Tag Archives: abuse

No One Ever Asked …

Carol A. Hand

All the child welfare system could do
Was take a mother’s children away
No one ever asked why she always had tears in her eyes
Although her daughter cried for her beautiful mother
No one ever asked what her mother needed to heal
So the child spent her childhood with strangers
A mother mourned and the strangers felt virtuous
The community lost yet another child to removal
And the system closed the case, its job complete

Carlisle_pupils

Photo: Carlisle Indian Industrial School (Wikipedia

Can the circle of caring community ever be mended?

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 on a Grey November Day

Carol A. Hand

It’s easier for me to write the facts
Than to decipher what I feel
Still, when I look back in time I wonder
What is fantasy and what is real

I think of an Ojiwe man who survived foster care abuse
And struggled to heal through the years
I  later heard that he died young but I didn’t ask how
Although my heart grieves I no longer shed tears

Instead I write about oppression
In everyday past choices
To share peoples’ dreams and suffering
And I try to honor their voices

Today as I greet the mild grey morning
Watching a crow strut as it chatters
I realize that contributing in some small way
To build understanding is what really matters

crow-767415_640

Photo: A Wise Crow

 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 Family

Carol A. Hand

If you can’t say something kind
Don’t say anything at all
It’s the thought that comes to mind
As I greet this grey morning in fall

The message light on my phone
Is still blinking, signaling your call
I’m sad to admit I wish to be alone
I prefer to simply be free once and for all

Free from the fiction of family ties
Free from reliving years of abuse
Free from survivors’ guilt and lies
Listening to history revised is of little use

There are so many truths I cannot share
Probably you were too drunk to recall
You set me up for beatings without a care
I still bear visible scars from it all

me age 8

I forgave you many many years ago
And although I can feel your pain
I can’t forget the violence, you know
I don’t have to tolerate it again

I hope you find internal peace
It’s not in my power to give
I suspect the only real release
Comes from choosing how we live

Honestly I wish you well
There’s nothing else I have to say
Choosing to be kind tempers my words
So I won’t call you back today

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.

Beginning a New Adventure

Carol A. Hand

I have to admit that I was worried about being discovered as a “fraud” for enrolling in a novel-writing project. I didn’t really want to write a novel because I feel a need to acknowledge and honor the stories of others. I want to be true to their accounts, share critical reflections, and offer possible solutions while protecting identities. I’m so grateful for taking time today to explore options. I wrote this poem in gratitude to celebrate what I discovered.

I’ve discovered where I belong
And it shouldn’t be surprising
I’m on the margins with rebels
An old but new story arising

I feel the fear and excitement
As I face this new daunting task
Can I weave stories together
So readers will finally ask

What can we do in the future
To undo egregious harm done
So we can care for all children
Because we know we are all one

Let the words that flow though me
And onto a page speak true
Without blame, inspiring hope
It’s what I’m inspired to do

For the sake of our children
Whose lives end if we fail to care
About bombs, bullets, and drones
About hunger, cold, and poison air

The collateral damage is
Borne by my own heart and soul
Silence when witnessing pain
Carries such a heavy toll

norma age 7

Photo: My Mother Age 7

me age 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Me Age 7 (?)

When I write, I need an image or title to serve as a computer-sort button to keep me on track. Here’s my draft working title: We Remember: Ojibwe Stories about Surviving the Child Welfare (Ill-fare) Years. It may change as I write, but it’s a start…

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.

“Watch, Listen, and Consider …”

Carol A. Hand

Standing in the center of the high bridge between cultures is not a safe, comfortable place. I know I’ve said that in many ways before. Yet, eventually, I reach a point of being grateful for the vantage point. I realize what I share is often misunderstood initially, but I share it any way, hoping that in time, it will make sense.

I promised a while ago that I would let my virtual friends know about the outcome of the play I submitted for review. It was not among those selected to be performed. I can’t say I’m either surprised or disappointed. In the process of writing this piece, I discovered something I might not have otherwise. I have struggled for years with the stories I heard about the abuse of Native American children and the suffering I’ve witnessed. How can anyone make sense of corporate colonial destruction? Sometimes, I have been immobilized by overwhelming grief or rage. Yet writing this play helped be find deeper meaning in the teachings and prophesies of a culture that, at least in principle, recognized the sanctity and oneness of all life. I’m deeply grateful for that discovery.

I’m sharing the play here, now that it’s no longer being considered for publication elsewhere. I know I’ve shared these stories in other ways many times. Yet in the play, the stories are woven together in a new way with a resolution that honors the closest I’ve come to understanding truth and finding a path forward toward reconciliation. Unlike other posts, the only images are words that allow you to tap your own imagination.

YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO HEAR MY STORY
Ojibwe Elders Share Their Stories and Future Hopes
A Play in 3 Acts

Character Breakdown (In order of appearance):

  • Cousin Linda: An Ojibwe community member in her middle 40s who agrees to help a researcher make connections in the reservation community.
  • Researcher: An Ojibwe woman in her early 50s who was conducting an ethnographic study of Indian child welfare on the reservation.
  • Uncle Raymond: An Ojibwe elder in his middle 60s. Although he spent short periods of time working off the reservation, most of his life was spent in the community where he was born and raised.
  • Auntie Lucille: An Ojibwe in her middle 60s. Although she was born on the reservation, she was taken away from her family by county child welfare workers and placed in foster care with a White family far from the reservation. She aged out of the foster-care system, leaving the abusive foster family she lived with for nine years. She didn’t return to her Ojibwe community until she retired.
  • Council Members: Two Ojibwe men in their 40s, Nathan and Howard, well-dressed and stately.
  • Young Uncle Raymond: An eight-year old Ojibwe boy.
  • Ogema: The hereditary tribal chief, in his mid-40s at the time, who prevented Uncle Raymond’s removal.
  • White Farmer 1: The 50-year old man who forgave Uncle Raymond for his childhood indiscretion.
  • Young Auntie Lucille: A nine-year old Ojibwe girl.
  • Group: Six Ojibwe elders (3 men, 3 women), Three Ojibwe adults (women), and Two Ojibwe children (1 girl, 1 boy).
  • White Farmer 2: The 40-year old man who headed the family that served as a foster care placement home for Auntie Lucille and other Native American children after they were removed from their homes and community.

Setting:

  • Scene One – Tribal Office. Desk, computer, several chairs.
  • Scenes Two and Three – Elders’ center dining room. Three tables – one toward front stage right, one middle stage a little toward the back, and one back stage left. See diagram below.

Play diagram

Scene One

Setting

A tribal office with a desk, computer and a few chairs.

Cousin Linda:

[seated at her desk turning from her computer to look at the door as the Researcher knocks on the semi-open door and peeks through the opening]

Come in. Have a seat and tell me more about the research you want to do.

Researcher:

First, I want to thank you for agreeing to help me find my way here. [Walking in, shaking hands, and smiling as she speaks.] Basically, I want to learn more about people’s experiences growing up. I would like to look at the child welfare system and see how it fits with tribal views in the past and today. Here are the materials the university requires me to share with people who agree to talk to me. [handing a pile of papers to Cousin Linda]

Cousin Linda:

[laughing as she glances at the papers]

You can’t share these questions with people in the community. They won’t understand them. No one will talk to you! Let’s rewrite them, but we have to hurry to make it to the elder’s center on time.

[Cousin Linda turns toward her computer and begins typing. The Researcher pulls a chair up next to Cousin Linda. The scene ends as they are both looking at the computer screen, talking animatedly and laughing. Lights dim and curtain closes.]

Scene Two

Setting

A Tribal Elder’s Center in the congregate dining room. Elders, adults, and children of varying ages are seated at the three tables in the room. Everyone is already eating their lunch.

The dining room is crowded as Cousin Linda and the Researcher enter the room. They sit down at the table Cousin Linda has chosen where Uncle Raymond and Auntie Lucille are seated along with two Tribal Council Members, Nathan and Howard, both in their 40s.

Cousin Linda:

I’d like to introduce a friend of mine who wants to learn more about the community. She’s from the university and wants to study children and families. Here’s some information about the questions she wants to ask community members.

[Everyone at the table becomes quiet as the glance over the papers. Cousin Linda and the Researcher go to the food table to get their lunch and return to their seats. ]

Council Member Nathan:

I’d be willing to share my story. Here’s my card. [handing his card to the Researcher]
Give me a call so we can schedule a time to talk.

Uncle Raymond:

I’d be willing to talk to you, too. [as he’s looking at the Researcher].
Can you come to my house this afternoon?

Researcher:

Thank you both. I will give you a call, Councilman [looking at Nathan].
And I welcome the chance to hear your stories today, Uncle Raymond [looking at Uncle Raymond and shaking his hand].

[Those seated at the tables all leave, except for the Researcher and Uncle Raymond. The two rear tables are moved to create space in the corners. The Researcher remains where she is seated. Uncle Raymond walks to the middle of the stage and sits down on a chair. The spotlight falls on him as he begins his story. The other lights are dimmed.]

Uncle Raymond:

When I was a boy, there were only about twenty-eight families that lived in the village here. [A dreamy look on his face as he remembers] All of the families were poor, but we hunted and shared what we gathered. Deer were divided among all of the families, and my friend and I snared rabbits as young boys and would share what we caught with everyone.

[Laughing]

I remember one time when I was a young boy, it was winter time, and all of us were really cold. We didn’t have any fire wood. So I had gone off to find some wood, and there was little to be seen. It was cold, and it was getting dark when I came up to a white farmer’s fenced in land. I thought “those fence posts would burn nicely.” So, I cut them and brought them home. We had a fire that night. The farmer was really mad when he saw that his posts were gone and wanted to have the thief arrested.

Ogema found out about it and figured out who had taken the posts. He came to wake me up early the next morning. It wasn’t even light out yet. He told me to get up and get dressed. We were going out to the woods to gather cedar trees. He showed me how to choose the right tress, cut them, and prepare the wood that is sacred to the Ojibwe people, and he taught me how to make posts.

[On the right side of the stage toward the back, a spotlight highlights Ogema kneeling next to the Young Uncle Raymond, showing him how to prepare a cedar post. There is no audible discussion as Uncle Raymond continues his story. The spotlight fades after a minute or two]

[Note – This side scene and others that follow could also be choreographed as a dance with a drum and flute softly playing]

Uncle Raymond [continuing]:

When we were finished, we brought the posts to the farmer and helped him repair the fence. I apologized for taking the posts. Ogema persuaded the farmer not to report me since I realized what I had done was wrong and worked hard to make up for my mistake. The farmer agreed. After that, Ogema knew how many families in the village were cold, so from then on he made sure that the community worked together so there was enough wood for everyone in the village.

[On the left side of the stage, a spotlight highlights Ogema introducing young Cousin Raymond to the White Farmer. The Farmer leans down and shakes Uncle Raymond’s hand. Again, there is no audible dialogue as Uncle Raymond continues]

Uncle Raymond [continuing]:

Ogema also taught me that hunting is not a sport – it’s something that you do for food. It’s not a sport if you leave something for what you take. That’s why we leave tobacco for something we take – we’re being responsible. [He pulls a tobacco tie from his shirt pocket, handling it gently in his left hand, gazing at it wistfully as he remembers]

We are at the mercy of the Great One and the power when we’re out there, but we go, knowing that we have to have food to live and we have to do that.

It’s work. I don’t really like to kill. There’s a sadness there for that deer. I don’t hunt just to kill it, and I don’t feel good about killing. Sometimes, the deer doesn’t die right away. That’s why we leave something, to ask forgiveness. That’s why we take it home to feed our family and others who are hungry – out of respect. My relatives and I like to hunt together and we all feel that sadness – that loss or sadness. Ojibwe people have been doing this for thousands of years.

Ogema and my grandmother told me that a lot of our people feel that way – feel that sadness. That’s why we have to eat it all and use all of the parts – out of respect. If we don’t do that, we won’t have that relationship with the deer. That relationship with the deer is important. That’s why we always put moccasins on when we are preparing someone who has died – so that they will have that deer skin on their feet when they take that long journey – so we can walk with deer skin on our feet.

Cousin Linda:

[Quietly enters the right side of the stage behind Uncle Raymond, highlighted by a spot light while she speaks]

“Ogema” is not the name of a person, it is the Ojibwe word for “leader” or “chief” – a title earned through generosity, wisdom, and actions that bring people together and protect the community. Uncle Raymond’s story shows the enduring legacy of a culture that valued children and all life. They had highly developed and sophisticated techniques for ensuring the education and well-being of the next generations and building alliances with other groups. Sadly, many Ojibwe adults also felt the need to protect children in ways that meant the loss of their language. [the spotlight fades and Cousin Linda exits]

Uncle Raymond [continuing]:

When I was growing up, my cousin and I would follow the elders when they went out into the woods. We would hide behind brush so we could listen to them speak Ojibwe. The elders would come and chase us away so we wouldn’t be able to learn the language. They told us they didn’t want us to suffer the way that they had.

Even though Ogema was there to teach me when I was growing up, my life wasn’t easy. I dropped out when I was a junior in high school. I was kicked out of the house when I turned 18. My sister took me in, but there was no support to finish high school. So I went into the military, and sent money home and hoped they wouldn’t drink it all up.

When I dropped out of school, I got a job and I realized that I needed more education. I went to night school for high school and college credits. I didn’t want to go through the process of getting a diploma with younger kids, so I took the GED test and passed. I went to technical school and college. I took courses in business, accounting, English language, tribal history. I wanted to be able to do my job better. I went as someone who wanted to learn, not for a degree.

I never wanted to be dependent on any authority. I provided for my family, and I provided for myself for years. I still believe this. I don’t believe the tribe owes me a thing. But I still try to follow Ogema’s example by caring for others in the community and try to also pass on the skills and traditions and traditions I learned to the next generations. It’s not always easy.

There’s a young non-Indian girl here who told me that she couldn’t eat most kinds of meat, fish, or shrimp – it makes her sick. But she can eat venison. So I’m going to give her one of the deer my grandson and his friend shot yesterday. My brother and I have been teaching them how to hunt in the right way and I’m proud of them. My daughter and granddaughter go with me to gather cranberries – mashkiigiminan – in the swamp like I did as a child, and my children and grandchildren are learning how to gather and preserve manoomin – wild rice. It’s important for us to remember our ways and pass them on. That’s why I’m sharing my story – so the next generation can remember our ways.

[Lights dim and curtain closes.]

Scene Three

Setting

A Tribal Elder’s Center in the congregate dining room a year later. A few elders are left after the desert, sitting at tables. You can hear their animated conversations although it’s impossible to hear much of what they are saying because they’re all talking at the same time to their own table-mates, interspersed with laughter.

At one of the tables, the Researcher is listening to elders share stories about the old days as Auntie Lucille walks up to the table to clear away the remaining dishes as she tidies up the room. She bends down and gently touches the shoulder of the Researcher.

Auntie Lucille:

I grew up in foster care, but you wouldn’t want to hear my story. It’s not a happy one.

Researcher:

I would welcome the chance to hear your story when you have time.

Auntie Lucille:

I don’t know … Maybe today in about an hour after everyone leaves and I’m done with my clean up.

Researcher:

Can I help you finish the clean up?

[The Researcher stands and helps clear the last of the dishes, everyone else leaves. The two rear tables are moved to create space in the corners, The Researcher returns to her seat at the front table when they’re done and Auntie Lucille sits in the center. Auntie Lucille is in the spotlight as the rest of the lights dim.]

Auntie Lucille:

When I was little, with grandma and grandpa, when it was time for doing canoes, I went with them to get bark for the canoes, for the wigwam. I went with grandpa. He always did that. Grandma always taught beadwork. I had to tan hides – I’m glad I didn’t have to clean them [smiling dreamily]. They were spread out on frames in the house – I would scrape them [she lifts her hand and moves it through the air with back and force motions] until they were nice and soft.

The big drum was here and grandma and grandpa were part of it. The drum was presented to grandma. Every time they would have a feast, she’d take me and my brother. I sat on the right side of grandma, and my brother sat on her left. As long as the drum was out, we couldn’t get up or say anything.

[On the left side of the stage toward the back, a spotlight highlights a small group of adults around a drum, playing softly, while a few children, including the young Auntie Lucille, are seated watching them. The light fades and the soft sound of the drum plays in the background for several minutes as Auntie Lucille continues her story.]

Auntie Lucille [continuing]:

My job after school was to go to all of the elders’ houses to see if they needed anything, any work done or water or wood. My job was to do whatever they needed. I guess that’s why I do it now. I always got along better with elders. If they ask for help you give it, or you offer. I could sit and visit with elders and I always felt better. [smiling as she remembers these times]

I had a lot of good times when grandma and I would sit on the porch. She would talk Indian and I could understand what she was saying. My brother and I always knew what she was saying, but she wouldn’t teach us because she said it was going to be a white man’s world. “They’re taking over and I don’t want you to be beaten up for talking Indian.” And she was right. It was our heritage, but we couldn’t learn because the white man’s going to take over. [She frowns as she says this in a rougher tone of voice]

[Suddenly her face lights up and she talks animatedly] We went to ball games. Grandpa would be an umpire and we’d go all over. I was always with grandpa and grandma, going everywhere with them – [her smile fades] – more than with my mom. Mom didn’t care. She’d come home drunk and chase us out of the house at 3 or 4 in the morning. We’d run to grandma’s. [a wistful smile returns].

Grandma always had a crock pot of biscuits by the door, it was covered with a towel, and we’d go in and grab a biscuit and go upstairs to the bed – they always had a bed for us. When grandpa got up in the morning, we’d hear him say “Well our kids are home again.” I could never figure out how they knew we were there, and then one day I realized that my brother never put the towel over the crock pot after he took his biscuits.[laughing softly as she remembers]

My grandparents got up early. In the morning, my grandpa would say “It’s 6 a.m., daylight in the swamp kids.” My grandpa trapped in the winter time. He’d come and wake me up early and tell me to go with him. I’d ask him why he wasn’t taking my brother instead. He’d say “you’re the oldest so you’re coming.” If I wanted money, I’d have to work for it. I’d cut wood, or pump water if I wanted money. If I wanted a nickel or dime, I had to work for it first.

I could always count on them. They always had something to eat and there was always a bed ready. [she sits up straighter and says this with conviction]

[the drumming stops, and emotions of anger and sadness appear on her face, her voice is matter-of-fact as she tells the next stories, sometimes increasing in volume and speed with anger or slowing and quieting with sadness.]

After I was 9, for 9 years I was away from that love, heritage, pride, life. Where’s an Indian supposed to fit in? When you have those values and are denied a chance to practice them? It was just nine years of hell. How to work was all I got out of it. There was no love – no nothing.

I was 9 years old when I was told welfare was going to come and take me and my little brother to a foster home. Grandpa and grandma wanted to keep us but they were told they were too old. They were not willing to have us go away, but the county social workers took us anyway.

We were one of the first ones taken away. They came and picked us up and took us to this farm. I was 9, so I tried to remember the route. I remembered the highway. They said it was 80 miles, but it was more than that. They said that Mom could come and see us whenever she wanted but that did not happen.

The home on the farm had three daughters of their own, but we – the Indian foster kids – had to do all of the work. We had to wait on them all. [anger and disgust in her voice] We were supposed to get $3 a month for an allowance, but we never got it. We didn’t know anything but work and school. We were not allowed to go anywhere else. We couldn’t have any friends. They were mean to us – we were hit and beat by horse straps. We would tell the social worker at our monthly meetings, but for the 9 years my brother and I were there, we never had the same worker twice. They kept changing workers.

[On the right side of the stage toward the back, a spotlight highlights a white farmer with a strap in his hand hitting the younger Auntie Lucille while other children sit and watch. The soft sound of children crying and a drum plays in the background for a minute or two as Auntie Lucille continues her story]

Auntie Lucille [continuing]:

After I was there, they started bringing others – my other brothers, my sister, and my cousins from the reservation community. My grandma told me “You’re the oldest so you need to watch out for the others.” I took a lot of beatings to protect them so they wouldn’t be hit. [her voice firm and angry, her fists clenched and again, she sits up straighter, adjusting herself in the chair]

They only took us in because of the work they could get out of us. They never took me to the doctor or dentist like they were supposed to do. I never went to the dentist until I was 18 and I got out of there.

They had these fields of green beans. They took us there to work in the fields picking beans every day in the summer. We were there from 6 in the morning until they came to get us. We earned 3 cents a bushel, but we never got to keep our money – they took it.

My brothers ran away. I got beat until they came back.

My grandma told me “You’re a survivor – you’ll make it no matter what.” And that kept me going. I had a couple of nervous breakdowns. When I was raising my own kids everything that I went through at that farm – it all started to come back.

[tearing up, you can hear her voice breaking as she struggles not to cry] I can’t have no hate in my heart. If you can’t forgive, take charge of your life, you’re lost. I don’t blame anyone, I don’t blame my mom – she thought she was doing the best thing for us. Mom drank a lot. There were nine of us kids. She was a good mom, other than going and out drinking. She was not a mean mom, but a lot of the reservation thought she wasn’t a very good mother. Her own sister did it to her – reported her to welfare. Her sister later told me that if she had known what was happening in the foster home she never would have done it.

I don’t have anything good to say about the welfare system. I don’t care that much for foster homes because there is no one who oversees the homes. I don’t think Indian children should be raised in a white man’s home. They don’t share our culture, and they don’t want to understand us. The only way is their way. I don’t think that’s right for Indian children.

[Auntie Lucille stands. Cousin Linda slowly enters as Auntie Lucille is finishing her story and stands to the right of Auntie Lucille. Soft drumming begins and continues until the Auntie Lucille stops talking]

Auntie Lucille [continuing]:

I did survive even though it’s been hard. I have lived with the hurt and the shame of what happened to me as a child. I never shared this story before. Now I see that we need to share our stories with each other. As a tribe and community, we need to heal the circle for those like me who return looking for the love we knew or missed as children. We return looking for the sense of acceptance and belonging we remember from our childhood.

I just want to help others who have had hard lives. If my story helps at least one person, then what I went through will be worth it.

[Drumming ends. Cousin Linda gently hugs Auntie Lucille when she stops talking. She stands on Auntie Lucille’s right and speaks firmly, perhaps with tears in her voice]

Cousin Linda:

I’m so glad you came home, Auntie Lucille. [gently, as she looks at Auntie Lucille and smiles]

We have lost so many tribal members through the centuries. First to boarding schools, then to adoption and foster care in White families – far from the reservation. And now we are losing our youth to juvenile detention centers and group homes. We’ve lost families, too, when they were relocated by federal policies to urban areas. We’re lucky that you returned. [smiling, looks at Auntie Lucille and takes her hand]

[looking toward the audience] Only some return like Auntie Lucille. Some died too young, and others never returned. We have lost so many.

[As Cousin Linda is speaking, Uncle Raymond enters and stands next to Auntie Lucille on her left side]

Cousin Linda [continuing]:

We want to thank the Researcher for encouraging us to tell our stories and recording them so future generations can remember both the suffering and strengths of our ancestors and our elders. We survived as Ojibwe people because they did all they could to protect us and teach us our ways.

[the Researcher stands from her seat by the table, where she’s remained during the scene. She gives a tobacco tie to Uncle Raymond, Auntie Lucille, and Cousin Linda to acknowledge her gratitude and hugs each one. The Researcher exits while Auntie Lucille, Cousin Linda, and Uncle Raymond remain standing in center stage.]

Uncle Raymond:

It’s important for us to remember our stories – both the good and the bad. What happened to Auntie Lucille is still happening today. As a tribe, we need to do something about that. The kids are our future people, our tribe. We should have something for them to look forward to. We need to have something that provides a strong sense of connection and foundation. Now, many of them feel lost and invisible. We need to remember what Ogema taught us about being a community and caring for all of our children.

[The spot lights on center stage fade and the spirit of Ogema appears as a hazy projected image on a screen to the left of group.]

Ogema:

My heart is grateful to see the people you have become. You have all lived through difficult times, just like our ancestors, but you have remembered their teachings.

[in a voice of warmth and kindness] Dear Lucille, you are an inspiration to others in the community. Never forget that. You have survived hard times because of your strength and love. Welcome home. Raymond, I remember you as a little boy and I am proud of the man you became. [chuckling]

[in a voice of warmth and kindness]You may not realize how profoundly you have touched the lives of others, but your deeds have helped the people preserve our ways and kept them safe. You have taught them how to hunt and gather and how to respect each other and the earth. And Linda, thank you for helping the community remember their stories and helping the youth reclaim their heritage.

[a more serious tone] But the hardest work is yet to come. The times foretold by our ancestors have arrived. The waters have been poisoned by our disrespect for the earth and each other. As Ojibwe leaders, it is your responsibility to help the community to continue walking on the path of life as an example to other nations.

  • 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.

As you have said, Raymond, the children are our future. But remember the lessons you learned long ago. The well-being of Ojibwe children depends on the well-being of all children, and therefore, on the health of our earth. Use the skills you gained in your lives to teach other peoples how to walk the path of life because our lives and the life of our earth are all connected. And remember in the difficult times ahead that the spirits of your ancestors walk with you. [voice becomes ethereal with the final sentence]

[Image fades and the drum plays as the curtain closes on the scene]

Development History

The title of this play, “You wouldn’t Want to Hear My Story,” is drawn from a quote of an Ojibwe elder who shared her story with me. The play itself is based on a critical ethnographic study conducted in 2001-2002 that focused on exploring historical and contemporary child welfare issues from an Ojibwe perspective. Although the stories have been edited to remove any place or name identifiers and for narrative flow, care has been taken to preserve the authentic perspectives and voices of the storytellers. These stories and others have been previously published in a variety of venues:

Hand, C. A. (2003). An Ojiwe perspective on the welfare of children: Rescuing children or homogenizing America? (Doctoral dissertation.) UMI Dissertation Services, ProQuest

Hand, C. A. (2006). An Ojibwe perspective on the welfare of children: Lessons of the past and visions for the future. Child and Youth Services Review, 28, 20-46.

Hand, C. A. (2015). Native American Issues. Voices from the Margins (blog). Avaialble at https://carolahand.wordpress.com/native-american-issues/.

A number of other resources were used to add contextual elements for Ogema’s ending monologue:

The path of life that Ogema shares is based on Basil Johnson (1976), Ojibway heritage (p. 93). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Historical and cultural contexts are supported by online sources:

“The teachings of the Seven fires prophecy also state that 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.” (Source: Wikipedia)

“The Seven Fires Prophecy is an Ojibwe prophecy that encourages the union of all for 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.” Source: Ojibwe Resources)

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 Catfish and the Eagle

Carol A. Hand

Angeline and Valentine,
The catfish and the eagle
One lived in murky waters
And the other, born to fly

Despite mud, Angeline thrived
While crows of conformity
Kept Valentine on the ground
In a sorry state, barely alive

Sometimes Angeline would gaze
At the sky so blue up above
At eagle wings gleaming in sun’s rays
As she waited patiently for love

Valentine stood on the shore
Looking at his reflection
Feeling lost but wanting more
And wishing for affection

When their eyes met in wonder
To see another so strange
Their fate was sealed – love’s thunder
Though both sensed disastrous change

AV2

Drawing: Carol A. Hand

Angeline gave Valentine
A reason to try to fly
With talons gently holding her
They rose as fluffy clouds passed by

Suddenly she gasped for breath
She needed her water home
A reluctant Valentine
Left her and flew off alone

Ah, it would be a different tale
Had he simply stayed away
Alas they were caught in passions’ gale
Or perhaps a karmic debt to pay

Each time they flew a bit further
Valentine’s talons dug in deeper
Angeline wounded gasping for breath
Finally knew her only release would be death

Valentine tightened his grip in sorrow
Freezing his own heart for Angeline
To give her another tomorrow.
But as life would have it – call it fate
Angeline’s freedom came too late

Background:

This is a metaphoric story about my Anglo American father and my Ojibwe mother. Names do have meanings, as do Ojibwe clans.

The catfish clan is likely the one that my mother was born into – the clan of the teachers and scholars whose role is to advise leaders and help resolve disputes. The eagle was viewed as a symbol of American settlers, and the eagle clan designation was assigned to the children of mixed Ojiwe/European unions when the fathers were of European descent.

Angeline (meaning “angel” or “messenger”) was my mother’s middle name, in many ways fitting. Although forced to live outside of her culture for much of her adult life and ashamed of her heritage, she was kind, hardworking, and a truly compassionate nurse and gifted healer.  Valentine (meaning “strong, vigorous, healthy’) was my father’s middle name. Certainly these were potentials he was born with but his abusive childhood and military service left serious insecurities, bitterness, and a short fuse when dealing with frustration. He could be funny and charming, or quick to anger and violence, depending on his mercurial moods. He was also brilliant, but not acknowledged as such because of his working class roots, fractious personality, and lack of even a high school diploma.

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.

“Sweet Caroline”

Carol A. Hand

Clickety-clack clickety-clack
My brother’s only one
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
My mother’s on the run
We’re on a train to Texas
She hopes the abuse is finally done

train

Photo: Passenger Train from the 1950s

Clickety-clack clickety-clack
Open plains are rolling by
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
I watch my mother cry
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
Mile after mile
There’s no one else to comfort her
So I try to make her smile

Clickety-clack clickety-clack
Will this journey never end
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
I could use a friend
Passengers try to make me smile
Calling me “Sweet Caroline

Clickety-clack clickety-clack
Little do we know
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
There are many more miles to go
As my father follows us to New Mexico
Arizona, and finally Lac du Flambeau

Clickety-clack clickety-clack
My mother sobs, my brother cries
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
I vow to protect her
From my father’s blows
Beneath Wisconsin skies

The tracks of hoped for salvation
Are but a memory past
It took another forty years
For my mother to be free at last

Acknowledgements:

Neil Diamond, “Sweet Caroline

 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 Indian Child Welfare – July 15, 2015

Carol A. Hand

The most difficult part of any new initiative for me is figuring out where to begin. What is it I hope to achieve with this newest project – a book about Indian child welfare? What can I say that hasn’t already been said, and what do I really know for sure? Who would be the best audience – the audience that would be most receptive and most likely to act in thoughtful ways to address continuing oppression? These are some of the questions I have been pondering as I look at the blinking cursor on my empty computer screen.

Start somewhere,” I tell myself. “You have a title, so draft a title page.” (Yes, I often refer to myself in third person language in my thoughts. I’m not sure why even though I think it’s rather odd …)

rescuing children title page jpg

Photo: Draft Title Page

But how should I begin? Here’s my most recent beginning. I really do welcome your honest comments and suggestions.

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

Imagine that you were a five-year old boy or girl walking along the road in your village. A village where you knew everyone, where you felt safe because the villagers all watched over you and kept you from being hungry or harmed, until that one day when no adults saw the strangers that drove by and enticed you into a car. You had never ridden in a car before and were curious as many children your age would be. Now imagine that it would be more than a decade before you would see your family or community again. You awoke from the long journey to find yourself in a strange place with many other strange children. More than seventy years later, you still carry the scar on your hand from that day when the adults in that strange new place where you found yourself hit you with a sharp-edged ruler because you asked another child where the restroom was in the only language you knew, “Indian.”

Imagine what you would feel as a parent or grandparent if your child suddenly disappeared. You knew he or she was not the first to be taken by the strangers who had invaded your homeland more than a century before. And he or she would not be the last to be taken by the descendants of strangers whose language and ways were different and who had the power to take your land and confine you to a small “reserved” area of your original homeland after they clear cut all of your trees. Strangers who had the power to outlaw your language, spiritual practices, and ways of life. Now they were taking your children and there was absolutely nothing you or anyone else in the community could do to get your children back or stop the kidnapping. Imagine what all of the relatives, elders and warriors of your community would feel and how profoundly it would forever change the community and how you felt about life.

This is only one of the stories I heard from Ojibwe community members whose childhoods were spent in places far from their families and community. This book shares some of their stories and describes the historical events and contemporary consequences for a system that claimed to be rescuing children from neglect and abuse. I leave it you as the reader to determine if the inhumane and traumatizing child welfare policies that were and are still imposed on Indigenous peoples in what is now the United States are something that should remain unacknowledged, unchanged, and unchallenged.

Acknowledgements:

1. For those who haven’t read prior posts, the photos on the title page are of my mother before and after Indian boarding school.
2. I was inspired to write this reflection after a conversation I had with a dear friend yesterday. She asked me what my purpose for writing the book was and who the intended audience was. This is my first attempt to respond to those questions. I hope you will share your views.

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 Being Honest and Fair

Carol A. Hand

Working on my mother’s story sometimes dredges up memories that I would prefer to forget. I don’t often speak of my father, but he’s an important part of her story. They were together for 51 years.

Wedding Photo

Photo: My Mother and Father’s Wedding – December 1943

I really know very little about him because I always tried to avoid him as much as possible – to steel my heart and shield my body from his emotional and physical abuse. I decided to see what I would find if I googled his name – an odd one – and much to my surprise I discovered personal details about him and his family here, including social security numbers! Looking through the documents my mother saved has stirred up a lot of memories and ambivalent, unresolved feelings. The following poem is an attempt to remember and make sense of past events. A warning – it’s not a light-hearted read.

Father

I rarely write about my father – It’s not a topic that’s appealing
It’s fraught with memories of abuse and the nauseated feeling
At every meal when he was present and every time when he was around
Never knowing what would trigger his yelling or being thrown to the ground.

Although I understood him – the deep insecurity caused by his class and size
His bullying and aggression didn’t earn respect in other people’s eyes.
One moment he was charming, the next holding an unraveled belt or later, a gun
For some imagined slight in a war that must be fought – a war that must be won.

It was twenty-one years ago when he died all alone
On a veterans’ psych ward that became his final home
It was my document that placed him there – a promise I made long ago
If you raise your hand and strike again, you’ll be on a psych ward quicker than you know.”

I didn’t do it out of anger – I forgave you so may years ago
But you forced me to stand up to bullies – to learn how to deal with pain
To speak truth to power and protect those who didn’t know
That they deserved more than to be hurt again and again.

I always wished there were a treatment to help you quell your inner agony,
It was your right to refuse, you had a right to make a choice – but others paid the fee,
Perhaps your fear was too great or your delusions of grandeur too overblown
I hope your suffering has ended, that you finally found peace, even though you died alone.

bird-feather-13486506267nW

Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

Writing accounts of other people’s lives is not an easy task for me. I feel the need to be honest and to look for everybody’s strengths at the same time. Yet I wonder what to do if, in balance, it would be dishonest to gloss over the deep legacy of harm others have done, just as it would be for me to stand by as a silent witness to abuse. The fear and abuse my mother lived through in her personal life was much like the historical trauma her ancestors experienced. Imagine feeling helpless as you stand by as a witness while your little children offer themselves up to take your beatings? How does one write about this in a way that will be read and, more importantly, be understood? How does one see the humanity and pain of those who are abusive and represent them with compassion, regardless of their past and present actions, but still hold them accountable for the harm they’ve done? How does one make clear connections to the violence embedded in the decisions politicians, corporate decision makers, and bankers make every day, the same kinds of decisions that killed millions of my indigenous ancestors and will kill millions today? Are they just really insecure people like my father who have more power to do far greater harm?

Today, I hesitated to publish this. I don’t have answers to these questions, but they are crucial and central to the work I have begun… As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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.

Sara’s Stories

Carol A. Hand

One of initial purposes for Voices from the Margins was to create a space for guest authors who wanted to share their stories. I’m delighted to announce that I received an email with the following story in response to a recent post, “Kindness Matters.”  I hope that this is the first installment of what will become an ongoing series of posts from a guest author. For now, she prefers to use the pen name, Sara.

Sara’s Stories: Claras in My Life

By Sara

Reading your blog post “Kindness Matters” I was reminded again of the “Claras'” in my life and the things they taught me.

My first was a cousin named Harley who had Cerebral Palsy. I was about 6 years old when I first spent part of the summer at his home playing with him. He was so sweet and his face lit up when he would see me. We truly made one another happy. Another girl cousin would get so upset because she wanted me to play with her and let him sit there because he couldn’t play anyway – according to her. But as far as I was concerned Harley was more fun and much nicer so I played with him! One day as we were playing, I accidently stepped on his favorite toy (a plastic white lamb) and broke one of the legs clean off. I felt just awful and hugged him and told him how sorry I was. He told me it was OK, just as his mom stepped out to see what was going on. I explained what had happened and what he had told me and she went back indoors. Years later, I found out she went indoors to cry because Harley didn’t talk and I didn’t know that because he and I “communicated” all the time. Although I didn’t know it at the time, he taught me there is more to interaction than merely words. I learned about body language and touch and looking into a person through their eyes. I love him still.

????????????????

Photo Credit: Plastic Toy Lamb

The next Clara incident was when my foster sisters arrived to spend the next 5 or so years with my family. Opal and Teresa (Not their real names) were 5 and 3 years old and my bio sister was 4! The first day they arrived was such a trauma for all concerned. My mom truly wasn’t thrilled to be given this extra “work” – it was my dad’s decision for them to be there. They came with filthy clothes and pitch from pine trees in their hair. Mom hauled and heated up enough water to fill the galvanized tub for a good cleansing – or such was her plan. She told the girls they needed to take off their clothes and get into the tub for a bath. She was unprepared for the screams of fright that came next. The girls tried to escape and had to be caught and talked with again. We learned that day that one reason they did NOT want to take a bath was because when the old clothes came off they were burned and replaced with new clothes. And, they didn’t want their clothes burned because their daddy had just bought them and they were NOT going to part with them. Plus they didn’t see any new clothes. And so began the task of building trust in these little persons who had no reason to trust anyone.

galvanized tub clip art

Photo Credit: Galvanized Tub (Microsoft Clip Art)

I was rather in the middle of this muddle due to the fact that my little blonde haired sister wanted as little as possible to do with these dirty, dark haired, wild kids who didn’t even know how to play with dolls and tea sets and such. So off and on for years we have my sister crying to mom about how somebody did this or that and mom coming to the rescue and dishing out punishment which quite often was undeserved and horrible. Like the time that Opal, who had now started school (in our one room school house), told the other kids that “Thorntons” (not my family’s real name) never fed her and she was hungry. This from a child who now had cute chubby cheeks and a happy smile! I got home from school to see Opal trying to eat another bite of pickled tongue. (Please see note below for more information about pickled tongue). I asked her what she was doing because it was apparent that each bite was making her gag. So she told me what she had done and that mom was so mad she told Opal to eat every last bite of the food in that bowl and it was “s’pose to be gone before mom got back from doing her barn chores.” I grabbed that fork and threw it onto the cupboard and told her she was done eating. I went running down to the barn and started yelling at mom (not for the first time, or the last) about how awful it was to think she could make a little kid eat all that food. I was furious. I kept yelling that “she is just a little girl.” Over and over, I found myself coming to the rescue. It did start the pattern of fighting for the “underdog” all the rest of my days. I loved those girls and have just recently reconnected with Opal. What a joyful experience!

I guess another thing it taught me was to speak up to whoever was causing the problem. If, as a youngster I could risk the wrath of a parent, I had no reason to be fearful of anyone else!!!! My own dad beat me to a lump one day when I was about 14 because I couldn’t find a radio station that had the livestock reports. I told him I believed it was off the air and he said that if I wanted to find it I could. He knocked me to the floor and started to pound me. At one point he was choking me and I remember looking up and saw my mom standing there Doing Nothing. He must have noticed that I was no longer fighting back because, at some point, he stopped and stood there looking down at me. I used his bib overalls to pull myself up and looked him in the eye and said “I am not strong enough today but someday, if you ever do this to me again, I am going to beat hell out of you and kill you.” He never beat me again.

free-pink-vintage-rose-clip-art

Photo Credit: Vintage Rose

Carol, I may or may not add to this story but I do need to take a break at this point!

Note: Pickled tongue is boiled organ meat!!! The heart and tongue of cattle are simmered until tender with salt, pepper, and perhaps a leaf or two of bay leaves, a clove or two of garlic. Then the meat is cooled, sliced, and placed in a large bowl (about 3 quarts in our case) with a brine of white vinegar and bay leaf, etc. Looking back on it, I wonder now if perhaps it was a method of preserving the meat for people who had “ice boxes” or in other words, no adequate way to keep things from spoiling. We did get a refrigerator in the late 50’s and that was pretty exciting and it must have been about that same time that we went from cooking on our wood cook stove to using a modern gas range!

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.