During the past week, I have been reviewing some of my December posts from past years. Many carry important messages that I have decided to share again. Following is a reflection posted on December 12, 2013. Not much has changed for the better in my neighborhood or the world since then.
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 RelatednessCollectivity of Strangers
What these distinctions mean for children can be described simplistically as well.
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.
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:
What deeper messages do titles convey? That’s a question that arises as I contemplate a powerful poignant book I just finished reading, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity by Marijane Huang. I read this work from a unique perspective as an Ojibwe scholar who has studied the history of Indian child welfare, as a descendant of a culture that has survived despite centuries of Native American child removal policies. I reflected on Huang’s experiences as a daughter who witnessed the deep emotional scars my Ojibwe mother carried as a result of the joyless, demeaning years she spent in a Catholic Indian boarding school far from her family and home. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the topic of child removal, particularly adoption, triggers so many thoughts and memories for me. Often, I need to turn to critical scholarly reflection for balance to consider the underlying questions.
Together the myriad of cultures makes up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelops the planet and is every bit as important to the well being of the planet as is the biological web of life that we know as the biosphere. You might think of this social web of life as an “ethnosphere,” a term perhaps best defined as the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and aspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. (Wade Davis, 2009, p. 2)
Huang speaks of the “primal wound” adoptees suffer due to “multiple losses, the most significant being the loss of the adoptee’s birth mother, but also that of culture, language, and original family” (p. xvi). Removing children from their families, communities, and nations causes harm on many levels and can be viewed as a powerful form of ethnocide. Huang’s account hints at the life-long suffering of her birth mother and family of origin because her father made choices he felt necessary in a context that wasn’t supportive of children and families. It reminded me of some of the stories I heard during my research about Ojibwe child welfare, aggregated into a poem I later wrote.
…All the child welfare system could do
was take a mother’s children away.
No one ever asked why she always had tears in her eyes.
Although her daughter cried for her beautiful mother every day,
no one ever asked what her mother needed to heal.
So the young girl spent her childhood with strangers,
a grieving mother mourned, and the White strangers felt virtuous.
The Ojibwe community lost yet another child to county removal
and the child welfare system closed the case, its job complete…
Huang’s courage to confront her fear of the unknown and her tenacity to keep moving forward despite so many obstacles are deeply inspiring. It wasn’t too late for her to reconnect to her original cultural legacy and some of the family that she lost as an infant. Her honest, gracious, and moving narrative brought me inside her experiences. She brought me inside her feelings as she discovered her adoption papers when she was in her 40s and learned of her heritage for the first time. And I felt as though I stood with her in the Taipei airport in Taiwan anxiously awaiting her first meeting with her two older sisters who had last seen Huang as an infant.
Huang’s healing journey brings joy and tears. I’m grateful for the chance I had to travel along with her. Her first book ends with a powerful realization.
Without a doubt, the reunion with my birth family has been one of the most significant, life-altering events of my life. (p. 159).
Learning to see the world through different cultural lenses is always s gift, and Huang does such a powerful job taking us beyond two profoundly different cultural worlds to see both the importance of being in touch with our cultural roots and the human bonds that connect us across cultures.
To acknowledge the wonder of other cultures is not to denigrate our way of life but rather to recognize with some humility that other peoples, flawed as they too may be, nevertheless contribute to our collective heritage, the human repertoire of ideas, beliefs, and adaptations that have historically allowed us as a species to thrive. To appreciate this truth is to sense viscerally the tragedy inherent in the loss of a language or the assimilation of a people. To lose a culture is to lose something of ourselves. (Davis, pp. 201-202)
I hope Huang will have an opportunity to return to Taiwan and I eagerly await her next book.
Information about how to purchase a copy of Huang’s book, published on May 8, 2017, is available on her website, Beyond Two Worlds.
Wade Davis (2009). The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. Toronto, ON, Canada: House of Anansi Press, Inc.
Marijane Huang (2017). Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. Bloomington, IN: Author House.
I would like to begin by thanking Rosaliene Bacchus for nominating me to participate in a challenge: “Three Quotes for Three Days.” Rosaliene, who can be found at Three Worlds One Vision, has a fascinating background. She was born in Guyana, later migrated to Brazil where she worked as an international trade professional, and then moved to Los Angeles where she completed her first novel and began work on her second.
The rules of the challenge are:
1. Three quotes for three days. (Done for Day One. See below.)
2. Three nominees each day (no repetition). (Well – this is a problem of paradigms. I much prefer volunteers.)
3. Thank the person who nominated you. (Done. I am truly grateful to Rosaliene for the honor.)
4. Inform the nominees. (See # 2 above.)
5. And it doesn’t have to be three successive days. (Thankfully!)
Out of all of the books I have read over more than six decades, where should I start? I ask myself a simple question, “What fits with messages we need to consider during times like these?” This is what came to mind.
Things will only change when we question the stories we’ve learned and taken for granted as normal, as true. We need to subject those stories to critical analysis from as many different vantage points as we can to see if they still hold true.
It’s not a quote from someone famous as far as I know. But it is based on a synthesis of what I learned from all of those books and a long lifetime of experiences and reflection. I’ve also learned that “minority views,” “views from the fringes,” are important in any era. But I remember the caution of my Chickasaw faculty advisor when I was completing my final degree in a university. “Cite credible sources to say what you want to convey, otherwise you won’t be taken seriously.”
Of course, I didn’t always listen to his wise counsel, insisting instead on learning the hard way too often. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for finding sources that could provide crucial foundations for expressing credible critiques of the status quo. Three stand out in my memory today: Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005), Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996), and Michel Foucault (1926-1984).
Urie Bronfenbrenner “was a Russian-born American developmental psychologist,” perhaps best known for his “ecological systems theory of child development.” He played a key role in the development of Head Start in 1965, a Federal program that provides early educational enrichment for low-income children under 5. Bronfenbrenner’s research called “attention to the large number of environmental and societal influences on child development.” (Wikipedia)
Thomas Kuhn “was an American physicist, historian and philosopher of science whose controversial 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term paradigm shift, which has since become an English-language idiom.” (Wikipedia)
Michel Foucault “was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, philologist and literary critic. His theories addressed the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions…. His thought has been highly influential both for academic and for activist groups…” (Wikipedia)
Today, Day One of three quotes, I’ll focus on Urie Bronfenbrenner, the first I encountered on my journey of discovery. I remember reflecting on Bronfenbrenner’s framework as I traveled to lead a workshop at a national conference about families. I no longer remember the sponsoring organization, but I do still recall the thoughts going through my mind as I drove the last miles. Bronfenbrenner’s description of individuals embedded within ever larger systems of relationships made sense to me, but I wondered how many people in the tribal communities I worked with at the time had heard of him or his theories. My life had opened up possibilities that many others were denied.
“The ecological environment is conceived as a set of nested structures, each inside the next, like a set of Russian dolls…. The next step, however, leads us off the beaten track for it requires looking beyond individual settings to the relations between them. I shall argue that such interconnections can be as decisive for development as events taking place within a given setting…. The third level of the ecological environment takes us further afield and evokes a hypothesis that the person’s development is profoundly affected by events occurring in settings in which the person is not even present…. Finally, there is a striking phenomenon pertaining to settings at all three levels of the ecological environment outlined above: within any culture or subculture, settings of a given kind – such as homes, streets, offices – tend to be very much alike, whereas between cultures they are distinctly different. It is as if within each society or subculture there existed a blueprint for the organization of every type of setting. Furthermore, the blueprint can be changed, with the result that the structure of the setting in a society can become markedly altered and produce corresponding changes in behavior and development.” (1979, pp. 3-4)
Early in his educational career, Bronfenbrenner had an opportunity to conduct field research in different communities, some familiar and some radically different. His book, The Ecology of Human Development, incorporates some of his crucial discoveries.
“First, it radically expanded my awareness of the resilience, versatility, and promise of the species Homo sapiens as evidenced by the capacity to adapt to, tolerate, and especially create the ecologies in which it lives and grows. Seen in different contexts, human nature, which I had previously thought of as a singular noun, became plural and pluralistic; for the different environments were producing discernible differences, not only across but also within societies, in talent, temperament, human relations, and particularly in the ways in which the culture, or subculture, brought up its next generation. The process and product of making human beings human clearly varied by place and time. Viewed in historical as well as cross-cultural perspective, this diversity suggested the possibility of ecologies as yet untried that held a potential for human natures yet unseen, perhaps possessed of a wiser blend of power and compassion than has thus far been manifested.” (1979, p. xiii)
“The second lesson I learned from work in other societies is that public policy has the power to affect the well-being and development of human beings by determining the conditions of their lives. This realization led to my heavy involvement during the past fifteen years in efforts to change, develop, and implement policies in my own country that could influence the lives of children and families.” (1979, p. xiii)
My awareness of his model demonstrates how those contexts profoundly affect people from different positions within a given society or subculture. As a light-complexioned Native American woman who attended progressive public and private schools, and some that were behind the times, I had the privilege of learning about Bronfenbrenner. As someone on the margins between cultures, I also had the opportunity to view his work from a different vantage point.
I was asked to present at the national conference because of my university degrees and job title, Deputy Director of Health and Human Services for an inter-tribal organization. But those socially-constructed statuses were often barriers in the tribal reservation communities where I lived and worked at the time. There, the most important criteria were based on family and how I behaved toward others. I was Norma’s daughter, Agnes’ and Ray’s granddaughter, responsible for relating to my all relations with honesty, humility and respect.
Unlike the majority of Euro-Americans who attended the workshop, my socialization into the dominant macrosystem paradigm was incomplete. Unconsciously, I had learned another macrosystem perspective from my Ojibwe mother and relatives. Facing the professional Euro-American audience, I described the efforts of the inter-tribal council to address alarmingly high rates of infant mortality by reweaving community connections and informal support systems.
I was well aware of colonial efforts to destroy those connections and the challenges that posed for many families in the past and present. Individuals and families struggled with the legacy of land theft; removal and reservation confinement; child removal and placement in often brutal Indian boarding schools, a trend continued by state and county child welfare that disproportionately removed tribal children and placed them in Euro-American foster care or adoptive homes; and federal relocation programs that displaced tribal people from reservations where they were surrounded by kin to urban areas where they were surrounded by strangers. The list could go on for every system – education, health care, spirituality, self-governance, and dispute resolution.
Not surprisingly, the first audience questions focused on the role of alcoholism as the primary causal factor for infant mortality. I wasn’t surprised. They were only voicing an unquestioned part of the blueprint and structure they were socialized to accept as normal, as true. The logical solution for addressing infant mortality when causality is interpreted in this way is …? Yes, child removal. Continuing to impose oppressive colonial community-shattering policies because that’s all those in power can imagine.
Communicating across different cultural paradigms is not easy. It’s not easy to see the world from other perspectives when we have been socialized to accept the blueprints of our societies or subcultures as normal and superior. The battles we see emerging in post-election USA reflect the ultimate developmental consequences of separate and unequal policies and the profound challenges involved in forging common ground.
Understanding different worldviews requires the ability to shift paradigms. Next, I will turn to Thomas Kuhn to explore the process of “scientific revolutions,” the next step I took in my journey of discovery years ago.
To be continued…
Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Please volunteer to participate in the challenge in your comments to this post!
“White people call us ‘dirty Indians’
“But you got these bugs from one of the white children in your class
“Now you have to take baths with this special soap everyday
“I have to boil your clothes and bedding
“Don’t’ get too close to them, they’re not like us
“They think we’re dirty Indians
“You have to show them that we’re not
“You have to be better than them in everything you do
“You have to show them we’re worthy of respect.”
Overcoming the legacies of oppression and prejudice is not an easy task.
Sometimes, in the fleeting moments of clarity, I’m frightened. I wonder, what is happening to me?
I feel like I’m losing my mind as the fog descends
A memory surfaces of a life that might have been.
My mother with the woman who wanted to adopt her, Lac du Flambeau, WI, 1923
If I had been adopted into a life of privilege by Mrs. Paterson,
into a world far away from the Chippewa reservation where I was born
instead of life as an unwanted child raised in abject poverty, forlorn, who would I have become?
My mother in front of her aunt’s house, Lac du Flambeau, WI, 1928
But that was not to be, thanks to the mother who abandoned me
Giving me to her sister to raise, to live as a servant for my aunt’s family
Note: These are beginning reflections about my mother’s life from the vantage point of what I imagine her thoughts were as Alzheimer’s Disease progressively interfered with her ability to do the simplest of things or communicate. It’s based on some of the things she said early on, and the sense I often had in her presence that she was still there somewhere inside.
Why Are You So Different?
Posted on November 6, 2013
Carol A. Hand
Years ago, I accepted a position at a university as an assistant professor. I did not know at the time that I was only the second Native American faculty member the department of social work had ever hired for a tenure track position. The first left 30 years before I came because of the anti-Native discrimination she experienced, a perception that the state district court affirmed in a decision that awarded damages. The anti-Native bias was still palpable and unrelenting during the 3 years I spent there. Unlike my predecessor, I chose not to pursue legal action. Doing so would have locked me in an angry, ugly battle for years. Instead, I turned to writing, grateful that I could escape from a toxic environment with such unhappy people. The following essay is drawn from the series of stories I wrote about my experiences and reflections during those years.
“Why are you so different?,” my colleague asked. I suspect that, in part, my response to this question contributed to being ostracized and pathologized by faculty who were unable to hear the many ways this question could be asked and the many possible, legitimate, responses.
As I read this neutral question on a written page, there are so many possible meanings. There are so many ways tone of voice, spoken inflections, facial expression, and body language suggest intent. Meaning or intent is also nested within context. The individual histories of the person who asks and the person who is asked frame the meaning, the way the question is interpreted. The history of relationship between the asker and responder matters, as do differences in history and degree of belonging within the system where the question was asked. Power differentials, both in terms of hierarchical status and long-term relationships with the system, matter as well. And equally important is the congruence between how the question is asked and the publicly stated mission of the agency in which it is asked.
As a child, I asked this question many times. As I pondered the amazing diversity of the six-pointed shapes of snowflakes that fell on my dark mittens on a winter day, I asked, “Why are you so different?,” with a sense of wonder and awe. As a child who grew up between two cultures yet not fitting neatly in either, I asked myself, “Why are you so different?,” with a sense of genuine puzzlement. Embracing that sense of difference actually led me to engage in authentic efforts to learn to understand the world from as many diverse perspectives as possible. My favorite children’s story was about the Churkendoose, a little bird that was a mixture of a chicken, turkey, duck, and goose (Ben Ross Berenberg, 1946). “Difference” in this story was simply that – difference. Ultimately, there were no values assigned to being one creature or another, and no interpretations of being superior or inferior as a result of difference.
As a teenager, the question was more emotion-laden. I wondered why I could not simply be a part of the cliques that reached out to include me, but not others whose difference was more visible and seen as inferior. (Those who were excluded were the most interesting to me.) Difference that meant inclusion or exclusion was based on family socioeconomics, religion, appearance, perceived intelligence (either too much or too little), or being “cool,” whatever that meant. I respected peers who did not seem to care about their exclusion. Instead of joining cliques, I reached out to those who were excluded, not in an attempt to forge an anti-clique, but to understand the position of difference as a somewhat consciously chosen stance of resistance. I admired the courage of those who were willing to carry the responsibility of thinking critically, who were willing to challenge norms and social expectations in visible, creative ways.
As a young person searching for a place to belong, for a role and career that had meaning, difference had new connotations. It was time to believe in the message of the Churkendoose, a time to explore as wide a range of diversity as possible. I spent time in the hills of Appalachia and on Indian reservations, and worked in the inner city of Chicago while I attended an exclusive Catholic women’s college. I survived the streets of Hollywood, and experienced the possibilities and disappointments by being part of a New Age commune. Among my friends, I have counted priests and prostitutes, artists and legislators, people who were poor and rich, blue collar workers and university professors. Difference enriches my life and my understanding of the world. Like the snowflakes on my mitten as a child, it is a source of never-ending wonder and engenders curiosity.
I did not hear this sense of wonder and curiosity in my colleague’s question. It was intoned in a way that sounded more like an indictment. For more than a year, the indictment remained her preferred way of relating to me. It is at least honest to ask, accusatory or not, “Why are you so different?” “Perhaps,” I wondered, “is there a possibility of building deeper understandings across our differing perspectives?” Unfortunately, it was not possible with this colleague or others in positions of power at this particular university.
I was reminded of a passage from Hyemeyohsts Storm’s work, Seven Arrows (1972). If we place people in a circle, facing inward toward a multifaceted object in the center, each will see only one side, and each view will be incomplete. If each person can share their perspective with others in the circle, a fuller picture will be possible for all. Afraid of difference, we will see only what falls within our limited gaze. How can we teach this partial frame as the one truth? Why would one want to insist that this is the only true reality? And why would anyone be willing to believe such a ridiculous assertion? Difference is the rule, not the exception, and a wondrous gift promising the possibility of wider, deeper vision and understanding. The alternative is to live trapped in a small prison, much like the hell Sartre (1976) describes in Huis Clos (No Exit), surrounded only by people with whom we feel no affinity, consigned to a life that has little possibility for exploring the wonder that surrounds us every day.
Day ten, the final day of the WordPress photography course I’ve been taking.
Architecture — Go Monochrome
There are a lot of interesting historic buildings and upscale homes in my city, even in my neighborhood. I have often wished that I had time and a camera with me to take photos. This assignment was my chance!
But I’ve learned how much lighting matters from this course. By the time I travel, even in my neighborhood, the light will not be ideal. In fact, it will be glaring on this intensely sunny day when an “excessive heat warning” has been issued. (That means it will be a humid 90-plus F, or 32 C. Not hot compared to most places, but in this northern clime it raises concerns.)
Anticipating less than ideal conditions, I took some shots of my house and neighborhood yesterday evening. “How boring,” I thought, “but at least I know a little about the history of these buildings.” This morning, I realized how much history matters when I consider architecture.
Mansions built by railroad, shipping, banker, and timber barons. Churches built with gold and silver at the expense of millions murdered and enslaved. Yes, the buildings may be physically beautiful. But I see them as monuments of hubris built in the context of oppression, poverty and starvation of many. With no negative judgment of the artists who envisioned majesty and beauty and craftspeople who gave their visions life, I can’t ignore the stench and stain of the exploitive and brutal histories of many architectural wonders.
So today, my lens is focused on what is close and ordinary, the house where I live now and the building across the street. I only know pieces of their histories, but it’s enough to know that they aren’t monuments to exploitation and hubris.
I bought my home in October 2011 from Ingrid, a widow who was then 91. She lived here most of her life. The home was built by her father, a Swedish American. It’s where she and her husband raised their two daughters. Her father used materials he could afford, but his creation has so far stood the tests of time and weather.
I think the little shed in the front yard was built later by Ingrid’s husband. Their shared Swedish ancestry remained important to them. Ingrid told me that what I refer to as a “garden shed” replicates a building they saw on a trip to Sweden. To Ingrid, it was a workshop for one of her daughters who was a stained-glass artist. It carries the poignant memories of a beloved daughter who died young.
This is the front of the house when I bought it.
This is what it looks like now. I do like the way “grayscale” hides some of the work that still needs to be done.
Just across the street, there’s a different architectural view, an apartment building that opened in 1972 to provide affordable housing for elders 62 and older. It was built in an era when there was some government funding to construct housing for people with lower incomes. Clearly, utilitarian functionality and accessibility underscore its design. It’s not a testament to wealth amassed at the expense of taxpayers. But it does provide safe and affordable housing for some of my dear friends.
I’m sad to end this photography course. It’s given me an enjoyable opportunity to learn something new and experiment with perspective, a welcome respite from editing a book manuscript. But I’ve just gotten feedback from one of my reviewers. It’s worth continuing. So if my WP visits are sporadic again, that’s why. I only have 300 more pages of editing to go!
I want to thank all of you for following me on this journey. I appreciate your feedback, encouragement and support.
I want to extend a special thank you to Bob at Palliser Pass for his thoughtful comments on an earlier post.
“Hi Carol, loved the poem and photos. He sure looks like a good dog and why shouldn’t he demand respect. Been enjoying your photos. If you don’t mind I will share my observation. You are a documentary photographer, you want to share and tell a story with the photograph. I consider myself the same kind of photographer. The story or showing is more important than anything else. Keep up the good work. Bob”
Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Bob. You helped me realize I do use photographs to tell a story. Your words inspired me to tell this one. 🙂
I encourage you all to visit Bob’s site. He’s a gifted photographer and storyteller.
The first thoughts that came to mind when I read the headline “The Deadliest Mass Shooting In U.S. History” (Huffington Post) were about the Wounded Knee Massacre in the winter of 1890 (Wikipedia). To be sure, the senseless murders of people in Orlando, Florida, because they are somehow “different,” are tragic. We should grieve the loss. But this tragedy happened in an historical context, just like Wounded Knee.
Photo: Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the conflict at Wounded Knee Creek (Wikipedia)
Fear and hatred of people because of sexual orientation have been deliberately manipulated in the current divide and conquer approach to deflect attention away from growing rampant corporate oppression. Just as fear and hatred against indigenous peoples helped unify a nation after a divisive civil war and give an idle military somewhere else to use their guns.
In Orlando, we are told that we can blame a lone Afghani-American gunman. How convenient in an era of growing angst and violence against Muslims. We forget the past and shift our gaze from the role of the US in millions of senseless deaths here and around the globe that continue year after year.
As we grieve, let us do so remembering history and vowing to do what ever we can to create a different future. It’s the reason I felt compelled to write and share this post today.
Your numbers grew and you demanded more You wanted all we had Said the little canary Your diseases and weapons killed my people You shot us for sport Scalping and plucking us as trophies To display your might and power And then you confined those who survived in cages As you ravaged the beauty of our land
Image: Caged Birds (Microsoft WORD Clip Art)
Unless you wake up, you will suffer the same fate As we are now, so shall you be Breathing the toxic air of all you wrought Just like the miner’s canary Who will notice, who will hear our plea?
It’s time to end endless wars It’s time to stop corporate greed It’s time to turn away from hate Caring for each other and the earth Will give us all we need Said the little miner’s canary
This poem was inspired by history and contemporary Native American concerns. In the past, noted legal scholar, Felix S. Cohen, referred to Native Americans in the U.S. as “the miner’s canary.”
“Cohen, it seems, was quite fond of his paragraph saying that oppression of Indians, like the dropping of the miner’s canary in a mine shaft, was the warning sign of poison in the society. He was so proud of it he used it twice, with some difference in wording…. Here is what Cohen wrote in 1953:
“It is a pity that so many Americans today think of the Indian as a romantic or comic figure in American history without contemporary significance. In fact, the Indian plays much the same role in our society that the Jews played in Germany. Like the miner’s canary, the Indian marks the shift from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and our treatment of Indians, even more than our treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall in our democratic faith.”” (Source: Indian Country Today Media Network)
Today, Bernie Sanders is the only U.S. presidential candidate who has explicitly addressed Native American issues and taken a progressive, compassionate stand to honor sovereignty and address the serious issues they face – the legacy of dispossession, attempted genocide, and the imposition of colonial oppression for more than 500 years. To learn more about Bernie’s efforts, here are some links to explore.