“I Will Never”…

It’s a rare occurrence for me to re-blog, but sometimes someone speaks so eloquently from their hearts, that I feel compelled to share those strongly felt thoughts.  They can be in the form of a beautiful poem, a touching story, or as is the one I am about to share – words from a heart-felt voice who speaks out in recognition of their privilege in life. She is speaking of her view of life for those of Indigenous ancestry from the other side their experiences.  I found it very touching on many levels , and I was grateful for her generosity of spirit.

I’ve also attached a link to a video from a “white redneck” who says “take responsibility white people”.  His is a rather saltier version, but it’s no less compelling.

The first story begins here, but you will have to click the link following for the finish…

lac-la-biche-mission-1896“It would be another 100 years before the last residential school was closed in Canada — 1996. I graduated high school in 1996. I was preparing for my freshman year at college. I was under the impression that residential schools all looked like the picture above: black and white, old and grainy, things of the past, sad but irrevocable pieces of history.

Today I’m sitting in a cafe that’s live-streaming Edmonton’s Truth & Reconciliation Events. Due to the crazy traffic and parking fiasco I went through, I wasn’t able to make it physically to The Shaw Conference Centre today. Live-streaming is the next best thing, I guess.

What am I to think?

I’m white.

I’m Christian.

The whites.

The Christians.

We were the haters, the oppressors, the mongerers, the rapers, the abusers, the greedy mouths that took away almost everything from you… dear First Peoples of Turtle Island.

No, I’m not trying to impress you with my terminology. I am trying in my small broken way to address you with the respect you deserve. As I sip on my tea, I’m pondering: “What now?” The TRC cannot be both the beginning and the end. Surely not! But still”…

“I WILL NEVER” – A LETTER FROM A WHITE CHRISTIAN AT THE TRC

And,  now for a word from a self-described white redneck.  If you have an extra 5 minutes,  here is a great video from a white redneck who says, “take responsibility”. The language is rough in some spots, but his point is only underlined by it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGJt0JXX05M

Two Years for Me! And the Irish Celebrate the Indigenous!

Two years of dedication to informing, amusing, irritating, or boring! I know how to perform to expectation.  At least, I think so, but considering this is the day of green beer again, I won’t guarantee anything through a lens of verdant bubbles.

For 24 months as of today, I have loved meeting new you’s and the pals who’ve stuck around long enough for me to able to call them friend.  I am so pleased, honored, and humbled by that; you are the quality of life. You have no idea how you’ve shaped my world, but you have and for the better. Thank you for everything you’ve shared in your own amazing words of wisdom, your creativity, and most definitely your humor.

I’ve also used this past year to write more from time to time about my Indigenous ancestry and the issues that surround it.  Yesterday, I came across a story I had no idea about and I doubt many do, but  it couldn’t have made a more perfectly timed appearance in my newsfeed.  It is about a March 1847 effort by the Choctaw people in Scullyville, Oklahoma, who gathered funds and provisions to help the Irish during their great famine.

This effort was a mere 17 years after the Choctow were among those made to walk the Trail of Tears to great desperation and decimation themselves. This year an Irish town will erect a pretty poignantly designed sculpture in gratitude to those Choctow.  It’s quite a story and you can read about it here at Irish Central (March 6):  Irish town builds memorial to thank Native Americans who helped during Famine

Irish Memorial to Choctaw

Memorial sculpture of eagle feathers in Cork, Ireland in thanks to the Choctaw Nation

Happy Green, Happy St. Paddy’s Day, and Happy 2 Awesome Years with Y’all!

Irish road

RL

Bad Medicine

There was a time I needed to feel safe.
So, I would just be the Italian, Eurasion or Greek.
It was better to be whatever I wasn’t
because anything was better than pain.

I didn’t have my grandmother’s arms to hold me
while she told me where we came from.
I didn’t have my grandmother’s words to tell me who
We are.

Her children went outward and got lost in the White Sea
with only glimpses of shining glory, such short moments,
but mostly they got knocked around and then down,
till the medicine could numb them, and set them free.

Some moved from drowning the sorrows, and doing what we were told,
but I learned the voices in my head weren’t the ones in my heart.
My grandmother’s voice now comes through; she’s been whispering the stories.
that the hurt of the years stood in the way of, for so long.

She’s been telling me to stand up,  to remember and learn who we are.
She’s saying use your voice to teach.
Use your voice to reach the hearts of the other lost.
Let them know they’re not alone, show them lies are not real.

Learn for them; then show them the ways through that White Sea.

It’s OK to not be only safe.

Staying hidden is another bad medicine.

Eagle on perch

RL

Photo credit: Jim Wong Photography

Pathetic and Dense; You HAVE To Be an Indian

There comes those moments when you sit back and assess why you do what you do.  I’ve done this recently in response to the reactions on my posts and comments about Indigenous Peoples based issues.

I originally started writing to throw out my views on general life events.  I worked around what I might write and I settled on the concept that my son would know his mother as a multi-dimensional being.  For the day that he realizes I am an actual person, I want him to know what I stood for outside of “dinner’s ready and is your homework done”?  I want him to know what I learned about the entire human experience.

I wanted to fill in as much of his background for him, in order to spare him and other children in our family, any moment of the emptiness I felt while growing up. There was little knowledge of my family history beyond the shame of what we experienced and what was said to define us.  A number of those experiences were based in the fact that I was born an Indigenous person.

I’ve written about some of my childhood and what it was like to grow up facing some of the ugliness of people who had no desire to hide their disdain for Indigenous anything.  I was called names that I knew were about disparagement of my culture before I had any idea about the concept of racism.  I was only about four or five years old when I first recall being called some of those names:  savage, squaw, filthy redskin, whatever it was, I knew enough to know it wasn’t good.

That was far from the last time I’d be called those sorts of names and treated with equal disdain.  Those overt efforts to denigrate me didn’t end until I was in my teens.  It was most likely the fact that public awareness was growing around the concepts of political awareness and correctness.

It would be three decades before the same kind of voices and sneers would come at me again.  I suppose I could count my last posted column to be the first instance of the return events – which caused a loss of some followers of my blog and my Twitter account. The most recent occasion was this past weekend.   I wasn’t called a savage, dirty redskin or a filthy Indian this time; they went for my intelligence and mental stability levels before they finished off with a reference to my ancestry.

This foray back into the dark happened while I was engaged in an online conversation.  It was within the comments of a national newspaper about the current call for an inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women.  The comments began mostly as denials for any need for inquiry, because the recently published RCMP report seemed to have all the answers already, despite the many calls showing the disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal women as victims overall.

The reasons for denying an inquiry have been solidly reported already, so I won’t repeat them, but it didn’t take long for the conversation to move from that topic to how it was about time for First Nations to take control of their own lives, to get over the past, and to get off the backs of taxpayers.

In defense, I began in earnest to answer the questions and reply to the statements of derision as quickly as they were being posted.  With each question, I would get another question or asked about something completely unrelated – the old, deflect to another point to avoid having to admit first point trumped – tactic.

With every answer I gave came the demand for proof, and when I provided reference links to support my statements, I was hit with personal aspersions.  Four people at various points each let me know that I was unaware of what planet I lived on, that I was “dense”,  “dumb”, “pathetic”, a “nutter”, and finally in  summation:  “You HAVE to be an Indian”.

National Post  Missing Women Sept 18 2014-3aNow, I don’t have a problem with being “an Indian”, even the sort that man was insinuating; I don’t deny my moments of mental densities, but I survived the years four, ten, twelve and the three plus decades with heart and soul intact.

While, I mostly repelled the sting of those arrows, they did make me question whether or not I was subjecting myself and possibly my son to potential harm down the road. Was I going to lose more people within my friendship and supporter circles?

I am prepared for any lack of interest or opposition to my views, but I can still be surprised by who those contradictions may come from.  It is painful to find out that people you thought gave a damn about you actually didn’t.  It is saddening to learn that people you counted on didn’t really have a backbone of their own, let alone your back, and that even people you admired can walk away with each step feeling like a slap to the face.

Here’s the thing about that stronger constitution I now own – it takes a lot less time to get over the hurt of crossing paths with those sorts of people.  Now I realize I am losing nothing except future moments of wasted time.  Whatever our purpose was to that point, it was served and now, time to move on, God bless.

I wrote a while ago that this was my tap dance, and part of the song is my ancestry.  The fact that my ancestry happens to be tied to very real and important issues for my country matters.

I will continue to write of human experiences, of my own triumphs and failures; I will write about what I find humorous, and I will continue to write about affairs Indigenous.

In fact, my next post is going to be about the answers I gave that caused those biting heads to explode in that online discussion. The part about how taxpayers do not support First Nations people and in fact, why taxpayers should be saying a hell of a lot of thanks instead.

I hope you’ll stay tuned.

RL

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.