Enjoying Simple Things

Carol A. Hand

Time with family, a neighborhood walk


Taking time to laugh and play


And to celebrate the love that gives life meaning.


Wishing you all a wonderful week.

Posted in On the Lighter Side | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

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.

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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, 2013-2015. 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.

Posted in Challenging the Status Quo | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments

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, 2013-2015. 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.

Posted in Bridging Cultures | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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, 2013-2015. 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.

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A New Use for the ‘Old Harmless Provision?

Carol A. Hand

This morning as I was reading blogs, I grew increasingly alarmed about the magnitude of the refugee crisis in Croatia and Europe. (Thank you, Ina Vukic, for your crucial and thought-provoking updates.) It made me wonder what we could do as a little city in Minnesota to reach out and offer sanctuary for at least some of the refugees. And then, other questions came to mind. What can we do for those who are homeless here now? What about all of the families here that are facing foreclosure and evictions from their homes? How can we, as a city, help them and refugees as well?

What would happen if the city decided to exercise the right of eminent domain to stop those foreclosures, claiming ownership of all of those properties and allowing families to remain where they are? Condemning those properties that are vacant to house the homeless, and using the remainder to house refugees? Is it possible? How could this be fair for banks?


Image: Scale of (In)Justice 

I’m not an economist and I’m not sure how eminent domain rights really work, but I have helped resolve tricky problems in the past. This morning, I remembered one of those times. It’s a story I need to tell to illustrate my thinking here.


It was 1983. I was the recently-hired Title III Coordinator for a state department of health and social services. My job was to develop and oversee programs and policies for elders throughout the state. Funding for services, of course, was dependent on state and federal revenues and appropriations. Some years, funding increased, and some years it was reduced. Monies were distributed among the counties and tribes based on formulas that relied on the most recent US Census information. In 1983, demographic information was thirteen years out-of-date.

When the new population figures for 1980 arrived at the end of 1983, it was clear that huge shifts had occurred. Elders who retired from 1970 to 1980 had flocked to northern counties, leaving many suburban and urban areas in the southern part of the state with a significantly reduced percentage of the older population.

It would have been an easy situation to address had it also been a time of significant budget increases. New monies could simply be applied to address population growth in some counties without cutting funding for those where the percentage of the state’s elder population had declined. Unfortunately, those were the Reagan years, a mean-spirited time (from my perspective) of tax cuts for the wealthy and draconian downsizing of the social safety net for those who were poor, retired, or had disabilities.

When the northern counties heard the news, they naturally wanted all of the money they felt they deserved. Honoring that demand would mean that funding for some of the larger southern counties would need to be slashed, resulting in jobs lost and services gutted. Stepping back to look at the bigger picture, it was important for me to acknowledge that the total amount of funding for aging programs in the state had never been adequate to meet the magnitude of needs.

In my travels throughout the state, I had visited Latino and Black urban neighborhoods, farm communities, and tribal reservations. The congregate nutrition programs, senior centers, home-delivered meals and other programs and services were a lifeline for many and improved the quality of individual and community life. Some of these would be lost for the sake of mechanistic formulas that were convenient for administrators but would certainly cause suffering for those elders who would no longer be able to access necessary services.

As a staff, we discussed options. We needed to let elders in the state help us decide. We were, after all, being threatened by lawsuits from the northern counties. I proposed that we offer three options and develop a position paper that was carefully argued to encourage people to choose the option that would do the least harm. Staff agreed. It was then my job to come up with the options and draft a position paper.

There were three obvious options:

  • Continue to use the old demographic information and award any funding increases, or decreases, equitably across all counties and tribes
  • Distribute funding based solely on the new demographic information, cutting some budgets significantly and enhancing others
  • Create a new wrinkle for funding formulas in order to address current and future population shifts – a “Hold Harmless Provision”

It was fairly simple to describe the first two options. It was the third option that was the most challenging – the one we all hoped would be the public opinion winner from elders all over the state.

  • Contingent upon allocations from the state and federal governments that were at least equal to those in the current budget, all counties would continue to receive their current funding level as a base. No counties would lose funding.
  • Contingent upon significant increases in state and federal funding that exceeded the resources needed to fully fund the “under-funded” counties without taking money away from “over-funded” counties, awards for “under-funded” counties would bring them up to their new “fair share” before any remaining funds were then distributed using the existing funding formula to maintain equity.
  • Contingent upon budgets like the current one, with only moderate funding increases, a hold-harmless provision would go into effect. Budgets for technically “over-funded” counties would not be reduced, but they wouldn’t receive any additional funding until inequities were resolved. All new monies would be awarded to “under-funded” counties until they received their “fair share,” at which point, new money would be awarded based on the existing formula.
  • In the event of future funding decreases, the state would need to meet with citizens throughout the state to decide how to proceed.

We discussed and tweaked draft after draft of the position paper. Finally, we agreed it was ready for the department secretary’s signature. Then, thousands of copies were printed for scheduled public hearings around the state. I was ecstatic that we had something we could all be proud of – it just might work!

I was on my way to the first public hearing in the state capitol city, only a few blocks away from my office. I was dressed in a tailored suit and high-heeled shoes (professional, you know), with a huge stack of position papers blocking my view as I hurried along. As I stepped off the curb to cross the street to the building where the hearing was being held, one of my heels caught in a crack. The papers and I went flying. Luckily, no cars were speeding by at the time. I looked down and saw my torn stockings and bloody knee, but I had a few moments to clean up. Then, I started collecting the papers. It was then that I noticed the typo!

How could I have missed this after editing this paper so many times? How could everyone have missed this! There it was, in bold capital letters at the top of option three – instead of the “Hold Harmless Provision” it said “OLD HARMLESS POSITION.” I forgot my bleeding knee and my embarrassment over falling. I was oblivious to the pain beginning in my sprained and tendon-damaged ankle.

My face flushed red, my heart started fluttering. But I picked up the papers and hurried across the street. I stopped in the restroom to discard my torn stockings and wash off my bloody knee, glad I wore long skits in those days, and walked into the room where the hearing would be held.

In a split second, as I piled the papers on the front table, I realized it would be ok. I really never could have planned this. Comic humor. That was really what sold the provision to elders throughout the state and prevented lawsuits. Everyone could laugh at the state (me), and really, the ‘old harmless provision was a funny typo for the state bureau on aging to miss.


What does this memory have to do with providing shelter for refugees? This morning, I asked myself what banks deserve in terms of recompense for foreclosed houses. I know from paying off my own mortgages, even with lower interest rates, that banks had earned far more in interest than the fair market value of my homes by the time I sold them.


Image: Scales of Justice 

It occurred to me that cities could create a “hold harmless provision” for foreclosed homes they seized from banks by exercising their power of eminent domain. Banks would be able to keep the excess interest of the mortgagees who had paid more than the market values of their homes already. But the city would agree to pay banks only the difference between the interest already paid and the fair market value for those mortgagees who hadn’t yet reached that threshold.

I have no idea if this would work economically or politically. But I really think it could. I think it’s fair and socially just. I’d love to hear from those who know more about how to make this happen on a local level throughout the nation.

Information about Cities Using Eminent Domain:




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.

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

What’s “Normal”?

Carol A. Hand

Facebook reminded me of a post I made three years ago (September 26, 2012). It was dedicated to a friend and former colleague in the art department of the university where I used to teach. He’s the one who taught me how to use art to unlock stories as a form of resistance to hegemony.

Hi dear friend, this is for you and the A-Team [the Action Team we worked with to address racial discrimination on campus]. While working on a critique of how social work educators deal with difference, I remembered the importance of art. :-) Many years ago, I was inspired by an illustration in Michel Foucault’s book, Discipline and Punish, of the process often used to assimilate those who are different. I have attached my attempt to draw a similar metaphor.


Photo: Drawing by Carol A. Hand
(based on an adaptation of N. Andry (1749), Orthopaedrics or the art of preventing and correcting deformities of the body in children, cited in Foucault, 1979, illustration # 10, inset between pp. 169-170)

Today, this memory inspired a (somewhat) light-hearted poem…

If you’re a different kind of tree
Accustomed to adversity
Others may find you strange

They may say the constraints imposed
To help you fit in, with options closed
Are for your own good – a necessary change

Please believe me – you’re fine just as you are
With your roots deep in the earth
Hold onto your dreams as you aim for a shooting star


Photo: Shooting Star – Clip Arts 

Work Cited:

Foucault, Michel (1979). Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison. (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1975)

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.

Posted in On the Lighter Side | Tagged , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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, 2013-2015. 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.

Posted in Memories | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments

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, 2013-2015. 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.

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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.

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