Honoring Ancestors



My heritage—in addition to being a North American native–is English, French, Osage and Lakota.

Turns out, I know more about my Indian ancestors than my English or French relatives.

It’s not because my relatives kept good records: they didn’t.

While I know little about my father’s English forebears (the Colemans), and even less about my maternal grandfather, also of English stock (the Barnes family), a lot has been recorded about my Native kin.

Many books have been written about the Osages, with the most recent the best-selling Killers of the Flower Moon, a National Book Award finalist selection in 2017.

In his famous book, The Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman writes about my relatives, including the crusty Sioux leader Mahto Tatonka (Bull Bear, pictured above), whose daughter, Bear Robe, married Parkman’s guide (Henri Chatillon).

Their daughter, Emilie, wedded Louis Benjamin Lessert, a mixed-blood Osage.

While most of my Lessert relatives grew up in South Dakota—either at Pine Ridge or in nearby Stink Water or Rapid City–my side of the family joined the Osages, who were later moved to the current reservation in Oklahoma, where my mother was born.

I’ve been pondering ancestors because I’ve been studying Buddhism.

Part of the study involves making a “lineage chart” where you create an ancestral tree and write down the names of Buddhist teachers.

At first, I hesitated: why do I need a lineage chart? I already have a lineage, a history, a narrative.

I worried needlessly.

The lineage chart doesn’t reflect your relatives: it traces your teachers.

That means that my current teacher was instructed by someone, who was taught by someone, and so forth.

Buddhists keep track of the line of teachers, which—as a teacher—warms my heart.

17 April 2018












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When the Hustler gets Hustled

shell game

The game is afoot, and this time it is a confidence game.

Our country’s leading con man—or confidence man (a swindler who take your trust and your cash)—is getting his comeuppance.

The attorney for Stormy Daniels (the porn star who is suing President Trump) is setting traps to con the con man by claiming the president will topple from his perch.

“He is going to be forced to resign,” the attorney—Michael Avenatti—told reporters this week.

Taking a page from Trump’s own playbook, Avenatti is setting up the president’s fall by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, reported widely in the news.

“We have only scratched the surface,” the lawyer claims.

“More evidence will come to light.”

And the president will resign.

Avenatti is playing the news media to predict Trump’s downfall, using the same ploys as the hustler-in-charge, baiting reporters with promises of juicy morsels to come.

Voyeurs, we watch for the coming train-wreck.

7 May 2018

See Harry Anderson’s hustle:







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But how long are they going to be here?


The Rajneeshis in Oregon

One of my favorite reads is Frances FitzGerald’s Cities on a Hill (1987), which explores five diverse communities in the United States, including the town in Oregon that became headquarters for the Rajneesh community.

A new documentary, called Wild, Wild Country, tells the story of the community and its rural neighbors, and is now airing on Netflix.

Wild, Wild Country explains how a large gathering of followers of a spiritual leader from India (Bagwan Shree Rajneesh) made Oregon home in the 1980s.

Some 2,000 devotés took up residence in the community near Antelope, according to the Oregonian newspaper.

When I tuned in to the documentary, I was struck by the long-time residents of Antelope, whose worries sounded familiar.

When asked about their community before the Rajneeshis arrived, one offers:

“Everybody knows everybody else, and everybody got along.”

Another remembers getting a phone call from someone who urged him to “keep those guys from getting in” to the community, once news leaked that an 80,000-acre ranch had been sold to the Rajneesh commune.

“We wondered who these people are, why are they here [and] how long are they going to be here,” says another inhabitant.

Their anxiety sounded familiar because I had heard about it from Native Americans perplexed by the influx of visitors to our communities.

Before the arrival of the Rajneeshis, Oregon inhabitants worried about “bearded, hairy” strangers–who looked like bears–arriving unexpectedly.

In their “perfect paradise” at the mouth of the Columbia River, the Clatsop people treated the hirsute Russian traders with courtesy, and traded fish for furs.

Then the Russians packed up and shoved off in their boats.

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A Silent Retreat

IMG_1941 (1)With Cloven Hooves

You have beautiful feet, he said.

In an instant, I wondered what other lies he told.

No one looking at my toes would utter such words.

You wouldn’t dare.

It’s either a fib or a line picked up from some television show.

I knew: the relationship was doomed.

These past few days I’ve thought a lot about feet.

Spending time at a silent retreat at the Zen Monastery means you stare at sockless toes.

One woman—delicate and trim—has blackened soles and toes, which my husband says was probably due to frostbite.

My husband’s feet look pinkish, with toenails formed by a third-grader in a pottery class: gray and misshapen.

Another Zen disciple–a tall woman has elongated flippers–wears toenails painted black.

My toes are painted red to distract wandering eyes from the callouses (tennis) and bunions (mother’s genes).

My toes flare like Spock’s Vulcan salute: Live long and prosper.

My piggy who-went-to-market pairs with the piggy who-stayed-home, while the other three clump together to create the cloven hoof.

The V-shape of five toes looks like Spock’s greeting.

Each foot’s second lieutenant (stay-at-home oinker) looks like an inch-worm caught mid-step: an upside down “V” that’s not at all like its moniker of hammer-toe.


In a pig’s eye.


15 April 2018





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Becoming Buddhist

enzoI am inching toward becoming a Buddhist and find myself torn.

When practitioners “become” Buddhists, they are given the name of an ancestor.

And this is where my panic digs in.

It’s not just the accoutrements of religion–the bowing and the incense and the meditation.

It’s the naming.

I understand a “name” is just a label, yet I cling to my birth-name.

One of the Buddhist priests in our community doesn’t use his birth-name anymore.

He says when he mingles with folks in town, rather than giving his birth-name of Fred, he uses his Buddhist name, Tomoya (I’m using pseudonyms for propriety).

He says, “call me Tom.”

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Indian Horse film delves into Canada’s dark history of residential schools

via Indian Horse film delves into Canada’s dark history of residential schools

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Reimagining History


Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851) by Emanuel Leutze

Taking Liberty with a Grin


George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook (1975) by Robert Colescott

Can you close your eyes and imagine the famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware?

Remember the general standing tall, facing the wind, in a tiny boat?

An American flag unfurls while sailors guide the craft through chunks of ice.

It’s nighttime, Christmas, 1776, and Washington is planning to attack a group of Germans (British allies) in Trenton, New Jersey.

Earlier that winter, Washington and his troops were driven from New York, south to New Jersey, and morale ebbed low among the Americans.

Washington’s surprise attack in the freezing early-morning hours would prove a success.

Today the Christmas-time battle is considered a turning point in the American Revolution.

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