Who’s to blame?
All of us who take it for granted
that the ease of having
gas, water, and electricity simply
delivered to our homes is our right
without considering the real costs
and environmentally safe, sustainable, viable, non-exploitive
We need to see how connected our well-being is
to the way we care for our earth
and the way we care for all those who also live here
because our earth’s health and continuing bounty
depend on wise and loving stewardship as well as
Sending love and blessings to all those who are on the frontlines of floods and fire.
For the past month, my friend, Cynthia Donner, and I have been working on revising a class focused on social justice. It’s been a daunting process to frame and describe the purpose and create new assignments. And we’re facing our first class in less than a week, so please wish us luck.
We’ve decided to use trees as a metaphor, focusing on the importance of roots, landscapes, branching out, and nurturing supportive inclusive communities. With Cynthia’s permission, the draft purpose we developed is posted below. I’ve included both a text and photo version. Although I like the look of the photo, I’ve learned that it’s difficult to translate words on WordPress photo images into other languages, at least with my level of computer skills. As an educator, I believe innovations, even those in process, should be accessible as a foundation for dialogue.
The health of trees is also dependent on their environment, as is ours. This has changed over time for trees, as it has for people. Environments have become less and less healthy and nurturing in the name of progress. Policies have not always been developed with community well-being in mind, either for trees or people, with increasingly alarming consequences. It’s crucial to understand how things have changed from a broader historical perspective.
Social work has sometimes focused on helping individuals adapt to an unhealthy environment, rather than remembering their mission to serve as effective and visible advocates for equality and social justice. We can fertilize and trim individual trees, but their ultimate strength comes from standing together against the storms, supporting each other in times of drought and scarcity. This is a crucial lesson for social workers of the future.
It should be clear that we can’t expect governments to provide the types of social services that build on people’s strengths and reweave inclusive, supportive communities. The challenge before us now is to think critically about how we can support and help create informal mutual support systems that provide a sense of roots in a healthy landscape.
Our goal in this course is to engage in imagining what the world be like if we learned the lessons of trees, nurturing all, knowing that by standing together, we’ll be better able to weather storms.
Cynthia and I are both excited to see how this will work for students in the real world. But there’s a story about how our friendship and collaborative teaching partnership began. This morning, I revisited one of my earliest blog posts. It describes our first meeting and represents one of our initial collaborative projects.
Carol A. Hand & Cynthia Donner
(Originally posted on December 15, 2013)
The following essay is written in the spirit of collaboration and reflects two voices, Carol A. Hand and Cynthia Donner, to describe our efforts to develop social justice curricula for undergraduate social work students.
Recently, I agreed to come out of retirement to teach for a private Catholic College with a satellite program offered on the campus of a tribal and community college. The decision came after a surprising lunch meeting. I reluctantly agreed to meet with Cynthia Donner, the coordinator of the satellite program, in order to explain face-to-face why I no longer wished to teach social work. Perhaps the easiest way to explain my reluctance is a graphic I use in my classes to illustrate the possible purposes of social work interventions and social welfare policy.
As a profession, social work has competing goals. It is rare for textbooks or professors to acknowledge which of the underlying goals influences their practice, research, and teaching. Sadly, the focus has often been on enhancing the status of the profession, and hence, the status of its practitioners as equals to those in the medical and legal realms. Increasingly, the focus of research and education has been on a narrow clinical focus that attempts to help individuals adapt to their circumstances more effectively. Just as family-based physicians have been replaced by a spectrum of medical specialists for every aspect of the human bio, case managers and specialized clinicians have replaced social workers who used to focus on creating change in systems and society.
Although the professional code of ethics espouses the importance of working toward social justice, I would argue that clinical practice is not the way to do this. Clinical work may reduce suffering, but it can better be described an effective means of social control. My critical stance toward contemporary clinical social work practice and education is grounded on my revulsion toward any practices that are reminiscent of the centuries of assimilation forced on Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. and world.
The western medical model is rooted in disease discourse and controlled by two industries of the neoliberal corporate elite, insurance and pharmaceutical. It drives most clinical social work practice today with diagnostic pathological criteria for treating and medicating a plethora of “disorders” and “disease” type conditions. Yet, how much anxiety and depression among people today can be attributed to histories of oppression associated with the colonization of nations, cultures, economies, and minds? Add the current daily struggles experienced by a growing majority associated with discrimination (from verbal attacks to outright violence in our schools, workplaces and communities), and with basic survival (as forces of neoliberal corporate control drive people and whole communities into desolate poverty and widen the gaps between the rich and poor, the politically powerful and powerless). Today more than ever, we need people trained for the goals and strategies that will lead to structural changes our world and humanity are depending on.
When I met with Cynthia, I shared my perspective honestly. I expected the typical response. “Thank you for your interest in our program. Unfortunately, we have chosen someone who is a better fit with our focus at this time.” Much to my surprise, she smiled broadly and animatedly began to share similar perspectives.
I sensed a common orientation as we shared our perspectives on social justice and our approach to education. Like Carol, I ask my students to consider historical truths about U.S. social welfare policy and pose the question, “are you satisfied with helping individual people manage their suffering within the context of oppressive forces, or do you want to work with people to help them find ways to liberate themselves from oppression and the suffering it imposes on their lives individually and collectively?”
Through a dialogue that spanned hours, we discovered that we shared experiences on the margins, Cynthia because of growing up in poverty, and me because of growing up culturally mixed. Rather than accept that we were inferior, both of us sought the education and positions that would allow us work with disadvantaged groups to challenge the structures of oppression. Cynthia, like me, had worked in “macro practice” settings focused on enhancing lives in addition to reducing suffering, confronting the forces causing oppression rather than helping people merely adapt and conform to those forces.
Toward the end of our conversation, I agreed to teach the course on social welfare policy. This was the beginning of a still-evolving experiment to find more effective, experientially-grounded ways to help students think critically about oppression and encourage them to consider careers that focus on policy and community practice. In the process of designing our latest lab focused on social justice, Cynthia discovered an amazing resource that we felt might help our undergraduate students envision how to create a “better” future. For me, it transforms “the change paradigm” by providing a clear goal to work toward rather than a problem to fight. We wrote this brief introduction as a way to share a resource that may be helpful to others. The video that focuses on solutions (posted below), created by author Annie Leonard, presents a feasible alternative to “fighting the system” and left me with a sense of hope that transformation is possible, even during these challenging times (and perhaps, even in social work education).
Life sometimes opens up possibilities we had never envisioned and presents us with interesting choices. I remain truly grateful to Cynthia for inspiring me to take the risk of starting over yet again. Who knows what my retirement years would have been like had I not met her and been greeted by her sparkling eyes and enthusiasm to challenge the status quo. Chi miigwetch, Cynthia, for being an inspiration and supportive friend.
On November 20, 2016, Kendrick Eagle posted a video appeal to President Obama.
“You gave me hope…. You said you had our back, and here we are. Help us stop this pipeline. Stick true to your words, ‘cause you said you had our back. I believed you then and I believe you now – that you can make this happen. Thank you.”
The response to Kendrick Eagle’s message reminds us all about the long history of broken federal promises to the Indigenous Peoples of what is now called the United States of America. On Friday, November 25, 2016, the day after Thanksgiving, the US federal government issued an evacuation order to the largest Water Protector encampment in Standing Rock, North Dakota, the Oceti Sakowin campground.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said in a letter to a Native American tribe leading the opposition against the pipeline that it will close the area on Dec. 5, after a series of clashes between law enforcement and protesters…. Anyone staying in the area after the deadline may be subject to prosecution…” (Huffington Post, November 27, 2016)
Thank all of you for doing what you can to stand against tyranny.
The circumstances feel eerily similar. Two vastly different cultures collide, one with fear and lethal weapons, and one with hope, ceremony, and prayers. One to exploit the earth for short-term individual profits, and one to protect the earth for all our relations, now and in the future.
Despite all of the tragic lessons of past history, I still hope that love and peaceful solidarity will finally triumph over brutality, oppression and fear. I humbly ask all who read this to please do what you can to let governments, police, and corporations know that the world is watching. Please do all you can to let the Water Protectors know you support them and stand with them in spirit.
Chi Miigwetch. (Ojibwe for “thank you very much.”)
The news from Standing Rock, North Dakota, is alarming. I’m not sure if the link below will take to you to a recent video of escalating police violence, but it greeted me this morning when I visited Facebook.
The video inspired me to follow through with something I intended to do yesterday. Posted below is a copy of the letter I just emailed to the Governor of Minnesota. I hope Governor Dayton is more supportive and responsive than President Obama was when I sent him a similar message.
November 22, 2016
Honorable Governor Mark Dayton
Office of the Governor and Lt Governor
116 Veterans Service Building
20 W 12th Street
St. Paul, MN 55155
RE: Minnesota Police Presence in Standing Rock, North Dakota
Dear Governor Dayton,
I am writing to request your assistance. I was alarmed to discover that that the taxes I pay as a Minnesota State citizen are being used to fund a militarized police presence in support of corporate actions that disregard treaties and threaten the well-being of millions of people for short-term financial profits. Ironic, isn’t it, that the State with a name that means “sky-tinted water” in the Dakota language is now engaged in attacking peaceful Standing Rock Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Water Protectors? This is an unwise use of State revenues, and from my perspective, an immoral one.
Please address two simple questions. Is this a fiscally sound investment in the future? Instead of first considering the impact of issues involved in building yet another pipeline to ship toxic non-renewable pollution-generating fuels, Minnesota has chosen a path that can only result in the escalation of conflict with the certainty of serious costs in terms of lives and environmental destruction. Why would our State deliberately choose to support a corporate venture that threatens the very water that blessed this State with its name?
How is it wise policy to invest in expanding technologies that will soon be obsolete? Fossil fuels will ultimately be exhausted. Burning them produces toxins that result in many life-threatening illnesses. Burning fossil fuels also hastens the onset and severity of global climate change. Why defend the expansion of pipelines, a technology that has proven to be disastrous so many times in the past? Experience shows very clearly that once waters are poisoned, it’s too late. Even if corporations foot the bill for clean-up, it will take many generations, or perhaps longer, for water to be safe.
Our State can make wiser decisions about the use of fiscal resources impacting our natural resources and people. One, we can make decisions that prevent disasters. No more facking. No more pipelines. Two, we can invest in and build for the future. Why not use those same fiscal resources to retool? To build and transition to alternative energy-generation technologies? Why not invest in education for youth and those presently unemployed to equip them with the scientific knowledge and technical skills necessary for the transition to alternative energy technology?
The choices are clear. The path Minnesota has chosen locks us into outdated and dangerous technologies and threatens the well-being of the earth and future generations. It is already causing harm to our water and related resources and threatening the lives of peaceful Water Protectors. It’s not too late to choose a wiser course. Let us ask Minnesota’s police to lay down their weapons and stand in peaceful solidarity with the Standing Rock Water Protectors. Because the Water Protectors stand for all of us.
We should honor the traditional wisdom of Minnesota’s original inhabitants. “Mni wiconi” – “Water is life” in the Lakota language. “Nibi zhaawendaawak” – “Water is sacred” in Ojibwe. We owe it to our grandchildren’s children to protect the purity and pristine beauty of the “sky-tinted waters” of Minnesota.
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
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.
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.
Today, I’m posting an article written by a special guest author, my daughter. She graciously agreed to allow me to post an article she wrote and originally shared on Facebook.
(Originally posted on Facebook, September 6, 2016)
North Dakota has always been a place I have rushed through in search of what I thought were better things… visits with family, first glimpses of mountains, ocean tides, big trees. I approached this trip with a sense of curiosity, trying to understand what it would feel like to be of and from this place. I was searching for the feelings that inspire the deep sense of peace and connectedness to this land, the kind that necessitates taking a stand to defend. At first we were struck by the wetlands and the huge numbers of ducks, herons, and cranes that lived there, the colors on the autumn fields, the gradual transition from woods to plains.
That was the first day.
Through a comedy of errors, delays, twists of fates, our trip was delayed by a day. This was good for a few reasons, the weather, dog attacks, and I didn’t really know where I was going or how to get there. On this extra night, friends advised me on camp conditions, weather conditions, and this extra time let me map out our trip. On the second travel day, my check engine light came on 5 minutes after leaving the hotel, and as I weighed turning back, driving 350 miles home, I decided to lay my trust that this trip was meant to be and that maybe my mechanic was right, this was only a minor issue with the car. So on we went, though a little more unsure that we would make through the next 150 miles, and far more unsure that we would make it back.
When we got to Bismark, we passed the easy route because we heard there was a police blockade and so we took long winding road up and down hills and river-cut valleys for that extra half hour. We saw a helicopter speed by overhead, strange sight for farm and ranch land. We were repeatedly passed by racing trucks with extreme tints on their windows. We saw the place where the pipeline digging had already come through, leaving scars in the fields in both directions for a reason that is still unclear. This was when the beauty of the land really started to hit me as well as the profoundness of this moment.
Even though I had our trip mapped out, the roads seemed to be longer than I thought and all along I was hoping I was turning the right way, taking the correct roads, because if I wasn’t, there was no one to ask. One sign we were going the right way was a police car at a T, parked, facing out, likely taking down plate numbers, perhaps taking pictures of anyone coming through. We entered and left Standing Rock Reservation, at the boundary saw a small camp, a river, then tipis and tents, flags, protest signs. As we came through security, we could see that hundreds, maybe a thousand were here.
I did take some pictures, but the most profound moments are not on film. They were the conversations with defenders, side by side work with volunteers, the beauty of the diversity of tribes coming together, the rainbow shades of people there, sights of prayer being made on the top of the hills, the words of poets, songwriters and speakers, and the magic of knowing people are here for as long as it takes. This place is so special, anyone able to come, please do, and please support in any way you can. This is our chance to take a stand. There is power in our numbers, strength in our prayers, hope in our unity. Protect our future generations, honor indigenous rights to live in healthy communities, protect our rivers from permanent contamination. Our reasons: our water and our children. Peace and solidarity with Standing Rock.