A poetic short by Detroit-based director Keenan Wetzel, “Yellowtail” tells the story of a young Native American cowboy (Stephen Yellowtail) searching for purpose amidst a chaotic lifestyle. (previously featured here). Shot in Wyoming and the Crow Reservation in Montana, “Yellowtail” tells the story of a young Native American cowboy (Stephen Yellowtail) searching for purpose as his chaotic lifestyle begins
You will recognize that narrator’s voice – it is John Trudell!
In the News
The Navajo Nation and Utah Governor signed an inter-governmental agreement Monday, Feb. 4, 2019, to strengthen and further protect the Indian Child Welfare Act for the benefit of Navajo children in the State of Utah. Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer met with Governor Gary Herbert to make it official at the Utah State Capitol during the annual American Indian Caucus Day.
Let’s take a quick look at the erratic history of federal Indian policy.
In the early republic, the federal government made treaties of friendship with Indian tribes east of the Mississippi. In the 1830s, it stopped feeling friendly and removed the eastern Indians to the West. It set up reservations for eastern and western tribes and solemnly promised in treaties that the land would be theirs forever. In 1871, Congress decided there would be no more treaties, because Indian nations were no longer sovereigns; the courts soon confirmed that Congress could void any treaty without the consent of the tribes that had signed it. Next, from the 1880s until the 1930s, came the “allotment era.” The government decided to break up the reservations and “allot” much of the land to individuals, who could sell them. By the 1930s tribes had lost 60 percent of their previous land base. The New Deal was a brief respite: Allotment ended and tribes were allowed to re-form their governments. Then in 1953 came the “termination era,” when Congress decided that the federal government would no longer provide services to tribes, or deal with their governments. It sold off some tribes’ reservation lands and proclaimed that those tribes no longer existed.
University College London researchers estimate that settlers killed 56 million indigenous people, causing farmland to be reforested. That increase in vegetation resulted in a massive decrease in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
I call this the (his)story “We’re Not Supposed to Know”
But they conceal another side of Columbus: the exploitation and repression of Native Americans, said the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. It is a “darker side of this story, a side we must acknowledge,” Jenkins said in a letter Sunday.
In December 2018, the Trump administration plotted to gut SNAP, the food assistance program more than 40 million Americans rely on to feed themselves. (I have friends and relatives on SNAP, what used to be food stamps). This attack on the poor would impose oppressive work requirements that will have a devastating impact on our nation’s most vulnerable and the “food insecure.” This rule will drive 755,000 poor folks deeper into poverty across the country over the next three years. It’s a cruel and cynical attempt to chip away at our social safety net by defining who is and who isn’t suffering in our nation. Read about the Poor People’s Campaign.
Food insecurity is very real and a war on the poor. And when the climate fails and disaster hits, what new countries start a new land grab? Will they hit Third World Countries? Indian Country? Will they take children to accomplish this again? History repeats itself over and over until we get it right…and so we are entering a dangerous new age of food insecurity… and climate change.
If I were in charge, I’d have two priorities: ending poverty and improving the existing infrastructure.
“I called the album Blue Indians because there is a kind of spiritual and cultural genocide perpetrated on everyone that is poor in this country,” Trudell said. “The advance of technology has put all of us on a kind of reservation. These are the people who can’t educate their children, or afford health care. They’ve been robbed of life, which is what happened to Native people, so in that context, we’re all Indians.”
I follow up in a few weeks with my doctors… See you soon! xox
Pre-1887 – Skagua, as it is known by the Tlingit, meaning windy place, is used by Chilkoots and Chilkats for hunting and fishing. A few of these Native Americans settle in the quieter areas of Smuggler’s Cove, Nahku Bay and Dyea, head of the Chilkoot trail, a centuries-old Indian trading route becoming popular with early prospectors heading into the Yukon. In the 1880s, U.S. Navy and Army patrols establish federal presence in the area.
Taku River Tlingit Place Names When you visit a place in our vast province or country, do you think about how that place was named? Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps the place had a name before European explorers and settlers arrived and gave it an English name. Many areas in our province had names before European newcomers renamed the places that were already known to Indigenous peoples.
In the most northwestern area of British Columbia, the Indigenous peoples are the Taku River Tlingit. The Taku River Tlingit are Tlingit peoples whose territory extends between British Columbia, Southern Yukon, and Southern Alaska. The word Tlingit can be translated to mean People of the Tides. Taku River Tlingit The Taku River Tlingit Place Names Map, http://www.trt.geolive.ca has been created to bring awareness to the traditional Taku River Tlingit place names in the northwestern area of British Columbia.
1931 – St. Pius X Mission is established in Skagway under the wing of beloved Father G. Edgar Gallant, who will operate the school for Native children from all over Alaska for almost 30 years.
Gold was discovered near Dawson in the Klondike in 1896, and the town of Skagway was founded in 1897 by Captain William Moore. With the influx of miners and prospectors heading for the Klondike, Skagway quickly became the most populated town in Alaska, with a population of 3,117 in 1900.
The first priest to visit Skagway was Father Paul Bougis SJ, from Douglas, Alaska (near Juneau). He arrived in the fall of 1897 and offered Mass in the homes of Catholic families that fall and the following spring. In August, 1898, Father Philibert Turnell SJ came to Skagway and established a mission. He made temporary arrangements to use the school for Sunday Masses, and his first Mass was offered on September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Three months later the Catholic community purchased a large empty store, converting it into a church and naming it St. Mark’s. The church was filled to capacity for the first Mass which was offered on Christmas Eve, 1898.
In March of 1918, Father Edgar Gallant was the first priest to be ordained in Alaska. His first assignment was Skagway, where he was to serve until 1959. Father Gallant’s first goal was to improve St. Mark’s Church. In 1932, with help from the Catholic Extension Society, he built St. Pius X Mission Boarding School for Native children. The school stood on the site of the present Garden City R.V. Park and was staffed by the Sisters of St. Ann of British Columbia. In November of 1946, the school burned to the ground, but was soon rebuilt and operated until 1959.
Posted on Mar 16, 2010 in Alaska Natives
Father Sulzman came to Skagway in 1931 when Monsignor Gallant established the Saint Pius X Mission Home for Native children who were either orphans or from destitute families, staffed by the Sisters of Saint Ann. (That statement is pure propaganda…Trace)
The Mission was rebuilt in 1946, and operated until the 1960s.
Sulzman was born on this day, March 16, 1906 in Waterford New York and when he left here he joined the army and served as a chaplain in World War 2. He died in 1966 in Matanuska Alaska.
[from the Hugh F. McColl webpage at genealogy.com; and the oblatvs.blogspot]
Part Four: My extended interview with Anishinabe (Mole Lake Ojibwe) Elder-Scholar Carol Hand
This quote from the Mic Check post really hit me. “When you try to be a bridge between two cultures, you should expect to get walked over by some people from both sides.” This speaks to oppression and a mixed race ethnicity, something we both have lived. How are you handling this today?
CAROL HAND: The only way I can do justice to this question is to explain a little bit about how my experiences changed in response to different times and settings (last post) and the strategies I used to blend cultures in my work and life (this post).
As you explain in your memoire, Trace, so few Americans actually know much about the real history of Indigenous peoples. This reality was one of the key challenges I needed to address during my life. As someone who walked in two worlds, I felt a responsibility to bridge differences. I felt my mother’s suffering deeply and knew the conditions on some reservations, and I had lived and worked in settings where most non-Natives knew nothing about “real” U.S. history or contemporary Native issues. These realities were important for me to understand on both an intellectual level (my white culture?) and on a heart level (Ojibwe culture?). Learning to understand different cultures and history through different lenses was a way for me to make sense of living in between, sometimes feeling at home for a moment in both cultures, but more often feeling not really part of either. The more I learned, the more responsibility I felt for building inter-cultural understanding and collaboration. The wounds that keep people divided are deep and not easily overcome.
Merely lecturing people about history tended to raise resistance, sometimes strengthening people’s prejudicial views. In order to bridge cultures in my work, I experimented with different approaches for presenting information in ways that were less threatening. Finally, I discovered social “sculpting.” There are two sculpted exercises that proved to be effective for both Native American and non-Native audiences. Both illustrate the magnitude of suffering caused by centuries of domination without assigning blame on the current generation of Euro-Americans. The first exercise illustrates the ongoing and intensifying assaults on First Nations’ sovereignty over their lands and people. The second illustrates what happened to communities when children were forcibly removed from their parents and communities.
The growing weight of historical trauma that has been passed on from generation to generation is a direct consequence of unrelenting assaults on tribal sovereignty. When audiences participate in the sculpted exercise (described in the post “Go Fish” on my blog https://carolahand.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/go-fish/), past and present problems and potential solutions become clear. In my experience, Native people gained a clearer overview of the devastation wrought by colonial domination over every aspect of tribal life, and better understood how the trauma was passed from generation to generation. Non-Natives were also better able to see the history of domination without feeling that they were being personally blamed for a situation they did not cause. The following except briefly describes the exercise for anyone who is interested.
We “sculpted” the weight of oppression for each succeeding generation, as illustrated in the following figure. For each historical era, the audience was asked to shout out the historical events that occurred for their tribe. The volunteers lined up, all facing the same side wall, each representing one historical era.
Contact Era: massive death mostly due to disease, displacement, land loss, massacres, missionary efforts to “civilize” Native Americans
Conflict/Domination Era: massive death due to disease, warfare deaths, removal of children to boarding schools, displacement, land loss, customs outlawed
Assimilation Era: land loss, tribes placed on reservations, U.S. Congress assumed plenary power over tribes, removal of children to boarding schools, more customs outlawed
Integration Era: Corporate form imposed on tribal governments, children forced to attend off-reservation public schools, termination of some tribes, relocation of families from reservations to urban areas, states granted jurisdictional powers over civil issues (e.g., child welfare)
Self-Determination/Self-Governance Era: limited sovereignty returned for tribal administration, justice systems, health and social services, child welfare
(The Five Generations Exercise, Recovery Foundation, 1999, High Risk Kids Workshop Manual, p. 27.)
For the first era, the time of early contact (1500s-1770s), many spoke of massive death, massacres, and land loss. When it was time to move on, the representative of the first era leaned forward and placed her hands on the shoulders of the next generation, symbolizing the weight of unresolved grief from so many losses that would be carried on the shoulders of the next generation. Again, the audience called out the events for tribes during the era of conflict and colonial domination. As each era was covered, the generational representative would lean on the shoulders of the next in line. By the time we reached the present day representative, he was struggling to stand with the weight of the past on his shoulders. Then, it was time for a change. The present day representative was asked to turn around and face the history. The weight was still there, resting on his shoulders, but our physical bodies are better able to deal with the weight if we are facing it, and so are our emotions. By acknowledging our history, we can bear it. We can understand how the legacy of loss and unresolved grief has affected our families and communities and begin the process of healing…
One of the most effective colonial strategies for destroying tribal cultures is something that you have written about, Trace, the removal of children from their families and cultures. As you describe so compellingly in your work, the forced removal of children had profound consequences not only for the children who were removed but also for those who were left behind to grieve. The sculpted exercise described in “Indian Child Removal and the Ga-ga” (https://carolahand.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/indian-child-removal-and-the-ga-ga/) demonstrates the consequences of losing children for families and communities as a whole. Again, I’ve included a brief excerpt to describe the sculpting exercise.
… Culture matters a great deal. Being part of a community with which one identifies matters as well. An exercise designed by Vera Manuel, link, First Nations author and teacher from British Columbia, demonstrates the profound difference between the Euro-American concept of “permanence” and an Indigenous sense of belonging to a community and culture. She engaged participants in sculpting the organization of a pre-contact tribal community. She placed a small pouch on a chair in the center of the room, explaining that it contained things that were sacred to her. The sacred pouch represented the spiritual beliefs that were the center and foundation of the community. She then asked for volunteers to act out the role of children. She asked them to form a circle facing the sacred bundle. Next, she asked for volunteers to role-play parents and form a circle around all of the children. The next volunteers, encircling parents, were aunties and uncles and other adults in the community. Elders formed the final circle of those community members who were facing toward the children and the sacred center. Around the periphery, facing outward, were the volunteers who agreed to represent leaders and warriors who were responsible for protecting the community from harmful outside forces. Next, a few brave volunteers agreed to play the role of “child stealers,” the ga-ga.
In early times, the ga-ga were federal BIA agents or missionaries. In later times, they were state and county child welfare workers. These agents of churches, the federal government, counties, and states broke through the protective circles to forcibly remove the children. Despite resistance by the leaders, warriors, elders, aunties and uncles, and parents, children were removed from their place at the center of the community and taken away by strangers using threats and force. Participants in the sculpted exercise were asked to act out their reactions to losing their children. Without their children, parents, adults, and elders cast their eyes down and turned inward, wrapped their arms over their heart, turned their backs to the center, or left the circle. Warriors and leaders were deeply shamed by their defeat and also turned inward or left. Their meaning in life was lost. When some of the children returned as adults, the community was often disorganized and unrecognizable. Without a purpose, the circles of care that had surrounded them as children were in disarray.
Cumulatively, child removal and deliberate colonial policies intended to destroy tribal cultures, euphemistically referred to as assimilation, have had profound effects for tribal communities, leaving a legacy of inter and intra-tribal divisions and conflict and deep divides between Native and non-Native people. As a child welfare agency director once told me, the challenge we face if we wish to improve the situation for tribal families and children is not only providing historical facts to both Native and non-Native people. It’s more important to inspire people to care enough to find culturally appropriate solutions.
My focus as a professional, a responsibility I felt I carried as someone who walked in two worlds, was to find ways to build common ground within and across tribes, and between tribal and non-Native communities. Yet finding the path to this focus was not always easy. And now, in retirement, I have the luxury to simply be myself. I don’t need to worry about shifting cultures to be an effective teacher or advocate. As a writer, I still ask myself about my motivation for the writing I decide to share. Is it true? Is it constructive? And I still ask myself if it will help build common ground to improve people’s lives. Is it something that will lead to anger or compassionate understanding? Will it leave people feeling hopeless or inspire them to find solutions to the many problems that confront us these days? In many ways, retirement has freed me to live my life more simply – to write and garden, to spend time with my family and play with my grandchildren, to learn how to play the piano (maybe) and read the pile of books I saved for “someday when I have time.” Retirement has also given me the glorious opportunity to learn how to find beauty in each person regardless of culture, age, or status and in each new day – not always an easy task, but something that will keep me busy for a long time to come. Perhaps this is the ultimate lesson of walking in two worlds. Underneath the superficial differences, we really are all related and dependent upon each other for the future of the earth we all share.
(PART 5 will run on Dec. 25. Thank you for reading and thank you to Carol for her time and wisdom…XOX Trace)
For millions in the U.S., Thanksgiving is a stark reminder of what has been lost.
Click on this map, created by Lousiana State professor Sam B. Hillard, to see the rapid loss of land by the Native Americans–starting from when Columbus “discovered” the America and ending in 1895, when native people retained only 2.3 percent of their original land.