Tag Archives: Indian child welfare

November Reflections 2018

Carol A. Hand

November 29, 2018

November has flown by so fast. I apologize for being woefully behind in responding to comments and visiting your blogs. Grading student papers is always a challenge for me because I lose my ability to speak in my own voice so I can focus on helping others find theirs. Yet there is an end in sight. The end of the semester is near and I will have a brief reprieve from teaching during late December and January.

When I took momentary breaks from grading this month, though, ideas for how to edit the beginning of the manuscript I began in 2015 kept flowing. It was hard to put them aside but I had to in order to meet my responsibilities for the students in my class.

Thanksgiving break gave a chance to “unplug” from those responsibilities for a week and I did manage to rewrite the preface and first chapter yet again. In the process, I realized that the reason for continuing to work on the manuscript has shifted. This time around, what struck me were all the things I don’t know about writing and how much more there is to know about things I thought I already knew and understood. Continuing to edit and revise will give me a chance to keep learning even if I don’t finish or publish a final product. That’s enough to keep me moving forward.

Here is an excerpt from the new draft of chapter one.

***

Chapter One – Introduction

Greeting the cold, bright November morning, I once again wonder how to begin a book about the welfare of Ojibwe children. Despite the many different cultures and living beings that share this earth, the welfare of all children is the foundation for our collective survival.

As I sit lost in thought, a little chickadee lands close to my feet and peers up at me before taking flight. He reminds me to be present in the moment. To take time to remember where this journey began.

An essay I wrote a while ago comes to mind.

***

My first memory as a child is so clear in my mind even though experts in brain development say it is not possible. It was my first Christmas. A February baby born on the cusp of Pisces and Aquarius, I lay in my crib as the winter sun streamed through the window. My mother and father stood on opposite sides of my crib, arguing. The personal pain and insecurities that led to their argument were so clear to me. But more compelling were the strengths and beauty I saw in both of them. I struggled helplessly in a body that was unable to give voice to what I saw. All I could do was cry.

I don’t remember choosing to be born to parents from different cultures, both deeply wounded by their own lifetime experiences. And even though some religions believe in reincarnation, I am unwilling to speculate about things I cannot know for certain. I only know that for my mother, I was both “the one bright star” in her life, and a constant reminder of the shame she carried because of her Ojibwe heritage.

I do, however, remember the day I chose which culture would define my sense of identity. But before I tell the story, I need to back up a little to earlier times. My father grew up with abuse in a dour, cruel Anglo-American family. As a man of smaller stature who joined the marines, he was often the victim of cruel teasing and bullying. He learned to be the first to strike out with biting words, fists, and whatever weapons were close at hand. My mother was an easy target.

Programmed in Catholic Indian boarding school to believe that she was inferior to whites because of her Ojibwe heritage, she accepted emotional and physical abuse without question. No one would help her. My father’s family was certainly not concerned, and my mother’s relatives were too geographically distant. Priests and counselors told her it was her duty to stand by her husband. So she did, until one day when I was four and my brother was one. She left, taking little except me and my brother. I remember the train rides as we sped across the country on a series of new adventures, living in apartments and trailers in a number of states – Texas, New Mexico and finally, Wisconsin. Each time, when my father would find us, my mother would move again. The final stop was at my grandmother’s home on the reservation where my mother was born and raised.

I remember that day clearly, although I was only four-and-a-half years old. We were standing in front of my grandmother’s house when my father arrived. He told my mother that he was taking my brother and me back to New Jersey. If she ever wanted to see us again, she would have to come too. My mother stood there sobbing with my brother wrapped in her arms as my father stormed off to the car. I ran to catch him. He turned and looked down at me as I started to yell. I kicked him in the legs as hard as I could and screamed, “I hate you for hurting my mother. I won’t let you hurt her anymore!” That day, I chose to be Ojibwe, as I consciously chose to become the family scapegoat. I did protect my mother, although she rarely did the same for me. I now understand why she couldn’t. I also protected my brother to the best of my ability until I left for college. I learned how to withstand insults and beatings with strategies that have left me with unique strengths, or serious weaknesses, depending on the context.

But my ancestry is both Ojibwe and that of the descendants of immigrants from Europe. The fact that I chose which cultural identity to call my own has little to do with how others see me. Because I grew up between two cultures, I never felt that I really belonged to either. There were no family members or classmates or teachers to serve as guides to teach me how to walk in two worlds. But I quickly learned that the liminal space between cultures is often a lonely place to live.

Rupert Ross (1992), an Assistant Crown Attorney in Canada observed, “When you try to be a bridge between two cultures, you should expect to get walked over by some people from both sides.” (1) This is true from my experience, but not the most difficult challenge to overcome. Because I was in-between, I had to learn to listen and observe others intensely to try to understand who they were and what was important to them. Not surprisingly, this often meant I learned to bridge many differences. Because I learned how to stand up against abuse, I was most interested in working with people whose experiences were in some ways similar to mine. By watching and listening to people from many different cultures, I became increasingly aware of the larger structural issues that underlay their shared oppression. But to be an observer who also sees a broader context is a space of distance that prevents one from really ever just “being” with people.

For years, I tried to avoid living in this liminal space. I started college, switching settings several times before leaving. I tried chemistry and biology, then French and philosophy, before dropping out with more than enough credits to graduate if I had ever decided on a major. Instead, I traveled and worked at minimal skill jobs – a nurse’s aide, a telephone operator, a doughnut finisher, a seamstress, a receptionist who couldn’t type but who was skilled with people, and a waitress in elegant restaurants and greasy spoons. I did find a reason to choose living in the liminal space between cultures again when I took a job as a kitchen aide, and then as an attendant, in a horrific institution for people who had cognitive and physical disabilities, a “State School for the Mentally Retarded.”

. . .

Decades later, I am grateful for the decision I made to assume the responsibility for doing what I could to not only address injustice, but more importantly, to experiment with ways to live from a stance of liberatory praxis, combining theory and action. My graduate studies focused on understanding organizational theories and social welfare policies from dominant cultural perspectives and subjecting them to a critical analysis from an Ojibwe worldview. During my career as a policy developer, administrator, program developer, educator, and researcher, I experimented with ways to consciously work toward liberating people rather than merely imposing approaches that encouraged conformity and powerlessness.

In this last phase of my life, I feel a sense of urgency to use my remaining time as constructively as I can, even though it means remaining in the liminal space between cultures. I have begun writing a book about the child welfare system from a critical ethnographic Ojibwe perspective, an approach that explores not only what is, but also what was and what could be. As I revisit the stories I gathered from Ojibwe people of all ages about their childhood experiences, I often find myself wishing I could simply blame colonial oppressors for all of the atrocities indigenous people have suffered throughout the ages. But as Bourdieu, Fanon, Foucault, Freire, Gramsci, and so many others point out, it is not really that simple. (2)

Hegemony remains in place because of our everyday decisions to take the easy road, to keep too busy to care about the world around us, to remain silent about the injustices we see, to sometimes use oppressive systems to gain our own piece of the pie, or to invoke the power of the police state to resolve disputes instead of dealing with them constructively ourselves. To blame all of the world’s ills on the ruling elite robs us of our free will, our personhood. It would be like blaming my parents for all of the mistakes I have made, sometimes because I was clueless, sometimes because I was lazy, and sometimes because I just wanted to self-destruct….

***

Blaming others for the past is a waste of time. We cannot change it. However, it is crucial to understand the history of colonial oppression and the consequences that have continued to affect subsequent generations of subjugated and marginalized peoples. Unfortunately, history textbooks and ethnographic accounts rarely convey experiences through the lenses and voices of populations without power.

Dominant narratives convey messages that help preserve the power of those who benefited from conquest, land theft, enslavement, and the imposition of structures of social and economic inequality. We need to understand the past through other lenses in order to address the legacy of harm and avoid repeating the brutal mistakes of the past. That is not always an easy task on either a national or personal level.

A frantic phone call from my father in the autumn of 1981 presaged my realization that it was too late to hear my mother’s stories about the old days and old ways. “Please come quickly,” he said, his voice filled with panic and tears. “Your mother almost died. She’s home from the hospital now but she is having trouble walking and seems confused.” I told my father I would be there by noon the next day. It was too late at night for me set off on the five-hour trip north to the Ojibwe reservation where my mother and father lived – the reservation where my mother had been born sixty years before.

….

Notes

  1. Rupert Ross (1992). Dancing with a ghost: Exploring Indian reality. Markham, ON: Canada: Octopus Publishing Group, (p. xx).
  2. Pierre Bourdieu (1994), Structures, habitus, power: Basis for a theory of symbolic power. In N. B. Dirks, E. Eley, & S. B. Ortner (Eds). Culture/power/history: A reader in contemporary social theory (pp. 155-199). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.; Frantz Fanon (2004). The wretched of the earth. (Richard Philcox, Trans.). New York, NY: Grove Press.; Michel Foucault (1979). Discipline & Punish: The birth of the prison. (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books.; Paulo Freire (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary ed.). New York, NY: Continuum.; Antonio Gramsci (1999). Selections from the prison notebooks of Antonio Gransci (Q. Hoare & G. N. Smith, Eds. & Trans.) New York, NY: International Press.

 

 

Revisiting A Darkened Auditorium

Carol A. Hand

This morning, I revisited one of my first posts and decided to share it. Perhaps this will be one of my last entries. I have joined NaNoWrMo for the month of November to provide structure and motivation for working on final edits for the manuscript I began in 2015. It’s time for me to take the risk that I’ll once again be sharing my authentic voice in a darkened auditorium to the censure of critics. The message the book contains about the importance of preserving even limited tribal sovereignty in order to preserve cultures that value life is too pressing to ignore for me in these times.

***

As a child, I would often run through the woods behind my house so I could sit next to a little stream and sing for hours with the music of the water as it washed over and around the rocks in its path. As a little girl, I dreamed of being a singer when I grew up. I loved to sing. My parents were too poor to buy the piano I desperately wanted to learn to play so I could sing with an instrument, but they did finally buy me an instrument they could afford. It was one that I found awkward and embarrassing — an accordion. For a tiny stick of a girl, it was a funny sight for me to imagine — this huge appendage strapped to my chest as I struggled to move the bellows and press keys at the same time. I was never good at playing it, although a kind musician at the summer camp where my family sometimes spent vacations asked me to perform with him when I was about ten. I was too excited to experience the fear that would later overwhelm me at the very thought of standing on a stage. That would come later.

By high school I sang in choirs and loved blending my high soprano voice in harmony with so many different voices. I tried to start a small singing group with three others: an alto, tenor and bass. But our first performance was embarrassing. Some of my partners forgot the words as we sang and others forgot the chords. We lived through the teasing and embarrassment, but the group didn’t last. I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to sing in public again, but I still loved to sing. It was my way of connecting with a deeper part of myself to let feelings and creativity flow. When I got to college, I met a few other women who loved to sing. They taught me a little about playing the guitar and introduced me to a little coffee house in an ethnic Chicago neighborhood. On our first visit, it happened to be “open mic night,” my friends dared me to sing. With my knees like rubber, barely able to breathe or swallow, I walked up on the stage and somehow managed to sing something despite trembling fingers that missed many chords. To my astonishment, the owner offered me a job singing on weekend evenings.

Stage fright became a constant reality. I didn’t know many songs, I wasn’t very good on the guitar, my soft voice needed a mic to be heard and didn’t have a wide range for lower notes, and I could never predict if the sounds that emerged would be cloudy or clear. I needed to learn and practice new things. But where could I go in the windy and wintry city to practice? Then I discovered the college auditorium, often deserted on late evenings during the week. I would walk up on the stage in the dark room and sing for hours, safe in the knowledge I was free to experiment and make as many mistakes as needed.

*

Microsoft WORD Clip Art

*

The first weekend when I walked to the coffee house for my new “job,” it was daunting to see my name in lights above the door. Despite nausea, weak knees and trembling hands, I made it through that weekend and several more without any truly embarrassing moments. Practice didn’t ease the terror, but it helped me reach ever deeper to sing from my heart and my spirit. But my career abruptly ended one evening as I was finishing my practice session in the auditorium. As I was kneeling to put my guitar into its case, a voice from the back of the darkened auditorium caused me to pause. “YOU DON’T SING FOR PEOPLE!” As I peered out at the row of seats, I could barely make out the darker shadow of someone seated in the very back of the room. The dark shadow rose and walked into the slightly lighter aisle. I could see the middle-aged white priest in his vestments. He repeated his words, “You don’t sing for people.” Then he turned and walked out without another word. It was the last time I ever sang on a stage. I diplomatically resigned from my weekend job, packed my guitar away, and didn’t open the case again for many years.

At the time, I wasn’t able to understand my reasons for allowing these words to silence my voice. But it did make me realize one of the reasons for my stage fright. I really didn’t care if people thought I sang well. It was more a fear of revealing my heart before strangers in such an open and unprotected way. What if they found me lacking depth or substance as a human being? What if they found my words silly and trite, too angry, too melancholy, or incomprehensible? It was not the priest’s unkind words that silenced my voice. It was his uninvited presence and his harsh, unasked-for criticism. The words uncovered my greatest fears. As someone between cultures, could I ever learn to reach across divides to understand others and be understood? This priest was a stranger. How did he know how to craft strategic word-weapons to wound a stranger so deeply? And why would anyone ever do so?

I have never found the answers to those questions, but I did make the decision that night not to share the songs in my heart with strangers again with such naïve vulnerability. I don’t regret that decision. The priest’s unkind words didn’t silence the songs in my heart. The songs patiently bided their time, looking for other ways to emerge.

Years later, I remember those words every time I teach a class or speak in public, and every time I post a new essay on a blog or send out a manuscript for editing and peer review. I ask myself “Is this true? Does it come from my heart or my ego?” As a singer, I both did and did not sing for people. I sang because there was a song in my heart that needed to be given voice, and I hoped for people and hearts that would listen and sing back their songs. It’s the same with writing. I write because there is a story that won’t let me rest until it is spoken. Once written, it only comes to life if others read it and join me in dialogue. Dialogue is like the voices of a choir adding harmony and counterpoint, depth and breadth, dissonance and resolution, to the stories that unite us in our shared humanity. Yet even if dialogue doesn’t come immediately, I know that I have contributed what I can to touch the hearts of others.

*

Photo Credit: Carol Hand, Carlos, José, and children, 1973, photographer unknown

 

***

May Snippets – 2018

Carol A. Hand

Reflections during My Hiatus from Blogging – May 19, 2018

Unpredictable spring
with two constants
that keep me busy
gardens and a manuscript in process

Landscaping gardens
regardless of weather
one day sweating,
the next day shivering
and yet on another,
grateful for heavy workboots
that keep me grounded
despite fierce gusty winds
hauling logs, branches, and new soil
planting the first of the seeds,
new bushes, and flowers
watering in these days of drought

***

May 19, 2018 – Landscaping the missing Willow’s space

***

It’s hard physical work
that gives me time
to listen
deeply
for bird song and wind chimes
to listen
intently
for deeper truths
to revise the beginning
of the story I began
more than two years ago

I ponder how
one can touch hearts
and raise awareness
about the need to consider
the importance of what can be learned
about human possibilities
from different cultural perspectives
that understand and honor
our inextricable interdependence with nature
and each other
I wonder how one can inspire
collective efforts to heal the legacy
of a brutal homogenizing history
of colonial oppression
with written words alone

Listening deeply
for inklings of answers
kneeling on the earth
hands in the soil
thoughts and feelings
not easily translated
into words

I think about my grandmother
imagining what it was like
to grow up in an era
when the last of the great pine forests
fell
victim to illusions of “progress”
when her people were herded
onto the least desirable land
“reserved” just for them
When Indigenous children
were captured and lost
to abusive institutions
under the colonial guise of
civilizing the children of savages

***

Reflections and My Grandmother Part I – May 11, 2018

When beginning the story of my research about Ojibwe child welfare, I made a decision to be as honest as possible about my experiences and findings. Yet, I changed the name of the researcher who is telling the story. Initially I thought it was purely to protect the identities of the people who shared their memories and lives with me. Choosing among all the possible fictive names for the researcher, though, felt at odds with the goal of presenting a truthful account that honored people’s authentic voices.

Ultimately, I chose to refer to the younger version of myself recorded in my fieldnotes by my maternal grandmother’s name, Agnes Sero. I didn’t realize then how much alike we were and how profoundly the differing circumstances of our births affected our lives.

******

When it came time to edit and revise the very long manuscript that resulted, though, I once again wondered about this choice. Why did I really give my grandmother’s name to the character of my younger self? For the most part, she was a stranger to me. My mother only shared parts of her mother’s story. Agnes was 17 years old when my mother was born, still a child herself. At two weeks old, Agnes gave her first child to her older sister, Anna, to raise.

Agnes’ life wasn’t easy. Her father worked as a lumber jack in the northwoods. Growing up in lumber camps would have been challenging for a beautiful young girl like Agnes, especially without the protection of a community and traditions to guide her path…

***

Reflections about my Grandmother Part II – May 18, 2018

There is a haunting out-of-focus photo of my grandmother as a teenager nestled in a birch tree. The tree stands alone amid a neighborhood of hard-packed scraggly grass-covered earth and newly constructed wooden frame houses. The tall pines that once provided a sheltering home for the Ojibwe people were, by then, only memories that would one day be passed down in stories through the generations.

***

Agnes in the Lone Birch Tree – 1920

***

I sometimes wonder what my grandmother’s childhood was like as a daughter of a lumberjack who was forced by economic and political circumstances to cut down the last of the great pine and hemlock forests in Ojibwe ceded territory. The timber my great grandfather harvested helped build cities to house the hundreds of thousands of new arrivals streaming from Europe every year.

My grandmother was harvested, too, by the settlers who now claimed the land as their own to spend some of her childhood years in a euphemistically named institution, an “Indian boarding school.” There, under the guise of civilizing the children of savages, she was stripped of the relationships, stories and language that gave meaning to life for Ojibwe people just as the earth was stripped of abundant forests that once provided their food, shelter, and a sense of kinship with nature.

To me, as a child, my grandmother’s life seemed as barren as the clear cut that was left behind. She was only 17 when my mother was born. My mother was given to my grandmother’s older sister to raise on the reservation pictured in the photo. By the time I spent my twelfth summer on the reservation with my grandmother, she was a lonely, angry, alcoholic.

I look back on her life with deep sadness and compassion. I am awed that she found the strength to survive despite so many difficulties and losses. And I am grateful to the child she gave away, my mother, for raising me to be proud of the Ojibwe heritage that brought both of them so much suffering and internalized shame. Once again, I vow to try my best to honor their legacy in my humble account of Ojibwe child welfare in hopes that future generations will not suffer the cruelty and discrimination that they both had to survive.

***

History Keeps Repeating

Carol A. Hand

I wonder how many have experienced being a sensitive child born into a world of chaos and abuse. Perhaps your first memories are similar to the ones described in a post I wrote years ago for a friend’s blog.

My first memory as a child is so clear in my mind even though experts in brain development say it is not possible. It was my first Christmas. A February baby born on the cusp of Pisces and Aquarius, I lay in my crib as the winter sun streamed through the window. My mother and father stood on opposite sides of my crib, arguing. The personal pain and insecurities that led to their argument were so clear to me. But more compelling were the strengths and beauty I saw in both of them. I struggled helplessly in a body that could not give voice to what I saw. All I could do was cry.

Thus began a life lived in the tragic gap between what is and what could be. A life straddling cultures, socio-economic classes, and religious beliefs. Surviving childhood abuse and rape as a sensitive soul brings powerful insights and abilities as well as deep wounds that may take more than one lifetime to heal. Compassion, sorrow, and rage at callous injustice compete in ongoing inner struggles. “Breathe. Detach. Reflect. Do what you can to inspire others to see their own beauty and create new possibilities even though you know it’s not an easy journey. Try anyway, even though you don’t always see yourself worthy of walking this path.”

Events like the bombing of Afghanistan – again – remind me why it’s important to try anyway. History keeps repeating itself. Maybe this time I’ll be able to communicate the message in a way that can be heard.

In 2001-2002, I conducted a critical ethnographic study of child welfare in a rural Ojibwe community. The topic was important to me because Native American children continue to be removed from families and communities in disproportionate numbers. Removing children is a continuing form of cultural genocide. Many previous studies of Native Americans offered justification for this practice. They portrayed Native communities as though they were isolated from the rest of the world, and cultures as if frozen in the long ago past destined to inevitably disappear. I still wonder how anyone could ignore the obvious and profound effects that colonial subjugation has continued to have for Indigenous communities and cultures.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Wikipedia photo

The past and present socio-political context of U.S. Indian and child welfare policies were an important part of my research. I wanted to understand the community and culture from as many different vantage points as possible during my time “in the field.” My first week, I was lucky. An Ojibwe elder shared a story about his childhood that provided a crucial framework and foundation for my study. The information would have remained significant in any case. But the date of our conversation, September 10, 2001, made it clear that even in remote areas global issues have profound effects.

As I work on editing the book manuscript I wrote about my research, I can’t help reflecting on our inability as a nation to learn from history. Two weeks ago, I edited and revised the following excerpt.

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

Research Fieldnotes: Monday, October 8, 2001

I’m eager to return to the border town and reservation. The morning is cool and clear as I set out for the long drive. But my heart is heavy with news from the world far from the ceded territories of the Ojibwe. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan began yesterday as the U.S. and its ally, Great Britain, launched an intensive bombing campaign. Retaliation against a poor nation that is not responsible for 911 is so senseless. There will be no positive outcomes for killing other innocent people. “Operation Enduring Freedom,” as the invasion is named, will not bring freedom. I fear it will only result in more death and suffering.

As I drive, I remember President Eisenhower’s observations from so many years ago.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. (Chance of Peace speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC on April 16, 1953)

War will affect the hopes of all of the children in the U.S. and Afghanistan. I have no words to express the deep sadness I feel. So I sing, belting out verses of songs and prayers for peace as tears stream from my eyes. I notice the bald-headed eagle flying above my car, circling overhead as I pray and sing. I wonder. “Is the eagle’s presence merely a coincidence? Or is it a sign that what I’m doing will forge a path to build understanding and peace?

***

Present-day Reflections. I don’t remember ever learning anything about Afghanistan in school, even though it’s been inhabited for at least 50,000 years and is the location of some the oldest farming communities in the world. It has been a predominantly Muslim country since 882 CE comprised of diverse indigenous tribes ruled by a central monarchy. Despite its land-locked location, Afghanistan has remained an important connecting point between the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.

In recent history it once again became the site of competing interests. In the mid-1800s, Great Britain imposed colonial rule over Afghanistan’s neighbor, India, leading to an ongoing struggle between Britain and the Soviet Union for control of the area. Internal conflicts within Afghanistan between those with differing views of governance, monarchy versus communism, erupted into civil war. Both the Soviet Union and United States provided cash and weapons to aid and arm competing armies. In 1979, the Soviet Union finally sent in troops and took control of the country. It’s estimated that 1 million Afghan people were killed by Soviet troops and their Afghan allies. Many more Afghan people fled to other nations before the Soviet Union withdrew their forces in 1989 (Admin, PBS, 2006).

During the 1980s in the U.S., funding was significantly reduced for the social welfare safety net programs intended to help poor families and children with access to health care, education, housing, income security, and nutrition (Karger & Stoesz, 2010). At the same time, billions of dollars flowed into Afghanistan to arm and support insurgent anti-communist forces that were fighting against Soviet occupation (Coll, 2005).

Due to ongoing wars, Afghanistan was one of the poorest countries in the world when Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001. Between October 7, 2001 and January 1, 2002, an estimated 1,000 to 1,300 civilians were killed as a direct result of bombing (Conetta, 2002a). By mid-January, 2002, another 3,200 had died of starvation, exposure, illness or injuries related to invasive bombing by the U.S. and Great Britain (Conetta, 2002b).

Eisenhower’s warning proved to be true. Children and families in both nations have continued to be affected by the costs of war on many levels.

***

Research Fieldnotes: Monday, October 8, 2001 (continued)

The eagle and long drive give me a chance to compose myself before I reach the reservation.

I arrive at Henry’s house at about 10:40, only ten minutes late for our scheduled meeting….

Community members gathered at the elder’s center the next day for lunch, as they did most weekdays. “I can’t understand why the Afghani people don’t like us,” Maymie says. The elders talk of anthrax, gardens, and making apple cider. They don’t seem to be concerned about the threat of terrorism here, but they do express their confusion about why others in the world seem to hate Americans.

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

A few days ago, the U.S bombed Afghanistan again with “the mother of all bombs.” Operation Enduring Freedom? Other choices are possible and far more likely to be successful if that really is the goal of U.S. international actions.

I honestly don’t know how to effectively communicate with those who don’t seem to be able to listen or hear. Sometimes all I can do is find moments of beauty despite the deep sorrow I feel. Other times, I just cry, as I did on my first Christmas. Today, I choose to share this message along with my prayers for peace despite the risk of being ignored, criticized or misunderstood.

My Grandson, Ojibwe Ceded Territory, Spring 2001

 

Works Cited:

Admin (2006, October 10). The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. PBS Newshour. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/asia-july-dec06-soviet_10-10/.

Coll, Steve (1005). Ghost wars: The secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Conetta, Carl. (24 January, 2002a). Operation Enduring Freedom: Why a higher rate of civilian bombing casualties. PDA: Project on Defense Alternatives. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.comw.org/pda/0201oef.html .

Conetta, Carl. (30 January, 2002). Strange victory: A critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan war. PDA: Project on Defense Alternatives. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.comw.org/pda/0201strangevic.html.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1953, April 16). Chance of Peace. Speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chance_for_Peace_speech on March 15, 2015.

Karger, Howard Jacob & Stoesz, David (2010). American social welfare policy: A pluralist approach, 6th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

***

Reflections about a life

Carol A. Hand

Sometimes, in the fleeting moments of clarity,
I’m frightened. I wonder, what is happening to me?
I feel like I’m losing my mind as the fog descends
A memory surfaces of a life that might have been.

***

Norma b

My mother with the woman who wanted to adopt her, Lac du Flambeau, WI, 1923

***

If I had been adopted into a life of privilege by Mrs. Paterson,
into a world far away from the Chippewa reservation where I was born
instead of life as an unwanted child raised in abject poverty, forlorn,
who would I have become?

***

norma age 7

My mother in front of her aunt’s house, Lac du Flambeau, WI, 1928

***

But that was not to be, thanks to the mother who abandoned me
Giving me to her sister to raise, to live as a servant for my aunt’s family

***

Note: These are beginning reflections about my mother’s life from the vantage point of what I imagine her thoughts were as Alzheimer’s Disease progressively interfered with her ability to do the simplest of things or communicate. It’s based on some of the things she said early on, and the sense I often had in her presence that she was still there somewhere inside.

***

 

Reflections – The Legacy of Continuing Loss…

Carol A. Hand

A child kidnapped from the village road –
lured by strangers with the promise of a new adventure –
a ride in an automobile, a luxury rarely seen here.
He awoke hours later in a foreign place far from home –
held captive in a federal Indian boarding school.
He still carries the scars more than 70 years later –
one visible on his hand where he was struck on that first day
for speaking the only language he knew, Ojibwe;
the other hidden – a deep loneliness and longing for the home, family and culture
he vaguely remembered and imagined during the six decades he spent among strangers

***

Carlisle_pupils

Carlisle Indian Industrial School – 1879-1918 (Wikipedia)

***

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

***

Before-After Indian Borading School npr

Before and After (California Indian Education.Org)

***

Only some of the many lost finally returned home in their third, fifth or seventh decade
to discover the community forever changed as close-knit ties had begun to fade,
suffering from the continuing loss of its children to foster care, adoption or school
year after year throughout the centuries of tightening colonial rule.
Yet I found many reasons to hope.
Despite enduring structures of colonial hegemony,
memories and stories of long ago, clear visions of what yet could be
provide blueprints for reweaving an inclusive healing circle of caring community.

***

 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Carol A. Hand

In my last university faculty position, I taught an undergraduate practice class – interviewing lab. As one of the few faculty who was not an expert in clinical practice, I found it a rather odd assignment. And then I realized that it was a topic I had used in a variety of cross-cultural settings. Ethnographic research does involve many opportunities to “practice” this skill.

Working on a chapter of my book today, I was reminded of some of the more challenging learning opportunities I have had. Crossing cultures and disciplines is uncomfortable, but in this case, it was crucial. I wanted to understand what was happening in the educational system. Schools were the primary source of referrals for child protective services for both Native and Euro-American children. More importantly, few Ojibwe youth graduated from the local high school.

Many Ojibwe people in the community had raised serious issues about their education. Like Native youth on many reservations, they attended public school in the town outside of the reservation. These “border towns” are typically controlled by the dominant Euro-American setter population, and anti-Native prejudice is sometimes particularly virulent.

At the end of August, 2002, I set off for an interview with a teacher in the border town high school. Following is an excerpt from my interview with Mr. Hanson (not his real name), a teacher who had been teaching at the high school for more than 30 years.

***

Research Field Notes Wednesday, August 28, 2002

I headed back to the border town for my interview with Mr. Hanson. When I entered his classroom, I introduced myself.

He replied. “To be honest, Agnes, I left my schedule at home today and had forgotten when we scheduled the interview.”

We shook hands, and sat at the two corner desks closest to the door. Before we began, he asked if I was Indian, and I told him I was and where I was enrolled. Then, I handed him a copy of the paper I had written about my research for the U.S. Children’s Bureau. He briefly leafed through it.

I could tell from his nonverbal cues that he was uncomfortable and I tried to put him more at ease.

“I realize you’re concerned about confidentiality Mr. Hanson, and how any information you share might be used. The consent form and project overview spell that out, but the paper demonstrates how the information will be used. I’ve been meeting with people to make sure they approve of my interpretations of what they shared. As you can see from the paper I’ve written, there are no personal identifiers or place names in order to protect identity.”

He still seemed reluctant, but he read through the consent form and signed it, admitting that he was still reluctant.

“It is a small community and word does get out. And I don’t know anything about the child welfare system, so I’m not sure how helpful I can be.”

I told him that was okay – he did know a lot about kids. And since schools were a major referral source to child welfare, it was important for me to learn what I could.

….

Again carefully choosing his words, he responded. “Bias is not obvious in the class. It is present in the hallways, but it is hidden within the student culture from which I am excluded. It’s there.”

At this point in the conversation, he wanted his comments to be off the record, so I stopped taking notes and just listened. It’s a challenge to reconstruct the conversation, since I was often the one being interviewed.

….

It was hard to keep him talking, and his reluctance remained obvious so I packed up my briefcase and stood up as I thanked him. All of a sudden, he became more animated and started telling me what he teaches his students in the Native American class. He was excited as he talked about his class, and he grabbed a piece of yellow chalk and went to the blackboard to illustrate his points. He said that he draws four circles on the board to illustrate Native American culture, which he illustrated:

Mr. Hanson interview

“If you want to destroy a culture, you take the youth and put them in boarding schools – they don’t pass on the culture when they become adults and elders. It isn’t true that Europeans didn’t understand Native American culture – they understood it very well. Taking youth shows how well they understood.

Carlisle_pupils

Photo: Carlisle …

“The government located settlers on the borders of peaceful, well-functioning Native societies, knowing full well what the settlers were like given where they came from. It was Jefferson who sent out Lewis and Clark to survey Indian Territory and planned how to create indebtedness among Natives so their land would become forfeit.”

He was excited about his Native American class, so I asked him if he involved local community members.

“I used to,” he replied, “but now it’s taught through distance learning. It was meant to be much more hands-on, but it still seems to work. I developed it when I first came to the school and have been teaching it ever since. “

He also listed a number of projects tribes have asked him to participate in, including language preservation and the creation of a museum.

Even though this was a tough interview with someone who clearly was not willing to give many specifics, it was a good beginning. I noticed that he was skillful at dancing around my questions. But he seems to be a good teacher who encourages critical thinking and presents a balanced and very well-informed view of culture and history.

As I left, I told him that I thought the high school was lucky to have him there.

***

I’m grateful for the chance to revisit this uncomfortable interview more than a decade later. And I’m grateful to Mr. Hanson for sharing his gifts as a teacher in a challenging context. Yet I was left with deep concerns. He noted that things have improved for Native American youth. One to two Ojibwe students from each class in recent years have stayed in school long enough to graduate.

Taken by itself, this should be cause for alarm. Other interviews added crucial context. County child welfare staff reported that 45 percent of their juvenile justice caseload were Ojibwe youth. The tribal staff person who worked with child welfare voiced her concerns about Ojibwe youth, described in an earlier post.

***

“The youth now are being taken by the criminal justice system.” (Tribal Staff Person 1, June 26, 2002)

I asked her what might help. “What activities might help provide a positive focus for youth? Were there adults in the community who might be interested in working with the youth?”

She had positive responses to both questions. Kids wanted the tribe to build a skateboard park, and she was willing to work with them as were several other community members, but the tribe wasn’t interested. And then, a possible resource appeared.

Early on, my study drew the attention of some national child welfare researchers. I was invited to submit an abstract of my study to be considered for possible development as a commissioned research paper that would be presented at a US. Children’s Bureau conference on racial disparities in the child welfare system (Hand, 2002). My study was selected as one of eight in the country, with a cash award for the commissioned paper I was asked to write and present to an invitation-only audience of child welfare experts in the country. (An edited version was later published in 2006.)

When my fieldwork ended and I was officially finished with my research, I contacted the tribal staff person and asked if she thought it would be helpful for her to have some funding to work with the teens on a skateboard project. I offered some of the money I received for the commissioned paper. (The rest went to offset the costs of a study funded only by my university salary.) My offer came with some conditions. First, if she agreed, I would send her a personal check, but I didn’t want anyone to know where the money came from. She could use the money to help support youth, but the youth would have to agree to some structure. Together, we developed some guidelines.

  1. The youth would need to find at least one adult to volunteer to work with them on the project.
  2. They would need to invite all youth in the community to participate.
  3. Using internet and library resources, they would need to conduct research on skateboard park designs and select one that was feasible.
  4. As a group, they would need to prepare a formal proposal for the tribal council to ask for additional financial support. And,
  5. They would need to present their request during a council meeting.

I was surprised when she called to let me know that the teens were excited and eagerly agreed to all of the conditions. But they were mystified that somebody was willing to provide some money to help them. They were deeply touched that “Somebody cares about us!”

Four months later, the tribal staff person called to let me know that there had been no new juvenile justice cases since the youth started working on the project. They had found a community mentor and even included youth from the surrounding Euro-American community. They had presented their proposal to the tribe, and the prospects for help looked promising.

***

As I reread these old interview summaries and fieldnotes, I descend once again into the discomfort and self-doubt I felt long ago. I question why this study is worth writing about. And then I remember why it’s important to ask questions and care about the answers.

Perhaps the most important thing to emphasize when we teach interviewing skills is to be clear about our purpose. When we interview others about their lives, we carry a responsibility to listen deeply and care enough about the people who share their lives with us to give back in whatever ways we can.

***

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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Carol A. Hand

This morning, it occurred to me that it might be helpful if I provided some background for my previous reblog, Go FISH!

In designing a critical ethnographic study of Ojibwe child welfare, I gave some thought to the meaning of “critical” in this context. Where should one focus a “critical gaze” if the purpose is to discern the ways in which hegemony over Native American tribal communities has been imposed and perpetuated? Most research only considers contemporary consequences rather than the complex historical structural forces that have left a distressing legacy of harm. Many “blame” tribes, counties, or states for the continuing over-use of child removal and non-Native placements as the preferred responses to situations of child neglect and abuse.

I decided it was crucial to consider the federal government’s past and present role as well, and interviewed Theresa Edwards (not her real name), the regional child welfare specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). I headed out to the distant city where she was located on a hot day at the end of June in 2002. Theresa graciously shared valuable information about the BIA, tribal child welfare issues, and Ojibwe culture. She also shared personal stories and insights into her past and present experiences and initiatives.

It was clear that Theresa was an incredible resource for tribes. She played a crucial role as an ally and advocate within an oppressive bureaucracy. In response to my observation at the end of our interview, “Tribes are so lucky to have a resource like you!,” she told me that she has been able to remain within the bureaucracy largely because of her relationship with the tribes in the region. “The decision-making structure in the regional office is focused largely on micro-management, but it doesn’t bother me if someone wants to change the wording of my letters as long as it isn’t a matter of ethics.”

Seal_of_the_United_States_Bureau_of_Indian_Affairs.svg

Image: BIA Seal (Source Wikipedia)

Few outside of Native American tribal communities know about the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA. Yet the BIA has played a pivotal role in the lives of indigenous people in the United States since its creation in 1824. Fewer still have an opportunity to learn about the history of the Federal relationship with indigenous tribes that emerged with the very creation of United States, summarized briefly below.

  • 1775 – The Continental Congress created a Committee on Indian Affairs.
  • 1789 – The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8 defines the power of Congress “to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states.” Tribes were considered foreign nations at that point.
  • 1789 – Congress placed the responsibility for dealing with Tribes in the newly created War Department.
  • 1819 – Congress created the Civilization Fund, the first federal policy to affect the education of children, to provide grants to churches and private agencies to “civilize the Indian.” (Source: Idaho.gov)
  • 1824 – The Office of Indians Affairs was created in the War Department to oversee and carry out federal responsibilities for trade and treaty relations with Tribes.
  • 1849 – The Office of Indian Affairs, or BIA, was transferred to the Department of the Interior, responsible for overseeing federal lands and natural resources. The BIA assumed new responsibilities to administer the distribution of supplies to Tribes to address the disease and starvation that resulted from their removal and confinement on reservations.
  • 1867 – The Commissioner of Indian Services told Congress that the only way to effectively deal with Indians “was to separate Indian children completely from their tribes.” The era of missionary and federal Indian boarding schools gained more resources. (Source: Idaho.gov)
  • 1921 – As a result of the Snyder Act, all federal Indian services became the responsibility of the BIA. “Expenditures were authorized for health, education, social services, law enforcement, irrigation, and for the administration of the BIA.” (Sharon O’Brien, 1989, p. 273)
  • 1954 – BIA responsibilities for Indian health were transferred to Indian Health Services, located now in the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • 1958-1967 – The Indian Adoption Project, a partnership among the BIA, the Child Welfare League of America, and the U.S. Children’s Bureau, placed almost 400 Native American children from western states with Euro-American families, primarily in Midwestern or eastern states. (Source: University of Oregon)

The BIA website provides an overview of this history.

“Since its inception in 1824, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been both a witness to and a principal player in the relationship between the Federal Government and Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages. The BIA has changed dramatically over the past 185 years, evolving as Federal policies designed to subjugate and assimilate American Indians and Alaska Natives have changed to policies that promote Indian self-determination.

“For almost 200 years, dating back to the role it played in negotiating treaty agreements between the United States and tribes in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the BIA has embodied the trust and government-to-government relationships between the U.S. and the Federally recognized tribes. Over the years, the BIA has been involved in the implementation of Federal laws that have directly affected all Americans. The General Allotment Act of 1887 opened tribal lands west of the Mississippi to non-Indian settlers, the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted American Indians and Alaska Natives U.S. citizenship and the right to vote, and the New Deal and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 established modern tribal governments. The World War II period of relocation and the post-War termination era of the 1950s led to the activism of the 1960s and 1970s that saw the takeover of the BIA’s headquarters and resulted in the creation of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. The Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994 along with the Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act have fundamentally changed how the Federal Government and the tribes conduct business with each other.” (Source: BIA)

The current mission posted on the BIA website highlights important sentiments.

“The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ mission is to enhance the quality of life, to promote economic opportunity, and to carry out the responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.” (Source: BIA)

Both historically and at present, serious critiques of the BIA come from many sources (e.g.,  the American Indian Movement occupied BIA Headquarters in 1972). One of the most damning criticisms was penned by Felix Cohen, the lawyer and scholar whose work (1933-1947) cataloged and profoundly shaped Indian law and policy.

“Indian Bureau rhetoric about winding down its supervision of the tribes accompanied a vast expansion of its actual control and its payroll. ‘In long-range terms,’ wrote Cohen, ‘we find that between 1851 and 1951, a century in which the Indian Bureau kept talking about working itself out of a job and turning over responsibility to the Indians, congressional appropriations to Indian tribes decreased by approximately 80 percent, while appropriations to the Indian Bureau (chiefly for salaries) increased by approximately 53,000 percent.’” (Source: Indian County Today Media Network, Staff Reports, 9/6/06)

Bia-sit-in

Photo: 1970 National Indian Youth Council Protest. (By Denver Public Library – The Native American Experience)

Nonetheless, the BIA continues to play an important double-edged role as both a tool of continuing colonial oppression and as a constant reminder of “the trust and government-to-government relationships” between the U.S. and the 566 federally recognized tribes (BIA). The range of issues they address include:

  • Office of Indian Services – general assistance, Indian child welfare, tribal government, Indian self-determination, and reservation roads program.
  • Office of Justice Services – law enforcement, tribal courts, and detention facilities on federal Indian lands.
  • Office of Trust Services – management of trust lands, assets and resources.
  • Office of Field Operations – oversees 12 regional offices and 83 agencies that carry out the BIA mission at the tribal level. (BIA)

Staff like Theresa are a valuable resource for tribes. She has continued to provide a level of support and technical assistance that would not be available otherwise to the Ojibwe community I studied. Neither the county nor the state understood the importance of preserving tribal sovereignty and tribal cultures. Yet there are no guarantees that the staff person who replaces her when she retires, if she is replaced at all, will be as respectful of people, as committed to inter-tribal collaboration, or as supportive of tribal sovereignty.

 

Work Cited:

Sharon O’Brien (1989). American Indian tribal governments. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

 

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

Choosing Hope Isn’t Always Easy

Carol A. Hand

There are days when revisiting old stories gathered during my research on Ojibwe child welfare makes me feel like I’m descending into a dystopian world. Sometimes the feeling is intensified when I look out of my front window in winter.

IMG_0311

Photo: The View from My Window – January 17, 2016

I once again feel the weight of hopelessness that I felt when I first listened to stories about loss and suffering, and stories about the hopelessness of those hired as healers and helpers. I could walk away from that world, although the next worlds I encountered were not necessarily an improvement. Still, I had the option to leave while they remained.
Now I have the time to revisit those memories recorded in old fieldnotes and look for insights and solutions that I’m certain I missed. I struggle with how to explain the context that gives these stories meaning and significance. Take the issue of substance abuse. There are ingrained stereotypes about “drunken Indians” that are used as an excuse for continued colonial oppression. Here’s an excerpt from an earlier post that presents a more thoughtful analysis.

***

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. (Please refer to Endnote 1 for more information about the request to include this work in my writing.) 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.

WHAT [MY COMMUNITY] WOULD BE LIKE WITH NO ALCOHOL OR DRUGS

[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…

Endnotes:
1. The young man’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. (Hand, 1999/2015)

***

My role as a researcher in the community was to simply ask questions without challenging the reality of those who shared their responses. Sometimes that was difficult. Take for example the present interview I’m editing in the context of recent events in the community. (Please note that all names have been changed to protect identity, and all place names have been removed.)

***

Research Field Notes Thursday, November 8, 2001

It was a cloudy morning. It had rained during the night, and it was gray and chilly. I was still in pain and tired from my troubled sleep, but I really felt that I needed to keep my appointments, so I took another Tylenol and got ready for the day. I left early (8:40 a.m.) this morning for a scheduled interview with Karen Daley, the alcohol and drug treatment coordinator for the tribe. I was a few minutes early and waited patiently while she took care of some paper work. As I was waiting, I overheard a discussion about a death in the community last night – tribal programs would be closed on Friday as a result. When Karen was ready, she came and led me to her office.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, Karen. Can you tell me about child and family welfare issues from your perspective?”

Karen replied. “Dealing with drug and alcohol addiction is the beginning – we need to deal with them first. The substance is still controlling people. They will give up their families before their jobs – jobs provide the income they need to buy substances. Their job is the last thing to go, when they can’t make it.

“Suicide is linked to substance abuse. When sober, people may think about it, but don’t do it until they are high.

“Here, kids – teens – are supposed to be men. Their parents are getting drunk on binges for days, and they are locked out of the home for three days. Who’s monitoring them? Kids can’t control their environment. They don’t want to be pulled out of their homes. They take care of the family – they feel responsible for helping their parents with their substance abuse problems. Kids feel responsible for “keeping the secret” that everyone else knows about the abuse.

“A community member, 50 years old, died last night. One of her daughters held a funeral ceremony yesterday.

“An ICWA [Indian Child Welfare Act] client was in court yesterday trying to get her kids back. It would be great for the mom to get her kids back – she is doing well. I hope the court can make the right decision.

It seemed important to know more about Karen’s background, so I asked her when she began working for the tribe.

“I started part time in 99. Case managing is a big part of the job. I put in six billable hours per day in case management. The clients I see have a problem that is identified by social services, by court orders for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, or schools. Only one client is a self-referral. I was working with ICW trying to place kids when there was no ICWA worker. A list of Native American foster homes in the state would be helpful, and even in the surrounding states. Now we have to call every county, every tribe, trying to plug kids in the right place.

“In patient treatment for kids is easy. We send kids to a tribal treatment center in South Dakota. The regional IHS [Indian Health Service] staff has been very helpful. Now, we send adults to a tribal treatment center in the state – moms can bring up to three of their children and can stay with them. Women don’t have to go to treatment or leave early because of kids. The tribal treatment center helps arrange school and has on-site nurses. It is arranged like a college campus. Singles are separated from moms, and they receive treatment in the on-site out-patient center. They provide a continuum of care. The centers fax us reports weekly. It is easier to know where to pick up treatment when they come back.

“We are working on a new phone book of clinic and other providers – the environmental building, economic support, social services, domestic violence. It will help us integrate services or do wrap around. We will be better able to help the whole family with all of their needs. So much of the service provided by the system is shame-based. We are interested in finding ways to make people feel good – to succeed. In my last job, I was working on a pilot project with a health care provider in this part of the state.”

Karen shared copies of the assessment and service forms she developed to help identify needs and track follow-up and outcomes. She also shared a number of other materials, some AODA and some general service delivery.

At this point in the interview, I stopped taking notes. Karen began speaking of her own family’s history of substance abuse, as well as her own use in the past. She began talking about her mother’s recent death and her relationship with her siblings. She was very upset, and often in tears as she related the history. It seems that the death of the community member yesterday reawakened memories and the interview provided her with a safe environment to share her pain. I listened and comforted her as best I could.

She also spoke about a gathering she holds at her house, located on the river in a nearby town. She described it as “a Native American-like ceremony for healing.” She is not happy with her home because of a bothersome neighbor and doesn’t seem to want to stay here. She is from the southeastern part of the state and misses it.

She seemed genuinely relieved to have someone safe to talk to, and as we walked out at the end of the interview, she said she would like to get together for dinner some time.

I left feeling ambivalent about the non-Indian professionals who find their way to Native American communities. Sometimes, they are wounded and unhappy and seem to be looking for something to believe in, and people who are even more powerless that they can save.

Perhaps things will change as spring comes. I wonder if there is the possibility for this tribal community to develop a stable political environment and a clear and compelling future vision that brings community factions together to work toward a common purpose – the well-being of future generations. Yet, even this begins to sound like judgmental and empty rhetoric. I wish Karen well and know that her job is challenging.

***

It continues to trouble me when I encounter professionals who don’t transcend the narrow boundaries of their discipline to understand how their own life experiences affect the types of services they provide or the crucial influence of socio-cultural contexts on clients’ ability to benefit from what they provide. As I revisit this interview, what seems to be missing is an understanding of ecosystems theory, described in an earlier post.

***

The elegance of Uri Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) approach to human development rests in both its multidimensional complexity and its emphasis on the transactional and reciprocal nature of relations between people and their changing environments. As illustrated in figure 1 below, which somewhat oversimplifies Bronfenbrenner’s model, individuals are “nested” concentrically within a series of environmental relationships.

ecology of human development

Figure 1: The Ecology of Human Development

The “microsystem” includes those immediate aspects of the environment “that are most powerful in shaping the course of psychological growth”: “a pattern of activities, roles, and interpersonal relations experienced by the developing person in a given setting with particular physical and material characteristics” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 22). For infants, the primary microsystem is usually their home setting with primary caregivers, simple activities, and a limited set of roles. Development through childhood and beyond involves an increase in the number and complexity of roles, relations, and activities, as well as the addition of new microsystems, such as daycare, preschool, school, etc., in which a developing person is embedded. As individuals move into additional settings, linkages are created between microsystems, resulting in what Bronfenbrenner (1979, p. 25) refers to as “mesosystems,” or “a system of microsystems.”

While the developing individuals directly participate in both microsystems and mesosystems through their relationships with parents, teachers, and other significant persons, their development is indirectly influenced by systems outside their own experience. Parents, teachers, and other relatives are all embedded in a series of settings (for example, parents’ work, parents’ networks of friends, teachers’ unions, local school boards, etc.) that influence how they relate to the developing individuals. This indirect, external set of influences is labeled the “exosystem” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 25). All of these systems are embedded within the “macrosystem”, defined as “consistencies, in the form and content of lower-order systems (micro-, meso-, and exo-) that exist, or could exist, at the level of the subculture or the culture as a whole, along with any belief systems or ideology underlying such consistencies” (p. 26). Macrosystems are the blueprint, or the overarching cultural paradigm (Fleras & Elliott, 1992), which determines the content, structure, and goals of the lower level systems in which individuals are embedded.

Bronfenbrenner (1979, p. 26) notes that the macrosystems which exert influences on developing individuals “differ for various socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, and other subgroups, reflecting contrasting belief systems and lifestyles, which in turn help to perpetuate the ecological environments specific to each group.” Individuals not only sustain the blueprint, or ‘macrosystem’ in which they are embedded, but are also capable of modifying its content and structure.

Bronfenbrenner does not speak to the relations among macrosystems, nor does he note power differentials between competing “blueprints” which exist among different social classes or ethnic groups within or among nations. Power, in his conception, is located within a macrosystem and manifested in “roles” or “power settings.” At the level of roles, he hypothesizes that: “The greater the degree of power socially sanctioned for a given role, the greater the tendency for the role occupant to exercise and exploit the power and for those in a subordinate position to respond by increased submission, dependency, and lack of initiative” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 92). (Hand, 1999/2015)

***

Given the layers of connection that influence people’s beliefs and behaviors, I doubted that Karen’s interventions with individuals would ever successfully address an understandable, although unhealthy, coping mechanism that temporarily numbs pain in a fog of euphoric forgetfulness. The consequences of oppression and losses are palpable here – an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.  Of course, it is easier for professionals to “treat” individuals than it is to “heal” collective historical trauma and effectively resist ongoing colonial oppression that affects every person in the tribal community.

So today, I’ll continue to return to an earlier dystopian time. Even though the view from my window is similar to the one a few days ago, I can remember the view on a summer’s day.

DSC00937

Photo: The View from My Window – Summer 2015

The memory of creating gardens where little grew a few years ago helps me find hope. Transformation is possible – even in the places where we once saw only futility…

Works Cited:

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press.

Fleras, A. & Elliot, J. (1992). The ‘nations within’: aboriginal-state relations in Canada, the United States, and New Zealand. Toronto, Canada: Oxford University Press.

 

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

Social Sciences Research: To Count or To Listen?

Carol A. Hand

Once upon a time, I would sit all day running statistical analyses. These were among my least favorite jobs. Crosstabs, T-Tests, ANOVAs, and occasionally, Chi-Square Tests. One didn’t really need to understand why these statistical procedures were supposedly trustworthy explanations and predictors of people’s behavior. One was merely programmed to believe that these were valid and reliable sources of information about groups of people based on self-reported, yes/no, forced choice answers to questionnaires.

One job in particular was noteworthy. My job was to construct, run, and interpret statistical analyses to determine the interaction of stressors and health for older men and women who were caring for adult children with disabilities. It was someone else’s job to enter the data correctly. I was told by the project director not to try to speak to the data entry expert face-to-face because he spoke Korean and struggled with English. “Send him emails if you need something.”

I tried this approach, but he would always ask to meet with me so I could explain my confusing emails. We became friends in the process and I learned more about his life, studies and culture. He valued the chance to practice speaking English. Emails were a poor and isolating substitute.

Of course, the data I needed were always quickly and impeccably entered. Still, it was such a boring job. After an hour or two of staring at the computer screen and data printouts, I snuck into the room where the seldom viewed narrative data were stored. These were hand-recorded replies of “research subjects” to the question, “Is there anything else you would like to add?” I discovered a fascinating (and troubling) project oversight. More than 75 percent of the study participants (calculated in my head) had indicated that occasional respite from continual caregiving responsibilities would significantly improve the quality of their lives.

The project director wasn’t pleased when I asked her if we had followed up on this information. It appeared to be a policy we should advocate at the state level. We had research data to support the need and cost-effective benefits for such a policy.

Research should, after all, be used to improve people’s lives, right? Not just to count and catalog their deficits and misery?

businessman-research-cartoon_23-2147508086

Image: Research

Yet this project wasn’t the most distressing. That one would come later. It was a project that was supposedly measuring the effectiveness of a particular intervention to improve the academic performance of Native American elementary school students. The researchers who directed the project were more concerned with fancy research methods than with the intrusiveness and cultural dissonance of those methods in tribal contexts.

When those methods failed to produce evidence of significant improvements in grades and attendance, project directors blamed Native American families, schools, and cultures. Unethical? Yes, but their draft conclusions were subjected to an elegantly argued rebuttal that pointed out the absurdity of the methods. Observers and beeping computers in a room with third graders, questionnaires families refused to complete for a variety of reasons, and student performance forms filled out by too many substitute teachers who didn’t even know the names of students let alone how they performed in class.

Most alarming, however, was the failure to actually think about the data that were collected in human terms. Reviewing and synthesizing the data we did have with the narrative comments, I noticed one young boy whose condition was serious. Every quantitative measure suggested he was severely disturbed and clearly in need of help. The narrative comments, again seldom read, reported violent behavior at home and school and mentioned the repeated threats he had voiced to harm himself and others. I asked my colleagues and the project director what we planned to do about this. Didn’t we have ethical obligations to make sure the young boy accessed the help he so obviously needed? The idea had never occurred to them before that researchers had obligations to the people they studied.

Even though these experiences soured me on quantitative research, the qualitative approach I chose for my dissertation study, critical ethnography, wasn’t much of an improvement. I had to listen to troubling stories and witness oppressive situations and conditions as a somewhat aloof objective observer. I could convince myself to some degree that it did help those who chose to share their experiences with an empathetic, nonjudgmental listener. I wouldn’t count or catalog their suffering. I would privilege their words and perspectives.

Yesterday, I discovered one of the flaws inherent in this approach. As I reread and edited an interview with the tribal child welfare director in the community I was studying, I came across the list of child welfare cases she read off to me. The list remained buried in my fieldnotes. Yesterday, I wondered what value the information added in terms of the overall purpose of a book I’m writing about the study. I wondered if I should just delete it, even though there were no names or identifying details. Just to be sure, I decided to reduce the list to numbers – how many children were in one of five different intervention categories:

1. returned home,
2. placed in community kinship care with Ojibwe relatives,
3. placed in off-reservation non-Indian foster care homes,
4. placed in an off-reservation non-Indian residential treatment facility, or
5. adopted or in the adoption process by an off-reservation non-Indian family.

I decided to see if I could figure out how to use Microsoft Excel to do a simple calculation. I was alarmed that I hadn’t thought to do this before when I looked at the results. Despite the intention of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 to end the outflow of Native American children from their communities, an ongoing process of cultural genocide, more than 40 percent of the child welfare placements were in non-Native settings outside of the tribal community. The colorful Excel pie-chart below illustrates the magnitude of loss.

we remember chart

we remember chart legend

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson learned. Quantitative approaches do sometimes have merit. Stories, when backed up by numbers, may be far more effective advocacy tools than either approach alone. So the list will stay for now, accompanied by a new graphic.

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.