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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World in One Room


 

Four jaguar heads stare at me,

Mexican, Costa Rican.

A third guards the mantel,

partially hidden in tropical plants,

attack ready, tail raised, jaws open,

teeth bared.

 

My feet rest on a coffee table

carved in Kashmir.  I look at the photo

of the young man whose family made it.

He took me home to meet his mom,

to the floating market.

Once peace reigned there.

Now I wonder if he is safe, alive.

 

The Hoop Dancer raises his arms,

the Acoma pot exudes ancient

black on white beauty, painted

by the tips of yucca stems.

The Thai Spirit House begs

to appease evil spirits.

I should put food and flowers there;

I never do.

 

Corn plant of life–for Navaho, Hopi,

me, painted, growing up my wall,

blue and red birds flitting through

the stalks, singing ancient songs.

Corn Maiden rug hanging on the wall;

an Isleta Pueblo girl won a contest

with its design.  Four Corn Maiden

Kachinas watch the room.

Corn everywhere–Sacred Corn.

 

Three Ethiopian crosses, St. George

and the Dragon, Frida Kahlo doll,

Argentinian Madonna, Tohono O’odham

baskets, a painted cow skull, Nigerian carved

wooden elephants, including a Chieftains chair,

the stained glass transom window from the house

where my dad lived from birth to ten.

 

In a room filled with windows, there

is little room for paintings, yet–

purple bison glide across the prairie,

an Iraqi woman flies through an azure

sky filled with dark blue birds,

a 15th century mystic, Kabir, tells

a tale in poetry, Navaho spirits,

pumas walking toward me–

my obsession.

 

Rugs scattered–Kerman,

an unknown Persian city, Afghani,

Egyptian, Indian, Zapotec, scraps of old

Turkish rugs sewn together.

 

In one cabinet, Grandmother’s china,

Mom’s Czech crystal–a wedding present

decades ago, Grandson’s painted art,

the silverware Dad gave Mom on their

first wedding anniversary,  Mom’s

everyday dishes–flowers blooming.

I use them every day.

 

These objects–a testament to who I am:

World wanderer, seeker, citizen.

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Some Things I Learned This Week


A lovely autumn day with a few flowers still in full bloom.  Snow starts at ten tonight they predict.

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In spite of this loveliness, I keep thinking about a few sad facts I learned this past week.

On June 2, 1924, Congress granted citizenship to Native Americans born in the US and finally, the original inhabitants of the USA could actually vote.  Well, some of them.  Certain states still barred them from voting until 1957.

More tigers live in captivity in the United States than in the wild worldwide.  95% of wild tigers gone in just one century.

More people have died from opioid addiction in the US in the last few years than from Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars combined.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

White Trash and Rednecks


Nearly everyone lies about an important aspect of US history even historians. School history books avoid the discussion totally, this significant part of US history, much of which explains past and current racism.

Americans pretend that social class does not matter, that anyone can rise to the top given enough effort.  This myth depends on the continuation of a very selective historical memory, indeed, a lie.

It began with the British and those who intentionally left there to come here.  Even colonists divided the classes with poor people and criminals at the bottom–whores, discharged English soldiers, robbers, highwaymen; the saddest of the lot were the orphans, rounded up, loaded on ships bound for America, sold as indentured servants. Often these contracts were repeatedly resold with no routes for the individuals to escape.  The rigid English class conditions continued here.  People of higher classes in the colonies referred to the poor as waste, rubbish, and trash.

John Locke, often considered the father of constitutional government, favored slavery and aristocratic society.  He endorsed an aristocratic constitutional government and called the poor, landless, lazy lubbers. Because the southern colonies lacked sufficient land lubbers and land owners believed Africans more suitable for hot, humid swamp clearance, they petitioned for slaves–previously illegal in Georgia, for example.  These wealthy landowners also viewed poor whites as too lazy to work.

Even the esteemed Ben Franklin believed in the concept of class as inevitable.  Both he and Jefferson saw expansion westward as the solution to potential class conflict.  Franklin thought the new colonies needed more people and advocated for the freedom of slave women who bred many children and for white women to be allowed to gain property rights for the same.  More people would move west and alleviate class conflict. Franklin was not an advocate for the poor, whom he considered lazy, slothful.  He even endorsed their forced migration westward and referred to them as “the meaner Sort, i.e. the Mob, or the Rable”.

If this sounds shocking, Jefferson went even further, calling the poor, “rubbish”.  He did feel they could improve, given land and education.  He did not include slaves in this theory.

If you ever wondered about the origin of the term “cracker”, look back to the era of Andrew Jackson, the era of “squatters” in a log cabin in the thickly forested frontier, people who squatted on land they did not even own.  Many saw them in both positive and negative terms:  half strong, hard working pioneers and half robbers.  Two terms applied to these people, “cracker” and “squatter”, none of whom legally owned the land where they lived, troublemakers with no hope of upward mobility, people who championed crudity, distrust of civil society and city dwellers, and held on to a kind of crude arrogance.  Both terms came from England where such people were considered lazy vagrants.  The more educated and “civilized” viewed them as degenerate, low class fornicators.  These squatters saw Andrew Jackson as their champion and Davy Crockett as their hero.

The phrase “white trash” became common in the 1860s and after.  These were the southern poor with dirty faces, ragged clothing, distended bellies without possibility of improvement, who for a brief time were viewed as even lower than slaves.  Southern aristocrats pushed the concept of bloodlines for people as well as livestock.  They advocated a criteria for human as well as livestock breeding to justify slavery and Anglo-Saxon superiority.  Native Indians were a biologically inferior, degraded race, doomed to extinction.  Later Texans used similar arguments to deter intermarriage with Mexicans.  Sam Houston championed this cause apparently ignoring his own personal history.  He had lived with Natives and married two of them.  In the long run these beliefs did not help poor whites or raise their status.  They lived off the worst land and were continually referred to in derogatory terms, e.g. white trash, sand eaters.

Just before the Civil War some elite Southerners advocated to keep certain classes ignorant.  They defended the planter class as having the best bloodlines, whose destiny was to rule over poor whites and black slaves. When they realized they needed poor white support to secede, and that many did not support them, they convinced them the war was necessary to save them from a state worse than slavery.  Some were promised land and other rewards.  Since most were illiterate, they remained unaware that they were referred to as “perfect drones”, “the swinish multitude”, and other pejorative terms; and that some saw them as trash who contaminated whatever they touched. It was not the Southern elite who died in masses during the Civil War; it was the poor, recruited with Davis’ rhetoric about the superiority of the white race.

Later, during Reconstruction, William Percy wrote a description of poor whites as those who lynch Negroes, lack intelligence, attend religious revivals then fornicate in the bushes afterwards.  He also explicitly referred to them as Anglo-Saxons.  Teddy Roosevelt saw this a bit differently.  He wanted Anglo-Saxons to work, to join the military, and breed, but he excluded poor whites from this group and his plan.

The term “rednecks” came into use in the South during the 1890s.  It referred to people who lived in the swamps and mill towns, wore overalls, heckled at political rallies.

The Great Depression exacerbated the situation for poor whites and increased their numbers dramatically.  Those who had never been considered white trash joined the ranks of the poor.  Many Southern writers went back to discussions about the Civil War and argued about the current poverty and how to solve the problem.  One, Jonathan Daniels, even wrote that Rebel pride blindfolded all classes.

Later, one way to overcome the prejudices against the poor was through music and TV shows, e.g. Elvis Presley and “The Beverly Hillbillies”.  It allowed the country to feel better about prejudices and pretend they did not exist.

Today this manifests itself through politicians who “pretend” to be white trash and rednecks to gain votes, but in reality live the lifestyle of the upper class.

 

Note:  For those who wish to read more about class and the writings of the individuals mentioned above here is a partial list.

 

Writings and speeches of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson

Sherwood Anderson’s “Poor White”

Writings of John Locke

Works of James Agee

“White Trash:  The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America”

Speeches of Jefferson Davis

 

 

 

 

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.

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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