And Still They Come to My Door … Uninvited

Carol A. Hand

My yard is fenced and gated, a strange thing for someone of Ojibwe ancestry, I know. But I’ve learned from past experiences – mine and that of my ancestors. It creates a safe space for my dog to run and provides some protection for the gardens that the urban deer view as theirs. And once it was so. I would share with the deer but prefer that the choice be mine, to share equally, not all.


Photo Credit: My front gate – July 28, 2014

The fence, now higher than it was a few months ago, does not deter those who wish to save my soul. Dressed in their Sunday best, arms laden with bibles and brochures, they still make their way to my door. As I watch them approach, I am reminded of a passage from Thoreau.

“There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty that a man [or a woman] was coming to my house with the conscious design of going me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoon, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his [her] good done to me, – some of its virus mingled with my blood” (Henry David Thoreau, 1999, Walden or life in the woods and “on the duty of civil disobedience”, p. 59).

My annual uninvited visitors have taught me that it is sometimes wiser to hide. I have no wish to tell others what they should believe. I’ve grown weary of the futility of expecting them to respect my right live by my own beliefs. I continue to question my response last year, the first story I posted on my old blog…


Hard of Hearing (June 18, 2013)

Yesterday was the first sunny day in what seemed like months (April 21, 2013). It was relatively warm here in Minnesota, in the mid-30s, and without wind it almost felt like spring. Patches of brown ground had emerged from the piles of snow in my yard. My dog Cookie, an 80-pound Black Norwegian Elkhound, was eager to go out and putter in the fenced-in front yard. As we reached the back gate, I noticed two women had entered my yard and were walking up my front sidewalk toward the house. I hesitated at the gate, wondering if it was wise to let Cookie into the yard. As I watched them walk toward me, I realized that the older woman leading the way was a visitor from last year, a proselytizer from some fundamental Christian church.

Both of my new visitors were dressed in long black coats and high-heeled shoes. I wondered how they had even made it through the unshoveled snow outside my front gate. After shoveling the sidewalk, deck and driveway, I was too tired of hefting the heavy white snow to finish the last patch, instead hoping it would melt on its own.

The older woman had carefully coiffed, curly silver hair, the second, younger woman following behind, both carrying notebooks and bibles in their folded arms. I remembered the older woman, although her companion was new. Last year, her companion was a grim-faced stocky woman with dark hair liberally peppered with gray. I remembered the encounter because of the notebooks and bibles. But this spring was far different than last year. Last year it was rarely below freezing, and I had been able to do exterior repairs on my house and yard. And because I had a chance to begin to work on creating gardens, I think I was willing to try to reach across the cultural divide and relate to them.

Last year, when the older woman introduced herself and the church she was from, I replied that I worked very hard to overcome my biases toward people from her religious background. Yet it was not an easy task for me. As an Ojibwe, I carried deep anger and pain because of the history of “Christian” treatment of Ojibwe people. Her response had been that she was sympathetic to Native Americans and what they had to teach about the environment. I let that one pass. Then she asked if it was okay for her to read a passage from the bible. I lifted my left hand spontaneously in a gesture to ward off “bad medicine,” an unconscious cultural behavior, and replied, “I am not interested. No. I don’t want to hear it.” The younger woman was standing slightly behind her, scowling and avoiding eye contact as if I were the devil incarnate. Fortunately for me, the older woman did not begin reading and left graciously. I assumed at the time that she got the message and realized I was not a soul she could save on that day.

hard of hearing

Photo Credit: Cookie – April 21, 2013

Now, as I stood at my gate with Cookie, I realized my repeat visitor hadn’t really accepted defeat last year as I had hoped. Here she was again with another “proselytizer-in-training.” It took me less than a minute to decide to let Cookie into the front yard. Both women froze in shock as Cookie ran toward them barking. The younger woman turned to flee, but Cookie is a gentle dog unless faced with someone she senses is potentially violent, so I was not surprised when she sniffed the older woman and walked away, bored with the whole drama. I remained close to the back gate, and the older woman began walking toward me even though I was unsmiling and nothing about my face or gestures suggested welcome. “I was afraid of the dog,” she said. My reply was to again raise my left hand. I responded gently, “Please go.” She answered “I can’t hear you, I’m hard of hearing.” I walked a little closer, left hand still raised, and repeated a little louder, “Please go.” She and her compatriot did leave, although they sat in their car in front of my house for several minutes, perhaps debriefing from their scare.

This morning I found myself still pondering why I behaved in such an unwelcoming manner. And then it occurred to me. My Ojibwe ancestors experienced brutal treatment at the hands of so-called Christians, and the scars remain with me to this day. Proselytizers are not in the business of really listening to others or, more importantly, honoring their heritage and beliefs. Last year’s decision to leave without reading her bible verse didn’t really mean that my message was heard. One needs to really listen in an open way to understand others. Her presence again this year suggests that she could not respect my position or beliefs, that she was “hard of hearing” not only in a physical sense, but more importantly, on a soul-deep level. I guess I was relatively safe to disrespect because I was soft-spoken, honest, but respectful. Perhaps my unwillingness to be disingenuous on the first warm day of spring this year and my ferocious-looking gentle dog will save me from the intrusion of “great white saviors” who come calling uninvited. Who knows what next spring will bring?


This year, they waited until summer to come. This time it was a man and a woman who appeared at my door, ringing the bell, driving my new little dog, Pinto, into a fit of violent barking. Unlike Cookie, Pinto’s a fierce little soul who will not hesitate to bite intruders. I peeked from behind an interior door to see who was at the door. After one look at their Sunday attire and bibles, I decided to hide from sight in the kitchen. It was a long wait. They rang and rang, pried open the screen door that needs repair and knocked and knocked, and finally circled the house to the side door, forcing me to flee upstairs to remain hidden. I could watch from above as they stood waiting for at least half an hour, peacefully looking out at my gardens. It reminded me of a Gary Larson cartoon. If I looked like a bean bag chair, I wouldn’t have to hide!

the blob family

Photo Credit: Gary Larson – The Blob family at home

There are times when I feel it is wiser to avoid provocation. Today, I just wanted to enjoy a peaceful, productive morning. As I peeked at the visitors from behind the door, I felt a sense of dread. “Please not today! There are too many real troubles in the world that need attention.”

Although I wish my uninvited visitors well, my life is not theirs to judge nor is my soul theirs to save. Not today, and not next year. If they sincerely wish to do good in the world, there are many more productive paths they could take than the one to my door.

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.

Spirituality and Rationality – the Liminal Space between Cultures

Carol A. Hand

 I don’t often speak about the liminal space I occupy between Euro-American and Ojibwe beliefs about religion and spirituality. It was especially challenging to live between (Euro-American) academic notions of rationality, objectivity, and individuality and Ojibwe traditions of spirituality, inter-dependency, and other ways of knowing. I don’t often speak of my experiences for several crucial reasons. Frist, my position on the margins as a Native American has meant that people have asked me for spiritual advice because of the romantic stereotypes they held. They expected me to be wise and saintly. I’m not under the illusion that I have any advice to offer anyone on that dimension. Second, Ojibwe cultural traditions strongly discourage sharing one’s spiritual experiences with others. This makes sense on a number of levels. Third, as a Native American woman who has worked in Euro-American institutions that openly pathologize other ways of knowing, I have kept my personal beliefs to myself as I carried out the professional, analytical and scientific tasks required of my positions. What I believe actually enhances how I do my work, but explaining this to people would be pointless at best.


Photo Credit: Blue Space Between Clouds

As I was reflecting this morning, I felt a sense of urgency about sharing a portion of a dream I had almost 40 years ago. But before I do, I need to explain why this is not something that is easy for me to do beyond what I have noted above.

Traditional Ojibwe beliefs emphasize the connection each individual has to Gitche Manitou, roughly translated as the Creator. It is the responsibility of each individual to seek his or her path through meditative rituals and live according to “pimadaziwin,” the good life (Hallowell, 1967, p. 360) or bimaadiziwin, “a healthy way of life” (Peacock & Wisuri, 2002, p. 9). Pimadaziwin represents “life in the fullest sense, life in the sense of health, longevity, and well-being, not only for oneself but for one’s family” (Hallowell, 1967, p. 360). In order to achieve pimadaziwin in the past, individuals, particularly males, were required to seek and obtain spiritual guidance through a “dream fast” as youth. Girls were also encouraged, but not required, to go through this sacred solitary ordeal, since, as life givers, their connection with the Creator was already direct (Johnston, 1976). Especially for males, the dream fast “was the foundation of all he was to be in the future. Every special aptitude, all his successes and failures, hinged upon the blessings of his supernatural helpers, rather than upon his own native or acquired endowments, or even the help of his fellow human beings” (Hallowell, 1967, p, 361).

The details of dreams or visions one had during one’s meditative ordeal were not to be shared with others (Johnston, 1976). This makes sense in small tight-knit communities where members could easily be divided by comparisons and jealousies that arose over who had visions and who did not, and competition over the most “important” or “powerful” visions. (One of my grandson’s favorite videos, Brother Bear, illustrates how important this practice is — competition among three brothers about who had the best spiritual “totem” resulted in fighting and death.) Keeping one’s visions silent also discourages the practice of judging others. If one does not know the details of another’s path, there is really no basis to judge them and deflect one’s attention away from the responsibility to follow one’s own path with integrity and fidelity for the sake of the community.

So why am I sharing this dream today, knowing I risk perpetuating stereotypes, appearing superstitious and naive, and awakening the potential for others to judge themselves as deficient because they haven’t been “blessed” with powerful dreams or superior because they’re more rational? Simply stated, I feel obligated given the state of the world today. And it’s not a dream about my path alone.

Imagine yourself standing in a huge cavernous space urged to move forward into the darkness. With each step you take, you relive each moment of your life, each thought, each action, and each failure to act. Each step, you see the effects of your thoughts and behaviors on others. Dispassionately, you weight these thoughts and actions against a universal framework of ethics. You judge your actions on the basis of the path of life you were given to follow. For each “right” choice, you feel a sense of joy and gratitude, and for each selfish or thoughtless choice, you feel the pain of those you harmed. When you finally reach the present moment, you can choose to walk the path toward light or darkness based on what you discovered about yourself. There is no room for illusions about who you have become because of your own thoughts and deeds.

cosmos 2

Photo Credit: Cosmos-2

What this dream taught me about living was to not waste my time comparing myself to others or judging them. This is not always an easy lesson for me to follow. When I realize that the temptation to judge and compete with others is becoming too strong to resist, I look at the context and forces around me. Often I find that it’s time for me to change course, to be honest about what is my responsibility to do, and to simplify and refocus my life on what really matters on my path. I have a responsibility to do what I can in my thoughts and actions to end and prevent harm.  I have a responsibility to judge actions and their consequences, but I cannot judge or demonize others whose paths I can never know.

I am sharing the message of this dream now because so many people in the world are being oppressed and harmed and murdered for things that will not bring those who have harmed them any solace on their final self-judgment walk. It is my hope that at least some may listen and realize that the choice of how we live is ours to make. The choice can bring us peace and joy or pain and shame as we face our final life review.

Works Cited:

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

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

Peacock, T. & Wisuri, M. (2002). Ojibwe waasa inaabidaa: We look in all directions. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press.



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