to plan how to deal with inequality and oppression effectively. I have many internal battle scars as a result and I’ve been reluctant to have much to do with “organized” people during the past few years.

But I’m alive. I have some skills and experiences that may be important in these times. Recently, I’ve begun searching for answers to crucial questions. What truly inspires me and ignites the fire in my heart? Two things come to mind. First, I have promises to keep to myself and others. I have begun working on two books that need to be completed: one about my mother’s life, and one about my research study of Indian child welfare. (For more information see Lara Hentz’s blog.) But I know from experience that focusing on past suffering and oppression needs to be counter-balanced by also being involved in initiatives that are focused on future possibilities. This is what I have been pondering for the past few weeks.

How can I use my skills and past experiences to build a foundation for transformative changes without offending others and closing down possibilities for partnerships focused on constructive collective efforts? What can I do to keep learning and contributing by applying the principles of appreciative inquiry and community-based participatory research ?


Photo: A View of the Alley – March 31, 2015

The answers are beginning to surface, forcing me to overcome my fear of failing yet again. It’s easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize others. The first step – learning about the community’s past and present online – doesn’t take courage, merely curiosity and discipline. But do I dare look foolish, an old woman roaming the streets with her camera? Calling strangers and asking them if they have time to tell me about themselves and their organizations? Well, I won’t know the answers to those questions until I try. The possible gains far outweigh the costs.

I want to begin by learning about the history of Duluth, and by exploring the street where I live. I want to take the time to get to know my neighbors beginning with the pastor of the church and the manager of the elder apartments across the street. And next, the principals of elementary school at the end of my alley and the high school just four blocks away. I want to learn about all of the initiatives and agencies that are involved in helping residents and the community development agency that is interested in improving conditions in the most challenged neighborhoods (including the one where I live.) I am beginning to frame out this new initiative and have grabbed my camera to start taking photos of my neighborhood.

So, here goes. I’m leaving my sanctuary to look for people’s strengths and visions for the future. I promise to keep you posted about what I discover on the way.


Photo: Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (Directly across the street) – March 31, 2015


Photo: Faith Haven Apartments for Seniors – March 31, 2015


Photo: Laura MacArthur Elementary School – The view from my back porch – March 31, 2015


Photo – Denfeld High School (a few blocks away) – March 31, 2015

Works Cited:

Maxine Jacobson (2012): Breaking Silence, Building Solutions: The Role of Social Justice Group Work in the Retention of Faculty of Color, Social Work With Groups, 35(3), 267-286. To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01609513.2011.642265

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.

Reflections – Respecting Diversity Matters

Carol A. Hand

“Together the myriad of cultures makes up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelops the planet and is every bit as important to the well being of the planet as is the biological web of life that we know as the biosphere. You may think of this social web of life as an “ethnosphere,” a term perhaps best defined as the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. It is the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, the symbol of all we are and all we, as a wildly inquisitive and astoundingly adaptive species, have created.” (Davis, p. 2).

What is culture, and does it matter? These are central questions to consider for all of us, not just those who grow up on the margins of “mixed.” Culture is a complex and contested concept with many competing definitions. For this discussion, here’s a common view often used.

“Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.” (Culture, Texas A & M University)

Our culture is not often obvious to us. We take our beliefs and institutions for granted – as normal. When we encounter different cultures, we often fail to see that there are so many other ways of making sense of the world. Sometimes we think our culture and institutions are the only ones that makes sense – the best. Sometimes we only see others as lucky because they have a culture. I have often heard this at the end of one of my presentations about Native American issues. “You’re so lucky you have a culture. White people don’t have one.” The reality is that all of us have a culture, but not all of us need to be prepared to walk in multiple worlds every day.

“… the social world in which we live does not exist in some absolute sense, but rather is simply one model of reality, the consequence of one set of intellectual and spiritual choices that our particular cultural lineage made, however successfully, many generations ago.” (Davis, pp. 1-2)

Throughout history, a myriad of unique cultures evolved in the context of specific environments – islands, mountainous terrain, rainforests, deserts, and arctic tundra. Each had its own cosmology, social structure, and relationship with the environment. Ojibwe people learned to adapt to the climate of the north Atlantic, and then the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes – the northern tier of the US and the southern tier of Canada. They relied on hunting, fishing, gathering and gardening in their northern woodlands. There were no large mammals to domesticate to do work. Instead, they developed sophisticated social technologies to unite clans and communities to work together for collective survival (Diamond, 1997; Weatherford, 1988). The cultural clashes that accompanied the first encounters with Europeans were significant and in some sense, are still ongoing. No aspect of Ojibwe culture was spared from the forces of external European hegemony, although this is not meant to imply that colonial oppression was necessarily successful.

colonial domination

Graphic Credit: An Ojibwe Perspective … (Hand, 2003, p. 18)

There are two particular authors who helped me make sense of the importance of cultural differences in framing worldviews and the social institutions that different societies create. Ruppert Ross (1992) helped me begin to understand the contrast between Native American and Euro-Canadian beliefs about “right” living and dispute resolution. Starnes (2006) helped me begin to understand how these different worldviews continue to affect education and learning, a powerful tool for reproducing oppression from one generation to the next. Of course, like all simplistic either/or contrasts, how people think and behave is far more nuanced and multidimensional. Nonetheless, models such as these can be used to encourage inter-cultural dialogue.

Ross, in his work as an Assistant Crown Attorney in northwestern Ontario in 1985, was responsible for handling cases in the courts recently established on remote reserves, primarily Cree and Ojibway (Ojibwe). He struggled to understand the profound cultural differences he observed and developed a comparative framework to make sense of what he learned.

ross table

Graphic Credit: Ojibwe/Cree and Euro-Canadian Cultural Contrasts (Based on Ross’s 1992 work)

It’s not easy for people to articulate taken-for-granted assumptions about life and behavior. Ross’s work provides an important starting point to discuss differences that may otherwise seem incomprehensible. For example, Euro-Americans are often annoyed by what they refer to as “Indian time” – showing up at least half an hour late for scheduled meetings. With the best of intentions, this has often happened to me. A phone call or chance encounter would occur, leaving me with the difficult choice of taking time to listen and help – “acting only when the time is right,” or rudely rushing off because of the need to adhere to a rather arbitrary social convention. (I knew the meeting would usually start late any way regardless of when I arrived.)

Dispute resolution is another fascinating example. I remember watching as a Euro-American professor tried to resolve conflict with an Ojibwe professional she treated with serious disregard and disrespect. The offended party would never answer her calls when she tried to apologize. After months of trying to reach him, she decided to drive seven hours to show up at his office without an appointment. She felt this was the only way to resolve the conflict. When the professor arrived, the professional’s secretary told her he was too busy to meet with her that day or the next. But she barged into his office any way, demanding that he listen to her apology. He stood up saying he didn’t want to talk to her, but she walked toward him with her steady gaze riveted on his face. He backed away, and she drew closer. He backed up some more, and again she drew closer. Finally, as this dance continued, he was out of space to back up further and was forced to turn to face the wall with his back to her. (It’s crucial for community cohesiveness to never openly show strong emotion, and in this case, he had extremely good reasons to be very angry.) At some point, she finally realized that she wasn’t going to succeed. The dispute, still unresolved decades later, could have been prevented so easily had she taken the time to learn a little about Ojibwe culture. The cost of her disrespect? It meant that the tribal community the Ojibwe professional represented would have nothing to do with her or a new project that may have benefited youth and local schools.

“To acknowledge the wonder of other cultures is not to denigrate our way of life but rather to recognize with some humility that other peoples, flawed as they too may be, nevertheless contribute to our collective heritage, the human repertoire of ideas, beliefs, and adaptations that have allowed us as a species to thrive. To appreciate this truth is to sense viscerally the tragedy inherent in the loss of a language of a people. To lose a culture is to lose something of ourselves” (Davis, pp. 201-202).

It’s true that learning the value of understanding and respecting other cultures isn’t something most children have access to in US public schools. Even if diversity subjects are covered, the way these subjects are taught and tested often reinforces cultural (and class) hegemony. When Bobby Ann Starnes, an award-winning teacher with 18 years of experience, began teaching at the Rocky Boy Elementary School on the Chippewa-Cree reservation in Montana in 2001, she discovered how little she knew about teaching Native children. She also learned that effective teachers in this context need to know the ways Native children learn, as well as something about their histories, cultures, and communities. She set out to help other educators understand the contrasts between the principles and assumptions embedded in the current public education system dictated by the No Child Left Behind Act and effective teaching from Native American cultural perspectives. Like Indian boarding schools, NCLB’s “standardized” (assimilative) curriculum “alienated children and communities” (p. 388). In order to help teachers from doing further harm, she developed a framework that contrasts best practices for working with Native students, and the approaches that NCLB programs actually require.


Graphic Credit: What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Them (Starnes, 2006, p. 389).

Clearly the judicial system Ross described and the educational system Starnes observed are examples of continued ethnocide. One culture that developed from the experiences of immigrant European cultures has continued to be used to assimilate or alienate those whose cultures are based on other worldviews. This disrespect for other ways of being and making sense of life has serious consequences. Yes, large mammals and newer machines can often accomplish difficult work much more quickly and efficiently than groups of people working together, but often we lose what is most important in the process – a sense of community connections. As John McKnight (1995) observes, it is not just the natural environment that is sometimes destroyed in the process, and the habitats of many other species, the very connections that create community cohesiveness are destroyed as well. McKnight describes how the invention of the steel plow opened up the prairie lands to farmers, and how new social technologies like bereavement counsellors destroy community connections. Steel plows, unlike previous tools, could cut through the thick, interwoven root systems of prairie grasses. Soon, the rich soil that was once protected by the grasses began to disappear with wind and weather, creating a desert until new generations of farmers leaned how to protect and replenish the soil. So too, professional “experts” cut through the invisible interwoven threads of caring that characterize vibrant communities.

It is precisely these interwoven roots of connection with people and environments that many of the cultures that have disappeared knew so well. Some of these insights still guide how some cultures live, but these are the communities most at risk of disappearing as corporate interest displace peoples around the globe in their quest to exploit the earth’s resources for profit. What is lost is not only land and animal species. We lose the accumulated wisdom of peoples who learned to live in balance with each other and their environments over the course of millennia.

“To define perpetual growth on a finite planet as the sole measure of economic well-being is to engage in a form of collective suicide. To deny or exclude from the calculus of governance the costs of violating the biological support systems is the logic of delusion. These voices matter because they can still be heard to remind us that there are indeed alternatives, other ways of orienting human beings in social, spiritual, and ecological space” (Davis, p. 217).

I wish I had answers, but I only have questions and concerns…

“One question lurking behind all of this is whether in fact all practice, everything everyone does, embodies and hence reproduces the assumptions of the system. There is actually a profound philosophical issue here: how, if actors are fully cultural beings, they could ever do anything that does not in some way carry forward core cultural assumptions.” (Dirks, Eley, & Ortner, p. 398)

Works Cited:

Wade Davis (2009). The wayfinders: Why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world. Toronto, ON, Canada: House of Anansi Press, Inc.

Jared Diamond (1997). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. New York, NYW. W. Norton & Company.

Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley, & Sherry B. Ortner (Eds.)(1994). Culture/power/history: A reader in contemporary social theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Carol A. Hand (2003). An Ojibwe perspective on the welfare of children: Rescuing children or homogenizing America? (Doctoral dissertation). Available from UMI Dissertation Services, ProQuest Company: Ann Arbor, MI.

John McKnight (1995). John Deere and the bereavement counselor. In The careless society: Community and its counterfeits (pp. 3-15). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Ruppert Ross (1992). Dancing with a ghost: Exploring Indian reality. Markham, ON, Canada: Octopus Publishing Group.

Bobby Ann Starnes (2006). What we don’t know can hurt them: White teachers, Indian children. Phi Delta Kappan, 87 (5), 384-392.

Jack Weatherford (1988). Indian givers: How Indians of the Americas transformed the world. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.


An Exciting New Resource

Carol A. Hand

Today, I would like to share news about two new resources.

A new ebook is available as a free resource for teachers here.


Michelle Ford, author and editor of the ebook, was inspired by her students to write down and publish the stories she tells during her classes. She asked other teachers to contribute and I was honored to be among them. Michelle describes the history and purpose of this new, free publication in English and Spanish.

What’s this? Thank you for downloading this e-book, which is free. This e-book includes stories and fictionalized life anecdotes written by English teachers in Spain for EFL students/learners, and stories by a university teacher in the USA who has recently retired. Other materials include teachers’ own explanations and insight about learning and issues dealt with in their lessons.

Las historias han sido escritas por profesoras de inglés en la enseñanza pública en España (secundaria, Escuelas Oficiales de Idiomas, universidad), y por la profesora de universidad Carol A. Hand, estadounidense ojibwe, que acaba de retirarse. Incluyen reflexiones o apuntes sobre temas tratados en clase también.

Reproduction. Your support and respect for the property and hard work of these authors is appreciated. This means that this ebook may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided each text remains in its complete original form and you mention its author(s). For commercial purposes you need our written permission. You can get in touch with us sending an email with info on your publication to ebooks@talkingpeople.net, with “publication” in the subject line.

Difusión: Este libro se puede descargar gratuitamente y difundir libremente siempre y cuando se respeten citar a sus autoras y el nombre del libro en el que están incluidas sus aportaciones, así como el nombre de la fuente, talkingpeople.net. Ver “Cómo citar”.

Copyright 2013, 2014 for each text, its author / para cada texto, su autora

Copyright for this edition: MF, 2014-2015 / Para la edición, Michelle Ford

Please check out Michelle’s blog Plans ‘n What We Did as well.


An Exciting Update:

Michelle Ford let me know that 30,000 people have downloaded the book!

Dear Carol,
Yesterday I saw our book has been downloaded 30,000 times (ebook + pdf versions here https://www.talkingpeople.net/tp/ebooks.htm)


Context Matters when Teaching Diversity

 Carol A. Hand

One of my dear blogging friends, Nicci Attfield, asked a thought-provoking question in a recent post – “Can men be feminist?” Her discussion reminded me of a similar question I was asked years ago, and my experiences teaching courses in diversity at two very different universities.

More than two decades ago, I was asked to be part of a panel discussion at a university conference for social work students, practitioners, and educators. The question I was asked to address forced me to think critically about my past experiences and observations. “Can non-Native practitioners be effective with Native American clients?” At that point in my thinking, it was tempting to take the easy route and simply list the reasons why the answer was “No.” But the need to be honest and respectful made me go deeper. Ultimately the answer was really quite simple. Ethnicity and overcoming adversity in one’s life doesn’t necessarily make one more empathetic or a skilled deep listener. What matters most is someone with a kind heart who is willing to do the work to understand the world through another’s eyes. To listen deeply, to see not only the struggles but also the strengths, and to help clients see their strengths, connect to supportive resources, and develop necessary confidence and skills to be able to discover their own answers. To help clients discover they have worth and their own answer to the question – What is the best you can imagine for yourself in the future?

It would be another decade before I would be asked by the same university to teach a class on diversity. Fortunately by that time, I had served as the teaching assistant (TA) for a gifted educator who taught one of the undergraduate diversity classes in the sociology department – a class of 465 students (a limit based on the number of available seats in the classroom). As the only TA, my job was to attend every class as the official notetaker who typed up a summary of each lecture, write 25 multiple choice questions each week for weekly quizzes (a challenging job for someone who insisted on writing questions that required critical thinking rather than rote memorization), and serve as an occasional lecturer. I learned how to use history as a way to reduce resistance from the mostly Euro-American class and how to encourage dialogic exchange even in a large class. Serving as a TA for the class inspired me to take on an issue that I had postponed – the use of demeaning Native American logos and names for public school sports teams. Both serving as a TA and as an as advocate helped me improve the social work diversity class I was asked to teach as an instructor.

diversity pals rebecca bowen 2012

Photo Credit: Diversity Palms (Rebecca Bowen, 2012)

Ever mindful of the importance of the names we assign to courses, I realized one of the first challenges was to change the name of the class “Social Work with Racial and Ethnic Minorities.” That title implies teaching largely Euro-American students to work with clients who are largely from other ethnic backgrounds. (I don’t use the word “race” often because it suggests a scientific basis for what is in reality a socially constructed category that is used to oppress people who are labeled other than “white.”) Because the course had such poor student reviews in its history, I had the freedom to be creative. It was unofficially renamed “Mulicultural Social Work” to acknowledge that practitioners and clients could be from any background. What mattered were empathy, knowledge, and skill – to inspire students “To learn, to care, and to act.”

I taught the class at the undergraduate and graduate levels for two years. The context? The university where I taught had a long tradition of progressive ideals and required all undergraduate students to successfully complete at least one course about diversity. That did not mean, however, that women faculty who were Black or Latina were treated well by all students, colleagues, or administrators. Assigning diversity classes for them to teach without support from allies and colleagues often placed them in a difficult situation at best. When I read the attitudes many students honestly expressed in their reflection papers, I developed a deeper understanding of the challenges my Black and Latina colleagues faced. At the time, however, Native American faculty didn’t have to overcome and rise above the same level of negative stereotypes. Yet there was still a lot resistance to overcome.

There were three major objectives in my mind: to increase student knowledge of and empathy toward different ethnic groups and inspire interest in continued exploration, to encourage greater self-awareness about their own ethnic history and heritage as a foundation for understanding others, and to engage students in planning a feasible and specific action they could take to raise awareness and/or address one issue related to ethnic injustice.

The first difficulty was to minimize the feeling that Euro-Americans were being blamed for the current situation of discrimination, racial profiling, and violence. Few had learned much about the history of structural oppression that continues to influence the lives of people of color in the US. That’s where we began, drawing from a number of excellent sources I will list later. Reading the weekly reflection papers, I saw the gradual easing of resistance and stereotypes. But the growing resistance was palpable as they faced the next assignment – looking more closely at their own ethnic identity as they completed a cultural portfolio. They were required to compile a series of reflections about their ethnic heritage supported by “artifacts.” Many Euro-American students had difficulty seeing why it was important to disentangle what they referred to as their “Heinz 57” blended background, and doubted whether they could possibly do so.

Once the portfolios were done, however, 99 percent became deeply engaged in the next challenge – developing an action plan to address injustice. With 45 to 100 plus students in each class, I really can’t remember all of their plans, but two stand out still decades later. A Muslim student expressed her concern about a demeaning anti-Arab cartoon published in the student newspaper. After the editorial board brushed aside her concerns, she organized a student letter writing campaign to force the newspaper to publish an apology. They did. Another student, a Euro-American woman in her 40s, was angry that her former high school didn’t teach the truth about history. She wrote a letter to the principal describing why it was so crucial to better prepare students to be part of an increasingly diverse global context. She sent her letter along with a copy of Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States.

It was a rewarding class to teach. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to witness the transformation and learn more about students from so many different backgrounds.

diverity tree

Photo Credit: Diversity Rainbow Hand

According to the majority of students on course evaluations, the “diversity class” was no longer dreaded. Many commented that it was the best class they had had in college. But context matters. How would a similar course taught by the same Native American instructor in a different environment be received? Although I had empathized with the challenges my colleagues of color had experienced in the past, I really had no idea what it felt like to face a hostile audience in an anti-Native context. A friend and colleague wrote about the first of two semesters I experienced when teaching diversity in a different context.

When I think specifically about teaching, I note the challenges my Native American colleague and other faculty of color face that will never be part of my experience because I am White. A White MSW student informed my colleague in class that she was unhappy with her teaching style. The student explained how she could show my Native American colleague how to teach. When the incident made its way to the chair, combined with complaints about teaching lodged by several other White MSW students, it was dealt with as a teaching problem, not as a reflection of how dominant teaching styles are viewed as the only good or correct way to teach by those immersed in their own ethnocentric worldview. In effect, the response from faculty and administrators mirrored other colonizing, oppressive approaches used by White people throughout U.S history with Native American people: My colleague was expected to become “White.” Who she was—her very identity—was marginalized and devalued. (Maxine Jacobson, 2012, p. 276)

Overcoming resistance, particularly from students from the most privileged Euro-American backgrounds, proved to be a daunting challenge in this context. My way of dealing with the student challenge Maxine Jacobson mentions in this excerpt was to work with the student on her own teaching demonstration. Despite my warning that it would probably not be effective for her to begin by saying that she thought I was an ineffective teacher who only focused on Native American issues (her perception although not true given the scope of the topics we covered), she ignored the advice. When she began her presentation by stating her opinion about my teaching ability, at least one third of the 35 students in the class were visibly offended. They frowned, sat back, and crossed their arms. Many refused to participate in the activity she had prepared, and she turned to me and said, “Make them participate!” I asked her what she expected me to do. It was her class at the moment and given my cultural values, I really had no right to interfere. I have good reasons to believe that although this student finally graduated, she never really learned how to empathize with people who were less privileged.

Even faced with hostility, I persevered and attempted new innovations to overcome resistance. As expected, resistance and even outright anger were palpable as the due date for the dreaded self-awareness assignment drew near. The Cultural Portfolio assignment of past years, based on only one dimension of difference, had been replaced by the “Positonality Montage,” described in the following essay I wrote at the time.


The Paradox of “Difference” and the Importance of Self-Awareness

Introduction. As an Ojibwe educator and practitioner, the significance of difference is an ever-present challenge. Differences are more than skin-deep and have profound consequences for our ability to understand others, and hence to be of service to those who need assistance. Yet to emphasize difference without recognizing the shared humanity that unites us can reify divisions and socially constructed power differentials. Two stories illustrate this paradox.

The Parable of the Nile describes the danger of ignoring the significance of difference. Briefly, the story tells of a monkey that was swept into the raging Nile by torrential rains. Just as the monkey reached the end of its endurance, it spied a branch hanging over the water and was able to pull itself from the river and was saved from drowning. Wishing to spare another from death, the monkey reached down into the turbulent water to save a fish that was struggling against the current, and it lifted the fish into the air. The monkey was baffled by the fish’s lack of gratitude. To take this parable to its logical conclusion, we should refrain from any actions that are intended to help others who are different. An image shared by Joel Goldsmith (1961) provides another way of looking at difference. If one imagines looking at the earth from the moon, one sees distinct land masses, continents and islands that are separated by vast expanses of water. Each is alone and appears distinct. If one looks deep enough, below the surface of the water, one finds that they are in reality connected. From this vantage point or worldview, the monkey’s actions make perfect sense. These two perspectives, or “positions,” illustrate the paradox of making sense of “difference” in a way that promotes understanding and life-affirming action based on knowledge and skill.

One first step for reconciling these two perspectives is cultivating critical self-awareness. Understanding how one makes sense of the world, how one has been socialized to see oneself and others who are “different,” and the values that underlie the meaning of differences, are crucial dimensions to explore on an ongoing basis. In an effort to explore how to promote critical self-reflection for social work graduate students, I designed an exercise to encourage students to begin to develop an understanding of their “positionality” and its impact on relations with clients, peers, and people in positions of authority. The class assignment, named a positionality montage, is required for the Human Behavior in the Social Environment Class during the first semester of the foundation year. The assignment, described below, has had a profound impact for many masters students.

Positionality Montage Description. An important course objective is to encourage class members to critically reflect on their own “positionality,” and how it affects their world view and values, influences understanding of difference, and shapes interaction with others. This assignment is designed to focus on understanding self in relation to history, meaning, context, and power as a foundation for self-aware professional practice.

So why is the assignment called a montage? According to Webster’s Dictionary, montage is the “art or process of making a composite picture by bringing together into a single composition a number of different pictures and arranging these … so that they form a blended whole while remaining distinct” (1984, p. 922). Positionality reflects many dimensions. For the purposes of this class, the dimensions include:

1. race/skin color/ethnicity/nationality/first language,
2. gender,
3. socio-economic class,
4. age,
5. sexual orientation,
6. religion/spiritual belief system, and
7. ability/disability.

This assignment is designed to encourage critical self-reflection by exploring each of these dimensions, to gain an understanding of what each of these dimensions means personally, how these meanings developed, how your life has been shaped by larger social interpretations of these dimensions singularly or in combination, and how these meanings impact your stance toward difference. Or more clearly stated, the purpose is to answer the questions “Who am I?, and “How does this affect how I relate to others who are different?” These are complex questions, and the answers are ever-changing. In order to make the task more doable, there are four components for the assignment. The first is a brief description of six categories. The second component is a more in-depth discussion of the remaining dimension. The choice of which category to focus on in more depth should be based on what you feel has been the most important influence on your personal and/or professional development, or that dimension that has been the most “invisible,” and hence, perhaps the most taken-for-granted. The third component is to describe or synthesize how these seven dimensions interlock, providing a specific example that illustrates the impact in your work with those in authority, peers, and clients. The final component is a brief description of any new insights and implications for future practice.

You are encouraged to be creative with this assignment. You can interweave photographs, a family tree, documents or stories from ancestors, family celebrations or rituals based on cultural/ethnic roots, songs, videos, etc.

Final Thoughts. Critical self-awareness is an essential foundation for effective social justice work practice. Before one can “shift center” as Andersen and Collins (2004) recommend, one must be aware of one’s center. Yet critical self-awareness is but one of many steps in the complex, life-long process of understanding and embracing diversity. Relating to diversity is a multi-dimensional endeavor that involves seeing not only one’s position at present, but also reflecting on one’s experiences within the contexts of personal and world history, power differentials, and socially-constructed meanings of difference. It requires understanding one’s privileges and oppression. And it requires the courage to make mistakes and to look foolish, the grace to face conflict, and the desire to find common ground based on honoring the richness of others’ experiences and perspectives.


Andersen, M. L. & Collins, P. H. (2004). Race, class, and gender: An anthology, 5th edition. Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth.

Goldsmith, J. (1961). The thunder of silence. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.
Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (1984). New York: Gramercy Books.



Photo Credit: Diversity Tree

Obviously I survived those challenging years. The responses of some of the students made it well worth the effort, as the following excerpt from a final student portfolio underscores.

diversity comment 2

Photo Comment: The student granted his permission for me to use this quote for an earlier publication.


I wish to thank Nicci for inspiring me to share these reflections and resources in hopes that they may be useful to others.

Works Cited:

Maxine Jacobson (2012). Breaking silence: Building solutions. Social Work with Groups, 35(3), 267-286.

Howard Zinn (1990). A people’s history of the United States. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

List of Resources*:

Adams, M., Bell, L. A. & Griffin, P. (Eds.), Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook. New York, NY: Routledge.

Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W. J., Castañeda, R., Hackman, H. W., Peters, M. L. & Zúñiga, X. (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice: An anthology on racism, antisemitism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and classism. New York, NY: Routledge.

Andersen, M. L. & Collins, P. H. (2004) (Eds.). Race, class, and gender: An anthology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Loewen, J. (1995). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your history textbook got wrong. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Rothenberg, P. S.(2004). Race, class and gender in the United States. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Takaki, R. (1993). A different mirror: A history of multicultural America. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

*Note: There may be more recent editions available.



Recognizing Dignity: A Model for Healing Historical Trauma and Building Peace?

Carol A. Hand

As I was trying to catch up with reading the many posts I have missed during the past two weeks, I discovered an exciting answer to questions I have been pondering for a very long time. How do we heal inter-generational trauma and animosity to create peace? What would happen if each school, church, neighborhood and community could come together to dialogue as Dr. Donna Hicks suggests in the following video?

Declare Dignity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPF7QspiLqM

I would like to acknowledge and thank Rolando Thompkins for sharing this video on his blog, Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian.

(Please visit Rolando’s blog to share your likes and comments. Miigwetch.)

History Matters

Carol A. Hand

As William Blake wrote,

“What is now proved was once only imagined.”

I choose to imagine a future based on the best of the past.

“The forests have never failed the Ojibway. The trees are the glory of the Gitchi Manito. The trees, for as long as they shall stand, will give shelter to the Anishinabe and the Animal Brothers. They are a gift. As long as the Ojibway are beneath, the trees will murmur with contentment. When the Ojibway and the Animal Brothers are gone, the trees will weep and this will be reflected in the sound of the si-si-gwa-d”. My grandmother told me this is so, and her grandmother told her. When the forest weeps, the Anishinabe who listen will look back at the years. In each generation of Ojibway there will be a person who will listen and remember and pass it on to children. Remembering our past and acting accordingly will ensure that we, the Ojibway, will always people the earth. The trees have patience and so they have stood and have seen many generations of Ojibway. Yet will there be more, and yet will they see more” (Ignatia Broker, pp. 32-33).

lac du flambeau www dot distancebetween cities dot net

Photo Credit: Lac du Flambeau Photo Credits: Lac du Flambeau

This is a profoundly different future than the one Columbus envisioned.

“Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass” (Loewen, p. 60).

Taino men and women greeted him with gifts when he landed on the shore of the Caribbean islands. His ruminations were simple.

“They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want” (Zinn, p. 1).

Bartolomé de las Casas wrote about what he witnessed later in Cuba.

“Endless testimonies … prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives…. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then…. The admiral, it is true, was blind to those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians (Zinn, p. 6).

“Spaniards hunted Indians for sport and murdered them for dog food” (Loewen, p. 62).


Photo Credit: Columbus and his men hunted natives with war dogs.”

“What Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortes did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots” (Zinn, p. 11).

As always, there are choices. We can continue to believe the manufactured myths of heroic characters, or recognize we have a responsibility to be honest about the past. Without grounding in truth, we will be unable to find the way to a future that is based on the best we can imagine, walking beneath trees that murmur with contentment because we recognize that all life is sacred.

tree of peace

Photo Credit: Tree of Peace by Artist John Fadden

Works Cited:

Ignatia Broker (1983). Night Flying Woman: An Ojiway narrative. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

James W. Loewen (1995). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Howard Zinn (1990). A people’s history of the United States. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.


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