Revisiting Writing 101 – I Write Because?

For some reason, I remembered this old post during class yesterday. One of the courses I’m teaching this semester, social work practice with communities, I co-teach in partnership with a friend/colleague. Our students were discussing their “action plans” for raising community awareness about important issues that are invisible to many in the general public.

This semester, they focused on crucial and urgent concerns related to improving access to safe water for all members of the specific community they assessed. Each shared an action plan they developed. Topics varied depending on their interests – addressing industrial pollution, high lead levels among children in selected neighborhoods, the effects of road salt on sources of drinking water in northern climates, and maintaining homeostasis through adequate hydration. It’s important information. My colleague and I will be exploring new ways to share exemplary student work with a wider public audience.

Our students know statistics alone are not the most effective way to engage community action. Numbers don’t touch people’s hearts, but people’s stories might. And my colleague and I have many stories to share with students to illustrate the power of this approach.

Listening to the stories of people who were “on the margins” and “out-of-sight” motivated me to become an advocate. In order to do that more effectively, I began to write.  In 2015, I took a WordPress course to learn how to do a better job writing for different audiences. The following post was written in response to one of the WP “Writing 101” assignments.


I write because?

Yesterday, before I read the prompt for today’s Writing 101 assignment, I addressed this question. I wanted to reflect before the class [I was teaching at the time] began.

“As I look at the larger patterns in my life, I realize that it’s important for me to share knowledge from the heart as well as from the intellect in words that are clear and simple. Lately, I’ve given some thought to the question “why do I write?” I write to share the simple things I’ve learned in hopes that it will help others. I follow my mother’s footsteps, not as a healer of bodies (I grow faint at the sight of blood), but as someone who sees the beauty in others even in times of adversity. I hope to be a mirror that reflects back the beauty I see in others so they can see it in themselves.”

As soon as I hit publish, I realized this was only part of the truth. What are the other reasons I write? When I asked myself that question this morning, an image and a memory of Mickey flashed through my thoughts. I was one of the strangers responsible for his care, a fifty year old man lying in a nursing home bed, forgotten, unable to care for himself, dependent on the kindness of strangers who weren’t always kind.

I only know bits and pieces of Mickey’s story and the accident that brought him to the nursing home many years before I took this job. He broke his neck when he fell down the steps one night while he was doing his job as a janitor. The accident left him paralyzed, paraplegic, unable to do the simplest self-care tasks. He needed to rely on overworked, underpaid nurses and nurses’ aides to do everything for him. Many didn’t have the time, patience, or inclination to realize there was a sensitive, alert human being inside his motionless body.

I had the luxury of listening to him because I worked the graveyard shift. (A fitting title for the night shift in this facility, although it’s hardly respectful of the people whose care and safety depended on our presence and compassion.) It was difficult for Mickey to speak as he struggled to make his jaw and tongue move. His softly spoken words were almost impossible to decipher at first. It took me time to learn the meanings behind this new language. One memorable story often comes to mind. Mickey told me in his halting, painful-to-witness way, that the nurses’ aides seldom talked to him or asked him if he needed anything. There were a few who were kind and treated him like a human being. But one in particular, according to Mickey, was incredibly rude. When it was time to get residents ready for bed, she would come in with a washcloth and rub it over his face without removing his eyeglasses first. In fact, she just left his smeared eyeglasses on, shutting off the light as she left him alone in his the room for the night. He lay there unable to do anything about it until I arrived for my shift.

I write because people like Mickey can’t. Someone needs to write their stories. I write because women with small children and bills to pay have to work at low paying jobs at times of the day or night that allow them to attend to their children’s needs during waking hours. They didn’t and don’t have access to affordable, reliable, high quality daycare and may be locked into pink collar, low-wage jobs for many years. They need to work at whatever jobs they can find in a society that does little to ensure that families have adequate safety net benefits. The long-term care industry (or childcare industry) is staffed by a steady stream of low-income women – mothers with young children or elders who can’t afford to retire. It’s an industry that is built on the backs of poor women often with few other options. (I mean that quite literally – lifting people like Mickey is heavy, back-straining work.) Their stories need to be included in national conversations about the need to pay workers living wages.

AW nursing home

Photo by Carlo Esqueda: Nursing Home Resident – Aging Wisconsin (1988, p. 26, full citation listed below)

Warehousing those who need assistance in institutions like the one Mickey lived in, or worse, is what we’ve been conditioned to see as the best or only option for people who need 24-hour care and assistance. Yet studies show nursing homes are not always the best option. It’s important to realize that one accident could place any one of us in a situation like Mickey’s – or worse. Is that what we want for ourselves, our parents, our children?

I write because these are important issues to consider. The legislators and experts who decide what types of services to provide as a nation rarely if ever ask those who are most affected by their decisions what they (elders, parents, workers) need and prefer. These are the people on the margins, like me, who need to have a voice in designing a nation and a world that care more about people.

“The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” (Hubert H. Humphrey, 1976)

While I doubt that my modest stories will have much of an impact, it’s what I can do today to try. It’s what I can do to honor Mickey’s memory and the many women (and men) who help people in the situations Humphrey describes with such poetic eloquence. Words can bring hope and healing to a troubled world. Writing with this purpose in mind is something I love to do. Ultimately, it’s why I write.

Work Cited:

Carlo Esqueda (1988). Selected photographs. In C. Hand (1988, Ed.), Aging Wisconsin: The past three years – 1984-1986 progress report on the Wisconsin State Plan on Aging (pp. 26, 31). Madison, WI: Bureau on Aging, Department of Health and Social Services.

Contextual Note:

This essay was inspired by the new course I began today, Writing 101. My intention for taking the course is described below.

“I’m looking forward to meeting all of you and learning more about your blogs. I’m also looking forward to the discipline and challenge of writing every day. It’s my hope to use this class to help me work on a new approach for a book that I originally thought would be non-fiction based on a research study I did a number of years ago. Instead, after experiencing the freedom of writing a play that required creativity and freed me from the constraints of objective reporting, I decided to explore fiction as an option. Fictionalized accounts would also be a better way to protect individual and place identities. So, I see this course as a challenging and exciting opportunity to experiment with new ways of writing.
I send my best wishes to all!”

Despite my desire to learn to write fiction, the prompt for today inspired a different direction. But then, it’s Labor Day. And unbidden and unplanned, the memory that came to mind allowed me to honor the many women I’ve worked with who do the heavy-lifting in the profitable long-term care industry, although they see little of the industry’s financial rewards.


AW caregivers

Photo by Carlo Esqueda: Mother and Daughter – Aging Wisconsin (1988, p. 31, full citation listed above)

Who Knows What the Future Will Be? – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

When I think about the future, I think of the world my grandchildren will inherit.

Aadi and Ava

Photo: My Grandchildren, Aadi and Ava – 2015

I’m reminded of Gibran’s words about children in The Prophet.

“ … their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

I pray it is a future of world peace, kindness, and abundance for all.

My future? There is only this moment as I complete this final Writing 101 assignment quickly before I continue the work outdoors that can’t wait. The killing frost predicted for the past three days hasn’t yet arrived, but it’s only a matter of time. I do have one more assignment to complete later, writing up the interviews I conducted with Trace Lara Hentz (Lara/Trace, THE MIX) and Skywalker Payne.

Long days working outside have left me little time or energy to do justice to the perspectives and insights shared by these inspirational friends. I do hope you will visit their blogs in the interim. I send my best wishes to all and hope you will forgive my delay answering comments or visiting your blogs for a few days.

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.

The Power of Maps – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

I wonder how many people in the United States have thought about the portrayal of Native American land loss in the history and geography textbooks they studied in school? It seems a fitting time of the year to share the following maps as we head into the season when Native Americans are romanticized and exploited in other ways – Halloween costumes, Columbus Day parades and celebrations, and the myth of the first Thanksgiving feast.

The following animation shows the changing map of land ownership in what is now the United States. The first map in the following animation shows the remaining landholdings of Indigenous nations in 1784. Before Columbus’s arrival in the “new-to-him-and Europe” world, all of the land in the Americas was peopled by Indigenous nations.

Can you imagine the lives of Indigenous peoples as their homeland was overrun by those seeking land and resources to exploit? As they were attacked and driven from what had been their homelands for millennia, to new less desirable lands? And then, decades later, to lose many of the lands that had been promised as theirs forever in treaties between sovereign nations after the discovery of gold, coal, uranium, and oil on their reserved lands? All that is left now is shown on the map below, but even these holdings are threatened today.


Image: American Indian Reservations & Alaska Native Villages

Maps do tell stories, but often those in power choose which maps and stories to share. They have their reasons. The consequences of keeping ethnocide and dispossession invisible are evident today in the treatment of both the descendants of Indigenous peoples and those who are more recent arrivals.

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.

Reflections about Bridging Cultures – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

Oddly, I referenced bridges in yesterday’s post but I didn’t really comment about the importance of the metaphor they represent in my life experiences. Born of parents from different ancestries – Ojibwe and Anglo American – I needed to learn to span different cultures, socio-economic classes, and spiritual beliefs. Often in the past, it wasn’t easy to figure out where I fit.

Ryansinn-bongbridgeatnight (2)

Photo: Blatnik Bridge – View of Duluth, MN from Superior, WI by Ryansinn Photography

There was a time not too long ago when I described the liminal space between cultures – and bridges as a culture-spanning metaphor – in the following way.

“Rupert Ross (1992) observed, “When you try to be a bridge between two cultures, you should expect to get walked over by some people from both sides.” (Dancing with a ghost: Exploring Indian realities, p. xx). 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.” (Living in the Space Between Cultures, posted on Jeff Nguyen’s blog, Deconstructing Myths)

As a result of taking the risk to share my thoughts and experiences on my blog, I’ve met many friends who understand what it feels like to be different. Some have presented alternative ways of viewing the freedom of difference. Part of Diane Lefer’s comment on the above post gave me a new way to envision possibilities.

“… I wish instead of being a bridge to be walked on, you can be a bird, able to alight on any side of any boundary and then go back to watching from above as you fly.” (Diane Lefer, 2014)

This morning, Silvia di Blasio’s profound and eloquent post offered another perspective.

“There are places in this world that act as portals. Places where we find our tribe, even if for a short moment in time, tell us we are not alone, show a mirror where we can see our own truth … the wound just cracked open and the crying won’t stop until a decision is made: going back where I belong” (Silvia di Blasio, 2015)

Woven together, these images and metaphors inspired a morning poem.

I meet the members of my tribe for precious brief moments
In the center of high bridges
Suspended between earth and sky
Connecting lands that only appear separate and different

We need to learn to look deeply enough
To see that we’re all really connected
With the earth and sky, and with each other
Otherwise our loneliness is too much to bear

Sometimes we dance and blend our voices in song
And sometimes we travel together for awhile
Working our collective magic to rebuild caring communities
That still may never really feel like our own

Buffeted by the winds of change
In our solitary vantage points
We learn to treasure memories
Of the truth of oneness, communion, and home

At this stage of my life, I realize that I can find members of my tribe everywhere if I look deeply enough. I send blessings to all of my relations, but today, especially to those who sometimes feel alone…

Work Cited:

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

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.

Reflections about Writing and Performing – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

I haven’t had much time to write today. It was car maintenance day, which means an interstate trip to the Toyota Service Center in Wisconsin. It’s really not as far as it sounds. But the low bridge over the St. Louis Bay that drains into Lake Superior and separates Minnesota and Wisconsin is closed due to construction.


Photo: Duluth, MN – Bong Bridge

It meant I had to use the high bridge – the one that often triggers my vertigo.


Photo: Duluth, MN – Blatnik Bridge

As I grip the steering wheel, I look straight ahead. Still, my knuckles turn white from the frantic grip, but even that doesn’t stop the wheels from wiggling on the steel grating of the bridge. At least it wasn’t raining, and the wind was calm.

Routine maintenance done, I’m just not inspired to complete today’s writing assignment.

“Search your stats for a post idea”

I do sometimes check to see which of my posts receive the most visits. I checked again today. It is somewhat surprising that the two posts that have continued to be viewed most often both deal with discrimination, but in very different ways. One describes my experiences teaching diversity classes in different contexts and includes a detailed description of one of the assignments that was particularly effective for encouraging self-awareness and raising awareness about privilege and prejudice (Context Matters when Teaching Diversity). The other is an analysis of an exchange on Facebook about Native American issues (Circle the Wagons – The Natives Are Restless). These two posts are far and above the most popular in terms of views, but not necessarily in terms of likes or comments.

If my purpose in blogging were merely to have my work viewed by a large silent audience, I might consider expanding on these posts, but the truth is that’s not why I write and blog. The post that best describes why I write, A Darkened Auditorium, was posted about the same time as “Circle the Wagons.” Although one of my favorites, it has received very few views over the years. A brief excerpt explains why I write …

“ … my career [as a singer] abruptly ended one evening as I was finishing my practice session in the auditorium. As I was kneeling to put my guitar into its case, a voice from the back of the darkened auditorium caused me to pause. “YOU DON’T SING FOR PEOPLE!” As I peered out at the row of seats, I could barely make out the darker shadow of someone seated in the very back of the room. The dark shadow rose and walked into the slightly lighter aisle. I could see the middle-aged white priest in his vestments. He repeated his words, “You don’t sing for people.” Then he turned and walked out without another word. It was the last time I ever sang on a stage. I diplomatically resigned from my weekend job, packed my guitar away, and didn’t open the case again for many years….

“This priest was a stranger. How did he know how to craft strategic word-weapons to wound a stranger so deeply? And why would anyone ever do so?

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

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

I have done my best to write to prompts during the past few weeks. Yet, squeezing the stories that urgently needed to be written into daily prompts of someone else’s choosing was not always comfortable for me. It’s only been doable because I made a commitment to experiment with different ways of writing. I’ve done that to the best of my ability. The same tenacity that helped me as I crossed the bridge this morning sustained me through the challenge of writing to what sometimes felt like a darkened auditorium.

I’m thankful for all that I’ve learned in the process. There have been other rewards as well. I’ve met fascinating people and gifted artists and writers. I’ve also received incredibly helpful feedback that has already inspired me to continue working on the book that has been biding its time to emerge.

I’m truly grateful to all of my Writing 101 colleagues and all of the friends I’ve met in this virtual community who have helped me expand my knowledge and enriched my life by sharing knowledge, stories and dreams. Chi miigwetch [Ojibwe thank you] to you all.

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

Mother, I Remember

Carol A. Hand

Dear Mother, I remember as a child
The trips to New York City and to the Jersey shore
Camping in Cape Cod, and the Adirondack Mountains
Trips on boats, splashing in the ocean
Picking berries in the woods and laughing
Only realizing later that we were spared by
The copperheads that called the woods home

I remember the many times you cried
Because you couldn’t bear the loneliness and pain
From an abusive husband who knew the way to hurt you most deeply
Was to hurt the daughter you loved
But we were both survivors, you and I

I remember watching you when I was a teen as you cared for elders
And dealt with cranky staff with such kindness and diplomacy
A gifted healer and peacemaker despite the abuse you couldn’t stop
I remember that I understood from a very early age
That you didn’t see your beauty or your worth
I didn’t know how to help you or myself for awhile

mom and me off to college

Photo: My Mother Sending off to College after Spring Break – 1966

I remember there were many years when we didn’t often meet
You had your work to keep you busy and I had mine
Yet you always found time to send letters and cards
From Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wisconsin
When you returned to the place where you were born
To use your skills to get federal funding for a health center
On the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation

I remember how frightened you were to testify before Congress
How proud you were of this accomplishment
And how disappointed when the center was named after the tribal leader
Whose bitterness almost sabotaged the project

I remember when I was a little older
Driving this road to your northwoods home
So many times, from so many directions
In too many different cars to recall
Only this time, the drive is different
I’m crying so hard it’s hard to see the road ahead
I’m not coming with my family to celebrate a holiday,
Or taking time away from work to answer your plea for help
Because you’ve grown fearful and weary of Father’s abuse
I’m not coming to help you move to the elder apartment complex
Or the assisted care facility because you can no longer remember
How to care for yourself, or even who I am
This time I’m coming to bid you farewell one last time

I will always remember the love and the laughter,
The tears and the pain as I hold your hand,
Gently caress your cheek and smooth your silvered hair
As you lay in your hospital bed, struggling to breathe, dying.
I kiss your cheek and whisper.
I love you, Mother. I always have. I know I will miss you
But it’s okay to let go now Mother and go home.
You’ll finally be free from suffering.”

It’s been almost five years since your death
But I still remember…


The inspiration for this poem comes from a number of different sources:

  • Comments from my readers about my most recent posts (speak in a personal voice in present tense),
  • The foggy drizzly morning, and
  • A poignant post by another Writing 101 colleague, Rosema Writes: A Reading Writer. Her post unlocked memories and made me realize that I have been thinking about my mother’s death as the five-year anniversary approaches (October 10, 2010). I also realized that I haven’t had the chance to unlock deeper memories and cry until today.

Thank you for inspiring me, Rosema Writes.

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.

Living and Writing in the Present – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

I awake but it seems too dark to be time to arise. My first thoughts, sadly, are doubts about writing only about my day. I lie in bed luxuriating in the warmth of the extra layers of blankets, feeling the cooler air on my cheeks. I lose track of time as my mind wanders, but finally I open my eyes and lift up my old fragile battery-powered plastic alarm clock. Squinting in the grey light, my glasses still on the nightstand by me bed, I see it’s a little after seven.

What an uneventful life I lead now, today!

Finally I kick back the extra covers to discover it’s not as chilly as I thought it’d be, but it’s still dark and damp. Fall is definitely here.

As I arise and head toward the stairs, I realize why it’s so hard to envision writing only in the present. As my gaze passes over the blond-finished dresser in the alcove, I think about how many memories it holds about its many moves and so many other times. Everything has memories. I can’t part with some of the things because of those memories, but my bedroom is the least cluttered room in my house.

I wind down the stairs to the living/dining area, the center of my daytime indoor world. Gripping the railing tightly, I climb over the child gate at the foot of the steps, careful not to slip and hurt the little dog sleeping on the rug below. My glasses now on, I can see the bright number gleaming on the electric digital clock, 7:19. I have many clocks, but it’s the only electric one. (I’m used to many years without electricity.)

See what I mean? Even the simplest things carry memories and connecting threads to other times, people and places. Perhaps that’s as it should be. I’m in the time of my life when I have time to make sense of memories and contemplate the tapestry of past and present.

Ok. Time for coffee. This writing thing is becoming obsessive.

I put on the tea kettle to boil water for my morning instant coffee – yes, that has stories, too, and I peer out the kitchen window. I watch the little girl and her father walking down the alley on their way to the grade school just across the street. Their matching striped umbrellas tell me I’ll need to greet the morning from my back stoop this morning. It’s the only door with a little protective roof – shelter from the rain.

As I sit on the stoop to greet the morning, I breathe in the fresh cool damp air and listen – the sounds of busy morning traffic on the avenue two blocks away, the sounds of leaves rusting in the wind, and the sound of water dripping from the eaves. A gentle steady rain falls. A neighbor’s large grey rabbit shelters under another neighbor’s truck. I watch as it flattens its ears on its back as it chews.

I check my blog before reading the news. The message center is working for a change, so I decide to reciprocate the kindness of those who have liked and commented on my previous posts. I know I will lose my own language as I read the words of others, but still, this is something I feel the need to do.

Although I value all of the comments and likes, I’m especially grateful for substantive comments from Diane and Hildegard about yesterday’s post. Yes, here I am switching time frames to link the past, present, and future. It’s a constant in my life, this temporal interweaving, not just in this present stage of my life. I did need to know if anyone would be able to rise above the emotions of reminders of a hurtful past that may expose the shame of privilege we often carry deep inside. Privilege that accrued from the suffering one’s ancestor’s inflicted, knowingly or not, on others, to leave a better legacy for their descendants while sowing destruction for others. Shame we carry for the privileges we enjoy today.

It’s what I try to minimize in my actions today by living simply. Yet the electricity and fuel that enables me to write and blog, and make my morning coffee, comes at the cost of others who are displaced by resource wars and climate change, by underpaid workers who harvest and produce the food and clothing I can take for granted.


Photo: Notable Quotes

But it’s time to read the news and get on with my tasks for the day
Inside chores because of the steady, cold rain
Preserving food for the winter
Spackling inherited cracks in the kitchen ceiling
And other practical boring to-read-about things
But first let me wish you all a blessed day.

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

Three Vignettes – The Power to Define Reality – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

How do I choose three vignettes from a lifetime of so many experiences? This is my choice for today.



It was autumn at the university. Classes had just begun. Even though I had finished all of the required classes for my doctorate degree a decade ago, here I was again, taking a class on child welfare as a foundation for research on a topic that was still new to me. After working as a research assistant on two different university studies on tribal education, I was ready to take the last steps to qualify to do my own study. I hoped to challenge the accepted dominant cultural policies, institutions, and practice paradigms that continued to be imposed on tribal communities.

Taking classes meant a long drive once a week from my northwoods home 250 miles away. On this particular day, the first day of class, I went to the social word library to read through recent journals. I sat at one of the long tables with several foot-high piles of journals in front of me. As I was reading, I couldn’t help overhearing a loud conversation between two fashionably-dressed young women. They appeared to be of “white” Euro-American ancestry and couldn’t have been much over 20. “I can’t wait to take those children away from the terrible mother I’m working with in my practicum.”

I remember wondering if either of the young women had ever been a mother. Had they ever experienced poverty, deprivation, or trauma? Did they have any clues about the difficulties lone-parents face when they need to balance the challenges of being both the primary caregiver and bread-winner?

I didn’t say anything, and anyway, it was time for me to run to class.



It was the first gathering of all of the county and tribal partners for the university child welfare training initiative. As I walked into the room, I noticed that directors and staff from county and tribal child welfare departments were clustered about the room talking. My role there was one I had reluctantly accepted a few weeks before.

I received a phone call and a forceful plea from the director of a newly funded project. “We need you to be the tribal child welfare training specialist,” she said. “I don’t know anything about child welfare,” I replied. “But you know about tribes. You’re the first one everyone mentioned as the best person for the job.” I thought about all of the people who might be better, but I couldn’t think of anyone who walked in two worlds, or anyone who might be able to deal effectively with people in powerful positions at the university and state. I had been the deputy director of an inter-tribal agency, and the developer, director, and evaluator of many tribal projects.

Before the meeting was convened by the university project director, I overhead several county staff talking. “I’ve been doing this job for 25 years, and I still don’t know if anything I’ve done has made a difference in people’s lives.” I wondered how anyone could do a job for so long without trying to answer that question. (During my time with the initiative, I would learn how important that question really is, and how seldom anyone really wants to know the honest answer.)

I travelled to each tribal community to speak with child welfare staff about their work and the types of training they would find helpful. What I discovered was distressing – underfunding, and over-work. Caseloads in some instances that were over 100 families, and jurisdictional complexity added to the challenges of dealing with tribal children throughout the nation. Despite the enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978, tribes were still underfunded. Counties and states were still able to find ways to circumvent a law intended to strengthen the sovereignty of tribes. Native American children were still at higher risk of being removed from their families than “white” children, and still likely to be removed from their communities and placed in “white” foster or adoptive homes.

After meeting with all of the tribes, I met with the project director and suggested that the wisest approach was to convene a series of forums to bring tribal staff together to discuss their issues and develop a clear vision of what they would like their communities and child welfare systems to look like in the future. That would become the foundation for a tribal curriculum. “No, that doesn’t fit with the training model. We need to have the same approach for counties and tribes. Just take the county training modules and add a few things to make them more culturally appropriate.” Ethically, that was something I just couldn’t do, so I left. Approaches that merely perpetuate assimilation and colonialism were not something I was willing to support even then.



Lucille, an Ojibwe woman in her mid-60s, bent down to whisper in my ear. “You wouldn’t want to hear my story. It’s not a happy one.” I told her I really did want to hear it.

I was doing research in an Ojibwe community to learn about the childhood experiences of community members. I knew it was a story Lucille wanted to share. Following is an edited version of the story she shared that day. (Please note that all names have been changed and there are no community descriptions or other person or place identifiers to protect privacy.)

“When I was little, with grandma and grandpa, when it was time for doing canoes, I went with them to get bark for the canoes, for the wigwam. I went with grandpa. He always did that. Grandma always taught beadwork. I had to tan hides – I’m glad I didn’t have to clean them [smiling dreamily]. They were spread out on frames in the house – I would scrape them [she lifts her hand and moves it through the air with back and force motions] until they were nice and soft.

“The big drum was here and grandma and grandpa were part of it. The drum was presented to grandma. Every time they would have a feast, she’d take me and my brother. I sat on the right side of grandma, and my brother sat on her left. As long as the drum was out, we couldn’t get up or say anything.

“My job after school was to go to all of the elders’ houses to see if they needed anything, any work done or water or wood. My job was to do whatever they needed. I guess that’s why I do it now. I always got along better with elders. If they ask for help you give it, or you offer. I could sit and visit with elders and I always felt better. [smiling as she remembers these times]

“I had a lot of good times when grandma and I would sit on the porch. She would talk Indian and I could understand what she was saying. My brother and I always knew what she was saying, but she wouldn’t teach us because she said it was going to be a white man’s world. “They’re taking over and I don’t want you to be beaten up for talking Indian.” And she was right. It was our heritage, but we couldn’t learn because the white man’s going to take over. [She frowns as she says this in a rougher tone of voice]

[Suddenly her face lights up and she talks animatedly] “We went to ball games. Grandpa would be an umpire and we’d go all over. I was always with grandpa and grandma, going everywhere with them – [suddenly her smile fades] – more than with my mom. Mom didn’t care. She’d come home drunk and chase us out of the house at 3 or 4 in the morning. We’d run to grandma’s. [a wistful smile returns].

“Grandma always had a crock pot of biscuits by the door, it was covered with a towel, and we’d go in and grab a biscuit and go upstairs to the bed – they always had a bed for us. When grandpa got up in the morning, we’d hear him say “Well our kids are home again.” I could never figure out how they knew we were there, and then one day I realized that my brother never put the towel over the crock pot after he took his biscuits. [laughing softly as she remembers]

“My grandparents got up early. In the morning, my grandpa would say “It’s 6 a.m., daylight in the swamp kids.” My grandpa trapped in the winter time. He’d come and wake me up early and tell me to go with him. I’d ask him why he wasn’t taking my brother instead. He’d say “you’re the oldest so you’re coming.” If I wanted money, I’d have to work for it. I’d cut wood, or pump water if I wanted money. If I wanted a nickel or dime, I had to work for it first.

“I could always count on them. They always had something to eat and there was always a bed ready. [she sits up straighter and says this with conviction]

“After I was 9, for 9 years I was away from that love, heritage, pride, life. Where’s an Indian supposed to fit in? When you have those values and are denied a chance to practice them? It was just nine years of hell. How to work was all I got out of it. There was no love – no nothing.

“I was 9 years old when I was told welfare was going to come and take me and my little brother to a foster home. Grandpa and grandma wanted to keep us but they were told they were too old. They were not willing to have us go away, but the county social workers took us anyway.

“We were one of the first ones taken away. They came and picked us up and took us to this farm. I was 9, so I tried to remember the route. I remembered the highway. They said it was 80 miles, but it was more than that. They said that Mom could come and see us whenever she wanted but that did not happen.

“The home on the farm had three daughters of their own, but we – the Indian foster kids – had to do all of the work. We had to wait on them all. [anger and disgust in her voice] We were supposed to get $3 a month for an allowance, but we never got it. We didn’t know anything but work and school. We were not allowed to go anywhere else. We couldn’t have any friends. They were mean to us – we were hit and beat by horse straps. We would tell the social worker at our monthly meetings, but for the 9 years my brother and I were there, we never had the same worker twice. They kept changing workers.

“After I was there, they started bringing others – my other brothers, my sister, and my cousins from the reservation community. My grandma told me “You’re the oldest so you need to watch out for the others.” I took a lot of beatings to protect them so they wouldn’t be hit. [her voice firm and angry, her fists clenched and again, she sits up straighter, adjusting herself in the chair]

“They only took us in because of the work they could get out of us. They never took me to the doctor or dentist like they were supposed to do. I never went to the dentist until I was 18 and I got out of there.

“They had these fields of green beans. They took us there to work in the fields picking beans every day in the summer. We were there from 6 in the morning until they came to get us. We earned 3 cents a bushel, but we never got to keep our money – they took it.

“My brothers ran away. I got beat until they came back.

“My grandma told me “You’re a survivor – you’ll make it no matter what.” And that kept me going. I had a couple of nervous breakdowns. When I was raising my own kids everything that I went through at that farm – it all started to come back.

[tearing up, you can hear her voice breaking as she struggles not to cry] “I can’t have no hate in my heart. If you can’t forgive, take charge of your life, you’re lost. I don’t blame anyone, I don’t blame my mom – she thought she was doing the best thing for us. Mom drank a lot. There were nine of us kids. She was a good mom, other than going and out drinking. She was not a mean mom, but a lot of the reservation thought she wasn’t a very good mother. Her own sister did it to her – reported her to welfare. Her sister later told me that if she had known what was happening in the foster home she never would have done it.

“I don’t have anything good to say about the welfare system. I don’t care that much for foster homes because there is no one who oversees the homes. I don’t think Indian children should be raised in a white man’s home. They don’t share our culture, and they don’t want to understand us. The only way is their way. I don’t think that’s right for Indian children.

“I did survive even though it’s been hard. I have lived with the hurt and the shame of what happened to me as a child. I never shared this story before. Now I see that we need to share our stories with each other. As a tribe and community, we need to heal the circle for those like me who return looking for the love we knew or missed as children. We return looking for the sense of acceptance and belonging we remember from our childhood.

“I just want to help others who have had hard lives. If my story helps at least one person, then what I went through will be worth it.”



Photo: Carlisle Indian Industrial School (Wikipedia)

Lucille’s story is only one of the thousands and thousands of stories that Native American children could tell about more than five centuries of colonial policies intended to “civilize” and assimilate them, most commonly by removing them from their families and communities. Few people in the US have learned this history in their public school educations. The sad fact is that disproportionate removal of Native American children continues today. But notice how this disparity is explained by a leading research institute.

“American Indian children are disproportionately more likely to be victims of maltreatment and to be in foster care than the general population of children, according to 2012 data. Despite Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) guidelines, only 17 percent of American Indian children not living with a biological parent reside with an American Indian caregiver.” (Casey Family Programs) (emphasis added)

More likely to be victims of maltreatment? Certainly Native American children are far more likely to be among the very poor and all that entails, easily classified as parental neglect, the most common form of substantiated maltreatment among all racial/ethnic groups. I witnessed how easily that classification was applied in my own research – because county child welfare workers, teachers, physicians, and law enforcement were more likely to surveil Native families, and more likely to assume the worst, removal was often their first and only action.

Recent investigations also document the power child welfare systems still have over Native American families. I’m sharing these vignettes because this is still an important issue, among the many that face our world today.

Note: This is a rhetorical essay that I would prefer to support with objective data as  a dialectical argument, but I didn’t have time today.

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.

Counting Words in a Morning Poem – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

Peaceful morning
Gentle Autumn Light
A    cool    breeze    whispers
The blooming translucent clematis dances
Captures  sun creating moving shadows  below
Children      are      on      their      way     to     school
Passing   by   on   the   sidewalk   now
Lost in thoughts perhaps dreaming
Of   things   to   come
Let    them    find
Peaceful times


This poem was written in response to an assignment for Writing 101 – to count words in order to learn how to convey ideas as simply as possible. It turned out to be a fascinating challenge. After thinking about the myriad of ways it could be approached, I was at a loss. It wasn’t until I sat quietly on my front porch, drinking my morning coffee, that the ordinary beauty inspired me. When typing out the words that flowed, I decided to take the assignment literally. Each line increases by one word, and then decreases likewise. Like the sights of my brief morning reflection, brief memories of one unique experience are recorded in a bubble of time.

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

Focusing on Foundations – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

What do I do besides write? In the past, I did lots of things, but I rarely had time to write. Now that I’m retired, I do write. I also garden and do minor – well maybe not so minor – repairs. When I first moved to my old handyman’s special house in October of 2011, I inherited a number of surprises. Initially, I only noticed strengths and potential, until I moved in. That’s when I realized all of the things that needed to be fixed. The first step was to remove all of the things that hid the basic structure and foundation so I could begin there.

In many respects, working on my house and yard reminds me of writing – going back to the foundation to repair what I can. The transformation isn’t often visible, but it matters. A lot. It needs to be solid to support the things that can be seen. Given limited financial resources, but many odd carpentry skills, I’ve done many of the unpleasant jobs myself, like cleaning up the basement.


Photo: Basement Before – February 2013


Photo: Basement After Bleaching, Patching and Painting

Even with more visible changes, I can easily forget where I began. I’m grateful I have some photos to remind me. Transforming the yard also required removing things to uncover foundations.


Photo: Front Yard Before – 2011

I forget the stages of transformation – removing old lawn ornaments, cutting through sod, building raised beds, hauling new soil wagon by wagon, and framing other future garden spaces with bricks.


Photo: Spring 2014


Photo: Still a Work in Progress – August 2015

Often – regrettably – I realize that the work is never really done and the processes of maintenance and transformation are not without messes …


Photo: Debris from garden shed and buckthorn tree removal – September 2015


Photo: Garden in Process after Removing Buckthorn Tree – September 2015

But attending to foundations and transformations has its rewards.

  • A freezer that is filling once again with healthy food to remind me of summer’s light and warmth in the long, cold winter ahead;
  • Memories of working with my daughter and grandchildren in the processes of maintenance, transformation, and harvesting – hopefully a foundation of a different kind for them as well – of love and laughter while working together, new knowledge and skills, the courage to take on new challenges, and the tenacity to see them through to completion;
  • A blog filled with reflections that have helped me return to ever-deeper foundations – to patch cracks and clean mold;
  • A collection of stories filled with memories to plant new seeds and leave a legacy for my daughter and grandchildren – stories about both joy and suffering – stories like the ones I wish I had inherited from generations before. My daughter and grandchildren are a central part of some of those stories and one of the main reasons why I write.


Photo: Family – Duluth, MN – Summer 2009


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