Reflections about Saturday’s News

Carol A. Hand

I don’t do this often, but sometimes I just need to share what’s on my mind. I read an elegantly-argued post today on Race Reflections about Charlie Hebdo’s most recent humor, “Charlie Hebdo on Aylan Kurdi: The Ultimate Act of White Entitlement?

The Daily Mail ran a story about this today.

Charlie Hebdo was today facing legal action after publishing a series of allegedly racist and hateful cartoons mocking the death of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi.
The drowned three-year-old toddler has become the symbol of the refugee crisis after haunting pictures appeared showing his body being carried off a Turkish beach last week.

But the latest edition of the satirical French magazine depicts the dead Aylan lying face down in the sand under the caption ‘So Close to Goal’.
Above him is an advertisement for McDonald’s reading: ‘Two children’s menus for the price of one’.

(

Suddenly the pieces fell into place and I felt compelled to respond to the post.

This is such a thoughtful and crucial analysis of white privilege (and entitlement) and the unquestioned right of media to publish dehumanizing views of those with little power – the scapegoats that deflect public attention away from the real causes of people’s increasing misery. As you rightly point out, France’s history in this regard bears careful scrutiny.

As I read your eloquent arguments, I remembered a time when cartoonists were held accountable: In one famous case, a cartoonist was found guilty of helping to create an environment in which atrocities like the holocaust could occur. Perhaps it’s time for Charlie Hebdo and their apologists to learn a little history?

It’s no mystery why the mainstream media is filled with Trump’s hate speech and remains silent about Sander’s critique of social inequality. In this, the media, from my perspective, are complicit in setting the stage for hate crimes. And I’m reminded of a time not all that long ago when Julius Streicher played a similar role. Media have spread Trump’s hate-speech far and wide, catalyzing hate groups to attack and murder those they are led to believe are responsible for economic conditions orchestrated by the wealthy elite. Yet unlike many other other nations, the US doesn’t have specific laws that deal with hate speech.

For what it’s worth, it’s time for me to share my concerns here and with my legislators and local (conservative) newspaper.

first they came


It’s time to remember Pastor Martin Niemöller’s insights about the cost of silence.


Affecting Social Change

Carol A. Hand

Recently I have been wondering how an introvert like me ever had the courage to walk into a strange community to conduct a research study about tribal child welfare. Actually, I think of it more as intrusiveness. I don’t like to intrude into other people’s lives. Yet I walked into a tribal community and hung out for a while, observing, participating in events (most often only when invited), and interviewing people about private and painful times in their lives. I did have a purpose. This morning, I remembered the first time I discovered my passion for macro practice systems’ change.

It was a pivotal class that made me realize that I should never aspire to work as a counselor. It was a class called Affecting Change in Social Agencies taught by Ann Minahan. I don’t expect many people to recognize the name. It was a long time ago when she and Alan Pincus developed a transformative approach for working toward organizational change.

“Anne Minahan’s 1973 text book entitled Social Work Practice: Model and Method, co-authored with Allen Pincus, revolutionized the way in which students and practitioners came to view social work practice. The “Pincus and Minahan” book, which was based primarily on teaching notes, utilized the ideas of systems theory to specify a generalist model of practice as a system of change agents, client system, target system and action system. Every social worker graduating from schools of social work in the 1970s and 1980s learned how to form an action system and exercise influence based on this text. “
( Source:

Everyone in the class was expected to apply what we read about in an organizational setting – in the real world. I needed to find an agency that would allow me to essentially evaluate their performance in order to suggest improvements. The agency that agreed operated a shelter and crisis helpline for domestic violence survivors. I was required to go through 40 hours of training and agree to serve as a volunteer for a year in exchange for access to key decision makers who were actually interested in figuring out how well the program was operating. They felt the program needed improvements.

It was a daunting prospect, but I learned so much during my time there. The relevant lesson for this post involves the insights I gained on the crisis helpline. I remember the anxiety I felt when the training covered the range of issues we might have to deal with, not only for domestic violence situations, but for all community crises. The two that were most frightening for me invovled responding appropriately for women and children in life threatening situations, and helping those who were threatening to commit suicide. We were assured these calls were rare during the evening shift when I would be working. It was before computerized emergency resources. These were kept in notebooks and a rolodex (a collection of alphabetized names and phone numbers in case this ancient history has been forgotten). We were assured these resources were always easily accessible in the room where we answered calls.

Most of the calls were from community residents who just seemed lonely. I didn’t mind listening. In fact, I was grateful for something to do. I have always loved to hear people’s stories. Two months into the volunteer work, though, one of the frequent callers was becoming increasingly more depressed. As she listed all of the challenges she was facing, my tears began to flow. Opps. Something that professionals are NEVER supposed to do. (Fortunately, she couldn’t see my tears.) I consulted my resource lists – she had already tried them all with no success. But she kept calling anyway. Finally, she called and said she was done with it all. I was the only volunteer there at the time, and all of the staff had gone home for the day. And the rolodex and notebooks were nowhere in sight.*

I spent hours on the phone with her before she gave me permission to call the police and EMTs to come help her. I remember the thoughts that were going through my mind as the tears flowed and my heart pounded. “I don’t know how she has been able to live like this. If I were her, I would have given up a long time ago.” All of the agencies and services that were supposed to help people before they came to this point had failed her. Of course her suffering broke my heart, but the fact that she was in this situation really pissed me off. The fact that her life depended on a ditsy volunteer with no back up, no resource lists and no emergency numbers pissed me off.

Maybe I did save her life that time, but I was far more interested in addressing the issues that placed her in that situation in the first place. During that class and volunteer experience I learned that I was really good at affecting systems’ change even if I couldn’t work with individuals without tears falling. The empathy I felt made me a fierce and tenacious advocate. I knew people’s lives hung in the balance.


Image: Marxist theories of development – posted by Steve Bassett on YouTube

I know that the lives and futures of children hang in the balance today. Knowing that children were suffering in the past gave me the courage to be intrusive – to walk into a strange community to conduct my research. Now, it’s providing me with the determination to do more to share what I learned.

Learning about people’s suffering still makes me cry, and it still makes me angry about the conditions that cause suffering and the failures to alleviate it. But it takes more than tears and anger to change things. Change efforts are learning opportunities. Intentions and processes matter. Effective change efforts, in my experience, need to be based on compassion for members of the all of the relevant systems. It requires patience, a shared and mobilizing vision of what could be, and partnerships among diverse stakeholders.


Image: Community

The first step? Raising awareness about issues and the need for action in a way that allows people to care deeply and motivates them to want to help.

*I later found out that the program director had locked the rolodex and notebooks in her office and forgot to bring them out before she left for the 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.

Saturday’s Song

Carol A. Hand

My morning reading reminded me of this song by Si Kahn. It’s one of my favorites, but finding a reasonable version on Youtube this morning was a bit of a challenge. Here’s the version performed by Si Kahn. (The song seems to be very popular. There are many other versions if you want to be entertained by the diversity of approaches and styles.)

(Si Kahn)

What You Do with What You’ve Got
(Words and Music by Si Kahn)

You must know someone like him
He was tall and strong and lean
With a body like a greyhound
And a mind so sharp and keen
But his heart, just like a laurel,
Grew twisted round itself
Till almost every thing he did
Caused pain to someone else

It’s not just what you’re born with
It’s what you choose to bear
It’s not how large your share is
But how much you can share
And it’s not the fights you dreamed of
But those you really fought
It’s not just what you’re given
It’s what you do with what you’ve got.

Now what’s use of two good legs
If you only run away?
And what use is the finest voice
If you’ve nothing good to say?
And what good is strength and muscle
If you only push and shove?
And what’s the use of two good ears
If you can’t hear those you love?

It’s not just what you’re born with
It’s what you choose to bear
It’s not how large your share is
But how much you can share
And it’s not the fights you dreamed of
But those you really fought
It’s not just what you’re given
It’s what you do with what you’ve got.

Between those who use their neighbors
And those who use a cane
Between those in constant power
And those in constant pain
Between those who run to evil
And those who cannot run
Tell me which ones are the cripples
And which ones touch the sun?

It’s not just what you’re born with
It’s what you choose to bear
It’s not how large your share is
But how much you can share
And it’s not the fights you dreamed of
But those you really fought
It’s not just what you’re given
It’s what you do with what you’ve got.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Carol A. Hand

I am so weary of the negative fear-based pleas that bombard my email daily – hundreds of them in the past weeks. When the DFL* canvasser came to my door last evening, I assured him I would vote even though I was profoundly disappointed by the absence of a positive agenda in any of the messages candidates from either party are proposing. I added that I’m still profoundly disappointed in the outcome of Obama’s version of promised change that won him his first term as president in 2008. An end of war? Health care reform? Homeowner protections from foreclosures? Closing Guantanamo? It is no small accomplishment to sow a sense of hopelessness in a nation

Four critical issues came to mind as I read the newest negative emails this morning, along with the words from a song by Buffy Sainte-Marie, “and what have you done for these ones?” What have you done about human rights abuses and genocide? What have you done to address increasing police brutality and racism? What have you done about growing economic inequality, homelessness, hunger and poverty? What have you done about global climate change? You can tell me inaction is all due to the other party. Have you been willing to campaign on issues that are socially just but politically unpopular? What do you stand for with passion and resolve except for yourself and re-election to a cushy job that enables you to remain isolated from the growing suffering of the people you are theoretically obligated to represent?

chip in

Photo Credit: screen shot one of today’s email appeals (10/23/2014)

You say you want me to chip in $3 or $5 for the most immediate attack from the “evil” opponents. What have you done in the past four or six years to try to bridge differences and define a clear vision of a more hopeful future that is based on common ground? Surely you can come up with more than let’s just keep going the way we are with our foot on the fracked gas. If you can’t, I know hundreds and thousands and millions of people who do have pieces of the answers. But all you ask for is their money… Your actions do show what really matters to you – perpetuating your own privilege and the illusion that you really are a leader who stands for something other than your own self-interest.

Sorry if I sound bitter. After all, my taxes help pay for your salary, health insurance costs and retirement benefits.  All I can really afford to give you on top of that is my own two cents…


Photo Credit: Two Cents


*Democratic-Farm-Labor Party

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.

Opportunity to Stand with Palestinians to Put an End to Genocide

Carol A. Hand

This morning, I received an email from a friend requesting assistance. Although I am not at liberty to share her name, the text and links for information and action are below.

Sorry for the mass email, but I’d like to ask you to PLEASE add your name (by clicking on the link below) and call or email the White House. As we well know, this GENOCIDE MUST END. WE, each one of us, can further empower this movement by doing something that’ll take only a few minutes of your time. Please forward to all your contacts so that we can pressure our “democracy” into doing the right thing – not aiding and supporting this ongoing genocide by terrorists. As you well know, as Muslims, we must change injustice through our hands, then through our tongues, and finally through our heart. This is the moment, now is the time.

American Muslims for Palestine – Action Alert:

American Muslims for Palestine – Let’s Jam the Lines:

The Rewards that Come from Working with Knowledge Seekers!

Carol A. Hand

Do you ever have times when you wonder if what you are doing makes a difference? Teaching research to undergraduate social worker students has proven to be a challenge. Of course, I wasn’t content using the textbook and syllabus that other instructors use. But designing the details of a new course from week to week is never easy. Some things just haven’t worked the way I had hoped.

research1 behlerblog dot com

Photo Credit: Research

The word “research” often strikes fear into the hearts of students. Yet, as a friend and former colleague has eloquently written, we are “born” to be researchers.

Human beings enter this world with an endless curiosity about themselves, others, and their surrounding environment. In this sense, we are born researchers. At its essence, research is inquisitiveness in thought and action. It is the pursuit of new knowledge and discovery through a creative, conceptual process of researcher engagement with the world and its mysteries. (Maxine Jacobson, 2007)

The purposes of the course I am teaching include helping students rekindle their sense of wonder and curiosity about the world, and inspiring students to analyze and apply research as a liberatory tool to improve the lives of clients, communities, and nations.

Some of the initial assignments have proven to be too daunting a task for many students despite assistance and extensive commentary without grades on their work. Faced with this task, some have opted for an alternative – to take an online tutorial about research and the importance of having committees that screen research proposals that involve people to protect them from harm. The legacy of Nazi medical experimentation and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study underscore why human subject protections are necessary. Students actually found the tutorial valuable.

Yet each week, I struggle with how to best engage students and explain things in ways that make sense and are accessible. Some weeks, it works, and other weeks, I can see their puzzled looks, not even knowing how to ask for clarification. And then, there are weeks like this one that somehow make all the uncertainty and anxiety worth it.

I only have 18 undergraduate students, a luxury. In the other institutions where I taught, my classes rarely had fewer than 25 students and sometimes had over 100. So I am grateful for the freedom I have to experiment here, even though it does engender some displeasure from my colleagues. (But that is another story.)

My class and I are trying something old and something new. In the past, I sat in on a research class that a former colleague taught. She actually had undergraduate students engaged in real research methods to evaluate the social work department. Students learned both quantitative and qualitative methods and produced a report that helped the department meet the requirements of the national accrediting organization. The politics where I teach now really don’t lend themselves to studying the department, and the likelihood that any findings would result in constructive improvements is marginal at best. Instead, the five teams comprised of three or four students are each using a different research methodology to study the local effects of global climate change.

Dialogue and experiential learning assignments are the foundation, so this week I asked each of the groups to write the research questions on the whiteboard – what do you want to know from your study? Each team had good beginning questions refined through thoughtful, creative comments from the class as a whole. As I understand the teams’ ever-evolving plans at the moment:

1. The “single subject design team” will be studying changes in their food purchasing habits in the context of the carbon footprint left by the production and transportation of food products. They will be taking an inventory of everything in their refrigerator and cabinets to find out where it came from, calculating the carbon footprint, and measuring how their buying and consumption change as a result of what they learn. In the end, will they make fewer trips to the store? Will they buy fewer processed products, more organic foods, more locally-grown foods?
2. The “social survey team” will be studying the access of welfare clients to community gardens as a way to access affordable healthy local food and reweave community support networks.
3. The “photovoice team” will be studying the effects of the 2012 Duluth flood to discover damage (past), differential recovery progress for poor families in the community (present), and innovations that could be used to help the city prevent similar damage in the future.
4. The “participant observation team” will be studying the effects of changing climate on produce at a local framer’s market, historically through the comments of venders, and at present by observing the produce size, quality, and abundance.
5. The “interview team” will also be exploring the impact of the flood and possible ways to reduce the impacts for low income neighborhoods in the future.

Will this approach “be successful”? It depends on what “success” means. At the moment, there are some weeks when the curiosity and excitement about exploring the world is so evident. For now, that is enough for me. Receiving an email like the one that arrived the day after this week’s class is an added affirmation that we’re sometimes on the right track.


This reminded me so much of you and how you always say we are in this together!

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. “What food might this contain?” The mouse wondered – he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning.

“There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”
The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it.”

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!” The pig sympathized, but said, “I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers.”

The mouse turned to the cow and said “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!” The cow said, “Wow, Mr. Mouse. I’m sorry for you, but it’s no skin off my nose.”

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone. That very night a sound was heard throughout the house — like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught.
The snake bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever.

Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient.

But his wife’s sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer’s wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.
So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and think it doesn’t concern you, remember — when one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.

We are all involved in this journey called life. We must keep an eye out for one another and make an extra effort to encourage one another. How true is this!! (Author unknown)


einstein quoteko dot com

Photo Credit:

Perhaps the most important lessons we can learn are about life. Research can be a liberatory tool that helps us discover that our lives are inextricably interwoven with the world around us. It’s not something I can teach. It’s something each student needs to discover on his or her own. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of the journey of discovery at this moment in time.

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.


Looking beneath the Surface

Carol A. Hand

Recently, I recounted a story to my friend and blog partner, Cheryl Bates, about the challenges of trying to raise awareness when confronting prejudice. One of my entertaining responsibilities when I worked in the field of gerontology for State government was to try to deal with networks that discriminated against older people. I remember speaking at a conference organized to try to raise awareness about the consequences of ageism for elders who needed assistance. I knew it would be a challenge. The professionals in attendance would be angry and resistant to anything I said because they had been forced to attend. I knew if I didn’t succeed somehow, they might become even less helpful to elders.

When faced with that likelihood, as I have often been in my jobs, the only recourse was to let myself become the focal point of anger. So as I faced the audience of over 100 pissed-off service providers, I began by asking them to all introduce themselves briefly by sharing their names, job titles, and chronological age. It worked. A third of the audience refused to share their age and peevishly voiced their reasons. I had my hook and began by asking why we allow so much of our identity to be based on our chronological age. What is it about being older that brings so much fear and insecurity into our lives? Why do we feel the need to search for the fountain of youth, to appear younger than we are, to apply expensive make-up and wrinkle cream and dye our hair?

It was years later that I confronted my own realization that I was an elder. I remember the moment when I suddenly realized that the person looking back at me from the mirror had wrinkles and silvering hair. “Oh my god, I look like my mother!” It’s not that I mind looking old, it’s just that I have learned all too well how elders are treated. I am reminded of a poem I used during this conference and others to try to touch people’s hearts, to encourage them to look beyond external appearances to see the beauty of wisdom reflected in the eyes of many elders.


Photo Credit: Aadi, me, and Ava – 2010

Crabbit Old Woman

(A poem found among the possessions of an older woman who died in the geriatric ward of a hospital)

What do you see, what do you see?
Are you thinking, when you look at me-
A crabbit old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice,
I do wish you’d try.
Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe.
Who, unresisting or not; lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding the long day is fill. Is that what you’re thinking,
Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes,
nurse, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still!
As I rise at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of 10 with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who loved one another-
A young girl of 16 with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet,
A bride soon at 20- my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At 25 now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure happy home;
A woman of 30, my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last;
At 40, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn;
At 50 once more babies play around my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all rearing young of their own.
And I think of the years and the love that I’ve known;
I’m an old woman now and nature is cruel-
‘Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body is crumbled, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart,
But inside this old carcass, a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells,
I remember the joy, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again.
I think of the years all too few- gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last-
So open your eyes, nurse, open and see,
Not a crabbit old woman, look closer-
See Me.

I now notice how some self-important people in their 30s and 40s speak more loudly when they address me, and use simpler language, if they acknowledge my presence at all. Yet, like the crabbit old woman, my worth as a human being isn’t based on the recognition of others. My life is still blessed by family and friends, compatriots and students who look more deeply at others to find the beauty and wisdom within themselves and others.

(And if you have the courage to ask me my chronological age, I promise to reply without anger or defensiveness – it’s just a number that that only has the meaning we have been socialized to give it.)




Reflections about the Power to Shape “Knowledge”

Carol A. Hand

I wish to express my deep gratitude to Miriam Schacht for helping me be able to admit something that I have carried silently throughout my professional and academic career. Influenced more by my Ojibwe heritage, perhaps because of consciously-obvious contrasts to Anglo-American values, I have viewed my work as a sacred responsibility. As non-rational as it may sound, I seek to understand individuals and communities by listening and observing from a compassionate, nonjudgmental, eco-systems worldview. This is not an easy task, and it has often made me wonder if the lenses I look through to make sense of the world are trustworthy.

I wonder what knowledge or obligations still lead me to challenge the taken-for-granted views and methods of other practitioners and scholars. Yet when I ask whether research and practice interventions improve the lives of individuals, the compassionate cohesion of communities, or the sense of peace and shared humanity in the world, I must honestly admit that the consequences are often justification for ever-increasing levels of oppression through the language of “scientific,” “evidence-based practice.” I realize it is crucial to challenge this paradigm and share what I discover, even though I will never know if what I see is true.  The research I have done feels more trustworthy, respectful, holistic, and authentic than what is currently viewed as “scientific research.” When I share what appears to be “true” from a perspective of deep listening and compassion, I can feel my heart begin to “glow.” That’s when I feel compelled to speak or write, as I do now, even though I have papers to grade and a new course on research to develop.

Doing research is, in many ways, like taking a descriptive and explanatory snapshot of empirical reality. For each particular photograph, the investigator must decide what kind of camera to use, what scene on which to focus, through which filter, and with what intent.” (Crabtree & Miller, 1999, p. 3)

Miriam’s essay reminded me that it is important to take the time to reflect on the meaning of life and the work we do first. It has helped me reflect once again about the links between research and power (or hegemony), and how important a bi-cultural lens can be. The following excerpt from one of the exam papers I wrote during my graduate studies demonstrates the complexity of walking in two worlds. [1]


Many theories have been formulated to explain child abuse and neglect within what is now the United States. Recently, an eleven-year-old Ojibwe youth won an award for an essay he wrote to explain his perspective as a foster child. [2] In his attempt to make sense of his experiences, this young man’s essay expresses both his vision of the future and his theory of causality for child maltreatment.


 [My community] would be a better place if there was not so much beer and bars. People will have better jobs, more better houses and people will have longer marriages, more food and cars. Kids will be happy and will’nt get into fights and do drugs. Kids will have friends that are nice, that don’t do drugs. Kids will have a nice dog to play with, and parents that be home early, and who take their kids to eat somewhere instead of going out and drinking up their money on drugs and beers. Moms and Dads will be up early instead of being hung over and waking up late in the afternoon. Kids will have a curfew at night and their parents will be there not out drinking and getting high somewhere and coming home about 3:00 in the morning. Kids will have a bike of their own, instead of stealing them of using their friends. The moms won’t need to find a babysitter because she will [be] home, not out using drugs or at a bar. Kids would have fun birthdays, and kids will get to have sleepovers because their mom will be home, not at the bar drinking and coming home late to get into fights with their dads. The parents will’nt be divorced because of BEER. AND IF THERE WAS NOT NO BEER, MOMS AND DADS WILL HAVE A HAPPY FAMILY.

This is a powerful essay on many levels. It is a plea from a youngster for parents who will be there to meet his needs. Like many youngsters, he wants a dog, a bike, and parents who don’t fight. Also like many youngsters, he sees the disruptive power of substance abuse and addiction. His theory echoes that held by many youngsters and adults, both in the general population and within minority cultures and communities. It also mirrors the assumptions in much of the child welfare legislation and those held by many health and human service professionals. This thoughtful Ojibwe youth defines the root problem of child maltreatment as an individual choice made by parents, particularly mothers (to drink or use drugs). His solution is to remove the temptation. The pervasive historical, political, and economic contributors to substance abuse, child maltreatment, and family violence remain hidden from sight. This paper explores theories that attempt to explicate the ways in which colonial domination, forced assimilation, and cultural hegemony have, over the course of five centuries, led to the perpetuation and acceptance of individual deficit explanations for child maltreatment by the very Native American communities who have inherited the social, economic, and politico-structural consequences of this oppressive legacy. [3]


Through boarding schools, educational policies, and child welfare institutions, generations of First Nations children were taught, and internalized to varying degrees, the ideologies, attitudes, and behaviors imposed by colonial powers (Bensen, 2001).

Although I had been “trained” in the dominant quantitative research paradigms of my university and social work discipline, the power of experts to frame every aspect of studies troubled me as I reflected on the perspective of the Ojibwe youth who shared the story above. It highlighted the dangers of adopting the methods used by the dominant culture to study less-powerful “others.” Instead, I chose a qualitative approach, ethnography, which would require living within the community I planned to study. Even so, the ethnographic accounts written about Ojibwe people are fraught with misinterpretation and biased representations that only serve to reinforce power differentials, hegemony, and stereotypes. I added another layer of protection from this danger by conducting a “critical ethnographic” study designed to question the role of dominant policies and institutions in creating the problems being investigated. Answering the questions about disproportional representation among Ojibwe children in the child welfare system no longer focused on identifying the problem as one caused by Ojibwe families or communities, but one that was located in the imposition of dominant cultural policies, institutions, and practices — past and present.

Even with extra safeguards, such as asking some of the key Ojibwe people to review what I write prior to publication to check for accuracy, the power of ethnographers to frame other cultures still makes me uncomfortable. As Crabtree and Miller (1999) point out, even with the best of intentions, our gaze is still limited by the lenses we look through. Through the processes of education, socialization, and mass communication, the citizens of nations are programmed to accept the prevailing order, to spontaneously consent “to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group” (Gramsci, 1999, p. 12). Despite reflection, I know I still carry years of indoctrination that color what I look for, what I understand from what I see, and the meanings I attribute to what I hear and observe.

In the research project that followed the Ojibwe child welfare study, I worked with an urban Indian center to design a more egalitarian partnership based on the philosophy of community-based participatory research (Israel and colleagues, 1998).


The Indian center was located within an urban community that was palpably anti-Native, with significant disparities in terms of health and income for Native Americans. Diversity based on Tribal heritage and the length of residence in the urban area contributed to the development of distinct factions among members of the Native population, resulting in fierce competition for limited jobs and leadership positions. It was within this context that the Center staff and Board of Directors asked me to conduct a “needs assessment.” I told them I would be willing to help if we could also gather information about community strengths and descriptions of what community members hoped the community would look like in the future. They agreed. Using research as a tool to explore possibilities for identifying common ground, I collaborated with a multi-cultural team comprised of urban center staff, Native American community members, graduate students, and another faculty member. As a team, we worked collaboratively to design every aspect of the study. As one of the community members noted,

 “Part of rebuilding the community is utilizing people who want to help. It will take the sense of belonging to the community like the branches of a tree. By doing this reaching out, it makes the community healthy, and it makes the center strong and healthy, and people are drawn to it and want to hang around.” (Community Member, January 8, 2007).

The information we gathered from a diverse selection of community members gave the team a great deal of hope for successfully uniting the community. But in the real world, things don’t always work out the way we would like them to. Timing was a crucial factor. Before we had an opportunity to share our findings with the community as a whole, I accepted a position at another university to escape the offensive and oppressive politics in my university department. Doing so proved costly for the project and the Indian center. Without crucial support from the university, the agency staff and board members were unable to withstand divisive internal conflicts and external political oppression. Although I tried my best to provide encouragement and support long-distance, the next steps never took place. Ultimately, part of the challenge of community work is to realize that it needs to be a community decision to take the next steps to bring people together. Nonetheless, it is heart-breaking to be aware of the consequences of oppression for marginalized communities, and to realize that we might have made a difference, if only …, but I trust that we all did the best we could at the time.

I am grateful to Miriam, to the Ojibwe youth who wrote his award-winning essay, and to the Indian Center friends who helped me remember what it means to value the sacred gift of caring. For me, the roles of teacher and researcher are humbling reminders of how little I really know, and reminders of the need to honor the sacred obligations embodied in the responsibilities these roles represent. I am reminded of the need to be truthful and compassionate, and to give voice to the strengths, hopes, and visions of those who share their lives with me during our collective journey. Research, a neutral tool, can be used as a force to promote understanding and liberation. Even though the type of research I do is not seen as “scientific” by many in the academic community, it does have the potential to inspire people to envision new possibilities, realize their own strengths, and gain the skills and confidence to transform their lives and communities.


Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures



1. Carol Hand (1999). Indian child welfare within the context of United States child welfare policies, practices, and paradigms: Rescuing children or homogenizing America? Unpublished Paper: Preliminary Exam Paper 2 – Relevant Theoretical Literature – Differential Power and Indian Child Welfare. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison.

2. The youth’s grandmother and foster parent asked me to include this essay in my work. Although the youth concurred, I have included it with some ambivalence. My analysis of the essay is not what they would have anticipated, yet I am hopeful that my treatment of this thoughtful perspective is both respectful and illuminating. While the name of the author and the name of the community have been omitted to protect confidentiality, the original text is otherwise unedited.

3. The terms Native American, American Indian, and First Nations peoples are used interchangeably throughout. American Indian/Alaska Native (or simply ‘Indian,” as in the Bureau of Indian Affairs) is still the dominant term used for administrative purposes by the United States Government, as well as by many tribal elders. The term Native American emphasizes the indigenous status of the population which occupied the Americas at the time of European “discovery,” and served as a focus for unifying the descendants of indigenous peoples across tribal boundaries during the 1960s. First Nations peoples, a term widely used in what is now Canada, underscores the importance of sovereignty as an ideology which distinguishes tribal communities from other numeric “minorities” within societies dominated by the numerically larger Euro-American immigrant populations who have imposed political, cultural, and economic hegemony.

Authors Cited:

Bensen, R. (2001). Children of the dragonfly: Native American voices on child custody and education. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press.

Crabtree, B. E. & Miller, W. L. (Eds.)(1999). Doing qualitative research, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Gramsci, A. (1999). Selections from the prison notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (Q. Hoare & G. N. Smith, Eds & Trans). New York: International Press.

Israel, B. A., Schultz, A. J., Parker, E. A., & Becker, A. B. (1998). Review of community-based research: Assessing partnership approaches to improve public health. Annual Review of Public Health, 19, 173-202.



The Challenge of Our Times: “Won World” or “One World”?

Carol A. Hand

I wonder how many of my blogging comrades feel compelled to write when there are too many other pressing responsibilities that need attention? Today is one of those times for me, but I know if I don’t honor this pressure in my heart to share, I won’t be able to focus and my day will be unproductive anyway.

As I was reflecting about how to challenge environmental threats from a positive frame, two contrasting metaphors flashed though my thoughts this morning: “won world” vs. “one world.” From my perspective, these are the clear alternatives we face. As I think about the never-ending wars over resource control and the costs for people and environments, the images that come to mind are fracking fields,

tar sands independentreport dot blogspot dot com

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oil spills,

oil spill examiner dot com

Photo Credit: oil spill

world hunger,

world hunger schmidtgs2 dot wikispaces dot com

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smog-filled cities where people cover their faces with masks.

smog businessinsider dot com

Photo Credit:

The list could go on. This seems to be the future vision of the powerful elite, a “won world” where the rest of us are merely pawns to be controlled or disposed of. It’s not the world I want future generations to inherit.

The alternative, “one world,” I picture as the earth seen from outer space — a lovely blue and green orb that is not divided by imaginary borders that separate humanity into nations – it’s the home we all share.

earth wordlesstech com

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This is a vision worth working toward. I know it is one that is shared by my friends in the blogging community who have enriched my life with an incredible diversity of gifts, wisdom, and (com)passionate commitment to social justice.

As someone who has worked with communities to build new initiatives to address a wide range of issues, I know the first step is to identify the shared vision of community members and in partnership, frame a mission that inspires people to take on the hard work of transformation. It is too easy for opponents to divide people otherwise. So my contribution for the day is to share this brief essay with gratitude for all you do and all you have taught me. I look forward to hearing your ideas!

Chi Miigwetch (many thanks) for sharing your insights and inspiration.

One World One Song



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