Tag Archives: Ojibwe people

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.

 

 

Reflections about Roots and Resistance

Carol A. Hand

I want to thank Miriam for her though-provoking reflection about the need for resistance in these times. Her example of the Menominee Tribe’s successful resistance to the policy of tribal termination is inspiring. Her reflection sparked my memories about the Menominee Nation, referred to as  “The Forest Keepers,” and how carefully they have tended their forest. It’s one of the oldest sustainable-yield forests in the U.S.

With the advent of casinos and gaming resources, the Menominee Tribe invested in their infrastructure, expanding health and educational services. Many Tribal members, who had been forced to move away from their community because there were few jobs, returned. The tribe was faced with a conundrum. There wasn’t enough land or housing to accommodate the influx. Another community would probably have cut down the forest to create new housing developments. Instead, the Menominee Tribe used their resources to buy farmland around the reservation that had already been clear cut. Their wise stewardship is visible in satellite images like the one below.

Menominee Tribe Reservation, WI - Satellite image
Menominee Tribe Reservation, WI – Satellite image

According to Alan Caldwell, director of the Menominee Cultural Institute,

“the forest provides the Menominee people with a link to their storied past and to the old ways that have allowed them to endure through even the most difficult of times. It provides old medicines, silence, and hidden places to conduct ancient ceremonies.” (Ron Seely, Wisconsin State Journal, October 05, 2003)

Miriam’s reflections also inspired me to think critically about my own views about resistance from a different cultural perspective. Ojibwe history and people have taught me a lot about how to survive the challenges of changing times, reminding me again of the metaphor of trees. Knowing our roots becomes crucial for many reasons. Although unseen, roots provide nourishment and grounding. Making sure our roots are healthy helps us withstand storms.

Manidoo-giizhikens, or Little Cedar Spirit Tree - Grand Portage, MN
Manidoo-giizhikens, or Little Cedar Spirit Tree – Grand Portage, MN

 

These are some of the lessons I learned from studying and reflecting about my Ojibwe roots.

***

“Be moderate in all things; watch, listen, and consider, your deeds will be prudent.”
(Midewewin Code, the Ojibwe “Path of Life,” Basil Johnston, 1976, p. 93)

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

“When we were finished, we brought the posts to the farmer and helped him repair the fence. I apologized for taking the posts. Ogema persuaded the farmer not to report me since I realized what I had done was wrong and worked hard to make up for my mistake. The farmer agreed. After that, Ogema knew how many families in the village were cold, so from then on he made sure that the community worked together so there was enough wood for everyone in the village.” (Ojibwe Elder, September 10, 2001)

This account of a life-changing formative experience for an Ojibwe boy illustrates the enduring legacy of a culture which valued children highly and had developed sophisticated techniques for ensuring their education and well-being (Broker, 1983; Johnston, 1982). Unlike most of the children of his generation, the boy in this account was able to remain with his family. Others his age were abducted as they walked along the village road by Bureau of Indian Affairs agents or missionaries and driven more than one hundred miles away to institutions euphemistically referred to as “Indian boarding schools” (Prucha, 1979; Johnston, 1989; Adams, 1995; Szasz, 1999; Child, 2000). Or, they were taken from their families by agents and sent off to live with Euro-American farm families to help with farm chores: they were sent to learn the skills of farmers, the value of private property ownership, and the morality of hard work. The lessons he learned from Ogema, from his family, and from his culture during his formative years during his childhood influenced his life and the life of his Ojibwe community profoundly.

The story reveals pivotal values: respect for other people and their lifeways, no matter how different, and the delicate arts of building cross-cultural relations and negotiating effectively with the larger world that surrounds the Ojibwe community. These lessons, grounded in Ojibwe values, have remained important throughout the lifetime of the elder who shared his story.

This account may not appear at first to be related to the topic of resistance to colonial oppression and Euro-American hegemony. However, differing cosmologies, and the values, ideologies, ethics, and behaviors which emanate from them are at the heart of ensuring the survival of tribal cultures.

Ojibwe children were embedded within everyday lives of the community. By watching adults, listening to stories told by elders, and participating in rites of passage and ceremonies, they learned to live according to the ethics of pimadaziwin (the good life) for the sake of higher ideals and the survival of the people (Hallowell, 1967; Kohl, 1985).
The central core of pimadaziwin was the “doctrine of original sanctity” (Ross, 1992, p. 165). Children were viewed as sacred gifts bestowed on parents and the community as a whole by the Creator. All people were seen as good. Each had their own connection to the Creator and their own specific path to follow to assure not only their own well-being but to ensure the survival of their community and the Ojibwe people overall. There are a number of ethical principles for achieving and maintaining pimadaziwin: (1) the ethic of non-interference; (2) the ethic of conservation; (3) the ethic of expecting excellence; and (4) the ethic of acting when the time is right (Ross, 1992).

The ethic of non-interference means that it was considered an ethical breach for Ojibwe people to correct, criticize, control, or coerce others, including children (Ross, 1992; Densmore, 1979). Physical discipline as a means of socializing children was very rare (Densmore, 1979; Hilger, 1992). Teaching children knowledge, skills, and appropriate behavior was done primarily through stories and example. Humor was sometimes used to curb troubling behaviors, and in cases involving serious risks, scaring stories were sometimes used (e.g., “the owl is going to get you if you don’t stop”). As the opening story illustrates, Ogema offered the youth an alternative set of actions which helped him make restitution for his behavior and heal relationships. It also protected him from police intervention. The youth was not coerced to go with Ogema even though his transgression – stealing someone else’s property – was contrary to pimadaziwin, Ogema didn’t shame or criticize him. Instead, he was taught a new skill, developed self-confidence, gained respect for others, and clearly began to understand the connection between his actions and the welfare of the community as a while. Six decades after the incident, the lessons of Ojibwe “morality” remain important to the elder.

The ethic of conservation makes it inappropriate to show anger of sorrow, or to talk about such feelings in an open or confrontational manner (Ross, 1992; Hallowell, 1967). This was a highly evolved mechanism for building and preserving congenial relationships in small, closely-knit communities. The ethic encouraged withdrawal from conflict and mediated against angry, violent outbursts. Careful deliberation and balance in all actions, even war, were regarded highly by the Ojibwe (Hallowell, 1967). Again, Ogema’s strategy was carefully crafted. Ogema was able to present an alternative to an errant youth in a way that made the youth feel it was his own choice. Ogema didn’t yell at the youth or tell him he was wrong. And he didn’t tell the youth that all “white farmers” were invaders whose property should be confiscated whenever possible. Nor did Ogema yell at the farmer or show his fear of police involvement and all that might mean for the youth.

The ethic of expecting excellence, a requirement for survival in a challenging environment, made the oral expression of praise or gratitude superfluous and inappropriate: excellence is what one is expected to achieve. One’s survival and the survival of the Ojibwe people depend on it (Ross, 1992). Affection and approval flowed, rather, from every day interaction (Densmore, 1979). Ogema showed his concern and affection by seeking the youth out and caring enough to work with him to restore balanced relationships. Ogema chose cedar for the new posts, a wood that had proven resistant to decay in the wetland home of the Ojibwe. He taught the youth how to work with cedar, but didn’t praise the youth for his cooperation, hard work, or skill. Ogema did work alongside the youth until the job was completed and the conflict resolved, a clear indication of his positive regard and commitment.

The ethic of acting when the time is right requires keen observational skills and complex reasoning which considers actions from the perspective of larger social, environmental, and temporal contexts (Ross, 1992). Ogema’s actions reflect an understanding of both the physical environment and the prevailing social context. He knew the BIA would use any excuse as a reason to round up children to meet boarding school quotas (Guthrie, 2001). His intervention was also carefully crafted to minimize the anger and retaliation by the farmer – he approached the youth as soon as he heard about the mischief and made sure they repaired the fence before the police were called. Building peaceful relations with the surrounding Euro-American residents also built a buffer zone around the community as well as a collection of allies who sided with the Ojibwe in their dealings with the state or federal government.

As in any society, transgressions, disputes, and failures in caregiving emerged among Ojibwe people. The goals and methods for resolving differences, however, flow from this constellation of principles.

The goals of addressing conflict were ultimately to restore harmony, to help an “offender” re-establish pimadaziwin, to restore healthy relationships with those he or she has harmed, and to reintegrate the offender into the community. Survival necessitated healing disputes and assuring that all members contributed in positive ways to the group as a whole (Ross, 1992).

(Edited excerpts drawn from a number of essays I have written in the past.)

***

In these challenging times, it was helpful for me to revisit these ethical roots and once again reflect on pimadaziwin. It helped me remember that effective resistance requires deep and sturdy rootedness guided by thoughtful reflection and prudence.

Of course, I’m merely human. In times of conflict, I try to remember these ethics as I choose paths of resistance. Supportive networks like those of trees in the Menominee forest, with healthy root systems intertwined, add to our collective ability to stand strong. By making sure our community is healthy beneath the surface of things, we are better able to meet challenges in resilient, creative, constructive ways. Remembering our roots, nurturing each other, reflecting on the merits of different courses of action, and acting when the time is right seem to me to be the wisest long range strategies for survival.

The goal that inspires me to act is the possibility of building bridges of understanding and healing rather than reifing walls of conflict and division. This path, demonstrated by Ogema’s example, has enabled the Ojibwe people and many other oppressed groups to survive despite the power of destructive storms.

“Manido Gizhigans,” “Spirit Little Cedar Tree.” - Grand Portage, MN Credit: CBS
“Manido Gizhigans,” “Spirit Little Cedar Tree.” – Grand Portage, MN
Credit: CBS

 

References:

Adams, D. W. (1995). Education for extinction: American Indians and the boarding school experience, 1875-1928. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press.

Broker, I. (1983). Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway narrative. St. Paul, MN: Minnesoata Historic Society Press.

Child, B. J. (2000) Boarding school seasons: American Indian families, 1900-1940. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Densmore, F. (1979). Chippewa customs. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press. (original work published in 1929)

Guthrie, M. (2001). Chronology of Lac du Flambeau Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. Lac du Flambeau, WI: Lac du Flambeau Tribal Preservation Office.

Hallowell, A. I. (1967). Culture and experience. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. (original work published in 1955)

Hilger, Sr. I. (1992) Chippewa childlife and its cultural background. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press. (original work published in 1951).

Johnston, B. (1976). Ojibway heritage. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Johnston, B. (1982). Ojibwe ceremonies. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Kohl, J. G. (1985). Kichi-Gami: Life among the Lake Superior Ojibwe. (L. Wraxall, Trans.) St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press. (original work published in 1860)

Prucha, F. P. (1971). The churches and the Indian schools, 1888-1912. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Ross, R. (1992). Dancing with a ghost: Exploring Indian reality. Markham, ON, Canada: Octopus Publishing Group.

Szasz, M. C. (1999). Education and the American Indian: The road to self-determination since 1928, 3rd edition (revised and enlarged). Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

A Message from November Wind

Carol A. Hand

The si-si-gwa-d speaks on a drear rainy day
warning that the first winter storm is coming our way
Dark times ahead will test each spirit
I know many others can sense this, and fear it

The winds remind us we are all peoples of one earth
sharing one race, human, from birth
Though we view different skies
we can all learn to distinguish truth from lies

If we listen with open hearts and remember, we’ll realize

kindness, compassion, love and joy are all real
Reaching across differences will help us all heal
for ourselves, all life, and our blessed earth home
and stand together, each one centered in Nature,

not quite alone

***

Drawing by Carol A. Hand
Drawing by Carol A. Hand

***

Note:

Ignacia Broker (1983, p. 135) writes that “si-si-gwa-d” is “the sound trees make” (Broker, 1983, p. 135).

“The trees are the glory of Gitchi Manito [Great Spirit]. The tress, for as long as they shall stand, will give shelter and life to the Anisinabe [Person] and the Animal brothers. They are a gift. As long as the Ojibway are beneath, the trees will murmur with contentment. When the Ojibway and the Animal Brothers are gone, the forest will weep and this will be reflected in the sound of the si-si-gwa-d. My grandmother told me this is so, and her grandmother told her. When the forest weeps, the Anishinabe who listen will look back at the years. In each generation there will be a person who will hear the si-si-gwa-d, who will listen and remember and pass it on to children. Remembering our past and acting accordingly will ensure that we, the Ojibway, will always people the earth. The trees have patience and so they have stood and seen many generations of Ojibway. Yet there will be more, and yet will they see more.” (Broker, 1983, pp. 32-33)

It is foretold that there is hope for all of us if we learn to respect each other, live in peace, and collectively take care of the sacred earth we all share.

Work Cited:

Ignacia Broker (1983). Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway narrative. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

***

 

Reflections: Tuesday, May 31, 2016 – The Writer Behind the Words

Carol A. Hand

When I began writing about my experiences and journey as a researcher, I had no intentions of telling my story. Yet as I reread the chapter about Nine-Eleven this morning, it became clear that something crucial was missing – the person behind the words. How else would those who are reading this now understand why, at the turn of the twenty-first century, I needed to start a generator to power a computer? But where do I begin the story? What do others really need to know about who I am and why I’m here? My story, too, illustrates some of the consequences of colonialism and Ojibwe child removal.

I remember the day when I first fell in love with the place in the northwoods where I was living on September 11, 2001. It was a crisp, sunny November afternoon in 1991. The golden glow of the autumn leaves and marsh grasses I viewed from the deck of a simple cabin in the woods convinced me this was where I wanted to live. I didn’t even stop to consider what it meant to live down a winding dirt road, bordered by forests and wetlands, without electricity. But I did learn thanks to the help of a partner who followed me there.

The cottage was built on land ceded by the Ojibwe in the 1800s. It was just outside the boundary of the reservation created by a series of treaties between the Ojibwe and the United States government. It’s the reservation where my mother was born and raised before and after she spent precious formative years in a Catholic Indian boarding school. It’s where I learned what it meant to live without electricity. I had no idea how I would be able to get in and out during the winter, especially with my car, but I did have my unstylish, warm winter boots (and later, snowshoes to attach to them.)

sorel boots

Living in a forest accessible only through a series of country roads, some of which were unpaved, presented both benefits and challenges. I had an opportunity to witness nature up close – the bear, deer, beaver, otters, rabbits and porcupine. I heard the powerful rhythmic pounding of eagles’ wings as they flew just over my head, the hauntingly lovely song of the loon echoing over still waters, and the howls of coyotes in the quiet winter night.

amik lake

Winter was my favorite time, even though it was often cold and snowy, and even though it meant a mile hike to my car when I had to make the trip to some distant city to go to work, attend class or travel for a speaking engagement or consulting job. The hike was easier in the winter. The path through the snow was easy to follow, even at night, and the mosquitoes, sand flies, deer flies, horse flies and ticks were nowhere to be seen as they bided their time for the spring thaw. Spring – mud season – also meant hiking. But I was younger then and used to the grueling physical labor living in the woods required.

I remember the quiet, starry winter nights, and the sanctuary where my grandson spent many of his childhood days. Those were simpler days of hiking, hauling wood, and clearing the beaver-culled trees from the road.

Now, I live in an urban neighborhood where plumes of toxic exhaust billow from factories, sometimes blocking the sunlight on the few winter days without clouds. I feel the loss of times past. Times before the tragedy of Nine-Eleven. And not just the relatively recent past, but the past of my ancestors also. Strange though it may sound, as deep as the grief of those lost times often is for me to face, it’s what motivates me to do what I can to touch people’s hearts for the sake of this wondrous earth and future generations. It’s why I undertook this research. It’s why I am writing now.

***

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.

Deciphering Meaning

Carol A. Hand

This morning, I reluctantly emerged from a hypnagogic state. I wanted to remember my strange dream. It was laden with meaning that I knew would escape me as soon as I awoke fully. Yet the early morning sun streaming through the eastern window and singing parakeets called. It was time to get up. Still, I lingered a few moments and then scribbled what I could remember in the margins of the cryptogram puzzle book by my bedside – the only paper available.

I saw a word floating in the air of my dream – shibboleth. It seemed important, but it’s not a word I ever remember using. I’m sure I’ve read it and looked it up more than once. I’ve probably written it many times before in the margins of some of the obscure texts I was trying to decipher. I have a habit of sitting with my unabridged dictionary on my lap at such times, scribbling words and definitions in the margins of my texts. Sometimes, it’s easier for me to keep writing definitions than it is to find the ones I’ve already written many times.

Does this word offer a clue to help me continue working out a tricky transition in the book about Ojibwe child welfare I’m working on?

Shibboleth – (noun shib·bo·leth \ˈshi-bə-ləth also -ˌleth\) – an old idea, opinion, or saying that is commonly believed and repeated but that may be seen as old-fashioned or untrue; a word of a way of speaking or behaving which shows that a person belongs to a particular group. (Merriam-Webster.com)

***

A shibboleth, in its original signification and in a meaning it still bears today, is a word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from those of outgroups. Within the mindset of the ingroup, a connotation or value judgment of correct/incorrect or superior/inferior can be ascribed to the two variants.

In contemporary usage the word has acquired an extended meaning which is often cited first (and sometimes even exclusively) in shorter dictionaries, namely, an old belief or saying which is cited repetitively or unreflectively but which is, or may be, fallacious or untrue… (Wikipedia)

What does the word shibboleth imply about the liminal space between the Ojibwe and Euro-American settler cultures I studied years ago and continue to ponder today? Certainly the past continues to influence the present.

“I understand what you want . . . from the few words I have heard you speak,” said Chief Flat Mouth of the Pillager Band of Ojibwe to a group of U.S. government officials in 1855. “You want land.” (National Endowment for the Humanities)

Ojibwe US 1855 meeting11_12_statements6

Photo: President Andrew Johnson and American Indian delegates – 1867. (NEH)

I honestly don’t know what to make of a dream where the word shimmered in the air just as I awoke. The notes I scribbled in the margins of my cryptogram puzzle book don’t seem to offer much.

All people create separate worlds in the past where they can revisit. [I think this is what I was doing in my dream.] Some get caught there, and others are stuck halfway in-between. The worlds we create can tell us a lot about who we are and the things that matter most to us.

I couldn’t even remember how to spell shibboleth when I awoke, so I gave it my best guess and Google did the rest. Honestly, this is something I will need to think about more. In the meantime, the final cryptogram puzzle I solved before going to sleep last night reminds me of one of the pressing tasks I need to do today.

HDF    DPMTFIH    HDLVB    LI    YMLHLVB    P    MFXKRRFVTPHLKV    ZKM    IKRFKVF YF    UVKY.   (ULN    DCSSPMT)

I welcome any thoughts about the meaning of shibboleth, or solutions for the cryptogram puzzle. (I do remember one of my virtual friends hates word puzzles. I hope he doesn’t feel obligated to comment, although I do welcome his thoughts about the meaning of shibboleth. 🙂 )

 

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.

Ceremony

Carol A. Hand

A ceremony to send a loving spirit home
Sharing food, tears, and laughter
The sacred smell of sage
Singers, the heartbeat of the drum
Reminders that we are all relatives
All members of one race – human
There is no word for goodbye in our language
We always say “I’ll see you later

Be good to the children – treat them well
May you all have safe travels home

 

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.

Possibilities for Building Connections

Carol A. Hand

Many of the stories I was privileged to hear during my research years ago left me feeling sad. Not all of them were stories about children who were taken away from their families and community and placed in abusive situations. Not all of them were stories told by Ojibwe people. I just revisited two of the stories shared by Euro-American community members and find myself pondering why they evoke such a sense of sadness, of possibilities lost.

As someone who has studied gerontology and Native American issues, I’ve had an opportunity to see the importance of history and context as a foundation for understanding the present. This particular study reinforced another insight about storytelling and the powerful role it can play in building connections among people and to places.

[Please note: The names of people have all been changed in the following accounts to protect identity, and the names of states and towns have been removed. These stories could come from any of the states where Ojibwe reservations are located.]

jigsaw 1

Image: Microsoft Word Clip Art

***

Research Field Notes Thursday, October 25, 2001

I left the tribal elders’ center about 4:30 p.m., and headed back to my motel room. After eating, I went to the small gas station next door to ask directions. I had an appointment to talk with Ward Wright, a respected Euro-American county resident. He was among the community residents who were highly recommended by the librarians at the local technical college. Mr. Wright had graciously agreed to meet with me at his house at 7 o’clock this evening.

It was a dark, windy, snowy night, making it difficult to find Ward’s house as I drove along the road that wound along the shore of the lake.

I noticed a house on the west side of the road on top of a hill, with bright light radiating from the wall of windows along the front. I drove up the steep driveway hoping it was the right house. A tall, athletic-looking man was visible through the windows. As I walked toward the house, buffeted by strong winds, he motioned me to a door on the back porch. I entered the porch, and then into the bright kitchen.

After introductions, Mr. Wright asked me where I would like to sit. I suggested that we sit wherever he felt most comfortable, so he led me to the table in the dining room/living room. It was a large open room with a two-story cathedral ceiling, a stone fireplace, and an upstairs loft. Mr. Wright said that he had built the house, and pointed out the oak floor he and his son had just put into the kitchen, the dark cherry ceiling in the kitchen, and the sky lights over the kitchen table. He said that he had once worked in the lumber industry, and processed all of the materials himself.

On the table were boxes with old photos and articles from the border town’s past. He began telling me how the “Kintucks” were the primary non-Indian settlers in the area. He asked if I knew anything about “Melungeons,” and when I said no, he explained.
“In the 1500’s, the Portuguese landed in North Carolina, and some were left there. They intermarried with the Cherokees, called Melungeons, and over time became more Cherokee than Portuguese. My great-great grandmother was Melungeon.”

According to Wikipedia, “Melungeon … is a term traditionally applied to one of numerous ‘tri-racial isolate’ groups of the Southeastern United States…. Tri-racial describes populations thought to be of mixed European, African and Native American ancestry. Although there is no consensus on how many such groups exist, estimates range as high as 200. Melungeons were often referred to by other settlers as of Portuguese or Native American origin.” (Hyperlinks and footnotes have been removed, see original at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melungeon.) Interesting that Mr. Wright didn’t mention African ancestry as part of this heritage.

“The Potawatomies lived in Michigan, and in Chicog, the ‘land of stinking waters.’ The Sioux and Ojibwe fought here for control of the rice beds, and when the Ojibwe won, the Sioux moved out of the area.

“During the civil war, the US feared that the British would recruit Native people to use the conflict as an opportunity to attack US forces. The US built a military road from Fort Howard in Green Bay to Fort Wilkins on the tip of the Kewanaw peninsula in upper Michigan. The Canadians supported the south and were interested in the copper in the area.

“The oldest house in the county is in the tribal community. [It is the building the elders have proposed to renovate.]

“In the 1860’s this was a hard wood area, not pine. In 1864, the area was surveyed and pronounced as unredeemable. There were Indian huts and a French trading post. It is one of the latest areas in the state to be settled because it was so rugged. A stagecoach ran twice a week from a community on a major road to the southwest of here to the first town in the area. The trails were so bad, people often walked beside the stage.

“In 1892 the Northwestern railroad first came to the area from Chicago. It was a forested area at that time, not farm land, so the tracks zigzagged between the hills. This town was named after one of the men who worked for the railroad and settled here. At that time the State gave every other section of land to the railroad.

“One of the major lumber companies that harvested timber in this area had their corporate offices in Kentucky, in an area where they made moonshine. The largest feud in the US occurred in Kentucky between two families. My grandfather was from one of the families. He originally came here to escape the aftermath of feud killings. Fifty-two people were killed in the feuds. This is why my ancestors came here.

“’Kintucks’ were outdoorsmen: they could make it on the land and the area here is a lot like the land they knew. They lived off the land like the Native peoples, and did almost as well. My grandfather got busted for making moonshine. During the depression, people made big money on moonshine, which they ‘ran to Chicago.’ The feds ‘followed the sugar trail’ to catch the moonshine makers. The Kintucks and the Native Americans have lived together harmoniously. They could hunt, trap, fish.”

Mr. Wright showed me a number of photos, old articles, and booklets on the history of the area. Among the resources were an article from a major newspaper that described history of the area, and two booklets that are available at a store in town.

“Am I telling you the kind of things you wanted to hear, Agnes?”

“Yes Mr. Wright, these are fascinating stories about the history here. I wonder if you could also tell me more about the relationship between the community and the tribe and whether you’ve noticed any cultural differences that have relevance for children and child welfare.”

“I was the principal of the school in the tribal community for three years, when the elementary school was closed. I served as principal for the border town elementary school for more than 30 years. Of the seven guys who were in my cohort who were principals or in high stress jobs, four are dead and two had strokes. This is why I retired from a job I loved.

“I was born in a one-room log house close to the Ojibwe reservation. I was logging by the age of 12. I learned to hunt and I went to school with many of the kids from the Ojibwe community.”

He told a story of how he went on to become a teacher. When he was about 19 or 20, he was working at a factory in in a large central city. He would set his alarm for 2 a.m. every day and drive to work and come home. Some of his friends were visiting, and told him they were going down to begin their semester at the normal school in a city about 150 miles away the next day and they invited him to come with them. He told them he couldn’t: he had to go to work. His mother told the friends to stop by on their way anyway. When he awoke, it was 7 a.m., and his friends arrived shortly after, so he decided to go with him. His mother had turned off his alarm. It changed his life. He did enroll, and went on to the university in another city close to the school where his friends were enrolled.

“The Ojibwe tribe here has gone up and down. The casino has been good, it has increased ‘self-pride.’ People had a job and money, and they were generous. A low was the spearing rights controversy. Everyone has accepted the situation now.

“The 1960’s were a time of downswing with the VISTA [Volunteers in Service to America] program. I was asked by a VISTA worker when I was in DC how they could help tribes. My response was that tribes needed to help themselves. The VISTA program was a hand-out program.

“There are many cultural positives. There are differences in how they discipline kids, or worry about tomorrow. Homework may not be as important, or worry about education when they turn 20. They are very generous. They are very caring over kids. They love their kids as much as or more than white parents, but sometimes other things get in the way. They are more caring for grandkids, and uncles and aunties are often responsible for kids. Everyone takes part in raising kids.

“The negatives are not really different than those other populations face. Alcohol is a problem when it becomes a priority. It may lead to neglect. To be needed and wanted is a big thing for the ladies – to have a guy takes priority in life. If one relationship ends, a new one is started instantly.

“Over the years, the system has taken away self-pride. They are very giving people – a great positive. Ogema had great ability to bring Kintucks and Native Americans together. He filled community needs. He commanded respect and carried more responsibility than anyone else since. He was fair, generous, honest, forth-right. He was a tall man, and when he walked into a room, he had a commanding presence. After Ogema died, there was not a lot of leadership in the community. I was in school with Ogema. One of his descendants had some of this presence and leadership ability, but he got into trouble.

“Native Americans lose a lot of kids in adolescence. There was a straight-A student whose dad died. She started partying, and never reached her potential. Native American youth are so talented. They have so much athletic ability. It’s almost as if they don’t want to excel too much sometimes – they sabotage themselves. Some of the best Native American athletes have parental background. It seems to make a difference. Kids from one-parent families seem to get lost.

“The Ojibwe are friendlier than other tribes, and the non-Indian community is more accepting of the Ojibwe than others. Ojibwe people are very generous, giving, outgoing, more trusting. Other tribes stick to themselves.

“Per capita has had some negative consequences for tribes that do well with gaming. Now, a lot of teens are killed as a result of accidents. They can afford to buy cars, and replace them repeatedly if they are wrecked.

“Native Americans represent 25% of the population in the lower grades, but adolescence is hard on Native American kids. They do fine in grade school but get lost in middle-school (ages 13-15). Most Native American parents want their kids to do better than they did when they we in school.

“Social services has changed a lot. Directors have changed a lot, and there is high turnover. Allen James was raised here. His mother was raised on a farm near here, so he grew into the culture. The social services department is more stable now that he’s there as director. Allen knows the kids and the community and is pretty good to work with – he’s one of the better ones. He always has time for people, and is compassionate. There is a problem trying to find families that are willing to take on another person’s kids. ‘Kids are faithful mirrors.’”

This is a statement Mr. Wright repeated frequently to emphasize the impact of parents on how their children behave and ultimately turn out.

As we were talking, the wind grew stronger, propelling snow against the windows that lined the front of the house that overlooked the lake. The lights began to flicker and I realized that I was very cold – more from fatigue than from the room temperature. It seemed wise to end our meeting because it was late (after 9 p.m.) and the weather was deteriorating.

As I drove, I thought about the interview. It had been intense and uncomfortable. Mr. Wright talked about many things: his travels and hunting; his wife’s hunting; his philosophies on a fulfilling life. He had prepared for the interview by bringing boxes from his basement. He scheduled the interview when his wife was out: she went to a play in the small city nearby. He also spoke of his grandchildren. His granddaughter is engaged to an Ojibwe tribal member. It seemed he used this to emphasize his lack of prejudice toward Ojibwe people. He appears to be a man who is used to being in a position of authority, and using the position to help kids feel good about themselves and succeed.

The snow covered the road in places, but I made it back to my room, very tired. Too tired to type notes, I simply curled up under the blankets and slept.

***

Research Field Notes Monday, October 29, 2001

I packed quickly on this sunny day, and headed for my motel and then, on to my interview with Elizabeth Garrett in a nearby town.

When I arrived in the small town, I turned on the road by the high school, the directions I was given at the gas station in town, but I couldn’t find the elders’ apartment complex. After circling the block several times, I decided to ask some of the students who were playing in the field behind the school. Their directions got me to the building just a few blocks away.

The complex of two apartment buildings was surrounded by single family homes. The two buildings were well-kept and appeared to be of fairly recent construction. As I entered the building, I noticed a prominent sign which read: “Absolutely no children are allowed to run in the hallways.” It struck me as a profound contrast to the tribal elder’s center where children were ever-present – running, laughing, sitting in the laps of mothers or elders and often the center of attention.

Elizabeth Garrett was initially contacted by Fiona, the Benefit Specialist for the County Aging Department. Fiona had told her that I was interested in the history of the county. I wasn’t sure that this interview would be relevant, but I went out of courtesy.

Mrs. Garrett’s apartment was on the first floor of the building. I knocked, and she invited me in. As I entered, I noticed her mail piled around a corner chair closest to the door and window. She took my coat and hung it in the closet. I noticed that she was stooped over and her movements seemed to be painful. I sat in the chair nearer to the kitchenette area. She handed me a booklet that had been written about the history of the town done by the local copy shop, and a copy of her 1933 high school yearbook. The booklet included an interview with Mrs. Garrett, and I quickly scanned the summary.

Reflection December 23, 2015

As I reread this portion of my interview with Mrs. Garrett, I tried to remember when I first met Ken Laurent, the owner of the local copy shop and author of the booklet that included Mrs. Garrett’s old interview. But I couldn’t remember even though Ken would become such a crucial source of information and support for me in the future. I’m eager to revisit those notes. For now, though, it’s important for me to stick to my original plan. To follow the history of this study to see how I changed because of the people who shared their stories with me.

Research Field Notes Monday, October 29, 2001 (continued)

I also leafed carefully through the year book. The sepia-colored paper cover was brittle with age. The headings were done in hand calligraphy, with hand-drawn illustrations, no photos or typed comments on students. The copy was mimeographed. As I looked through the booklets, Mrs. Garrett continued to sort through her mail. When she was done, she began telling stories.

“In 1895, my grandfather walked the area and estimated the lumber. His wife came two years later when the railroad went through. In 1928, we lived in another Great Lakes’ state. My step-father and mother came to the town by train to visit.

“Cars went 25 miles an hour in those days, and the roads were sandy and had big holes. Farmers would dig the holes deeper so cars would get stuck, and the passengers would have to hire the farmer to pull the car out with his horses. My parents stayed overnight at the hotel, and put a down-payment on it. When I finished sixth grade, we moved.

“I remember that the road used to curve. I started the seventh grade here. I was one year older than the others in my grade, so I decided I wanted to finish high school in three years, and I did. There were no school buses in those days, so we walked to school. There was no lunch room in those days, so we had to run home at noon for lunch. I ran home to the hotel that was also the only restaurant in town then. I waited on the customers who came on the train at noon, so I really had to run. I never dawdled around like kids today.

“It was a bad time after the crash – they were always bad times. People were living outdoors from the camps. We used to call it “the jungle.” They didn’t have any shelter and slept and cooked outdoors. For meals, one would come to us and ask for an onion, another would ask for a carrot, and then go to another house for a potato, or to the butcher for bones. They would cook the food in a large can outside. They sometimes would steal chickens from my grandmother’s house. When my grandmother went out back, she would find the chicken heads.”

Mrs. Garrett recounted stories about a number of men who lived in “the jungle.”

“Porkchop Pete had a shack built from cardboard and pieces of tin next to a local pond. He would sweep the floor at the bakery in exchange for old bread. He gave some to the men who lived in the jungle. Chinaman Joe, Fiddler Joe, and Hemlock Joe were lumberjacks who didn’t know how to spell their names. Hemlock Joe would come to town with a big fish in a bag that he sold to my mother. He had a shack on Hemlock Lake. Humpy was a humpbacked man who lived on a creek. Chinaman Joe showed us a big geography book. He was a Cossack in the Russian army and he said he stole it in St. Petersburg. He did the Russian dance – he could balance on one leg and kick out the other one. The Cossacks rode horses – they were not part of the regular army.

“When we were living in our previous state, we lived next to a jewelry store and we got different records from all over the world, including the Mazurka. There were men from all over the world there, and I remember one day I played records from each man’s country and they would pay me $1. I made $15.

“Humpy John was a ‘chore boy’ for the hotel. Before he started at the hotel, he worked for a year in the lumber camp and ended up $17 in the hole.

“Then Roosevelt got in.”

mhc_mhm_ccc1_46090_7

Photo: 1933 – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – Michigan (Source)

ccc minnesota

Photo: Date Unknown – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – Minnesota (Source)

10648-file04-23-CCC-CO-F-104-Moving-Camp-to-Bismarck-ND-Fair-Park-AR-1936-cor

Photo: Date Unknown – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – North Dakota (Source)

camp-657-recruits

Photo: 1933 – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – Wisconsin (Source)

“Humpy John worked for room and board and got a small salary. He was like a grandpa to my youngest son – he would buy him things. He was kicked by a horse when he was young, and his lungs were in bad shape. My son, Lenny, went to see him, and came to tell me that Humpy wouldn’t get up when he called. He died in his sleep.

“My husband drove a school bus. I worked in the kitchen of the hotel, and Humpy John tended bar. One day, a man came in and asked where the john was. Humpy responded that he was standing right there. The customer asked again and again, with the same answer from Humpy. Finally, I pointed out the restroom, and the customer headed toward it. When Humpy found out that “john” meant toilet, he was mad. Another customer came in and asked for Ham’s (meaning Ham’s beer). Humpy told him to go to the butcher’s shop if he wanted ham.

As she told these stories, Mrs. Garrett laughed heartily.

“In spring, the loggers went to the river to roll the logs. They had nails in their shoes so they could ride the logs. They worked in the woods all winter. Farmers from the southern part of the county would come up and work cutting trees in winter and would return home in the spring to plant their crops.

“When camp members were buried, no one knew how to spell their names, so they guessed. Many have no grave markers.

“In the past state where we lived, mother cooked at a camp and delivered food on a wagon. It’s where she moved after she married my real dad in Detroit. When she first came to this country from Finland, she went to Ellis Island. Then she lived in Boston and worked for a Swedish family, so she learned Swedish. Then she went to Detroit. My father was a band leader, and they lived in every town in the state. We lived in a log house in one town that had a breezeway. Fall was rainy season, and during one storm, we stood in the breezeway watching the lightening. We learned not to be afraid of storms.

“My mother decided that we kids needed to go to school. She worked at camp in the winter. Then in the summer she worked at a resort with kids from Chicago who all went to school. After that we went to a country school. Mama made me a dress out of a flour sack. [As Mrs. Garrett spoke, she worked on an imaginary dress, showing how it was cut like a box.] My mother put ruffles on the hem and sleeves and dyed it pink. She made pants for my little brother that had four sets of buttons as fasteners: front, sides, and back. The first time he wore them to school, he couldn’t get the back buttons unfastened without help so he was teased because his sister had to help him get undressed so he could go to the bathroom.

“My mother was cooking in a hotel before we moved here and my family stayed in the hotel. People who lived there adopted two girls, and one day, they gave the children something to eat that had nuts in it. One girl choked to death. This was a sad thing for a kid.

“Mama wanted to have a restaurant, so she got this place. One day when we were there, we saw a drunken man heading our way. We all hid under the counters. Finally, mama got up and waited on him.

“One day when we came home from school, the house was closed. We didn’t know what was happening, so we got in and hid in the basement. My mother married my stepfather, and called us when they got home. After she married him, she found out that he was a gambler. He had a photographic mind and could remember all of the cards that were played so he would win. They bought a house but decided to move. Mother took care of her new husband’s brother who had TB until he died. My step-father bought the hotel.

“Chore boys were the closest thing I had for grandfathers.

“All of the poor guys lived outdoors in the jungle until Roosevelt was elected. He built a soup kitchen and a place with beds. That’s why we were always Democrats – because he was kind.

“There was a poor farm up north not too far from here. We would drop off juice that my mother made for a man who was injured in an accident. His mouth was blown up when he was setting up a dynamite cap.

“We had to help out a lot of people.

“Elmer and I eloped. There was a depression. Mother sent me to the big city in the southern part of the state to go to beauty school. I wanted to be a teacher but my family couldn’t afford it. While I was gone, Elmer wrote me every day. When my roommates graduated before me and were leaving, I knew I couldn’t afford rent, so I worked for families for room and board to save money.

“I wanted to go to church in the community. I was Lutheran, but I was confirmed in a Finnish-speaking church. My confirmation certificate was written in Finnish so I couldn’t prove that I was confirmed to the local church. They wouldn’t let me go communion because they couldn’t read Finish, so I didn’t go to church.

“I became Catholic when I was living with a family in the city – Elmer was Catholic. He came down to visit me and we got married there. A taxi driver and the priest’s housekeeper were witnesses. We didn’t let anyone in the community know, but the announcement was put in the local paper and people knew anyway. When we arrived in town by train, the whole town was there to meet us. They shivareed us right away. [Shivaree, or charivari, is a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noise makers given for a newly married couple. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/shivaree ]

“We stayed to care for Elmer’s folks, and stayed with my folks and saved money. Elmer drove for the fire patrol. We picked berries every day and canned them. We canned partridges and deer. We saved money and bought the hotel. My mother gave us her half and we bought out my step-father. There were 2,500 people in the area during hunting season, lumberjacks, veterans, and nine boarders. We raised three children while running the hotel. My daughter, Patty, went to the university.

“I met all kinds of people. There was a millionaire who used to drink and had an accident. His tongue was sewn in, and it was hard to understand him. I understood him because I grew up with people who came from all over the world and who spoke with all different kinds of accents.

“Tourists started coming then. There was another millionaire who came once a month. My husband would take people out hunting – doing deer drives.

“My son, Lenny, the youngest, was not doing well. He had a big belly, so we spent the winter in Arizona. One of the hotel customers made the arrangements for us. Lenny was in pre-school or first grade. There were a lot of little Mexican kids, and Lenny could understand them. We lived next to Jewish people. One family was from New Jersey and I offered to set their hair. Lenny got healthy after the trip. He came home brown as a berry.

“I miss the customers and my garden. I planted apricot trees. They did well at first, but then stopped producing fruit. I was told to use wood ashes, and they helped the trees produce. The branches were so loaded with fruit that they broke.”

At this point, Mrs. Garrett got up to go to the restroom. When she returned, she asked me if I would like some tea. I said yes, so she made tea, put a pastry with whipped cream on the kitchen table at my place. We moved to the table for the rest of our talk.

“My daughter is picking me up on the 15th and taking me to Kentucky for the winter. I will spend the summer here. My daughter is a teacher, and three of my grandchildren are teachers. I always wanted to be a teacher. One granddaughter is in Alaska – she is the head of social services in one of the cities there. She just got married.”

Mrs. Garrett spoke of her other grandchildren, and her two sons.

“Lenny became ill and is on dialysis now,” she said tearfully.

It seemed a good time to shift focus. “Mrs. Garrett, can you tell me anything about how the community has viewed Native Americans?”

“We were always good friends with one of the tribal leaders. He used to walk ten miles to town and ten miles back. At that time, Elmer used to drive out to set minnow traps and drive back to collect the minnows. The tribal leader and his family would wait for Elmer to take them to town. The leader took kids to North Dakota and put them in schools. My daughter has a book about this. The county took the tribal leader’s daughter to Chicago and put her with a family in a bad neighborhood. She came home pregnant. Her father walked ten miles to town for milk and kerosene for the heater for the baby. She didn’t have any money, so the daughter picked strawberries to pay my husband and back for anything we gave them.

“Some people in the community are jealous now that the Native Americans are successful. I’m not. They deserve to be successful. One of my teachers told us how the government marched them west, but many whites didn’t listen to her.

“When the tribal leader needed money, he would leave things in exchange for what he borrowed. We always gave it back when he paid us. The butcher would store things in the window, and the tribal leader’s drum was destroyed by the light and moisture. The butcher wouldn’t give the leader’s things back. Some people are so greedy. Another tribal member, a woman, would pawn things – TV, radio. She was honest and pointed out that she owed more than my records showed.”

Mrs. Garrett ended the interview by telling funny stories about Jewish customers, and about her cousin who fought in Finland’s war with Russia. Russia was trying to get a seaport. Her cousin was captured and put in jail, where he died.

As I left, I thanked Mrs. Garrett. She expressed her hope that I would write up our conversation so she could give it to her grandchildren, so that they would know all about the community and her life. She was kind and generous, and laughed frequently as she related stories from the past.

(On November 7, 2001, I received a handwritten note from her relating stories about the Native American woman she had told me about during the interview. She shared stories about the ways she and her husband had tried to make her life a little easier.)

***

I wonder how lives might have been transformed if the high school students who gave me directions to the elder apartments in the small town had assignments that connected them with elders. I wondered how the stories that the former principal shared might be able to transform community relations between residents of the reservation and the border town. What if there were historical skits that brought the two communities together to learn from each other?

jigsaw2

Image: Microsoft Word Chip Art

I also think about what these two different perspectives offer in terms of the neighborhood where I live now. Across the street is an elders’ apartment building, with an elementary school and high school within walking distance. For many elder residents, the highlight of the day is waiting for the mail to arrive. The lobby of the building is filled with eager anticipation as residents wait. I’m not sure how many are disappointed. I wonder what could happen if connections were made with the schools. There are so many things elders can teach. Not just history, but all types of practical knowledge and skills – gardening, food preservation, sewing – that have been lost with our focus on standardized tests that only measures the ability of students to regurgitate “factoids” without context.

What if connections were made to have students interview or work with elders on projects? I think of all the relevant subjects that could benefit from this approach. But more importantly, from my perspective, I’m excited by the possibility of the human connections that might evolve. And the deeper sense of connection to one’s place that could be rewoven.

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.

Still Writing despite Questions and Doubts

Carol A. Hand

The national writing event ended November 30, 2015, but I’ve continued to write almost every day. It’s a relief not to feel pressured to make an overall word count. Instead, I can try to make those words I write worthwhile regardless of the number. But I still encounter the same recurring questions and doubts. Here’s part of my latest chapter, 17, appropriately titled “Thankfully It’s Friday.” It wasn’t easy to always feel like an intrusive outsider. And I still wonder what to do with what I learned.

[Please note: The names of people have all been changed in the following accounts to protect identity, and the names of states and towns have been removed. These stories could come from any of the states where Ojibwe reservations are located.]

***

Research Field Notes Friday, October 19, 2001

….

I packed my things and checked out about 10:15, and headed to the tribal community.
First, I stopped at the tribal center, and noticed what appeared to be a meeting in the large room directly in front of the entranceway. I could see Greg, the tribal social service administrator in profile seated at the table, so I decided it would be a good time to see if Carrie Abrams (child welfare) or Trevor Evans (tribal preservation) were available. When I pulled into the old school parking lot, it appeared to be pretty empty. I noticed that Linda’s car wasn’t there. I did wish I could just touch base with her, but in some ways it was good to be on my own. I couldn’t really share anything I had learned so far.

I entered the building and walked past Greg’s office and asked the man seated at a desk in the next office where I might find Trevor.

“I’m Trevor,” he replied.

“Hi, Trevor. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Agnes Sero and I’m doing a study on Indian child welfare here. Molly, the tribal preservation director at Lake Tribe Reservation, suggested that I talk to you.”

“Come on in and sit down, Agnes.”

I told him briefly about my study and explained that I had met with Molly and other tribal preservation staff to learn more about the boarding school. I was interested in learning more about the school since elders here had described their experiences in a similar institution.

“Would you like a cup of coffee? I’m just brewing a new pot.”

I accepted and asked him if he was interested in learning more about the study. He said he was, so I ran out to my car to get a copy of the revised introduction and questions.

Trevor is a handsome man, with the front of his hair cut short, the left side is silver (naturally), with a bound pony tail in the back which extends beyond his waist. The walls of his office were covered with flip chart sheets containing Ojibwe words. He pointed to the sheets and explained that some were numbers, food, clothing. As he spoke, he was often leaning back in his chair, feet held in front of him off of the floor.

As soon as Trevor looked at the questions, he began speaking.

“When I was growing up our elders were still pretty active, but I was between two worlds. Some elders were jumping into contemporary society. Some were holding back, trying to retain the culture despite the reorganization act and removal. They were moving around and going into the melting pot.

“I came from a dysfunctional family. My father drank, my mother didn’t drink. I came from a big family with six sisters and three brothers. Two of my sisters were older, and I was the oldest brother. I spent most of my time with my grandfather and grandmother. They lived on top of a hill in a two-story house. There was no running water, or gas. There was a pump in the basement, a woodstove, and my grandmother cooked on a woodstove. We lived in the big pines. When they were young, my grandparents lived in a small community in the southeastern part of the county in the national forest. My grandmother and grandfather lived there and made their living by selling food and pies to loggers. My grandfather worked as a guide.

“My grandmother and grandfather were fluent in the Ojibwe language. I don’t remember my grandfather well. I was about three when I remember him, and he died when I was 7 or 8. I was born in 1953, and in 1962 or 63 my grandfather died.

“I remember growing up as small children, my parents had so many children, and the younger kids got most of the attention. I got attention from my grandmother and grandfather. I felt content being around my grandmother and grandfather. There was always an extended family, the biological family, aunts, uncles, friends, relatives. That’s how it was in the old days in the community.

….

“I’ve been talking a lot, Agnes. I’m interested in knowing what kinds of policy changes might result from your work. There are so many important issues we need to resolve.”

“I’m not sure, Trevor,” I replied. “It’s too early to tell. I can’t predict what I will find because there is so much more for me to learn. I can promise that I will share my findings with the community to make sure my interpretations represent what the community would want others to know about them. It’s also a difficult time in history. After September 11, all bets are off about social service policy. War often ushers in a time when social programs are cut and civil liberties compromised.”

“I agree, Agnes. These are uncertain times but it’s ever been so. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry – it’s after 1. I need to go get something to eat.”

As we walked out of the building together, he invited me to lunch with him. I told him I had another interview to go to, and I saw him drive off in his red truck.

….

Reflections Monday, December 9, 2015

Even though I’m sharing these stories now, I have kept the promise I made to Trevor and others to protect identities. As mentioned earlier, the names of people have all been changed in this account, and no specific place identifiers or local documents are cited. Still, I wonder about the wisdom and ethics of publishing these accounts.

But I keep thinking about all of the incredible people I met who willingly shared their lives with a stranger. Why was that easier than sharing their experiences – good and bad – with others in their community? How many suffered alone, believing that they or their families were ultimately the cause for their abandonment and abuse? Why couldn’t people share their stories and histories with those who lived just across the tribal-town divide? How many failed to bridge the cultural divides between the tribe and county because of fear and past rejections and disappointments?

1004151925d

Photo: A Daughter and Mother Who Sometimes Share Stories – 2015

Sharing stories can bring people together in wondrous ways. It’s what can help us all begin to rebuild a genuine sense of community. Now, I live in a residential neighborhood in a predominantly Euro-American city where neighbors avoid each other. I’ve heard some of their stories. Many hark back to decades of contentious interactions and feuds that still continue. So each household does things on their own. I’m sometimes the exception. I offer to help or stop to say hello, but that doesn’t do anything to bring them together. This makes me I wonder if anything I learned in this research project can help people see the possibilities of healing old wounds through stories that promote understanding and shared hopes for the future.

For now, those thoughts are enough to encourage me to keep writing. There’s a lot more to write. I’m sure I will confront these questions and doubts many more times before I’m finally finished.

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

Looking Back

Carol A. Hand

An excerpt from a work in progress – 35,000 words so far but many more to go…

we remember rough draft cover page

***

Thursday, November 19, 2015

As I read through these fieldnotes fourteen years later, I realize that I like the person I was then. But there are things I wish I could tell her. “Don’t worry and don’t be so hard on yourself. Everything will work out. You’ll finish and even be briefly recognized for the significance of this work. More importantly, your life will forever be enriched by what you learn from people here. Please cherish these moments of honest curiosity and respectful innocence.” Of course, I can’t tell my younger self those things.

And sometimes the notes I took just aren’t worth editing for others to read. I did rush off to the elders’ center right after Mr. Wilson shared his stories. I was grateful to him for allowing me to take notes while he was speaking, but when I arrived at the center, I stuffed them in my briefcase and locked it in the trunk of my car for safe keeping. Without even taking a moment to breathe and clear my mind, I rushed in to the dining room.

When I reread my fieldnotes these many years later, what I saw was clearly described but what seemed most significant today were the things that were missing. Looking back I remember the intense pressure I felt to “succeed.” It was such a narrow perspective – “to collect as many stories and experiences as I could, as fast as I could.”

I didn’t take any time to reflect on Mr. Wilson’s story, or my conversations with Maurice and Thomas earlier in the day. I just went rushing from one encounter to the next. It didn’t occur to me then how important it was to take time to debrief and prepare in between ever-changing situations and perspectives. The intensity of deep listening required for an individual interview doesn’t work in a chaotic social setting.

Thinking about the significance of attention and focus reminds of trying to take photographs. Adjusting the lens to capture the details of a flower or honey bee omits much of the surrounding environment from the photo and blurs that which remains to as a way to frame the object of interest. But shifting focus in the context of naturalistic research is much more than this one-dimensional mechanical focus. Good photographers recognize this. They’re emotionally present. Someone who works with people needs to be mindful that even entering a room affects the quality of social interactions. I didn’t take time to consider my state of mind as I walked into the dining room on this day.

Thursday, October 4, 2001 (Continued) …

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.