How are the Neighbors Surviving?

Morris is a small town, only a bit over 5,000 people when students are on campus. Still we are a diverse community with a large portion of our students coming from outside of the United States or from the nations within our nation particularly the Lakota/ Dakota and Anishanaabe peoples and a large Latino community, many of whom work for the Riverview Dairy.

Many of our international students are Asian. Many of them have found themselves navigating the unexpected experience of living in Minnesota while not attending classes on campus. Some are living on campus yet. Others live in town or have found other places to stay. I haven’t heard any reports directly about how they are being treated in our small community during this time of crisis that has become known for its tinge of racism.

I did see something interesting today though that made me wonder. I was shopping at the local Town and Country for some pet supplies. It was a fascinating day to shop. The store had just moved to complete curbside service. I stood outside, phoned in my order, and waited for a staff person inside to do my shopping for me.

As I waited two Latino gentlemen came to do their shopping. I wondered how this might work as I suspected that they may be new immigrants working for the dairy. A staff person came to the door to assist them. It was clear that he wasn’t fully bilingual. Still, his Spanish was better than mine and they managed with just small errors in conversation that were quickly handled.

It made me think though of my own privilege. It’s easy in this place to find everything I need in the language that I understand. I look around though and see next to nothing for my Spanish speaking neighbors. I know that there is a small team working to rectify this and to address at least the most essential needs, but I find it hard to imagine the every day.

Some years ago I had the good fortune to travel to Guatemala to study Spanish in an immersion school for several weeks. I was exhausted by the end of each day from the mental energy of just the simplest acts of living in a language that wasn’t my own. I was safe. There was no threat of illness or changes in access to any sort of resources. Yet, I was exhausted. I wonder how my neighbors survive?

Learning When School Is Closed

So, the schools are closed. For some this is a challenge and it might even mean that learning is lost. For others I suspect it could the best thing that’s happened in 500 years.

I was just thinking this morning about some of my Native friends whose kids and grandkids aren’t in school right now, thinking about where those kids are instead. I realized they’re out at the sugarbush. They’re helping cook food for the family. They’re listening to their grandpa tell stories. Heck, some are even talking with their moms in their Native languages. It made me wonder what will happen to these children?

For over a hundred years Native children were stolen from their families and placed in boarding schools where their language, culture, and traditions were forcibly taken from them. When the boarding school era was winding down the federal government tried another tactic, taking funding from tribes and, in some cases, revoking the recognition of tribes making it impossible to maintain schools equal to that of predominately white areas. Yet, somehow the people survived. A great deal was lost, but much was retained.

If cultures can survive when children are torn away for generations and kept by their captors, what might happen if children can be held close and held with love and told the stories by their families? I can only hope that this illness that has struck the world might help us find the medicine we need.

I suspect the same is true regardless of who we are, Native or non-Native. Our children grow strong when they know their history, when they know who they are. Tell them the stories. Show them the way. The time out of school may be the best time to learn.

One Week In On The Fruits and Veggies Challenge

Well, if I made six cups of fruits and veggies today, it was just by the skin of my teeth. I took a trip to South Dakota this afternoon. It was the 152nd annual Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Wacipi (powwow) and it felt time to go. I am glad that I went. Powwows, however, are not the place to find nice, healthy fruits and vegetables. They are though the place to find the best fry bread known to humanity and that’s reason enough to go.

So, my food at home was good and healthy; yogurt with strawberries, mango, and banana, fresh green beans to snack on, things like that. At the powwow though I enjoyed a delicious Indian taco and some nachos with cheese. The day wound up a bit under 1600 calories, so not too bad even with some high carb indulgences which were well worth it.

The food was just one piece of the powwow. I’ve gone to many before and they are always good for the heart. There’s a special power in the drum. It’s good to feel the music. I find myself watching the dancers, thinking it’s probably nearly time for me to step away, but I can’t just yet after all it’s men’s fancy, my favorite dance. Then a few minutes later I think it’s near time to go, but I can’t right now, it’s women’s traditional, my favorite dance. This goes on through all the different dances. Each has it’s own strength. Each holds a role in teaching the children to be proud of who they are. It’s a gift to get to sit there on the sidelines and witness what remains, how the strength of generations continues forward never to be squelched by the colonizers.

I sat today on the sidelines when the older man sitting in front of me turned to talk with me. He asked where I was from when I answered and asked where he was from he told me, just down the road and then proceeded to speak to me in Dakota. I looked at him confused. He translated what he’d said for me. He told me he’d learned English when he went to school and asked me if I was surprised that he was Native. I was a bit, but I’ve known a fair number of blond haired, blued eyed Native people in Minnesota, so it wasn’t too big a surprise. Then he went on and told me stories of his life. He must have talked for at least an hour talking of his family, ancestors, speaking in both English and Dakota. He shared so many bits of wisdom. It was one of those life moments that cannot be anticipated and reaches in to do amazing things.

It was a good day and has been a good first week. Let’s see where next week goes.

History Isn’t Such a Long Time



I like history museums and historical sites. I’ll often go visit them to get to know the place that I live or the spot that I’m visiting or maybe just to get to know myself a little better.

Today, since it was raining and I had the day off of work, I took a trip down to the Pope County Museum in Glenwood Minnesota. It’s a great little museum. I would encourage folks traveling through the region and those who live here to stop in. It had one of the best displays on Native American history that I’ve seen in a museum of its size. True, I’ve seen some really inaccurate and just plain awful displays of Native history, but this one, it was okay. Overall, the museum was quite good, and, as far as I can tell, accurate.

As I wander, generally aimlessly, through museums and historic sites my mind comes to think of time. I come to understand connections and recognize how huge and small things are at the same time. Today, in the Pope County Museum, I studied a simple display. It was a timeline from the founding of Glenwood through the present. It laid out what seemed to be a rather random collection of historical events at national and local levels. Looking at it got me thinking again how short time really is.

Glenwood was founded in 1866. My great grandparents were just children then. My grandparents would be coming along in a few decades. Three of those grandparents would pass on before I was born, but one I knew. Grandma Mondloch was born in 1900 and would live until 1984. She passed on just after I turned 13.

I looked at that timeline just as I’ve looked at many historic sites. I looked at it thinking in Grandma time, looking at how the world has changed in a lifetime that I knew and still know. It’s not a story in a history book. It is life.

Grandma was the third generation of her family in this country. She grew up with her native language. I remember my Aunt Lucille telling me once how she’d been angry that, as kids, they spoke Luxembourgish at home and that it was tough to learn English as a school kid. Four generations, it took four generations to lose a language. Now, we expect immigrants to give up their language, forget who they are not in generations, not even in years, but immediately on coming to this country. We do this while we still try to find ourselves in festivals and museums, German Fest, Luxembourg Fest, Irish Fest, whatever fest.

I kept wandering through the museum. I turned a corner and a small Nazi pennant caught my eye. It was part of a display of items soldiers had brought home from WWII. My family knew this war. I had several uncles who fought, and well, all families knew this war in one way or another.

Last year I went to Luxembourg. I saw memorial sites and visited museums. I also learned a little something about myself. I learned that my ancestry generations back was Jewish. My branch of my family had left behind that identity generations ago, but it gave me a different perspective on those concentration camps. Those concentration camps became the death places of unknown cousins, aunties, uncles. They left the history books and became real. I had an uncle, Uncle Clarence, who helped free the people in the camps at the end of WWII. I never heard him speak of it. I just learned it some years ago from a cousin. I don’t know if he knew, but he was freeing family.

I look at it now in the question of the detention camps in the US. Is it any different? I mean really, is it any different? Looking back, somewhere we are family. We are detaining our brothers, sisters, cousins. We don’t have that right. We who carry European blood, this isn’t our land. We are, once again, imprisoning those who come from this place based on silly lines we drew on a piece of paper and called a map. The map isn’t real. It’s our lines. The lines we’ve drawn. Why do we keep drawing lines? It didn’t work when we held the Japanese in detention centers or when the Germans put Jews and others into the concentration camps or when we held Native peoples in stockades or for that matter as we still hold Native peoples on reservations or Black people in ghettos.

Stop with the lines, stop with the pretending that maps are reality. History is short. It’s not too big to change. All we need to do is to listen to the stories, learn, and act. Take a trip. Check out a museum, a historic site, maybe sit with an elder. Whatever it is, come to know yourself, where you are. Reach for knowledge. We have a lot to do.



The Gift of Mustriepen

I was reminded today of a most wonderful and valuable gift I received as a child.  I’ll call it mustriepen.  It was, and remains, the most awful stuff known to the human digestive system. My Uncle Tom is the only person I am aware of on the planet that can make any that is reasonably enjoyable.  For those not familiar with the food, mustriepen is a form of sausage ring made of pork remnants, cabbage, onion, breadcrumbs, blood, and spices.  It came with my people from Luxembourg.

So why call it a wonderful and valuable gift?  I work at university where we have a large population of Native students.  Today in talking with one of those students I got to listen to a story that isn’t uncommon.  The student told me about not getting to spend much time with relatives on the reservation growing up because the reservation was someplace not to be because poverty and addictions.  Staying away kept them safe from such things.  There’s value and truth to that.  But, it also did something else.  That student referred to themselves as white.  It’s only now as a young adult that they are starting to look at who they are in their Indigenous heritage.   We have many students who are blond haired, blued eyed Native Americans.  When they grow up in their cultures and you ask who they are they will proudly say  “I’m from Red Lake” or Leech Lake or wherever.  Many will know how to introduce themselves in their ancestral language, maybe they even speak more.  They know something of who they are.  Now a reservation is simply a place, but it is one place where culture and history stands.  It’s not the only one.  There are many ways to grow up knowing who you are.

The thing is those blond haired, blued eyed Native kids who feel some connection to who they are speak with a sense of strength and grounding that the other kids don’t have.  There are other Native kids like this one who want to know the way home and it’s a hard way to find.

I’m not Native but I grew up with mustriepen and a sense of identity that is unusual for white people today.  My people had lived in Wisconsin since the mid to late 1800’s, but still identified as Luxembourgers.  My dad and some of his generation could still speak the language.  My grandma grew up speaking it.  In the process of becoming white identity is lost.

I am thankful for that gift of mustriepen and I, once again, find myself asking– how do I support and guide these young people who want to know who they are?

An All White Town

I grew up in rural Wisconsin in the 1970’s and 80’s in an all white town, except that it wasn’t, all white that is.

I don’t know exactly when I realized that little bit of information. I just know that even today I hear about rural communities being “all white” and I wonder.  I know that was the story of the area that I grew up.  That’s how we, at least we who identified as white, spoke.  “Those people” whoever “those people” were lived somewhere else, maybe in Chicago or Milwaukee or up north on the reservations, but certainly not in our area.

While I was busy living in that White Town fantasy world, some of my friends were living the reality of being bi-racial, Latino, or Asian in a community that didn’t, and probably still doesn’t really recognize them for who they are.  Instead, it asks that they pretend to be White or better yet, just be invisible or don’t be.

Well, these days I hang my hat in west central Minnesota.  I’m still in a small town and I work with small towns around the state.  Our rural communities are changing.  The White population is slowly shrinking and the population of people of Color is growing.  It’s going to continue that way into the foreseeable future.  It wasn’t ok for us to expect people of Color to pretend to be White or to try to be invisible or to just not be thirty years ago.  It’s absolutely unacceptable today.

Do we want rural communities to survive?  If we do, then we need to take a look at ourselves and ask some questions.

  • Am I seeing everyone who lives here for who they are or am I asking them to reflect me?
  • What am I doing to honor the experience and gifts that People of Color bring to the table?
  • How am I perpetuating racist systems and how am I tearing them down in my every day?
  • Who do I welcome and how?
  • What do I want my community to look like in twenty years? What will it take to get there?

I am sure there are many more questions to consider, but these give us a starting point.  The key thing is that the fantasy White Town has always been a nightmare for some and is becoming a nightmare for all.  If we want the nightmare to end, we need to look racism in the eye and tell it no more.

Who Am I?

My friend Walt used to tell a story.  He’d tell people of an Anishanaabe elder who spoke of the fire at the beginning of the world, “No” he’d say ,”before the beginning.”  All the people sat together around that fire with the creator.  One by one we went off to populate the world.  The Anishanaabe were the last to leave.  They liked it there by that fire, telling stories, swapping jokes, and just having a good time with the creator.  Finally, the creator had to chase them away.  That time by the fire has left a memory, a connection that others have forgotten.

The elder in Walt’s story was approached by people from all over world; African, Asian, Latino, Caucasian all asking for their stories.  The elder always responded the same.  “I don’t your story.  I can only tell my own. But, if it’s true that we all come from around the same fire, our stories must be similar.”

I think about that often.  It’s told me who I am.

I grew up a Catholic, white, farm girl in southeastern Wisconsin.  I always wanted to see the homeland of my ancestors.  A little over a month ago that dream came true.  Some of my family and I went on a tour of Luxembourg.  That’s where my understanding of who I am got a reworking.

It turns out that it’s likely my ancestors were Jewish.  Quite a thing to find out during a week of touring WWII museums and cemeteries!

I am left now to wonder who they were.  Jews were first recorded in Luxembourg in the 13th century.  They were largely wiped out and returned several times over the upcoming centuries.  By the time my family left in the mid-1800’s there were several hundred in the country.

What happened?  What made this group so persecuted so consistently throughout the centuries? What pushed my family to deciding to leave behind their identity and claim something new when others didn’t?  What does that identity mean for me?

These are all questions that have just begun to float in my mind.  I don’t know yet what to do with them or where to seek answers.  It is probably enough for now to simply name the questions.

It is my walk back to that fire to find out who I am.  That is where we find ourselves, in the journey back to the fire, in that time to sit and visit and come to know each other, ourselves, the created, and the creator.