How Do We Respond To All The Violence?

Some of my students and I were meeting today for our regular learning circle. It turned out not to be the circle I’d expected. I’d gone in with a list of questions and updates to make sure that everyone’s community projects were on task and ready to be done in just a few weeks.

Instead, we got into other conversations. One of the topics of conversation was the recent mass shootings. We discussed how violence has become the norm, the students spoke to how their response to the growing number of shootings in our country is to do their best to ignore it. They expressed how this is the only way that they feel they have to handle the immense fear, grief, and anger. They spoke of becoming hardened to feeling.

I suggested to them that this hardening seems to me much like that of depression or burnout and that maybe our society is burned out and that’s not okay. They agreed that this may be the case. Not surprisingly, they had no clear answers on what to do. But, I think the conversation was good and healthy and maybe part of what needs to be done. They talked with each other. We came together as community and acknowledged our fear face to face. That coming together and just talking is part of the healing I am sure of that. Community is essential. That’s not social media discussion or meetings to act or anything else other than just coming together as people and just letting the conversation flow.

I had another interesting conversation later in the day. A friend offered to me that part of the problem we may be facing today is inter-generational trauma. My friend spoke specifically to the trauma carried by white people from generation to generation from our role that we’ve played in so much destruction and enslavement of many kinds. Something there made sense to me, not just for the dominant group, but for all of us.

What is it that we do with our history? I’d always heard of the concept of multi-generational trauma associated with Native cultures. There is much to suggest that it is very much a reality. What if it is true of all of us? What if we carry the experiences and energies of past generations? What if we are deepening and speeding up the process with the intensity of the growth of violence in our lives?

Many Native peoples have found their way in life through a revitalization of cultural history, by learning their languages, practicing their spirituality, returning to traditional foods, and simply listening to their stories.

While I believe firmly in pressuring the government to take appropriate actions to address the growing violence and I think it’s important to partake in non-violent protest to make our voices heard, I think there is something more, something for the long term.

I think there is a knowledge in the work being done in Native communities to address inter-generational trauma that is part of addressing the growing issue of violence in our communities. We need to ask ourselves each day, “How can I treat myself and all my relations with respect and caring?”

This begins, I believe, with taking pause, breathing deep, and treating ourselves gently, feeding ourselves in healthy ways physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This gives us the energy to reach out.

We reach out to feed our relations whether those be fellow people or the earth and its other inhabitants. We take time to breathe together and get to know each other, to heal each other’s wounds.

That’s where we begin and that’s where we ultimately find the long term answers, in caring for ourselves and each other, in building our spiritual and emotional connections, in becoming a community.

It seems so simplistic and yet so challenging and so lost over so many generations. Yet, it is what we need. So, today, care for yourself, treat yourself with respect, and reach out with the same caring and respect for all those around.

Day 19 of the Fruit and Vegetable Challenge

Yesterday was the first day that I missed writing this blog since the challenge began. It was a long, hot day and I was wiped out by the end. My co-worker, Mary Jo and I took a small crew of undergrads on a trip to the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus to visit the organic and Native medicine gardens and then on to Dream of Wild Health. This meant spending a full day out in 90+ degree heat and high humidity. We were lucky to miss the storms though and to get the positive impacts of cool breezes coming with the thunder storms.

The garden tours were all excellent. It was beautiful to see the energies that the farmers carry with them. Courtney, our first guide, took us through the organic gardens at the UM. Her smile was fantastic and she spoke with such joy of her love of growing unusual foods. We got to try quite a few berries, lemon drop tomatoes, several different edible flowers, all delicious!

We hadn’t expected a tour at the Medicine Garden, but Frances was there so he spoke for a bit, sharing the history of the place and encouraging us all to let go of our consumerism and instead grasp on to living for future generations. He spoke to a treaty that wasn’t ratified. His comments left me with questions. I’ll have to do some digging to figure out what treaty he was referring to. There is no doubt that many of the Native signers of the treaties didn’t have a full understanding of what they were signing and signed only under duress, but given that congress ratified the treaties, I wasn’t aware of any that weren’t ratified that the US wanted.

We spent a bit more time at the Medicine Garden than we’d expected. So, had to grab a quick bite to eat. I had to kind of wonder as we went through the line at Subway. We’re all supporters of organic farming. We all garden. We’d just listened to Frances speak to anti-consumerism and living our values. Then we went to get some of the lowest quality fast food available to humankind. I will say that I skipped it. I went for the sausage and cheese with crackers and some grapes and currants that we had in the van instead.

The afternoon was at Dream of Wild Health where we learned how to pollinate corn and squash for seed saving. It was really quite interesting to watch. I found myself remembering back in the days when my brother Tom was in high school and he spent summers de-tasseling corn. It was a much larger scale of controlling pollination, but much the same. It is striking to really think about how plants like corn are pollinated and how, even when we try to eat clean, we are so easily impacted by GMOs and chemically treated plants.

Dream of Wild Health is really an amazing place. Their work is to restore health and well-being in Native communities. They do this through restoring traditional foods and medicines, educating, and building community. It struck me, as I am sure it has many others, how appropriate it is that they have staff named Faith and Hope. Those two concepts are at the core of their work and simply radiate from everyone and everything in the place.

After a warm, but educational day we headed home. We stopped along the way for dinner at a little place called the Lakeside Cafe. It was a reminder to me of how my diet has changed. They had a nice buffet for their Friday fish fry. I opted for it, but was amazed at the level of carbohydrates and the lack of fresh, well fresh anything. So, a simple house salad with that value-free iceberg lettuce, some pickled beets, and bean salad, along with a bit of canned pears. The main meal though was breaded cod, macaroni and cheese, pasta salad, and a dinner roll. I tried the rice, but that was just not a good thing. I think that’s about the same amount of simple carbs as I normally eat in almost a week.

I’m not quite sure on my calorie count for the day, but I think it stayed under 2,000 and that’s good for a day like that. Plus, we did get a lot of walking in, not fast walking, but still we were moving about.

Now, the question is today. I had hoped for a trip to another county fair, but right now it’s raining. Maybe later if it clears up.

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.

Honoring the Dead– A Dream

I thought I’d start with dreaming the night before last because of my brainspotting appointment, but apparently I was even more worn than I thought. The dreams didn’t begin until last night. I am strong believer in looking at dreams to learn. For myself, I find that in dreaming is where I put things together that I don’t let myself think in my waking hours. I can learn a lot if I listen to my sleeping self.

I was awoken by a dream last night where a student of mine had committed suicide. In waking life, I don’t know the person, but in the dream world I knew them well. I spoke at their ceremony to a crowd of many, a lot of young people there. I told them, “I am honored to be here, but I don’t want to be a giver of eulogies. I don’t want to see any of you here in this same place as our friend. I want you to remember that the best way to honor those who have passed is to live.”

I was thinking on this dream this morning and pondering how we treat death. I grew up Catholic. The first funeral I remember was of my Uncle Clarence. I must have been six or seven when he died maybe. He was a WWII veteran and his casket was draped with a flag. I remember a solemness and honoring. I knew he was an important man from how he was being honored. I don’t remember any more from there.

A few years later was when I really started seeing dying– my mom, my grandma, my Aunt Florence, my cousin Mary Sue, a classmate Steve, and other older relatives. I also sang in the church choir for our small rural congregation so I sang at funerals. I once counted it out, I’d been to 13 funerals in just a few short years. It’s funny now that I remember it was 13 funerals, but I don’t remember for certain how many years.

In my tradition people are expected a time of mourning, but honestly I don’t know how long it is. I know that shortly after the passing of the person there’s a funeral, a wake, and a burial. All this happens really quickly, just a day or two. All sorts of people shake your hand, maybe share a hug, and say “my sympathies”, a phrase they’d never use in any other part of life. Then everyone moves on and the dead person is gone forever. They’ve moved on to a perfect world called heaven, but how can it be perfect if the love you knew together isn’t there and they can’t reach you and you can’t reach them?

My adult spirituality has been influenced by many forces; Quakers, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Anishanaabe and other Native peoples, a variety of Christian faiths, and of course Atheists.

I learned quite a few years ago that the traditional folks among the Anishanaabe light a fire for four days and nights upon the passing of someone. This a time to honor their lives and the light helps guide their way into the spirit world. I learned more recently that the journey isn’t over at the end of those four days. For a full year people don’t speak of the person. This isn’t a hiding away. This is in respect. As the person travels to the spirit world, when they hear their name they’re called back. We honor them and let them move forward to let their spirits head home. At least that’s the way I understand it. I am a white girl just saying what I think I understand. I welcome those who know to tell me better or to tell me it’s time for me to hush.

I appreciate this. The beings who pass on aren’t whisked away to some pseudo perfect place and they’ve not lost contact with us. Even after that year, maybe even more so after that year, they are still there just on the other side of the river. That year, it isn’t a silencing. It’s a time to gather ourselves. I grew up in a world in which you grieved for some unknown period of time and then you were supposed to accept that the person was gone and move on. There was no more reason to grieve. You could remember on special occasions, but then let it go. Life isn’t that way. Those who’ve impacted us, impact us forever. Even when their bodies are gone their spirits remain and that’s o.k. that’s good. Carry those beings in a good way and honor them by being alive.

Those are my thoughts for the day.

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.