For the past couple of weeks the Elders have been visiting me in my dreams on a regular basis. The other night they came, showing me charts of climate change and speaking about our contemporary loss of languages with which to interact with the Land. “Who are you,” they asked, “if you can’t speak with the Land?” “How can you possibly hope to understand your life if you have no language that roots you in Place?” Continue reading
Greed always seems to undermine promises. Nowhere has this been more true than in the relationship between First Nations people and Federal governments in the Americas. This week growing protests have brought the Tar Sands of Alberta and the San Fransisco Peaks of the Four Corners into the news. These regions have massive reserves of coal and oil. Protests are also under way in Sonoma County, CA, where the lands produce grapes rather than oil. All of these proposed or ongoing developments will destroy the sacred lands of many tribes, and will displace large numbers of tribal people. They will also destroy invaluable wildlands, and the oil production will dramatically contribute to global climate change. Native people in the U.S. and Canada are united in large scale protest. Continue reading
Welcome to another addition of Notable Blogs. If there is a focus in today’s post, it is justice. This keeps with a theme in recent posts, namely the need for a Just Therapy, and an awareness by clinicians that social and economic forces act to limit the options of many clients, especially Indigenous people. Healers and elders know this, but many clinicians underestimate the effects of history on Indigenous people.
We begin with the arts! Continue reading
Today the temperature is in the low 50’s. Most of the day has been dominated by bright sunshine, now dimming behind increasing clouds. Earlier this afternoon I went for my first snowshoe of the winter. Beautiful!
This week’s Notable Blogs focuses on Indigenous people in the arts.We begin with a contest that requested songs to and about the salmon. Salmon, that delicious trickster who travels the world, always to come home again to mate, spawn, and die, and be reborn:
After over 4 days of listening to the 38 entries, scrutinizing each song and slowly eliminating some, the three judges finally reached their verdict this morning to choose the winners of the first ever “Song for the Salmon” contest. The winner is Anie Hepher, from Cranbrook, whose song Salmon Hymn captures the feelings of both the sockeye’s struggles to survive and the Secwepemc peoples’ connection to these remarkable fish.
Even catastrophic natural disasters have a place in the life of Pachamama. Sometimes, these events move us beyond fear and trauma, to creativity:
A rare performance by renowned Aboriginal dancers marked the start of one of Australia’s most important festivals of indigenous art. The unique dance of the Gurrir Gurrir people depicts events associated with a devastating tropical cyclone in 1974. The catastrophic event helped create one of Australia’s most highly regarded indigenous art movements.
Shira Shaiman has cancer. Her mother died of cancer. She is also a mom with young children. This week she wrote about the Days of Awe, her illness, and a miracle. I hope she will forgive me for including a lengthy snippet. I hope you will visit her blog and read the post in its entirety.
“I was no longer in this house in Somerville, Massachusetts, but in a place I can only describe as a clear space outside of time and physical reality. I continued praying to God to be granted forgiveness for all of my shortcomings. I imagined seeing myself with the eye of God, the compassionate vision that takes in all of the goodness and all of the smallness and ignorance and misdeeds. And then in that place of no time and no space, I turned, and saw my mother. She looked so lovely, the way I remembered her before cancer ravaged her beautiful face. She was also wearing white. And she too was praying for her soul before Hashem. We didn’t talk or otherwise interact. We were each engaged in our own intensely intimate moment with God, the living and the departed brought together on Yom Kippur in parallel activities. I realized—it was so obvious how could I have not known this before—that by atoning for our transgressions each year we are, among other things, given the chance to prepare for death.” Continue reading
My father died a few years ago. A day or two before he died, My sister asked him whether we are Native American. My father sat up in bed, smiled, and said with great pride that, yes, we were, and on both sides. Stunned to have our question answered, we did not ask about tribal identity. A few months later I asked my last surviving aunt about our tribal affiliation. She would not acknowledge the question.
These two events mark the arc of identity politics in my family. Throughout my life, my mother denied persistent rumors that she was of mixed Cherokee and mixed British ancestry. My father simply refused to talk about heritage.
My mother was born and raised in Texas, in what was termed,”The Cherokee Territory”. My father hailed from southeastern Indiana. In Texas, the depression and drought drove the people from their poor farms to the cities. In Indiana, as in Maine and many other states, legislation and predation made it very difficult for First Nations people to keep their farms. My mother and her sisters moved to the city. My father and his siblings moved, with their mother, to a hard scrabble farm high in the hills overlooking the Ohio river, far from anywhere.
My father’s father hailed from the Black Hills, and was likely Lakota. Pop had hoped to travel to the Dakotas the summer he died. His mother could have come from any of the displaced nations of the Eastern U.S., as most tribes at least stopped over in Indiana on their forced path west. All my relatives will say is she looked “full blood”. My mother’s kin are likely British and, perhaps more distantly, Cherokee; if family whisperings are correct, some survived the Trail of Tears. One of my cousins on my father’s side, a genealogist, tried unsuccessfully to reconstruct the last two hundred years of our lineage. Throughout the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries new English names simply appeared on the record, as if drawn from the air, people without history.
I understand my parents’ desire to have normal lives, to pass. I appreciate their efforts to protect us from the ravages of racism and genocide. I also understand hiding brings its own costs and losses. In many ways we were raised outside both our Native American and European American cultures.
A couple of summers ago, a noted professor of Native American History told me he knew of only one other family story like ours. I imagine there are a great many such families, closet Natives. Once, in a dream, several generations of grandmothers came to visit me. I asked them why they had pretended to be European. They looked directly at me and said, “We did what we had to in order to survive. You are here, after all.”
It’s hard to argue with that.