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:
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen Welcome to the circus Our main attraction may appear to be the orange clown He will perform astounding feats of buffoonery
His act is intended to distract your attention Perhaps he will also be able to divide you, the audience, into illusory opponents and maybe even provoke you to fight with each other But don’t be fooled
*** His main objective is to keep you from noticing the machinations of the puppeteers who, behind the scenes, are building structures that will imprison you in joyless lives of endless servitude to feed their insatiable appetites for yet more power.
August has been busy. Preparing to teach a research class, tending gardens, spending time with grandchildren and family, and taking time to simply live and reflect have kept me away from the blogosphere. Although my life will continue to be busy until the first freeze and beyond, I will try to stop by periodically to visit your blogs and share when I can. Your art and thoughts are thought-provoking and inspiring. Today, I’m sharing a few simple reflections recently penned as I send my best wishes to all.
August 9 2017
My heart is heavy as I think about my Native friends in Montana
Their incredible gifts and future visions palpable
They voiced so many hopeful possibilities
for the community health organization they guided
Valiantly, we faced daunting challenges
each carrying a compelling blueprint of what could be
We worked and laughed and cried together
as we overcame one obstacle after another
to help reweave an inclusive healthy community
In the end, I had to leave for my own survival
before our task was completed
Vultures descended and shredded our dreams
Over the years I have learned of my friends’ struggles
against political adversaries and serious health issues
I wonder if I helped make their lives more difficult
by inspiring hope, by believing their strengths
and visions would be enough to overcome resistance…
And what of the people I refer to as vultures?
Perhaps they’re unaware that their actions
as agents in status quo structures of oppression
appear to motivated by protecting their positions
at any cost, destroying lives and what could be
Their actions limiting healthier possibilities for all in the process
Perhaps I will never understand why
this was the path they chose
and where it will finally lead them
Yet, I still mourn possibilities lost
It makes me wonder if it’s wiser and more compassionate
to simply find and live my own truths
though the suffering in the world remains unabated
weighing heavy on my heart…
Sufi Poet, Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi, offers an insight I continue to ponder:
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Today, I also send prayers for the safety of my friends and all others in Montana as the Lolo Peak fire rages so close to their homes.
Reflections about Shifting Light and Shadow
August 12, 2017
gazing close at hand
watching light and shadow
move across the land
revealing a constant in my life
one moment knowing peace and joy
the next difficulty and strife
often shadows bring gifts despite our sorrow
sometimes unanticipated miracles appear if we’re patient
to reignite our gratitude upon the morrow
Just Here Now
August 19, 2017
so grateful for the peace and love in this “now”
a brief quiet moment as the day begins
sunlight filtered by leaves of rain-nourished trees
and muted by unopened window blinds
a little dog resting, curled beneath the bird’s cage
a parakeet silent and still beneath his protective night cover
dog and bird both patiently waiting for music to begin
so they can join their voices in song
greeting the peaceful morning
illuminating our shared place in the world
peace – a privilege so many are denied
sending blessings to all who are suffering
Normally, I avoid posting more than one article on my blog in a day. Recently, I rarely post more than once a week. But I just received the Monday Report my Congressional Representative, Rick Nolan, shares with his constituents. Below is an excerpt with crucial information that is important to share because the mainstream media may not.
Rick Nolan’s Monday Report From Minnesota’s 8th District Congressman
“A Wish List for the Rich”
House GOP Budget Targets Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid to Fuel Tax Cuts for Wealthy People and Corporations
Dear Ms. Hand,
So much for President Trump’s campaign promise not to cut Medicare and Social Security. Trump and House Republicans last week signed off on a catastrophic budget plan to slash Medicare by $500 billion over ten years and turn it over to costly the private insurance industry. Traditional benefits would be replaced with a yearly voucher check, leaving seniors on their own to find insurance they can afford. Republicans reportedly also have a plan afoot to raise the eligibility age for Social Security to 70, and impose drastic cuts to benefits for disabled workers and other especially vulnerable recipients.
Moreover, this House GOP plan doesn’t achieve one penny of deficit reduction by closing tax loopholes for super-rich people and businesses on Wall Street. Instead, Republicans hand a shameless and needless trillion dollar tax cut to millionaires, billionaires and wealthy corporations and pay for it with devastating cuts to Medicaid assistance for the elderly in nursing homes, the poor, the disabled, and for students with special needs. Small communities and hospitals would be especially hard hit. Many small hospitals would be forced to close. And community services like Meals on Wheels that help seniors live at home and avoid expensive nursing home care would find themselves in real trouble.
Instead of reinvesting in America and our people, the GOP budget plan would continue to fund endless wars of choice in the Middle East to the tune of $75 billion for “overseas contingency operations.”
And while undermining diplomacy with deep cuts to the State Department, House Republicans would provide the Pentagon with an extra $19 billion above the president’s $603 billion request.
The carnage doesn’t end there. The GOP budget plan also targets medical research, heath care for our military Veterans, public education, childhood nutrition, transportation, environmental protection and homeland security just to name a few.
To be clear, this proposal by President Trump and House Republicans is just that a proposal. In essence, it’s a wish list for the rich at the expense of working middle class families, seniors and folks in need. We can and must to better for the American people, and that will continue to be my focus here in Congress.
We will keep you posted as events proceed. Meanwhile, I want to hear your thoughts. Feel free to contact any of our offices listed below or send me an email.
I plan to contact Congressman Nolan to thank him for the information and for his continuing efforts to work for the well-being of his constituents.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.