Take a trip through an Indigenous lens

bailoutCan you imagine being indebted for more than $1,000,000,000,000?

Yes, it is worthwhile observing National American Indian Heritage Month.

Each November I make a promise to view my world through an indigenous lens and write about that view in this blog.

You need not be indigenous to adapt this perspective.

Just imagine moments in your day–riding the bus, shopping for groceries and walking the neighborhood–how would such moments look, as seen through the eyes of a denizen?

A film series on Native America notes that around the end of the 19th century American Indian populations had diminished so much that only 250,000 indigenous peoples remained, having survived disease and displacement.

Activist Suzan Shown Harjo notes in the film that–against all odds–our ancestors survived.

We made survival the most important choice in the face of wars, disease and the purposeful diminishment of our cultures.

Today American Indians account for 1-2 percent of the US population: some 6-and-one-half million denizens.

I think of this motley group as survivors who reasoned their children’s futures were more critical than anything else. Continue reading

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Why American Indian Regalia is no Halloween Costume

indian outfit

Not my Indian outfit

Halloweens engenders talk, tweets and op-eds about costumes.

What’s appropriate? What’s insulting?

When I arrived in the US for college, after living overseas for my primary-grade schooling, I discovered parties: Halloween was an excuse to kick back, drink cheap wine, and wear a costume.

At my first college Halloween party in the ‘States, one of the women college students—an Hispanic whose parents migrated from Mexico—was dressed in full Aunt Jemima countenance, right down to the blackface.

I was simultaneously repulsed and intrigued: Is it OK in American culture to don the persona of Aunt Jemima on Halloween?

Our social mores have since adjusted, and folks who wear blackface are criticized ferociously.

At least on social media.

But what about wearing war paint, feathers, and pretending you’re an American Indian?

My relatives get incensed at fake Indian dress, tomahawk chops and imitation war chants.

And Halloween costumes. Continue reading

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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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