Tag Archives: finding common ground

Reflections about Change and Resistance

Carol A. Hand

Recently I have been reflecting about what I can do to work toward positive change in the current political context. What have my past advocacy efforts taught me? I have had many learning opportunities (typically thought of as “failures”) and some successes addressing issues that felt hopeless at the time (infant mortality, Indian child welfare disparities, and public school use of demeaning Native American names and caricatures, among many others). I have also been reflecting about my recent attempts to explore possible involvement in existing advocacy efforts (to prevent the expansion of tar sands pipelines in my state and lakeshore community, and progressive initiatives to get out the vote) or catalyzing local initiatives (helping develop initiatives for the high school on the poor side of town where I live, or creating a story-sharing group in partnership with the elders who live in the high rise apartment building across the street). As I reflected, I remembered the importance of essential ethical principles and advocacy strategies that have been effective.

tug-of-war

Photo Credit: Tug-of-war

But before I share my thoughts about change strategies, I want to share a story.

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Writing about Ed and Jerry in my last post brought to mind a relevant experience that I think is worth sharing. It still makes me chuckle when the images of my first public speaking gig as “THE STATE” flash through my thoughts. I haven’t witnessed karmic payback often in my life, but that’s what I think happened when one of their attempts to manipulate Native Americans and elders was trumped.

Ed and Jerry had finally abandoned their ineffective letter writing campaign in favor of another way to focus attention on putative failures of the state Bureau on Aging. They mobilized tribal leaders and Native American elders promising to expose the lack of concern the Bureau showed toward the unique needs of Native American elders. They set up an all-day forum for elders and tribal leaders to present their concerns to Bureau representatives. I can’t remember why the job of listening and responding to the concerns fell to me, alone, but there I was as Ed and Jerry listed their many concerns. The key change they demanded was the creation of an “Indian desk” – that is, the demand that the Bureau hire a Native American staff person to focus on the needs of tribes. (On the surface, this didn’t sound like a bad idea. But in practice, it really ghettoizes Native American issues and foments conflict among tribes when one staff person from one tribe is hired to serve all eleven tribes in ways that are perceived as fair by all.)

They gloated from their seats in the back of the room as the anger in the room grew during the morning presentations. It was my turn to respond after lunch, but in the meantime, I needed to at least appear composed. When lunch time finally came, I really had no interest in choking down food. Yet, here I was with almost everyone glancing with hostility in my direction when I tried to find a place to sit, except for one lovely elder. Her face was beaming as she looked at me, so I asked if I could join her for lunch. She smiled and graciously nodded yes. (I didn’t learn until later that she had lost her hearing. She didn’t know what had been said during the morning session and merely judged me by my behavior.)

After lunch, I walked to the speaker’s podium with my carefully crafted typed speech and looked out at the hostile audience, took a deep breath, and began by introducing myself. Because Ed and Jerry’s major critique was the lack of a Native American perspective in the Bureau, that’s where I started. “My mother is Ojibwe. She was born and raised in Lac du Flambeau. And even though I was born elsewhere, it’s where I spent many of my summers when I was a child. Yet, being an Ojibwe doesn’t mean that I have the right to speak for Indian people at the state level.” As I said this, I watched as Ed and Jerry hunched down in their chairs as the rest of the audience leaned forward to listen. I went on to describe the roles of state and regional agencies and acknowledged the concerns raised by tribal members. If tribal people felt that regional agencies were not passing on the information they needed to provide services, or sharing tribal concerns with the state on an going basis, we could explore other options. We could explore the possibility of creating a new regional agency that would serve all tribes in the state. (I had already done the background work to make sure this would be supported by pivotal decision makers.) My speech concluded by leaving the decision of how to proceed up to tribes. After the standing ovation, many people eagerly rushed forward to introduce themselves to me and share their concerns. Ed and Jerry came up when the room finally cleared and merely shook their heads. “They are, after all, YOURRRR PEOPLE.”

I admit I was surprised that Ed and Jerry hadn’t figured out that I was Ojibwe sooner. I had worked with them for almost a year and had been a frequent visitor to their regions and board meetings, but it never seemed relevant for me to inform them about my ancestry. It had no bearing on the way I did my job, other than make me particularly sensitive to the needs of elders with the greatest socio-economic needs.

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The moral of the story is to do your homework. When I critically examine why some efforts were successful and others were not, the most obvious pattern I seem to find is simply “it was the right time.” The right group of people came together to make it happen. Of course, this was (and still is) always impossible for me to predict beforehand. What mattered across diverse settings and issues were the principles or ethics that guided action. Even if initiatives weren’t successful in accomplishing the desired final outcome, if they were based on the right constellation of ethics and principles, the lessons learned and networks established could still be the foundation for future efforts.

One of those ethical principles is respect for the sovereignty of others to make their own choices. As a Native American, I am not only wary of outside experts who descend on communities to solve issues without ever asking community members what they want, I am repulsed by their self-righteous ignorance and arrogance. After working with folks like Ed and Jerry, that shouldn’t be surprising. I’m not alone in this feeling.

aboriginal mauri quote slide

Photo Credit: Aboriginal/Mauri Quote

Many writers, activists, and scholars agree that change efforts need to be directed by community members. Yet community members may not be aware of the collective historical and structural forces that affect every aspect of their lives. Outsiders can play a role in raising awareness and providing forums to envision alternatives as I did in this instance and as Freire (2000) describes in his liberatory praxis work. Mad Bear cautions us, however, not to focus on negative agendas to eliminate threats, but to focus on creating something new.

“There’s no need to create any opposing destructive force; that only makes more negative energy and more results and more problems” (Boyd, p. 244).

When we are trying to create something new, we need to make sure that the process we use avoids the taken-for-granted expert-driven, power-over, winner-and-loser approaches embedded in most models of social change. It’s what I love most about the Aboriginal/Mauri quote. We are all in this together. We will survive or perish together if we don’t learn to live in peace with each other and in balance with our one and only planet.

Yet proposing change in my experience has always engendered resistance. Today I remembered the process that has become automatic for me. I know that I’m not willing to let violence and oppression go unchallenged, but the first step for me is to try to understand the situation and look for ways to raise awareness. I begin with the assumption that it is possible to find common ground with others and come up with solutions together. I’m sure that has happened often, but the funny thing about my memory is that I forget the times when things go smoothly. I tend to only remember the times when they do not.

Working toward positive change in the times ahead is likely to be daunting. Often the approaches we choose make it worse – like outside experts telling us they know best. Just because I have learned to follow the “principle of parsimony” doesn’t mean others do or even know it exists. One of my very old textbooks describes this principle.

“… the practitioner confronted with a problem who is in the process of selecting a tactic is advised to begin his [her] deliberations with the most modest tactic that might conceivably do the job. If persuasion will work, for example, it is unsound to pursue the goal by mounting a coercive effort. Only when experience or cold judgment suggests that mild methods are inappropriate would a more extreme method be considered.” (Brager and Holloway, 1978, p. 140)

Because I think in pictures, the illustration of their model helps me remember what I need to consider in planning how to approach change efforts.

change tactics

Photo Credit: Change Tactics (Brager and Holloway, 1978, p. 142)

Do those who are proposing change (change agents) share the same goals as those who are being asked to support change (targets of change)? The words we choose to frame issues matter more than we often realize. An obvious example of this is the use of language that provokes strong emotions with polarizing effects – such as “anti-abortion” or “pro-life” to frame the debate about women’s choice. How we frame issues can set the stage to collaborate or compete, to fight against demons or to work together on a shared vision. Taking time to frame one’s agenda is crucial.

Do change agents and the targets of change have equal power? Power is not only wealth or status, of course. The most intractable obstacles are “fear, apathy, and ignorance” (Homan, 1999, p. 55). It is possible for those with little formal power to actually be more appealing and influential. If we take the time to frame issues and develop messages that encourage hope, use egalitarian and inclusive processes to work collectively, and incorporate opportunities to continue learning though dialogue, the playing field can be leveled long enough for pivotal breakthroughs.

Can the relations between change agents and targets of change be characterized as socially close or distant? This question highlights a fundamental taken-for-granted assumption – that we are not all in this together. From my perspective, we will all lose if we don’t work together. We really are interdependent. There would be no upper class or elite without technicians, artisans, farmers, grocers, physicians, and workers of all sorts, to support them. The challenge is to find ways past our own biases – to build bridges and discover our shared humanity and visions for the best we can imagine. I know from experience this is not simple, yet I know I am still willing to keep finding new ways to try.

What the model omits, however, is equally important to consider: the seriousness of harm that is or will result if we fail to act, and the immediacy or urgency for action. Are there ever times when it’s appropriate to tell others what they need to do? This is something I have struggled with in my professional life. In emergencies, I have acted instinctively to tell others what to do. And even though I sometimes didn’t have any reason to expect people to listen, they did. Often they would tell me later that they felt what they accomplished was meaningful, important, and part of a collective effort. I worry that this will be the reality we face – ongoing crises have already been affecting the most vulnerable people in the world. Eventually, however, no one will be spared. You can’t eat money, although you can burn dollar bills for heat for a little while. I’m not sure what hoarded gold will be good for, though.

“As men and women inserted in and formed by a socio-historical context of relations, we become capable of comparing, evaluating, intervening, deciding, taking new directions, and thereby constituting ourselves as ethical beings. It is in our becoming that we constitute our being so. Because the condition of becoming is the condition of being.” (Freire, 1998, pp. 38-39)

I didn’t know where I would end up as I wrote this reflection, but here it is. The Borg may be right when they say “Resistance is futile.” But I still have hope – creativity is where it’s at! I honestly do believe that it’s not too late. I know it’s the right decision for me to continue to do what I can as an individual and only engage in those collective efforts that are community-directed, inclusive, egalitarian, and vision-based rather than those that are expert-driven and continue to use the same old tools that led to the situation many of us now find unacceptable.

cooperation

Photo Credit: Cooperation

Works Cited:

Doug Boyd (1974). Rolling Thunder: A personal exploration into the secret healing powers of an American Indian medicine man. New York, NY: Random House.

George Brager & Stephen Holloway (1978). Changing human service organizations: Politics and practice. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Mark S. Homan (1999). Rules of the game: Lessons from the field of community change. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Paulo Freire (199) Pedagogy of hope: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Paulo Freire (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary edition). New York, NY: Continuum.

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.

Miracles Won’t Happen If We’re Afraid to Take Risks

Carol A. Hand

When I wrote A Birthday Wish about my hopes for the future, I seriously questioned whether sending the list to my Congressional Representative would even matter. I hesitated to send it, and I questioned whether it was worth posting on my blog. The list I wrote was simple, hardly something that would ever be seen as a cogent political analysis, a meritorious literary contribution, or even a realistic possibility. I suspected I might even be easily dismissed as a “wingnut” or flakey romantic. Then, it occurred to me that people need to have the courage to share what’s in their hearts even if others judge them as ridiculous. I was motivated to write because of my concern for my grandchildren’s future. It was my grandson’s sixteenth birthday and I was inspired to reflect about the world I wish for him and all of the children of the future. But I remembered something Albert Einstein wrote and decided to send the email and post my reflection.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” (Albert Einstein)

 

dandelion

Photo Credit: Dandelion Resilience

This morning I found myself wondering what would happen if every one of us sent a letter or email to our congressman or senators listing our hopes for the future. What if we sent one every week? After all, my email account is bombarded daily by scores of fear-based messages listing all of the threats we face – threats to animals, the environment, and people. I care about all of these issues, but they’re all connected. Sometimes I sign the petitions (although I can’t afford to make the requested donations), but I doubt that petitions will have much impact. None of the petitions really address root causes, and all are focused narrowly on addressing a part of one issue for one species or group. And all are really focused on problems, with quick-fix solutions that are firmly nested within prevailing solutions’ paradigms. Why not turn it around and connect the dots – identify the underlying causes and address those as a set of positive goals that describe the best we can imagine?

What is the best I can imagine? It’s a question I learned to ask in the first job I had after I finished my master’s degree. As Aging Network Supervisor for the Bureau on Aging, Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS)*, my job, with assistance from the five professionals I “supervised,” included developing the details of state policies for aging programs delivered by an array of regional, county and tribal agencies. (Really, any influence I had over what Network staff did was hard won by earning their respect, but that’s another story.)

The first six months of my job mostly consisted of responding to mischief fomented by the directors of the two most conservative regions farthest away from the State Capitol where I worked. Ed and Jerry (not their real names) sent an unceasing number of letters to the Secretary of DHSS and the Governor alleging that the Bureau on Aging had violated fiscal and administrative policies. Although I no longer remember the details of their allegations, I do remember that I spent at least 75 percent of my time scouring legislation and administrative codes to write responses to their charges. I vowed to myself that I would find a way to shift the focus so they would be responding to positive initiatives that the Bureau initiated. It took six months to begin turning the tide. I travelled to both regions with Bureau staff and got to know the agency staff, advisory council members and boards of directors, and I listened to the concerns of the older citizens in the region. I also observed the way the two directors omitted key facts and misrepresented the information they shared when they met with the elders on the councils and boards.

Information is power. People are easily manipulated if they don’t have all of the facts. I began to ponder a number of possible strategies. What would happen if state staff were a regular presence at all of their meetings, to listen and share accurate information? Would boards be able to make wiser decisions if they were better informed? And what if we took the time to actually consult with them on crucial decisions that affected the funds they administered and services they provided?

We decided to explore whether increased state staff presence would make a difference. It was certainly easier than continuing to deal with the never-ending irritation of responding to negative non-issues. Staff, including the Bureau Director, became a permanent feature at board meetings for all regions. Relationships and communication improved, as did the quality of policy decisions. The elders on the boards felt their views were important and their thoughtful input helped inform policy decisions. Soon, Ed and Harry were kept busy responding to the agendas proposed by elders on their boards, and the allegations they leveled at “THE STATE” ceased.

The important point is that Ed and Harry did highlight a crucial issue – the Bureau was not doing its job well. We were not making the effort to involve rural elders in the decisions that affected their lives. The elders we ignored didn’t know that they should and could have a voice. The problems Ed and Jerry uncovered helped me identify what we needed to do to include elders who had been ignored. My job, after all, was to serve as an effective and visible advocate in partnership with elders, particularly those in greatest need.

When I was initially hired by DHSS, I commented to my faculty advisor at the time that I was afraid because I really didn’t know anything of value. How could I possibly develop policies and oversee a State network? His response, chuckling, “Don’t worry. You won’t have any power to do anything in a state bureaucracy. They never get anything done.” I was revisited by a similar thought after I wrote the letter to my Congressional Representative. Why bother? Who cares what I have to say? I’m no one special.” Then, I remembered my own experiences. When I worked for state government, it was my job to listen to the people who were directly affected by the policies I helped to develop and implement. It was not my job to serve the power interests of petty bureaucrats like Ed and Jerry who wanted to manipulate others for the own agendas. In essence, at least in theory, it’s much the same job as that of an elected official in a representative republic.

The challenge as I see it how is to let legislators know what constituents really need now and want to see in the future. Legislators don’t have time to understand many issues in depth or look for the root causes, so they rely on their staff, policy think tanks, lobbyists, and opinion polls like the one my representative sent me. They are not likely to read our blogs. But what if we each decided to send at least one letter or email a week that made it easier for legislators to access accurate information about their constituents’ needs and visions, along with thoughtful suggestions for addressing the root causes? Many of us have accepted the fact that those in power won’t listen to anything we have to say, like the elders in the state regions Ed and Jerry oversaw. But what do we lose if we try? If enough of us communicate with our legislators on an ongoing basis, things may begin to change in a positive direction. Who knows, some of our ideas may take root and blossom like seeds of dandelions that come to life in the cracks between slabs of concrete… Miracles may happen if we continue to share alternative views of what could be.

two views of power

Photo Credit: Two views of power (Bill Moyers (2001). Doing democracy: The MAP Model for organizing social movements. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Press.

*Note: The structure, names and functions of state agencies have changed many times since those years.

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.

 

A Birthday Wish

Carol A. Hand

My dearest grandson, it seems only a short time ago when I first held you in my arms after your birth on a snowy, stormy January day sixteen years ago. Sixteen! How the years have flown by!

Thanksgiving 2014

Photo Credit: Aadi and Ahma – Thanksgiving 2014

I wanted to write a special poem, or share the old story that you asked me to recite thousands of times when you were little, The ‘Tinky Bush Story, but I won’t embarrass you by posting it today. I pondered what I could give you that would let you know how deeply I love you. Oddly, the words that came were something I needed to write in response to survey from our Congressional Representative, Rick Nolan. I know it’s a strange gift. But it’s what I can do today to give you the most important gift I can imagine – to take the time to advocate for a world where people live in peace and harmony with each other and take care of the earth we all share as home.

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Dear Representative Nolan,

First, I wish to thank you for your continuing efforts to represent your constituents with integrity, wisdom, and compassion.

Second, I want to express my gratitude to you for asking constituents to share our views about the most pressing issues we face as Minnesotans, citizens of the United States, and members of the global community.

On this day, January 10, 2015, when my grandson is celebrating his sixteenth birthday, your request gives me an opportunity to share what I wish for his future, the future for all of the youth in his generation, and for those who will follow.

The most pressing issues we face from my perspective include the following:

  1. Addressing global climate change by ending our dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels and supporting alternative energy innovations;
  2. Assuring high quality public education to ensure the creation of future generations with a foundation of critical thinking skills, knowledge, and creativity necessary for addressing global challenges in peaceful, constructive ways;
  3. Ending our active involvement in and economic/political support for all arms-based approaches for resolving disputes and allocating funding to train people in peaceful strategies for effective conflict resolution;
  4. Revising tax policies to ensure that corporations and the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share;
  5. Using the revenues saved by ending our support for war and the revenues gained by fair tax policies to put people to work in a variety of capacities to rebuild an aging infrastructure, revitalize urban areas, transform mono-cultural chemical agriculture to organic farming, and develop new green technologies;
  6. Addressing poverty through job creation and adequate, humane support for those who are not able to work;
  7. Shifting our approach for dealing with criminal acts from isolation and punishment to restorative justice; and
  8. Recognizing that if we, as a nation, are to move forward as a constructive member of the global community, we need to acknowledge past atrocities here and abroad and commit to the long and arduous process of reconciliation for egregious harms done.

The choice is ours. We can continue to exploit the earth for momentary power, enact mean-spirited cuts to social safety net programs that deepen people’s suffering, and continue to lie about grievous harms perpetrated in the past, or we can focus on creating a better world for generations yet to come. For the sake of my grandson, I ask that you consider this list of suggestions as a beginning framework for future legislative agendas. I believe it is something all parents and grandparents would wish for the next generations if they were able to envision this as a possibility. I hope you will help make it so…

I thank you for asking for my suggestions and for taking the time to consider them thoughtfully.

Respectfully, …

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Of course, dear Aadi, I come from a different generation than you. I’ve posted some songs from my younger days to encourage you to think about the world as it was long ago when I was your age, as it is today, and what you would like to see it become. Whatever you choose, my beloved grandson, please remember that I will always love you.

Universal Soldier – Buffy Sainte Marie

War – Edwin Starr.

Peace Train – Ysuf/Cat Stevens

What the World Needs Now – Jackie De Shannon

Get Together – The Young Bloods

bird-feather-13486506267nW

Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

May you have a wonderful sixteenth year, dearest Aadi. And may the world you live in be the one Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Jackie De Shannon, and the Young Bloods sing about…

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

What Is the Best You Can Imagine?

Carol A. Hand

I remember being challenged by a faculty member about one of the topics I wanted to study when I was attending a university. I didn’t sense any intentions on his part to discredit my proposal. Rather, I saw his question as a query designed to encourage critical thought. I wanted to know what Ojibwe community members would like to see their communities be in the future. “What is the best you can imagine for children, families, and the community as a whole in the future?” The question was intentionally vague in order to allow people to respond according to their own values and perspectives, rather than mine.

The faculty member’s challenge did make me stop and think about stories community members had already shared with me. It made me realize how important the very first interview of my study really was. An elder, Uncle Raymond (not his real name), shared a story of a somewhat romanticized account of his Ojibwe community in the past.

When I was a boy, there were only about twenty-eight families that lived in the village here. 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, and he took me out to the woods to gather cedar trees and he taught me how to make posts. 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 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 (Uncle Raymond, August 28, 2001). 

Like Uncle Raymond, I find myself also romanticizing some of the past eras of my life. As I shared Uncle Raymond’s story with the faculty member who posed the question about future visions, I pointed out that romanticized versions of the past can tell us a lot about the future we would like to see. Thankfully, he agreed.

This morning, when I saw the sunshine for the first time in what seems like eternity, I remembered the importance of having a vision of the best we can imagine. And I thought of Richie Havens’ version of the Beatle’s song “Here Comes the Sunand Joni Michell’s song,Woodstock.”

sun and rosePhoto Credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art 

Woodstock (by Joni Mitchell)

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
I’m going to join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it’s the time of man
I don’t know who l am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

(Lyrics submitted by mrrubery
“Woodstock” as written by Joni Mitchell
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Joni Mitchell/Crazy Crow Music/Siquomb Music
Lyrics powered by LyricFind)

I realize I’m both an Ojibwe romantic and an aging Hippie. Yet I believe that imagining a better future for all is healthy – a necessary foundation to continue the work ahead. I wish you all a new year of light that brings smiles to all the faces and helps us all remember that we are made of stardust, we’re golden, and we’re part of a wondrous, mysterious universe.

Note: Ogema is not the name of the person described in the account. Ogema, which means leader in the Ojibwe language, is used in place of a name to maintain the confidentiality of individuals and to mask the specific location of the community.

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.

Unlocking Memories

Carol A. Hand

I loved to draw when I was a child, mostly because of what I learned using the technology of the time – television. Of course, we only had a black and white TV with a tiny-screen. But that was just fine for me. I remember there were only three shows I eagerly anticipated. One of those shows was called “Andy’s Gang.” My favorite character on the show was Froggy the GremlinFroggy would appear from a cloud of smoke on the top of a grandfather clock and proceed to trick arrogant experts into saying and doing foolish things, calling into question their competence and exposing their hubris. I didn’t realize what I found most intriguing about Froggy until I watched an old video clip just now. The humor was actually rather violent for my taste then and now, but the message was something that became a valuable foundation for my future education and work – question what authority figures say, especially those who seem to think they know all the answers.

froggy

Photo Credit: Froggy the Gremlin

Another eagerly-anticipated show was “Winky Dink.”  I was hooked. I sent away for the special kit, a piece of clear plastic that would stick to the TV screen, special markers that would write on plastic, and a cloth to clean the plastic periodically. Every week, part of the secret message would be shared – parts of letters that would only make sense if you copied all of the shapes on the plastic “just so” every week. I needed to be patient to uncover the mystery – a skill I have yet to master. Yet it’s probably why I am still fascinated by the challenge of solving puzzles and discovering underlying patterns.

But the show I loved most was Jon Gnagy’s “You Are an Artist.” Each week, Gnagy started with a blank canvas. Using only his charcoal, he demonstrated the steps to follow to draw so many different things – still-lifes, landscapes, animals, and people. The show actually inspired me to consider being an artist. Yet, I was never quite satisfied with what I drew – I didn’t feel as though the images I drew “came to life.” It was not really my special gift any more than singing, which I discovered at a much later age. So I set aside both art and music as ways to express my thoughts and feelings.

It wasn’t until I took a series of workshops with David Feinberg several years ago that I realized how important drawing is as a tool for unlocking buried memories and stories. As a serious “professional” like the ones Froggy taunted, I was reluctant to do anything that was not “polished” and “perfect.” In part, that’s an understandable protective characteristic for people who are already different. Yet I sometime wished I could act like Froggy – like the trickster. During oppressive meetings, I have often found myself wishing that I could put on my special glasses to emphasize that there are many ways of seeing things – or that humor helps us keep things in perspective.

DSC00626

Photo Credit: Another Perspective Trick Glasses – December 27, 2014

But it’s a risk that I’ve been unwilling to take many times in my career. Women and Native Americans are rarely seen as competent equals by people in positions of power (almost always white men). We’re often seen as affirmative action hires – puppets or clowns at best.

But now, thanks to David’s workshops, I can use drawing (and music) as tools to unlock stories and to play. Images, smells, sounds, and touch all help me remember important stories on deeper, more nuanced levels. And it really all started with some of the discoveries I made during the very first exercise of our very first workshop. David’s instructions were clear. “You have one minute to draw something in response to the words or phrases I will mention. Don’t think – draw the first thing that flashes through your mind. And don’t worry about drawing something to please other people’s perception of good art.”

There were twelve university faculty who participated in this first workshop, held on a lovely summer’s day when many of us were free from teaching. Most of us were part of the ethnically diverse multi-disciplinary Diversity Action Team, or A-Team as we referred to ourselves. We had all volunteered to serve on the university’s newly created Diversity Committee. After our first Diversity Committee meeting, we realized the need to develop creative ways to address discrimination. Students of color who were present at the meeting shared compelling, and in some cases outrageous stories about their experiences at the university. The faculty members on the committee quickly began discussing the need to reign-in “bad” teachers by bringing in experts to teach faculty how to teach to diversity. I was struck by how quickly we went to this authoritarian expedient approach for addressing discrimination and exclusion. I can’t think of anytime it’s ever been a successful way to change peoples’ attitudes and behaviors.

When I went home that evening, I wrote a one-page outline of a more inclusive approach. Basically, the idea was to gather stories from students of color and to share those campus-wide in a number of creative ways. The A-Team formed in response. We volunteered to work together to develop innovative ways to help improve education and educational outcomes for students from diverse backgrounds. We realized that the key to being an effective educator is learning who your students are. Stories are the key to understanding others, whether those stories are spoken, written, sung, drawn, or captured in photos or other art forms. How do we help people unlock stories? Many people, especially those who are seen as different and inferior, have good reasons for keeping their stories and vulnerability buried or hidden from sight. But how else can we touch peoples’ hearts to build empathy and understanding?

As participants in David’s workshop, we all decided to let down our guard and take risks to be less than perfect. David’s direction to workshop participants was, “Draw what comes to mind when you hear the word ‘monument.’” Many stone symbols and buildings flashed through my mind but the image I drew came from a deeper place – I drew a tree. Others drew the sculpted symbols and buildings. My response to the prompt to draw “a safe place you could go as a child” was a simple picture of me sitting alone, singing, beside a brook in the woods near my house. It’s where I went to escape the emotional turbulence and violence of my family. Others drew pictures of themselves in special hiding places in their yards, homes, or under their blankets. The point is that we all learned to use images to unlock and share our stories, getting to know ourselves and each other on deeper levels. We shared our pictures and the stories behind them. We shared our laughter and our pain. It helped us build a cohesive team so we could develop a series of initiatives to enable students to discover and share their stories with each other, with faculty, and with administrators.

After David’s workshops, we launched “Art Jam!” and “Dialogues in Diversity,” initiatives that largely focused on the experiences and stories of Black students because data suggested historically they were the least likely to graduate from our university. Our initiatives culminated in an awe-inspiring student performance of stories, poetry, dance, photography, and music. The plan for next semester was to repeat the project with Hmong students, another group that was also less likely to graduate. I know that these initiatives were transformative for many of the students and faculty who participated, although the rigid bureaucratic structure and banking-model teaching paradigms used by an oppressive institution showed little openness to new ideas.

Sometimes I miss those days, but thanks to David and my colleagues, the tools I learned to unlock stories have continued to be a useful gift. It’s one I can now share with my granddaughter, Ava. She spent the day after Christmas with me. (I’m the deadbeat grandmother who no longer buys presents.) In order to pry her away from playing games on her new (hand-me-down) laptop computer, a Christmas gift, I asked her to write a series of stories: “the three reasons why I love … my grandmother Martha (her father’s mother), my mother, and my brother.”

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Photo Credit: Ava at Ahma’s House – December 26, 2104

We used pictures and clip art to help her unlock her stories. And some of the pictures we found made us laugh. Maybe, some day in the future, Ava will remember this image. Maybe she will remember the warmth and laughter we shared on a day after Christmas in her past when she practiced being grateful for what really matters in life – the people you love. I know I will remember the gift of the special time we shared together.

Note: For information about David Feinberg and the Voice to Vision project, please check out the following link:
http://chgs.umn.edu/museum/exhibitions/voice/

***

Lighting a Candle for the Four Directions

Carol A. Hand

This morning when I awoke I was reflecting on my lack of hope and passion these days. It feels as though everything I love, everything that brings me joy and peace and hope is at risk. When did my hope and passion disappear? Was it because of the institutions where I worked that publicly espoused social justice missions but contradicted those values through the actions of the majority? Was it because of the neighbors or ex-spouses who only appeared to be concerned with their own comfort and their own pursuit of happiness? Was it because of the zeitgeist of the times summarized by the observation of my newest neighbor when speaking of a child with serious mental health issues, “I’m in this alone”? This feeling of being alone, when internalized, is a destroyer of hope and collective action and it seems to be a major obstacle for joining together to address the serious threats of these times.

As I look back, I realize this feeling has been an undercurrent in the past. Every intervention I have worked on hit this stumbling block sooner or later despite my best efforts. Like my neighbor, ultimately I felt alone in my past efforts because I was never able to inspire or cultivate enough hope for a critical mass of others who were willing to put aside immediate personal comfort to carry the responsibility for working toward a greater good. It was not for lack of trying. Yesterday, as I was contemplating clearing away some of the gifts, papers, and books I’ve accumulated over the years that fill files, shelves, walls and cupboards, I noticed the white candle that sits atop my most important bookshelf – the one that holds irreplaceable books I used to write my dissertation. Of course, like all my mementos, the candle has a story.

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Photo Credit: Duluth December 13, 2014

I was working as the deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency. It was not an easy job for many reasons, primarily because of the enduring legacy of colonialism that continued to impose dominant cultural paradigms on tribal communities and use divide and conquer tactics to foment conflicts between “traditional” and “progressive” tribal factions. Resolving conflict was a central part of my job, and it often put me in the middle of powerful competing interests. At a particularly challenging time, I needed to travel with one of my staff to a conference on worldwide healing for Indigenous people held in Edmonton, Alberta. The conference helped me realize I was not alone. Rediscovering the candle on my bookcase reminded me of the conference’s closing ceremony.

More than one thousand of us, representing many cultures and nations, stood in a circle within a large auditorium holding hands. Then, one elder walked to the center. She explained that the closing ceremony was intended to remind us that we were not alone. Because we were in a government building, we couldn’t use candles (fire ordinances prevented it), so flashlights would have to do. And then, the lights in the room went out as her flashlight went on in the center of the circle. She signaled to the four directions, highlighting one person from each of the four directions to walk to the center – first the east, then the south, the west, and the north. The representatives were all given a flashlight. As they touched their darkened lights to the elders “candle,” their flashlights were turned on. They were instructed to carry their light to the four directions and light other candles in their part of the circle. The elder explained that it would not be easy to keep the candle fires burning, but if the light went out, people could always return to the center to light them once again.

This morning, I realize I need to take the time to finally light the candle on my book case. It’s not the same white candle I used for a similar ceremony years later for the 40 staff who worked for the Honoring Our Children Project that included nine tribal communities. Building and maintaining multicultural, interdisciplinary teams within and across different tribal cultures was not an easy task. Providing a center they could return to in challenging times was important. But it is the same candle I used in a farewell ceremony with the graduate students I mentored during our final class together. They would all be graduating and scattering to the four directions.

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Photo Credit: Sending Light to the Four Directions from Duluth, MN – December 13, 2014

As I lit the candle this morning, I thought of the inter-tribal staff who did astounding work, and the creative and inquisitive students I worked with over the years. I thought about my blogging friends around the world who help me realize that each of is sharing our light. And I thought about the many other people who carry light yet feel alone. May we learn to share our light and stand together for the sake of all we love.

***

Shifting Perspectives

Carol A. Hand

My view of the world sometimes shifts from moment to moment, or from day to day. And some days it’s hard to find the words to describe the meaning of these changing perspectives. One moment, I see the darkness of our times and the institutions that continue to provide a measure of comfort to some but also serve to oppress or threaten the health of others.

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Photo Credit: The View from My Window – November 11, 2014

With just a small shift, the threat and darkness are momentarily transformed by the sun breaking through the clouds.

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Photo Credit: The View from My Yard: September 8, 2014

And other times, if I change the focus of my gaze, I am reminded of the gifts and responsibilities that come from loving others.

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Photo Credit: Pinto Sitting in a Favorite Place – November 11, 2014

“All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every second.” (Henry David Thoreau)

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.

Finding Common Ground

Carol A. Hand

I want to thank two of my blogging family, Nicci Attfield and Skywalker Payne, for raising important issues about the current Israeli/Palestinian situation. Their comments about a recent post made me ask myself how the world might be different if oppressed peoples realized what they share in common. As a thinker who needs to operationalize complex dynamics in terms of my own real-life experiences, I was reminded of the divide and conquer strategies I encountered during the years I worked with tribes in Wisconsin.

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Photo Credit: Map of Wisconsin Tribes 

When I walked into the office of an inter-tribal agency on the first morning of my new job as deputy director of health and human services, it was clear how easy it was for people to be divided. Staff for the five programs at the time only felt ownership for their programs. They resented any expectations of collective responsibility for the welfare of the agency or tribes. They fought over which program paid for stationary and who could use the one computer. They didn’t question the appropriateness of imposing state and federal requirements on tribal communities. And in situations where staff struggled to meet program requirements, there was only censure and no help. The eleven-member Board of Directors comprised of the Chairpersons of member tribes was also easily divided, concerned only about meeting the interests of their respective tribal community. Why would it be otherwise if they expected to be reelected? There was little recognition of the needs of urban Native American populations in the state, and strong resistance to any cross-ethic collaboration.

The first step was to clarify our mission as a department. Instead of seeing ourselves as each fulfilling only the requirements of our funding sources, our job was redefined to focus on serving tribal communities and educating our funders about tribal sovereignty and cultures. We could only do that effectively if we worked together. In the course of the first four months, we added four new projects and were able to leverage a computer for every project. Most staff eagerly embraced the clarified mission and began volunteering to help each other succeed.

The second step, clarifying our mission as an agency, was more challenging. That took more time. Bringing in more grants helped raise the importance of health and human service issues for tribal chairpersons. One of the new initiatives, studying the feasibility of having the inter-tribal agency take over some of the administrative functions for tribal health programs from the federal government, raised awareness about the importance of possibilities to collectively build greater tribal self-determination.

The third step was to increase the credibility of the agency in the eyes of state, federal, and non-profit funders. Although I got to know key staff and administrators at all levels as people with common interests and shared humanity, I was not afraid to challenge them when they used “divide and conquer” tactics with tribal leaders. The memory that surfaced this morning as I was reflecting on the insights Skywalker and Nicci shared was of a specific meeting between tribal chairpersons and state administrators. Eleven tribal representatives were seated around the table as state staff presented several budget options for health and social service allocations. The state staff explained what each tribe would lose and gain at the expense of other tribes. Tribal representatives began arguing amongst themselves, each trying to maximize resources for their community. As I witnessed the growing conflict, I was forced to stand and speak loudly. “Don’t you realize what the state is doing here? It’s the oldest trick in the book, divide and conquer. They have you arguing with each other about chump change for your programs instead of standing together to demand adequate resources to meet the compelling needs of your communities.” The room grew silent, and state staff apologized. They agreed to come up with a more respectful negotiation approach and explore additional funding. Of course, it would be foolish to assume the state would change how it dealt with tribes, but at least in this instance, they were forced to be more inclusive in their decision-making process.

Looking back, I realize that at each step, I tried to find common ground among my department staff, my agency colleagues, other oppressed communities, and with funders and administrators as well. It is so easy for people who are oppressed to see others who are oppressed as the enemy. Who loses and who benefits from divisions among oppressed people? Clearly, those in power benefit from deflecting attention away from the role they play as our puppet masters. We keep each other oppressed and all too often, kill each other off while those in power profit financially and enjoy the illusion that they are smarter, more developed morally and culturally, and better fit to impose their hegemony.

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Photo Credit: Serenity in the Garden

Who benefits from the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine? Only those who sell their souls and the hopes and dreams and lives of other people for the illusion of personal safety and status, those who wish to exploit oil and other resources with greater ease, and those who get rich by selling their weapons. Those who lose are ordinary people on both sides. Homes and lives are lost on both sides and children on both sides grow up in a war zone that teaches them to fear and hate their neighbors for generations yet to come. We all lose from a world at war, from a world where people are brutally murdered by governments for no other reason than securing the power and privilege of the ruling class. And we all lose when generations are denied the right to develop and contribute their gifts to the rest of the human community. As Jeff Nguyen writes, “We are all Palestinians.” We are also all Israelis. Let us dream of peaceful possibilities  … the consequences affect us all.

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.