Power of place in Indian Country

red cloud

Memorial to Makhpiya-Luta (Red Cloud)

The power of place and places of power

A friend gave me a newspaper article about the power of place.

The article wasn’t what I expected: it didn’t talk about the indigenous perspective about place—which is how I think about place.

Rather, the article talked about the idea of place as longing and yearning, and I wonder: Is this different from an indigenous perspective?

My sense is that contemporary folks who love to hike and fish and camp search for meaning in the wilderness.

From that perspective, place has power.

For many folks, finding “place” means escaping to quiet: turning off phones and televisions and gas-powered vehicles to flirt with nature.

Nothing wrong with that.

But, for indigenous people, I wonder if the power of place refers to something else.

Does place mean the fundamental, deep-seated connection to a landscape where your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents knew the life of the grass and crows that inhabited the land?

That’s how native scholar Vine Deloria Jr. interprets Native ways-of-knowing.

Is that connection one in which the spirit is calmed by the sound of the wind wafting through the corn? Continue reading

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When customs dictate behavior


On Friday mornings I head off on my bike into our little berg with my pack full of painting supplies.

I lock my bike at a cafe and pull out a large ceramic mug and buy a bottom-less cup of coffee to take to my watercolor painting class.

My cup filled, I cross the street, armed with bike helmet and painting supplies, and head off to class.

Today I’m a bit early, and I look for an open seat with plenty of table space.

Some of the regulars are already painting, even though class hasn’t officially begun.

I often sit near the teacher, since I’m a beginner, but the seats are already filled by eager regulars.

This summer I discovered that a handful of the artists have been taking the class for three, five and even seven years. Continue reading

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Which Picasso are you?


Would you choose the blue period? Cubist? African? Surreal?

If I were a Picasso painting, I would be a cube.

Fact is, I find comfort in numbers, straight lines, rulers and answers.

I don’t do well with uncertainty.

But I have a floopy side to my personality: I like ideas that turn upside-down our traditional thinking.

The thing about rules is that they give us boundaries and guidelines, and there’s some comfort in that.

But what self-respecting descendant of an American Indian would admit to that?

Kevin Gover, for one. Continue reading

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When is a shoebox more than a shoebox?

I have a fistful of postcards in search of a letterbox.

Today we’re in San Francisco, heavy with rich coffee and notes to friends, and I’m searching for a blue repository for our Bay Area greetings.

Our trip last month to Chicago left me in search of a mailbox, and I couldn’t tell if the postbox was bonafide with its garish graffiti.

The box was covered in posters and spray paint: was it a true letterbox?

Today–In the conservative Financial District of San Francisco–I spy an unadorned receptacle for my greetings.

Unlike Chicago, this one is decorated with shoes.

One shoe is tucked under a letterbox leg, and the other sits at the top, greeting visitors with a black bow. 

I whack up my ginger and stuff the cards into the…shoebox.

I hope the owner isn’t tucked inside.

17 September 2017

San Francisco



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Green or Blue?

IMG_1263 (1)

Green or blue?

Digging into words can be tricky

And not everyone agrees with the theories about how words mean, which can drive you crazy.

The most basic, common-sense idea is that people who hear messages invoke their own sense of what they mean.

We each interpret meanings differently–you may think of a childhood game if I say, bat, while I might be thinking about a flying mammal.

But we also share meanings in common.

We’re probably thinking the same thing if I say, That guy is a real jerk. Continue reading

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The Invisibility of Being Native

A Conversation with Native Americans on Race


The New York Times’ Op-Doc: A Conversation about Race

No matter who you are, if you are Native American, your opinions and experiences are marginalized to the point of invisibility in American society and culture.

That’s a quote from today’s New York Times’ write-up on the video, A Conversation With Native Americans on Race.

The 5-minute video features young American Indians talking about their identities, with a few pointing out we’re the only folks in the United States who carry a Federal card with our blood quantum printed next to our names.

We’re identified by the percentage of our Native blood, courtesy of the government once anxious to rid the nation of Indigenous Americans.

Yet many of us to go unnoticed because our features don’t comport with a cartoon image on a hunk of butter or a tin of tobacco.

More important, perhaps, is the false idea that Indians are dead and gone, as one lad noted on the video. Continue reading

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Practice, practice, practice

A fistful of rocks

Practice, practice, practice.

I told my art teacher my new mantram is practice, practice, practice.

He doesn’t know he is also my new Zen Roshi.

I’m taking a watercolor class this summer–my first–and each painting is a new journey.

I learn to blend colors and try to capture what my eye sees.

Like Zen Buddhism, the point is to see what is in front of you: not what you wish were there. Continue reading

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