Beauty Seen Through a Child’s Eyes

Carol A. Hand

My Granddaughter, Ava, presented me with a picture she drew of me recently. She was excited to point out that my glasses reflected the things and people I love. (And I guess I do look at the world a little differently.)

ava picture of ahma 3

It’s such a gift to have a child tell you that she knows you love her and to know that when she thinks of you, she sees you smiling. I hope you have people who remind you that beauty is in the eyes (and heart) of the beholder.

Part Three: Personal Experiences: Walking in Two Worlds

Carol A. Hand:

This is one of the interview segments my dear friend Lara Trace Hentz posted on her blog.

Originally posted on lara:

26487_1293977706690_1147731241_30741016_7796006_n Carol Hand

By Lara Trace  (author of ONE SMALL SACRIFICE: A Memoir)

Welcome to Part 3 of my extended interview with Anishinabe Elder Carol Hand.

QUESTION: Carol, this quote from the Mic Check post really hit me. “When you try to be a bridge between two cultures, you should expect to get walked over by some people from both sides.” This speaks to oppression and a mixed race ethnicity, something we both have lived. How are you handling this today?

Carol Hand: This is such an important but complex question, Trace. In my silver-haired retirement I face different challenges than I did when I was a child, student and professional. The only way I can do justice to this question is to explain a little bit about how my experiences changed in response to different times and settings (in this post) and the strategies I used to blend cultures in…

View original 1,332 more words

Let’s Paint the World with Peace and Joy

aadi and crocus

Carol A. Hand

Someday I’ll tell you a story
But I don’t know how to start
Should I lead with my intellect
Or speak from my heart?

Will you see me as arrogant
Or understand I’m shy
That I’m just a little different
And I really don’t know why?

I’m more comfortable in nature
Singing with brooks and talking to trees
Speaking with people
Never puts me at ease.

But I’m here for a purpose
And I know that you are too
To learn to live in peace with others
That’s what I try to do.

I wish I could say it’s simple
But that ideal’s so hard to reach
It takes suffering and discipline
To have something meaningful to teach.

It takes listening deeply to others
And caring about what they say
It takes listening to our hearts and dreams
And being present now, each and every day.

Please be patient as I struggle
To find the right words to share
To let you know you’re special,
To let you know I care.

Let’s paint this world together
In colors bold and bright
In colors of hope and kindness
In colors of peace and light.

(Inspired by The Painting (le tableau, Director – Jean-Francois Laguionie)

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Chance Encounter?

Carol A. Hand

Looking back, I wonder if our meeting was really a chance encounter. Who would believe that an hour or so with a stranger could open up compelling possibilities for an unimagined future? Even though it’s hard to remember who I thought I’d become “when I really grew up,” I can hear it in the old cassette recording. Timid, resigned to live in obscurity, and self-effacing. Some days, I’m like that again. And on those days, I feel like a battle-wearied soul in a world gone mad. On those days, I’m convinced there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make a difference. Yet I also hear the soft lovely voice reflecting warmth and kindness on the cassette, carefully modulated but honest thoughtful responses, and the lilting infectious laughter that has sometimes filled airplanes or restaurants with joy. There are days when I feel that, too. I have had the courage to face challenges and conflicts head on with nothing more than the belief that things could change if I did my homework and remained mindful and fully present no matter what I encountered. And sometimes, situations were transformed, and sometimes not. But either way, there was deep satisfaction in knowing that I did what I felt needed to be done to raise awareness about liberatory alternatives and possibilities.

It was the winter of 1977. At the time, I was living in Venice, California, an escapee from a commune that had nearly shattered my belief in people and possibilities. Escape meant starting over from scratch with a six-year old daughter and a partner who couldn’t let go of the past. It meant living in one tiny room in an old hotel near the beach, a disgustingly filthy shared bathroom on the first floor, and cockroaches falling through the ceiling from the room above ours. It meant working as a waitress on the night shift and walking my daughter to and from school in a dangerous neighborhood.

childs pose

Drawing: Carol A. Hand

I don’t remember why I decided to see an astrologer, or how I found this particular one, but our one and only meeting proved to be powerfully transformative. I wish I could thank her and let her know how important our conversation turned out to be, but all I have left after so many years and so many moves is a cassette tape-recording without her name.

Why listen to this old tape now? Perhaps it’s because my battle scars are healing, similar to the ones I carried so many years ago when we met. But I really think it’s because I no longer want to feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines in a crazy world that is threatening the well-being of everyone I love. So I pulled out the old tape and typed out the dialogue to see if I could discover just what inspired me to go back to school and finish my degrees four years after the 1977 chance encounter. The message from the astrologer gave me courage to begin to discover the strengths she highlighted.


Memories from 1983

What can you do when you’re caught in the middle of a dispute about who has access to your volunteer efforts? I remember my first practicum placement as a social work student. One of my tasks was to help organize a new statewide organization for the providers of a relatively new service in Wisconsin, “adult daycare.” At the time, there were several models for providing services for adults who needed somewhere to go during the day because of physical or cognitive conditions that made self-care too difficult. The social model merely provided a place to socialize, meals, activities, and staff to ensure safety. The health maintenance model provided additional services to help with medication and treatment. The third model focused on a blend of social and health maintenance. Obviously, health maintenance models required more professional nursing staff and hence, were more expensive.

On the second day of my practicum placement, I met with the professional staff from the two agencies that were interested in forming a statewide association for adult daycare providers. As they began arguing which agency should host my work, it was clear that this would not be an easy year. They had different ideas about the model that should be the focus of the organization. As the argument grew more heated and appeared to be leading to a final dissolution of any further collaboration, I interrupted to remind them that I was a resource. If they really wanted to create an organization, they would need to agree to work together. It didn’t really matter to me which agency housed my placement, but it did matter that they were both willing to work with me toward a shared goal. They calmed down as we outlined a simple plan for beginning the daunting task ahead.

I discovered that the conflict between the two professionals was mild compared to the dissent among providers across the state. Filling out the necessary nonprofit incorporation papers was easy. Getting people to agree on the purpose and structure of the organization took far more thought and effort. And a funny thing happened. I was tired of the futility of writing papers for classes that never resulted in real world benefits. Because I was also taking a class in interpersonal skills that required being videotaped, I got to know the social work department’s videographer, Dennis. (In these days of austerity, it’s hard to believe that there were ever such positions in the old days!)

I asked Dennis if he ever got to do educational videos. When he said not recently, but he would like to, I asked if he would like to travel through the state with me to interview people and film different adult daycare centers. Of course, I had to get clearance from faculty and administrators, but we found ourselves on the road, often loading his video equipment into my little Honda. We mostly focused on the southeastern part of the state because, like many other resources, centers were located in the most populated areas.

My two field supervisors were supportive and both agreed to be interviewed. One provided an overview of adult daycare. The other showcased her socialization model and explained why she felt it was the most appropriate, cost effective approach. We filmed the two other models and interviewed the directors, and then began the editing process. I wondered why I ever thought this would be easier than a paper! Before we edited our videos, I had to write the script and figure out how to sequence select material from hours and hours of tapes! Yet script in hand, Dennis helped me find a student in the theater department to read the script on audiotape. Then we began the tedious job of arranging clips. When we were finally done, I realized that it took at least one hour to edit each minute of our 33-minute final tape.

AW adult daycare

Photo Credit: Aging Wisconsin – 1987

The agency that had finally housed my placement hosted a premiere of the final product: Daycare: Censored for Adults Only! A fascinating and unanticipated thing happened during the well-attended premiere. But first, I want to digress. I saw myself on video for the first time in the interpersonal skills class that Dennis taped. I remember my first reaction. I had never realized that my nose was so pronounced – a sharp beak that reminded me of Cyrano de Bergerac. When I walked up the stairs after seeing the video, I remember being surprised that my nose wasn’t bumping into the walls three feet away. It was truly humbling and left me with this odd ability to see myself from another vantage point whenever I was speaking in public.

I witnessed the same humbling experience among the daycare directors who saw themselves on tape during the premiere. Maybe it wasn’t their first time, but I know they were so shocked that they actually listened to what their peers had to say. Afterwards, they came together humbly to discuss the benefits of each of the models and were energized to support an organization that would include all of the various models.

Now I have to admit that the video is embarrassingly amateurish and endearingly silly, but it did work to bring people together. By the time my internship was done, the incorporation papers were submitted and approved and the new provider organization was ready for another intern to staff it as an organizer and grant-writer to take it to the next level. (And in case you’re wondering, I passed my practicum and classes but Denis and I weren’t nominated for an Academy Award.) Unfortunately, my only copy of the video was lost sometime in the past during one of my many moves, and the one listed in Worldcat disappeared from the library years ago as well. The video did feature a gifted jazz pianist, a van driver, who played for us during our visit to one of the sites. (In the process of hunting for a copy of the tape, I reconnected with old friends and also learned that the organization still exists.)


I sincerely doubt that I would have discovered these abilities had it not been for my chance encounter with an astrologer. I was so timid and battle weary. She also taught me an even more important lesson by the way she treated me during one of my most vulnerable times. We can use our different kinds of knowledge, our different kinds of skills to either liberate or oppress others. It’s a choice we have every moment. It really never mattered to me whether I believed in astrology or not. What made a difference in my life at that time and for decades to come was someone who used the tools she had with kindness and compassion in order to help someone in need. It’s something I have tried to do consistently in my own life and work through the years. It’s something I know I need to continue to do with renewed intensity during these crazy times.


Drawing: Carol A. Hand

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. 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.

Someday Soon the Sun Will Come

Carol A. Hand

There are mornings like today
When the promise of spring seems months away
When the snow falls again and the sky is grey.


Photo Credit: The View from by Back Steps – Duluth, MN – March 19, 2014

As I greet this morning when all that I hear
Are the sounds of sirens and droning traffic near
Overpowering the songs of birds. Let me not fear.

I send you love when the first memory that comes my way
Is the depth of sadness in your eyes
When you I saw you briefly yesterday.

My beloved grandson there is little I know to do
Except to let you know how much that I love you.


Photo Credit: Ava, Aadi, and Ahma – Hawk’s Ridge – Fall 2012 (Photographer – Jnana Hand)

I know the noise will pass, and spring will soon return
Sometimes only suffering is how we need to learn
But know you are loved, much more than I can say
You’re always in my heart and prayers each and every day.

family 2010

Photo Credit: Ava, Aadi, and Ahma – Duluth, MN – Winter 2010 (Photographer – Jnana Hand)

Your presence in my life is a sacred joy,
May you learn to see your many strengths,
A strong but gentle man who’ll always be my little boy.

Aadi & bubbles

Photo Credit: Aadi and Ahma – Lac du Flambeau, WI – Summer 2002

It helps me to remember when days are dark and grey
That our lives all have a purpose
To walk the path of life with love for all
The ancestors will guide our way.

May you learn to find your inner strength and beauty,
May the ancestors walk with you and guide you on your way
May your life be filled with peace and love, and
May you remember you are loved each and every day.

Richie Havens – Here Comes the Sun

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. 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 project ‘CUT OFF’ of IMPREINT – and its social reflections

Judit Paal – Guest Author

I’ve been following the artist IMPREINT since I participated in his projectPortraitsand I always find fascinating how he arrives to involve the people through his artworks leaving them also the opportunity to participate and be involved.


CUT OFF January 13 at 9:00 am – Courtesy of IMPREINT

In the last project ‘CUT OFF‘ two things particularly catch my attention. The first one is the choice of the title: short, immediate, radical even hard. It talks about homelessness, about homeless people. But we don’t see them on the photo, because they are cut off from the photo, like they are cut off from the society. But in the project, I don’t see them like this: they are treated with respect and dignity, moreover, by not showing anyone personally he talks about every one of them.

The second is the challenge that he proposes to both sides: the society and the homeless. I wonder, will the people on the wealthy side ever give a helping hand to the less fortunate and give them opportunities via education and other instruments, and accept that through these, others can be equal or even more powerful? And will the homeless people have the force to stand up and transform their lives adapting new rules?

IMPREINT Cut off (1)

CUT OFF 11/52 – Courtesy of IMPREINT

I like also the metaphor of the cardboard, it gives us a divisive sentence and lets us choose how we construe it. Do we read it and think this person really dreams about the luxury that an expensive restaurant has to offer, or do we read it as an allegory of a desire of someone who has taken the first step by his side and would like an opportunity to take the second?

There are many things to think about when looking at CUT OFF, things to realise and others to question, and reason how we could participate not necessarily in this project but in taking our part in helping and sharing more with the others.

Links for more Information:

A Little About Judit Paal:
Judit Paal is from Hungary. She is interested in social environments and human rights in her community. She has collaborated with the artist IMPREINT to organise one of the ‘Save me’ workshops in a school of children with disability.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. 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 – Respecting Diversity Matters

Carol A. Hand

“Together the myriad of cultures makes up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelops the planet and is every bit as important to the well being of the planet as is the biological web of life that we know as the biosphere. You may think of this social web of life as an “ethnosphere,” a term perhaps best defined as the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. It is the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, the symbol of all we are and all we, as a wildly inquisitive and astoundingly adaptive species, have created.” (Davis, p. 2).

What is culture, and does it matter? These are central questions to consider for all of us, not just those who grow up on the margins of “mixed.” Culture is a complex and contested concept with many competing definitions. For this discussion, here’s a common view often used.

“Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.” (Culture, Texas A & M University)

Our culture is not often obvious to us. We take our beliefs and institutions for granted – as normal. When we encounter different cultures, we often fail to see that there are so many other ways of making sense of the world. Sometimes we think our culture and institutions are the only ones that makes sense – the best. Sometimes we only see others as lucky because they have a culture. I have often heard this at the end of one of my presentations about Native American issues. “You’re so lucky you have a culture. White people don’t have one.” The reality is that all of us have a culture, but not all of us need to be prepared to walk in multiple worlds every day.

“… the social world in which we live does not exist in some absolute sense, but rather is simply one model of reality, the consequence of one set of intellectual and spiritual choices that our particular cultural lineage made, however successfully, many generations ago.” (Davis, pp. 1-2)

Throughout history, a myriad of unique cultures evolved in the context of specific environments – islands, mountainous terrain, rainforests, deserts, and arctic tundra. Each had its own cosmology, social structure, and relationship with the environment. Ojibwe people learned to adapt to the climate of the north Atlantic, and then the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes – the northern tier of the US and the southern tier of Canada. They relied on hunting, fishing, gathering and gardening in their northern woodlands. There were no large mammals to domesticate to do work. Instead, they developed sophisticated social technologies to unite clans and communities to work together for collective survival (Diamond, 1997; Weatherford, 1988). The cultural clashes that accompanied the first encounters with Europeans were significant and in some sense, are still ongoing. No aspect of Ojibwe culture was spared from the forces of external European hegemony, although this is not meant to imply that colonial oppression was necessarily successful.

colonial domination

Graphic Credit: An Ojibwe Perspective … (Hand, 2003, p. 18)

There are two particular authors who helped me make sense of the importance of cultural differences in framing worldviews and the social institutions that different societies create. Ruppert Ross (1992) helped me begin to understand the contrast between Native American and Euro-Canadian beliefs about “right” living and dispute resolution. Starnes (2006) helped me begin to understand how these different worldviews continue to affect education and learning, a powerful tool for reproducing oppression from one generation to the next. Of course, like all simplistic either/or contrasts, how people think and behave is far more nuanced and multidimensional. Nonetheless, models such as these can be used to encourage inter-cultural dialogue.

Ross, in his work as an Assistant Crown Attorney in northwestern Ontario in 1985, was responsible for handling cases in the courts recently established on remote reserves, primarily Cree and Ojibway (Ojibwe). He struggled to understand the profound cultural differences he observed and developed a comparative framework to make sense of what he learned.

ross table

Graphic Credit: Ojibwe/Cree and Euro-Canadian Cultural Contrasts (Based on Ross’s 1992 work)

It’s not easy for people to articulate taken-for-granted assumptions about life and behavior. Ross’s work provides an important starting point to discuss differences that may otherwise seem incomprehensible. For example, Euro-Americans are often annoyed by what they refer to as “Indian time” – showing up at least half an hour late for scheduled meetings. With the best of intentions, this has often happened to me. A phone call or chance encounter would occur, leaving me with the difficult choice of taking time to listen and help – “acting only when the time is right,” or rudely rushing off because of the need to adhere to a rather arbitrary social convention. (I knew the meeting would usually start late any way regardless of when I arrived.)

Dispute resolution is another fascinating example. I remember watching as a Euro-American professor tried to resolve conflict with an Ojibwe professional she treated with serious disregard and disrespect. The offended party would never answer her calls when she tried to apologize. After months of trying to reach him, she decided to drive seven hours to show up at his office without an appointment. She felt this was the only way to resolve the conflict. When the professor arrived, the professional’s secretary told her he was too busy to meet with her that day or the next. But she barged into his office any way, demanding that he listen to her apology. He stood up saying he didn’t want to talk to her, but she walked toward him with her steady gaze riveted on his face. He backed away, and she drew closer. He backed up some more, and again she drew closer. Finally, as this dance continued, he was out of space to back up further and was forced to turn to face the wall with his back to her. (It’s crucial for community cohesiveness to never openly show strong emotion, and in this case, he had extremely good reasons to be very angry.) At some point, she finally realized that she wasn’t going to succeed. The dispute, still unresolved decades later, could have been prevented so easily had she taken the time to learn a little about Ojibwe culture. The cost of her disrespect? It meant that the tribal community the Ojibwe professional represented would have nothing to do with her or a new project that may have benefited youth and local schools.

“To acknowledge the wonder of other cultures is not to denigrate our way of life but rather to recognize with some humility that other peoples, flawed as they too may be, nevertheless contribute to our collective heritage, the human repertoire of ideas, beliefs, and adaptations that have allowed us as a species to thrive. To appreciate this truth is to sense viscerally the tragedy inherent in the loss of a language of a people. To lose a culture is to lose something of ourselves” (Davis, pp. 201-202).

It’s true that learning the value of understanding and respecting other cultures isn’t something most children have access to in US public schools. Even if diversity subjects are covered, the way these subjects are taught and tested often reinforces cultural (and class) hegemony. When Bobby Ann Starnes, an award-winning teacher with 18 years of experience, began teaching at the Rocky Boy Elementary School on the Chippewa-Cree reservation in Montana in 2001, she discovered how little she knew about teaching Native children. She also learned that effective teachers in this context need to know the ways Native children learn, as well as something about their histories, cultures, and communities. She set out to help other educators understand the contrasts between the principles and assumptions embedded in the current public education system dictated by the No Child Left Behind Act and effective teaching from Native American cultural perspectives. Like Indian boarding schools, NCLB’s “standardized” (assimilative) curriculum “alienated children and communities” (p. 388). In order to help teachers from doing further harm, she developed a framework that contrasts best practices for working with Native students, and the approaches that NCLB programs actually require.


Graphic Credit: What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Them (Starnes, 2006, p. 389).

Clearly the judicial system Ross described and the educational system Starnes observed are examples of continued ethnocide. One culture that developed from the experiences of immigrant European cultures has continued to be used to assimilate or alienate those whose cultures are based on other worldviews. This disrespect for other ways of being and making sense of life has serious consequences. Yes, large mammals and newer machines can often accomplish difficult work much more quickly and efficiently than groups of people working together, but often we lose what is most important in the process – a sense of community connections. As John McKnight (1995) observes, it is not just the natural environment that is sometimes destroyed in the process, and the habitats of many other species, the very connections that create community cohesiveness are destroyed as well. McKnight describes how the invention of the steel plow opened up the prairie lands to farmers, and how new social technologies like bereavement counsellors destroy community connections. Steel plows, unlike previous tools, could cut through the thick, interwoven root systems of prairie grasses. Soon, the rich soil that was once protected by the grasses began to disappear with wind and weather, creating a desert until new generations of farmers leaned how to protect and replenish the soil. So too, professional “experts” cut through the invisible interwoven threads of caring that characterize vibrant communities.

It is precisely these interwoven roots of connection with people and environments that many of the cultures that have disappeared knew so well. Some of these insights still guide how some cultures live, but these are the communities most at risk of disappearing as corporate interest displace peoples around the globe in their quest to exploit the earth’s resources for profit. What is lost is not only land and animal species. We lose the accumulated wisdom of peoples who learned to live in balance with each other and their environments over the course of millennia.

“To define perpetual growth on a finite planet as the sole measure of economic well-being is to engage in a form of collective suicide. To deny or exclude from the calculus of governance the costs of violating the biological support systems is the logic of delusion. These voices matter because they can still be heard to remind us that there are indeed alternatives, other ways of orienting human beings in social, spiritual, and ecological space” (Davis, p. 217).

I wish I had answers, but I only have questions and concerns…

“One question lurking behind all of this is whether in fact all practice, everything everyone does, embodies and hence reproduces the assumptions of the system. There is actually a profound philosophical issue here: how, if actors are fully cultural beings, they could ever do anything that does not in some way carry forward core cultural assumptions.” (Dirks, Eley, & Ortner, p. 398)

Works Cited:

Wade Davis (2009). The wayfinders: Why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world. Toronto, ON, Canada: House of Anansi Press, Inc.

Jared Diamond (1997). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. New York, NYW. W. Norton & Company.

Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley, & Sherry B. Ortner (Eds.)(1994). Culture/power/history: A reader in contemporary social theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Carol A. Hand (2003). An Ojibwe perspective on the welfare of children: Rescuing children or homogenizing America? (Doctoral dissertation). Available from UMI Dissertation Services, ProQuest Company: Ann Arbor, MI.

John McKnight (1995). John Deere and the bereavement counselor. In The careless society: Community and its counterfeits (pp. 3-15). New York, NY: Basic Books.

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

Bobby Ann Starnes (2006). What we don’t know can hurt them: White teachers, Indian children. Phi Delta Kappan, 87 (5), 384-392.

Jack Weatherford (1988). Indian givers: How Indians of the Americas transformed the world. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. 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 Beauty and Sorrow

Carol A. Hand

Seeing the beauty around me
brings both joy and sorrow.
I realize the fragility
that may not survive tomorrow.

I remember the forest that
inspired my childhood song
cut down to build houses,
a sanctuary long gone.

I remember the dreams of peace
from my youth now gone bye
chickadees still sing and crows still circle high
but new wars begin as drones fill the sky

Here birds greet the morning as tree tops turn gold,
While many children go hungry
And my heart hears their cries
Because leaders want power and their hearts have grown cold.

They poison the waters in the rush for oil,
as oceans are warming as sea levels rise
they poison the air and poison the soil
they close their hearts to the earth’s cries.

Let me greet every morning as long as I live
mindful of beauty and suffering
and mindful of the hope
only love can give.

lake superior sunrise

Photo Credit: Lake Superior Sunrise and Silhouettes – Photographer Jnana Hand

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. 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.

Saturday’s Song

Carol A. Hand

My morning reading reminded me of this song by Si Kahn. It’s one of my favorites, but finding a reasonable version on Youtube this morning was a bit of a challenge. Here’s the version performed by Si Kahn. (The song seems to be very popular. There are many other versions if you want to be entertained by the diversity of approaches and styles.)

(Si Kahn)

What You Do with What You’ve Got
(Words and Music by Si Kahn)

You must know someone like him
He was tall and strong and lean
With a body like a greyhound
And a mind so sharp and keen
But his heart, just like a laurel,
Grew twisted round itself
Till almost every thing he did
Caused pain to someone else

It’s not just what you’re born with
It’s what you choose to bear
It’s not how large your share is
But how much you can share
And it’s not the fights you dreamed of
But those you really fought
It’s not just what you’re given
It’s what you do with what you’ve got.

Now what’s use of two good legs
If you only run away?
And what use is the finest voice
If you’ve nothing good to say?
And what good is strength and muscle
If you only push and shove?
And what’s the use of two good ears
If you can’t hear those you love?

It’s not just what you’re born with
It’s what you choose to bear
It’s not how large your share is
But how much you can share
And it’s not the fights you dreamed of
But those you really fought
It’s not just what you’re given
It’s what you do with what you’ve got.

Between those who use their neighbors
And those who use a cane
Between those in constant power
And those in constant pain
Between those who run to evil
And those who cannot run
Tell me which ones are the cripples
And which ones touch the sun?

It’s not just what you’re born with
It’s what you choose to bear
It’s not how large your share is
But how much you can share
And it’s not the fights you dreamed of
But those you really fought
It’s not just what you’re given
It’s what you do with what you’ve got.

When you think of “health” what comes to mind?

Carol A. Hand

This morning as I greeted a bright but frigid morning, I found myself thinking of one of my many culture-bridging experiences. I was wondering why it is so difficult for us to listen to each other and find our common ground.

Maybe it was one specific job interview years ago that made this so apparent to me. In my younger years, I would often get calls begging me to take on a new project – Indian education, child welfare, or addiction prevention to name a few. I remember reluctantly agreeing to consider working on a federally-funded project to prevent chemical dependency in selected tribes. There was only one other Native American person on the research team, and he wanted to interview me to make sure I was “Indian enough.” He asked me about the research I was planning to conduct on Indian child welfare. When I explained that I was interested in learning how Ojibwe people defined effective and ineffective parenting and the systems and interventions they would recommend to address situations they saw as ineffective, my interviewer became impatient and agitated.

We already know that! Why bother?,” he replied.

I know what I think,” I replied, “but I have no idea how many other perspectives there are among community members, and I would like to know what they think.”

Needless to say, I didn’t pass the “Indian enough” test, but it wasn’t because of my response to this exchange. It was my honesty when I answered the pivotal question.

We have two finalists for the coordinator of the project for one of our tribal sites. One is traditional, and one is assimilated. Who do you think we should hire?”

I knew he wanted me to endorse hiring the person he referred to as traditional, but instead, I was honest.

It depends on the project objectives, the community context, and the fit with candidate qualifications. That really should be left to the community to decide. But honestly, I don’t know what you mean by the terms ‘traditional’ and ‘assimilated’ in this context or why it should matter.”

I wasn’t willing to say that there was only one simplistic choice – his (or mine). The exchange taught me many valuable lessons, among them, the need to ask questions that allowed people maximum freedom to share what they really thought and felt.


Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Diversity Tree

Years in the future, I remembered this lesson when I was asked to do a needs assessment for an urban Indian health center. The center was surrounded by competing factions, each with strong and divergent views of who should be in the leadership position, the types of services that should be provided, and the overall purpose of the center. I agreed to seek grant funding if we could move beyond merely cataloguing health problems and also look at individual and community strengths and visions for the future. As I began writing the proposal, I asked myself how I could use research to attempt to build common ground. Several ideas came to mind. First, we would build a multi-cultural team that would include university faculty and students, health center leadership, and community members. Second, we would use a sampling technique that would maximize the inclusion of diverse perspectives (hermeneutic dialectics). Third, by exploring strengths and future visions, we would be looking for ways to build common ground and community buy-in and excitement. But how does one craft questions that really allow people maximum freedom to answer honestly in such a conflict-ridden context?

Our proposal was funded and we built a multicultural team, although it was challenging to find a community member who was able to honor research protocols. Our first choice didn’t work primarily because it was too difficult for the community representative to respect participant privacy or solicit, respect and convey perspectives that differed from hers. Community members requested that we replace her with Euro-American graduate students who were perceived as more trustworthy for honoring confidentiality and listening carefully to what they had to say. We honored that request. Nonetheless, her help crafting the interview questions did prove invaluable.

Our first question set the tone. “When you think of “health” what comes to mind?” Unlike the questions my interviewer from years ago asked, there was no indication of the “correct” answer. We deliberately avoided defining words like “community” to see how participants would define it themselves. Would they include only their faction of the Native community? Those who shared their tribal affiliation? All Native members who lived in the community, or all residents of the community regardless of ancestry?

The next challenge was figuring out who to talk to and how to maximize inclusiveness. Although the title of the sampling technique, “hermeneutic dialectics,” is too academic and off-putting, it’s really very simple to understand and operationalize (Guba and Lincoln, 1989). At the end of each interview, one simply asks each participant if he or she can recommend someone we could interview who has different views than theirs.

The answers to all of the questions, but particularly the first, made the inclusiveness of our sample very clear.

Definitions of Health

In response to the question “When you think of ‘health’ what comes to mind?,” participants gave many types of responses. The following themes and quotes suggest that the sample of participants was diverse.

✧ Physical

“The state your body is in.”

✧ Personal Responsibility

 “Lifestyle choices.”
“Health is exercising regularly, walking, running. Eating well is healthy too. Eating vegetables, fruits, protein is very important.”
“Health is just something you need to work on all the time.”

✧ Absence of Disease

“Good health would mean the absence of all of these horrible diseases” [AIDS, diabetes, breast/cervical cancer].

✧ Holistic

“Health to me means spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically centered.”

✧ Reliance on the Health Care System

“I have children, so I think of their healthcare coverage, and co-payments.”

✧ Family History

“Family history – diabetes, cancer, arthritis.”

✧ Structural Factors (Limited Income, Health Care System, Environment)

“We don’t eat the best foods – often we have to get what’s on sale.”
“A long wait. . . even when you are sick and in pain, you have to wait to get services.”
“Clean air is very important–like the exhaust from the cars and mills.”

What Was

Participants described the health center in terms of the role it played in the Native Community in the past – as the center of the hub that brought people together and provided a range of services. It was a place where families could bring their children for daycare, elders shared meals, and people would hang out to socialize and have coffee with others. But that changed.

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Photo Credit: Community-University Partnership – 2007

Most of the programs were initially funded in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the War on Poverty. With the leaner, meaner years of Reagan and beyond, funding sources needed to shift to keep the center open, yet most community residents were unaware of the reasons for the changes in the types of services the center provided. They saw the changes in a different light, as a way for one faction to gain control of the center’s leadership and resources.

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Photo Credit: Community-University Partnership – 2007

What Is

Participants described the present status of the community as one characterized by different factions based on a number of criteria: the amount of time they had been living in the community, their tribal or national ancestry, whether they continued to practice their tribal traditions or chose to fit in more with the dominant culture. Instead of viewing the center as a hub that unified the community, it was now viewed as contributing to the divisions by only serving a select group in power at the time. Yet some participants also acknowledged the work that center staff were doing to bring in additional resources and services, such as mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.

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Photo Credit: University-Community Partnership – 2007

What Could Be

All of the participants described clear ideas of what the center and community could, and should, be. For many, the future represented the healthiest aspects of the past and present, and the center was described as a hub that would provide not only health services, but also a range of other human services as the agency did in the past – a gathering place that would connect Native American people across generations, especially youth and elders, and across tribal and urban/reservation distinctions.

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Photo Credit: University-Community Partnership – 2007

Many participants described a future that moved beyond the Native American community to connect with the urban community as a whole and with tribal communities scattered throughout the state, US, and Canada as well. Their future vision reached beyond ethnic and geographic boundaries, and also across time, to interweave traditions throughout center services and into other health care agencies, child day care, and schools. As participants described these visions during interviews, they often became animated, suggesting these were powerful dreams that generated a sense of hope, excitement, and real possibility.

Putting the Past, Present, and Future Together

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Photo Credit: Community-University Partnership – 2007

I could go on to list the serious challenges the Native American community faced due to centuries of colonial oppression and ongoing discrimination, but those issues are often the only things we hear about peoples on the margins. It’s what researchers tend to study and write about. Maori researcher Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2001) makes this point very clearly.

hegemony slide

Photo Credit: Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2001)

Instead, I would like to share a story that shows what we miss when we only see people’s problems. One of the study participants first described the many physical conditions that made mobility difficult for her, the financial challenges that made accessing prevention and treatment services so difficult, and the discrimination that made her reluctant to even try. Then, she told a story about the discrimination her son faced in the public school system. White students taunted him, called him names, and pulled his braid. She and her husband met with the principal to share their concerns. The principal promised he would discipline the white youth involved and make sure the bullying ended. She and her husband offered a different solution. As a family, they would proposed to share their tribal culture in a ceremony and performance for the whole school so all teachers and students would have a better understanding of their history and culture. The principal accepted their solution. Instead of perpetuating resentment through punishment, the performance did result in improved relationships and understanding. The former bullies befriended their son, as did other students and teachers. To only see this woman as a victim negates her ability to be seen for all that she is and has to offer others.

The second thing I would like to share is a little of the wisdom and future hopes of the community members we interviewed.

“Part of rebuilding the community is utilizing people who want to help. It will take the sense of belonging to the community like the branches of a tree. By doing this reaching out, it makes the community healthy, and it makes the center strong and healthy, and people are drawn to it and want to hang around.”

“I would like my children and grandchildren to learn from the community – for community members to share their tribal values and who they are with my child. It is nice to know a whole range of cultures. They are all different, still all are the same in many ways. It would be nice to visit community members who can share these things about their culture.”

One of the participants prophetically predicted the outcome of this hopeful project.

“Power sources are experts at turning us against each other, then they walk right over us. We are all like a circle, the non-profits working for Indian people. I try to tell people that the money-people toss a dollar bill in the middle and we all scramble for it. And I tell people we cannot do that anymore. When the money-people throw the dollar bill into the center of the circle we have to say “NO.” We must lock arms in the circle and ask for something more. We need to improve all of our lives, not just a handful of our lives. If we could just all get on the same page. It’s not about who is in charge – we are equals. But the power sources would prefer to have us at each other’s throats.”

Sadly, those in power at the county and federal were able to divide the community. It was heartbreaking to be aware not only of the serious needs that would continue to go unmet for Native American residents, but also to see the strengths and visions of the community that could be brought to bear to build a more inclusive, healthier, and kinder community. It is far easier to divide and conquer than it is to foster communities that bring elders and youth together, help foster mutual support networks, and encourage all kinds of innovative community-building initiatives. Another outcome was so possible – a community that was respectful and inclusive of all of the residents and visitors, where children and elders were cherished for their gifts, where all people had fulfilling work that paid them fair wages, and where all had equal access to safe and affordable housing, education, nutrition, and health care. A community where all had equal ability to enjoy the beauty of the wild natural areas that surrounded them. That’s what comes to my mind when I think of the word “health.”

Works Cited:

Egon G. Guba and Yvonne S. Lincoln (1989). Fourth generation evaluation. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Carol A. Hand, Peggy Cochran-Seelye, David Schantz, Eric Diamond, and Sarah Aronson (2007). University-community partnership to improve the health of Missoula’s Native American community members. (Unpublished report, available upon request as a PDF document from Carol A. Hand)

Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2001). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London, GB: Zed Books Ltd.

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