Race Unity: Unfinished Business

These past few months have been a doozy for reading and listening to racist statements from the likes of a basketball coacha ranchera Norwegian zoo commemoration of a Congolese people displaysoccer fans throwing bananasthe continued use of Indian mascots and a Princeton student who will not apologize for his white privilege–just to name a few!

But what really stands out is the level of openness of a white man openly killing a black teenager for listening to loud music.

Every day there is a new post about an incident– not including the everyday microagressions that people of color deal with and never report. How much longer are we going to stand by and not be outraged as citizens, as a country? When will we take collective action to start the termination of racism by creating an inclusive truth and reconciliation process with healing our wounds? I think a first step is to recognize our human oneness. What happens to one happens to us all.

Race Unity Day is coming up on June 12, 2014 and I thought it would be an appropriate time to take action. Race Unity Day was created in 1957 with the sole purpose of focusing attention on racial prejudice. Race unity can be defined as the belief that there is only one race of human beings and that skin color is a superfluous difference of our phenotype stemming from our physical environments. Science has already proven this to be fact and the American Anthropological Association has also confirmed this just in case there are doubters. If we continue to perpetuate race and racism then we are going against science.

Take a stand for Race Unity on June 12th by posting photos, personal statements and stories and tag them #RaceUnity on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Begin new friendships with people who don’t look like you and start discussion groups at school, houses of worship and work. Be creative!! Let’s show America that science and love are more powerful than ignorance, hate and apathy. Racism is a serious barrier to achieving peace and tranquility in this country. Let’s wipe out racism in our lifetime!! Take a stand for race unity!

Share
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Three Men, a War, and Race: Honoring Our Veterans on Memorial Day

Lewis and Charles Graves ArmyEdward C Gleed Plane001

 

In honor of Memorial Day I want to share a family story. I have always wondered how common it might be. Just after WWII broke out in 1941, two brothers and their brother-in-law decided to enlist in the army. One chose the navy and two wanted to fly planes and chose the air force. There was a little problem for them: Jim Crow segregation laws that permeated the US Army. At that time, your skin color determined your future. It soon became clear that the two brothers of African American and Cherokee descent and their brother-in-law of African American descent as well, would not be able to enter the army of their choice. At that time black men were relegated to janitor or cook positions. It is no wonder that someone might want to pass if they could.

No one knows what, when and how they discussed circumventing the race rules but we do know the outcome. My father and his brother convinced their mother to go to the Topeka, Kansas Department of Vital Statistics to change their birth certificates from Negro to white. She mentioned to the clerk that the hospital had made a mistake. My grandmother’s request was a success because two new certificates were mailed with the desired white race classification. My father was admitted into the Navy and my uncle into the Air Force.

Their brother-in-law enlisted in the army and was assigned to the 9th Calvary. Later he was accepted into the army’s experimental pilot training program for Negroes which became the famed the Tuskegee Airmen. He was also assigned to military intelligence. In a few short years, my uncle flew to fame as the pilot of the iconic Lucifer Jr. P-51 fighter airplane and became the commanding officer of the 302nd Fighter Squadron. He retired with honors as a colonel and flew three air-to-air combat victories. He later was interviewed by filmmaker George Lucas and his story was used in the Red Tails film.

My father had not yet changed his name in 1941 but had created a new racial identity that he shared with his white peers. He became someone of French ancestry who was “descended” from a line of French barbers. He later was dismissed due to a foot ailment and did not see action. After the war, my father created a new name with a French flair and a white identity that he chose to live with for rest of his short life. He died at the age of 55.

My uncle, of the changed birth certificate, became a distinguished pilot and retired with honors. He also created a new racial identity of white, albeit with his birth name, and never shared this with his military colleagues or his children. To my knowledge no one (except his white wife) ever knew he had a dual life.

I always wondered what happened to people who were admitted into the army and were later caught with false certificates regarding racial status. Did this happen? Was this a common practice? I googled the topic and was unable to find examples.

I often reflect who is the real hero here. My Uncle Cres, my father or my other uncle? How could it be my father or my other uncle? Why did my father and Uncle Charles go to such depth and risks to separate themselves from their African American and Cherokee heritage? Living with a secret must have taken a psychological toll on both of them. I may never understand my family’s decisions or what decisions I would make in trying to live within the confines of Jim Crow but I accept the choices that they made.

In spite of the strict restrictions on all three men, they made their decision to serve their country no matter the odds and to accomplish their goals. I am proud of them all! As we honor all veterans this Memorial Day, let’s give thanks to all who have served no matter the color of their skin, gender or sexual orientation. I believe they all are heroes and heroines!

Share
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Wisdom From the Freedom Riders: Interview with Bettie Mae Fikes and Claire O’Connor

 

Bettie Mae Fikes

Bettie Mae Fikes

Claire O'Connor

 

 

 

 

 

 

What would you do if you were fifteen years old and an unknown speaker came to town to ask you to join a movement?  To join a struggle for civil rights?  What if you were eighteen and invited to a college meeting and at the meeting a man asked you to join a movement to fill the jails in Mississippi? Would you join? I spent time with living legends who said yes. Their lives changed forever and they never looked back. In fact, they are quite humble and matter of fact about their role in challenging segregation!

The Freedom Riders were young people recruited during the early 1960’s to push for change that would allow southern African Americans full voting rights as guaranteed in the US Constitution.  The practices and de facto laws of Jim Crow denied such voting rights. Ms. Bettie Mae Fikes became a Freedom Rider and later became a member of the Students for Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Selma. She also became a leading voice of Freedom Songs. Ms. Claire O’Connor also arose as a Freedom Rider in Jackson, Mississippi and later went back to serve in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi for several years.

We are here today with many benefits because Ms. Fikes and Ms. O’Connor fought to make our world a better place so that everyone has the right to vote and are able to sit and eat in any restaurant of our choice no matter the color of our skin. It is not every day that one gets to talk to a legend!

So I asked myself, what would I ask them? Would I ask them about the sufferings they experienced in the struggle? What about their accomplishments? I could be nosy and ask what Dr. MLK like and Malcom X were really like? These are all great questions but not the ones I wanted to ask.  We still struggle today to fully achieve the dreams of racial integration and the oneness of humanity with the ultimate goal of eliminating racism, so I thought it best to focus on what they have learned and what advice would they give us working in the fields of social justice, equity and diversity.

Interview with Ms. Fikes

Ms. Fikes we are so blessed that you are taking the time to answer my questions. You have been busy with the 50th anniversary commemorations across the country.

What did you learn as a young woman supporting the Freedom Riders and being in the Civil Rights Movement?

Nanette, you are very welcome! At first I wanted an opportunity to avoid church and school and it wasn’t until my friend was hurt that I realized that I needed to stand up. What if I had just listened to Dr. King and done nothing? I wanted to be a part of something.

I have learned that there has been a lot of change but some things remain the same. We have come to a place now that nothing is the same as it used to be. A lot of our history has been forgotten. We can never forget! If you don’t know your history how can you move forward? The time will come when you have to stand up and will face a struggle. Which side are you on?

I believe will all have to tell a story. Are we equipped to tell it? We can’t imagine what our ancestors suffered  but we can validate and honor what they did for us today. The history is still raw but many of our children don’t know our history. Somebody had to die, somebody had to cry for us. I find that a lot of people don’t understand this work because they haven’t been in a struggle.  If you have not been in a struggle, you don’t know what to do. If yes, then you know what to do when the time comes.

When the time comes, what will you do, what will you say? Get on the freedom bus. This work is not over. Justice for one is justice for all. Get ready!

Another thing I learned is that education is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you.

What guidance can you give us to fully realize the dream?

Education, spirituality and love are the three key things in life. How can you fight something you can’t see? If you can’t see, you will be left behind. Let’s put love back in the game. Let’s love and help each other. If we don’t know how to love, we don’t know how to give.

Will we all have to die for freedom? My guideline to you- forge for something that you believe. Most importantly keep your eyes on the prize. This is spiritual warfare. Dream big! Sing loud from your heart. Don’t be a nervous Nellie and be too scared to fight for what you believe in.

I have to fight for social justice today because someone did it for me. We still have to get on the bus today because the fight isn’t over. You must keep your eyes on the prize and hold on.  We have the education today but have left out spirituality and love for each other. Nowadays we spend less time reaching out to each across communities for whatever reason. I believe we are here as servants to help coach each other. I think we should take the time to go meet people from many different communities, connect with them and to learn about their struggles. Once we learn them we can ask what can we do to help.

I woke up every day with the song of freedom in my heart. Do we do that today? I summon you today to read about this history and choose life.

Interview with Ms. O’Connor

Thank you as well for spending time with me. You are getting ready for the 50 year Freedom Summer Reunion in Jackson. How exciting!

Thank you Nanette. I am looking forward to our reunion this summer!

What did you learn as a young woman being a Freedom Rider and later being in the Civil Rights Movement?

The power and joy in being involved in change and protest was very motivating for me.  There is a sense of joy to be a part of a movement. It was also thrilling to be a woman to be a part of something so important when women were not typically called to action.  I learned an absolute that change never comes from the top and in fact it always comes from the bottom. History usually buries this fact. Another thing is that change comes in little steps. So often we are waiting for the flood of change to happen but really it is uncountable steps of change. Floods are made of many tiny drops. Nowadays, I think people are forgetting about the small steps. They remember the 1960s and the fiction from the movement is that all the change for civil rights happened overnight. In fact, there were tiny steps that started in the 1930s. Many years later, there was the flood of going to jail. SNCC started because of the efforts of one woman, Ella Baker. Truly great leaders like Ella are typically lost to history and don’t get the credit.

What guidance can you give us to fully realize the dream?

We need to act. This is the time to push for change. We all have a responsibility to do make social justice and equality happen now.

The lesson that Ella taught us is forgotten. We need to organize at the community level in order to make real positive and enduring change. I can only talk about my community not about other communities. I cannot presume to know what they need. People need to express their own dream. Our job is to [learn] how to listen. You can’t tell people what their dreams are. We can ask what do you want me to do and how do we want me to work. Typically we give clothes to the goodwill for example and believe we are helping others. It is not charity that we need but social change and justice. Doing good for others is our daily responsibility but what we are talking about is much bigger than that. Our job is to build a society of justice that we all deserve. We need to be critical thinkers and ask why something is the way that it is when we see inequality or something doesn’t feel right. Then think about possible solutions. It is not social service but social change that I am talking about.

Where is the anger, where is the outrage today?

Concluding Remarks

Let’s not do what others have done and have Ms. Fikes and Ms. O’Connor’s stories be lost to history. The message of these women is still needed today. Let’s find inspiration in their words and actions and apply them at work, at home and in our communities.

The power of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Imagine that!

Share
Posted in Race | Leave a comment

Indians Meet Indians: What Happens When Two Groups of People Have the Same Name? Interview with Dr. Anton Treuer.

 

Anton Treuer

Every child in America knows the story of Christopher Columbus sailing the ocean blue and “discovering” America and its peoples. He named the indigenous inhabitants Indians because he thought he was in India. People from India were already called Indians by the Europeans. The name stuck in both places. Since 1492, the English speaking world has had two groups of people called Indians. What do we do today when two people have the same name in English? It is an interesting by-product of globalization that many cultures called Indian from India and America get a chance to interact in the United States. What an opportunity! It makes me wonder if this has happened anywhere else on the planet.

The use of Indian as a native identifier is what is commonly used in Indian country today and has been for hundreds of years.  This post will not discuss the issues around the word but for the record, many American Indian people prefer to be called by their tribal nation. For current context read Everything You Wanted To Know About Indians but Were Afraid To Ask and a new video by the National Congress of American Indians.  In the United States 2010 census there were 3.2 million Asian Indians and they are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country.  In Minnesota, Indians from India are the fastest growing ethnic group and doubled their numbers from 16,887 in 2000 to 33,031 in 2010. In 2010, Eden Prairie, Minnesota Asian Indians were 4.2% of the city residents compared to the native Indians at .2%. This population growth has even influenced the local AMC Theater chain to dedicate screen time to Bollywood movies.

The Indian demonym, (the term for the identifier) has become confusing as more people from India have immigrated or are working in America and mixing with all groups of Americans. Several identifiers are commonly used. For example, the US Census uses Asian.  I grew up hearing East Indians to distinguish from American Indians and currently I read and hear just Indian.  Sometimes I hear or read Asian Indian. Some of my friends from Indian have told me that those words are offensive to them. They prefer Indian.

Another point of confusion is the federal and state censuses. For starters, as students and families register in public schools, they have to identify themselves by race. The typical census forms show several categories from which to choose but the two that are available to both groups is American Indian/Alaskan native or Asian/Pacific Islander. If one is new to this country, American Indian could be a choice to make. This choice becomes an issue when schools need accurate reporting data for No Child Left Behind reporting and accuracy for the American Indian Education programs. As a result, Indians from India show up on the American Indian data reports. It is important for public institutions, for example, to have accurate data because they receive state and federal funding based on what should be accurate representations of their populations.

I reached out to Dr. Anton Treuer, celebrated author of Everything You always Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Afraid to Ask and professor of American Indian history at Bemidji State University, to weigh in on this discussion.

Interview with Dr. Treuer

Thank you Tony for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. Also, congratulations on the publication of your new book, The Atlas of Indian Nations!

Thank you! It is being previewed now and will be sale in September or October.

Tony, what are thoughts about this phenomenon of two groups of people living in America with the same name?

First of all, it is important for all people to be validated and respected. It is easy to see how the term being used for two different people would cause confusion. And that confusion may fuel or trigger misunderstandings, hurt feelings or misassociations. So navigating a path forward, it would be useful to have a mutually agreed upon terminology that makes everyone happy. I think the discussion gets bogged down because Native Americans do not have a universal mind on terminology. That doesn’t mean though that people don’t care although sometimes it can get read that way.

Who owns the name? Is that even possible?

That’s a tough one to answer. Names should be owned and originated by the people they reference. Unfortunately that’s not how they have originally evolved. Going forward it would be good to empower Native Americans and people from India to choose the labels that make most sense to them for self-reference and for other’s reference.  Some confusions need to be clarified from context rather than calling people feathers or dots; or green vs. red.

Thank you Tony for sharing insights and ways we can address this reality! What I hear you saying is that we should look to the people themselves to share how they would like to be called rather than making up a name for them.

We cannot undo the past but it important what we do today. First, it is critical that data which affects groups in regards to achievement, voting areas and state/federal funds for example, needs to be accurate. Second, everyone has the right to identify themselves with a name and nation as stated in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights document.  The many diverse cultures called Indian from the United States, like the Dakota, Ojibwe, Mesquakie, for example, and India such as Hindi, Punjabi, and Bihari, for example, present us with a unique opportunity to celebrate our new diversity!

Share
Posted in Race | 2 Comments

Never Giving Up On the Dream! Four Virtues to Make it Happen.

Dr. King’s dream of a world of children being judged by the content of their character rather the color of their skin is one that still rings true 50 years after he said it at the March on Washington. It should be repeated again and again until the dream is fulfilled. The concern is that for some of us it is a dream that we have forgotten, resisted or given up on altogether.

Whatever the reasons, we should remind ourselves that we can still make this dream come true. I believe practicing virtues are a way for us to fulfill the dream. A virtue is a behavior that is positive, moral and ethical and is a way of being that leads us as individuals to a better place. The Virtues Project is a great place to learn more about virtues and get specific definitions. What are the virtues needed for us to fulfill Dr. King’s dream? There are four foundational virtues that come to mind for me: Love, persistence, freedom from prejudice and forgiveness.

Love is what we need to show and practice to everyone, no matter their skin color, every single day. The Virtues Project defines love as treating people with care and kindness because they mean so much to us. We should love all children, ourselves and everyone who comes across our path.

Persistence is that virtue of never giving up on something despite difficult odds. It is such an important self-discipline that underscores the foundation of fulfilling Dr. King’s dream. The Habits of Mind is a resource that offers much about this virtue. In practicing these virtues to fulfil Dr. King’s dream we should identify the ones we need to work on the most and persist in making them a part of our routine.

Forgiveness is a virtue that implies that we must give up grudges that we have held towards others. Learning to give others and oneself another chance after having done something wrong is immense. This virtue is one of the hardest to do because forgiving oneself is tough. Go the Virtues Project for more.

Freedom from Prejudice is simply taking the time to reflect on the personal prejudice one may have towards judging people by the color of their skin. Taking action to self-correct that prejudice is the next requirement.

Let’s give the dream and fulfilment some perspective.  It took 371 years for slavery to end, 188 years for everyone in the United States to get to exercise their right to vote, 202 years for everyone to finally be able to lawfully worship their religion without penalization. Dr. King expressed his dream in 1964. It has been a short 50 years with many accomplishments much but I believe we are in the next phase of fulfilment.

As we reflect on Dr. King’s dream, on his day of commemoration today, let’s remember the words of the great Nelson Mandela: “It is impossible until it is done”. Let’s make it so together. No matter who you are: student, retiree, office worker, ceo, average person, etc.; we all have a part to play!

 

Share
Posted in Race | Leave a comment

Navigating the “Holiday Season”: Observations and Perspectives

December has sprung and the “holiday season” has begun. Or was it Thanksgiving or Halloween? No matter the start, what is clear is that the concept of the “holiday season” has evolved in the United States. Is it because of political correctness, an actual change in the dominant culture about their meaning, or something else? For unknown reasons, the Christmas and New Year’s holidays have become increasingly secular in terms of religion.

I have noticed that in my lifetime, December holidays have become more of an American holiday that people of many faiths practice without having any religious connotation. Everyone wants to have a tree, take a picture with Santa Claus and open presents. A few non-Christian countries also have people celebrating Christmas too. Once what was a time for Christians to celebrate Christmas and New Year has become a generic holiday cheer. Although the behaviors of Christmas and New Year continue like the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, mistletoe and ringing in the New Year at midnight.

I also have noticed that Christians don’t say Merry Christmas in public anymore like I heard growing up and even into the 1990’s. What happened? Has it been the rise of Hanukah, the Winter Solstice celebration and Kwanza that influenced a change? Political correctness or what? Who is offending whom? Was it the retailers, consumerism, the rise of religious harassment laws designed to keep out the Christmas tree because we won’t allow a menorah? Has December become tit for tat by throwing out the religious baby out with the bath water as it were? Let’s not speak of religion for fear offending people?

Another thing I have noticed is the rise of the holiday cheer, the holiday season, etc. language in public and in the media. For example, starting after Thanksgiving we begin to hear “We are in the holiday spirit or in the holiday season”. And then you only hear Christmas songs and see Christmas themed messages. If holiday season is indeed meant to include the Jewish Faith and African American religious traditions why not include their songs and traditions too?

There is also the “holiday party” issue. Some companies, institutions and organizations host parties that include the sharing of gifts, holiday food, holiday decorations and/or Secret Santa activities in December. They are called winter luncheons, winter parties or just plain holiday parties. Should employers host these activities? These activities are challenging if one practices a different faith. It can also be interpreted that the company is putting pressure on their non-Christian employees to participate or the employee may be seen as a Grinch who stole Christmas if they don’t.

Could reviewing religious statistics shed light on this change? According to two researchers Pew and Gallup we have more religious diversity than ever before. A summary table includes:

Christian Other Religions No Affiliations
PEW (2007) 78.4% 4.7% 16.1%
Gallup (2012) 77% 5% 18%

 

The most interesting finding is that there is increasing diversity within all groups. In fact, the no affiliation group, under 30 age group, is the most diverse of all and has no interest in finding a religion! This group keeps growing. The Harvard Pluralism Project delves deeper into the diversity. They state that 6% (17 million people) of the United States practice what they call a diverse religious tradition. This group continues to grow as well. Overall the data indicates that change is occurring in the religious sphere in this country and may be playing a small part in the change of meanings.

In the spirit of the “holiday spirit”, I asked my friends of many faiths or not to weigh in how they interpret the holiday season.  I won’t identify the belief or non-belief orientations of my friends. Some of my friends didn’t realize there was an issue. Some are offended by the “holiday Season” terminology and believe Christ has been taken out of Christmas. In fact, a few believe that thought comes from the elder generation. Their children no longer associate Christianity with Christmas. Others believe that once this holiday season ends, there simply isn’t any interest in the other religious holidays. The holiday spirit drops off the map. One person said that her parents told her she couldn’t say Merry Christmas because it offended people.

Some have told me to get over it because they believe these holidays have morphed into American holidays and are not seen as religious.  They have become secular holidays. Some are offended when others assume that everyone has a holiday in December.

So what is a person to do in this “holiday season”? A thought is to embrace it no matter one’s belief or non-belief. I say, enjoy it if it is your tradition and welcome that others may have another belief. Employers could consider an inclusive method of figuring out how to celebrate the holidays of their employees. I learned from educators that they purchase a diversity calendar and highlight the holidays of their students in a spirit of celebrating diversity and inclusivity throughout the year. Another thought is to be grateful that we have freedom to believe or not to believe. Many countries do not allow freedom to think or believe outside the dominant belief or practice. That is a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.

Maybe this is what a country looks like as it is learning to get along religiously. There isn’t a text book on how we are supposed to behave. A thought to consider this holiday season, welcome everyone from their religious or non-faith tradition as they celebrate their holidays. Pay attention to all the days of the year as our friends and co-workers celebrate their days with genuine interest. Be curious. When someone says Merry Christmas, Merry Winter Solstice or Happy Hanukkah avoid being offended. One of my favorite quotes offers a perspective of inclusivity:

O people! Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. This will be helpful as this country achieves more and more complexity with religion and the people not affiliated with a religion.

Share
Posted in Religion | Leave a comment

The First Flute Meets a Suburban High School: Interview with Kevin Locke

Kevin Locke

What if you were the last person on earth that knew one special tradition? What would you do?  Would you have the courage to speak up and take a stand or would you step aside and let it die?

I know someone who had to make that decision and is spending his life standing for a tradition that no longer exists anywhere on the planet. That person is Kevin Locke and the tradition is the Dakota/Lakota flute. Kevin is committed to ensure that the Dakota flute tradition will flourish for future generations. Listen here for a sample of Kevin’s talent.

Kevin is a hoop dancer and award winning indigenous flutist who has traveled to over 93 countries as a cultural ambassador of Dakota traditions. He has a vision called the First Flute to educate students on the traditional finger patterns and musicology of the Dakota flute. Kevin is a national treasure who serves as an example by tirelessly working to keep a global treasure alive for all of us.

He is a master traditional artist who has made major contributions to preserve the traditions and cultural diversity of the United States. Specifically he has taken the time to meet with elder flutists when he was young to learn the songs, record them, perform them across the planet and is now taking the next step of preservation.

So what is the first flute and what is Kevin’s vision for preservation?

Kevin, what is the first flute?

It is the title of a workshop I created that emphasizes the universality of the flute. Wherever you go on the planet, everyone has one. I also share a definition on my website.

What is your vision of sharing indigenous flute music in America?

The flute is a great entre. The American Indian musical esthetic is so unknown in the world, especially the US and so we can use the flute to educate people.

So what do you do in schools with the first flute?

Students can make their own flutes so they can internalize and familiarize themselves with a type of music that otherwise they might see as foreign or exotic. They also then take ownership. Students learn the notes and the Indian musical scale and then move on to basic melodies. Soon they can play any style song. The first flute program builds capacity and to play authentic indigenous songs in concerts.

Kevin with BandKevin with Wind EnsembleRecently, Kevin brought the First Flute program to Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota. It is a Minneapolis suburban high school with about 3,000 students, 35% of which are students of color and .06% are native. The school created an opportunity to test the first flute project to great success. At first glance, one might think that that type of school would not fit the profile of teaching students indigenous music. Also, we might believe that indigenous music only for native people only and should only go to the native schools. Actually both are important and need to be nurtured. Let’s find out why.

The benefit for non-native students is to learn an authentic musical style is that it interrupts stereotypes they may hold about indigenous people and opens them to a whole new world of music.

The benefit for native students is that they also learn about a tradition that has been lost to them and it is a vehicle for them to connect to their native language. Specifically in the case of The First Flute curriculum, students learn the Lakota language through playing the flute. It is an ingenious method of revitalizing the Lakota language.

School music programs all across the country play music that is cited as “Native American” music and teachers, rightfully so, believe them to be authentic. They look professional, printed in a book or a website and state it is a native song. Many however, are composed by European American composers “inspired” by native music like the “Ojibwe Love Song” and the like.  They are not authentic. The first flute project counteracts that use by providing authentic curriculum and music for schools.

Kevin, what is your biggest take away for this project at Eden Prairie?

The main thing is how much interest the students had for playing the flute and then to realize there is no limit to what they can learn.

What are your next steps?

First I need to finalize the curriculum. There is also interest in sharing Dakota songs for school choirs. My main goal is to continue to use the First Flute as a springboard for keeping indigenous music alive and well.

Thank you Kevin for taking the time to share with us. Also, for opening our hearts and minds to how we can from you to be a steward of our great cultural resources such as the indigenous flute. The First Flute at Eden Prairie High School is an example of many cultures coming together in a common love of the flute. It is important to make indigenous music to be at the forefront of American music because it is the first music of this country. Why shouldn’t everyone take pride in the beautiful cultures that make up America?

Share
Posted in Culture | 4 Comments

Why American Indian Treaties Matter Today: Interview with Annamarie Hill and Mark Bray

Treaty Exhibit at Eden Prairie Schools

One of the most misunderstood parts of American history is American Indian treaties. K-12 lessons about them range from a cursory explanation to absence. Common themes about them are that they no longer exist or that they are broken. There isn’t a consistent practice across the country or a common curriculum that would help teachers teach accurate content about treaties and sovereignty.

Thankfully, a visionary partnership of organizations and committed individuals decided to change the treaty narrative.  In August 2010, a Minnesota partnership created an exhibit called Why Treaties Matter, which educates us about the treaties between the US government and the Ojibwe and Dakota nations. The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) partnered with the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) with Minnesota Legacy funds to create the Why Treaties Matter exhibit. It has traveled to over 40 different organizations, schools and colleges and universities.

As a result of the exhibit, my perceptions have moved from a cynical “well the treaties are broken and not much can be done” perspective to a more realistic view of “the treaties are living documents and native people are exercising their rights under treaty law.” The exhibit taught me that treaties are legal documents and they will continue to exist as such. According to the Constitution of the United States, Article VI, Clause 2 (also known as the Supremacy Clause) treaties are the laws of the land. Dakota and Ojibwe people have inherent legal rights to exercise key pieces of the treaties like the right to an education, hunt, fish and gather on treaty land.

So what about the students? How has this partnership transformed their learning about treaties? Last year the Minnesota collaboration added a new partner, Eden Prairie Schools. The district had an opportunity to not only host the exhibit but pilot curriculum related to the exhibit. It was a chance for teachers to have more content knowledge in the form of educator guides they could share with their students. This was content not readily available to them in conventional history textbooks or other curriculum. The pilot was so successful that an opportunity for more curriculum testing is underway.

This month, Annamarie Hill, Executive Director of the MIAC, and Eden Prairie High School Social Studies teacher Mark Bray are bringing the Why Treaties Matter exhibit and curriculum back to the high school students.

Annamarie Hill, Mark Bray, Maia Caldwell, Nanette Missaghi

Annamarie Hill, Mark Bray, Maia Caldwell, Nanette Missaghi

How do we start to appreciate and understand that treaties still matter and impact all of us?  Annamarie and Mark share their insights about this process.

Annamarie Hill Interview

Annamarie, why do treaties still matter and why should we care?

Treaties are the law of the land. They show from the beginning how we transferred the land from indigenous control to the United States. They tell the story of how we got here and became the United States. How Minnesota became Minnesota. The treaties are obligations and they are living, breathing documents.

 

Why did you create this exhibit and want to work with schools?

We had the opportunity of funding and we had many needs. Of all the needs and issues, education rose to the top for me from what I learned from our tribal leaders, educators, legislators and community. We wanted to create something for the community. If we could be educated around indigenous issues, we could solve many problems and change beliefs about the treaties. We wanted to address the basic laws of our land and show when our legal relationship began. If we are not educated, what can we do?

What are the major myths about Dakota and Ojibwe treaties that your average American has about them?

The myth is that both nations are identical and we are the same tribe and people. Everyone thinks we are the same. The other common myth is that we always fought and were constantly warring with each other. Actually there were a lot of good relations between both nations.

What are the key pieces of knowledge we need to know about treaties in the 2st century?

Treaties are still living and breathing documents that are still in effect today. They are the laws that govern our land. Treaties still matter today and into the future.

Mark Bray Interview

Mark, why do treaties still matter today and why should we care?
The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is what is in our hearts and minds and I personally think it is the right thing to understand that we made these promises as a nation. Even though we have dishonored the promises, we can fulfill them today. Honoring treaties is one way we can redeem ourselves. I should also add that understanding treaties makes us to be more effective citizens and they work for all students and honors our first people.

How do your students benefit from learning about the treaties?
Overall, 97% of the students who studied the treaties found them very worthwhile. Students have said viewing the exhibit is a moving and powerful experience and transforms them. In fact, one white student said that he never knew or realized what treaties were, what they mean, or what his connection is to them locally. He feels he has a more sense of place in his community as a result of learning about them in his classroom.  He really appreciates the cultural points he learned about the Native Americans of Minnesota.

 

What insights have they shared with you?
A common thread was that students were able to make a connection to the first people’s history in Minnesota by equating what they were learning in the classroom to the treaty panels. The panel experience was a new way of learning and covering information that has not been available before. This material is often overlooked or forgotten in the textbooks. Many said they had never learned about them before or how much they and native people affect the state government. They believe they are learning important information now.

What were the misconceptions?
The treaty exhibit brought out the myths and stereotypes that some of the students believed about Native Americans and treaties. Through our work, we are correcting those misconceptions. This is a human rights issue. If we don’t honor these treaties, any group will become marginalized. Another myth is that we are islands and that we can’t cross culturally to each to other. Like native students learning to sing opera or a white student learning to bead.

Conclusion
The impact of this work is threefold. The first is that when our students have difficult and controversial conversations about treaties with their families, friends and co-workers they will know why things are done the way there are when native people exercise their rights. Second, the pilot idea has spread to another school district in Walker, Minnesota. They will start a pilot this month. Lastly, the exhibit and pilot has provided an opportunity for interracial conversations between students, staff and community that break down the beliefs we have held for too long about treaties and indigenous nations. These new relationships will never be forgotten.

Share
Posted in Culture | Leave a comment

Three Lessons My Mother Taught Me on Race

This summer has been a whirlwind of events touched by many things but the biggest event for me was the passing of my mother on July 14th. I have been reflecting on the lessons Mumsey taught me especially the ones related to race. My mother’s life serves as an example of what everyday people can do to improve race relations and interrupt the racism that occurs every day in America.  My mother was not in the limelight of American race relations or famous as a civil rights worker on race and racism. These, however, are three lessons she left.

Lesson 1: We are one family made of many skin colors. My mother’s mantra for as long as I can remember is that we belong to one human family even though there are people who want to separate us into different racial categories. Mumsey always said that separating us by race was old fashioned thinking and we needed to think and act towards the future of oneness. She was not colorblind however. A favorite quote that is branded in my brain is that “we are the flowers of one garden”. She always talked about the beauty of the various skin tones, hair types and facial shapes. I am sure she wanted me to feel good about how I looked.

Lesson 2: Make real friendships across the color line. My mother was so amazing with making friends from many different races and cultures! Our house was always full of people having rich conversations about solving the world’s problems and she would be sure to keep them in good food and desserts. Since part of this time was during Jim Crow and after, with many Americans living in racially segregated neighborhoods, my mother’s integrated social gatherings were not popular with the friends she grew up with and they dropped her. Losing these friendships caused her pain but she never looked back. By the time it was the mid- 1960′s she had new friendships that she loved and valued.

Lesson 3: Be courageous. If anything, Mumsey was fearless. She quietly went about her business of ending racism within her sphere of influence. She invited her friends black, native and others into establishments that were known to be white only. She purposely walked into “colored only” restrooms while traveling in the south. She made a stand many times to stop racism and discrimination from happening when it crossed her path and affected her family and friends. Just recently, Upworthy.com. posted a practical lesson that white people can do to make the world a better place shared by Dr. Joy Degruy. It is a worthy lesson we all can learn from and do.

Of course, Mumsey had the privilege as a white woman not to do this work but she had the will and courage to choose a path that many of her white contemporaries did not do. The path she chose influenced me such that my world is tempered through a lens of racial oneness. A oneness that includes an acceptance and celebration of the integration of all the racial and cultural diversity that makes us who we are as human beings.  No one skin color is better than another and we need to continue to work hard to dismantle the structures and white privilege that exist to keep racism alive and well. If Mumsey were alive today, she would keep pressing forward and give us the encouragement to never give up. She would always quote her old friend Agnes Brawley, from Milwaukee, “The problem with race relations today is that we don’t have enough relations”! This was true back in 1950 and still is today. Thank you Mumsey for never giving up! This is your legacy.

Share
Posted in Race | 1 Comment

Why Race Unity is More Critical Today than Ever Before

This past week we reached a demographic milestone that barely made a blip in the media: American children aged 5 and under, there is no racial majority. The reality is that the aggregate of black, Latino, Asian and American Indian children as a group out number white children. This is phenomenal because just last spring it was infant births that made a similar occurrence. It is ironic that the milestone almost coincided with the bi-racial family Cheerios ad debut. Children under five years old today are living in an America where there is no racial majority. This is a world different than I grew up in and different than the world in which I raised my children. The Cheerios ad is important for a couple of reasons. This is their world and they need to see these images of an interracial family and more of them. Kudos to Cheerios to posting it.

The fact that the ad sparked a deluge of racist comments underscores the need for us to discuss why racial unity is critical for the prosperity of the American people, especially parents of young children.  The good news is that Cheerios is marketing to families that fit this new reality.

So why is race unity critical? Our society will prosper at a quicker rate if we teach our children how to interact with love and respect across the races. UNICEF indicates that societies are healthier when all children have access to health care, proper education and nutrition. Take a look at any city where children of any race are treated poorly and I guarantee that that city is not prospering. I believe that developing and implementing equitable practices are key to prosperity.

Racism will continue unabated if we do not take action and work towards racial unity. We need to talk to our children about race. White families especially need to talk to their children about race without fear and eschew color blindness. Children see skin color as early as they see other colors. Birgitte Vittrup’s ground breaking work on race and children is a must-read for all parents. Our children generally see color and are not born with the social construct of race with its preconceived notions of color bias, stereotypes and the like. We teach this to our children. How wonderful it would be for us to take a moment and watch the children under 5 see how they treat each other. Our children can teach us.

The changing demographics are an opportunity for parents to be proactive in teaching our children how to work through our racial issues peacefully. Some of us fear this change and will choose racial segregation but I encourage us to have courage to make interracial friendships. It is poignant that with the negative firestorm about the Cheerios ad two major research groups counteract with positivity. Not only are interracial marriages are on the rise with 8.4% of marriages in 2010 being interracial, up from 3.2% in 1980. Gallup reported that  in 2011, 86% of Americans approve of interracial marriages.

Without parental interventions, the children in this demographic transformation will self-select across color lines, as Vittrup points out, as we all did when we were younger. We are putting our children at risk of not being able to interact with children of other races in 1st grade and up. The same fear that we have that we will say or do something racist will persist and occur at a faster rate in this diverse milieu than in our more racially segregated adult venues. A counter strike would be to make interracial friendships. Our future generations depend on the actions we take today.

Share
Posted in Race Unity | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Going Deeper into Culture Cut and Paste with Kevin Locke

This last week’s post Can Anyone Own Culture Today? generated a lot of questions and comments. A few people were concerned that I was saying that a Mexican can’t perform a German opera or a German can’t learn how to make enchiladas and open a restaurant.  This is what happens. As a commenter pointed out:  “we all humans love to learn”. Isn’t learning the same thing as cultural cut and paste? People do learn new things from other cultures like food preparation, customs and practices and use them in their life. The issue is how we do it. Do we do it with respect and authenticity or not? So what is the difference between learning and cultural cutting and pasting? What I mean by cultural cut and paste is that the learning goes to the next step. The next step is the cutting of that learning from the original culture and pasting or integrating the learning into one’s cultural every day. The difference between learning and the cultural cut and paste process is the application feature. Cultural cut and paste is the application or action step that a human takes to apply what was learned. Sometimes we learn something from another culture while on a trip or going to someone’s house and we don’t have any interest in using it at home. If we decide to do it, the issue is how to apply the learning in a respectful and authentic way.

Cultural Cut and Paste Process

 

Culture Cut and Paste

Upon reflection this past week, I decided there is another component to this process. It is the added dimension of “copy”. Sometime we copy something from another culture much like we copy text from one document to another. When we copy text, we leave the original text intact. Much like when we copy something from another culture, the original culture stays intact. Or does it? Let’s take a dominant culture encountering an indigenous culture for example. One cannot guarantee that when a dominant culture copies something from an indigenous culture that the original piece stays intake. I believe there are times that the way the dominant culture messages the copy and uses it could alter the original. This is a cautionary tale to consider as dominant cultures across the globe have interacted with indigenous cultures and continue to do so. All cultures are like precious natural resources and should be protected from materialistic decimation.  As stated in the previous post, we have a collective responsibility.

Cultural Copy and Paste Process

Culture Copy and Paste

In the context of a dominant culture, a corporation or an individual attempting to take or own another culture provides the context for why both (learning and respectful cut/copy and paste) are important. We are moving towards increased multiracial and intercultural interactions which behoove us to figure out how to apply our new learning in a meaningful and authentic way.

Another question that came up is: How do I know if I am ripping off another culture? So much of what we do is cultural cut/copy and paste. What if I am inspired by the fashion, music or something from another culture? Can I just take it and use it without giving credit? An example is what I noticed in the southwest during my last visit. Local Dine artists created and sold their silversmith turquoise jewelry to tourists at a price they thought was fair and market bearing. A quick trip to a nearby city or town off the rez showcased similar jewelry made by non-native artists who sold their work at quadruple the price of what the Dine used. This is an example of ripping off another culture for personal gain.

My last post featured insights from Kevin Locke, award winning Dakota flutist and hoop dancer. Readers had more questions and were interested in carrying on the conversation with him. So we are blessed to be able to ask him a few more questions.

Kevin Locke Interview

Thank you Kevin for sharing your perspective last week on the cultural misappropriation of the Dakota flute and that no one can own a culture. My readers are interested in what to do when they want to apply their learning and do a respectful copy and paste process. You have interacted with so many diverse peoples, what advice would you give to individuals or businesses who want to be authentic?

We have to shift our perspective from a material one to a spiritual one where we believe that we are all legitimate heirs to humanity’s cultural wealth. I believe that everyone has the right to achieve one’s destiny.

An example I can share is that a person can learn something from another culture in an authentic way. For instance, right now I am teaching a class on the Dakota flute for teachers to get trained on the authentic way of Dakota flute playing. We did a whole section on the indigenous American flute. The flute playing is so unique compared to the European classical style. It is unique in that the individual ornamentation of playing like the grace notes of vibrato, creating breath sounds, and the like, is individual to the flutist. Their individual style would be inspired by the song birds of their locality. So teachers are learning the Dakota foundations and origins in an authentic way.

How do you think people could handle the permission aspect when someone may feel awkward or don’t know anyone from the new culture they have learned to love and want to copy something?

This is a sensitive issue and the answer depends on the community. For example, the Meskwaki from Iowa, until recently, did not want their language written down. Some Lakota still feel that way today. The onus is on us to reach out to others and be respectful and authentic. I believe that it is our youth who have the great opportunity to achieve the goals of being respectful to everyone from other cultures.

Kevin, you have made me think. What about something that comes from one culture and becomes main stream in an inauthentic or false way into the dominant culture? The Dakota flute is a great example of a dominant culture copy and paste. You explained that a European way of playing the Dakota flute has spread across the globe and become main stream.  Now that we know this, what could a lover of the flute do to rectify their inauthentic cultural copy and paste?

This is an opportunity to pause and reflect. Once a person knows, they can introduce themselves to the underpinnings and indigenous foundation of the Dakota flute.

Thank you Kevin for your insights! We should take the time to reflect on our practice.

My main point is that as we continue to work together more closely and our cultural practices, beliefs, foods, jewelry, designs, etc. will be on display and be shared. As Kevin points out, we need to reach out to each other so we do not rip anybody off and have authentic, genuine friendships. It is up to us in 2013 to figure out how to be authentic and respectful towards each other.

Homework: Reflect on your own practice. What kind of cultural learner are you? Do you cut and paste or copy and paste? If yes, what skills are you using to ensure that you apply your learning to reach out to other cultures to copy and paste authentically?

Share
Posted in Culture | Leave a comment

Can Anyone Own Culture Today?

S. GomezNew Yorkers Tipi

This question has been on my mind lately as I observe our behavior at work, in the grocery store, shopping and social media. You name it, my thoughts are full. What culture am I writing about?  Is it the big culture, as in the dominant culture, or little culture, the culture we personally experience every day? I mean both, especially the dominant culture because whatever it does affects us all. The reality of New Yorkers making Dakota tipis in their living rooms and the Washington Redskins deciding to keep their name make me take pause. What do I mean by owning culture? Is that even possible? The easy answer is that no one can own a culture. In fact, my culture is my own, your culture is your own and the culture of our friends and neighbors belongs to them. This framework would allow me to think that no one can ever take away my culture. Is there a law against this? Should there be a law?

The reality though is different. There seems to a lot of culture cut and paste happening in the world especially with young people and corporations. Culture cut and paste means exactly what we do on a keyboard with words and sentences: a person finds something wonderful from another culture, “cuts” it from the original culture and “pastes” into their cultural lifestyle.

Recent examples are Selena Gomez at the Billboard and MTV Movie Award shows in her Bollywood inspired song, dress, bindi and dance; a Latina embracing East Indian style. Macklemore/Ryan Lewis and Pitbull (and many others) are White and Latino rappers, embracing the musical style of African Americans.

German BoyOrder of the Arrow

A global example is the Germans who love “Red Indians”. There are many groups of Germans who get together to practice the culture of “Red Indians” and they have been doing this for decades. They bead, they dance and sweat.  Indian Country Today said it best that it is “touching and occasionally surreal”. Let’s not forget our own American obsession in the Boy Scouts Order of the Arrow where boys take an Indian name, wear regalia, perform “Indian” style and pretend to be an Indian in order to get a badge.

Is this ok to do? Should we care? Who has the right to take something from one culture and use it or practice it without any interaction with the source culture? Anthropologists call this cultural reciprocity but I don’t think what we are seeing today fits that general description. The two most prominent American examples of one culture “owning” another culture that come to mind are:

  1. The boarding school experience for indigenous Americans with Richard Pratt’s purpose to “Kill the Indian and save the man”.
  2. The slavery period for African Americans.

Both examples illustrate that one dominant American culture acted in an unjust way that they owned another culture and could force American Indians and African American to give up their cultures. This foundation has consciously or unconsciously laid the foundation to give the dominant American culture permission for people to operate with their own cut and paste behaviors without asking anyone for permission or regard for the cultural source.

So what can we do in this day and age of a shrinking, flat world where we are having more opportunities to mix culturally than ever before?  Will there be a world of cultural property like intellectual property?

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 could be considered something in this vein. It is designed to protect the arts and crafts of American Indian nations from fraudulent practices in the United States. How robust a law is that and is it doing its job to protect what is set out to do? Will cultures, especially those so very unique and in threat of assimilation choose to protect their cultural heritage from the infringement of others?

Kevin Locke

 

I invite us to consider justice. Where is the beacon of justice on this discussion of taking and owning culture without permission? Justice allows us to look at things with our own lens and not rely on others or be pressured to do something that might be wrong. Justice in this sense is not the justice meted out punitively by a court of law but the justice that comes from us. The reality that everyone on the planet has a basic human right to live freely and be treated equally leads us to the concept of collective trusteeship as defined in The Prosperity of Humankind. The trusteeship “creates … the right of every person to expect that those cultural conditions essential to his or her identity enjoy the protection of national and international law.

When asked about this subject of people owning culture today and culture cut and paste, Kevin Locke, award winning Dakota flutist and hoop dancer,  had this to say:

“It is a paradoxical situation. Currently we all have our own identity and have the right to self-identify in any way. I believe that in the eyes of God the limitations of race, gender, nationality are trumped by the spiritual reality of oneness.

Kevin went on to say, “There is a paragraph from The Prosperity of Humankind that I really like and that speaks to this topic. It is the analogy of the gene pool. We are only as strong as the diversity of the gene pool. Likewise, we human beings are only as strong as the wealth of diversity in the human race. This diversity is critical for our survival. Our cultural diversity must be allowed to bear its fruit in the world.

“My personal example is the Dakota flute. Sometime in 1980 or so, someone changed the original Dakota tuning to a European style tuning structure. No one had a chance to find out what was there in the first place. No one in the dominant culture knew there was a Dakota tradition behind the flute.  What happened was that the new tuning process spread all over the internet, there were New Age recordings and it was popularized across the globe.

“I am in the process of recording the original Dakota songs so people will know the original source. The flute originates from a vocal tradition as represented on the flute. It is a style of poetry akin to Japanese Haiku.

“ The quote that I believe explains my point of view is this: ‘On the one hand, cultural expressions need to be protected from suffocation by the materialistic influences currently holding sway. On the other, cultures must be enabled to interact with one another in ever-changing patterns of civilization, free of manipulation for partisan political ends’. Therefore, it is ok to cut and paste other cultures as long as people are conscious of the origins.”

Let’s challenge ourselves when confronted with a culture cut and paste opportunity to consider investigating the practice through a lens of justice.  The following questions may assist us in this process of ascertaining justice:

  1. Does my potential cut and paste suffocate the cultural expression of another?
  2. Does the practice exist in my culture?
  3. Do I stand to make financial gain from it?
  4. Do I understand the context of its use and meaning?
  5. Is there a chance that I am desecrating or distorting it meaning?
  6. Is the potential for what I am doing free from partisan political ends?
  7. Am I suffocating the cultural expression of another for my own manipulative gain?
  8. Does it cause harm to the other culture?

The answers to these questions will lead us to make a just and equitable decision and hopefully prompt us to go to the cultural source and ask people their thoughts. If the answer is no, will we honor it? Every culture has the right to exist and be protected. Time will tell how the protective processes will be developed and implemented nationally and internationally. I believe that when we begin to interact with genuine friendships and mutual respect, many new things will begin to emerge. Imagine if the New Yorkers who want to make tipis went to the Pine Ridge Oglala Nation and asked what they thought about in-house tipis made of bright fabrics? Would they have their blessing? Now that would be something to see!

How do we, a diverse people with the capacity of justice in our hearts, cut and paste in a respectful and authentic way that honors the great cultural diversity of this planet? I believe, that when we come together to consult, and I mean all of us, we will grapple with the issues and figure out how to address these cultural issues in just and equitable ways.

So, can anyone own culture today? The answer is no. If we see the concept of ownership through our own eyes we would see that it is unjust.

Share
Posted in Culture | Leave a comment