Making Peace with Lessons of the Past

Carol A. Hand

I stand here before you to present hard-won knowledge
to qualify for entry into your elite club in academia
Many may judge me as an Affirmative Action token
who’s not a “real Indian” because I’m light-skinned like you
A “nice Italian lady – well – maybe not so nice
You may not know that I carry a tribal ID with my enrollment number
certified like a thoroughbred horse by US government policies

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(Screenshot of a lecture to a university class: TV Clips – Logo Issues)

You applaud my critical analysis of Native American issues
but recoil when I assess your systems with the same analytical skills
You think I want what you want – comfort, fame, petty power
Diminutive and soft-spoken, I may be seen as vulnerable prey
easily assimilated and controlled by superficial perks or censure and ridicule

It would be nice if you liked me, but that’s not why I’m here
I won’t compromise my integrity to please you
I’ll try diplomacy first, a lesson from my wise gentle Ojibwe mother
I won’t fight to defend myself, but I will stand to protect powerless others
My abusive Anglo father taught me well how to think and wield word weapons
There’s grave danger in doing so – word weapons are only to be used when lives are at risk
for the sword of brutal truths that wounds others cuts my own heart most deeply

Protect your power as you will, fabricate lies about me as you choose
I’ll forgive you and pity you for what you have allowed yourselves to become
oppressors masquerading as experts in social justice who seem to revel in the pain you cause others
Yet many you have tried to destroy, though wounded, survived and are stronger
Lost possibilities of communion may break my heart open but that won’t break my spirit
for you see, I view you as my relations regardless of how you judged or treated me
And in the end, I find that I’m the one who’s really the lucky one – I’m able to be free

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Yes, you taught me to put aside the moccasins of my childhood,
too fragile to survive your concrete jungles and marbled mausoleums
But I’ve learned to accept that path with both resignation and gratitude
It’s an honor to walk between worlds with the wisdom of ancestors deep within
With my morning prayer I send you healing thoughts and blessings
May you learn to unlock the gifts you also carry deep within for the sake of all our relations

***

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.

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29 thoughts on “Making Peace with Lessons of the Past”

  1. Well done Carol! Your focus and strength comes through despite injustice. The world needs people willing to stand strong. Sometimes the burden for one is to stand without conceit for many. I bet people have said to you, you write their thoughts. It has to be done by standing just on the edge. It is a precarious place, so be careful. Around the fire, I hope you see the humour, affection and respect when I call you the ‘Uppity One’. Take care. Bob

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Such lovely and thoughtful comments, Bob. I’m deeply grateful. Yes, I guess I am a bit “uppity,” although it has little to do with believing that I have the answers for anyone else. It has more to do with being incredulous that people publicly claim to be living by values, like fighting for social justice or caring about vulnerable people, when their behavior is consistently the opposite. They even codify the values in written documents, like the constitution. That’s fine with me until they cross the line and actually hurt vulnerable people despite the values they espouse, not those I would impose. I can’t be a silent witness. When my attempts at well-reasoned dialogue fail, as they often have, I am left with few choices. I can’t do otherwise and live with myself.

      And a funny thing – just today, I shared the final two verses with my class, more than half of whom are Ojibwe. Based on student responses, I think the last two verses reflect their thoughts and feelings. The first verses were written a while ago, but the ending didn’t come until I saw a video from Standing Rock. The reporter was filming the peaceful protectors being maced and shot with rubber bullets by a large formation of militarized police. Suddenly the camera lurched and the reporter screamed as she fell to the ground after being shot by the police. Anger and deep sadness washed though me. There’s so much propaganda intended to foment hatred, fear and despair right now, and it’s clear that the police brutality is intended to provoke violent responses. It made me remember what it was like to be confronted by violence and try to hold a peaceful center. So I wrote those verses for the water protectors, for my students, for my family and for all of us.

      Sorry for the long reply – a post in itself. It’s the best I can do since we can’t sit around a “real” campfire, although I wish we could. For now, we at least have a virtual one. But who knows what we’ll have after the upcoming US election… Peace to you and your family, Bob, and best wishes. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Carol, when I first stumbled upon your blog, I didn’t think I would last very long. Most social justice writing doesn’t interest me. But with you, something was different. First, you can really write. Second, you write about many subjects, including your family, gardening, nature and joy and hardship. It is all connected. It’s important to stand. It is not enough to expect oppressors will change because they will somehow realize the err of their ways. That’s not going to happen. To think so is foolish. It is important to demand respect. That means standing up and sometimes pissing people off, even if it hurts you more than them. You can be completely truthful in this world and it will only be detrimental to you. I am drawn to people who get mad at the status quo. Who don’t bow down. Minds will be changed not by marching single file, but by standing strong, first as individuals and then by consolidation. I was concerned the comment I made calling you Uppity was upsetting to you. My family and I have always poked fun at the circumstances that have put us down. It could be sickness or alcoholism or poverty. We always joked about it to take away it’s power. When I said you were Uppity, what I meant was you don’t toe the line, you stand firm, you express anger and especially joy. That scares the shit out of people that consider themselves the rule makers or better off. Your poem is filled with strong words. It is inspiring for people. You wear thin shoes along the mountains edge. Keep your toes holding tight to the rock. Take care. Bob

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Bob, I so appreciate your down-to-earth honesty and always look forward to your photos and stories. And to be honest, I considered it an honor to be called “uppity” by you. I actually chuckled when I read that in your first comment. I know you wouldn’t find it surprising to learn that I’ve been called many things that weren’t intended to be compliments. (If you watch the six minute video that’s linked beneath the screen shot in this post, you’ll hear some of those things in the third news clip.)

          Thank you for the image of wearing “thin shoes along the mountains edge.” I do try to hold tight to the rock with my toes, but sometimes, when I gaze at the beauty around me during peaceful moments, I forget I’m standing on the edge. I forget when I’m talking to students in a classroom, or working on some new project that requires me to learn, think, and create. It takes me time to remember where I’m standing and readjust, and that’s not always easy to do. Peace to you, Bob, and thank you so much for your kindness.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this:
    “Yes, you taught me to put aside the moccasins of my childhood,
    too fragile to survive your concrete jungles and marbled mausoleums”
    Very powerful. I’m a new follower, your work and writing are inspiring.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow! How grateful I am to connect with you and your work on wordpress. Thank you for taking a moment of your time to to spend on my blog page, I am deeply appreciative. Looking forward to learning from your profoundly powerful work and expression. Recently, where I reside in Colorado some of us have come together in an affinity group to spread awareness as well as support and local actions in solidarity with Standing Rock. I often wonder if I am being effective and if there is a formula to follow. Having had no formal education on Indigenous rights – Human Rights, social justice, environmental issues etc. I pray that my efforts always rise from the depths of respect and honor instilled within me from my families teachings. I am continuing to learn how to unlock the gifts deep within me. Thank you for your presence.

    Tori

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful, lovely comments, Tori, and for the important work you are doing to raise awareness about crucial issues and take supportive actions in such respectful ways. I look forward to learning more about your work and insights. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I have tears in my eyes right now and I’m not even sure why. Crazy things are happening. Just hoping the pain of recent world events leads toward awakening.

    I don’t want to sound like a cliche, but your words move me deeply, way down deep. You are a beautiful person and I feel honored to have found your blog. I hope this doesn’t embarrass you. We all need to feel inspired to take proper action.

    Thank you for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you, A Shift in Consciousness. Crazy things are happening now, although I don’t think that’s new. When I read your opening sentence, I was intrigued to learn more about why you might be brought to tears. You have been trying to raise awareness about oppression and injustice on your blog for a long time. And right now, things appear to be worse.

      I can remember living in what felt like a war zone when the armed national guard patrolled the streets of Madison Wisconsin in the late 1960s. The pungent, choking smell of tear gas was inescapable. The history I’ve read tells of times in the past that seem even worse. But I admit it feels more threatening now – Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and the list could go on. It feels like these are times of great dangers and possibilities precariously balanced. Times that require careful decisions, compassion, and wise diplomacy. Yet nations are led by power-seekers who appear to be unscrupulous, greedy, mean-spirited, pathetic buffoons.

      Tears make sense in such times. Your comment brought to mind something I was told about the healing power of tears. There is scientific evidence that tears rid our bodies of stress toxins:
      http://www.drjudithorloff.com/Free-Articles/The-Health-Benefits-of-Tears_copy.htm.

      I am honored by your kind and thoughtful comments and grateful to know that the words that flow through me are inspiring. The work you have continued to do is inspiring to me. I send my best wishes to you. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you.

        My tears were from a mix of emotions, not just sadness. I feel that this horrendous election is what the planet needs at this time. It’s sad that it took something so despicable, but apparently this is what is needed to awaken enough people to get back in touch with their hearts. It seems that for most people, suffering is what leads toward enlightenment.

        Liked by 1 person

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