Cicada Invasion Vacation

We found terrific coffee within walking distance of our temporary lodgings in Chicago this past week and the first few days greeted us with mid-70s (Fahrenheit) weather, clear skies and low humidity.

Unlike Portland, which is often in the 60s in summer mornings, our Chicago search for coffee and breakfast begs for shorts and sleeveless tops, with temperatures in the low 70s at 7 a.m.

We stay close to Palmer Park in the northern berg of Logan Square, where we walk to daily, often with a 20-month-old toddler in tow, whose current expertise is climbing.

When we return to the park in the afternoon, our skin toasted and brows sweaty, we hear the the strum and buzz of the cicadas.

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Entering the Age of Transaction

We feel the heartbeat of Google and Apple and Facebook throb while visiting family in Northern California.

My husband and I take a short walk early every morning to find rich-roasted coffee and sweets before the family rises, and share good mornings with hikers, bikers and—no surprise—engineers.

We strike up a conversation with a retired engineer about media and identity, and ponder about what has altered the current state of communication.

When I teach introduction to communication I tell college students that communication folks define it as a transaction.

Transaction means that the sender and the receiver are engaged in an exchange, but the exchange doesn’t require symmetry or even reciprocity—just some sort of exchange.

A sender could take the form of a magazine article or a college professor.

That means a magazine article may be a passive sender, but it’s not without some influence.

Still: the reader may or may not engage fully.

The relationship isn’t—traditionally speaking—equal.

I think equality or symmetry is the essential point in our morning discussion.

For example, a professor expects to lecture to engaged students.

But the transaction is asymmetrical.

Let’s face it: the lecturer is center stage.

We all bring our baggage of expectations to a transaction, and there’s plenty of room for disappointment.

As a professor, I try to impart information, hoping students want to learn.

So you can see where I am headed: not all students have the same willingness, and the transaction can get…wobbly.

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When First Place is More than a Win

Lachlan Morton (see credits below)

If you live in Portland, you know it’s time for the Tour de France if you have a coffee and croissant at our local boulangerie.

The owner streams the event every year.

That’s one reason I love living in this burg: the French bodegas stream cycling, the Italians stream football (soccer) and the Brits stream Wimbledon.

The boulangerie attracts all sorts: GenXers swathed in running gear, mums pushing jogging strollers, gents wearing cycling cleats, and Alte Kakers walking hand-in-hand on a pandemic stroll.

We’re all consigned to watch a few minutes of the grueling Grande Tour while biting off a bit of puff pastry.

And that’s why Josh Hunt’s piece in Sunday’s New York Times is so captivating.

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Lockdown for Mice

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Lockdown for Mice

The Elders

When Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern United States in 2012, the seaside town where my husband’s parents lived lost power.

They survived weeks without heat in November and December, thanks to a gas range that warmed the kitchen and let them cook soup and oatmeal.

His parents were in their advanced 80s.

We flew from the West Coast as soon as it was safe to travel, in the midst of the outage.

Parents lived on the New Jersey shore, a train-ride from New York, where the town transformed to a beachy hullabaloo in summers.

But in the off-season, the town assumed all the characteristics of Mayberry, where locals attend church on Sunday and where a neighbor might shovel your walk in winter.

More than once during the Sandy storm, local police officers and mail-carriers knocked on Parents’ door to check on them.

The locals clung to some traditions: a family-owned pharmacy that still attracted customers on Main Street and a five-and-dime that sold beach-wear, sunglasses, Sea-&-Ski lotion and postcards.

A downtown deli still makes sandwiches loaded with sliced meats, and we often bought lunch in town and picnicked on the lawn near the Library.

My in-laws’ 1960s-era split-level house was typical for the town until investors began buying up homes in the 1980s, demolishing them, and building castles big enough for a T-Rex.

Parents’ home was dwarfed by mansions erected in the sand whenever a denizen departed.

I thought about them this week as we emerged from the shadows of a pandemic, remembering them in their winter lockdown, bundled in three layers of clothing, huddled in the kitchen, and cooking oatmeal and soup.

The kitchen proved to be safe harbor for muggles escaping Sandy, and it also offered a haven for the mice.

My honey and I discovered the mice when we rose before the elders to make tea and coffee.

We were greeted by the scurry of tiny feet.

Opening one cupboard, we discovered plastic bags gnawed at the bottom, buried in rice and grain and flour and oats.

No cracker, cookie, crisp or candy-bar was left untouched.

Their Costco outings proved bountiful for the critters.

My husband found his mother’s washing-up gloves, made a mask from my bandana, and unfurled a rubbish bag.

He ordered me out of the kitchen for caution’s sake, and dove into the cupboards and tossed out packets of food without waiting for permission.

He knew his depression-era mother would balk at chucking out food “that’s still good.”

The elders survived the storm—and the mice—and we, in turn, survived the pandemic for more than 18 months of gloves and masks.

And mice.

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In memory of mom and dad, Violet and Walter

Photo by the Author

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The New Normal


Uncredited image from the Office of Health Equity, State of Colorado

My pandemic months were normalized by my spartan wardrobe.

I rotated the same three pants over many months—gray then navy and now black—and alternated colored tops for my zoom lectures and staff meetings.

Getting dressed was mindless.

And normal.

Now—as the mercury rises in our little berg—I rescue a pair of shorts buried last year in a drawer and whisper a wee prayer of thanks: they still fit.

We can sip a soda outside and listen to the bluebirds squawk and finches trill.

The old normal.

I had the chance to meet up with a girlfriend in person and outside, on her journey to the Pacific Northwest.

We wore masks and earrings—jewelry is one thing I haven’t bothered with all year—and she told me how her golden retriever offered another heartbeat in her house, saving her from loneliness.

Her pooch passed away just before her trip, the signal of a milestone in a year of milestones.

Her new normal will continue when she returns home and welcomes a pup into her life.

Another friend reports she kept her friendships humming.

She shares meals with a pal: each of them cooks enough for two, and then passes along homemade lasagne or chicken for the other.

One of our daughters and her beau spent much of lockdown learning how to teach English to non-English-speaking children.

They overlapped taking online courses and exams, while researching countries keen on hiring English language teachers.

They decided on Thailand—a country they had scouted while traveling in Asia.

After several months of investigating life in the East, contacting schools, getting shots, reserving airline seats, paying for visas and placing their belongings in storage, they arrived in Bangkok where they spent two weeks in quarantine, giving them time to contact local schools.

And within the month, each of them had a job offer.

Another milestone and a new normal.

Reading through the headlines I see plentiful stories that beg for a return to normal.

I look at my family, friends and neighbors and see that change is the new normal.

We’re not returning.

We’re not going back.

We’re headed for the next mile and the next adventure.

That’s the new normal.

3 May 2021

Dedicated to my daughters, and to all my relatives

With acknowledgement and gratitude to the Native peoples on whose land I live, write and teach: the Multnomah, the Clackamas, and the denizens of all Indigenous nations

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Find the flamingo and you’ll find the lampshade

I broke a lamp when I was moving items on my desk for a home zoom call.

The vintage-glass shade hit the wooden table and cracked to bits.

I asked my husband where he put the old shade—the one that came with the lamp before I found a vintage replacement—and he said it was in the garage by the flamingo.

Flamingo?

Anyone overhearing our conversation will think we’re bonkers.

The plastic pink flamingo was a housewarming-anniversary gift from our kids we found sunk in our front garden years ago.

Being cloistered during the Pandemic means my husband and I have created our own language and even copied each other’s expressions and cadence.

We call our neighbor’s chickens The Girls and our robo-vacuum Rufus.

I’m reading in the room we call the West Wing.

Yesterday he expressed amazement by saying, “Oh, man!”

That’s my expression, having never left the classroom—but I’ve never heard him say it.

When he speaks, his words are clipped and he pauses…between…phrases.

I found myself imitating him on a zoom call with 60 college students.

My cadence is quick, but I paused…between…sentences.

One of the students said she liked our theory class because it intersected with her media course, which gave me delight.

“Oh, man!” I said.

Great.

###

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Deb Haaland’s Appointment is Critical

Wet Plate Collodion Image of Deb Haaland by Shane Balkowitsch

When Joe Biden nominated Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico to direct the Department of the Interior, social media posts buzzed.

My American Indian friends and relatives have been rooting for Haaland for weeks, hopeful a Native American would head a cabinet flush with a sordid history of settler-Indian relationships.

But this week, a handful of lawmakers has taken a page from the bullies’ playbook, calling Haaland a “radical” who threatens “working men and women,” according to the Washington Post.

The accusations and lies are laughable to anyone familiar with Haaland’s business profile, and anyone familiar with the history of the Department of Interior, which oversees Native American peoples and lands.

For example, my government-issued CDIB card: a Certificate Degree of Indian Blood, sanctifies my identity as a citizen of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma.

Why would an office of the United States government need to authorize my heritage?

The Department of the Interior has been charged with the oversight of Native affairs for 171 years: that’s seven generations from its creation in 1849, to my generation, certified on my CDIB card.

Wording of the Interior’s responsibilities on its website frames its role as “management of … the basic responsibilities for Indians,” showing that Native Nations are considered wards of the United States and implying we cannot manage ourselves.

Language on the website soft-peddles policies that were aimed at crushing Indian communities.

For example, the website notes the Dawes Act was established in 1887 to “authorize allotments to Indians.”

Truth is, the Dawes Act was created to carve up Native American property into 160-acre parcels—allotments—with the remaining territory claimed by the US for settlers.

For example, after their land was chunked into parcels for each family, the Iowa Indians were left with 90 percent of their land unallotted. The remaining 270,000 acres were  claimed by the US government and sold to settlers, according to writer Peter Nabokov.

The Interior’s responsibilities once more took material form, this time in stolen acres.

“Practically every tribe lost land this way,” Nabokov writes.

The intent of the allotment act under the Department of the Interior was to serve as a “mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass,” said Theodore Roosevelt in his annual message to Congress in 1901.

Management of the earth, mountains, forests, rivers—and Indians—by the Interior was a critical component of US-Native treaties.

A “defining moment” occurred when the Secretary of the Interior took actions that would open up the Dakota territory—and other Indigenous lands—and ignore the “treaty to end all treaties.”

The head of the Interior under President Ulysses S. Grant decided that the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 should simply be discounted once rumors of gold in the Black Hills reached Washington DC.

If the rumors were true, then the Black Hills should be “freed as early as possible from Indian occupancy,” wrote Columbus Delano, head of the Interior, in 1872.

Delano noted that—if gold were indeed discovered—“I should then deem it advisable … to extinguish the claim of the Indians and open the territory to the occupation of the whites.”

In other words, the Fort Laramie Treaty was deemed insignificant compared with the material prospect of an area “rich in minerals,” he wrote.

Delano arranged to have the Seventh Cavalry trek from Fort Abraham Lincoln (in, what is today, North Dakota) to the Black Hills: an area reserved for the Sioux under the Fort Laramie treaty.

The expedition, which began on July 2, 1874, was led by a 34-year-old Civil War veteran named George Armstrong Custer, who was accompanied by more than 1,000 troops, 300 head of cattle, and a mélange of scientists, miners, engineers, photographers and news correspondents.

After just a few weeks, Lieutenant Colonel Custer dispatched a courier to Fort Laramie, who reported the discovery of gold and silver.

News spread quickly throughout the country, alerting settlers to the prospect of fortune-hunting in the Black Hills.

Within two years, the sacred Black Hills were populated by 10,000 pioneers and prospectors. 

And the Secretary of the Interior would write, “I am inclined to think that the occupation of this region of the country is not necessary to the happiness and prosperity of the Indians.”

History books reflect only a few of the policies that would upend life for Native Americans at the hands of the Department of the Interior.

As readers of the New York Times learned after Biden’s election, policy-makers at the Interior (under the impeached president) rushed to cement several last-minute projects on traditional Native American land, and in National forests and National wilderness areas.

Plans included a copper mine—the largest in the US—an open-pit lithium mine, and a substantive project designed to drill for helium gas.

Such ventures represent a post-script on a long list of looting by the US Government for centuries, with special plundering reserved for Native American lands.

The prospect of Deb Haaland leading the Department of the Interior offers hope for all of us who honor and respect our relationships with the environment and its inhabitants, and who hear beyond the Siren call of treating the natural world we share as a commodity for a few.

After the nomination was made public, Haaland tweeted: “Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.” And for Native Americans, this means at least one voice of reason at the decision-making table.

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Wet Plate Collodion Image of Debra Haaland by Shane Balkowitsch, 2019. Photo: Wikipedia

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Creating Meaning in an Age of Disinformation

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Art by Barbara Kruger © and photo by Cathy Carver from the 2012 installation Belief+Doubt

This week I had an opportunity to be part of a conversation about mass media, disinformation and journalism with media specialists from Morocco and Africa.

I was excited to talk with an international group about issues I confronted as a Fulbright Scholar abroad last year.

For example, I read local newspapers constantly and was struck by the numbers of stories about Indigenous communities: something I rarely see in mainstream US news.

Typically the stories lacked hyperbole: Native folks were depicted as normal, rather than abnormal, and as ordinary, rather than exotic.

And while I wasn’t posted in Africa, peering outside the lens of my home country and seeing our values reflected back is an illuminating exercise.

In a similar vein, several of the speakers wanted to know how journalism is faring in the US, and we shared that—while traditional mainstream channels, such as local newspapers, are starving for advertising revenue—social media giants, such as google and facebook, are making unparalleled profits.

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Thanksgiving: Whose Prosperity?

              This week we are studying a confluence of tragedies that signaled a turning point for Native American life at the end of the 1800s.

              Our college lessons just happen to fall in the same week as Thanksgiving, and some classmates want to know how or whether American Indians celebrate the holiday.

              I explain that, for Indigenous and settler folk in North America, October and November represent harvest time.

              Traditionally Native Americans would dig root vegetables, gather squashes, pick late-blooming fruits, and hunt foul, game and fish, and then share the bounty with relatives in autumn.

              No wonder textbooks seized on the image of peaceful Native folk joining the Pilgrims at the harvest table because it softens the more sordid story that “tribes have always paid the price for America’s prosperity.”

              I steer my students to the heart of the week’s lesson, which focusses on the prosperity quote taken from David Archambault’s editorial in the New York Times titled, “Taking a Stand at Standing Rock.”

              Taking a stand, Archambault says, means resisting trespassers on lands guaranteed to Native peoples in documents like the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.

              “The government broke [the treaties] before the ink was dry,” he writes.

              Archambault and thousands of relatives and activists gathered in North Dakota in 2016 to demonstrate contempt for the construction of a 1,172 mile crude oil pipeline through territory promised to the tribes in the Fort Laramie Treaty.

              The pipeline was rerouted around the city of Bismarck to spare residents the risk of having crude oil run too close to their water supply.

              Instead, the pipeline tunnels through the Missouri River and crosses underneath Lake Oahe: the water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and neighboring communities, according to Archambault.  

              And while the courts ruled that a proper environmental report still needs to be completed on the pipeline’s impact on humans and nature’s ecology, it continues to operate, producing about 570,000 barrels of oil each day, according to the company’s website.

              The price per barrel currently is about $43, which means Energy Transfer Partners rake more than 24 and one-half million dollars-worth of oil daily from this pipeline alone.

              When Archambault writes about America’s prosperity, I think about disparity: the imbalance between folks who prosper from oil drilling, who use electricity from dams built for hydropower, and who mine for gold on traditional Indian land.

              The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reaped no benefit from the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the creation of a dam at the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest in the 1950s decimated the veritable and cultural landscape for Indigenous peoples whose lives are entwined with the river.

              And when gold was discovered in the sacred Black Hills in the mid-1800s, treaties—which the US guaranteed sacrosanct—were roundly ignored by military and miners alike.

              After news of the Seventh Calvary’s expedition to Sioux territory confirmed the presence of gold in the summer of 1874—a journey led by George Armstrong Custer—pioneers swarmed into the Black Hills.

              By 1876 the population of settlers seeking “yellow metal” rose to 10,000.

              Black Elk, a Lakota holy man whose words were interpreted by a translator and by a non-Indian editor in the 1932 book Black Elk Speaks, recalled the rush of migrants hunting for gold:

The Wasichus had found much of the yellow metal that they worship and that makes them crazy, and they wanted to have a road up through our country to the place where the yellow metal was; but my people did not want the road.  It would scare the bison and make them go away, and also it would let the other Wasichus come in like a river …. These lands are becoming smaller, for around them surges the gnawing flood of the metal; and it is dirty with lies and greed.

              While the book translates “Wasichu” as “white people,” writer Nick Estes notes the nuances of the term.

              “To be called Wasichu was the highest insult,” Estes writes.

              “It meant that a person behaved selfishly, individualistically, with no accountability, as if they had no relatives.”

              When I join my relatives at the dinner table this week, I will consider my prosperity and ask: what am I grateful for, and at whose expense?  

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Thanksgiving Day 2020

Dedicated to my students, who are reading about environmental justice: Scott, Gio, Isabella, Siri, Colby, Luke, Jovanna, Cassidy, Greer, Jordan, Christian, Annie, Izabella, Yan, Lily, Sabrina, Brian, Jamie, Jackleen, Emily, Katie and Audrey

With acknowledgement and gratitude to the Native peoples on whose land I live, write and teach: the Multnomah, the Clackamas, and the denizens of all Indigenous nations

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Image from Indian Country Today

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