Category Archives: Social Justice

Grading Papers

Carol A. Hand

Grading student papers is not an easy job. It’s the reason I haven’t been on WordPress often these past weeks.  Yet I have learned how important it is to grade mindfully, because the words we use can change lives – for better or worse.

I’m posting a poem my colleague shared with me tonight that speaks to this truth with power and eloquence.

My Name Is Not Those People, a poem by Julie K. Dinsmore, read Danny Grover on YouTube:

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History Keeps Repeating

Carol A. Hand

I wonder how many have experienced being a sensitive child born into a world of chaos and abuse. Perhaps your first memories are similar to the ones described in a post I wrote years ago for a friend’s blog.

My first memory as a child is so clear in my mind even though experts in brain development say it is not possible. It was my first Christmas. A February baby born on the cusp of Pisces and Aquarius, I lay in my crib as the winter sun streamed through the window. My mother and father stood on opposite sides of my crib, arguing. The personal pain and insecurities that led to their argument were so clear to me. But more compelling were the strengths and beauty I saw in both of them. I struggled helplessly in a body that could not give voice to what I saw. All I could do was cry.

Thus began a life lived in the tragic gap between what is and what could be. A life straddling cultures, socio-economic classes, and religious beliefs. Surviving childhood abuse and rape as a sensitive soul brings powerful insights and abilities as well as deep wounds that may take more than one lifetime to heal. Compassion, sorrow, and rage at callous injustice compete in ongoing inner struggles. “Breathe. Detach. Reflect. Do what you can to inspire others to see their own beauty and create new possibilities even though you know it’s not an easy journey. Try anyway, even though you don’t always see yourself worthy of walking this path.”

Events like the bombing of Afghanistan – again – remind me why it’s important to try anyway. History keeps repeating itself. Maybe this time I’ll be able to communicate the message in a way that can be heard.

In 2001-2002, I conducted a critical ethnographic study of child welfare in a rural Ojibwe community. The topic was important to me because Native American children continue to be removed from families and communities in disproportionate numbers. Removing children is a continuing form of cultural genocide. Many previous studies of Native Americans offered justification for this practice. They portrayed Native communities as though they were isolated from the rest of the world, and cultures as if frozen in the long ago past destined to inevitably disappear. I still wonder how anyone could ignore the obvious and profound effects that colonial subjugation has continued to have for Indigenous communities and cultures.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Wikipedia photo

The past and present socio-political context of U.S. Indian and child welfare policies were an important part of my research. I wanted to understand the community and culture from as many different vantage points as possible during my time “in the field.” My first week, I was lucky. An Ojibwe elder shared a story about his childhood that provided a crucial framework and foundation for my study. The information would have remained significant in any case. But the date of our conversation, September 10, 2001, made it clear that even in remote areas global issues have profound effects.

As I work on editing the book manuscript I wrote about my research, I can’t help reflecting on our inability as a nation to learn from history. Two weeks ago, I edited and revised the following excerpt.

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Research Fieldnotes: Monday, October 8, 2001

I’m eager to return to the border town and reservation. The morning is cool and clear as I set out for the long drive. But my heart is heavy with news from the world far from the ceded territories of the Ojibwe. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan began yesterday as the U.S. and its ally, Great Britain, launched an intensive bombing campaign. Retaliation against a poor nation that is not responsible for 911 is so senseless. There will be no positive outcomes for killing other innocent people. “Operation Enduring Freedom,” as the invasion is named, will not bring freedom. I fear it will only result in more death and suffering.

As I drive, I remember President Eisenhower’s observations from so many years ago.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. (Chance of Peace speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC on April 16, 1953)

War will affect the hopes of all of the children in the U.S. and Afghanistan. I have no words to express the deep sadness I feel. So I sing, belting out verses of songs and prayers for peace as tears stream from my eyes. I notice the bald-headed eagle flying above my car, circling overhead as I pray and sing. I wonder. “Is the eagle’s presence merely a coincidence? Or is it a sign that what I’m doing will forge a path to build understanding and peace?

***

Present-day Reflections. I don’t remember ever learning anything about Afghanistan in school, even though it’s been inhabited for at least 50,000 years and is the location of some the oldest farming communities in the world. It has been a predominantly Muslim country since 882 CE comprised of diverse indigenous tribes ruled by a central monarchy. Despite its land-locked location, Afghanistan has remained an important connecting point between the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.

In recent history it once again became the site of competing interests. In the mid-1800s, Great Britain imposed colonial rule over Afghanistan’s neighbor, India, leading to an ongoing struggle between Britain and the Soviet Union for control of the area. Internal conflicts within Afghanistan between those with differing views of governance, monarchy versus communism, erupted into civil war. Both the Soviet Union and United States provided cash and weapons to aid and arm competing armies. In 1979, the Soviet Union finally sent in troops and took control of the country. It’s estimated that 1 million Afghan people were killed by Soviet troops and their Afghan allies. Many more Afghan people fled to other nations before the Soviet Union withdrew their forces in 1989 (Admin, PBS, 2006).

During the 1980s in the U.S., funding was significantly reduced for the social welfare safety net programs intended to help poor families and children with access to health care, education, housing, income security, and nutrition (Karger & Stoesz, 2010). At the same time, billions of dollars flowed into Afghanistan to arm and support insurgent anti-communist forces that were fighting against Soviet occupation (Coll, 2005).

Due to ongoing wars, Afghanistan was one of the poorest countries in the world when Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001. Between October 7, 2001 and January 1, 2002, an estimated 1,000 to 1,300 civilians were killed as a direct result of bombing (Conetta, 2002a). By mid-January, 2002, another 3,200 had died of starvation, exposure, illness or injuries related to invasive bombing by the U.S. and Great Britain (Conetta, 2002b).

Eisenhower’s warning proved to be true. Children and families in both nations have continued to be affected by the costs of war on many levels.

***

Research Fieldnotes: Monday, October 8, 2001 (continued)

The eagle and long drive give me a chance to compose myself before I reach the reservation.

I arrive at Henry’s house at about 10:40, only ten minutes late for our scheduled meeting….

Community members gathered at the elder’s center the next day for lunch, as they did most weekdays. “I can’t understand why the Afghani people don’t like us,” Maymie says. The elders talk of anthrax, gardens, and making apple cider. They don’t seem to be concerned about the threat of terrorism here, but they do express their confusion about why others in the world seem to hate Americans.

************

A few days ago, the U.S bombed Afghanistan again with “the mother of all bombs.” Operation Enduring Freedom? Other choices are possible and far more likely to be successful if that really is the goal of U.S. international actions.

I honestly don’t know how to effectively communicate with those who don’t seem to be able to listen or hear. Sometimes all I can do is find moments of beauty despite the deep sorrow I feel. Other times, I just cry, as I did on my first Christmas. Today, I choose to share this message along with my prayers for peace despite the risk of being ignored, criticized or misunderstood.

My Grandson, Ojibwe Ceded Territory, Spring 2001

 

Works Cited:

Admin (2006, October 10). The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. PBS Newshour. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/asia-july-dec06-soviet_10-10/.

Coll, Steve (1005). Ghost wars: The secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Conetta, Carl. (24 January, 2002a). Operation Enduring Freedom: Why a higher rate of civilian bombing casualties. PDA: Project on Defense Alternatives. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.comw.org/pda/0201oef.html .

Conetta, Carl. (30 January, 2002). Strange victory: A critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan war. PDA: Project on Defense Alternatives. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.comw.org/pda/0201strangevic.html.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1953, April 16). Chance of Peace. Speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chance_for_Peace_speech on March 15, 2015.

Karger, Howard Jacob & Stoesz, David (2010). American social welfare policy: A pluralist approach, 6th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Resistance

by Miriam Schacht (RoteZora)

I haven’t contributed much to this space yet, and that’s in part because things are awful out in the world, and in part because I struggle with depression, and the combination of those two things, well, it’s not great. But I’m working on it. And a good thing, too, because things are bad and getting worse.

I probably don’t have to recount to y’all all the horrible things President Voldemort has done so far, and we’re not even through his first week in office. Things are going to be bad or worse than bad for quite a while. You know what, though? This is what I keep reminding myself of: Things have been bad and worse before. And people resisted. Sometimes, things got better. Even when they didn’t, we still benefited from the examples of fighters who did not give up in spite of immense odds, and in doing so inspired future generations of fighters.

Here’s one example that I’ve always found pretty awe-inspiring. In 1954, as part of an ill-conceived policy called Termination, the federal government ended the Menominee Nation’s status as a recognized Indian tribe. This means that from the standpoint of the feds, Menominees magically stopped being Indians from one day to the next. For many, many reasons, this was awful, and things went from bad to worse over the next two decades.

What did the Menominee Nation do? Well, they did what they’d been doing for the past several centuries, only more so: they resisted. They organized–as “shareholders,” since they could no longer officially organize as tribal members. They held meetings. They planned. They tried to hold everything together in the day-to-day while also trying to bring about massive change.

That kind of thing is unbelievably hard to do, especially because in the moment, you don’t actually know whether anything you do is even going to work. They had no idea that they would eventually be successful, and yet they kept trying, because they had to. Their very existence as a people was on the line.

And even though they were taking on the federal government, and even though that’s not often a situation in which tribes come out with a win, they did not stop, but kept on working and planning and RESISTING.

And they won. It took nearly two decades, but they won. In 1973, President Nixon signed the Menominee Restoration Act, which re-established the Menominee Nation as a federally recognized tribe.

As a side note, one of the people who was instrumental in this fight was Ada Deer, and if her name is not familiar, you are missing out. (I know that Carol knows her–in real life, even!) Read about her here and here, for starters. If you’re looking for some activist heroes, look no further–and keep in mind that she’d also likely point out how many people fought alongside her, and that they were all heroes, and that she’d be right.

Menominee Restoration happened, against the odds, because people got together in protest and fought for their rights. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun (though I bet there were jokes and laughter at meetings, along with serious business), and it had no guarantee of success–and it was necessary.

That’s the kind of spirit of resistance that we all need right now. Indigenous people have been resisting for over five hundred years, and their struggles are at the heart of everything that happens on this continent. Not coincidentally, the Menominees are the people indigenous to the place where I am writing this right now, and it is right and proper for me to think about their struggles and their rights (including their rights to the land I am on right now) and acknowledge my debt to them as we all move forward in resistance.

So as we think about how bad things are going to get, let’s also remember that resistance is never futile (contrary to what the Borg Collective would have you believe). It may take years, or decades, or even centuries, but each act of resistance breeds more resistance, and more power, and so each act of resistance is vital.

And if you haven’t already, go learn about the ways the nations in your area have resisted colonization. Because the Indigenous people of this continent are, and should be, the wellspring and heart of resistance, and all of us need to recognize and honor that in order to move forward together. In resistance.

Open Letter to White People at Standing Rock

By Miriam Schacht (RoteZora)

I wrote this note while staying at the Two Spirit Nation camp within the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock about a week ago. I originally drove out there to help someone else out, but without the intention of staying, because I take seriously the critiques that suggest that white activists have been taking over the protests. However, I stayed much longer than I intended because it turned out that there was important work to do as a white accomplice–work that addressed precisely the issue of white activists at these camps and these actions. Part of the necessary work of white accomplices is to lessen the burden on people of color. At camp that meant I was asked by Two Spirit folks to give white visitors “allyship 101” or “Two Spirit 101” lectures; this letter is my attempt to keep that work up, and keep taking on some of the burden, even when I’m not at the camp anymore. As requested, I’ve sent hard copies to the folks at camp (there’s barely any internet access there), but I’m also re-posting it here. 

Read this, please, with an open heart. If you start feeling defensive, take a moment to reflect on why that is before returning to reading.

The first and perhaps most important thing to understand is that this protest is not about you. Yes, we are all affected by what happens here, and we should all serve the earth as stewards and protectors. But this camp and this resistance is first and foremost Indigenous. This movement comes out of countless thousands of years’ relationship with this land. It comes from 500 years of colonialism that tried not only to take this land, but to eliminate every Indian person on it, and when that didn’t work, tried to kill off the cultures of the hundreds of Indigenous nations of this continent. This movement comes out of centuries in which Native sovereignty has been ignored, during which Indigenous nations with thousands of years of history have been reduced to “domestic dependent nations.” This movement comes in response to the centuries of genocide that have made the United States what it is today. It comes from hundreds of Native nations who live within the country that stole their land and stole their children and stole their culture and keeps on trying to steal everything they were and are. It also comes from the prophecies of many different tribal traditions, as well as an ancient and contemporary relationship between the people and this land.

For these reasons and many more, this protest is fundamentally Indigenous.

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Indigenous protesters, faced by riot police

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What does this mean for white people at Standing Rock?

For starters, we are not and should not be the leaders here.

Native community structures, and especially leadership structures, may not look like what we as white Americans are familiar with. What may look, at first glance, like an absence of leadership is not that at all, but instead the presence of leaders who are humble, who don’t announce their leadership role, who understand that leadership is facilitating the will of the people around you rather than putting yourself forward. Many people here who are leaders probably don’t consider themselves that way, because Indigenous leadership is all about putting away your own ego and serving other people. Leaders might just as easily be cooking dinner or clearing trash as running meetings or heading an action. Trust that the community knows and recognizes who they are.

Instead of trying to lead, ask how you can serve. Do the work that needs doing, not just the work you want to do or that is most visible. Be humble. Accept corrections and advice. Make yourself useful outside of the spotlight.

That also means don’t charge to the front of actions unless specifically asked to do so. Do not simply do your own thing at an action. Don’t rush to be interviewed or filmed. The world has heard enough white voices and seen enough white faces. We do not need to be the representatives of this movement or this place. Even if the Native voices are quieter than yours–in fact, especially then–they should be the ones to speak. If a reporter asks you for a quote, ask them if they’ve spoken to Indigenous demonstrators. If they haven’t, facilitate that. Emphasize and understand that everything here is happening because Indigenous people and tribal nations decided to resist.

We as non-Native people are here for support, not for recognition.

Do things because they need doing or because you are asked to, not because you want someone to thank you. Do your best to bury your ego. This may be harder than you expect, because regardless of how much we might think we’ve left mainstream whiteness behind, we’ve grown up in a world where white people are always at the center. It’s hard to be on the margins; practice being on the margins here, behind the scenes rather than on stage. Understand that Indigenous people, like other people of color, are nearly always pushed to the margins and made invisible. See what that space feels like.

We’re also taught that we have a right to everything. All knowledge should be shared, all culture belongs to everyone, the world should be open-source. This in particular can be extremely difficult to unlearn, but it’s also extremely important. Don’t assume that you are invited everywhere. Especially when it comes to ceremonies, ask humbly if you are welcome instead of assuming, and always be willing to accept “no” as an answer. This is not about you personally; accept that fact with grace and understanding. Some spaces or events are for Native people only. Not all knowledge is for everyone. Not all ceremonies are open to all. Respect that.

Learn what the protocols and expectations are, and follow them.

We are guests here. Following the guidelines set up for the camp and for the actions is appropriate and respectful. This isn’t a question of following authority or being a rebel by disregarding it; it’s about respecting our hosts in ways that white society, in general, has never done. (In fact, if you value rebellion, consider that respect for Native protocols is the ultimate act of rebellion against the US government.)

20161019_161245-1
“This is a ceremony. Act accordingly” puts it beautifully and succinctly

If someone else fails to follow protocols–even someone Native, even someone local–don’t take that as permission to disregard them yourself. Respect the community that established these guidelines.

Understand that you are in a place where the expectations for behavior may be different than what you’re used to, and that’s OK–ask when you’re unsure. Some things to know: Elders hold a place of great respect in Native communities; listen to what they have to say, defer to their experience and knowledge, offer to get them food, give them your chair, let them go ahead of you in line. Ask if it’s OK to enter someone’s campsite. If folks are in a circle, don’t join until you are asked. Don’t add things to the fire unless you know what’s what–some things around the fire might be sacred medicine, and wood might be rationed for specific purposes. Be a part of things appropriately and with respect.

This note from the Sacred Stone Camp FAQ is also helpful:

When you are at Sacred Stone Camp, you are a guest of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota nation. If you are told to do or not do something according to tradition, please be respectful and comply. Photography is not allowed during ceremony or prayer. If you are a woman, you are asked not to attend ceremony, including sweat lodges, while you are on your moon (menstruating). Certain traditional events, items, and clothing are only to be attended/used/worn by Native people. Please ask before collecting sage, berries, or any other plant from the area. When in doubt, ask an elder or local.

Think of yourself as a student, not a teacher, and spend more time listening than talking.

Share your expertise if and when you are asked, but don’t ever assume you are the only expert in the room (or around the fire). Educate yourself as much as you can, and cut yourself some slack, too; learning means making mistakes, and everyone here will make some mistakes. Learn from your mistakes and they’ll become valuable experiences.

Recognize, too, that no amount of education gives you license to explain Nativeness to Native people.

Understand that you are not Native.

Non-Natives in this country have a long history of claiming a Native identity that is not ours to claim, whether it’s colonists dressing up as “Indians” for the Boston Tea Party, Boy Scouts holding supposedly “Indian” rituals in the Boy Scouts’ Order of Arrow, Grateful Dead fans calling themselves the Society of the Indian Dead, summer camps naming themselves after Native nations, or New Age practitioners laying claim to ceremonial and sacred Native practices. All of these are ways of claiming tribal identity without being Native, and all of them are colonialist practices that work to erase the continued existence of this continent’s Native people.

weallnative
Well-intentioned though it might be, this sign is not, ultimately, helpful. (Picture taken on a bus to a protest) 

Even if some people (even some Native people) tell you that we are all Native, understand that many others not only disagree, but see this viewpoint as a way for colonizers to appropriate Native identity–yet another way for whites to steal Native culture. For non-Natives to claim some form of Native identity reinforces the pain of colonialism for many Native people. Even if you are not wholly convinced by this, please understand that this can hurt people deeply. If, in spite of this, you still think that your right to claim Nativeness trumps the right of Native people not to feel hurt and erased by your behavior, then you should think about what your goals are and whether you belong in this camp.

It is true that we are all indigenous to someplace, and that there are indigenous European cultures that were wiped out by Christianity. This does not mean that those of us who are of European descent are not also colonizers on this land. Additionally, Christianity’s rise to dominance in Europe happened in a very different historical context well over a thousand years ago, and did not involve racial genocide; please avoid suggesting that it was in any way the same thing as what has happened with Native people on this continent.

Don’t make assumptions about other peoples’ identities.

For decades Hollywood has shown us what Indians look like. The problem is that some of Hollywood’s most prominent Indians were actually Italian…and some actual Native people couldn’t (and still can’t) play Indians in Hollywood because they don’t “look Indian.” That should tell you all you need to know about whether you can tell who is Native simply by looking. Native people today are extremely diverse. Sure, some look like Indians do in movies, but plenty don’t. There are blond Indians with pale skin, and black Indians with afros. There are Indians with straight hair, curly hair, no hair. They’re tall, short… you get the point. Nativeness isn’t always something you can see, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Carry this recognition into the rest of your life as well.

Remember to take care of yourself.

You cannot help others well if you are not trying to be healthy and balanced yourself. You will hear people talk about doing things the right way; taking care of yourself and keeping yourself in balance is an important part of that. Don’t do anything that goes against your values or beliefs, or that makes you feel unsafe. You deserve the same respect as every other person in camp.

Understand that genocide and colonialism are not just history; they are the present.

We are all part of a system built on genocide (and slavery, and more), a system that has benefited us as white people whether we want it to or not. There is no way to opt out of white privilege. Some parts of your identity may mean you are oppressed in other ways, but even if you are transgender or grew up poor or speak with an accent, you still have white privilege. Even if you are not from the US, you still have white privilege. You may choose to live in ways that challenge this system, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you can live outside this system. We have white privilege, no matter what. It doesn’t mean we need to feel guilty about it, but it does mean we need to take responsibility for our place in the world, and decide what to do with it. Acknowledge your privilege, understand it, and then put it to use to help break down this system of colonialism and white supremacy we all live in.

A Request for Action to Support Standing Rock Water Protectors

Carol A. Hand

My heart is heavy with the news coming from Standing Rock, ND today. It’s led me to do something I rarely do. I’m posting a request for the help of all of those who follow this blog. For the sake of the health of our earth and future generations, I ask you to consider voicing your concerns about the situation in Standing Rock, ND.

The voice of the Protectors:

Standing Rock Update and Indigenous Call to Action – Bioneers 2016

 

An example of the mainstream media portrayals:

Dakota Access Pipeline Standoff Lapses Into Violence (Huffington Post)

Consider contacting the White House today at 202-456-1111 or sending a message to whitehouse.gov/contact. Ask President Obama to support the peaceful Water Protectors and act on behalf of the 17 million Americans who depend on the Missouri River for their clean water. Ask him to honor treaties and do what is right to protect people and the environment, not the profit of corporations. Please let him know that people are concerned across the US and the world. And please feel free to add your ideas in comments about how to raise worldwide attention and support for this and other pressing social justice issues.

From the Official Presidential Contact site

Call the President

PHONE NUMBERS
Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414
TTY/TTD
Comments: 202-456-6213
Visitor’s Office: 202-456-2121

Write a letter to the President

Here are a few simple things you can do to make sure your message gets to the White House as quickly as possible.

1. If possible, email us! This is the fastest way to get your message to President Obama.

2. If you write a letter, please consider typing it on an 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper. If you hand-write your letter, please consider using pen and writing as neatly as possible.

3. Please include your return address on your letter as well as your envelope. If you have an email address, please consider including that as well.

4. And finally, be sure to include the full address of the White House to make sure your message gets to us as quickly and directly as possible:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

This issue affects us all no matter where we’re located in the world. I hope you will consider contacting President Obama. We need to stand in unity on issues that affect all of us and the earth we all call home.

“Communities of Relatedness” – A Reblog

Originally posted December 17, 2013

Carol A. Hand

Sitting on my back doorstep as I greeted yet another snowy morning, I was reflecting on my most recent neighborhood. West Duluth, the working class part of town. The side of town where the industries – manufacturing and paper mills – send plumes of putrid exhaust into the air. Some days the winds blow it eastward toward the lake, away from the children in my neighborhood who are walking to school or out on the school playgrounds. On the days the winds blow westward, I know it’s unwise to take more than very shallow breaths. Mine is the side of town where only those with few resources are able to find housing, the side of town where parents without choices send their children to schools with fewer resources and amenities. Even if I had more financial resources, I suspect I would still choose to live here, even though people in my neighborhood are not especially sociable – they’re too busy just trying to survive.

Perhaps it’s foolish of me, but I prefer to live in an old house that needs lots of work, with an overgrown yard that needs tending, on the side of town with the most diversity. So many people in the world live with far less. And it is the things that need transformation that attract my attention and inspire my creativity. I suspect it’s because of a different cultural frame. I don’t feel a sense of allegiance to the symbols of “nationhood” – fictive notions of fraternity – of us against the world. Instead, I realized this morning that I feel a sense of responsibility to people and my environment, not just Ojibwe people, but all my relations.

I have had the privilege of working for a state developing policies and programs for elders, and then working at the community level implementing and evaluating programs and policies for families and children. What I observed was a fundamental disconnect between policies developed by experts from a dominant cultural paradigm, what I refer to as “collectivities of strangers” like the residents of Duluth, and communities that were based on the foundation of enduring relationships. Raising the awareness of policy developers and academics to the importance of this distinction is not an easy task. So I have shifted my efforts to try to raise the awareness of students who will hopefully become the policy and program developers of the future.

From an indigenous perspective, the centrality of relationships is apparent. Tribal communities are characterized by centuries of enduring close family and community relationships among members and their natural environment, and members anticipate the continuation of these bonds for generations yet to come. The legalistic, impersonal approach used by the dominant Euro-American social welfare and judicial systems can best be characterized as “a collectivity of strangers,” designed to keep strangers from killing each other. As Jared Diamond (1997, Guns, Germs, and Steel) argues,

… the organization of human government tends to change … in societies with more than a few hundred members … [as] the difficult issue of conflict resolution between strangers becomes increasingly acute in larger groups…. Those ties of relationship binding all tribal members make police, laws, and other conflict-resolving institutions of larger societies unnecessary, since any two villagers getting into an argument will share many kin, who will apply pressure on them to keep it from becoming violent. (p. 171)

What this means for the sense of responsibility members feel toward each other from these contrasting cultural paradigms can be simplistically illustrated.

     Community of Relatedness                                      Collectivity of Strangers

lp worldtug of war

What these distinctions mean for children can be described simplistically as well.

cor graphic

cor cos graphic

As I contemplate these contrasts this morning, I need to ground the philosophical questions in my present lived experience. Fortunately for my neighborhood, the gentle wind is blowing in from the west this morning, leaving the air clean and sweet. It was safe to take deep breaths and contemplate the possibility of building a sense of community that recognizes the importance of protecting the health of all our relations. In doing so, however, I am mindful that my privilege of breathing clean air this morning doesn’t mean the world is fair. The factories that provide jobs for people in my neighborhood are still sending forth poison plumes. It is others who are downwind who must breathe shallowly today. They are both strangers to me in one sense, and relatives in another. The challenge I contemplate is how to reach out to them so we can begin to work collectively to create a community that is healthy every day for all of our relations.

***

Today, my thoughts are with the Water Protectors in Standing Rock who are indeed taking a stand for the earth and all of us, regardless of how we define our relationship to each other. I send them all deep gratitude, love, and prayers. Chi miigwetch.

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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.

Reflections – Focusing Close to Home

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Carol A. Hand

As I drove the 20 miles on Saturday morning (September 10, 2016) to meet my class for the first time, I thought about the sense of wonder I had about the world around me when I was a child. Everything was a mystery. I loved to explore pond water under my microscope. I was fascinated by people from different cultures and eagerly sought to understand more about them by watching, asking questions, and reading any books I could find.

I would spend hours watching ants, butterflies, and all types of insects. My mother was upset by the “creepy crawlies” that I piled on the table. I watched them disappear over the edge and quickly gathered replacements. But she tolerated it. She knew that children are all born to be inquisitive. Tragically, our experiences in school often make learning a bore. We lose our sense of wonder as we memorize often indistinguishable facts and factoids.

I thought about lessons I learned about teaching long ago, described in an older post.

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Although I didn’t realize it at the time, Sister Lorita, my undergraduate advisor from St. Xavier College for Women in Chicago, taught me more than botany. Through example, she taught me what it means to teach. Students made fun of her because of her weight and because of her enthusiasm for her subject, a subject they found boring. One day when we were meeting, Sister Lorita looked at me and said, “I know students laugh at me, but I don’t care if people make fun of me. It’s worth it to me if they learn to see the wonder of life in a blade of grass.”

The wonder of life.” Isn’t that the most important thing we can learn? Although I was a chemistry and biology major at the time, my life took a different path. Instead of science, I teach students how to work with people, although there are many times when I would rather be an ecologist.

When I first started teaching, I didn’t remember Sister Lorita’s lesson. I taught the same meaningless theories and content in the same boring ways as most of my previous teachers, yet I noticed there were differences. Unlike colleagues who told me they never admitted they didn’t have an answer to a student question, I was honest. While other faculty told me they made up an answer, I admitted it was a good question that I needed to research before giving an answer. I was encouraged by a friend, a linguist and Jewish scholar, who supported this approach. She told me that the Hebrew word for the verb “to teach” is an intensive form of the verb “to learn.” It is this chance to keep learning that makes my work so rewarding. The other difference I noted was my tendency to highlight student strengths and accomplishments, rather than merely point out errors in their work.

It took me years to recognize that these differences were truly significant. Like Sister Lorita, I became far less concerned about what others thought of me and more concerned with how what students learned in my class would affect their views of the people they were responsible for helping during their careers. Could they learn to see the wonder of possibilities in all people, regardless of their past and present circumstances? So I began experimenting with ways to consciously “walk the talk.”

I am consistently exploring ways to operationalize a liberatory praxis framework in my research and teaching. Liberatory praxis is based on a dialogic approach for raising awareness about the ways in which dominance is established and maintained. Praxis, the synthesis of theory and action, results in recognizing that both those who dominate and those who are dominated share in the perpetuation of oppressive institutions and paradigms (Freire, 2000).

blade of grass

Photo Credit:
3quarksdaily: Tuesday Poem

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The last time I taught research (Summer 2014), I asked students to focus on a global issue – the impact of climate change on the lives of those who are most vulnerable. They are the populations social workers typically serve. This time, the focus is closer to home – healthy community. The reason is quite simple. Rebuilding or nurturing respectful, inclusive, empathetic relationships with our neighbors is something I believe we need to do in the divisive times now. It’s the only thing that will help us in an uncertain future. Even if our only motivation is self-interest, survival, it makes sense.

The challenge is how to create a context where students have an opportunity to explore what their views are about “healthy community,” and develop their own tentative solutions using the inquisitiveness that research skills offer. This is the task a colleague and I have been working on together. The question we asked was simple.

How can we interweave research with community practice (organizing) to increase the likelihood of constructive change efforts that are inclusive, egalitarian, and based on scientific community-based perspectives?

We designed two new shared assignments with this question in mind. Not only will this approach reduce student workloads by allowing them to do some of the same assignments for two classes, it will help students think about and explore healthy communities from different vantage points, hopefully demonstrating the importance of knowledge-guided transformative action.

I decided, with my colleague’s approval, to share our new assignments here.

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Assignment 1: Orientation Reflection Paper: What Does a Healthy Community Look Like?

Purpose: 
It is crucial to remember that effective social work is grounded within and intricate web of interdependent human relationships. One way of representing this is the person-in-environment or eco-systems model.

ecology of human development

Ecology of Human Development: Adapted from Bronfenbrenner (1979)

Conducting research studies in this context requires us to be mindful of the need to define complex issues in clear, concise, measurable ways. The purpose of this assignment is to begin that process by asking you to think critically about broad ideas and goals that require more precise language that clarifies our frame of reference.

Assignment:
In order to prepare to explore healthy communities in research and communities, there are some crucial questions we would like you to consider before we begin. Please write a one-to-three page paper that addresses each of the following requests or questions,

1. Briefly describe what a healthy community looks like from your perspective.

2. Operationalize each of the following terms (i.e., define each in observable, measureable, strength-based language):

a. Health
b. Community
c. Healthy community

3. When you think about where you live or work, what’s standing in the way of a healthy community as you defined it in your answer to question #1?

4. Where is a feasible place to focus in order to conduct a study of one aspect of healthy community? (narrow focus so it’s doable for study and intervention)

5. What are your initial thoughts about how you could use research as a tool to help build healthy (or healthier) communities?

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Assignment 3: Exploring Positionality and Perspective Exercise

Purpose:
It is crucial to consider how our prior experiences have shaped who we are today and our perspectives about the world we live in. We need to understand how our perspective influences what we choose to look at, often without our conscious thought, and how we make sense of and interpret what we see.

Doing research is, in many ways, like taking a descriptive and explanatory snapshot of empirical reality. For each particular photograph, the investigator must decide what kind of camera to use, what scene on which to focus, through which filter, and with what intent. (Crabtree & Miller, 1999, p. 3)

The purpose of this assignment is to help you explore who you are and how you see the world.

Assignment:
1. Take a photograph that answers each of the following questions:

a. Who are you?
b. Where are you from?
c. What one image shows your feelings about the place you define as your community?
d. What image conveys the strengths of your community?
e. What image conveys a compelling issue or challenge affecting your community?
f. What image shows what you would like to see in your community in the future?

2. Prepare a PowerPoint with a slide for each picture and one sentence or phrase that explains why you chose this photo or what it means to you. (Other audio/visual alternatives may be used.)

3. Present your PowerPoint to the class and describe what you learned from this exercise.

4. Be prepared to engage in dialogue with the class to further explore the significance of your perspectives.

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During our first class on Saturday, my colleague and I learned that the first assignment and dialogue helped students overcome a little of the understandable fear and resistance they initially felt about research. The third assignment is actually one of the research methods used to involve community members as partners in exploring important issues – Photovoice.

“Using creative tools such as Photovoice can help changemakers understand the lived experiences of disadvantaged communities and give a voice to underprivileged individuals… Photovoice is a process in which people – usually those with limited power due to poverty, language barriers, race, class, ethnicity, gender, culture, or other circumstances – use video and/or photo images to capture aspects of their environment and experiences and share them with others. The pictures can then be used, usually with captions composed by the photographers, to bring the realities of the photographers’ lives home to the public and policy makers and to spur change.” (Community Tool Box, University of Kansas)

By the time I left the tribal and community college to drive home, I was excited about the opportunity to work with such a diverse and engaging group of young women. They were eager to learn how to use a range of new tools to develop skills and explore possibilities. New course development is a lot of work, and for most of the drive home, the list of things I still need to do ran through my mind.

It’s understandable why so many faculty stick to “the way things have always been done,” as I did when I first started teaching. The old banking model paradigm requires little creative thought. Students are kept busy writing research proposals, reading texts that emphasize methods rather than inclusive processes, and regurgitating facts on fill-in-the-blank tests. My colleague and I knew it would mean a lot of extra work when we decided to try something else.

Why not let students learn through doing? Why not expose them to a variety of methods, including those that emphasize community participation in defining issues, listing strengths and proposing solutions?

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We need to begin where we are if we want things to change. Healthy relationships among all residents and between all residents and their built and natural environments will mean different things in each community. And it seems that authentic inclusive community engagement is an essential foundation to begin exploring how to do that in contextually and culturally appropriate ways.

My colleague and I are walking the talk as we roll out a new way of teaching for us. We hope it will allow students to envision new possibilities for themselves and their communities and are eager to see how this experiment evolves. We would love to hear your thoughts!

Works Cited:

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press.

Crabtree, B. F. & Miller, W. L. (Eds.)(1999). Doing qualitative research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th Anniversary ed.). New York: Continuum.

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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.

Reflections – For Standing Rock Water Protectors

Carol A. Hand

People from many tribes united to protect life, land and water
standing their ground with the power of love, peace, prayer and song
facing media lies and violence, attack dogs, poison, bulldozers and guns
The continuing story of colonial times as corporate armies march along
raping and plundering the earth and her peoples year after year, one by one

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we_are_unarmed-dakota_access-courtesy_indigenous_environmental_network

Photo Credit: Indian County Today Media Network 

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Let this be the tipping point,
the time for awakening when those of good heart say “NO MORE!”
Let us stand united clothed in the power of love, flanked by the spirit of ancestors
knowing that we were all born to carry a sacred responsibility none of us can ignore

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News from Standing Rock, North Dakota:

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/09/01/world-watching-tribal-members-put-bodies-path-dakota-pipeline

https://www.facebook.com/nativehoopmagazine/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED

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Posted with gratitude to those at the front lines, including my daughter and granddaughter

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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.

Reflections about Education and “Walking the Talk”

Carol A. Hand

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” (George Bernard Shaw, 1903, Maxims for Revolutionists)

I wonder. How many people believe Shaw’s words to be true?

teacher 3

Perhaps it is for those who define what they do as “teaching.” The narrow view that those we call “students” are empty vessels waiting for experts to fill them up with facts and status quo explanations. What if, like Freire, we view the foundation of education, both of others and ourselves, as a never ending process that emerges from experience, observations, dialogue and critical reflection?

“Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.” (Paulo Freire)

The role of an educator carries the responsibility for careful reflection about how to use the prevailing social institutions (or explore the possibility of new ones) to liberate rather than oppress. That means creating an environment where inquiry and curiosity are encouraged, where it’s safe to question everything and engage in honest, critical reflection and dialogue about the world as it was, is, and could be.

“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

What if you have been able to do the things you’re hired to “teach” about? That doesn’t make it easy to pass on knowledge and skills to others. Often what you know came as a result of trial and error in the real world, reinventing the wheel in specific contexts through authentic egalitarian dialogic partnerships with others. Is this something that you can allow others to experience in a 15-week semester?

course development 2

This is the task a friend and I are presently trying to address as we attempt to integrate courses on research and community practice. It’s why I don’t post much these days. Yesterday, we spent hours planning how to integrate and sequence our assignments to provide the knowledge students will need for competent ethical practice in the future and experiential learning opportunities to test it out in “close to real-life” situations.

The real challenge for both of us, working in partnership, is to create an environment for students to learn for themselves what we have both been able to do in the past (and still do as our current efforts demonstrate). Can we “do” community practice and research in the context of these classes nested within an educational institution? For me, it is a mini-research study. “What works and what doesn’t?” For my colleague, it’s an opportunity to engage students in our classes as groups and as a a whole community in the process of planning respectful, liberatory, beneficent community change. There are crucial lessons to be learned for all of us by working together.

community-clipart-ncBbEkecA

Image: Community Clip Art

“The oppressors do not favor promoting the community as a whole, but rather selected leaders.” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

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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.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Carol A. Hand

During the DFL (Democratic-Farm-Labor Party) caucus yesterday evening, chaos and excitement reigned in equal measure. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people crowded into the old high school in my working class neighborhood to vote. I arrived early and found my way up the stairs and down winding hallways to the small classroom assigned to residents from my precinct. I was early, signed in, and found a student desk at the back along the wall and watched as the room filled to standing room only.

It was clear that the facilitator, a large woman in her 50s, had no idea what to do. I noticed a good deal of diversity in the room – elders with canes and walkers and young professionals from diverse backgrounds. Most were looking at their ever-ready smart phones as we waited for the process to begin. With little audible direction, we were all given a small light-blue square of paper with the DFL presidential hopefuls listed. The young man seated next to me and I decided that our only task was to check our choice, both being careful not to intrude on each other’s privacy by peeking to see the choice.

After we “voted” we were told we could put our ballots in the cardboard box the facilitator was holding and leave. By the time I reached the box, it was already bursting at the seams. Getting out of the room was the next challenge. Hundreds of people were still waiting in the hallway to sign in and vote. And the DFL vote was overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders. Minnesota was a solid blue-blue state (even though it’s colored red in the image below).

2000px-Minnesota_in_United_States.svg

Image: Map of U.S. Highlighting Minnesota (Wikipedia)

This morning I realized how exciting it is to live here in a land of hope. It’s surely not perfect, but people do share concerns for social justice and the environment even though politicians don’t often listen. I also realized I will never again be able to go back to forced party choices, NEVER. In the years left to me, I will live and vote my values.

For me, the choice this time around is clear. It doesn’t matter which names are printed on the ballot. I’ll choose whom to vote for and write them in if they’re not listed. I encourage others to do the same, even if their choices differ from mine. Chaos can be an exciting, liberating opportunity for meaningful change. The important thing is to think critically about the world we want to live in, the world we hope our children will inherit. From my perspective, the choices before me are simple – ignorant thuggery, corporate capitulation, or the uncertainty of personal responsibility. Others need not agree with my assessment.

We do live in interesting times. How we live is still a choice regardless of those who tell us otherwise. We can speak our truths and still be compassionate, hopeful, and kind.

Palisade,_Shovel_Point_(cropped)

Photo: Lake Superior (by Kablammo – Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia)

This morning I wonder. What is the critical mass necessary for changing an unjust social structure? I don’t know. But what I witnessed last night gave me hope that it’s attainable.

 

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.