Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Thankful and the Full-of-Bull

When it comes to the Thanksgiving holiday, some of us are Thankful and others are just Full-of-Bull.  What I mean is that those who are Thankful exemplify it by giving back their blessings however they can.  Thankful people give their time, money, and hearts to those that have less.  Thankful people recognizing that their current circumstances are temporary and that what they have been blessed with they are also obligated to be responsible for. 

The people who are Full-of-Bull are just the opposite, living lives that are unfulfilling and contradictory.  Full-of-Bull people are stagnate and difficult.  Full-of-Bull people see problems and don’t address them or, worse yet, they are selectively blind to problems.  But being a Full-of-Bull person today doesn’t mean one cannot become a Thankful person tomorrow.

I write about this because of the Thanksgiving holiday as well as the light recently cast on Indian Country by ABC’s television show “Hidden American: Children of the Plains”, check it out here.  That light is resounding with people of my own tribe, compelling their Thankful spirit.  There has always been a giving spirit within a great many people of my tribe, each person or family directing their efforts toward causes that mean something to them like health, religion, or education. 

Yet, there has been no concerted or organized effort to focus our collective giving power.  To put it another way, we have all been trying to build a house but without a site manager.  We’ve got the supplies – lumber, shingles, cement, resources, etc. – but no direction.  We’ve to the tools necessary for the job, but not a strategy on how to start.  If you watch HGTV or DIY Network like me then you know the difficulties that come with starting without a plan.

To get people moving in a similar direction there has to be an event that occurs, something that people look and understand as transformative.  If you think for a moment then I’m sure you can recognize some of those from your lifetime – 9/11, The Great Recession, MTV (I’m half joking half serious with this one).  After speaking to one of my close friends and to another person form my tribe I am getting the feeling that what ABC captured on film may be that event for Seminole people. 

The idea is simple, focusing our giving power and resources on people we most closely identify – other people living in Indian Country.  An effort is underway to achieve this focus.  People are meeting with one another and getting organized, formulating a plan and strategy.  For now I’m on the outside looking in concerning these developing efforts, however, that doesn’t mean I’m not a believer in the cause.  Just watch the video and your heart will understand what mine felt.

I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing and I believe this is more than just a Rez rumor or people who are Full-of-Bull.  This is a great opportunity being born.  If you want to know more leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

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Filed under Feed The Fire, Native American, poverty

Thoughts On My Date With Taylor Swift

This past Sunday I had a date with Taylor Swift… and 12,500 other people showed up!

Of course I’m kidding!  My heart and soul is dedicated to my fiancée, thus when she said that she wanted to go to see her favorite songstress in concert I immediately started searching for some affordable seats.  Our seats were reasonable and the concert was a blast, it was my first in a while.  The best part about the night, for me, was being able to treat my fiancée to an enjoyable evening.

I must admit that I don’t know much about Taylor Swift, or T Swizzle as so many of the homemade signs said.  I’m familiar with her songs that have received radio time, but I know nothing about the person herself or the people who follow her.  My unfamiliarity led to a few interesting findings and observations while at the concert.  I already referenced one of those findings – the plethora of homemade signage.  There were signs of all sort and creativity, many adorned with decorative lights.  I commend the people who spent time on those signs, they were obviously made with much thought and care.

Aside from the signs, what I noticed were the type of people who were in attendance.  Of the sold out crowd, more than 60% had to be under the age of 18.  In fact, because the concert was on a Sunday evening at 7 pm, I remarked that there would be many bleary eyes come first period the next morning.  I mention this observation because virtually all of the people under 18 were girls.  It may come as no surprise to you that followers of Taylor Swift are predominantly female, but to me this was a revelation. 

I saw mothers with their daughters, even grandmothers too.  Women and girls were out in full force for the concert, easily comprising 10,000 of the 12,500 in attendance.  These women and girls were there to support Taylor Swift and they were fully enthralled by what was happening onstage.  I must have heard “I love you Taylor” screamed at least once every minute.  This type outpouring of support and feelings cannot be trivialized, I believe many of those screams came from the heart. 

But why? 

That’s the question I kept pondering.  It’s obvious that Taylor Swift is a great talent, but so are many others.  She’s accomplished, having won many awards, but so have many others.  She also appears down to earth and humble, but again so are many others.  So why is she so magnetic?  Why are so many people, especially women and girls, so drawn to her?

These are questions that I don’t have the answer to.  These are questions that maybe don’t have an answer.  These are questions that may not matter at all.

What I think does matter is what Taylor Swift stands for in the eyes of these women and girls.  Her words speak to their hearts and feelings.  Her life represents something they relate to, she’s young just like them.  Most profound is that she’s a model of positivity and grace.  May her life and career continue that way.

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1 Little, 2 Little, 3 Little Indian Women – Violence is Prevailing

I recently wrote about the epidemic of violence against Native women, read it here.  Violence against Native women includes domestic violence, sexual assult, or stalking.  The statistics are startling, upsetting, and unacceptable (1):

  • 1 out of 3 American Indian and Alaskan Native women are raped in their lifetime, compared with about one out of five women in the overall national statistic.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native women experience 7 sexual assaults per 1000 per year compared to 3 per 1000 among Black Americans, 2 per 1000 among Caucasians and 1 per 1000 among Asian Americans.
  • American Indians were victimized by an intimate at rates higher than those for all other females – 23 American Indians per 1,000 persons age 12 or older compared to 11 blacks, 8 whites, and 2 Asians.
  • Another characteristic of domestic violence in Indian country is its intrinsic connection to alcohol abuse, the leading crime problem in Indian country, which generates most service calls.

Statistics aside the recent situation at Penn St. University got me thinking of the epidemic of violence against Native women in another perspective, that is the role of people with knowledge of a situation and what they do or don’t do with it.  With all the occurrences of violence against Native women someone, other than the perpetrator or victim, has to have knowledge of it happening.  What does that person do with that knowledge?  What doesn’t that person do with it?

We are not blind to the situations of violence that occur around us, but every day a person will walk by and ignore another person being assaulted.  The term for this is Motivated Blindness – people do not see what is not in their interest to see.  Sometimes what is occurring in front of us is just too much for our minds to handle, we shut down and lapse into a pretend state of normalcy.  This is called Normalcy Bias – tricking yourself into thinking all is okay because what is actually happening is to too much to process.

The Indian Law Resource Center recently released a new PSA that speaks the effects of Motivated Blindness and Normalcy Bias.  Watch it in its entirety:

The tendency to not act, to choose inaction, is what is defining us.  We take the easy route and don’t pick up the phone.  We don’t use our voices to protect others.  We don’t share this message with another person.

I’m tired of this!  I’m tired of being complicit!  I’m tired of being defined by inaction!

Growing up I never saw a man hit a woman, on the Rez that is a huge accomplishment.  So most of all I’m tired of that being abnormal.  Do something.  You can start here.

(1) Statistics via http://www.ncai.org/ncai/advocacy/hr/docs/dv-fact_sheet.pdf

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Filed under civil rights, Native American

This blog is worth the entire read. Please check it out as a follow up to the Violence and Native Women – An Epidemic and Deadly Combination blog posting I wrote on last week.

Tribal Law Updates

International Commission Holds Historic Hearing on Violence Against Native Women in the U.S.– U.S. Officials and Native Advocates Agree Violence Must End

November 04, 2011 (Washington, DC) — During an historic hearing dedicated to their missing and murdered Native sisters throughout the Americas, Native women and tribal advocates resorted to an international human rights body to raise global awareness on the epidemic of violence against Native women in the United States.  Representatives of the United States appearing at the hearing admitted that the level of violence against Native women is “an assault on the national conscience.”

“The right to be safe and live free from violence is a fundamental human right that many take for granted—but not Native women in the United States,” said Jana Walker, Director of the Safe Women, Strong Nations Project at the Indian Law Resource Center.  “Through this unprecedented hearing—the first of its kind—the Inter-American…

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The Price of Blood

One powerful means of expression is through song and music.  Admittedly I’m no songwriter or vocalist, but when I heard the lyrics to the song “The Price of Oil” by Billy Bragg I felt compelled by them.  I’ve revised the original wording to be specific to a debate Native American people are increasingly finding themselves in.  That debate is about blood quantum and its implications for our future, and its impact on our identity.  Read the lyrics carefully:

“The Price of Blood”
~Fire/|\Builder~

Voices on the wind
Tell us that we’re going to war
Those innocent boys and girls in school
They want to know what they’re living for.
The white man wants to see the end game
We’re got to formulate a plan
Cause the men in the white house
They just don’t give a damn.

It’s all about the price of blood
It’s all about the price of blood
You can’t fool me
About sweat, tears and toil
It’s all about the price of blood

Now I ain’t no fan of Andrew Jackson
Oh, please don’t get me wrong
If it’s freeing our people you’re after
Then why have we waited so long
Why didn’t we sort this out long ago?
Is the world less evil now, than it was then?
The money holds the answer
To why us, why here, why now

It’s all about the price of blood
‘cause it’s all about the price of blood
You can’t fool me
About sweat, tears and toil
It’s all about the price of blood

Capt. Pratt tried to kill our people
just like general Custer
and once upon a time both these men
were employed by the U.S.A.
And whisper it, even Nixon
once drank from America’s cup
just like those treaties from the past
this shit doesn’t all add up.

It’s all about the price of blood
It’s all about the price of blood
You can’t fool me
About sweat, tears and toil
It’s all about the price of blood

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Filed under civil rights, Native American, red power

Family Food Drive

In my current role as an AmeriCorps VISTA member I have had my eyes opened to the impact poverty and hunger has upon people in this country.  Working at the Single Stop program within Miami Dade College, I have had the realization that education can and does positively impact people who are experiencing poverty and hunger.  Putting my eye opening experience together with the realization that education does reduce poverty, I am not blind to the real life challenges that people face when attempting to better their lives.

I’ve met people, both young and old, who are at MDC to educate themselves, but can’t complete their degree because life off campus has prevented them from finishing.  When I see men and women getting on and off the bus every day to go to class, I am thankful to have a car.  When I hear people’s stories of family tragedy and personal pain, all distractions that took their focus off education and prolonged their matriculation through MDC, I am filled with empathy.  When I see the eyes of students go bleak and fill with despair as they talk about their problems, my heart aches for them.

When I speak to students in classrooms I always make sure to ask the question “Have you eaten breakfast?” or “Have you had lunch yet?” or “Who’s hungry right now?”  Hands rise to these questions all the time, people who no doubt are hearing the grumble of their stomachs.  I know from experience that when my stomach was empty my focus in wasn’t on what my professor was teaching, but rather on what I could be eating.

The difference between my stomach emptiness and that of many students at MDC is that I was blessed to not have to worry about where I was going to get my next meal.  Students, not just at MDC but all over the US, that lose focus because of hunger have a significantly high chance of not retaining information and knowledge.  The value of a good nutritional meal does wonders for the ability of people to progress educationally.

In recognition of the value of a good meal for not just overall health but especially in education retention, my family and I have decided to start a food drive.  The donations that we collect for this food drive are going to a local food pantry.  This is my first attempt to take the Feed The Fire paradigm and make it into something concrete and real.  Our family food drive has a goal of collecting 100 lbs. of food items for donation, it’s a challenge but one that I believe we can meet.

I challenge you to start up a food drive as well.  Click here to find where you can to donate to in your area.  I have my reasons to donate; maybe they’ll inspire you to as well.  I encourage you to find your own reason, your own purpose, to give back in your community.

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Filed under americorps VISTA, hunger, poverty