Carol A. Hand
Sometimes, on the darkest night
the moon appears, a guiding light
shining on the world below
a reminder of our inner glow
urging us to do the same for others
A welcoming space for resistance to the forces of oppression and hegemony.
Carol A. Hand
Carol A. Hand
What if we wondered what was hijacking our emotions,
and holding us in tightly wrapped boxes of fear, shame, anger and distrust
sealed by corporate satisfaction and greed;
as we’re fed from the roots of oppression.
Where it’s too dark to see truth,
amidst the noise of lies and deception
that relentlessly deprive and control thoughts,
what if we just started wondering?
What if, in wondering, we chewed a little hole,
just enough to let in the light of another’s presence
from a nearby box;
and in that light we found each other’s hands
and just started holding?
What if holding hands
made us each desire to see and understand
more of each other
and so together we just chewed harder?
What if chewing harder together
warmed our hearts
which fueled our courage;
so we could pull each other through
the holes in our boxes,
to just embrace?
What if embracing each other
made us able to stand together
and see all the millions of chewed boxes near and far,
and caused us to just question?
What if our questioning
how and why all so many people are struggling to survive in boxes,
made us tune out the noise and just listen?
What if our listening to different stories
helped us understand the forces outside of ourselves that are controlling us;
and the realization of our own and collective suffering
made us just start thrashing?
What if our combined thrashing
caused our boxes to break down,
so we could all just join hands?
What if our collective hand holding,
helped us all just stand up?
What if just standing up together
made us realize that sometimes each of us needs to be just held up?
What if in holding each other up
we were able to move together to figure out what just what we needed?
What if figuring out together what we needed
fed our hungry conscious
and a collective vision just started to grow?
What if the collective vision was nurtured
by the power of our continuous connections
and we just loved what we found in ourselves and each other?
What if we grounded ourselves in that love
and co-created just enough changes to save ourselves and sustain our world?
by Miriam Schacht (RoteZora)
I haven’t contributed much to this space yet, and that’s in part because things are awful out in the world, and in part because I struggle with depression, and the combination of those two things, well, it’s not great. But I’m working on it. And a good thing, too, because things are bad and getting worse.
I probably don’t have to recount to y’all all the horrible things President Voldemort has done so far, and we’re not even through his first week in office. Things are going to be bad or worse than bad for quite a while. You know what, though? This is what I keep reminding myself of: Things have been bad and worse before. And people resisted. Sometimes, things got better. Even when they didn’t, we still benefited from the examples of fighters who did not give up in spite of immense odds, and in doing so inspired future generations of fighters.
Here’s one example that I’ve always found pretty awe-inspiring. In 1954, as part of an ill-conceived policy called Termination, the federal government ended the Menominee Nation’s status as a recognized Indian tribe. This means that from the standpoint of the feds, Menominees magically stopped being Indians from one day to the next. For many, many reasons, this was awful, and things went from bad to worse over the next two decades.
What did the Menominee Nation do? Well, they did what they’d been doing for the past several centuries, only more so: they resisted. They organized–as “shareholders,” since they could no longer officially organize as tribal members. They held meetings. They planned. They tried to hold everything together in the day-to-day while also trying to bring about massive change.
That kind of thing is unbelievably hard to do, especially because in the moment, you don’t actually know whether anything you do is even going to work. They had no idea that they would eventually be successful, and yet they kept trying, because they had to. Their very existence as a people was on the line.
And even though they were taking on the federal government, and even though that’s not often a situation in which tribes come out with a win, they did not stop, but kept on working and planning and RESISTING.
And they won. It took nearly two decades, but they won. In 1973, President Nixon signed the Menominee Restoration Act, which re-established the Menominee Nation as a federally recognized tribe.
As a side note, one of the people who was instrumental in this fight was Ada Deer, and if her name is not familiar, you are missing out. (I know that Carol knows her–in real life, even!) Read about her here and here, for starters. If you’re looking for some activist heroes, look no further–and keep in mind that she’d also likely point out how many people fought alongside her, and that they were all heroes, and that she’d be right.
Menominee Restoration happened, against the odds, because people got together in protest and fought for their rights. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun (though I bet there were jokes and laughter at meetings, along with serious business), and it had no guarantee of success–and it was necessary.
That’s the kind of spirit of resistance that we all need right now. Indigenous people have been resisting for over five hundred years, and their struggles are at the heart of everything that happens on this continent. Not coincidentally, the Menominees are the people indigenous to the place where I am writing this right now, and it is right and proper for me to think about their struggles and their rights (including their rights to the land I am on right now) and acknowledge my debt to them as we all move forward in resistance.
So as we think about how bad things are going to get, let’s also remember that resistance is never futile (contrary to what the Borg Collective would have you believe). It may take years, or decades, or even centuries, but each act of resistance breeds more resistance, and more power, and so each act of resistance is vital.
And if you haven’t already, go learn about the ways the nations in your area have resisted colonization. Because the Indigenous people of this continent are, and should be, the wellspring and heart of resistance, and all of us need to recognize and honor that in order to move forward together. In resistance.
Read this, please, with an open heart. If you start feeling defensive, take a moment to reflect on why that is before returning to reading.
The first and perhaps most important thing to understand is that this protest is not about you. Yes, we are all affected by what happens here, and we should all serve the earth as stewards and protectors. But this camp and this resistance is first and foremost Indigenous. This movement comes out of countless thousands of years’ relationship with this land. It comes from 500 years of colonialism that tried not only to take this land, but to eliminate every Indian person on it, and when that didn’t work, tried to kill off the cultures of the hundreds of Indigenous nations of this continent. This movement comes out of centuries in which Native sovereignty has been ignored, during which Indigenous nations with thousands of years of history have been reduced to “domestic dependent nations.” This movement comes in response to the centuries of genocide that have made the United States what it is today. It comes from hundreds of Native nations who live within the country that stole their land and stole their children and stole their culture and keeps on trying to steal everything they were and are. It also comes from the prophecies of many different tribal traditions, as well as an ancient and contemporary relationship between the people and this land.
* * * *
Native community structures, and especially leadership structures, may not look like what we as white Americans are familiar with. What may look, at first glance, like an absence of leadership is not that at all, but instead the presence of leaders who are humble, who don’t announce their leadership role, who understand that leadership is facilitating the will of the people around you rather than putting yourself forward. Many people here who are leaders probably don’t consider themselves that way, because Indigenous leadership is all about putting away your own ego and serving other people. Leaders might just as easily be cooking dinner or clearing trash as running meetings or heading an action. Trust that the community knows and recognizes who they are.
Instead of trying to lead, ask how you can serve. Do the work that needs doing, not just the work you want to do or that is most visible. Be humble. Accept corrections and advice. Make yourself useful outside of the spotlight.
That also means don’t charge to the front of actions unless specifically asked to do so. Do not simply do your own thing at an action. Don’t rush to be interviewed or filmed. The world has heard enough white voices and seen enough white faces. We do not need to be the representatives of this movement or this place. Even if the Native voices are quieter than yours–in fact, especially then–they should be the ones to speak. If a reporter asks you for a quote, ask them if they’ve spoken to Indigenous demonstrators. If they haven’t, facilitate that. Emphasize and understand that everything here is happening because Indigenous people and tribal nations decided to resist.
Do things because they need doing or because you are asked to, not because you want someone to thank you. Do your best to bury your ego. This may be harder than you expect, because regardless of how much we might think we’ve left mainstream whiteness behind, we’ve grown up in a world where white people are always at the center. It’s hard to be on the margins; practice being on the margins here, behind the scenes rather than on stage. Understand that Indigenous people, like other people of color, are nearly always pushed to the margins and made invisible. See what that space feels like.
We’re also taught that we have a right to everything. All knowledge should be shared, all culture belongs to everyone, the world should be open-source. This in particular can be extremely difficult to unlearn, but it’s also extremely important. Don’t assume that you are invited everywhere. Especially when it comes to ceremonies, ask humbly if you are welcome instead of assuming, and always be willing to accept “no” as an answer. This is not about you personally; accept that fact with grace and understanding. Some spaces or events are for Native people only. Not all knowledge is for everyone. Not all ceremonies are open to all. Respect that.
We are guests here. Following the guidelines set up for the camp and for the actions is appropriate and respectful. This isn’t a question of following authority or being a rebel by disregarding it; it’s about respecting our hosts in ways that white society, in general, has never done. (In fact, if you value rebellion, consider that respect for Native protocols is the ultimate act of rebellion against the US government.)
If someone else fails to follow protocols–even someone Native, even someone local–don’t take that as permission to disregard them yourself. Respect the community that established these guidelines.
Understand that you are in a place where the expectations for behavior may be different than what you’re used to, and that’s OK–ask when you’re unsure. Some things to know: Elders hold a place of great respect in Native communities; listen to what they have to say, defer to their experience and knowledge, offer to get them food, give them your chair, let them go ahead of you in line. Ask if it’s OK to enter someone’s campsite. If folks are in a circle, don’t join until you are asked. Don’t add things to the fire unless you know what’s what–some things around the fire might be sacred medicine, and wood might be rationed for specific purposes. Be a part of things appropriately and with respect.
This note from the Sacred Stone Camp FAQ is also helpful:
When you are at Sacred Stone Camp, you are a guest of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota nation. If you are told to do or not do something according to tradition, please be respectful and comply. Photography is not allowed during ceremony or prayer. If you are a woman, you are asked not to attend ceremony, including sweat lodges, while you are on your moon (menstruating). Certain traditional events, items, and clothing are only to be attended/used/worn by Native people. Please ask before collecting sage, berries, or any other plant from the area. When in doubt, ask an elder or local.
Share your expertise if and when you are asked, but don’t ever assume you are the only expert in the room (or around the fire). Educate yourself as much as you can, and cut yourself some slack, too; learning means making mistakes, and everyone here will make some mistakes. Learn from your mistakes and they’ll become valuable experiences.
Recognize, too, that no amount of education gives you license to explain Nativeness to Native people.
Non-Natives in this country have a long history of claiming a Native identity that is not ours to claim, whether it’s colonists dressing up as “Indians” for the Boston Tea Party, Boy Scouts holding supposedly “Indian” rituals in the Boy Scouts’ Order of Arrow, Grateful Dead fans calling themselves the Society of the Indian Dead, summer camps naming themselves after Native nations, or New Age practitioners laying claim to ceremonial and sacred Native practices. All of these are ways of claiming tribal identity without being Native, and all of them are colonialist practices that work to erase the continued existence of this continent’s Native people.
Even if some people (even some Native people) tell you that we are all Native, understand that many others not only disagree, but see this viewpoint as a way for colonizers to appropriate Native identity–yet another way for whites to steal Native culture. For non-Natives to claim some form of Native identity reinforces the pain of colonialism for many Native people. Even if you are not wholly convinced by this, please understand that this can hurt people deeply. If, in spite of this, you still think that your right to claim Nativeness trumps the right of Native people not to feel hurt and erased by your behavior, then you should think about what your goals are and whether you belong in this camp.
It is true that we are all indigenous to someplace, and that there are indigenous European cultures that were wiped out by Christianity. This does not mean that those of us who are of European descent are not also colonizers on this land. Additionally, Christianity’s rise to dominance in Europe happened in a very different historical context well over a thousand years ago, and did not involve racial genocide; please avoid suggesting that it was in any way the same thing as what has happened with Native people on this continent.
For decades Hollywood has shown us what Indians look like. The problem is that some of Hollywood’s most prominent Indians were actually Italian…and some actual Native people couldn’t (and still can’t) play Indians in Hollywood because they don’t “look Indian.” That should tell you all you need to know about whether you can tell who is Native simply by looking. Native people today are extremely diverse. Sure, some look like Indians do in movies, but plenty don’t. There are blond Indians with pale skin, and black Indians with afros. There are Indians with straight hair, curly hair, no hair. They’re tall, short… you get the point. Nativeness isn’t always something you can see, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Carry this recognition into the rest of your life as well.
You cannot help others well if you are not trying to be healthy and balanced yourself. You will hear people talk about doing things the right way; taking care of yourself and keeping yourself in balance is an important part of that. Don’t do anything that goes against your values or beliefs, or that makes you feel unsafe. You deserve the same respect as every other person in camp.
We are all part of a system built on genocide (and slavery, and more), a system that has benefited us as white people whether we want it to or not. There is no way to opt out of white privilege. Some parts of your identity may mean you are oppressed in other ways, but even if you are transgender or grew up poor or speak with an accent, you still have white privilege. Even if you are not from the US, you still have white privilege. You may choose to live in ways that challenge this system, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you can live outside this system. We have white privilege, no matter what. It doesn’t mean we need to feel guilty about it, but it does mean we need to take responsibility for our place in the world, and decide what to do with it. Acknowledge your privilege, understand it, and then put it to use to help break down this system of colonialism and white supremacy we all live in.
Let me introduce myself, briefly, since I’m joining the blog at Carol’s invitation and y’all should know what you’re in for.
You may already have read one of the two pieces I wrote as a guest author here – Tiger Lily and Redface: The Indian Who Can’t Grow Up and Belief, Spirituality, Materialism, and Colonialism: Starting a Conversation. When I wrote those, I was a professor of Native American literature; thanks to health issues as well as departmental issues, I’m no longer in academia, but I’m still interested in the way it functions, and in particular its Eurowestern bias. What I think and write about a lot involves colonialism, appropriation, hegemony, accessibility, racism… and much more, all with a focus on Indigenous issues.
And, of course, as you can see from the Tiger Lily article, I rather love pop culture. I’m probably the only person who consistently brought up Battlestar Galactica in just about every Native Studies class I taught. Not the original, of course, but the re-imagined 2004 series, which I still think is one of the best series ever to hit television and the only one I know that took on torture and waterboarding in a serious and nuanced way, and presented an Iraq-analogue occupation from the perspective of the occupied. (Not for nothing did it win a Peabody Award). It also really does connect to Indigenous issues, because one of the BSG actors is First Nations, and has never ever played a Native-identified character in anything he’s been in.
So, yeah, I’ve just introduced myself in yet another venue by immediately bringing up Battlestar Galactica. That seems about right, because one of the reasons I love speculative fiction like BSG is that, at its best, it can make us think about ourselves and the world in ways we don’t expect, and can serve as a vehicle for radical re-imagination and change. And since we’re at introductions, I’ll add that I am writing a fantasy novel at the moment that I hope will be able to do some of that work too (while, of course, never seeming like “work”).
I also have four (!!) cats–I didn’t set out to become a cat lady, but a breakup some years ago took the human-to-cat ratio in my household from a reasonable 2:3 to a cat-lady-territory 1:3. Then I fostered cats for our wonderful local humane society, a no-kill shelter that deserves all the support in the world; after successfully returning about 20 cats and kittens, they gave me a foster kitten who seemed to be dying and who needed a good home to live out his last days. (Which is just a really sweet thing for the humane society to want for him.) He wanted to live, though, and he and I pulled together and got him through, and he’s been with me ever since. So, that leaves me with a human-to-cat ratio of 1:4, meaning, yeah, I’m a cat lady.
I also love gardening, which is another thing I share with Carol; I have seeds from her garden to plant in my garden next spring, which is a wonderful thing. Spending time digging and planting and weeding and replanting is incredibly therapeutic, plus it gives me time to catch up on all the podcasts I listen to like I’m an aural addict. It also really helps in dealing with depression, which is something I’ve struggled with for a long time.
So, there you are. That’s a longer introduction than I intended, but us white folks always do like to take up space and talk about our own selves. I kid, I kid! some of my best friends are white people!
…and I should probably mention that having a sense of humor is something I find essential to surviving in this world.
One of the many gifts my work in tribal communities brought into my life was the opportunity to keep learning and the chance to share what I learned. On this rainy afternoon, I revisited this older post. The sculpted exercise described came from a conference I attended while I was conducting the study of Ojibwe child welfare that is the focus of the book I’m writing. It seems fitting for me to share it again.
Carol A. Hand
Years ago, I was asked to be a keynote speaker for a conference sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The audience would be BIA and tribal social services staff from the U.S., primarily from the Great Lakes and Western states. The speaker’s fee they offered me was offensively large in relation to the $30,000 annual budget my tribe (the Sokaogon Ojibwe Community) received to address the needs of children and families living on the reservation, or in the case of child welfare, throughout the state and country. The truth is I don’t like speaking in public, so I typically look for diplomatic reasons to decline invitations. In this case, I listed some conditions that I hoped would be reasons for the BIA to withdraw the offer. First, I told the BIA administrator that I would be willing to speak if they paid my travel expenses…
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Reflections from a year ago …
Carol A. Hand
Walking in two worlds may mean feeling one really doesn’t belong anywhere. Yet, it’s liberating in another sense. It provides an opportunity to experience other cultures and settings from the margins. After sharing memories with a colleague about our past adventures working with elders, I suddenly understood the value of living on the margins. During my lifetime, I have lived in many places and worked in many fields and settings. I entered each setting as an outsider, a space that gave me a unique vantage point to see things differently than those who “belonged.” I could think critically about what I saw and envision not only “what was” but also “what could be” based on the expressed purpose that each group or organization publicly espoused. I could also assess my “fit” with group or organizational cultures.
Photo Credit: Another Pacific View –…
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I am sharing a post as a reblog from Rosaliene Bacchus’ blog, Three Worlds One Vision ~ Guyana – Brazil – USA.
I would like to thank her for giving me permission to do so. This morning, she shared this crucial context for her post, “The Pedagogy of Steel” by Brazilian Poet Pedro Tierra.
“I was living in Brazil during the 1990s and watched with horror the national TV news reports of each of the four massacres. Brutal violence. As Pedro Tierra notes in his poem: “Life is worth so little / from outside the fence…”
“To learn more about “the never-ending global atrocities that greed-fed imperialism has fomented,” I recommend The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein, published in 2007. She reveals a shocking view of our world. Nothing has changed. It’s only transformed into other forms of chaos.”
Thank you for the crucial work you do to raise awareness, Rosaliene!
Memorial of Massacre of Eldorado dos Carajás – Pará – Brazil
Photo Credit: Globo (Glauco Araújo)
Learn more about the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST)
My Poetry Corner February 2016 features the poem “The Pedagogy of Steel” (A Pedagogia dos Aços) by Brazilian poet Pedro Tierra, pen name of Hamilton Pereira da Silva, a politician and Secretary of Culture in the Federal District.
Born in 1948 in Porto Nacional (Tocantins), Pedro Tierra abandoned his studies to join the resistance movement to overthrow the military dictatorship (1964-1985). In 1972, he was arrested and tortured for his subversive activities. During the five years he spent in prison, he lost several of his companions.
To survive and maintain his sanity, he began writing poetry. Adapting a Spanish pen name deterred exposure. He smuggled his poems to friends outside the prison, keeping them informed of life in captivity.
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Chheng’s story is so powerful. Her messages about kindness and hope, and taking time to understand the consequences of trauma (individual and collective), are crucial reminders of our obligation to care for each other.
I sincerely hope more people have a chance to read her story about trauma and resilience. Her eloquent words can touch so many hearts. I’m grateful that Diane Lefer and Chheng have given me permission to reblog this post.
The images of Syrian refugees in the news made Chheng break her silence and remember what she prefers not to think about: surviving the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the atrocity carried out against refugees by the Thai Army, and the challenges of resettlement in the US. I am grateful to her for speaking and being willing to share this. I learned from her and was inspired. Read her story here.