Reflections on Independence Day


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When I was a child, we lived on a farm where it rains around 40 inches annually.  On the Fourth of July, Dad always shot off a few Roman candles, and we had small firecrackers and sparklers, nothing fancy, just fun.  Even then I knew about the Declaration of Independence, revered its message.  Still do.

Now I live where it is hot and dry.  The neighbor’s fireworks display rivaled those found in cities–beautiful but dangerous in brown grass country.  I wonder if they give any thought to the history, to why anyone celebrates this day.

For the first time in the decades of my life, I did not celebrate Independence Day.  Why?

Born decades ago, I originally went to college in Virginia where I experienced the shock of real segregation; I had not grown up where it was like that. I was horrified, lasted only one semester, then transferred.  Later I attended a college which shut down in protest over the Viet Nam War, I supported The Civil Rights Movement, I helped create one of the first intercollegiate groups to advocate for abused women, and with an ethnically diverse group I taught diversity classes for teachers.

Now in 2020, I feel that even with all that hard, determined work, progress has been too limited.  It is as if I have been transported back to 40 years ago.  People need to learn from the history most do not even know:

-Cotton Mather, the leading intellectual and Puritan minister in the colonial era, actually helped butcher King Phillip (Metacomet) like an animal.  What did he do to deserve this?  He tried to save his Native people.  Cotton Mather later writes about tearing Metacomet’s jaw from his skull.

-In 1676, when poor whites joined enslaved Africans to rebel for a better life and decent living conditions, fighting for justice against the wealthy planters, those rich planters realized they had to get poor whites to hate Blacks.  They took land owned by Blacks and gave it to poor white people and then paid them to hunt down and abuse, even kill, people of African descent.

-Later, the same Cotton Mather mentioned above, learned from his slave that in Africa, Africans had been taking pus from a smallpox infected person and inoculating others with it to prevent smallpox from spreading.  He refused to believe any African  could be so smart even though he inoculated himself and his family after learning this.  Later, he wrote this about his African slave who had told him the story that may have saved his life: “…brokenly and blunderingly and like Idiots they tell the Story.”

-Of course, we all know that the intellectual giant, Thomas Jefferson, held the deed to the woman who would later bear him numerous children while he proclaimed those famous words that all people are created equal.

The history of racial and ethnic hatred goes back to the inception of this country.  It continues to poison progress and hope.  It never seems to end.  I am tired of it.  Enough is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plains Indian Artifacts–Beaded Moccasins


Last evening I attended a new exhibit at Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.  The exhibit featured moccasins, paintings, and various artifacts made by different Great Plains tribes, including a headdress worn by Quanah Parker.  The exhibit also contains many old photographs.  A number of Comanches were present including a lady over 100 years old.

After I left the exhibit, I kept thinking about it and wondered how current Comanches might feel when they come to something like this which in many ways honors them but also displays a past that will never return.  While contemplating, I wrote this poem about what I saw.

Beaded moccasins,

moons of work.

Ceremonial beauty,

now encased in glass, labelled, dated by someone’s guess,

for strangers who believe in a strange god,

desecrate the land,

waste invaluable water,

kill bears for sport.

Weep

Wait

 

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Palo Duro Canyon, Comanche Country, where they made their last stand and were forced to go to a reservation in Oklahoma after federal troops killed over a thousand of their horses.

 

 

 

Blood Quantum: A Poem for Our Time


 

My grandson cuts himself into 16 equal pieces:

4/16 Urhobo from Africa

3/16 Spanish from Spain

4/16 European–two Swiss German great, great-grandfathers

(Werth and Kaiser), Irish, English and who knows what

3/16 Mexican–whatever mixtures that may be

2/16 Navaho

 

Who am I? What am I?

Who are you? What are you?

Do we really know?

Who sets the rules?

white men

black

Indian

Native American

Irish

English

German

from where and for whom?

 

He looks Navaho:

-blue black straight hair

-pale brown skin

-obsidian eyes.

One four year old girl asks him,

“Are you American Indian?”

His six year old self says nothing.

She repeats,

“Are you American Indian?”

He says, “It’s complicated.”

 

The Navaho won’t claim him, too little blood.

He needs 1/4, not 1/8.

Caddy and Fort Sill Apache allow 1/16, not Navahos.

1/4 blood is for

-Sioux

-Cheyenne

-Kiowa

-Navaho

1/8 works for Comanche and Pawnee.

Some Cherokees only want a Cherokee ancestor.

 

But he is none of those.

Is he Navaho?

Is he white?

The old South goes by the one drop rule:

one drop of Negro…

Is a person with 99/100 per cent white

and 1/100 black, black?

Who says?

Kids at school ask, “What are you?”

He tells them.

They say, “You’re lying.”

 

I only know specifically about two ancestors,

the Swiss Germans.

Another great grandfather disappeared during the Civil War.

I don’t even know his name.

Who am I?

Who are you?

I think I’ll get a DNA test.

Then I’ll know how many pieces I need to cut myself into.

 

Note:  This was originally published in my book “On the Rim of Wonder”.  I had a cousin send me 75 pages of ancestry information.  I looked up more myself.  That one great grandfather remains a mystery.  I had my DNA done.  It did not match what I expected from the ancestry work.

Blood quantum is the term the US government used to determine whether a person would be qualified as an Indian.  Now many Indian Nations use it to decide who can be on the tribal rolls and who cannot.

 

 

An Open Letter to President Obama about the Dakota Access Pipeline by Elizabeth Cunningham


Since the election results, I have become increasingly concerned not only about the plight of Standing Rock, but also about water safety throughout the USA. President-elect Trump has major interests in the company building the pipeline. North Dakota seems determined to go to extreme policing to make sure their fracking results get into this pipeline. This state has a long history of mistreatment of its native people.

Elizabeth_Author Photo 2I wrote this letter to President Obama on November 18, the morning after I returned from a few days at Standing Rock. I am not an activist by temperament. I went to Standing Rock to support a friend who felt strongly called to go, as well as, to support the cause. I did not participate in direct action, because I did not fully grasp till I was there the preparations I would need to make in terms of clearing my calendar for jail time and a return to North Dakota for a trial. Gratitude and respect for those who are taking this risk and dedicating their lives to this cause.

One thing this letter below does not address is how to donate to the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. Given the overwhelming donations of food and clothing that are still pouring in, financial donation is more practical now. Here’s a…

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Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico


At Tamaya Resort, this past week I attended a regional conference of the Alpha Delta Kappa teachers’ sorority.  Run by Hyatt, this resort resides on Santa Ana Pueblo land near Bernalillo, New Mexico.  Although the word pueblo is Spanish for town, in New Mexico its meaning extends far beyond town.

There are 19 pueblos in New Mexico.  Several are near Albuquerque:  Santa Ana, Santa Domingo, Sandia, and farther to the north, Taos Pueblo near the town which bears its name.  Many  pueblos have been inhabited for many centuries, e.g.Santa Ana since the 1500s and Acoma since the 1200s.  Each pueblo is synonymous with a particular American Indian tribe.

Santa Ana Pueblo land borders the Rio Grande River.  Tribal members number approximately 900.  Their children attend public school in Bernalillo.  The tribe’s income comes primarily from the Tamaya Resort and a casino. Employees at the resort come from all over the United States as well as other countries.  Our waiter at one of the four restaurants came from a small town in Yucatan, Mexico.

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All the buildings show the traditional pueblo style.  The horno–oven–on the left in this photo is actually used.  The courses and activities for guests are extensive, including making bread and baking it in this horno.  Golf, horse back riding, hiking to the Rio Grande, swimming–there are four pools, jewelry making, bike riding, creating your own dream catcher, and many others options keep guests busy.  Their horse rescue center is the largest in New Mexico.

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The trail to the bosque and river start just below the lounging and grill area.  Bosque (forest or woods) is another one of those Spanish words, here used specifically in relation to the forested area along the Rio Grande.  Like in most of the West, rain is always welcome.  It rained several times while we were there.

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The intense blue of the New Mexico sky mixed with storm clouds make for perfect photos.

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After approximately a mile of walking, the hiker arrives at the Rio Grande.  Because of the rains, it became higher and higher.

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Looking down river.  The river was moving so fast that I could hear it rolling along.

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Looking slightly up river.  Seeing this, it is hard to believe that by the time it arrives at the Gulf of Mexico, it is a mere trickle.

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Early morning hikers on the bosque trail.

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While hiking, I looked up and could not help it; I had to photograph the famous New Mexico sky which Georgia O’Keefe loved to paint.

The Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos


For years I had read and heard about this place, even attended a lecture by a descendent of one of her frequent guests who actually knew her when he was a child.  This past weekend good friends from Rociada took me there with my best friends from college years, friends from long ago, visiting from California.

I already knew something about Mabel and her friends, famous people who frequented her salon, created the artistic mystique that still hangs over Taos.  When I returned home, I wanted to know more.  Born into Buffalo, NY, high society, she had been married and widowed by the age of 23.  As a young woman she was openly bisexual; her memoir, “Intimate Memories”, provides a frank discussion of this part of her life.  Several years after her first husband’s death, she married the architect Edwin Dodge.  They lived near Florence, Italy, for seven years where she entertained such notables as Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Andre Gide.  After affairs and two suicide attempts, she separated from her husband and moved to Greenich Village.  Eventually, she married her third husband, the painter Maurice Sterne and became a patron of the arts.

In 1917, she and her husband moved to New Mexico.  This changed her life; she lived there until she died 45 years later.  She preferred Taos to Santa Fe, finding the latter “too civilized”.  She found New Mexico “alive” and fell in love with Pueblo culture eventually even cutting her hair to mimic Pueblo style.  Sterne did not find New Mexico to his liking and left.  After their divorce she married her long standing love, Antonio Luhan, a Taos Pueblo man.  They remained married 40 years.

Mabel entertained a nearly endless array of famous artists, writers, and intellectuals:  D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keefe, Willa Cather, Ansel Adams, Carl Jung, Emma Goldberg, Margaret Sanger, the founders of the Taos Society of Artists.  She introduced New York and the east coast to New Mexico through her columns in “The New York Journal”.  Mabel died in 1962.

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A view of the main entrance and the largest portion of the house and grounds.

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A small portion of the kitchen.  Cookies, coffee, fruit infused water, and tea were available in the dining room for hotel guests. Books with historical photos lay out for visitors to read in an adjoining room.

Dennis Hopper bought the house in 1970 and recreated her “salon” hippie style.  In 1977, he sold it to George Otero.  Because of years of neglect, it required extensive restoration.  The Oteros turned it into a non-profit where they held workshops.  The Attiyeh Foundation, its current owners, purchased it in 1996 and run it as a hotel and conference/retreat center.  It costs nothing to visit and wander around.

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This photo was taken from the same spot as the first one, looking to the right instead of toward the entrance.

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While standing there, I looked up into that incredible New Mexico sky.

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A close up view of the entrance.

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Look at all the bird houses.

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Beside the kitchen, out a side door–patio and horno (traditional clay oven) shaded from the afternoon sun.

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Friends chit chatting while I wander around taking photos.

For more details, go to:   http://www.mabeldodgeluhan.com.  This includes history, accommodations, workshops, etc.  The accommodations portion even tells the site visitor who slept in each room when visiting Mabel.

 

 

 

79-Year-Old Bird Watcher Takes Down Oregon Militant With Old High School Wrestling Move


For those of you who have been following the illegal occupation of the refuge in Oregon, this is perfect. Whenever I see how they treat those who disagree with them, how they violate the rights of the rest of us who pay taxes that fund those lands, how they violate and destroy American Indian sites and artifacts, I become increasingly dismayed, well, actually angry. Perhaps all the birdwatchers in the country should show up there. Would they shoot them? Oh, I forget, most people, unlike the occupiers, actually have to work.

Wolves of Douglas County News

Source: The LapineJANUARY 10, 2016

BURNS, OREGON — Grandfather of four Robert Saunders says he was just out to check on some young burrowing owls at the crack of dawn this morning when he was confronted by a “red-faced pudgy man with a big gun”.
And things got physical when Saunders refused the barked orders to halt and identify himself.
But it wasn’t the retired teacher who ended up on the ground.


Well heck, one second he was warming his hands by this kind of puny little fire and the next second he was running at me and shouting to get down on the ground,” Saunders told reporters gathered nearthe Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

“Made me mad really. It’s public property and here this guy is acting all big and tough and pushy.”
“I don’t swear much at all but I told him to screw right off and…

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Who Is the Best Writer: A Matter of Taste and Viewpoint


Until I was asked to be a judge for a memoir competition, I did not spend a lot of time thinking about this topic.  For years my general awareness about writing preferences included the knowledge that the writers I prefer and usually read rarely hit the best seller list and generally are not white, main stream USA.  What do I read:  Native American (American Indian), Indian as in the country of India, and Latin American writers, and writers from the Middle East, especially Iran.  My favorite writer is Leslie Marmon Silko.  My favorite book of hers is Storyteller.  My favorite story, “Yellow Woman”, is in that book as well as numerous literary anthologies. I estimate I have read that story at least fifty times, maybe more.  Why?  In spite of asking myself that question, I remain somewhat clueless.  Because of my current teaching assignment which includes British literature from Beowulf to now, I try my best to read a bunch of British literature.  For instance, I just read I, Claudius by Robert Graves.  Of course, it has nothing to do with Britain; perhaps it does not count.   Next on my list is The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai.  This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2006.  Although she writes in English, she obviously is not British unless you consider being in a former British colony counts as British.

Back to my contest assignment:  Two of the books I was assigned to read nearly put me to sleep.  One did not; in fact I liked it a lot–enough to mark pages with passages I plan to use when I need writing inspiration/ideas later.  When I read a bunch of reviews recently, it came as quite a shock to find one of those put-me-to-sleep books favorably reviewed.  Could I really have been that far off base?  I consider the possibility that even though I have read some excellent memoirs, I find many of them impossible to read.  Why?  From my viewpoint, many memoirs whine, lament, and carry on about the past in a way I find highly objectionable.  Who wants to read hundreds of pages about how someone overcame addiction or some hideous disease or a divorce? Apparently, a lot of people.  Even though I consider The Glass Castle an excellent book, I even had a difficult time plugging through the last 50 pages of that one.  Some of Storyteller is a memoir–a combination of poetry, vignettes, photos, but it also includes several enlightening short stories.  While writing now and reflecting, I can only think of one other memoir type book, I actually recommend to people, Jimmy Santiago Baca’s A Place to Stand.  While stopping by the library this morning, I did pick up Willie Nelson’s latest, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.  It even has a foreword by Kinky Friedman, who in my opinion would make a much better governor than any one we have experienced in Texas lately or will have for the foreseeable future.  With a title like that, about Willie, and Kinky thrown in, surely it won’t be too boring.