Carol A. Hand
The national writing event ended November 30, 2015, but I’ve continued to write almost every day. It’s a relief not to feel pressured to make an overall word count. Instead, I can try to make those words I write worthwhile regardless of the number. But I still encounter the same recurring questions and doubts. Here’s part of my latest chapter, 17, appropriately titled “Thankfully It’s Friday.” It wasn’t easy to always feel like an intrusive outsider. And I still wonder what to do with what I learned.
[Please note: The names of people have all been changed in the following accounts to protect identity, and the names of states and towns have been removed. These stories could come from any of the states where Ojibwe reservations are located.]
Research Field Notes Friday, October 19, 2001
I packed my things and checked out about 10:15, and headed to the tribal community.
First, I stopped at the tribal center, and noticed what appeared to be a meeting in the large room directly in front of the entranceway. I could see Greg, the tribal social service administrator in profile seated at the table, so I decided it would be a good time to see if Carrie Abrams (child welfare) or Trevor Evans (tribal preservation) were available. When I pulled into the old school parking lot, it appeared to be pretty empty. I noticed that Linda’s car wasn’t there. I did wish I could just touch base with her, but in some ways it was good to be on my own. I couldn’t really share anything I had learned so far.
I entered the building and walked past Greg’s office and asked the man seated at a desk in the next office where I might find Trevor.
“I’m Trevor,” he replied.
“Hi, Trevor. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Agnes Sero and I’m doing a study on Indian child welfare here. Molly, the tribal preservation director at Lake Tribe Reservation, suggested that I talk to you.”
“Come on in and sit down, Agnes.”
I told him briefly about my study and explained that I had met with Molly and other tribal preservation staff to learn more about the boarding school. I was interested in learning more about the school since elders here had described their experiences in a similar institution.
“Would you like a cup of coffee? I’m just brewing a new pot.”
I accepted and asked him if he was interested in learning more about the study. He said he was, so I ran out to my car to get a copy of the revised introduction and questions.
Trevor is a handsome man, with the front of his hair cut short, the left side is silver (naturally), with a bound pony tail in the back which extends beyond his waist. The walls of his office were covered with flip chart sheets containing Ojibwe words. He pointed to the sheets and explained that some were numbers, food, clothing. As he spoke, he was often leaning back in his chair, feet held in front of him off of the floor.
As soon as Trevor looked at the questions, he began speaking.
“When I was growing up our elders were still pretty active, but I was between two worlds. Some elders were jumping into contemporary society. Some were holding back, trying to retain the culture despite the reorganization act and removal. They were moving around and going into the melting pot.
“I came from a dysfunctional family. My father drank, my mother didn’t drink. I came from a big family with six sisters and three brothers. Two of my sisters were older, and I was the oldest brother. I spent most of my time with my grandfather and grandmother. They lived on top of a hill in a two-story house. There was no running water, or gas. There was a pump in the basement, a woodstove, and my grandmother cooked on a woodstove. We lived in the big pines. When they were young, my grandparents lived in a small community in the southeastern part of the county in the national forest. My grandmother and grandfather lived there and made their living by selling food and pies to loggers. My grandfather worked as a guide.
“My grandmother and grandfather were fluent in the Ojibwe language. I don’t remember my grandfather well. I was about three when I remember him, and he died when I was 7 or 8. I was born in 1953, and in 1962 or 63 my grandfather died.
“I remember growing up as small children, my parents had so many children, and the younger kids got most of the attention. I got attention from my grandmother and grandfather. I felt content being around my grandmother and grandfather. There was always an extended family, the biological family, aunts, uncles, friends, relatives. That’s how it was in the old days in the community.
“I’ve been talking a lot, Agnes. I’m interested in knowing what kinds of policy changes might result from your work. There are so many important issues we need to resolve.”
“I’m not sure, Trevor,” I replied. “It’s too early to tell. I can’t predict what I will find because there is so much more for me to learn. I can promise that I will share my findings with the community to make sure my interpretations represent what the community would want others to know about them. It’s also a difficult time in history. After September 11, all bets are off about social service policy. War often ushers in a time when social programs are cut and civil liberties compromised.”
“I agree, Agnes. These are uncertain times but it’s ever been so. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry – it’s after 1. I need to go get something to eat.”
As we walked out of the building together, he invited me to lunch with him. I told him I had another interview to go to, and I saw him drive off in his red truck.
Reflections Monday, December 9, 2015
Even though I’m sharing these stories now, I have kept the promise I made to Trevor and others to protect identities. As mentioned earlier, the names of people have all been changed in this account, and no specific place identifiers or local documents are cited. Still, I wonder about the wisdom and ethics of publishing these accounts.
But I keep thinking about all of the incredible people I met who willingly shared their lives with a stranger. Why was that easier than sharing their experiences – good and bad – with others in their community? How many suffered alone, believing that they or their families were ultimately the cause for their abandonment and abuse? Why couldn’t people share their stories and histories with those who lived just across the tribal-town divide? How many failed to bridge the cultural divides between the tribe and county because of fear and past rejections and disappointments?
Photo: A Daughter and Mother Who Sometimes Share Stories – 2015
Sharing stories can bring people together in wondrous ways. It’s what can help us all begin to rebuild a genuine sense of community. Now, I live in a residential neighborhood in a predominantly Euro-American city where neighbors avoid each other. I’ve heard some of their stories. Many hark back to decades of contentious interactions and feuds that still continue. So each household does things on their own. I’m sometimes the exception. I offer to help or stop to say hello, but that doesn’t do anything to bring them together. This makes me I wonder if anything I learned in this research project can help people see the possibilities of healing old wounds through stories that promote understanding and shared hopes for the future.
For now, those thoughts are enough to encourage me to keep writing. There’s a lot more to write. I’m sure I will confront these questions and doubts many more times before I’m finally finished.
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