Second Chances

25 years ago on this day, the impact two special friends had on my life was solidified. I send my love to all who knew them and felt the same. This is a reprise of something I published a few years ago…

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There was an article in 1998 that warned young reporters were getting their careers turned around by getting too involved with their stories, sometimes even making up details.  I know it seems like a simple case of common sense to just not do either, but if you’re in touch with emotions and recording certain events, that’s not always do-able.

When I wrote as a correspondent in the wilds of northwestern Ontario 25 yrs ago, I experienced something similar. Despite the seemingly tranquil setting of an aurora borealis framed mini mecca of 600, called Pickle Lake, I actually wrote quite a variety of stories around events that would rival any city. To be fair, there were another 600 or so around the town.

My ‘beat’ covered a collection of assaults, robberies, and murder, and my community profiles provided just as much color.  All of this belies the fact that despite that record, most people in the area couldn’t be a stronger, kinder, and more generous humankind sample.

I want to recount one story that I wrote then, that I wish I could re-write now.

One of my favorite “P.L.” adventures, which took even me by surprise, was joining the town’s volunteer ambulance service.  I studied the necessary courses until I qualified, completed by also getting the license to drive the ambulance aka the ‘bus, which incidentally also qualifies you to drive an actual bus.

One of the senior attendants was a fellow by the name of Dave Halteman.  Dave was one of those friendly folksy type that make a name for themselves by being ready to help anyone, any time. He owned the local auto repair and service station, which also served as the base for all kind of local rescue.  I think one of his favorites was pulling my car out of a few snowbanks and ditches on those bitter winter roads, and for the record, local jeer-ers, I was not the only one.

Dave was up for anything, which he was called to do often, but most of his town volunteering was devoted to the fire and ambulance departments. He did a fantastic job assisting the oversight of those critical services.  Of course, it goes without saying those jobs take some bravery, and it turned out his personal bar was set at -quite high-.

He willingly took on the job to train a skinny, completely citified, 115 lb. greenhorn. Think about what it would take to teach that winning combo how to hoist a 95 lb. stretcher holding a 200 lb. patient into the back of an ambulance and then drive back to the clinic without skidding off the icy roads, and without breaking a nail.  Yeah, he was cool with priorities like that.

Dave’s easygoing nature didn’t mean easy; he made for darn sure I knew we were working for lives, for real.  Luckily, his patience level was set at -infinite-, because I definitely tested that bar too.  When I bungled, I got a stare that I would answer with my own mortified gape. Then this laugh would ring out.  Anyone who ever heard it, would agree – one of a kind.  Infectious. Unforgettable.

Whoever was treated to that laugh was also served by his decency.  He made a friend out of pretty much everyone who crossed his path because of his honest belief in ‘do unto others’.  Despite all the heroics of his emergency work, this was probably what earned him the most and deepest regard overall.  To say he was beloved to many is not an overstatement, his personality filled a town.

So on that December day, when the news came that his plane went down on the way home from a hunting trip, shock reverberated throughout the region.  No one could believe it and no one wanted to. Many of us held hope that there’d been a mistake. We would learn that the crash took not only Dave, but also his endearing and respected son-in-law, Everett Moore.  Ev was soft-spoken, tall, handsome, filled with kindness, and so young.

The town became still in the days that lead up to the funeral service. As everyone struggled to comprehend that what happened was real, the two caskets at the front of the community hall laid down all hope for good.

Those of us who served with Dave were privileged to stand in observance as his Honour Guard. The hall seats filled quickly, and everyone else stood outside on a bright, but frigid day listening through speakers.  There were several hundred who stood in that biting cold for the entire service and the interment.  I’m sure desire for relief from that cold was strong, but it couldn’t overcome the desire to pay those deeply felt respects.

The town took a while to rev back to some kind of normal. We learned there was a lot of navigating to figure out how to carry on without the steady assurances and answers of Dave.  We did though, because in many ways, the footprints he laid down were clear enough for us to follow, and so he still shaped worthwhile aspects of our own capabilities.

I wish I could have written all this in that memoriam story years ago, but I was too involved in my own grief. I couldn’t get myself to the place that does justice to the role of reporting, and in service to people who knew he deserved so much more.

I hope what I can put down now, this little bit more, will add to the legacy of how well Dave and Ev impacted people.

One last thing still bears saying too.  For a long time, many of us would often say how we’d give anything to hear that Dave laugh again.  The truth is, when I think of him I still do, and I believe that whenever we think of him, most of us still do.

RL

PostScript: I also owe a debt of gratitude to former Managing Editor, Thunder Bay Chronicle, Nick Hirst, for helping me cobble together the part of the story I did then.

Hello to my old friends in Pickle Lake and Mishkeegogamang First Nation who stood out in the cold with us that day.

Dejah, The Warrior

This is a re-post for my dear friend, Glo, in tribute to the amazing life and soul of her baby, and their loved ones. It’s hard to believe it’s been 5 years. Already. I can’t say exactly how it feels for Gloria, Robert & Rayne, but I would like them to know we remember with them. We share in their heartrending memories and in support of their amazing capacity to move forward in strength, purpose and love for each other and for life. They couldn’t live a better legacy for their son and brother… 

I hardly know this young boy who impacted my life and so many others so profoundly. What kid is all that interested in their mother’s friends anyway? And so, I came to know him mostly through her, our Glo.

She is that quintessential statement of strength and courage, which can almost sound like a cliché, but it isn’t when it’s applied to a parent facing one of our worst fears.  Which is what happened to her and she, true to character, faced that nightmare fully and head-on.

He was only three years old when they were told he had cancer.  It was horribly bad news.  Most kids who get this kind of cancer have a pretty good outlook, but for some the challenge will push  to the limit.  This was to be the case for him.

I can’t imagine having to look at my baby’s sweet innocent face, and into his trusting eyes, knowing what they knew was to come for their son, and try to prepare for that.  How unbearable could it have felt to know the awful truth of what was in store in some ways, and not have any idea or certainty about anything else?

The only thing that turned out to be absolutely certain is that this kid had something else too – a hell of a fighting spirit. Those innocent eyes masked a strength that could rival a grown man’s, and that was good because he used it fully. It was what carried him beyond the lines of expectation.

As it turned out, his backup arsenal was also beyond outstanding.  His shield of steel was the love and faith of his mother, and his dad and sister were the center of his phalanx.

Phalanx is a perfect word for his story.  I’d stumbled around for a while looking for a way to describe all the people who joined the power of this boy’s circle. My son said, “That sounds like you’re talking about a phalanx, mom”.  I asked what that was exactly. After he explained, I thought yes, that’s exactly what they are.

A phalanx is defined as a compact or close-knit body of people, a formation of infantry carrying overlapping shields and long spears.  Perfect.  That’s what they were – overlapping shields of love and spears of hope. The rest of that foundation was formidably filled out by all the family and friends who rallied around them.

No matter their role as those weapons of love and hope, every one of them, including the calvary of determined medical personnel was there in common spirit.  All were there to throw everything they could at that God-damned tumour.

They did it well for ten amazing years.  It wasn’t a smooth trip for sure, but they fought those ups and downs with purpose. He and his family were also determined to instill something meaningful into what would seem to be a senseless, painful ordeal.

He moved to the center of an organized effort to finally stop cancer in children.  He and his family charged alongside an organization called Kick For A Cure, whose role is to fund the research that will finally “kick cancer where it hurts”.

Part of the fight for a full life was trying to be just a boy who could play and learn like everyone else. Why should any child have to fight to be just a 5 year old or an 8 year old? The balancing act to just be and to be a helper in the bigger picture becomes another unexpected fact of life, a new normal.

The day came when balance was made impossible, and it became an effort to just hold on – to a few more hours spent wrapped in the bond of fighters who’ve survived together for so long.  To a few more minutes of saying I love you, and for that one more heartbreaking second to look into each other’s eyes.

When children get so sick, when they die, we are all devastated.  We cry and feel deeply because for those moments, born to us or not, they all become our babies.

Maybe we ask God or the Universe, why or how?  Maybe one day we’ll have all the answers, but for now, at this moment, I need to believe that the Universe said these things to him:

Thank you, Dejah.

Thank you for enduring the pain of the fight for so long.

Thank you doing for so much work in such a short period of time to inform and teach about childhood cancer.

Thank you for all that you’ve given and taught to your mom, dad, and sister.

Thank you for all that you’ve given and shown to your family and friends.

Thank you for the sacrifice you gave to medicine that will one day make this illness less devastating for another child.

Thank you for the way you brought your community together over and over again, and got them all thinking about love, and for reminding them that, it is the only true purpose.

Your work is done Dejah, and it was done in superhero excellence.

You’re finally pain free; dance wildly in joy.  You’ve earned it, kid.

You will always, always, be a kick ass hero.

Dejah Milne
February 4, 2000 – October 5, 2013

dejah

Photo by Cher Milne Gennaro‎, Memories with Dejah

 

RL

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The story of how Dejah affected his community and the people around the world was captured during his beautiful service tribute and in how his story was shared around the globe.

 

Margaret’s Baby

During a year of upheaval, reflection and even amazing rewards, a walk back to beginnings can help to return a sense of balance, to find an equilibrium that helps make life make sense again. I’ve been going back to some significant and poignant moments for me for that purpose. One of those periods was returning home after time spent in child foster care. This story was also published a few years ago, but for anyone who hasn’t seen it, maybe something in this will resonate for you too…

Sometimes old memories float up in need of
a little light…
A soul’s whisper to let it go.

curtains-city-skyline4

I was 14 years old.  My mother and I were living in an apartment on the 14th floor of a basic downtown high-rise.  We were there because that’s where she was when I ran away from the last foster home I’d intended to live in.

I threatened to run away and never be found again if they made me go back to that home.  The Department of Social Services, and my unprepared mother, gave in.

My mother had been struggling with escape from an abusive marriage, alcoholism, and no way to fully support her daughters.  That’s how we ended up in foster care just after Christmas that year.

We were six girls, ages two to twelve years.  I was twelve.  They were my sisters, and because I was the oldest, they were also my beloved babies. There was no doubt that having already traversed a very rocky start together, we were a fiercely bonded ‘band of sisters’.

I was quite used to taking care of them, and the house as required, which it seemed was almost always.  So, the demand to relinquish responsibility to the social workers who came to take us away or to the people who were to foster us was incomprehensible.  It was shocking and infuriating and frustrating.

Many nights I’d lie awake planning our escape from that foster home and formulating the many ways I’d find our mom. I usually ended up crying myself to sleep immersed in the despondency of realizing how powerless I really was.

We were all together in that initial home, except the youngest who was instead taken to live with our father – another story for another time.  I was eventually to move to two other homes within a year and a half. Only one sister was allowed to go with me; they gave me one day to choose between the four faces that pleaded to be taken.  Despite everything that we’d already lived through to that point, it was then that I learned that a soul could feel fractured.

In short time, and with little choice, we adapted and carried on as kids are so able. Then two years later, suddenly we were all being taken to visit with our mom at her own new home. The visit went by as quickly as I’d dreaded. When it was time to say goodbye to her, it felt like the beginning of all the bad goodbyes again. I could not return to that pain; the next weekend I bolted for home, for her, for good.

So there I was, on the 14th floor in a small, sparse apartment, a temporary only child, but finally with my own mom.  Life definitely took another turn in my day-to-day. I spent less time with my friends and more with my mother’s.

She had a friend on the 7th floor.  Phyllis was one of those larger than life characters; a hard-drinking party girl, a queen bee who had great pride in being a full-time ‘player’.  She seemed to take my mother under her wing.  She was a louder than life distraction for a young woman bogged down with desperate problems.

Phyllis held court to an allotment of very proud and loud butch lesbians.  They called themselves the girbols (girl boys, hard g).  One of them was Margaret. She was pretty, a large woman, and very quiet. Though she liked to hang out with the crowd and indulged in the same drink and smoke, she alone remained quiet.

I came home from school one day, at the start of spring break, and went down to the gang. There was a brand new baby girl cuddled up in Margaret’s arms.  I hadn’t even realized that she had been pregnant. The baby was so tiny and delicate, and wrapped in a pink blanket.

Spring Break began on a weekend and as on all weekends, it was time to get the girbol party started. I was immediately designated the girl baby’s guardian. I took baby, and all of her required possessions, up to my apartment.

The ‘weekend’ turned into nearly two weeks, during which I had full custody of baby night and day. It’s awesome, as in really awe-inspiring, how easily you fall in love with a child, even as a young girl, and you immediately wish to be everything it takes to nurture them to perfection.

She needed me for everything and I reveled in that.  At night, I would wrap her next to me and listen to her breath and smell the top of her head until I drifted off in true peace. Every minute with her was another moment of reclaimed love. I was once again protector, friend, sister, mother.  For awhile I was me again.

Spring break was over and I’d already missed two days of school, I had to go back.  That morning, I reluctantly took her down to the 7th floor, gave her back to Margaret and left for school.  When I came home, I dropped off my school things and grabbed one of her blankets to collect her. I sniffed her baby smell all the way to Phyllis’s apartment.

When I walked in, I saw Margaret sitting by the window, staring out with the curtains blowing around her. The girbol group was strangely quiet. I asked for the baby and no one said anything.  I went to Margaret and asked. “Where’s the baby”?  She wouldn’t answer, and then I saw her tears.  I was instantly alarmed, even afraid that the baby had gone out the window.

“Where’s the baby Margaret”?  I was ready to cry, but not sure why.

“They took her”, she said softly.

“Who took her”?

“Social Services.  I phoned them today and they came to take her away”.

I know I asked her why, maybe a few times, but I don’t recall an answer.  I doubt she gave one.

I turned from Margaret and I looked at everyone else.  No one would look back at me; they kept their eyes on the floor or each other.  I turned to Margaret again and watched her silently cry for a while.  I walked to the door and quietly closed it behind me.

It was the last day I saw Margaret, or our baby.  I went to sleep that night holding that baby blanket. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.  Somehow, I knew in my heart then, that no matter how much I dreamed, I was never going to get my family, my  ‘band of sisters’, back in the same way again.

And, we didn’t, not ever in the same way again.

RL

Originally posted on, with original comments 

 

White Default – This Is Only a Test, But Please Adjust Your Settings Accordingly

Close your eyes and imagine a fire fighter, then a police officer.  Next, imagine Santa Claus. Take in what you see.

Imagine, Jesus. Yep, we all saw that same one,  didn’t we?  Long blondish-medium brown locks and blue eyes?  Why is that – when, at the time and place He was born, He would have been the only ‘white’ person in the region?

Let’s take it to another level.

When our eyes are open, look at what we see all around us and what we have seen historically in our:

Fairy tales
Money
Newspaper mastheads
Senate halls
Legislatures
Courthouses
Think of all those portraits along the walls of legislatures, libraries, courthouses that we all walk by
Police stations
Fire Stations
TV shows
Movie stars
Corporate boardrooms
Physicians
Teachers/Professors

Hand circleThis is only the beginning of trying to define our world’s cultural reference point called ‘white default’. This simple exercise of closing eyes to imagine our world in everyday fashion is quite effective for beginning the understanding of why we see things differently.

Despite the origins of people of color in our Western areas and those added willingly or not,  our world is still awash in ‘whiteness’, particularly in positions of authority. We need to be asking why is that and not pass it off with simplistic replies of convenience or avoidance.

I admit I only heard this term ‘white default’ not that long ago, thanks to a note on Twitter. It made me realize how deeply the teachings of my life had been ingrained in me without conscious or critical thought.  Which, given some of what I’ve lived as an Indigenous person is saying quite a bit.

I read an article explaining this phenomenon of recent understanding in Salon Magazine called, “How can white Americans be free”?  The writer, Kartina Richardson, said that, “The default belief that the white experience is a neutral and objective one hurts both white and American culture”.  I suggest that’s very applicable to most of the world.   She goes on:

“…The beginning; in the beginning there was Whiteness. This is the glittering starting point. This is The Default. This is what we measure everything else against”.

“Whites are free from the constant awareness (and subsequent constant paranoia) of existing in another person’s world. Because The Default has so successfully dominated our subconscious, because our egos have been shaped by it from the moment of birth, we perpetuate it in micro ways while fighting inequality with more obvious actions”.

We know this though, right? Because we did the eyes closed exercise and saw what we did.

Let’s close our eyes again and this time, let’s imagine all those portraits in those fine institutional halls as brown or black. Pay attention to your reaction as your imagination walks by them.  Now, picture Jesus as black or brown, how does that feel?  Odd, strange, uncomfortable?  And yet, the likelihood that that is how He actually looked is 100%.  Still, that is unacceptable for a large swath of people, Christians or not.  Interesting, no?

It’s that discomfort, one must realize, that is felt every day from the other side of the ‘unwashed’ fence, as in the not whitewashed, people of color.  This is what is at the centre of the differences. It’s only the beginning of why there really isn’t a level playing field for all to prosper and succeed.

Kartina expands the thought as this: “Whiteness as The Default keeps brown people in subjugation by convincing them that every part of their being, physical, spiritual and emotional, exists within a white narrative. When you are made to exist within something you are forced to be smaller than that which contains you. This is precisely the basis of racist thought. Brown existence, brown consciousness is smaller”.

I have certainly come to know what she is talking about.  I have encountered that first-hand, particularly by some people who thought I was getting ‘uppity’ when I began to write about the inequities and misconceptions about Indigenous peoples.  What I wrote was somehow seen as an attack and yet, I merely gave factual details to update old ideas and misconceptions.  Even that much myth-busting was too unsettling for some.

It showed me how strongly some people want to believe in the notion of their worlds, as opposed to what actually is.

How bizarre is it really though, when people of color are told their Creator is really a white guy who was actually born black or brown?

These demands to adhere to the whitewash are currently sealed into the cement of our societies. This is why it is so damned hard to get past the barriers that should not have been there in the first place, especially for the peoples who are the original inhabitants of said lands.  The fear of change and/or difference is at the heart of the need to keep plugging on this issue.

We know change is hard, even for the better. It’s not that white people are being asked to change their visions of Jesus or Santa, but mainly to revise the idea that only their visions can be trusted for themselves and for the rest of the world.

Those are the very thoughts that have created the environments we’ve been working to change for centuries now. This is what affects how people of color may or may not succeed in these standards set by white default.

It means that we have to consciously check our own thoughts and the statements we teach our children with, until that one magical day when the norm for our societies is equal representation in all those areas of everyday life and authority.

If you’re still not convinced that we have to actively pursue true color-blindness when it comes to true equality, check out this latest report published in the New York Times on January 3rd called, “Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions”.  Even blind tests produce the sadly expected results.

We really need to get to work, people.

RL

KING: Dylann Roof’s journal once again shows the danger in the myth of white Jesus
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-dylann-roof-journal-shows-danger-myth-white-jesus-article-1.2939039

White people… “are conditioned to the myth of white superiority from the moment … in fact, before birth, we are conditioned to the myth of white superiority” – Jane Elliott
href=”https://www.facebook.com/404147323119785/videos/447071435494040/”>https://www.facebook.com/404147323119785/videos/447071435494040/

For those interested in exploring privileges from a non-Indigenous viewpoint, I recommend a great organization working hard for mutual understanding: http://www.truepartnership.org/white-privilege/

An excellent article on White Fragility:  White Women’s Tears and the Men Who Love Them
http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-womens-tears-and-the-men-who-love-them-twlm/

Washington Redskins Racism Cuts Far Deeper than Wanted For the Team Fans

It’s all so simple really, what’s at the bottom of the fight over changing the name of the Washington Redskin’s football team.  The real deal point that hits home the hardest about the debate is the word racist.  Not racism; it’s the full-on, take it personally, title of racist.

The idea that they have, for generation after generation, celebrated and cheered a term built upon the bloodied bodies of human beings is incomprehensible.  It should be.

After all, regardless of the mouthpieces who speak in support of it, another truth is that the New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09majority of those team fans are really just your average, basic, decent citizen and neighbors.  They’re the same people who’d help you shovel your walk; they’d rush to help someone in an accident.  They send donation after donation to help people devastated by wrath of nature disasters.  They’re the same people you’d likely enjoy a coffee with at a local school or church event.  Like most anyone, they will move heaven and earth to protect and cherish their children and community.

They will also do the same to protect that inner sensibility to remain good people.  Good people are not racist.  Therefore, that “R” word is the issue, but not really the term itself; it’s about the people who are changing their truth’s history of it.

The campaign to bring out that ‘truth’ is everywhere.  Social media is fully covered by various groups in support of the talking points put out by the team’s organization.  They include the origin of the term, the number of teams with the name, the original honor intended, and so on.  The team has put up a page on their website dedicated to the issue.  There are constant interviews given by their P.R. reps in radio, podcasts, TV, and newspapers.

The team owners created a charitable organization dedicated to the plight of Native Americans – although the altruistic intentions are vociferously debated given the timing of the new generosity and the requirement of highly visible team branding attached to what is given.

The information available for the entire issues’s history is ample and readily accessible, and yet its existence is denied over and over.  The engagement of hundreds of Native American tribes and groups is almost wholly ignored. The organization at the head of the issue, the Change the Mascot organization is never referenced.

The irony in the labor to ignore the voices of Native Americans by declaring this is only an effort by white liberals serving a politically correct agenda is completely lost on them. They’ll state sadness and regret about the Trail of Tears, but if there is such a thing as opinion genocide, there is a good case for this being an example at work.

How do decent people seemingly willingly embrace racism?

redskins fan trail of tears  How is all of this even possible by these same decent people of regular everyday life?

kc  chiefsTo get an idea, we’d have to ask what it would feel like, within the dawning of the realization, that what Native Americans are saying, is true.  What does the evidence of horrible realities behind nearly 80 years of mythical stories of supportive honor do to the average heart?

What does it mean and what does it say about everyone who ever supported the team?  What does that make every celebrating and cheering owner, employee, player and fan over those nearly 80 years?

Despite a likelihood of racism within some of the mindsets, for the most part, for the rest, in a word, it would have to be: ignorance.  We’re talking about mostly just ignorance.  For over two centuries there has been a deliberate effort to hide the history of Native Americans with even more fervor than the attempts to silence them today.

The concerted work to erase the attempted genocide of the America’s Indigenous Peoples includes omitting and revising facts in school history books.  Governments even today will avoid the word genocide despite loads of buildings holding their own records detailing:

  • the creation of reserves, reservations,
  • the breakup of families and the creation of residential schools to break the cultures and assimilate them,
  • the demand to manage virtually every aspect of life on those reserves and reservations.

The most the average citizen learned about Indigenous people amounts to pemmican recipes, tipi making, and how they caused great harm to the poor besieged settlers on their land.  This is just fact, and in truth, because of that even many of the Indigenous peoples have yet to learn their own histories.

So, it is in these cases, that we can say to people:  we understand. We can’t condemn someone for racism unless they are informed and educated about the point of issue.  To be sure, there has been a lot of informing going on and the aid of social media has been helpful in spreading the news even faster.  There have been a good number of successful inroads because of this, but make no mistake, there is still a huge amount of ground to cover in North America.

For those informed and educated, but still insist on the old beliefs, I suppose the notion of change itself is even harder to embrace.  There’s not much that can be done about that by us, but for all the rest, the truth of the words by slave abolitionist, William Wilberforce stands in this as much as all inhumanity:

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you didn’t know.”

RL

Thank you, to Mike Wise – Washington Post Sports Writer, for sharing this piece at CSN Washington Post.

Thank you, to my readers who have shared their own experiences and/or views in reply to my previous piece detailing many of the specific arguments,

Cherokee Nation Triples in One Week, & Don’t Call Me a Redskin

We should be impressed with how many people are well versed in Native American culture and history.  It’s been amazing and enlightening to see all kinds of average citizens report and comment so expertly on First Nations and Aboriginal issues lately.  Of course, this post isn’t really about how much is known about Native Americans as much as how deplorably inadequate our education about the culture(s) still is.

The story that has caused all the questionable commentary was the news the U.S. Patent Office revoked the name trademark for football team, the Washington Redskins.  The public response has revealed that a number of people feel immersed enough in Native American culture that they can speak for how Native Americans should or do feel about all kinds of issues.  This includes how to react to the use of a term historically known as racist for the sake of sports team logos and names.

I keep reading things like, as a Native, I’m one of the people who doesn’t really care about this, and so why should anyone else.  I most definitely have feelings about this – I feel hurt, angry, and sometimes surges of the humiliation burn I endured at times throughout my life because I am a Native person. The sting of being called a dirty redskin when I was a child is as piercing now as it was then.

peace is our promiseI’ve read over and over that even if I do care, what I feel is beside the point because there are far more people out there who really matter.  I happen to think it’s the ones who stand against racism and discrimination of any form that matter.  I believe in the ones who say let’s make the world a better place without the cost of that being another human.  I seek those who speak beyond the words that filled so many, too many, of the commentaries like this:

BUT – 90% of the Universe Likes the Name!

“90% of Indians don’t mind the name Redskins.” or sometimes it’s stated as, “90% of Americans like the name”.  These statements refer to the often cited, but academically questioned, National Annenberg Election Survey from 2004. They proudly quote that 90% figure, but that’s 90% of the 768 respondents – 691 people who claimed Native American ancestry, not 90% of all Native Americans. That’s part of why people take exception to this poll.  It also took almost a year to find those 768 respondents, which begs the question, which neighbourhoods were they looking in?

If you want to get technical, according to U.S. Census records for 2004, there were approximately 3,000,000 Native Americans in the U.S. then.  The number needed to statistically represent 90% of Natives (with a 3% +/- error margin) would’ve had to have been at least 1,100 people  – preferably Native Americans who live within the culture, or are well-versed in it.

There is a constantly ignored October 2013 SurveyUSA poll that showed 59% of 500 non-Native American Washington DC residents thought the name was offensive.  79% of them didn’t think changing the name would make them think less of the team.

There was something else I noticed in the comments and that was how many Native American relatives we all have. If the number of self-identified part-Native Americans claiming not to have a problem with the name is true, then Native Americans must really represent close to a third of the overall U.S. population. For sure the Cherokee nation’s population has got to have tripled in the last week.

There is tremendous debate as to the truth of the word’s offensiveness.  This is where the vast in-depth knowledge of Native American history appears most in the comments.  The origin of the word is debated to the nth degree with disagreement about the word being born of racism.  Therefore, no racist beginning, no problem.

Origin is not the point

 noun: etymology
  1. the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.   The origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning.
plural noun: etymologies

A paper by Ives Goddard is often cited as incontrovertible proof that the word did not begin as a slur because he cites English and French notes from 17th-19th century journals where they note a chief and some tribal members called themselves red people. First Nations are hundreds of cultures. Some people take exception to those notes because Native historians  – as in the Native peoples themselves – did not record their history in the same way, and most do not historically refer to themselves as red people, let alone redskins.  In any case, the paper does acknowledge the term evolved into a slur, or “obloquy”.

Next, victoriously trotted out are exceptions to the view that most Native Americans are offended and why they shouldn’t be:

  • The first Redskins coach was Native – Disputed as someone who took on a Sioux identity to escape the draft. He also did not name the team.
  • The team was honoring that coach and four Indian players – disputed by redskins owner in a 1933 interview with the Hartford Courant.
  • The Natives have always been proud of these honors – it was Natives who started the trademark revocation in 1992, but overall objections to the name began in the 1950s.
  • Many school teams, even Native ones, call themselves redskins and are damned proud of it.  Most are forgetting when those schools were originally named and by whom, but even so, self identification to claim the name is not the same thing.
  • Oklahoma is Native named and is Choctow for ‘Red People’.  Actually, ˆ“Ogla-ut-homma”, has a different etymology. In the Choctaw language “Homma,” can mean rust, brown, tan, or red. Oklahoma could easily be translated as ‘tan people.’

This may be interesting debate so far, but what isn’t disputed is that the name evolved into a term that evokes centuries of derision, hatefulness, discrimination, and attempted genocide.  The term is recorded in historical accounts repeatedly calling for the scalps and genitalia of our ancestors. It’s this part of history that most resonates with the people who are offended by the images and names that dehumanize them to a cartooned existence, i.e. redskins.

Despite that, the reasons given to keep the name run the gamut from derision to the absurd; Natives and white liberals are just whiners and choosing to be victimized. There is simple ignorance of the issue to blaming Obama, who apparently is in need of another distraction.  Some people are very concerned about the expenses this could cost teams if they have to re-tool names or images.  Some people want to cling to tradition, eagerly willing to overlook the horrific and bloody history associated with the term.

Coming to terms with the idea of change can be hard, and for some people, very hard.  Changing something that is eight decades along is even seen as dishonoring “tradition”.  However, if a tradition is based in the highly questionable honor of documentable racism, the time for change is long overdue.

Banning racist slurs may not change everything, but words do have power and standing against words that caused so much damage is the beginning of the end of discriminations, and it says, yes, we do matter.

Besides, there are already cases to show that it can be done without irreparable loss.

  • The University of Utah Redskins became Utah Utes in 1972.
  • The Miami University (of Ohio) Redskins became the RedHawks in 1997.
  • The Southern Nazarene University Redskins became the Crimson Storm in 1998.
  • To date, there were more than 3,000 American Indian mascots and names used in school K-12 athletic programs; more than two-thirds of those have been changed.

Still don’t think any racism underlies the word?  Then why do you suppose that in every single one of those comments – all those stridently opposed to change and steadfastly insistent that the term redskins is really an honor – why did none of them refer to Native Americans as redskins? Not a single one.

RL

Some may have noticed I didn’t capitalize the term in some areas. I did that in order to reflect how that term changes tone even with a simple adjustment of a letter.  I doubt the irony of that was missed by even the most ardent slur defender.

Updated July 7, 2014 Washington Redskins PR Hire is a good idea for Native Americans:   2006 Ben Tribbett Proves Washington Team Name Is Slur, 2014 Ben Tribbett Paid To Defend It
Updated June 29, 2014 to include the Oklahoma reference increasingly cited as self-description for entire Native American nations. With thanks for the information provided by Paula Starr,  Executive Director at Southern California Indian Center.

My Mother, the Nun

Alright, my mother isn’t, and wasn’t ever, a nun.  She grew up wanting to be one, but life has a way of trading dreams on people, and I was the first trade-off.

Her life wasn’t anywhere close to a serene cloistered order.  I wrote a little about that in a post called ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’.

Her adult road didn’t include even following the tenets of her early faith.  The closest to church involvement was the annual search for one that held summer camps for kids.  That was her summer break and our free annual vacation.

What she ended up doing mostly was working 12 hour days in emergency first-aid and security detail.   A few years into this industry, she’d re-found her faith, but it could never be used as any kind of vocation. Those 12 hour shifts were an economic necessity and there are few comparable offerings in the faith field.

So, it was long days until retirement at age 71.  By then she wanted only to putter, and maybe volunteer a little.  She’d already started going to church regularly again, and she helped the Reverend here and there.  Their pleasant working relationship became true friendship. She had no idea this would cause her earliest reveries to swell again.

One day the Reverend made her an offer.  Would she like to be a lay-reader?  She would only have to study some, and practise the rituals in assistance for a while.  She was instantly transported to places of long ago innocence.  Her sixty something year old dream, a little re-shaped, finally got her to that place that was always meant to be.

Mom vestments October 2013-2

Kicked the habit, made good in
vestments
My mother,
Lay-Reader

RL

Blogger and author JT Weaver posted a challenge to write stories in the 270 word range. For some of us, this is like requesting a brush-cut after we’ve been used to only a trim up to the hips. In the end though, it’s made me appreciate the less is more doctrine even more.  JT’s challenge idea was inspired by the “Hemingway Challenge” and Abraham Lincoln’s succinct Gettysburg Address of 270 words:
jtweaver.net  (2014 – 01 – 11- the-270)

P.S. This exercise also taught me that WordPress includes the captions on photos in their word count. I did not.