Tag Archives: Native Americans

I Don’t Like What I See…

We’ve all done it. We’ve looked in the mirror and not liked the reflection. Sometimes we don’t like it so much that we avoid looking. Other times we use it as a driving force for change. What happens when a community takes a look and decides it doesn’t like what it sees?

Setting the Scene

The driving push behind many adults is their children. Parents recount the years in a series of memories, filled with a range of emotions. There is the joy of first steps and first days of school. There is the pain of seeing a child suffer a broken bone or enduring an illness. In many ways these memories establish who the child is later in life; the type of adult and parent they will become. No childhood is bliss, and no childhood should be misery.

Yet, how is a parent supposed to react when their child experiences a terrible trauma? Unfortunately, this question is one that many parents go through first hand in communities across the country. This is especially true in Native American communities. The statistics of violence against Native American women are numbing, and the inability to bring justice is shocking to those unfamiliar with the relationship between federal, state, and Tribal sovereignty.

Incidents of sexual abuse and sexual harassment have a long history on Native American reservations, and stepping up to confront them can be seen as difficult to do. The driving force behind one community’s reaction to violence against women and children has been the willingness of women to speak out against their assailants. This action is commendable to say the least, but it also deserves mentioning that those who are responsible for protecting women and children have not fulfilled their role. The list is long of people who have neglected this responsibility, and it bears repeating that if there is a search for who to blame then it must begin by looking in the mirror.

Looking in the Mirror

Recently, citizens of the Seminole Tribe of Florida collectively looked at the mirror. The discussion that took place began on August 16, 2020 and it was started by a young Seminole woman and mother of two named Rebecca Cypress. The discussion centered on the protection of children and it began with the following Facebook post:

The comments under the post were overwhelmingly messages of support. The comments were also quickly filled with names of people that had been convicted of a sexual offense and were registered on the Florida Sexual Offenders and Predators Search tool. In addition to this, the comments also began to mention names of people who were suspected or alleged to have committed sexual abuse or sexual harassment. It is important to mention here that although the post was made on Facebook, it was done so in a closed group just for members of the Seminole Tribe. Consequently, many within the Facebook group know one another in a familial or acquaintance manner.

As names of suspected or alleged people began to be posted additional comments from others would add to or confirm the suspicions. At this point, due to the nature of what was being alleged it must be noted that there were several comments containing names of other people from within the group. Several of these alleged people came to their own defense within the comments.

As the comments began to wind down, they began to be centered around resources to help others and the initial steps to take a more formal and organized stand against sexual abuse and sexual harassment within the Tribal community. The need to continue this discussion and involve other community stakeholders is the next step that Cypress wants to take. In another Facebook post on the group page Cypress posted the following on August 18, 2020:

Cypress strikes a tone that shows care and concern. Furthermore, she appears to be making an effort to push the conversation forward. To gain a better understanding of what drove her making to the original post, as well as to see what progress has been made since, Ms. Cypress agreed to an interview.

Interview

The following are questions asked and Ms. Cypress’s responses (edited for clarity):

Your first post is dated August 16th. What compelled you to making that first post?
For me it started with the hashtag #saveourchildren. I started looking at what happened to those kids and I thought about my own two children, and I feel that we need to protect kids in our own communities. These things happen in our families, to our close friends. I was really mad and angry at that moment because these things weren’t being talked about.

When you were making the first post, how did you feel? What did you think the reaction to your post would be?
My grandma would say when I was younger to “stay away from this person or that person.” My family was really open about these things, they weren’t shy about sharing. But I didn’t think the reaction would be what it was, I thought that only two or three people would talk about it. I thought that it would be hush hush like always.

After the post, when the reaction from others started, what thoughts came to you?
I didn’t expect the responses that came, and it was overwhelming at first. I was also happy that people were willing to speak up. What really got me was when I started to get direct messages from other people, they were telling me their stories. It was so heartbreaking that there was so many, I cried when I read them. People were also thanking me for bringing it up. I also had people message me saying I could get in to trouble or cause trouble. Some people were angry at me for bringing it up.

When you first received names of people who had allegedly committed sexual crimes or sexual harassment, what did you think?
One person named was my uncle. After he was named it made me rethink his actions from when I was younger. I realized what he did was really inappropriate and questionable. A friend shared a similar story about him. I think these things are suppressed because no one wants to face ridicule. No one wants to face the questions like “why did you hang out with him?” or “why didn’t you say something sooner?”.

What is it that you would like to see come out of the conversation about these sexual crimes?
I would like to start would tribal policies, beginning with people who have been convicted. I want to see support for our people. I want people to feel that they aren’t the only one. I don’t want people to feel afraid to see a person who has done something terrible to them. It really hurts that it’s taking so long. Everyone that I know is hurt by this. People should not have feel that this is something that can’t be talked about. We [the tribe] are all about family, we talk about how we should stay together. But some people move away from the reservation because of these things.

What solutions to this issue would you propose?
I think there should be support groups for families for them to know that they won’t face ridicule. I think the police and fire department should interact with kids more. They are the first people that kids look to for help. I’ve looked to see what other Tribes are doing, but I didn’t find much.

Making Changes

If you don’t like what you see when you look in the mirror, then first step to making a change is to decide to. If you’ve read this far then you’re either wrestling to make the decision to speak up, or you have already done so in your own way. If you’re still wrestling with the decision, Ms. Cypress posted another comment that you need to read:

The kids need you to decide.

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Shoni Schimmel, The Play Goes On

It’s been a decade since you arrived at UL, and even longer since you moved Off The Rez. The WNBA drafted you, traded you, and waived you. Shoni Shimmel, where are you now?

Setting The Stage

Ten years ago a young woman named Shoni Shimmel (@schimmel23) walked onto the campus at the University of Louisville. She was recruited to the school for her ability to do amazing things with a basketball. She was recognized by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association as a high school All-American in her senior year of high school. She was known in women’s basketball circles. In all respects she surpassed expectations, taking the UL program to heights unknown, including the NCAA 2013 Women’s Basketball National Championship game. Indeed, the highlights from that run to the championship are breathtaking. See below for a signature moment.

It was during this time that Shoni’s journey took on a particular interest to Native Americans around the country. The interest was generated in large part by Shoni’s play, but also by the 2011 documentary “Off The Rez,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was later first aired on TLC. The film highlights Shoni’s junior year of high school as well as life on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.

Shoni would go on to be taken 8th overall in the 2014 WNBA draft by the Atlanta Dream. Success in professional level sports is often marked with accolades, and being selected 8th in the draft was a great start for Shoni. She would then go on to be named a WNBA All-Star in 2014 and 2015, and during the 2014 All-Star game she would be named the MVP for her performance. Year three appeared like it would bring more success. However, Shoni was traded prior to the start of the 2016 season and would go on to play an injury shortened season with the New York Liberty.

Prior to the start of the 2017 season with New York, Schimmel announced she was taking the season off to deal the personal issues. It was reported that the issues were primarily due to the health of her grandmother, as well as for Schimmel to take a break from the year to year focus on basketball that she had since high school. Shoni returned to the court for 2018, but was waived by New York prior to the start of the season. Shortly thereafter She was picked up by the Las Vegas Aces, but was again waived. Shoni has not returned to an WNBA team since the 2018 season, but she has remained active in playing in various Native American basketball tournaments.

Getting Into Character

In the decade since she first began her rise to prominence, first in Oregon and next at the University of Louisville, Shoni has endured many of life’s challenges. Leaving home twice, from the reservation and then across the country, had to bring certain feelings of separation and a grasp for identity. To be sure, Shoni is rooted in basketball, as her mother says she recognized her daughters’ connection to the sport at just 4 years old. The ability to continue playing no doubt eased the transition, and the success she had reinforced her decision. Furthermore, Shoni was later joined in Louisville by her younger sister Jude (@JSchim22), who also played for UL.

Due to her success on the court the WNBA came calling in April of 2014, shortly after her senior season ended. Here again is another challenge. The transition from college to the WNBA was certainly expected by Shoni, and just as she had did going into college, she immediately performed to expectations as she was named an All-Star in her first two seasons. However, unlike college Shoni did not experience continued success, and the red flags for why were put up by her coach in Atlanta, Michael Cooper. Cooper was displeased by the lack of preparation Shoni appeared to put in prior to her seasons in Atlanta. This criticism undoubtedly left her unnerved, especially considering most professional critiques aren’t published in a newspaper. Then her on court stats took a step back once she was traded to New York. Add to this the fact that she did not finish the season due to injury, and then she took the next season off.

In Shoni’s own words from 2016, prior to getting traded and after criticism from Cooper, she said “For me to come in the way I do, it’s just a learning process.” This is certainly a point of agreement, as we progress to different stages of life and work we can expect varying levels of time needed to find our footing. Shoni went on to say, “I’m still a kid trying to be an adult. I’m human.” To know the pressure put on Shoni by herself and others is impossible, especially considering how it’s not something a person can train for. Add to all of this the fact that she is a person beyond basketball. That no matter her profession, she’s still experiencing human feelings and emotions. Shoni seems to give voice to this. “…I’m going to give it my all. At the end of the day, I love basketball. Whatever happens, happens. I’ll still play basketball at the end of the day.”

I’ll Still Play

That last bit from the quote is a sentiment that many Native Americans share. Whether you see sports as an allegory for life or just as entertainment, you know that there is value in playing. To play is to continue to engage, to not allow circumstances to dictate your perception. To watch the ammeter and professional career of Shoni Shimmel thus far, as a Native American, is to know the struggles and success she has gone through.

Shoni, where ever you are, whatever you are doing, you must keep playing. If it’s basketball, fans already know you’re one of a kind. Perhaps it’s something else, another role not as visible to the public, but it’s something you find important.

If you can’t tell by now, this isn’t a recap of Shoni’s life, but rather a prelude to what her life will become. The stage has been set by the last decade, but the true play has yet to begin.

Sept. 27, 2014. From left: my brother Curtis Osceola Jr., Shoni Schimmel, my wife Desiree, daughter Sienna, and me.

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Comics, Eczema, and Breaking Bread

So just how do comics, eczema, and bread make for a good story? Keep reading to find out. I promise by the end your taste buds will thank you.

Up First –> Comics

In the United States, through comic books and their development into television and film, superheros are firmly ingrained into the pop culture psyche. If your into the comics, then you certainly have a favorite character. Maybe its their power/ability or their personality that draws you in. For me, I always appreciate their humanity and struggles. It’s what makes them relatable and understandable.

The best way to understand the character is to go back to the beginning. Every super hero has an origin story, the backstory to how they got their powers and where their motivation to use them for good comes from. We really become connected when we see ourselves reflected in the characters. This is why for Native Americans it can be challenging connect, the comics just don’t show our stories. This isn’t to say that the major comic publishers don’t have Native American superheros, they do but the depictions can leave a lot to be desired.

I am certainly not the first to notice this, see writer Vincent Shilling articles on Marvel Native Superheros and Native Superheros and Native Actors. Others have ventured into writing, illustrating, and publishing comics. Lee Francis IV has done all three and even opened a comic book store featuring only Native American comics. In researching this post I also came across Arigon Starr, a creator/writer/artist, and her website SuperIndianComics. For a parent with kids who love to draw, the comic coloring pages on the website are great.

Eczema

In 2013 my daughter was born and so began my superhero origin story. Picture me: a budding educator, fledgling husband, and a very amateur cook. In short, I was not prepared for what my daughter would bring. Yeah sure, my wife and I already had two boys but the girl was different. Here’s how: at around one, just when I thought I had things generally figured out a curve ball gets thrown. At first it was small, so I didn’t put much thought to it. A saying now comes to mind, one I heard on a visit to the pediatrician: “If it gets small and goes away, then don’t worry. If it stays the same or gets worse, see a doctor.”

It showed on her arm, just a blotch at first. It turned out to be eczema, and it would go on to cover all parts of her body. After all these years I understand that her case could have been way worse, and I am extremely thankful to my wife for her persistence and endless search for helping our daughter. After years my wife happened upon the Aron Regimen, named after Dr. Richard Aron, and because we’d tried all manner of remedies and treatments we decided to try it. We noticed results within 2-3 weeks, and continual use provided continual improvement. I’m happy to say she is now 6 years old and has been off the regimen for two years.

One thing that came out of our visits to the pediatrician and dermatologist was that we should also visit an allergist. After being tested the results showed allergies to dairy, eggs, and tree nuts, and after discussion we also decided to forego gluten to see if that would help. The day we received these results is lost in memory, but I do remember the feelings. The feelings washed over me not at the doctor’s office, but rather when I walked into the grocery store. There was a haze as I walked down the aisles and wondered where to go first. I don’t remember what product I looked at first, but I do remember going to the ingredients list and feeling lost. It was something I’d never done before, and now it seemed that everything we ate at home had ingredients she was allergic to.

This was my origin moment.

Breaking Bread

You say: Chocolate chip cookies, pies (of all sort), cakes, cupcakes, and other baked treats. I say: Count me in!

Its been years since I walked into that grocery store and looked at it differently then ever before. Now, I go confidently in. My superhero powers have been finely tuned over the years and I can hone in any ingredients I might need. What’s more, when I get home the powers really kick in as I put the ingredients to use. As with any superhero, my powers grow with each challenge.

  1. Birthday party at school. What to make for my daughter who can’t eat the cake? SUPERPOWER = Vegan Cupcakes!
  2. Breakfast of pancakes or waffles. How to make them when eggs and diary are required? SUPERPOWER = Vegan pancakes and vegan waffles!
  3. My family loves fried rice, but how to eat it when eggs are a main ingredient? SUPERPOWER = Vegan fried rice!

There are numerous other instances I could mention, but for the remainder of the post I’ll point to a few places that have super charged my powers. First, there’s Richa Hingle-Garg. Her story is amazing and so too are her food recipes. You can visit her website VeganRicha.com or pick one of her cookbooks. Some of my favorite are on cupcakes, click here to see. Next, there’s Nora Taylor. You can visit her website at NoraCooks.com, and when you do check out her recipe on chocolate chip cookies. Lastly, Alison Andrews and she shares her recipes at LovingItVegan.com. I appreciate that perspective she brings as she has live in various parts of the world. Check out this pancake recipe when you go.

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Unofficial Big Cypress Survival Guide Part 2

As you find your way onto the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, you’ll find this sign:

Photo courtesy of http://jessica-kindergartenteacher.blogspot.com/2011/07/everglades-have-scary-bugs.html

“Welcome to Big Cypress” it says, greeting visitors, commuting employees, and residents alike. To those traveling out, it’s more than a sign, its affirmation and relief that you’re on the right path. Of course these feelings have been diminished in the era of GPS. However, what it doesn’t say is much about the journey or the destination, thus we come to the Part 2 of the Unofficial Big Cypress Survival Guide. Part 1 shed some light on the past, but now we’re focused on the present which brings me first to the journey, and second to the welcome sign.

A friend recently told me she had an idea where Big Cypress is located, but asked me “Where, exactly, is it?” This question has many answers, all depending upon your starting point, however, allow me to sum it all up with this – Big Cypress is in the heart of southern Florida, just an hour away from wherever you’re at. I know that’s vague, but being that this is the era of GPS, just input “Big Cypress Seminole Reservation” and I promise you’ll find us just fine. We residents of Big Cypress do a lot of driving, and on one drive out these thoughts came to me:

A Place Called B.C.
Let me take you for a ride my friend
To a place that I call home It’ll take an hour or two, but no mind
Cause there’s vistas of sawgrass and blue
We’re headed to a little place called B.C.
Now’s a time for us to catch up
Let’s spend this time wisely on the who, where and what’s
And as we draw near, you’ll notice out the window
A change of scenery, gators, snakes, and crosses inscribed “In Memory…”
We’re headed to a little place called B.C.
As we draw nearer, it’s time for some hospitality
You’re welcome in my home my friend
And if you haven’t noticed by now
I’m talking about a little place called B.C.

Now about that welcome sign, I’ve heard rumor the welcome sign is soon to be remodeled, given a makeover and an updating. This is just a rumor but while I’m on the subject, allow me to suggest that what’s added will give those new to the area an idea of what they’re getting themselves into. My suggestions include adding the following vital information:

Big Cypress state animal – Run over Carcass
Big Cypress state flower – Brazilian Pepper Tree
Big Cypress state song – “Seminole Wind” by John Anderson
Big Cypress state motto – Love All, Serve All

There is a lot to learn about Big Cypress and I guarantee much of it you won’t find by searching Wikipedia. The journey to Big Cypress is an experience in of itself, and as any traveler knows, the journey is half the fun. Once you arrive at Big Cypress there’s a lot to catch up on, including the wildlife, the ecology, and the people. If you’ve been following along with this guide, then you will be well prepared. Don’t take too much time wondering if you should come, you’re already a step ahead by completing part 2 of the Big Cypress Survival Guide.

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When Hope Fades

Often we Native people speak of the society ills that affect us, like alcoholism, intergenerational trauma, and loss of culture.  It can feel like our hope is fading, down the drain like our beliefs and customs.  These ills are real; however, the chorus behind them can drown out our spiritual melody, masking our eyes from our own profound examples of love, commitment, and sacrifice.

Last week the cycle of Earthly life came to a close for a person dear to me, my uncle Roger Smith.  He was a man cut from the highest quality cloth, and he used it to love and protect his family and community.  Although he’s no longer walking this Earth, he’ll live on in my memories.  He also serves as one of those profound examples of love, commitment, and sacrifice.

My uncle Roger loved God.  He was committed to his family.  He sacrificed for his community. 

As I sat at the hospital, in his last few hours, my hope for many things began to fade.  As I sat I began to write, and as I wrote my hope was restored.  Read on for what I wrote:

When hope fades – it’s like the sun during dusk.  The night air brings despair, lurking, and lusting to overcome my senses and entrap my mind.

When hope fades – the darkness grabs hold and saps the warmth from my bones. It’s a chilling feeling that I can’t escape.

When hope fades – my breathing becomes short. The air is taken right out of my lungs by the weight of uncertainty.

Uncle Roger – as I sit here my eyes fill with tears. My heart aches with pain and sadness. My hands feel helpless and my hope is fading.

When hope fades, what’s left to fill the void?

When hope fades – faith is there to brighten the coming night.  It is the light that shines on my path and keeps me safe.

When hope fades – a loving smile is there to beat back despair and keep my thoughts free.

When hope fades – the everlasting love of family is there to bring back the warmth to my body.

Uncle Roger – Tears are shed for your remaining body, but I believe peace rests within your soul.  The strength of God removes any lingering doubts, as we know that men only have power to treat, but God has the power to heal.  Your time is almost past, but before you go I must tell you – my hope is renewed!

I thank God an Earthly piece of you lives on through my soul. I thank God for you in my life; your presence fills many of my memories.  I thank God for the example you’ve set, it is powerful and it will give me strength on difficult days.

Uncle Roger – You’ve done what an Uncle should, stood tall and given me shoulders to stand on so that now I can see further than you.

Most of all, Uncle Roger, you’ve allowed me to see the true meaning of family – love, commitment, and sacrifice.

I love you Uncle Roger.  Say hello to my grandpa for me.  I know I’ll one day see both of you again.

My uncle is gone, but let his example live on.  Remember to tell your loved ones how you feel, hug them, and give them your all.  Life without them is difficult, but they don’t leave us empty.  We’re filled with the joy and love of their memories, and the knowledge that we’ll one day see each other again.

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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 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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You’re Not Indian

I recall the first time a person told me I wasn’t an Indian… 

I was sitting in the cafeteria at Florida Atlantic University, eating my food and mulling over why I didn’t grab a bite elsewhere.  I was joined by a few friends, all of us conversing about the things college age guys talk about – sports, women, and more sports.  About midway through this deep and thoughtful conversation we were joined by two women, both of whom I didn’t know.  Introductions ensued and I told them my name, Jarrid Smith.  

A few moments later one of the ladies asked me “What are you?”.  I responded “I’m Indian (Native American), a Seminole”.  I was promptly told “No you’re not! You can’t be an Indian with the name Jarrid Smith. You should have a name like Running-Bear or Lightening-bolt”.  I responded as a unthoughtful person would by saying “Yes, Jarrid Smith is my name” and attempting to laugh the situation away.  I asked her why she thought my name shouldn’t be Jarrid Smith and she responded “Because it’s not like on TV”. 

This recollection has stayed with me the way a lovebug stays on your windshield.  I have thought about it numerous times since that day, the memory is one that I’m sure other Natives have had as well.  Being that I was young, about 18 or 19 at the time, I didn’t fully understand how the perception was created that the name my parents gave me wasn’t acceptable to others as authentic.  I didn’t grasp how an image on a screen could shape a persons view of an entire culture. 

In the years that have passed this memory inspired me to uncover the roots of that perception.    This memory has helped me to understand encounters with quizzical looks and insensitive remarks.  This memory has helped shape how I now respond when asked the question “What are you?”.

I am a human being, one that happens to be a part of an amazing sub-group of humanity’s uniqueness.  I am a son, an uncle, and a soon-to-be husband.  I am a believer and faithful follower to my ancestors teachings.  I am a living testament to my people’s perseverance and a bridge builder to a collective future.  I am a lot of things, but I am not an image on a TV screen. 

What are you?

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