Breathe Deeply

Carol A. Hand

Breathe deeply. Take a moment for silence to remember why you’re here
In this place, at this time – it will help still your fear.
You’re here for a reason – don’t forget it’s really your choice
To take responsibility for those who suffer and don’t have a voice.

It’s not because those who suffer don’t matter – don’t have important things to say
It’s more likely they don’t feel they’ll be respected so it’s best to stay away.
Let me try again to build a bridge with those in power despite shyness or fear
So they too will breathe deeply and take a moment to remember why we’re all here.

(This was inspired by the second visit I will be making today for the Neighborhood Project I wrote about in The Street Where I Live.)

duluth bridge

Photo – Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth, MN (Source)

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 Zoo of a Day

Carol A. Hand

DSC00423

Photo: Lake Superior Zoo – August 25, 2014

After breakfast and bus rides we went to the zoo
To visit the animals on a windy spring day
We talked of other visits and discovered something new
Clutching your red teddy bear as you led the way.

Other children ran and yelled, tapping glass and poking cages
As we spoke quietly and read the each plaque.
I’m grateful you respect animals – perhaps it’s because of different ages
You are kinder and gentler and always want to come back

To visit the graveyard of the animals killed two years ago
When the zoo was under water and the seals swam away.
To see if the polar bear’s back – you so wanted to know.
But her area was still empty when we visited today.

I know that being around animals is something you see as fun
Please forgive me – I really don’t mean to spoil it,
But seeing animals in cages where they’re unable to run
Alone, living on concrete, doesn’t please me one bit.

DSC00425

Photo: Lake Superior Zoo – August 25, 2014

So we spent time talking when we went to the zoo
And visited with the snapping turtle in a cage bounded by glass
Alone in a basement corner, in a world of concrete with nothing to do
Still the turtle was fed and housed but how slowly its day must pass.

Without any plants to hide in, without another living creature.
So we stayed for a while, and it seemed to understand
That you wanted it to know for you it was now the zoo’s star feature.
When we left, we decided to learn more about it and help it if we can.

You asked to watch a movie before you went to bed
About a baby sloth that was taken from its home
To sell as a pet. She was rescued and healed, housed and fed
And released when she was ready to live on her own.

As you were sleeping peacefully in your new bed
The neighbors built a fire and like the children at the zoo
Didn’t stop to think of others – only pleasure in their head
They watched as flames leapt skyway, burning embers too.

With red flag warnings in effect- fire danger was quite clear
Yet they added more wood and watched the blaze
Only feet from where you lay – my beloved Ava dear
The fire department came – an urgent warning about the zoo of our days.

ava at the zoo 2014

Photo: Ava – Lake Superior Zoo August 25, 2014

It makes me worry about the future that we all face
When momentary amusement is a more important thing
When kindness toward animals and people takes second place
I sincerely hope enough of us will soon be awakening.

 

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.

“You Need to Tell Them How I Was with the Children”

Carol A. Hand

Winter was sometimes warm and mild in the prairie lands where I lived while I taught a double-load of classes and finished writing about my research study on Indian child welfare. The weather was warm and calm on the day I finished my first draft in February of 2003.

I’m not sure how I ever ended up as a doctoral candidate in social welfare, but here I was – finishing what I had started more than a decade before. I printed and collated the 320-plus pages of my draft dissertation as one of my colleagues tried to distract me and draw me into an ongoing intradepartmental conflict. Somehow, I managed to keep my focus on assembling the six thick binders I needed to mail to university faculty, my doctoral committee, who would judge my work as “pass, redo, or fail.”

After visiting the post office to mail six packages, I headed to my little house in the working class section of town. I parked my car in back, the alley side, and started walking toward my house, probably lost in thought. Suddenly, a vision of the Ogema I had heard so much about during my study appeared in the air to my right. He had died long before my visit to the community. I only knew about him through writings, stories, and old photos. When he appeared, all that I saw was his face – it was as if I were peering through a window into another dimension. He was laughing as he said, “You forgot to tell them how I was with the children. You need to tell them this.”

Maybe I was just tired enough for my imagination to play tricks on me, or maybe this was real – an important message I needed to heed. It’s true that the draft I had just mailed off didn’t emphasize the crucial role model he was for all of the elders who shared their stories about their childhood years. Ogema was often a central figure in their accounts.

As March 12 approached, the day I would face a six-member faculty committee to defend my dissertation, I reflected on Ogema’s words, and on the challenge of walking in two worlds. I doubt that many of the Ojibwe elders I had spoken with during my study would find my vision of Ogema to be odd. But what about my committee members? Would they even need to know?

I prepared my presentation for the committee, carefully connecting relevant theory and past research to support my research approach and conclusions. But one never knows beforehand what questions faculty will ask and whether they will need to challenge the merit and trustworthiness of one’s work. As I climbed Bascom Hill at the University of Wisconsin – Madison the day of my defense, I struggled to balance the obligatory refreshments for faculty and the thick black three-ring binder that held years of work and the key to a future I had never envisioned when I was a child or young adult.

As I walked, I wondered if the years of work compiled in this document would address the concerns one of the committee members raised at the beginning. “Rescuing children or homogenizing America [the short title of my dissertation]? That’s a very provocative title [meaning ‘critical and emotionally charged’]. You’d better be able to defend it.”

A little winded by the climb, I finally arrived. After introductions and small talk, it was time to begin. I’m not sure why I began my presentation as I did, but in the end, it proved to be wise on many levels. I began with the story about Ogema’s appearance and spoke of the challenge of walking in two worlds – white and Ojibwe, the challenge of reading histories of oppression and suffering and past research literature that referred to people in my grandparents’ and mother’s generations as “the children of savages.” And I spoke of the difficulty of remaining objective as I strove to weave it all together after listening to people’s stories and observing present conditions and power dynamics.

Ojibwe speaking communities

Location of all Ojibwe Reservations/Reserves and cities with an Ojibwe population in North America, with diffusion rings about communities speaking the Ojibwe language. (Source)

The defense was a long and arduous process, but I did pass with two unexpected gifts. The faculty member who warned me that I needed to defend my title had tears in her eyes at the end. She hugged me and told me that she was deeply touched by the stories of adversity and resilience, of oppression and Ojibwe innovation and resistance. And a faculty member who had graded another student’s work with pointed critiques in red ink handed me his copy of the draft I had sent him with his penciled comments in the margins – stories his Native American father had shared about his experiences growing up.

Since then, my files and notebooks have been biding their time, waiting for me to share the story about how Ogemawas with the children” with an audience that is larger than the six faculty members who were present during my defense in March of 2003. And perhaps this post is a draft of the preface for the book I’ve begun to tell Ogema’s story…

Imagine what the world would be like if national and corporate leaders were as eager as Ogema was to be remembered for how they treated children during their tenure.

Note: Ogema is not the name of an individual, but is used to designate his position in the Ojibwe community in the past. In his case, the title represented not only his hereditary status as chief, but also a recognition of the respect he earned from community members through his wise leadership, kindness, and generosity. He was kind to the children, he protected them in times of need, and he enacted policies and built alliances to protect them in the future.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the members of my doctoral committee for their support and encouragement, as well as the Chair of the Social Work Department in the prairie lands who provided support and flexibility for me to complete my dissertation.

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 Challenge of Reweaving Communities

Carol A. Hand

“… disasters sometimes have the potential for destroying the sense of communality that holds people together, for killing the spirit of neighborliness and kinship that is so important a part of their world. One should speak of such things cautiously, but in a very reals sense the cultural bonds that connect people to one another and to the places in which they live are a kind of tissue that can be damaged and even destroyed by too sharp and too sustained an assault.” (Erikson, in Shkilnyk, 1985, p. xvi)

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Photo: Ontario-Sanctioned Clear Cutting of Grassy Narrows’ Forest

In 2001, I set out to conduct a research study of Indian child welfare in an Ojibwe community. There were two particular books that had a profound influence on framing the complexity of colonialism and its consequences. As was the case in the literature I read before and after my study, I drew from differing historical times and many different genres to help me think critically about what I heard, observed, and experienced.

The first book, Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative, is a hopeful story of adversity and resilience (Broker, 1983). The account begins on a spring day as a mother begins to remember the past. Her children, now adults, had grown up in the city neighborhood where she had lived for several decades. They asked her to share all of the stories she had heard from Ojibwe elders. They were eager to learn about their history and culture so they could answer the questions their own children were asking.

“I reached my doorstep and sat enjoying the good day and remembering the past. It was funny, really, when I think about it. That day thirty years ago when we moved here, me and my children, we were the aliens looking for a place to fit in, looking for a chance of a new life, moving in among these people, some of whose ‘forefathers’ had displaced my ancestors for the same reason: looking for a new life. Their fathers were the aliens then, and now they, the children, are in possession of this land.” (Broker, p. 2)

Broker shared the stories of her great-great-grandmother, Ni-bo-wi-se-gwe (Night Flying Woman), known as Oona. Oona’s first five years were spent with her family, following their traditions as they made the seasonal rounds to hunt, gather, preserve food, and survive the long northern winters. She was five when news of dangerous strangers who were approaching their community reached their village. Her family was among the small group of families that decided to explore more remote parts of the northern forests to escape the arrival of the strangers. They sought a place where they could live in peace. It was on this journey that she first understood to listen to the si-si-gwa-d and understand its importance to Ojibwe people. Si-si-gwa-d, the sound the wind makes as it flows through the trees, speaks to those who listen carefully, foretelling safe or troubling times ahead.

Pose_lake_Minnesota Boundary Waters

Photo: Pose Lake, Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area

Oona was still a child when the families were moved and finally confined on a reservation, that is, lands that were viewed as undesirable at the time by whites and hence “reserved” from a continent that was once under the sole stewardship of Indigenous Peoples. (The land wasn’t “owned” by Indigenous People, because the concept of private ownership was not part of how they viewed their relationship with the earth and their animal relatives. It was their responsibility to live in balance with their surroundings and take care of the earth for future generations.) Generations before Broker was born, her family arrived at their new permanent home on a reservation in northwestern Minnesota, White Earth Nation. It was also the birthplace of Vincent LaDuke generations later. His daughter, Winona LaDuke, has played a pivotal leadership role in efforts to reclaim land and rebuild community.

The second book, A Poison Stronger that Love: The Destruction of an Ojibwa Community, tells a more sobering story (Shkilnyk, 1985). Although the people of White Earth suffered greatly as a result of their move, the work of so many people, like Broker and LaDuke, demonstrates hope. The magnitude of harm done to the Ojibwa people of Grassy Narrows in the name of “progress” is a warning for all.

The Ojibwe people of the Asubpeeschoseewagong, or Grassy Narrows First Nation, were still living on their old reserve, allocated to them in a treaty in 1873, when the federal government of Canada exercised their colonial power. Their old community consisted of log cabins that were scattered in clearings and organized by clan membership on the islands and peninsulas on the English-Wabigoon River in the Canadian Province of Ontario. They followed the seasonal round, gardening, gathering, and hunting and supplemented their incomes by seasonal wage labor or by selling the fur and pelts they gathered. In 1963, the people of Grassy Narrows were forced to move to a new reserve that was more accessible by road. Although the new community had a school and electricity, a “little collection of frame houses in the middle of nowhere, all uniform in design, crowded together, and regimented into tight linear formations” (Shkilnyk, p. 1), it was disturbingly at odds with their past settlement – one that had been harmonious with their environment and culture. One that had honored family traditions and supported their connections to each other and their environment. The move disrupted their sense of community with troubling consequences.

“When survivors suffer from loss of community as well as from individual shock, it is not just a question of getting them back on their feet but of seeing to it that there is some kind of communal ground, as it were, for them to stand on once they are upright. We can dress their physical wounds, provide food and shelter and clothing, console them for their losses, ease their grief, find ways to calm their anxieties. But until we restore the communal surround that was so vital to their sense of health and security, they will remain like refugees in their own land, damaged in spirit long after they have been put together again in body, and feeling a long way from home.” (Erikson, in Shkilnyk, 1985, p. xvii)

Yet the disaster that struck had nothing to do with their move. The forced relocation simply eroded the community bonds that may have made new threats a little less destructive.

“The First Nation experienced mercury poisoning from Dryden Chemical Company, a chloralkali process plant, located in Dryden, Ontario that supplied both sodium hydroxide and chlorine used in large amounts for bleaching paper during production for the Dryden Pulp and Paper Company. Dryden Chemical company discharged their effluent into the Wabigoon-English River system.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asubpeeschoseewagong_First_Nation)

By the time Shkilnyk conducted her ethnographic study in 1976, the community was struggling with mercury poisoning and alarming rates of youth suicides, community violence, and alcohol addiction. She felt a sense of hopelessness given the multidimensional assaults and challenges the community was facing and the ineptitude of the federal government to address mercury poisoning and community disarray. Although the Province outlawed fishing in the river system, the effects of mercury poisoning were still a serious issue for Grassy Narrows residents in 2010.

The importance of place and community, and the unpredictability of the disasters that have befallen Ojibwe communities, should make us think about past and present day corporate environmental destruction and global climate change. We have witnessed the recovery efforts of the US government after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. Poor neighborhoods that provided the same sense of belonging for residents that the forests and waterways once did for the Ojibwe were seldom rebuilt with government funds, but instead were initiated by concerned citizens and volunteers. Many residents were left to fend for themselves without even the pittance offered to the people of White Earth and Grassy Narrows.

white earth

Photo: White Earth Nation

Is it realistic to wait for governments to fix the problems they created or for corporations to repair the damage done (even if it were possible)? Are micro loans from the World Bank the answer for helping struggling communities by focusing on spreading an individualistic, competitive entrepreneurial system instead of rebuilding a sense of connection to each other and to our “place?” It’s not an easy road for each of us to do what we can to reweave community with people whose perspectives and values may differ from our own. Yet Shkilnyk’s study underscores the magnitude of challenges we continue to face, while Broker’s powerful story suggests a path, as does the work of the White Earth Land (and Language/Culture) Recovery Project. The future rests with each one of us doing what we can to reweave community where we are.

Chi miigwetch (Ojibwe “thank you very much”) to all of you for doing what you do every day to build the best communities and world you can imagine for the future.

Works Cited:

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

Anastasia M. Shkilnyk (1985). A poison stronger than love: The destruction of an Ojibwa community. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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 Being Honest and Fair

Carol A. Hand

Working on my mother’s story sometimes dredges up memories that I would prefer to forget. I don’t often speak of my father, but he’s an important part of her story. They were together for 51 years.

Wedding Photo

Photo: My Mother and Father’s Wedding – December 1943

I really know very little about him because I always tried to avoid him as much as possible – to steel my heart and shield my body from his emotional and physical abuse. I decided to see what I would find if I googled his name – an odd one – and much to my surprise I discovered personal details about him and his family here, including social security numbers! Looking through the documents my mother saved has stirred up a lot of memories and ambivalent, unresolved feelings. The following poem is an attempt to remember and make sense of past events. A warning – it’s not a light-hearted read.

Father

I rarely write about my father – It’s not a topic that’s appealing
It’s fraught with memories of abuse and the nauseated feeling
At every meal when he was present and every time when he was around
Never knowing what would trigger his yelling or being thrown to the ground.

Although I understood him – the deep insecurity caused by his class and size
His bullying and aggression didn’t earn respect in other people’s eyes.
One moment he was charming, the next holding an unraveled belt or later, a gun
For some imagined slight in a war that must be fought – a war that must be won.

It was twenty-one years ago when he died all alone
On a veterans’ psych ward that became his final home
It was my document that placed him there – a promise I made long ago
If you raise your hand and strike again, you’ll be on a psych ward quicker than you know.”

I didn’t do it out of anger – I forgave you so may years ago
But you forced me to stand up to bullies – to learn how to deal with pain
To speak truth to power and protect those who didn’t know
That they deserved more than to be hurt again and again.

I always wished there were a treatment to help you quell your inner agony,
It was your right to refuse, you had a right to make a choice – but others paid the fee,
Perhaps your fear was too great or your delusions of grandeur too overblown
I hope your suffering has ended, that you finally found peace, even though you died alone.

bird-feather-13486506267nW

Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

Writing accounts of other people’s lives is not an easy task for me. I feel the need to be honest and to look for everybody’s strengths at the same time. Yet I wonder what to do if, in balance, it would be dishonest to gloss over the deep legacy of harm others have done, just as it would be for me to stand by as a silent witness to abuse. The fear and abuse my mother lived through in her personal life was much like the historical trauma her ancestors experienced. Imagine feeling helpless as you stand by as a witness while your little children offer themselves up to take your beatings? How does one write about this in a way that will be read and, more importantly, be understood? How does one see the humanity and pain of those who are abusive and represent them with compassion, regardless of their past and present actions, but still hold them accountable for the harm they’ve done? How does one make clear connections to the violence embedded in the decisions politicians, corporate decision makers, and bankers make every day, the same kinds of decisions that killed millions of my indigenous ancestors and will kill millions today? Are they just really insecure people like my father who have more power to do far greater harm?

Today, I hesitated to publish this. I don’t have answers to these questions, but they are crucial and central to the work I have begun… As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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 Year My Mother Was Born

Carol A. Hand

My mother was born on the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation in 1921. I wonder what her world was like then. The photos I have of her as a child convey contrasts between the wealthy whites who flocked to the northwoods lakes to build summer resorts and family retreats and Ojibwe families and children relegated to the land that remained after many broken treaties.

Norma b

Photo: My mother in 1923
(She’s dressed in clothing purchased by the wealthy woman in the picture who wanted to “adopt” her even though both of her parents were alive.)

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Photo: My Mother in 1928
Titled “Grapes of Wrath” in my mother’s lovely cursive writing on the back of the photo.
(Obviously her clothing allowance ended when my mother’s family refused to let her be taken away.)

My mother was exposed to these contrasts early in life, embittered by her relative material poverty and exploited by resort owners to attract new clientele. She internalized the belief that she was inferior because of her Ojibwe heritage. It’s easy to see why as I read archival documents that chronicle the times.

Norma postcard b

Photo: Postcard for the Rim Rock Lodge – My Mother in 1925-1926?
The caption reads: Our Little squaw at
Rim Rock Lodge
Lac du Flambeau, Wis.

These photos were among my mother’s belongings but many details about her life remain incomplete. Fortunately, I have discovered an incredible archival collection for anyone interested in exploring Native American history in the US from 1902 through 1968 – The Indian Sentinel. Housed in the Raynor Library at Marquette University (thankfully available online), the publication offers a fascinating glimpse of tribal cultures as seen through the biased, but sometimes respectful, eyes of those who “felt the call” to minister to the Native heathens and save their souls through their work with Catholic missions. The Sentinel is filled with biographies of priests and tribal leaders, photos of students and buildings, and descriptions of the first reservation in the US and the building of a hydroelectric dam in Pine Ridge, SD in 1919-1920 using the backbreaking labor of students attending the Catholic mission school.

As I work on revising a story about her life, I wanted to know more about the context at the time she was born. I also wanted to see if I could find any records of her time in the Catholic boarding school she attended as a child. The answer is maybe. I have read a short account of my grandfather’s war injury in a student’s essay and found a possible reference to my mother’s school records that will require further archival research. Yet today, I want to share a poem that conveys the historical context for First Nations people during the beginning years of the twentieth century. The myth of the vanishing Native that inspired anthropologists and photographers was still in its heyday in the early 1900s.

INDIAN NAMES

Ye say they have all passed away,
That noble race and brave;
That their light canoes have vanished,
From off the crested waves;
That, ‘mid the forests where they wandered,
There rings no hunter’s shout:
Their name is on your waters –
You may not wash it out.

‘Tis where Ontario’s billow
Like Ocean’s surge is curled;
Where strong Niagra’s thunders wake
The echo of the world;
Where red Missouri bringeth
Rich tribute from the west;
Where Rappahannock sweetly sleeps
On green Virginia’s breast.

Ye say their conelike cabins
That clustered o’er the vale,
Have disappeared, as withered leaves
Before the autumn’s gale;
But their memory liveth on your hills,
Their baptism on your shore,
Your everlasting rivers speak
Their dialect of yore.

Old Massachusetts wears it
Within her lordly crown;
And broad Ohio bears it
Amid her young renown;
Connecticut has wreathed it
Where her quiet foliage waves,
And old Kentucky breathes it hoarse
Through all her ancient caves.

Wachusetts hides its lingering voice
Within its rocky heart,
And Allegheny graves its tone
Throughout his lofty chart;
Monadnock, on his forehead hoar’
Doth seal the sacred trust;
Your mountains build their monument
Though ye destroy the dust.

Mrs. Lydia H. Sigourney (1902-1903). The Indian Sentinel, (p. 2). Washington, DC: Bureau of Catholic Missions.

Although Indigenous tribes were no longer visible in the eastern US states when this poem was written, the survivors of removal in the 1930s and Indian wars of the 1850s and beyond were still a presence further south and west. Still souls that needed saving. This was the view the year my mother was born, conveyed by the missionaries that would soon be her teachers.

“Owing to the great affection existing between the Indian parents and their children, the education of the latter is a most effectual means of improving the conditions of the former and bringing about their conversion” (The Indian Sentinel, 1920-1922; Vol. 02, no. 06, p. 257.)

Although her family was able to protect her from removal when she was two, the Bureau of Indians Affairs took her away from her family and community eight years later (or maybe sooner) and placed her in Holy Family Indian Mission boarding school in Bayfield, Wisconsin, more than 100 miles from her home.

Holy_Family_Church_Bayfield

Photo: Holy Family Church – Bayfield, WI

As many life experiences do, this turned out to be a mixed blessing. She lost a sense of connection to her family and community, but she had a chance to internalize a cultural foundation that helped her survive and develop skills that she used to make other’s lives better. She learned to write in her beautiful cursive, graduated as salutatorian of her (almost all white) public high school class, and went on to become a gifted nurse due to the generosity of the woman who couldn’t adopt her when she was two. In 1978, she wrote a grant and accompanied the Tribal Chairman, William Wildcat, to testify before the US Congress to establish the health care center in Lac du Flambeau, the reservation community where she was born. Although the tribe only honored her contributions after her death in 2010, what mattered most for her was doing the best she could to help other people and her community.

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Photo – My Mother’s First Communion – 1933?

In retrospect, I realize that the work the missionaries did was not all destructive. Their efforts helped people survive and provided a buffer from those in power who wanted to leave only the Indigenous place names and none of the people. Catholic missions, and priests like Father Baraga, helped create the possibility for Indigenous Peoples to assume a veneer of outward assimilation that kept them alive and their cultures hidden for future generations. My mother’s education may have created a distance between her and others of her generation who remained on the reservation, but it also helped her develop the skills to leave an important legacy that helped people in community to survive.

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.

And the Children Suffer …

Carol A. Hand

 

crouching child

Artwork: Carol A. Hand

In the early winter evening, I can hear you screaming and your fist as it falls
On objects and people – but who knows why.
The fear and the violence travel through storm windows and walls.
I don’t mean to listen but I hear your mother cry.

I wonder what hope there is for children, who at such an early age,
Have learned to use their fists rather than their mind
Who have learned to fear and strike others to express their rage
Who don’t seem to understand how to be kind.

You’re really not much different than those who are in power,
But you’re just a little boy, too young to make this choice
Yet your suffering is invisible from the ivory tower
So we’ll give you a pill to silence your voice.

My heart is heavy, but I don’t know what I can say
To help you rein in your anger and pain
It would be easier if your family simply moved away
But you’re part of my community – what would I gain?

When I hear your cries, I’ll send you peace and joy.
I’ll send you love from my peaceful place, it’s all I know to do.
May you grow to be a gentle man although now a troubled boy
May the ancestors bless your path, may their healing guide you through.

 

compassion greatergood dot berkeley dot edu

Photo: Compassion

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 Street Where I Live…

Carol A. Hand

The challenge of living on the margins is seeing both what is and what could be. Yet using that perspective to raise awareness and inspire people to work together has proven to be a challenge that has gotten me into trouble many times. Sometimes our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses. It’s something my friend Maxine Jacobson helped me realize.

“I was anything but an ally during my Native American colleague’s first year in the school. I responded defensively when she commented candidly on the social justice mission of the department as more fluff than substance. I wished she would take more time before making judgments to understand the culture of the department and all the work that had gone into creating what White faculty members believed was an innovative program. In retrospect, I find it disturbing that what I expected from her was something I was not willing to give: I was not at all prepared to see “our” world through her eyes. It was okay for her to direct her critique at the child welfare system. But when she directed it at the organization I had invested inordinate amounts of time building, that was too close to home.” (Maxine Jacobson, 2012, pp. 275-276).

I moved to Duluth Minnesota in October of 2011 to be closer to my daughter and grandchildren. I was also seeking a sanctuary to heal from decades of battle wounds, but it didn’t take me long to see the inequities and divisiveness in my new community, as I described in a post some time ago, Communities of Relatedness. Blogging has helped me work through the wounds and find hope, to remember past lessons and share them with a network of gifted people from around the world. I am deeply grateful for the gift of knowledge, creativity, kindness, and love that blogging has given me. Yet I’ve reached a point where I’m finished telling stories from the past, at least for now. Facing my greatest fears – the possibility that I would lose my sight and perhaps not survive corrective surgery – has awakened my excitement about living and learning new things.

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Photo: The view of my house from across the street – March 31, 2015
(It’s the white one in the middle, set back from the street behind the large weeping willow tree)

In the past, I really didn’t always taken the time to understand the newest contexts that surrounded me. And because people sensed my openness to difference and my sensitivity and compassion, they started downloading their troubles as soon as I arrived. I listened to their stories about all of the factions and observed the conflict and power struggles. Of course I felt people’s pain and wanted to do something about it – immediately. I am quick to see oppression and unfairness, but I haven’t always taken time to plan how to deal with inequality and oppression effectively. I have many internal battle scars as a result and I’ve been reluctant to have much to do with “organized” people during the past few years.

But I’m alive. I have some skills and experiences that may be important in these times. Recently, I’ve begun searching for answers to crucial questions. What truly inspires me and ignites the fire in my heart? Two things come to mind. First, I have promises to keep to myself and others. I have begun working on two books that need to be completed: one about my mother’s life, and one about my research study of Indian child welfare. (For more information see Lara Hentz’s blog.) But I know from experience that focusing on past suffering and oppression needs to be counter-balanced by also being involved in initiatives that are focused on future possibilities. This is what I have been pondering for the past few weeks.

How can I use my skills and past experiences to build a foundation for transformative changes without offending others and closing down possibilities for partnerships focused on constructive collective efforts? What can I do to keep learning and contributing by applying the principles of appreciative inquiry and community-based participatory research ?

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Photo: A View of the Alley – March 31, 2015

The answers are beginning to surface, forcing me to overcome my fear of failing yet again. It’s easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize others. The first step – learning about the community’s past and present online – doesn’t take courage, merely curiosity and discipline. But do I dare look foolish, an old woman roaming the streets with her camera? Calling strangers and asking them if they have time to tell me about themselves and their organizations? Well, I won’t know the answers to those questions until I try. The possible gains far outweigh the costs.

I want to begin by learning about the history of Duluth, and by exploring the street where I live. I want to take the time to get to know my neighbors beginning with the pastor of the church and the manager of the elder apartments across the street. And next, the principals of elementary school at the end of my alley and the high school just four blocks away. I want to learn about all of the initiatives and agencies that are involved in helping residents and the community development agency that is interested in improving conditions in the most challenged neighborhoods (including the one where I live.) I am beginning to frame out this new initiative and have grabbed my camera to start taking photos of my neighborhood.

So, here goes. I’m leaving my sanctuary to look for people’s strengths and visions for the future. I promise to keep you posted about what I discover on the way.

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Photo: Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (Directly across the street) – March 31, 2015

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Photo: Faith Haven Apartments for Seniors – March 31, 2015

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Photo: Laura MacArthur Elementary School – The view from my back porch – March 31, 2015

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Photo – Denfeld High School (a few blocks away) – March 31, 2015

Works Cited:

Maxine Jacobson (2012): Breaking Silence, Building Solutions: The Role of Social Justice Group Work in the Retention of Faculty of Color, Social Work With Groups, 35(3), 267-286. To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01609513.2011.642265

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.

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…

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