Tag Archives: research

White Pony Reflections

Carol A. Hand

Fall is really here. It was time to take my little “White Pony” in for a check-up and oil-change today. Yes, my 11-year old car has a name thanks to my granddaughter and an Ojibwe friend I haven’t seen in years. Here’s an excerpt from a poem that describes my car’s naming ceremony.

***

La Joie de la Vie

My Granddaughter Dancing in the Rain – July 2015

“What can we do that’s fun in the rain?
Do you think we should wash the car?”
“Oh yes, oh yes!,” you said.
So I grabbed a bucket and two new sponges,
yours orange and mine purple.

Carefully Washing “White Pony” – July 2015

“Does your car have a name?”
I thought quickly of one of your favorite toys – Pink Pony!
And I remembered an Ojibwe friend from long ago
who teased me about riding my White Pony
when I drove another white car
through the forests, past lakes and farmlands
to tribal communities and the State Capitol
in our work on tribal social justice issues.

So my car was given its predecessor’s name – White Pony.
But this White Pony mostly stays in the driveway now
even though it once climbed mountain passes
as it brought me, in a round-about way, to my new home.

***

I had time to read as I waited for my car to be serviced. The book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Kimmerer, 2013), is one of the most beautiful ones I have ever read. Perhaps it’s because Kimmerer blends science, poetry, and spirit from an indigenous perspective.

“A people’s story moves along like a canoe caught in the current, being carried closer and closer to where we had begun. As I grew up, my family found again the tribal connections that had been frayed, but never broken, by history. We found the people who knew our true names.” (Kimmerer, p. 36).

Decades ago, when I first entered college, my major was a blend of chemistry and biology. Nature has always fascinated me. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to be an ecologist, but that was not a subject the college I attended offered or even recognized. Nonetheless, my advisor and botany professor, Sister Lorita, offered me much more even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I described her lesson in a previous post

***

Teaching and the Wonder of Life…

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.”

Wikimedia Commons

***

It would be many years before I would realize what a precious gift she gave me that day. Instead of becoming an ecologist or botanist who saw the wonder of life in plants, I ended up in social work, focusing on gerontology and organizational theory. I finally earned a Ph.D. in social welfare, although it took me an extra ten years. First, life led me “home” to my roots through a series of divergent events. It’s how my first white car ultimately got its name.

I was working as a teaching assistant and official note-taker for a diversity class at the university I attended. As I rushed up the hill to class one day in fall, I was contemplating a successful career in academia. I had just received notice that I was awarded a grant-funded position as a research assistant on a prestigious study. It was a fast track to likely success in the world of academia. Here’s an excerpt from an old post that describes the pivotal event.

***

You Need to Remember…

(There were no public domain photos of the plaque…)

As I crested the top of the hill, I neared the site of the last battle of the Black Hawk Wars. Just shy of the plaque commemorating the war, a tribal elder appeared dressed in an unlikely outfit – blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. He looked at me with severity and simply said, “You need to remember what is really important.” I didn’t have time to reflect on the message then, but in the decades since it is something I contemplate often, although this isn’t a story I share with others for obvious reasons. The challenge of walking in two worlds, one based on rationality and empirical evidence and the other based on a deeper spiritual awareness are not easily reconciled. It turns out that I didn’t finish my degree based on elder caregiver issues. It would take more than a decade and many experiences later to finally complete a study on Indian child welfare, but that’s another story.

***

Reading about Kimmerer’s experience with academia connected me with my own. I made a connection that I hadn’t even contemplated before. Perhaps I would have dismissed the elder’s appearance as too bizarre to consider. It would have been easier to simply ignore the message even though it made me feel a tinge of guilt.

In all likelihood, the study I would have been working on wouldn’t really have made a difference for people who were marginalized. It might, at best, have added to scientific knowledge about caregivers of adult children with mental retardation. But I doubt that I would have based a life-changing decision solely on a “vision” I couldn’t scientifically verify as “real.” At least at that point in my life. Fortunately, life had already set in motion a context that would lead me home in my yet-to-be named White Pony, both to seek refuge and to work on issues close to my heart. Tribal social justice issues. Following are excerpts from older posts that describe the context.

***

We’re Honoring Indians…

When my daughter was a senior in high school, she received a commendation notice from her French teacher. This was not the first or last, but it was the one I noticed on a different level. I remember “seeing red” when I noticed the logo on the top, yet I immediately reflected on the message – my daughter had demonstrated excellent work. So I complemented her. Then, I contacted the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) to explore what protections they had in place to prevent racial stereotyping of indigenous peoples. The response from WDPI changed my life.

A Mixed Message

At the time, I was working on a federal grant to address elder abuse in eight pilot counties in Wisconsin. In an effort to promote awareness about the project, I met with a reporter from a local paper. In the process of talking about the project, “Tools of the Trade for Men Who Care,” the reporter and I became friends. We were both outsiders in the largely white, Christian community. She was Jewish, and I was Ojibwe. I mentioned the appalling name and logo used by the local high school, and mentioned that I had been advised by WDPI to wait until my daughter graduated to pursue any action. But, I was told, there was a state statute, the Pupil Nondiscrimination Act that I could use as the basis of a complaint. The WPDI staff added that although the statute had never been tested for its relevance to discriminatory logos and team names, filing a complaint under this statute could set an important precedent. My friend asked me to let her know if I ever decided to pursue the issue.

The months passed and my daughter graduated and went off to a university. I stayed in touch with my friend at the newspaper as the project I was working on gained momentum. Then, I added another job. I was completing my doctorate in social welfare at the time, and began as a teaching assistant in a sociology class on diversity and discrimination. As I faced the 465 students, I realized that ethically I needed to walk the talk and address the discriminatory use of logos by public schools in the state.

My education thus far had taught me two things that appeared relevant to this issue. First, when approaching community change, it is always best to start on the assumption that others may easily agree if approached from a position of collaboration. So I drafted a letter to the superintendent of schools in the district. I asked my diplomatic and thoughtful university advisor to review the letter, and when he commented that it was well-reasoned and balanced, I sent it off. I also sent a copy to my friend at the newspaper.

Second, I expected a thoughtful diplomatic response from the superintendent of schools. If one believes the physics theory that every action results in an equal and opposite reaction, a well-reasoned letter calling attention to unintentional discrimination toward Native Americans should result in the willingness to dialogue, right? That was not the case. The response of the superintendent was to send a copy of my letter to the weekly newspaper in the local community. My friend also broke the story in a larger newspaper on a slow news day. Within a week, I was the topic of hundreds of letters to the editor in local and state newspapers, and featured on the nightly TV news. The community reaction included nasty, degrading personal attacks and threats.”

***

Memories and Prophesies

When my partner lost his job as an assistant manager of a lumber retail company, in all likelihood a response to my very public and unpopular advocacy, I was forced to withdraw from the university in the final stages of completing my doctorate in order to get a full-time job. I wanted to escape from the world of Euro-Americans for awhile and accepted a position as the deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency. I moved to the Ojibwe community where my mother was born and bought an off-the-grid cabin in the woods…

Amik Lake, Lac du Flambeau, WI – Early 1990s

***

Life circumstances led me to a place where I felt at home. The animals, trees and earth sometimes spoke to me. Although my job was not an easy, I had a clear sense that what I was learning and doing mattered. Perhaps the elder who visited me by Blackhawk’s memorial marker would agree.

“There was a time when I teetered precariously with an awkward foot in each of two worlds – the scientific and the indigenous. But then I learned to fly. Or at least try. It was the bees that showed me how to move between different flowers – to drink nectar and gather pollen from both. It is this dance of cross-pollination that can produce a new species of knowledge, a new way of being in the world. After all, there aren’t two worlds, there is just this one good green earth.” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 47)

My old White Pony drove so many miles she finally had to be replaced. These days, the White Pony I drive doesn’t travel far. I make sure she’s taken care of because I rely on her to get me to and from the tribal and community college where I teach research and co-teach social work macro practice. I often think of Sister Lorita’s example as I try to weave science and wonder together, encouraging students not only to count and measure, but also to see, feel, hear, and sense the wonder of life all around.

Hawk’s Ridge, Duluth, MN – October 13, 2017

 

I am grateful to Sister Lorita and thankful for the memories sparked by Kimmerer’s eloquent book today. I appreciate the opportunity to continue learning from yet another generation and the chance to share some of what I have learned in exchange. Ah. But that reminds me of the papers I have to grade today…

Work Cited

Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

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Time Travel?

Carol A. Hand

One moment, I’m reliving memories of the past, driving through a snowstorm on an October night.

After eating, I go to the small gas station next door to ask directions to the address Ward Wright gave me for tonight’s interview.

By the time I leave my motel, it’s dark, windy, and snowy. As I try to find the roadway beneath the blowing snow, I realize how anxious I’m feeling about going to a stranger’s house alone. I drive along the blustery west-shore road that hugs the lake, trying to find the address Ward gave me through the foggy car windows. Finally, I notice a house on a hill with a wall of lighted windows on the west side of the road. I turn into the steep driveway hoping I’ve arrived at the right place.

As I approach the house through swirling snow, buffeted myself by the strong winds, I see a tall, lean man through the walls of glass. He motions to me, pointing to a door on the back porch. I enter and walk through the porch into the brightly lit kitchen. I introduce myself to the self-assured handsome man in his mid-50’s who greets me. He has the aristocratic demeanor of someone accustomed to being in charge. I’m surprised when he asks me where I would like to sit. I wonder if this is a test to find out something about the strange woman who has shown up on his doorstep.

“We should sit wherever you feel most comfortable,” I reply….

The next moment, I look up from my computer and gaze out the living room window at the sunny April landscape. I take a few sips of cold coffee and peek out the kitchen window as I gently part the curtain. I’m grateful to see that the little mother bird is back in her nest to feed her babies.

Shared housing – April 27, 2017

I disturbed her yesterday when I opened the curtain and tried to take her picture, so I won’t try again. You’ll have to trust my words. A bird family really does live in this creative repurposed nest abandoned by the wasps that called it home last summer.

 

Creative repurposing

Satisfied, I return to the past.

The wind grows stronger as we speak, propelling snow against the windows. The lights begin to flicker and I realize that I’m very cold – more from fatigue than from the room temperature. It seems wise to end our meeting. It’s late, after 9 p.m., and the weather is deteriorating. I thank Ward and we say our goodbyes.

As I drive through the blowing snow, gripping the steering wheel tightly, I think about the interview. It was intense and I often felt uncomfortable…. 

***

Reflections – Monday, August 15, 2016

Carol A. Hand

Cricket song signals autumn is near

starlings

as do the flocks of starlings feeding here

garden 1

garden 2

Garden 3

garden 4

garden 5

Gardens to harvest, lessons to prepare
Moments to write are becoming rare

Manuscript editing postponed a third of the way through
as I return to teaching research – something I still love to do
My transition requires solitude and time for reflections

draw handstand 3

Bureaucratic rules and schedules allow few exceptions
making it a creative venture to weave critical thinking throughout
to inspire students to thoughtfully question what life is all about

social work paradigms 3

Grateful for another opportunity to learn and to share,
and encourage thought and innovation by those who care…

***

 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.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Carol A. Hand

In my last university faculty position, I taught an undergraduate practice class – interviewing lab. As one of the few faculty who was not an expert in clinical practice, I found it a rather odd assignment. And then I realized that it was a topic I had used in a variety of cross-cultural settings. Ethnographic research does involve many opportunities to “practice” this skill.

Working on a chapter of my book today, I was reminded of some of the more challenging learning opportunities I have had. Crossing cultures and disciplines is uncomfortable, but in this case, it was crucial. I wanted to understand what was happening in the educational system. Schools were the primary source of referrals for child protective services for both Native and Euro-American children. More importantly, few Ojibwe youth graduated from the local high school.

Many Ojibwe people in the community had raised serious issues about their education. Like Native youth on many reservations, they attended public school in the town outside of the reservation. These “border towns” are typically controlled by the dominant Euro-American setter population, and anti-Native prejudice is sometimes particularly virulent.

At the end of August, 2002, I set off for an interview with a teacher in the border town high school. Following is an excerpt from my interview with Mr. Hanson (not his real name), a teacher who had been teaching at the high school for more than 30 years.

***

Research Field Notes Wednesday, August 28, 2002

I headed back to the border town for my interview with Mr. Hanson. When I entered his classroom, I introduced myself.

He replied. “To be honest, Agnes, I left my schedule at home today and had forgotten when we scheduled the interview.”

We shook hands, and sat at the two corner desks closest to the door. Before we began, he asked if I was Indian, and I told him I was and where I was enrolled. Then, I handed him a copy of the paper I had written about my research for the U.S. Children’s Bureau. He briefly leafed through it.

I could tell from his nonverbal cues that he was uncomfortable and I tried to put him more at ease.

“I realize you’re concerned about confidentiality Mr. Hanson, and how any information you share might be used. The consent form and project overview spell that out, but the paper demonstrates how the information will be used. I’ve been meeting with people to make sure they approve of my interpretations of what they shared. As you can see from the paper I’ve written, there are no personal identifiers or place names in order to protect identity.”

He still seemed reluctant, but he read through the consent form and signed it, admitting that he was still reluctant.

“It is a small community and word does get out. And I don’t know anything about the child welfare system, so I’m not sure how helpful I can be.”

I told him that was okay – he did know a lot about kids. And since schools were a major referral source to child welfare, it was important for me to learn what I could.

….

Again carefully choosing his words, he responded. “Bias is not obvious in the class. It is present in the hallways, but it is hidden within the student culture from which I am excluded. It’s there.”

At this point in the conversation, he wanted his comments to be off the record, so I stopped taking notes and just listened. It’s a challenge to reconstruct the conversation, since I was often the one being interviewed.

….

It was hard to keep him talking, and his reluctance remained obvious so I packed up my briefcase and stood up as I thanked him. All of a sudden, he became more animated and started telling me what he teaches his students in the Native American class. He was excited as he talked about his class, and he grabbed a piece of yellow chalk and went to the blackboard to illustrate his points. He said that he draws four circles on the board to illustrate Native American culture, which he illustrated:

Mr. Hanson interview

“If you want to destroy a culture, you take the youth and put them in boarding schools – they don’t pass on the culture when they become adults and elders. It isn’t true that Europeans didn’t understand Native American culture – they understood it very well. Taking youth shows how well they understood.

Carlisle_pupils

Photo: Carlisle …

“The government located settlers on the borders of peaceful, well-functioning Native societies, knowing full well what the settlers were like given where they came from. It was Jefferson who sent out Lewis and Clark to survey Indian Territory and planned how to create indebtedness among Natives so their land would become forfeit.”

He was excited about his Native American class, so I asked him if he involved local community members.

“I used to,” he replied, “but now it’s taught through distance learning. It was meant to be much more hands-on, but it still seems to work. I developed it when I first came to the school and have been teaching it ever since. “

He also listed a number of projects tribes have asked him to participate in, including language preservation and the creation of a museum.

Even though this was a tough interview with someone who clearly was not willing to give many specifics, it was a good beginning. I noticed that he was skillful at dancing around my questions. But he seems to be a good teacher who encourages critical thinking and presents a balanced and very well-informed view of culture and history.

As I left, I told him that I thought the high school was lucky to have him there.

***

I’m grateful for the chance to revisit this uncomfortable interview more than a decade later. And I’m grateful to Mr. Hanson for sharing his gifts as a teacher in a challenging context. Yet I was left with deep concerns. He noted that things have improved for Native American youth. One to two Ojibwe students from each class in recent years have stayed in school long enough to graduate.

Taken by itself, this should be cause for alarm. Other interviews added crucial context. County child welfare staff reported that 45 percent of their juvenile justice caseload were Ojibwe youth. The tribal staff person who worked with child welfare voiced her concerns about Ojibwe youth, described in an earlier post.

***

“The youth now are being taken by the criminal justice system.” (Tribal Staff Person 1, June 26, 2002)

I asked her what might help. “What activities might help provide a positive focus for youth? Were there adults in the community who might be interested in working with the youth?”

She had positive responses to both questions. Kids wanted the tribe to build a skateboard park, and she was willing to work with them as were several other community members, but the tribe wasn’t interested. And then, a possible resource appeared.

Early on, my study drew the attention of some national child welfare researchers. I was invited to submit an abstract of my study to be considered for possible development as a commissioned research paper that would be presented at a US. Children’s Bureau conference on racial disparities in the child welfare system (Hand, 2002). My study was selected as one of eight in the country, with a cash award for the commissioned paper I was asked to write and present to an invitation-only audience of child welfare experts in the country. (An edited version was later published in 2006.)

When my fieldwork ended and I was officially finished with my research, I contacted the tribal staff person and asked if she thought it would be helpful for her to have some funding to work with the teens on a skateboard project. I offered some of the money I received for the commissioned paper. (The rest went to offset the costs of a study funded only by my university salary.) My offer came with some conditions. First, if she agreed, I would send her a personal check, but I didn’t want anyone to know where the money came from. She could use the money to help support youth, but the youth would have to agree to some structure. Together, we developed some guidelines.

  1. The youth would need to find at least one adult to volunteer to work with them on the project.
  2. They would need to invite all youth in the community to participate.
  3. Using internet and library resources, they would need to conduct research on skateboard park designs and select one that was feasible.
  4. As a group, they would need to prepare a formal proposal for the tribal council to ask for additional financial support. And,
  5. They would need to present their request during a council meeting.

I was surprised when she called to let me know that the teens were excited and eagerly agreed to all of the conditions. But they were mystified that somebody was willing to provide some money to help them. They were deeply touched that “Somebody cares about us!”

Four months later, the tribal staff person called to let me know that there had been no new juvenile justice cases since the youth started working on the project. They had found a community mentor and even included youth from the surrounding Euro-American community. They had presented their proposal to the tribe, and the prospects for help looked promising.

***

As I reread these old interview summaries and fieldnotes, I descend once again into the discomfort and self-doubt I felt long ago. I question why this study is worth writing about. And then I remember why it’s important to ask questions and care about the answers.

Perhaps the most important thing to emphasize when we teach interviewing skills is to be clear about our purpose. When we interview others about their lives, we carry a responsibility to listen deeply and care enough about the people who share their lives with us to give back in whatever ways we can.

***

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.

Choosing Hope Isn’t Always Easy

Carol A. Hand

There are days when revisiting old stories gathered during my research on Ojibwe child welfare makes me feel like I’m descending into a dystopian world. Sometimes the feeling is intensified when I look out of my front window in winter.

IMG_0311

Photo: The View from My Window – January 17, 2016

I once again feel the weight of hopelessness that I felt when I first listened to stories about loss and suffering, and stories about the hopelessness of those hired as healers and helpers. I could walk away from that world, although the next worlds I encountered were not necessarily an improvement. Still, I had the option to leave while they remained.
Now I have the time to revisit those memories recorded in old fieldnotes and look for insights and solutions that I’m certain I missed. I struggle with how to explain the context that gives these stories meaning and significance. Take the issue of substance abuse. There are ingrained stereotypes about “drunken Indians” that are used as an excuse for continued colonial oppression. Here’s an excerpt from an earlier post that presents a more thoughtful analysis.

***

Many theories have been formulated to explain child abuse and neglect within what is now the United States. Recently, an eleven-year-old Ojibwe youth won an award for an essay he wrote to explain his perspective as a foster child. (Please refer to Endnote 1 for more information about the request to include this work in my writing.) In his attempt to make sense of his experiences, this young man’s essay expresses both his vision of the future and his theory of causality for child maltreatment.

WHAT [MY COMMUNITY] WOULD BE LIKE WITH NO ALCOHOL OR DRUGS

[My community] would be a better place if there was not so much beer and bars. People will have better jobs, more better houses and people will have longer marriages, more food and cars. Kids will be happy and will’nt get into fights and do drugs. Kids will have friends that are nice, that don’t do drugs. Kids will have a nice dog to play with, and parents that be home early, and who take their kids to eat somewhere instead of going out and drinking up their money on drugs and beers. Moms and Dads will be up early instead of being hung over and waking up late in the afternoon. Kids will have a curfew at night and their parents will be there not out drinking and getting high somewhere and coming home about 3:00 in the morning. Kids will have a bike of their own, instead of stealing them of using their friends. The moms won’t need to find a babysitter because she will [be] home, not out using drugs or at a bar. Kids would have fun birthdays, and kids will get to have sleepovers because their mom will be home, not at the bar drinking and coming home late to get into fights with their dads. The parents will’nt be divorced because of BEER. AND IF THERE WAS NOT NO BEER, MOMS AND DADS WILL HAVE A HAPPY FAMILY.

This is a powerful essay on many levels. It is a plea from a youngster for parents who will be there to meet his needs. Like many youngsters, he wants a dog, a bike, and parents who don’t fight. Also like many youngsters, he sees the disruptive power of substance abuse and addiction. His theory echoes that held by many youngsters and adults, both in the general population and within minority cultures and communities. It also mirrors the assumptions in much of the child welfare legislation and those held by many health and human service professionals. This thoughtful Ojibwe youth defines the root problem of child maltreatment as an individual choice made by parents, particularly mothers (to drink or use drugs). His solution is to remove the temptation. The pervasive historical, political, and economic contributors to substance abuse, child maltreatment, and family violence remain hidden from sight. This paper explores theories that attempt to explicate the ways in which colonial domination, forced assimilation, and cultural hegemony have, over the course of five centuries, led to the perpetuation and acceptance of individual deficit explanations for child maltreatment by the very Native American communities who have inherited the social, economic, and politico-structural consequences of this oppressive legacy…

Endnotes:
1. The young man’s grandmother and foster parent asked me to include this essay in my work. Although the youth concurred, I have included it with some ambivalence. My analysis of the essay is not what they would have anticipated, yet I am hopeful that my treatment of this thoughtful perspective is both respectful and illuminating. While the name of the author and the name of the community have been omitted to protect confidentiality, the original text is otherwise unedited. (Hand, 1999/2015)

***

My role as a researcher in the community was to simply ask questions without challenging the reality of those who shared their responses. Sometimes that was difficult. Take for example the present interview I’m editing in the context of recent events in the community. (Please note that all names have been changed to protect identity, and all place names have been removed.)

***

Research Field Notes Thursday, November 8, 2001

It was a cloudy morning. It had rained during the night, and it was gray and chilly. I was still in pain and tired from my troubled sleep, but I really felt that I needed to keep my appointments, so I took another Tylenol and got ready for the day. I left early (8:40 a.m.) this morning for a scheduled interview with Karen Daley, the alcohol and drug treatment coordinator for the tribe. I was a few minutes early and waited patiently while she took care of some paper work. As I was waiting, I overheard a discussion about a death in the community last night – tribal programs would be closed on Friday as a result. When Karen was ready, she came and led me to her office.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, Karen. Can you tell me about child and family welfare issues from your perspective?”

Karen replied. “Dealing with drug and alcohol addiction is the beginning – we need to deal with them first. The substance is still controlling people. They will give up their families before their jobs – jobs provide the income they need to buy substances. Their job is the last thing to go, when they can’t make it.

“Suicide is linked to substance abuse. When sober, people may think about it, but don’t do it until they are high.

“Here, kids – teens – are supposed to be men. Their parents are getting drunk on binges for days, and they are locked out of the home for three days. Who’s monitoring them? Kids can’t control their environment. They don’t want to be pulled out of their homes. They take care of the family – they feel responsible for helping their parents with their substance abuse problems. Kids feel responsible for “keeping the secret” that everyone else knows about the abuse.

“A community member, 50 years old, died last night. One of her daughters held a funeral ceremony yesterday.

“An ICWA [Indian Child Welfare Act] client was in court yesterday trying to get her kids back. It would be great for the mom to get her kids back – she is doing well. I hope the court can make the right decision.

It seemed important to know more about Karen’s background, so I asked her when she began working for the tribe.

“I started part time in 99. Case managing is a big part of the job. I put in six billable hours per day in case management. The clients I see have a problem that is identified by social services, by court orders for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, or schools. Only one client is a self-referral. I was working with ICW trying to place kids when there was no ICWA worker. A list of Native American foster homes in the state would be helpful, and even in the surrounding states. Now we have to call every county, every tribe, trying to plug kids in the right place.

“In patient treatment for kids is easy. We send kids to a tribal treatment center in South Dakota. The regional IHS [Indian Health Service] staff has been very helpful. Now, we send adults to a tribal treatment center in the state – moms can bring up to three of their children and can stay with them. Women don’t have to go to treatment or leave early because of kids. The tribal treatment center helps arrange school and has on-site nurses. It is arranged like a college campus. Singles are separated from moms, and they receive treatment in the on-site out-patient center. They provide a continuum of care. The centers fax us reports weekly. It is easier to know where to pick up treatment when they come back.

“We are working on a new phone book of clinic and other providers – the environmental building, economic support, social services, domestic violence. It will help us integrate services or do wrap around. We will be better able to help the whole family with all of their needs. So much of the service provided by the system is shame-based. We are interested in finding ways to make people feel good – to succeed. In my last job, I was working on a pilot project with a health care provider in this part of the state.”

Karen shared copies of the assessment and service forms she developed to help identify needs and track follow-up and outcomes. She also shared a number of other materials, some AODA and some general service delivery.

At this point in the interview, I stopped taking notes. Karen began speaking of her own family’s history of substance abuse, as well as her own use in the past. She began talking about her mother’s recent death and her relationship with her siblings. She was very upset, and often in tears as she related the history. It seems that the death of the community member yesterday reawakened memories and the interview provided her with a safe environment to share her pain. I listened and comforted her as best I could.

She also spoke about a gathering she holds at her house, located on the river in a nearby town. She described it as “a Native American-like ceremony for healing.” She is not happy with her home because of a bothersome neighbor and doesn’t seem to want to stay here. She is from the southeastern part of the state and misses it.

She seemed genuinely relieved to have someone safe to talk to, and as we walked out at the end of the interview, she said she would like to get together for dinner some time.

I left feeling ambivalent about the non-Indian professionals who find their way to Native American communities. Sometimes, they are wounded and unhappy and seem to be looking for something to believe in, and people who are even more powerless that they can save.

Perhaps things will change as spring comes. I wonder if there is the possibility for this tribal community to develop a stable political environment and a clear and compelling future vision that brings community factions together to work toward a common purpose – the well-being of future generations. Yet, even this begins to sound like judgmental and empty rhetoric. I wish Karen well and know that her job is challenging.

***

It continues to trouble me when I encounter professionals who don’t transcend the narrow boundaries of their discipline to understand how their own life experiences affect the types of services they provide or the crucial influence of socio-cultural contexts on clients’ ability to benefit from what they provide. As I revisit this interview, what seems to be missing is an understanding of ecosystems theory, described in an earlier post.

***

The elegance of Uri Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) approach to human development rests in both its multidimensional complexity and its emphasis on the transactional and reciprocal nature of relations between people and their changing environments. As illustrated in figure 1 below, which somewhat oversimplifies Bronfenbrenner’s model, individuals are “nested” concentrically within a series of environmental relationships.

ecology of human development

Figure 1: The Ecology of Human Development

The “microsystem” includes those immediate aspects of the environment “that are most powerful in shaping the course of psychological growth”: “a pattern of activities, roles, and interpersonal relations experienced by the developing person in a given setting with particular physical and material characteristics” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 22). For infants, the primary microsystem is usually their home setting with primary caregivers, simple activities, and a limited set of roles. Development through childhood and beyond involves an increase in the number and complexity of roles, relations, and activities, as well as the addition of new microsystems, such as daycare, preschool, school, etc., in which a developing person is embedded. As individuals move into additional settings, linkages are created between microsystems, resulting in what Bronfenbrenner (1979, p. 25) refers to as “mesosystems,” or “a system of microsystems.”

While the developing individuals directly participate in both microsystems and mesosystems through their relationships with parents, teachers, and other significant persons, their development is indirectly influenced by systems outside their own experience. Parents, teachers, and other relatives are all embedded in a series of settings (for example, parents’ work, parents’ networks of friends, teachers’ unions, local school boards, etc.) that influence how they relate to the developing individuals. This indirect, external set of influences is labeled the “exosystem” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 25). All of these systems are embedded within the “macrosystem”, defined as “consistencies, in the form and content of lower-order systems (micro-, meso-, and exo-) that exist, or could exist, at the level of the subculture or the culture as a whole, along with any belief systems or ideology underlying such consistencies” (p. 26). Macrosystems are the blueprint, or the overarching cultural paradigm (Fleras & Elliott, 1992), which determines the content, structure, and goals of the lower level systems in which individuals are embedded.

Bronfenbrenner (1979, p. 26) notes that the macrosystems which exert influences on developing individuals “differ for various socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, and other subgroups, reflecting contrasting belief systems and lifestyles, which in turn help to perpetuate the ecological environments specific to each group.” Individuals not only sustain the blueprint, or ‘macrosystem’ in which they are embedded, but are also capable of modifying its content and structure.

Bronfenbrenner does not speak to the relations among macrosystems, nor does he note power differentials between competing “blueprints” which exist among different social classes or ethnic groups within or among nations. Power, in his conception, is located within a macrosystem and manifested in “roles” or “power settings.” At the level of roles, he hypothesizes that: “The greater the degree of power socially sanctioned for a given role, the greater the tendency for the role occupant to exercise and exploit the power and for those in a subordinate position to respond by increased submission, dependency, and lack of initiative” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 92). (Hand, 1999/2015)

***

Given the layers of connection that influence people’s beliefs and behaviors, I doubted that Karen’s interventions with individuals would ever successfully address an understandable, although unhealthy, coping mechanism that temporarily numbs pain in a fog of euphoric forgetfulness. The consequences of oppression and losses are palpable here – an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.  Of course, it is easier for professionals to “treat” individuals than it is to “heal” collective historical trauma and effectively resist ongoing colonial oppression that affects every person in the tribal community.

So today, I’ll continue to return to an earlier dystopian time. Even though the view from my window is similar to the one a few days ago, I can remember the view on a summer’s day.

DSC00937

Photo: The View from My Window – Summer 2015

The memory of creating gardens where little grew a few years ago helps me find hope. Transformation is possible – even in the places where we once saw only futility…

Works Cited:

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

Fleras, A. & Elliot, J. (1992). The ‘nations within’: aboriginal-state relations in Canada, the United States, and New Zealand. Toronto, Canada: Oxford University Press.

 

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.

Social Sciences Research: To Count or To Listen?

Carol A. Hand

Once upon a time, I would sit all day running statistical analyses. These were among my least favorite jobs. Crosstabs, T-Tests, ANOVAs, and occasionally, Chi-Square Tests. One didn’t really need to understand why these statistical procedures were supposedly trustworthy explanations and predictors of people’s behavior. One was merely programmed to believe that these were valid and reliable sources of information about groups of people based on self-reported, yes/no, forced choice answers to questionnaires.

One job in particular was noteworthy. My job was to construct, run, and interpret statistical analyses to determine the interaction of stressors and health for older men and women who were caring for adult children with disabilities. It was someone else’s job to enter the data correctly. I was told by the project director not to try to speak to the data entry expert face-to-face because he spoke Korean and struggled with English. “Send him emails if you need something.”

I tried this approach, but he would always ask to meet with me so I could explain my confusing emails. We became friends in the process and I learned more about his life, studies and culture. He valued the chance to practice speaking English. Emails were a poor and isolating substitute.

Of course, the data I needed were always quickly and impeccably entered. Still, it was such a boring job. After an hour or two of staring at the computer screen and data printouts, I snuck into the room where the seldom viewed narrative data were stored. These were hand-recorded replies of “research subjects” to the question, “Is there anything else you would like to add?” I discovered a fascinating (and troubling) project oversight. More than 75 percent of the study participants (calculated in my head) had indicated that occasional respite from continual caregiving responsibilities would significantly improve the quality of their lives.

The project director wasn’t pleased when I asked her if we had followed up on this information. It appeared to be a policy we should advocate at the state level. We had research data to support the need and cost-effective benefits for such a policy.

Research should, after all, be used to improve people’s lives, right? Not just to count and catalog their deficits and misery?

businessman-research-cartoon_23-2147508086

Image: Research

Yet this project wasn’t the most distressing. That one would come later. It was a project that was supposedly measuring the effectiveness of a particular intervention to improve the academic performance of Native American elementary school students. The researchers who directed the project were more concerned with fancy research methods than with the intrusiveness and cultural dissonance of those methods in tribal contexts.

When those methods failed to produce evidence of significant improvements in grades and attendance, project directors blamed Native American families, schools, and cultures. Unethical? Yes, but their draft conclusions were subjected to an elegantly argued rebuttal that pointed out the absurdity of the methods. Observers and beeping computers in a room with third graders, questionnaires families refused to complete for a variety of reasons, and student performance forms filled out by too many substitute teachers who didn’t even know the names of students let alone how they performed in class.

Most alarming, however, was the failure to actually think about the data that were collected in human terms. Reviewing and synthesizing the data we did have with the narrative comments, I noticed one young boy whose condition was serious. Every quantitative measure suggested he was severely disturbed and clearly in need of help. The narrative comments, again seldom read, reported violent behavior at home and school and mentioned the repeated threats he had voiced to harm himself and others. I asked my colleagues and the project director what we planned to do about this. Didn’t we have ethical obligations to make sure the young boy accessed the help he so obviously needed? The idea had never occurred to them before that researchers had obligations to the people they studied.

Even though these experiences soured me on quantitative research, the qualitative approach I chose for my dissertation study, critical ethnography, wasn’t much of an improvement. I had to listen to troubling stories and witness oppressive situations and conditions as a somewhat aloof objective observer. I could convince myself to some degree that it did help those who chose to share their experiences with an empathetic, nonjudgmental listener. I wouldn’t count or catalog their suffering. I would privilege their words and perspectives.

Yesterday, I discovered one of the flaws inherent in this approach. As I reread and edited an interview with the tribal child welfare director in the community I was studying, I came across the list of child welfare cases she read off to me. The list remained buried in my fieldnotes. Yesterday, I wondered what value the information added in terms of the overall purpose of a book I’m writing about the study. I wondered if I should just delete it, even though there were no names or identifying details. Just to be sure, I decided to reduce the list to numbers – how many children were in one of five different intervention categories:

1. returned home,
2. placed in community kinship care with Ojibwe relatives,
3. placed in off-reservation non-Indian foster care homes,
4. placed in an off-reservation non-Indian residential treatment facility, or
5. adopted or in the adoption process by an off-reservation non-Indian family.

I decided to see if I could figure out how to use Microsoft Excel to do a simple calculation. I was alarmed that I hadn’t thought to do this before when I looked at the results. Despite the intention of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 to end the outflow of Native American children from their communities, an ongoing process of cultural genocide, more than 40 percent of the child welfare placements were in non-Native settings outside of the tribal community. The colorful Excel pie-chart below illustrates the magnitude of loss.

we remember chart

we remember chart legend

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson learned. Quantitative approaches do sometimes have merit. Stories, when backed up by numbers, may be far more effective advocacy tools than either approach alone. So the list will stay for now, accompanied by a new graphic.

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 Research and Gossip

Carol A. Hand

Standing in the shower, eyes closed
Rinsing off soap and shampoo
Thinking about gossip gathered in research
And wondering what to do

What roles do tales told about others
Play in preserving the social order
My thoughts taking me to other times
Momentarily dissolving time’s border

gossip

Image: Microsoft Word Clipart

What value do such utterings carry
What heuristic goals are served
By repeating words that disparage others
Even when critiques appear to be deserved

Spreading gossip says much about the teller
So I’ll make the choice that’s best
Leaving hurtful words buried in old research notes
Until consigned to flames, their final prayerful rest

fire

Image: Microsoft Word Clipart

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.

Possibilities for Building Connections

Carol A. Hand

Many of the stories I was privileged to hear during my research years ago left me feeling sad. Not all of them were stories about children who were taken away from their families and community and placed in abusive situations. Not all of them were stories told by Ojibwe people. I just revisited two of the stories shared by Euro-American community members and find myself pondering why they evoke such a sense of sadness, of possibilities lost.

As someone who has studied gerontology and Native American issues, I’ve had an opportunity to see the importance of history and context as a foundation for understanding the present. This particular study reinforced another insight about storytelling and the powerful role it can play in building connections among people and to places.

[Please note: The names of people have all been changed in the following accounts to protect identity, and the names of states and towns have been removed. These stories could come from any of the states where Ojibwe reservations are located.]

jigsaw 1

Image: Microsoft Word Clip Art

***

Research Field Notes Thursday, October 25, 2001

I left the tribal elders’ center about 4:30 p.m., and headed back to my motel room. After eating, I went to the small gas station next door to ask directions. I had an appointment to talk with Ward Wright, a respected Euro-American county resident. He was among the community residents who were highly recommended by the librarians at the local technical college. Mr. Wright had graciously agreed to meet with me at his house at 7 o’clock this evening.

It was a dark, windy, snowy night, making it difficult to find Ward’s house as I drove along the road that wound along the shore of the lake.

I noticed a house on the west side of the road on top of a hill, with bright light radiating from the wall of windows along the front. I drove up the steep driveway hoping it was the right house. A tall, athletic-looking man was visible through the windows. As I walked toward the house, buffeted by strong winds, he motioned me to a door on the back porch. I entered the porch, and then into the bright kitchen.

After introductions, Mr. Wright asked me where I would like to sit. I suggested that we sit wherever he felt most comfortable, so he led me to the table in the dining room/living room. It was a large open room with a two-story cathedral ceiling, a stone fireplace, and an upstairs loft. Mr. Wright said that he had built the house, and pointed out the oak floor he and his son had just put into the kitchen, the dark cherry ceiling in the kitchen, and the sky lights over the kitchen table. He said that he had once worked in the lumber industry, and processed all of the materials himself.

On the table were boxes with old photos and articles from the border town’s past. He began telling me how the “Kintucks” were the primary non-Indian settlers in the area. He asked if I knew anything about “Melungeons,” and when I said no, he explained.
“In the 1500’s, the Portuguese landed in North Carolina, and some were left there. They intermarried with the Cherokees, called Melungeons, and over time became more Cherokee than Portuguese. My great-great grandmother was Melungeon.”

According to Wikipedia, “Melungeon … is a term traditionally applied to one of numerous ‘tri-racial isolate’ groups of the Southeastern United States…. Tri-racial describes populations thought to be of mixed European, African and Native American ancestry. Although there is no consensus on how many such groups exist, estimates range as high as 200. Melungeons were often referred to by other settlers as of Portuguese or Native American origin.” (Hyperlinks and footnotes have been removed, see original at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melungeon.) Interesting that Mr. Wright didn’t mention African ancestry as part of this heritage.

“The Potawatomies lived in Michigan, and in Chicog, the ‘land of stinking waters.’ The Sioux and Ojibwe fought here for control of the rice beds, and when the Ojibwe won, the Sioux moved out of the area.

“During the civil war, the US feared that the British would recruit Native people to use the conflict as an opportunity to attack US forces. The US built a military road from Fort Howard in Green Bay to Fort Wilkins on the tip of the Kewanaw peninsula in upper Michigan. The Canadians supported the south and were interested in the copper in the area.

“The oldest house in the county is in the tribal community. [It is the building the elders have proposed to renovate.]

“In the 1860’s this was a hard wood area, not pine. In 1864, the area was surveyed and pronounced as unredeemable. There were Indian huts and a French trading post. It is one of the latest areas in the state to be settled because it was so rugged. A stagecoach ran twice a week from a community on a major road to the southwest of here to the first town in the area. The trails were so bad, people often walked beside the stage.

“In 1892 the Northwestern railroad first came to the area from Chicago. It was a forested area at that time, not farm land, so the tracks zigzagged between the hills. This town was named after one of the men who worked for the railroad and settled here. At that time the State gave every other section of land to the railroad.

“One of the major lumber companies that harvested timber in this area had their corporate offices in Kentucky, in an area where they made moonshine. The largest feud in the US occurred in Kentucky between two families. My grandfather was from one of the families. He originally came here to escape the aftermath of feud killings. Fifty-two people were killed in the feuds. This is why my ancestors came here.

“’Kintucks’ were outdoorsmen: they could make it on the land and the area here is a lot like the land they knew. They lived off the land like the Native peoples, and did almost as well. My grandfather got busted for making moonshine. During the depression, people made big money on moonshine, which they ‘ran to Chicago.’ The feds ‘followed the sugar trail’ to catch the moonshine makers. The Kintucks and the Native Americans have lived together harmoniously. They could hunt, trap, fish.”

Mr. Wright showed me a number of photos, old articles, and booklets on the history of the area. Among the resources were an article from a major newspaper that described history of the area, and two booklets that are available at a store in town.

“Am I telling you the kind of things you wanted to hear, Agnes?”

“Yes Mr. Wright, these are fascinating stories about the history here. I wonder if you could also tell me more about the relationship between the community and the tribe and whether you’ve noticed any cultural differences that have relevance for children and child welfare.”

“I was the principal of the school in the tribal community for three years, when the elementary school was closed. I served as principal for the border town elementary school for more than 30 years. Of the seven guys who were in my cohort who were principals or in high stress jobs, four are dead and two had strokes. This is why I retired from a job I loved.

“I was born in a one-room log house close to the Ojibwe reservation. I was logging by the age of 12. I learned to hunt and I went to school with many of the kids from the Ojibwe community.”

He told a story of how he went on to become a teacher. When he was about 19 or 20, he was working at a factory in in a large central city. He would set his alarm for 2 a.m. every day and drive to work and come home. Some of his friends were visiting, and told him they were going down to begin their semester at the normal school in a city about 150 miles away the next day and they invited him to come with them. He told them he couldn’t: he had to go to work. His mother told the friends to stop by on their way anyway. When he awoke, it was 7 a.m., and his friends arrived shortly after, so he decided to go with him. His mother had turned off his alarm. It changed his life. He did enroll, and went on to the university in another city close to the school where his friends were enrolled.

“The Ojibwe tribe here has gone up and down. The casino has been good, it has increased ‘self-pride.’ People had a job and money, and they were generous. A low was the spearing rights controversy. Everyone has accepted the situation now.

“The 1960’s were a time of downswing with the VISTA [Volunteers in Service to America] program. I was asked by a VISTA worker when I was in DC how they could help tribes. My response was that tribes needed to help themselves. The VISTA program was a hand-out program.

“There are many cultural positives. There are differences in how they discipline kids, or worry about tomorrow. Homework may not be as important, or worry about education when they turn 20. They are very generous. They are very caring over kids. They love their kids as much as or more than white parents, but sometimes other things get in the way. They are more caring for grandkids, and uncles and aunties are often responsible for kids. Everyone takes part in raising kids.

“The negatives are not really different than those other populations face. Alcohol is a problem when it becomes a priority. It may lead to neglect. To be needed and wanted is a big thing for the ladies – to have a guy takes priority in life. If one relationship ends, a new one is started instantly.

“Over the years, the system has taken away self-pride. They are very giving people – a great positive. Ogema had great ability to bring Kintucks and Native Americans together. He filled community needs. He commanded respect and carried more responsibility than anyone else since. He was fair, generous, honest, forth-right. He was a tall man, and when he walked into a room, he had a commanding presence. After Ogema died, there was not a lot of leadership in the community. I was in school with Ogema. One of his descendants had some of this presence and leadership ability, but he got into trouble.

“Native Americans lose a lot of kids in adolescence. There was a straight-A student whose dad died. She started partying, and never reached her potential. Native American youth are so talented. They have so much athletic ability. It’s almost as if they don’t want to excel too much sometimes – they sabotage themselves. Some of the best Native American athletes have parental background. It seems to make a difference. Kids from one-parent families seem to get lost.

“The Ojibwe are friendlier than other tribes, and the non-Indian community is more accepting of the Ojibwe than others. Ojibwe people are very generous, giving, outgoing, more trusting. Other tribes stick to themselves.

“Per capita has had some negative consequences for tribes that do well with gaming. Now, a lot of teens are killed as a result of accidents. They can afford to buy cars, and replace them repeatedly if they are wrecked.

“Native Americans represent 25% of the population in the lower grades, but adolescence is hard on Native American kids. They do fine in grade school but get lost in middle-school (ages 13-15). Most Native American parents want their kids to do better than they did when they we in school.

“Social services has changed a lot. Directors have changed a lot, and there is high turnover. Allen James was raised here. His mother was raised on a farm near here, so he grew into the culture. The social services department is more stable now that he’s there as director. Allen knows the kids and the community and is pretty good to work with – he’s one of the better ones. He always has time for people, and is compassionate. There is a problem trying to find families that are willing to take on another person’s kids. ‘Kids are faithful mirrors.’”

This is a statement Mr. Wright repeated frequently to emphasize the impact of parents on how their children behave and ultimately turn out.

As we were talking, the wind grew stronger, propelling snow against the windows that lined the front of the house that overlooked the lake. The lights began to flicker and I realized that I was very cold – more from fatigue than from the room temperature. It seemed wise to end our meeting because it was late (after 9 p.m.) and the weather was deteriorating.

As I drove, I thought about the interview. It had been intense and uncomfortable. Mr. Wright talked about many things: his travels and hunting; his wife’s hunting; his philosophies on a fulfilling life. He had prepared for the interview by bringing boxes from his basement. He scheduled the interview when his wife was out: she went to a play in the small city nearby. He also spoke of his grandchildren. His granddaughter is engaged to an Ojibwe tribal member. It seemed he used this to emphasize his lack of prejudice toward Ojibwe people. He appears to be a man who is used to being in a position of authority, and using the position to help kids feel good about themselves and succeed.

The snow covered the road in places, but I made it back to my room, very tired. Too tired to type notes, I simply curled up under the blankets and slept.

***

Research Field Notes Monday, October 29, 2001

I packed quickly on this sunny day, and headed for my motel and then, on to my interview with Elizabeth Garrett in a nearby town.

When I arrived in the small town, I turned on the road by the high school, the directions I was given at the gas station in town, but I couldn’t find the elders’ apartment complex. After circling the block several times, I decided to ask some of the students who were playing in the field behind the school. Their directions got me to the building just a few blocks away.

The complex of two apartment buildings was surrounded by single family homes. The two buildings were well-kept and appeared to be of fairly recent construction. As I entered the building, I noticed a prominent sign which read: “Absolutely no children are allowed to run in the hallways.” It struck me as a profound contrast to the tribal elder’s center where children were ever-present – running, laughing, sitting in the laps of mothers or elders and often the center of attention.

Elizabeth Garrett was initially contacted by Fiona, the Benefit Specialist for the County Aging Department. Fiona had told her that I was interested in the history of the county. I wasn’t sure that this interview would be relevant, but I went out of courtesy.

Mrs. Garrett’s apartment was on the first floor of the building. I knocked, and she invited me in. As I entered, I noticed her mail piled around a corner chair closest to the door and window. She took my coat and hung it in the closet. I noticed that she was stooped over and her movements seemed to be painful. I sat in the chair nearer to the kitchenette area. She handed me a booklet that had been written about the history of the town done by the local copy shop, and a copy of her 1933 high school yearbook. The booklet included an interview with Mrs. Garrett, and I quickly scanned the summary.

Reflection December 23, 2015

As I reread this portion of my interview with Mrs. Garrett, I tried to remember when I first met Ken Laurent, the owner of the local copy shop and author of the booklet that included Mrs. Garrett’s old interview. But I couldn’t remember even though Ken would become such a crucial source of information and support for me in the future. I’m eager to revisit those notes. For now, though, it’s important for me to stick to my original plan. To follow the history of this study to see how I changed because of the people who shared their stories with me.

Research Field Notes Monday, October 29, 2001 (continued)

I also leafed carefully through the year book. The sepia-colored paper cover was brittle with age. The headings were done in hand calligraphy, with hand-drawn illustrations, no photos or typed comments on students. The copy was mimeographed. As I looked through the booklets, Mrs. Garrett continued to sort through her mail. When she was done, she began telling stories.

“In 1895, my grandfather walked the area and estimated the lumber. His wife came two years later when the railroad went through. In 1928, we lived in another Great Lakes’ state. My step-father and mother came to the town by train to visit.

“Cars went 25 miles an hour in those days, and the roads were sandy and had big holes. Farmers would dig the holes deeper so cars would get stuck, and the passengers would have to hire the farmer to pull the car out with his horses. My parents stayed overnight at the hotel, and put a down-payment on it. When I finished sixth grade, we moved.

“I remember that the road used to curve. I started the seventh grade here. I was one year older than the others in my grade, so I decided I wanted to finish high school in three years, and I did. There were no school buses in those days, so we walked to school. There was no lunch room in those days, so we had to run home at noon for lunch. I ran home to the hotel that was also the only restaurant in town then. I waited on the customers who came on the train at noon, so I really had to run. I never dawdled around like kids today.

“It was a bad time after the crash – they were always bad times. People were living outdoors from the camps. We used to call it “the jungle.” They didn’t have any shelter and slept and cooked outdoors. For meals, one would come to us and ask for an onion, another would ask for a carrot, and then go to another house for a potato, or to the butcher for bones. They would cook the food in a large can outside. They sometimes would steal chickens from my grandmother’s house. When my grandmother went out back, she would find the chicken heads.”

Mrs. Garrett recounted stories about a number of men who lived in “the jungle.”

“Porkchop Pete had a shack built from cardboard and pieces of tin next to a local pond. He would sweep the floor at the bakery in exchange for old bread. He gave some to the men who lived in the jungle. Chinaman Joe, Fiddler Joe, and Hemlock Joe were lumberjacks who didn’t know how to spell their names. Hemlock Joe would come to town with a big fish in a bag that he sold to my mother. He had a shack on Hemlock Lake. Humpy was a humpbacked man who lived on a creek. Chinaman Joe showed us a big geography book. He was a Cossack in the Russian army and he said he stole it in St. Petersburg. He did the Russian dance – he could balance on one leg and kick out the other one. The Cossacks rode horses – they were not part of the regular army.

“When we were living in our previous state, we lived next to a jewelry store and we got different records from all over the world, including the Mazurka. There were men from all over the world there, and I remember one day I played records from each man’s country and they would pay me $1. I made $15.

“Humpy John was a ‘chore boy’ for the hotel. Before he started at the hotel, he worked for a year in the lumber camp and ended up $17 in the hole.

“Then Roosevelt got in.”

mhc_mhm_ccc1_46090_7

Photo: 1933 – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – Michigan (Source)

ccc minnesota

Photo: Date Unknown – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – Minnesota (Source)

10648-file04-23-CCC-CO-F-104-Moving-Camp-to-Bismarck-ND-Fair-Park-AR-1936-cor

Photo: Date Unknown – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – North Dakota (Source)

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Photo: 1933 – Civilian Conservation Corps Camp – Wisconsin (Source)

“Humpy John worked for room and board and got a small salary. He was like a grandpa to my youngest son – he would buy him things. He was kicked by a horse when he was young, and his lungs were in bad shape. My son, Lenny, went to see him, and came to tell me that Humpy wouldn’t get up when he called. He died in his sleep.

“My husband drove a school bus. I worked in the kitchen of the hotel, and Humpy John tended bar. One day, a man came in and asked where the john was. Humpy responded that he was standing right there. The customer asked again and again, with the same answer from Humpy. Finally, I pointed out the restroom, and the customer headed toward it. When Humpy found out that “john” meant toilet, he was mad. Another customer came in and asked for Ham’s (meaning Ham’s beer). Humpy told him to go to the butcher’s shop if he wanted ham.

As she told these stories, Mrs. Garrett laughed heartily.

“In spring, the loggers went to the river to roll the logs. They had nails in their shoes so they could ride the logs. They worked in the woods all winter. Farmers from the southern part of the county would come up and work cutting trees in winter and would return home in the spring to plant their crops.

“When camp members were buried, no one knew how to spell their names, so they guessed. Many have no grave markers.

“In the past state where we lived, mother cooked at a camp and delivered food on a wagon. It’s where she moved after she married my real dad in Detroit. When she first came to this country from Finland, she went to Ellis Island. Then she lived in Boston and worked for a Swedish family, so she learned Swedish. Then she went to Detroit. My father was a band leader, and they lived in every town in the state. We lived in a log house in one town that had a breezeway. Fall was rainy season, and during one storm, we stood in the breezeway watching the lightening. We learned not to be afraid of storms.

“My mother decided that we kids needed to go to school. She worked at camp in the winter. Then in the summer she worked at a resort with kids from Chicago who all went to school. After that we went to a country school. Mama made me a dress out of a flour sack. [As Mrs. Garrett spoke, she worked on an imaginary dress, showing how it was cut like a box.] My mother put ruffles on the hem and sleeves and dyed it pink. She made pants for my little brother that had four sets of buttons as fasteners: front, sides, and back. The first time he wore them to school, he couldn’t get the back buttons unfastened without help so he was teased because his sister had to help him get undressed so he could go to the bathroom.

“My mother was cooking in a hotel before we moved here and my family stayed in the hotel. People who lived there adopted two girls, and one day, they gave the children something to eat that had nuts in it. One girl choked to death. This was a sad thing for a kid.

“Mama wanted to have a restaurant, so she got this place. One day when we were there, we saw a drunken man heading our way. We all hid under the counters. Finally, mama got up and waited on him.

“One day when we came home from school, the house was closed. We didn’t know what was happening, so we got in and hid in the basement. My mother married my stepfather, and called us when they got home. After she married him, she found out that he was a gambler. He had a photographic mind and could remember all of the cards that were played so he would win. They bought a house but decided to move. Mother took care of her new husband’s brother who had TB until he died. My step-father bought the hotel.

“Chore boys were the closest thing I had for grandfathers.

“All of the poor guys lived outdoors in the jungle until Roosevelt was elected. He built a soup kitchen and a place with beds. That’s why we were always Democrats – because he was kind.

“There was a poor farm up north not too far from here. We would drop off juice that my mother made for a man who was injured in an accident. His mouth was blown up when he was setting up a dynamite cap.

“We had to help out a lot of people.

“Elmer and I eloped. There was a depression. Mother sent me to the big city in the southern part of the state to go to beauty school. I wanted to be a teacher but my family couldn’t afford it. While I was gone, Elmer wrote me every day. When my roommates graduated before me and were leaving, I knew I couldn’t afford rent, so I worked for families for room and board to save money.

“I wanted to go to church in the community. I was Lutheran, but I was confirmed in a Finnish-speaking church. My confirmation certificate was written in Finnish so I couldn’t prove that I was confirmed to the local church. They wouldn’t let me go communion because they couldn’t read Finish, so I didn’t go to church.

“I became Catholic when I was living with a family in the city – Elmer was Catholic. He came down to visit me and we got married there. A taxi driver and the priest’s housekeeper were witnesses. We didn’t let anyone in the community know, but the announcement was put in the local paper and people knew anyway. When we arrived in town by train, the whole town was there to meet us. They shivareed us right away. [Shivaree, or charivari, is a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noise makers given for a newly married couple. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/shivaree ]

“We stayed to care for Elmer’s folks, and stayed with my folks and saved money. Elmer drove for the fire patrol. We picked berries every day and canned them. We canned partridges and deer. We saved money and bought the hotel. My mother gave us her half and we bought out my step-father. There were 2,500 people in the area during hunting season, lumberjacks, veterans, and nine boarders. We raised three children while running the hotel. My daughter, Patty, went to the university.

“I met all kinds of people. There was a millionaire who used to drink and had an accident. His tongue was sewn in, and it was hard to understand him. I understood him because I grew up with people who came from all over the world and who spoke with all different kinds of accents.

“Tourists started coming then. There was another millionaire who came once a month. My husband would take people out hunting – doing deer drives.

“My son, Lenny, the youngest, was not doing well. He had a big belly, so we spent the winter in Arizona. One of the hotel customers made the arrangements for us. Lenny was in pre-school or first grade. There were a lot of little Mexican kids, and Lenny could understand them. We lived next to Jewish people. One family was from New Jersey and I offered to set their hair. Lenny got healthy after the trip. He came home brown as a berry.

“I miss the customers and my garden. I planted apricot trees. They did well at first, but then stopped producing fruit. I was told to use wood ashes, and they helped the trees produce. The branches were so loaded with fruit that they broke.”

At this point, Mrs. Garrett got up to go to the restroom. When she returned, she asked me if I would like some tea. I said yes, so she made tea, put a pastry with whipped cream on the kitchen table at my place. We moved to the table for the rest of our talk.

“My daughter is picking me up on the 15th and taking me to Kentucky for the winter. I will spend the summer here. My daughter is a teacher, and three of my grandchildren are teachers. I always wanted to be a teacher. One granddaughter is in Alaska – she is the head of social services in one of the cities there. She just got married.”

Mrs. Garrett spoke of her other grandchildren, and her two sons.

“Lenny became ill and is on dialysis now,” she said tearfully.

It seemed a good time to shift focus. “Mrs. Garrett, can you tell me anything about how the community has viewed Native Americans?”

“We were always good friends with one of the tribal leaders. He used to walk ten miles to town and ten miles back. At that time, Elmer used to drive out to set minnow traps and drive back to collect the minnows. The tribal leader and his family would wait for Elmer to take them to town. The leader took kids to North Dakota and put them in schools. My daughter has a book about this. The county took the tribal leader’s daughter to Chicago and put her with a family in a bad neighborhood. She came home pregnant. Her father walked ten miles to town for milk and kerosene for the heater for the baby. She didn’t have any money, so the daughter picked strawberries to pay my husband and back for anything we gave them.

“Some people in the community are jealous now that the Native Americans are successful. I’m not. They deserve to be successful. One of my teachers told us how the government marched them west, but many whites didn’t listen to her.

“When the tribal leader needed money, he would leave things in exchange for what he borrowed. We always gave it back when he paid us. The butcher would store things in the window, and the tribal leader’s drum was destroyed by the light and moisture. The butcher wouldn’t give the leader’s things back. Some people are so greedy. Another tribal member, a woman, would pawn things – TV, radio. She was honest and pointed out that she owed more than my records showed.”

Mrs. Garrett ended the interview by telling funny stories about Jewish customers, and about her cousin who fought in Finland’s war with Russia. Russia was trying to get a seaport. Her cousin was captured and put in jail, where he died.

As I left, I thanked Mrs. Garrett. She expressed her hope that I would write up our conversation so she could give it to her grandchildren, so that they would know all about the community and her life. She was kind and generous, and laughed frequently as she related stories from the past.

(On November 7, 2001, I received a handwritten note from her relating stories about the Native American woman she had told me about during the interview. She shared stories about the ways she and her husband had tried to make her life a little easier.)

***

I wonder how lives might have been transformed if the high school students who gave me directions to the elder apartments in the small town had assignments that connected them with elders. I wondered how the stories that the former principal shared might be able to transform community relations between residents of the reservation and the border town. What if there were historical skits that brought the two communities together to learn from each other?

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Image: Microsoft Word Chip Art

I also think about what these two different perspectives offer in terms of the neighborhood where I live now. Across the street is an elders’ apartment building, with an elementary school and high school within walking distance. For many elder residents, the highlight of the day is waiting for the mail to arrive. The lobby of the building is filled with eager anticipation as residents wait. I’m not sure how many are disappointed. I wonder what could happen if connections were made with the schools. There are so many things elders can teach. Not just history, but all types of practical knowledge and skills – gardening, food preservation, sewing – that have been lost with our focus on standardized tests that only measures the ability of students to regurgitate “factoids” without context.

What if connections were made to have students interview or work with elders on projects? I think of all the relevant subjects that could benefit from this approach. But more importantly, from my perspective, I’m excited by the possibility of the human connections that might evolve. And the deeper sense of connection to one’s place that could be rewoven.

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.

Still Writing despite Questions and Doubts

Carol A. Hand

The national writing event ended November 30, 2015, but I’ve continued to write almost every day. It’s a relief not to feel pressured to make an overall word count. Instead, I can try to make those words I write worthwhile regardless of the number. But I still encounter the same recurring questions and doubts. Here’s part of my latest chapter, 17, appropriately titled “Thankfully It’s Friday.” It wasn’t easy to always feel like an intrusive outsider. And I still wonder what to do with what I learned.

[Please note: The names of people have all been changed in the following accounts to protect identity, and the names of states and towns have been removed. These stories could come from any of the states where Ojibwe reservations are located.]

***

Research Field Notes Friday, October 19, 2001

….

I packed my things and checked out about 10:15, and headed to the tribal community.
First, I stopped at the tribal center, and noticed what appeared to be a meeting in the large room directly in front of the entranceway. I could see Greg, the tribal social service administrator in profile seated at the table, so I decided it would be a good time to see if Carrie Abrams (child welfare) or Trevor Evans (tribal preservation) were available. When I pulled into the old school parking lot, it appeared to be pretty empty. I noticed that Linda’s car wasn’t there. I did wish I could just touch base with her, but in some ways it was good to be on my own. I couldn’t really share anything I had learned so far.

I entered the building and walked past Greg’s office and asked the man seated at a desk in the next office where I might find Trevor.

“I’m Trevor,” he replied.

“Hi, Trevor. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Agnes Sero and I’m doing a study on Indian child welfare here. Molly, the tribal preservation director at Lake Tribe Reservation, suggested that I talk to you.”

“Come on in and sit down, Agnes.”

I told him briefly about my study and explained that I had met with Molly and other tribal preservation staff to learn more about the boarding school. I was interested in learning more about the school since elders here had described their experiences in a similar institution.

“Would you like a cup of coffee? I’m just brewing a new pot.”

I accepted and asked him if he was interested in learning more about the study. He said he was, so I ran out to my car to get a copy of the revised introduction and questions.

Trevor is a handsome man, with the front of his hair cut short, the left side is silver (naturally), with a bound pony tail in the back which extends beyond his waist. The walls of his office were covered with flip chart sheets containing Ojibwe words. He pointed to the sheets and explained that some were numbers, food, clothing. As he spoke, he was often leaning back in his chair, feet held in front of him off of the floor.

As soon as Trevor looked at the questions, he began speaking.

“When I was growing up our elders were still pretty active, but I was between two worlds. Some elders were jumping into contemporary society. Some were holding back, trying to retain the culture despite the reorganization act and removal. They were moving around and going into the melting pot.

“I came from a dysfunctional family. My father drank, my mother didn’t drink. I came from a big family with six sisters and three brothers. Two of my sisters were older, and I was the oldest brother. I spent most of my time with my grandfather and grandmother. They lived on top of a hill in a two-story house. There was no running water, or gas. There was a pump in the basement, a woodstove, and my grandmother cooked on a woodstove. We lived in the big pines. When they were young, my grandparents lived in a small community in the southeastern part of the county in the national forest. My grandmother and grandfather lived there and made their living by selling food and pies to loggers. My grandfather worked as a guide.

“My grandmother and grandfather were fluent in the Ojibwe language. I don’t remember my grandfather well. I was about three when I remember him, and he died when I was 7 or 8. I was born in 1953, and in 1962 or 63 my grandfather died.

“I remember growing up as small children, my parents had so many children, and the younger kids got most of the attention. I got attention from my grandmother and grandfather. I felt content being around my grandmother and grandfather. There was always an extended family, the biological family, aunts, uncles, friends, relatives. That’s how it was in the old days in the community.

….

“I’ve been talking a lot, Agnes. I’m interested in knowing what kinds of policy changes might result from your work. There are so many important issues we need to resolve.”

“I’m not sure, Trevor,” I replied. “It’s too early to tell. I can’t predict what I will find because there is so much more for me to learn. I can promise that I will share my findings with the community to make sure my interpretations represent what the community would want others to know about them. It’s also a difficult time in history. After September 11, all bets are off about social service policy. War often ushers in a time when social programs are cut and civil liberties compromised.”

“I agree, Agnes. These are uncertain times but it’s ever been so. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry – it’s after 1. I need to go get something to eat.”

As we walked out of the building together, he invited me to lunch with him. I told him I had another interview to go to, and I saw him drive off in his red truck.

….

Reflections Monday, December 9, 2015

Even though I’m sharing these stories now, I have kept the promise I made to Trevor and others to protect identities. As mentioned earlier, the names of people have all been changed in this account, and no specific place identifiers or local documents are cited. Still, I wonder about the wisdom and ethics of publishing these accounts.

But I keep thinking about all of the incredible people I met who willingly shared their lives with a stranger. Why was that easier than sharing their experiences – good and bad – with others in their community? How many suffered alone, believing that they or their families were ultimately the cause for their abandonment and abuse? Why couldn’t people share their stories and histories with those who lived just across the tribal-town divide? How many failed to bridge the cultural divides between the tribe and county because of fear and past rejections and disappointments?

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Photo: A Daughter and Mother Who Sometimes Share Stories – 2015

Sharing stories can bring people together in wondrous ways. It’s what can help us all begin to rebuild a genuine sense of community. Now, I live in a residential neighborhood in a predominantly Euro-American city where neighbors avoid each other. I’ve heard some of their stories. Many hark back to decades of contentious interactions and feuds that still continue. So each household does things on their own. I’m sometimes the exception. I offer to help or stop to say hello, but that doesn’t do anything to bring them together. This makes me I wonder if anything I learned in this research project can help people see the possibilities of healing old wounds through stories that promote understanding and shared hopes for the future.

For now, those thoughts are enough to encourage me to keep writing. There’s a lot more to write. I’m sure I will confront these questions and doubts many more times before I’m finally finished.

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.