Carol A. Hand
Recently, I have been thinking about the changing seasons of life and how “there is a time to every purpose…”
I thought about the evolving ways I have attempted to address inequality and it led me to post a series of installments of an essay that I realize is not necessarily popular in the blogging world. The following bio that was shared in Stories from my Teachers describes some of the context and content for some of these changes in my life.
Am I Catfish Clan or Eagle Clan?
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, and 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 boarding school, she was denied access to her father who could have answered this question for her. She never mentioned this topic until her later years, when she took me to an Ojibwe elder who had documents pertaining to my ancestry.
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 in a certain 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, leaders whose fathers were not Ojibwe, 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. 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, made me feel that standing on the sidelines without action was profoundly unethical. Even as a little child, I felt a sense of responsibility for those who were oppressed. During my career I took 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.
Although I have offered to support others develop community initiatives, I don’t feel it’s right for me to take the lead. I’m relatively new in the community where I now live. Although the socio-economic class and ancestry divisions are apparent in the community, I know it’s important for me to take the time to understand how I can best use my time and skills effectively. So for now, I am busy in my garden, sharing rhubarb with neighbors, and sharing posts that I hope will be of interest to others and stimulate dialogue.
This is a season where I am able to honor my (maybe) catfish clan inclinations.
I am also grateful to be a member of such a diverse and gifted blogging community. Chi miigwetch to all.
Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.