Who I Am and Why I’m Here: Blogging 101

Carol A. Hand

This post is my first assignment for Blogging 101 🙂

Question 1: “Who Am I?” This isn’t an easy question for me to answer. Perhaps the following essay I started a while ago will explain some of the challenges this question involves.

Am I Catfish Clan or Eagle Clan?

ojibwe moccasins commons dot wikimedia dot org

Photo Credit: Ojibwe Moccasins

This is a question I may never be able to answer definitively. My mother was Ojibwe, born and raised on the Lac du Flambeau reservation in the north of what is now Wisconsin. My father was descended from English immigrants, the second generation to be born in the U.S. Because my mother was raised by her aunt and spent pivotal childhood years in a Catholic Indian boarding school, she was denied access to her father who could have answered this question for her. Her mother and the aunt who raised her didn’t practice traditional ways.

As we drove to visit an Ojibwe elder who had documents pertaining to my ancestry, my mother suddenly said, “I’m not sure if we’re catfish clan or eagle clan.” That was all she said before she switched the topic. My mother never mentioned this topic until her later years. She avoided speaking about her past because she carried a deep and lifelong shame about her Ojibwe heritage, instilled during her childhood and boarding school experiences. Soon after our visit with the elder, she developed Alzheimer’s Disease and lost any memories that might have given me some clues.

Norma and Aadi

Photo Credit: My grandson, Mother, and Me – 1999

Over the years since that conversation, I have pondered the meaning of clan membership and done a little research in my spare time. The question is significant, not because I believe that our life path is set by our birth – the time, place, culture or clan – but because the question itself is a reminder to periodically reflect on the directions our life takes and what our actions say about who we really are.
I have realized that the distinction between the Catfish Clan, the scholars, and the Eagle Clan, visionaries, has been a central tension during my life. By nature, I am a scholar who prefers to stand on the margins “to watch, listen and consider” so my deeds will be prudent, a tenet of the Ojibwe Midewewin Code or path of life (Basil Johnston, 1976, p. 93). My life’s path provided me with opportunities to develop those propensities through education and employment. Yet growing up between cultures and becoming increasingly aware of past and continuing colonial oppression, standing on the sidelines without action felt profoundly unethical. Even as a little child, I felt a sense of responsibility for those who were oppressed. I had to take on leadership and advocacy roles that were extremely uncomfortable for an introverted scholar without the support of a clan structure to guide the way. My light skin tone, education, and ability to communicate across cultures were gifts that I felt obligated to use on behalf of others whose lives were not as privileged as mine.

Because leadership positions are almost always nested within colonial structures of individualistic competition and socially-constructed status distinctions, they have proven dangerous for me on many levels. Even though power is an illusion, it is seductive. It’s easy to lose the clarity of one’s perspective, values, and purpose, to believe that one is special and somehow superior, to forget what is really important in life. It also invites understandable reprisal from people who feel belittled, and the response is sometimes virulently destructive on professional and personal levels.

Now, I am taking some time to reflect. Although I have always lived in the U.S., I have always lived on the margins – between cultures, religions, and socioeconomic classes. Not surprisingly, I see the world from at least two different perspectives and always feel the need to question everything. I genuinely want to understand how others make sense of the world, but I am always uncomfortable with colonial hegemony. I guess I am both a reclusive scholar, a catfish that prefers the quiet depths of a placid lake, but who has sometimes been forced to serve as a reluctant visionary leader, an eagle that soars high to see the world from distant heights, who sometimes speaks truth to power if there is no one else who can.

Question 2: “Why Am I Here?” For the sake of brevity, I’m defining “here” as “Blogging 101.” I’m here to learn. When I first started blogging in June of 2013, I had no idea what a blog was. More than 80 posts later, there are so many things I have yet to understand. Technology is still challenging for me and there are many aspects of the blog I share with a geographically distant partner that I know could be improved.

What more is there to say? I look forward to the adventure, the opportunity to meet new people, and the possibility of developing a more welcoming space for dialogue.

 

Work Cited:

Basil Johnston (1976). Ojibwe Heritage. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Copyright Notice: Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed 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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About Carol A. Hand

What matters are not the titles I’ve held or university degrees I earned or the size of a house or bank account. It’s really what I’ve learned from ordinary people like me whom I’ve met along the way. They taught me to live with gratitude and give thanks for each new day.
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24 Responses to Who I Am and Why I’m Here: Blogging 101

  1. feralc4t says:

    I’m still working on what am I? You are miles ahead..

    Like

  2. Granted, I have not seen all that you have published. But your thoughtful and interesting posts draw me back time and time again. I look forward to what you may share with us in the future.

    Like

  3. aquene7 says:

    Hi

    Thanks for liking my post Blog 101. Don’t think I would have found your posts otherwise. Only ready your first 101, really interesting post thank you. Hope to read some more.

    Like

  4. Well, I think you could teach anyone a lot about blogging. Your posts are among the most thoughtful, well written, informative, and at times entertaining, of the many I read. So, this course will make you only better. But, it is fun taking an on-line course and meeting new people, getting new ideas. I look forward to reading your work from this course.

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  5. Pat says:

    Thank you for your ‘like’ on my blog post. After wandering over to your site, I see that I will be returning often to read and learn from your reflections on marginalization and social justice. Gratitude for your rich content.

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  6. It sounds like you’re making great progress on the “Who am I” question, one I still struggle with.

    For the last decade or so, “I am” just seems to be an annoying noise in my head. The answer I seem to be working towards is that I am the sum total of all my personal interactions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • carolahand says:

      I appreciate your thoughtful comments, Stuart. Interestingly, blogging has helped me sort through this question, and in part it has helped me reach the same conclusion as you – “I am the sum total of all my personal interactions.” Writing and feedback have helped me look at the choices I’ve made from a broader, longer perspective and find the connecting threads on a deeper level.

      Unfortunately, it doesn’t solve the larger question of how to use that awareness to effectively address the dysfunctional, violent context we live in today. So I am still torn by my inclination to retreat rather than face the maelstrom. This is one of the many reasons I so appreciate reading your posts. Your thoughtful work helps me learn about current challenges from a credible analytical perspective.

      Like

  7. Jeff Nguyen says:

    I can relate to the sense of living life on the margins and straddling two cultures. In my case, I felt like I was straddling one culture while being completely alienated from my native one. As a Vietnamese man with a fairly good command of the English language, I am acutely aware of my internalized “whiteness”. Like you, I feel an obligation to use the keys that have fallen into my lap for meaningful purposes. This has required a constant state of self-reflection and an uncomfortable awareness that much of my sense of right and wrong were based on “colonial structures” and hegemony. The decolonization process has been lifelong for me.

    I envision myself as a turtle…slow and steady wins the race. Another great conversation you’ve initiated here, Carol.

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    • carolahand says:

      Thank you for your comments, Jeff. Although the timing and circumstances of our birth differ, I believe our experiences of otherness in the U.S. are very similar. Since our very first conversations, I have felt a strong sense of kinship with you.

      I need to add that I find it fascinating that you see yourself as a turtle – the relative that dedicated itself to serve as the foundation of this land, referred to as “Turtle Island” by Ojibwe people (http://www.native-art-in-canada.com/turtleisland.html ).

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      • Jeff Nguyen says:

        That was a really interesting story. I love these lines…

        “But if you look at your own life, you’ll see that there are times when you just have to give up your old story about what you can or cannot do. Sometimes in your life you have to burst from the confines of your story and grow into a more capable person.”

        I had always thought that Turtle Island referred only to the lands inhabited by the indigenous and First Nations’ peoples of North America. I’m glad to have a better understanding of the origins of the name. Btw, there is a town named Nokomis near where I live in FL.

        One last thing…here is another turtle story I think you’d enjoy: http://www.spunk.org/texts/prose/sp000212.txt

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        • carolahand says:

          I love those lines, too, and of course, Yertle the Turtle. It’s such a great story – how I hope it comes true for the elite of the world – soon.

          Nokomis means “grandmother,” a term of respect for (many) Ojibwe people.

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  8. Hello Carol. I came over to look at your blog after you kindly liked the post I did yesterday for blogging 101 – thank you for that – it is quite nerve-wracking putting up posts about things that mean a lot to you! I enjoyed this essay of yours – the comments on leadership are similar to thoughts that I have had on the subject – it is one of those topics I am sure I will write a story about sometime. I was also nodding gently at your well chosen words on being from two cultures, and on trying to balance being quiet and enjoying solitude with being in the world and contributing to making things happen! I will be back I am sure!

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    • carolahand says:

      Thank you for your visit and thoughtful comments, Louise. It is daunting to post things that have meaning for me as well. I questioned the wisdom of posting this essay for an audience I didn’t know, but decided to take the risk any way. So I am especially grateful for your comments. It is affirming to hear that you found ideas and experiences that we share.

      I love the welcoming “room” you have created and I look forward to future visits there.

      Like

  9. I was moved and inspired by your story of who you are in all its depth and honouring of your roots and culture. Just so much in there and beautifully written. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Like

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