Monthly Archives: October 2011

Violence and Native Women – An Epidemic and Deadly Combination

I was recently reading a Turtle Talk blog entry titled Help Raise Awareness about the Epidemic of Violence against Native Women in the U.S.  The entry was inspired by an initiative of the Indian Law Resource Center called Strong Women, Strong Nations.  This initiative recently produced a PSA which I believe will shock you, check it out:

Every time I watch this video and read the onscreen statistics I picture my mom, my sisters, and fiance.  I think: 

 “Was one of them a victim of a rape?” “Was one of them subject to domestic violence” “Was one of them physically assaulted?”

Then I think:

“Did all of them experience one of these forms of violence?”

As I type these questions I get angry.  How could this be tolerated?  Why is this accepted?  Given the statistics stated and the fact that crimes like domestic abuse and rape go underreported, I know that the Native women in my life have experienced some form of violence which they haven’t expressed.  Given the close friendships that I have with several Native women, I know that violence has disrupted and damaged their lives. 

I’m very encouraged by the Strong Women, Strong Nations initiative and its attempts to build awareness of this epidemic.  Please check out their resource page as well as their take action page.  It will take initiatives like this one to break down the tolerance and acceptance that violence against women has built up.  It will take Native people saying to themselves that enough is enough.  It will take collective action by communities and loving by individuals to defeat this epidemic. 

We, Native men and men of all ethnicities, also need to do our part.  Growing up I was fortunate to have been raised in a home free of violence and abuse, but I am one of a few.  The pains of the past are difficult to overcome, however, the joy of the future will never come unless we forgive those who have hurt us.  Although I’ve not been touched by relational violence, I have experienced emotional abuse.  If I didn’t move past that emotional pain, which lingers for longer than a bruise, then I would not be able to experience the utter joy and fulfillment that is my relationship with my fiance.  We have to remember that we’re raising the next generation of men, boys today that deserve a home free from emotional and physical pain.  Talk to the women in your lives, support them, love them, and value their companionship. 

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Filed under civil rights, family, Native American

“I” is for Indian

My 4-year-old is perfecting his ABC’s and attending day care is a big reason why.  He attends school on our reservation and each week thus far this school year he has had homework to reinforce the concepts he’s learning in class.  It began with “A” is for Alligator, progressed to “B” is for Boat, and moved to “C” is for Cat.  The use of animals and inanimate objects has continued on throughout the fall.  However, about a week ago his class was focusing on the letter “I”, which was represented by a stereotypical cartoon drawing of an Indian in a headdress.

As I removed the homework from his backpack I and saw that “I” was for Indian I had feelings of trepidation and concern.  I flashed back to when I was pursuing my graduate degree and the research I uncovered on Natives and the damaging effects of stereotypes, typecasts, and labels on their cognitive wellbeing.  Looking down at my 4-year-old, who already isn’t particularly excited about doing his homework, I thought about telling him he didn’t have to do it.  I care very much about his future identity and I couldn’t stand the thought of it being constructed for him by an erroneous and ignorant drawing.

This experience has been with me since that day.  I’ve dwelled on it because I care about Native peoples’ self-esteem and self-respect.  I’ve always told him my 4-year-old that he’s Seminole, never once mentioning the word Indian.  I want his future character, qualities, and persona to be defined by his ancestors – caring, loving, and protecting.  Like any parent I want him to respect others and himself, but in a country where “I” is for Indian that is not easy.

The lingering effects of institutional racism, which seeps so deep that it still penetrates our Native communities, are ever-present in an “I” is for Indian country.  This is the part about this story that gnaws at me the most.  The fact that the homework came from a school located on a reservation and bears a Native language name is absurd!  The students at this school literally represent my community’s future, and they’re being taught that “I” is for Indian.  I believe we’re setting ourselves up for failure by perpetuating the stereotype that all Natives wear headdresses.

Thankfully I’m not the first to have recognized that “I” is for Indian is not acceptable.  20 years ago Naomi Caldwell-Wood and Lisa A. Mitten, two members of the American Indian Library Association, published “I” is not for Indian: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books for Young People.  Caldwell-Wood and Mitten’s work sets a framework for correcting the “I” is for Indian stereotype.  The two also collaborated in 2007 with Gabriella Kaye to write “I” is for Inclusion: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books and for Young People.  I encourage you to check out and share their writing.

I choose to allow my 4-year-old to complete his homework that day, making sure to not mention that “I” is for Indian.  However, I wonder about the countless instances this school year where a child came home with “I” is for Indian homework.  Did that child’s parent participate in the stereotype?  Did they even realize it is a stereotype?  Are they on a reservation?  This is one stereotype that doesn’t want to go away.

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Filed under education, Native American

Feed The Fire

@Renee_Holt recently tweeted:

Anyone out there have a motto? Mantra? Personally, i think we should all have something. If you don’t… Go to the mountain top! Lol
Her question is simple, to the point, and immediately got me thinking about my own mantra.  It was in the fall of 2009 that the words “Feed The Fire” began to take meaning for me.  In the early part of that year I was going through my own personal hardships.  My life felt broken and forever changed by decisions that I had made.  My outlook on the world around me was skewed by negative influences.  My faith in myself had been shaken and I was unsure of what to do next.
 
I prayed and prayed, then prayed some more for guidance and direction.  I asked for forgiveness and strength.  In time I gained traction and began moving forward again.  I began to view what I had experienced as an opportunity to get closer to the Creator.  The Creator, as always in my life, had used the difficulties I was experiencing to challenge me to become a better person.  My pain and troubles were the Creator’s gift to be embraced, and when I did I gained wisdom and perseverance.
 
After that time positive things began to happen for me, both personally and professionally.  This was also when “Feed The Fire” began to take shape.  My reply to @Renee_Holt was:
Feed The Fire is my mantra, get your creative/innovative spirit going, and your passion burning
Feed The Fire is a challenge, vision, and practice.
  1. Challenge: What have you done to feed your fire today?  Have you positively impacted another human being’s life?  Have you improved the relationships in your life?
  2. Vision: To create, with the inclusion and aid of all, a community that is self-sustaining.  To foster people and families toward accountability and integrity. To always encourage the betterment of individuals, keeping in mind that we are only as strong as we challenge ourselves up to be. 
  3. Practice: Writing – goals, dreams, beliefs, thoughts – making the abstract real. Drop the “F” bomb – Forgiveness – get rid of pride and have a right emotional response

I’ve refined this mantra over the years since 2009 but the genesis of it is what matters most.  Without that life altering time I would not have become the person I am today.  I would not have uttered the words Feed The Fire, nor been allowed the opportunity to better myself. 

What is it that drives you?  How do you challenge yourself?  What do you do if you fail?  Answer these questions and you are on the way towards feeding your fire.

@Renee_Holt blogs at 4 the love of the People

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Filed under Feed The Fire, life

The Best Thing About FAU’s New Stadium

A good deal of press was recently garnered by Florida Atlantic University and its new on campus football stadium.  The stadium was officially opened this past Friday and hosted its first game the next day.  It took a year to complete, $ 70 million dollars to fund, and can hold 30,000 people.  The stadium is a dream.  It is a structure that embodies FAUs new campus spirit and captivates university pride to an all time high.  But all this is not what’s best about the new stadium.

I basked in the stadium’s glory this past Friday and Saturday.  I took in the ceremonial ribbon cutting and enjoyed the game day atmosphere.  It was great getting to know people in the tailgating area and other FAU alumni from around the country.  I met Chuck King from FAUOwlAccess.com and Rick Smith from FAUOwlsNest.com.  But, this too, is not what’s best about the new stadium.

I was also able to reunite with many former teammates at a players only dinner on Friday.  I stood with Dewain Akerblom during the ribbon cutting, caught up with Nick Paris and John Rizzo, and reminisced with Kris Bartels.  I tried to speak to everyone but I know there were a few that I didn’t get a chance to say hello to.  I found it hilarious when Andy Rosas introduced himself to me (we played 2 years together), only to return 20 minutes later to apologize for not recognizing me.  I’ve lost about 80-100 lb. since he had last saw me so it’s understandable that I may have looked completely different in his eyes.

As I stood listening to the ribbon cutting speeches on Friday, I had an escaping feeling overcome me.  I felt like there was something missing from the moment.  As I stood next to Dewain and thought about why I had this feeling, the answer came to me.  Ramon Rickards was missing. 

Ramon was a former defensive end at FAU, graduating in 2004.  I spent practices as a freshman attempting to block Ramon when I was on the scout team.  I came to admire the manner in which he practiced and played football.  I didn’t get to know Ramon very well off the field, but he was always approachable and had a smile on his face.  Ramon died in a motorcycle accident in May of 2006, five and a half years before the stadium opened.  Here is video of his wife Talia, later a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance, speaking about Ramon:
http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/x9f19f
Talia sytycd2 by krunkyou

To me the best thing about FAU’s New Stadium is that we, former players, get to see one another again.  The best thing about the stadium is that it gives us a chance to catch up with each other.  The best thing about the stadium is that it reminds us about what is truly special, and that is life.  May the memory of Ramon Rickards live on and may his competitive spirit be channeled on the field at FAU.

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Filed under college football, FAU, life

ABC News Special This Friday “Hidden America: Children of the Plains”

I was recently visiting NativeJournalist.com and was alerted to an ABC news special about Native Americans.  The special is titled “Hidden America: Children of the Plains” and is hosted by Diane Sawyer.  It is set to air this Friday (10/14) at 10 est.  You can get a preview to the special here

ABC's "Hidden America: Children of the Plains"

At first glance I am intrigued.  I have no doubt the show will be compelling and bring in viewers, especially considering it is centered on the inhabitants of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  If you’re unaware, Pine Ridge is the where citizens of the Oglala Lakota call home.  The residents of Pine Ridge are also living in conditions that are unfit for any person in United States.  Social ills and economic instability abound, and intergenerational trauma grips most.  These visuals and personal testimony are sure to engender empathy from even the casual viewer.

Despite my intrigue I’m also upset.  The preview casts the special as revealing a “world that has been hidden from us in plain sight”.  Native Americans are no doubt the forgotten minority in the United States, our voices muted in mainstream media and pop culture.  Native Americans aren’t, in my eyes, hidden.  We’re masked and packaged in various forms of commercialization and slick commentary.  Native Americans are dressed up as what the majority believes us to be – feathers and a headdress. 

I’ll reserve my critique of the special until after I actually watch it, but I cannot help but recognize how ABC has used the damaging motif of the plains indian to advertise it.  With so much variety amongst Native people in America, I get tired of hearing how we all live in tepees and hunted buffalo.  I get tired of being called chief, especially when people seem to take satisfaction in the belief that they’re the first to call me that or that they’re being endearing.  I get tired of the misconceptions and stereotypes.

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FAU Football and the Civil Rights Movement

Being a member of the FAU football team took me many places I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise, including: San Marcos, TX | Manhattan, KS | Monroe, LA | and Greely, CO.  Since exhausting my eligibility and becoming a team fanatic, which includes starting The Great Mustache Challenge, I have traveled to several away games to cheer on the team.  While living in Tallahassee, FL in the fall of 2009 I took advantage of the short drive to watch FAU take on the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).  The game was abysmal for FAU, mercifully ending with a score 56-29.   

This posting isn’t about that game.  This posting is about a place I visited in the hours before.  I stayed at a hotel in downtown Birmingham and had a time to use sightseeing before the game started.  I drove down several streets, just taking in the town, but my attention was caught when I happened upon a small park.  A festival was going on in the park so I decided to stop.  I couldn’t turn down the smell of good food and entertainment.  While in the park I noticed memorial statues and read the captions.  I quickly realized that I was in the famed Kelly Ingram Park, a civil rights epicenter during 1963. 

Right next to the park is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  I walked over and into the building, emerging an hour or so later feeling like I could have stayed the rest of the afternoon.  The BCRI is exceptional and paramount in its display of the civil rights era, many times I felt taken right to those moments.  The pains, struggles, and triumphs are captured in many mediums, all together striking a visitor’s senses and compelling instant empathy.  The men, women, and children who were central to the movement all have their histories and stories included. 

I’m writing about this because of the recent death of Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth on October 5th.  Rev. Shuttlesworth was the pastor at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which is located across the street from the BCRI, during 1963.  Rev. Shuttlesworth was also one of the last surviving leaders of the civil rights movement.  His death, to me, is cause for remembrance of his life and the causes he devoted it to. 

Take a moment to learn more about this man who was special for his will to fight for what is just and right in a time when racism was the rule.  Rev. Shuttlesworth’s death has been overcast in the news by the passing of another great man, Steve Jobs.  I believe without Rev. Shuttlesworths’ life, many who enjoyed the innovations of Jobs would not have done so as easily.

Life as a FAU fan has not been easy these last few years, but I cannot say that I didn’t enjoy that day in Birmingham, AL.  I implore other fans – those who are able to follow the team to distant locals – to explore the landscape surrounding the field and stadium.  Life is about more than what happens between the end zones, or in the case of 10/15/11 “Between the Palms”.

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Filed under civil rights, FAU, reflection

The Secret to Great Frybread

I’ve eaten frybread since before I can remember.  It’s a food that drips of memories and grease.  It’s a food that looks and feels just like my grandmother, brown and soft.  It’s a food that is simple in ingredients and popular around the world.  My love of frybread is like my love for my soon-to-be wife – lifelong.

Even though I’ve enjoyed frybread for all of my life, I’d never made it before this past weekend.  I was aware that you need flour, water, and oil, but clueless as to how to turn that into great tasting frybread.  Thus when the opportunity presented itself to learn I decided to jump right in. 

My first frybread making experience was filled with nervousness, trepidation, and excitement.  I didn’t expect to make a high quality piece of frybread. Truthfully I just wanted it to be recognizable and edible.  Thankfully my first frybread did in fact taste like frybread.  My 4-year-old even showed his approval when he scarfed down a piece. 

Reflecting back on my first time making frybread I come to believe that there are many parallels to life.  I realized that when you’re making frybread it takes three things:   

  • Ingredients and Kneading – just like with frybread, we don’t need much in life to succeed. Each person has what it takes but you have to put them all together to make something distinctive.  The will, passion, and motivation exists, nothing can stop you once you put them together.
  • Fire and Timing – It takes a proper amount of fire and time to get the frybread just right.  That’s the catalyst, without fire and time you just have a lump of uneatable dough.  People too need to be put to the fire to be properly tested, to rise up to the fire and come out of it looking/being better than before. 
  • Teacher – You need a person to show you how to make frybread, just like you need a person to show you how to prosper in life.  I’m thankful to the woman who showed me how to make frybread and to the many other teachers I’ve had throughout life.

These three things are what I believe contribute to frybread and life, as well as to happiness and fulfillment.  I also believe I have unveiled the secret to great frybread.  Some may dispute me, others may agree, but remember this is just opinion – the secret to great frybread is you.  Without you, and your yearning to know, there would be no frybread.  Without you, and your love of life, the world would be little more common. 

The parallels of frybread and life exist.  To prove it take a chance and jump right in.  To prove it bite a piece and smile.  The proof is in the person.

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Filed under family, life, reflection