Threading the Needle


Buddhist Rakusu

Closing the Osage-Buddhist Circle

We spent the last weeks—months—on a sewing project, creating a Rakusu: a garment worn when you become a practicing Buddhist.

The Rakusu has a rich tradition.

The garment is a rectangular cloth with straps that you wear over your neck, and you are responsible for sewing it yourself.

The cloth includes pieces of fabric you stitch together to resemble the topography of a rice field.

So: when you look at a Rakusu and see little rectangles pieced together, imagine a bird’s eye view of a rice field.

Legend says a prince asked his Buddhist mentor to wear a garment so the prince could recognize friend from foe at a distance.

The Rakusu signals to the visitor the wearer is a Buddhist.

Homemade Rakusu

In the Osage tradition, women sew open hands—palms open—onto their clothing.

The open-palm symbolizes that the wearer bears no weapons.

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Dependence within Independence

I wonder about the meanings of dependence on the day that celebrates independence (and my birthday): July 4.

Thoughts about independence are buried deep within our nation’s stories, including myths that our Indian ancestors roamed free and wild and independent, and that the settlers sought independence from restrictive nation-states.

Stories about independence weigh us down: we see ourselves through a mirage of ersatz independence.

Truth is, we are all, at our core, dependent.

I read that a leaf may fall from a tree, but the leaf is “still the whole tree.”

The leaf is inextricably tied to the tree: and to the ground for nourishment, to the clouds for rain, and to the sun for sustenance.

The writer continues with a metaphor of the ocean: “The wave is full of water, but it is empty of a separate self.”

Rather than congratulating myself over 65 years of independence, today I embrace the idea of dependence.

My body is part of the tobacco plant in my garden.

My blood is part of the fluid that waters the tomatoes.

I am connected to the souls who live in the houses surrounding my gardens.

How odd that settler stories of Native Americans are seared with independence when indigenous tribal knowledges and meanings stem from relationships with all beings.

The Osages, the Lakota, the Iroquois, the Dine—we all understand our interconnectedness.

In this spirit, today I celebrate relationships that give us life–whether we know it or not.


4 July 2018



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Broad of Beam

And Heavy Afore the Mast

My father-in-law died at home over the weekend and it feels like the passing of a certain style of talking, thinking, behaving and being.

Just shy of his 97th birthday when he breathed his last, Walter had a knack for expressions—the sort you rarely hear.

My favorite is his description of a relative.

Walter related a silhouette of his relative to my husband, Scott, who needed to pick her out of a crowd.

Because Scott had never laid eyes on her, Walter said, “you’ll know her” by the figure she cuts.

“She’s built broad of beam, and heavy afore the mast.”

Walter was simply stating a fact.

He didn’t have a mean bone in his tiny frame—which earned him the nickname of “Pee-Wee” in high school.

Short but fast, he held his high school’s record for the fastest mile run during his tenure.

Although diminutive, he cut quite the figure in his navy-blue Coast Guard uniform, but, alas, his fashion sense was tragic.

Walter could ply plaid on plaid with carefree abandon. For him, madras and seersucker made a fashion statement.

He traded his World War II uniform for the Wall Street attire of neckties and suits, and put his degree in economics to work in banking and investing, his lifelong career.

His observations were wicked-smart, like the pronouncement that a full-bellied man exhibited a “large corporation.”

Or that a stylish woman was “well-upholstered.”

When his wife was lagging behind, she was “dragging anchor.”

Walter’s endearments of his wife of 72 years, Violet, were sweet indeed.

When Walter talked about Violet to his son, he identified her as, “Your Mother.”

Walter would say, “Your mother is in a mood.”

Or, if Violet were taking a nap, he’d say, “Your mother’s corked off.”

Sometimes–when Walter was mildly annoyed—he would call Violet by her pet name: Henry.

More than once I’ve heard him say, “No, no, no, no, Henry. That’s not right.”

And while Walter was setting the record straight, Henry would shake her head as if to say, no, no, no, no.

They would sit side-by-side on the couch, Walter talking, with Violet shaking her head and rolling her eyes.

Sometimes she would vigorously disagree with her husband, and, if Walter couldn’t sway Violet, he would simply shrug his shoulders.

He didn’t hold a grudge and was one of those rare muggles who gave other people the benefit of the doubt no matter what.

As his vigor faded in his 90s, Walter recited statements he called mantras.

I captured one of them:

“We have a long and happy life together.

That’s the new mantra.

We do the best that we can as long as we can and then we fade away like everything else.

We’re out of here.

We’re out of here.

We’re out of here.”


For Walter Leonard Emery

23 June 1921-25 May 2018

Photo of Walter and Violet Emery by C Coleman Emery

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Buckshot for Brains

To test for intelligence in the 1800s, scientists would scoop out the brains from a skull, and then fill the cavity with buckshot.

The more the buckshot, the more the brains.

Native Americans fared far worse than other racial types, which scientists classified as Caucasian, Malayan, Ethiopian, Oriental and American.

Americans–lumped together as natives of North and South America–were judged inferior to their global brethren.

Phrenologists studied the skulls of Indians, thanks to grave-robbers who could earn cash for sending crania to eager scientists.

Scientists declared the skulls demonstrated their inhabitants as warlike and aggressive.

But we were also characterized as lacking the ability to be civilized.

No written language and no religion–popular lies–provided the evidence that native people were incapable of civilization.

Armed with this “science,” politicians, railroad builders, business-folk and the military seized the opportunity to wrest lands from the first inhabitants, declaring that our minds lacked the skills to manage our own destinies.

Today’s brain researchers decry phrenological interpretations of race, mind and brain.

And yet, the entailments of phrenology stick even today.

Here are some concrete examples:

1. Humans are still classified as racial types, despite agreement in scientific circles that we all belong to the same race

2. More variation occurs within “racial” types than across “racial” types, which means there is more variety among Indigenous people and more similarity between, say, natives of the British Isles and the Shoshone

3. We still judge people by the way they look, letting our stereotypes get in the way of critical thinking

4. American Indian bodies, bones and skulls continue to be stolen and studied, despite laws that protect remains and artifacts

My thanks to the Northwest Native American Research Center for Health for inviting me to share my work on science and culture this week.

Wey wee nah


14 June 2018

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The Case of the Fake Fruit


Does it worry you?

I like to read the ingredients on food packets, and found an unexpected listing on a tub of Chobani blueberry yogurt.

Here is the list from the tub:

No fake fruit

No artificial flavors

No artificial sweeteners

No preservatives

No GMO ingredients

No gluten


I worry about fake presidents, fake news and fake videos, but rarely stew over fake fruit.

My sole experience with indeterminate foodstuffs was during my undergraduate days.

I bought (and ate) what was cheap: ramen noodles (10 for a dollar) and Jiffy muffin mixes for 25 cents.

Turns out ramen noodles are terrible for you: high in saturated fat and difficult for the gut to digest.

And the Jiffy blueberry muffin mix?

Turns out there are no blueberries in the package.

Here are the ingredients from the muffin packet:

Wheat flour, sugar, animal shortening (contains one or more of the following: lard, hydrogenated lard, partially hydrogenated lard), dextrose, leavening (baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate), contains less than 2% of each of the following: salt, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, fructose, food starch-modified, natural and artificial flavors, citric acid preservatives, blue 2 lake, red 40 lake, wheat starch, niacin, reduced iron, bht preservative, tricalcium phosphate, tocopherol preservative, bha preservative, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, riboflavin, folic acid, silicon dioxide.

Not one blueberry.

There are bluish bits that puff up in the cooked muffins, but no true berries.

I used to make waffles with the Jiffy mix, adding handfuls of fresh berries, and now just create waffles from scratch, which takes only a few more minutes than the instant.

We’re lucky because we live in a city that boasts a farmers’ market six-days-a-week, and we can find fresh berries in the summer, along with carrots, mushrooms, apples, peaches, plums, pears, asparagus and artichokes.

At home we grow tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, lettuces, chard, broccoli, potatoes, oca, peas and beans.

And, yes, blueberries, too.


jiffy package

26 May 2018






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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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