Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Blues

Mom's gone. This year that really hit home like Mom's gone, like the Kawai Clan is a thing of the past, like an era is over in one little AHA moment. I could have been upset and think the holiday got ruined by bratty behavior. But with that "lightbulb going off in my head" I realized what held the heart of a family holiday for me. It is the cooking together of women and girls of the family gathered around a table making food. For others, it may be making wontons, or tamales. For us, it was sushi or mochi. It was making lots of other things bustling together in the kitchen. When Will and I were raising our kids, it may have been a small bustle the two girls and I. When the girls were gone, it was Mom and I, she sitting, perhaps, but there was still this thin little line to the old days. Every other year we go to my sisters. There is a little bustle there for the big meal on the Holiday day, but for her, the holidays, as she says often is family RELAXING together and the love she puts in it is in her custom made stockings filled with surprises from Santa. But this year, my sister's family who came at Thanksgiving are visiting other family for Christmas, and we are on our own, and Mom's gone.

So in that AHA moment with our daughter spending her break from college in Portland with her boyfriend and changing plans of our getting stuff prepared for the holiday at the coast the three of us are preparing for, I became a crybaby. It didn't affect me when all our plans for cooking and taking food for ceremony suddenly landed on my shoulders entirely when she decided to go to Portland to MEET that boyfriend (she agreed to be part of the Portland film shootout. He acted in it.) Why now?

I've been meeting with a circle of Sisters (as we call each other), supporting each other every other week on a Saturday morning. All are very involved, actively involved in community. All are passionate about justice. All see their world as a rainbow of cultures and have love for the whole spectrum of emerging young leaders. All of us help each other. I am Amigos. They are Winnemem Support. We all support each other's work, play, and now we support the difficult work of taking care of ourselves, something we all also share, the multitude of ways we can back burner ourselves, a deeply ingrained habit we all had in our busy lives when we all ran into each other over and over and began to share a bond.

On the way to our Saturday morning together, my disappointment of not having a family holiday again, feeling sorry for myself our plans were ruined by our daughter, that AHA moment came. Just as I approached the exit a Flash/a voice/a nudge and I realized, it's all about preparing the food. And now Mom is gone. And in my whole family -- at least Mom's branch of the family -- I am alone seeing family holiday as women preparing food and talking, solving the world's problems, laughing and teasing one another, remembering family anecdotes, talk story while preparing food. Mom is gone.

By the time I came down the exit and turned right, I also honored the fact that for our daughter, holiday is filled with parties with her friends and cozy new evenings with a new boyfriend. What's wrong with that? And holidays for my husband, well, in our family the guys did something else at holidays, and Will does something else very well.

I brought this up in our Sisters Circle. The feeling has a name. Longing. And I have some work to do in my heart. It may take time but I'm a work in progress. Tonight I will go to Posadas with a different attitude. It won't be with the feeling of seeing friends and supporting Juventud FACETA, another busy night during a busy season where I've got so much to do for the holidays. It will be the family holiday. And I will begin to look forward to it in that spirit. And Solstice at the Longhouse. I won't be showing up at 6 pm to be with Longhouse community of friends. I will go at 11 and sit down and make tamales for the feast talking with the women and girls and men as we sit around big tables for hours, solving the world's problems, remembering old times, laughing and teasing each other. A string of parties up north on I=5 or a clan which went separate ways in America is still real and loved. But, I will be peacefully at home for the holidays. Something to look forward to. Something as predictable as family was to a little girl in Idaho, as predictable as the daylight will become longer every Solstice. Life is good!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Owing Henry

I'm in study circles. Study circles was designed by Euro-Americans and the topic of study and discussion is racism, specifically "white privilege." I've always resisted it, but now it is run by Henry Luvert, and he's a friend I can't say no to. He doesn't say no to me, even when he did not know me at all. I remember the night I met Henry Luvert -- new young "Angry Black Man" in town. I say that with tongue in cheek because that's how some people refer to him when they feel his strong personality. He's got a lot of things to be angry about, but within a short time fresh from Chicago, he had made his connections, alliances, extended family. He became so networked he could help and would help many people. And a man does not build those expansive networks with anger. He does that by caring and being keeping his word.

Back in the day when I didn't have a teaching job, I worked in a small closet-sized office coordinating the all volunteer Multicultural Education Committee, a group of committed Black and Brown teachers promoting a safe climate, inclusive curriculum and "liberation pedagogy" at a grassroots level. We had a tiny tiny budget. I was working for $100 a month. That's right. A month. That was bad, even in the 80's. The Assistnat Superintenden, Robert Newell, had let me know the school board was going to be discussing my budget at the board meeting that night -- that's right, they had not let me know. I should be there arguing to keep it was his advice He knew they were thinking of cutting it in half.

Robert Newell is someone I would like to write to thank him for all the times he stepped outside his responsibilities to check on me. He cared about multicultural education. He cared about our small volunteer committee. He cared about the right thing to do. And he didn't have to. I started typing away on the Smith Corona. He came by my cubby hole again to look at what I planned to say and made some suggestions. I took them all. I sent the word to the Multicultural Committee to come support the budget but being so last minute, when the board meeting came, I sat alone at the time our agenda item came up. I looked up -- way up -- at the board, all white men and then Jonathon West. Jonathon was a professor at Lane Community College and the only African American (make that person of color) on the board. And Jonathon was the only one familiar to me. I don't remember a word I said that night. I just remember that afte I stopped speaking, Henry got up, new in town and let the board have it. I looked at the board who looked unhappy, except for Jonathon, who had his "let's wait and see" look. Then a young mother stood up and in her quiet voice she said she had come to the board tonight to let them know what had happened to her son at school since the first day of school. That morning, she walked in to the bathroom and saw her son with scissors in his hand, bloody lipped, trying to cut it off with a pair of scissors. She had just barely stopped him from doing real damage. Every day at school her son was being teased for being Black. Every day he was being called "monkey" by his classmates, not by his name, and his teachers, no one, did anything about it. Her son said, "Mommy, I don't want to be Black anyore" and he was going to do something to himself to stop the teasing. She told the Board, "I came to you tonight to ask, what are you going to do for my son. I don't know where else to go. Who can help my son?"

One thing, you can always tell what white people are feeling because their color changes when they are really upset. The board no longer fidgeted. Each person sat stock still. Silence permeated. I will never forget their waxen faces, shocked into whiteness. I will never forget that sight. All the color was drained from their faces.

No one comforted Jeanne Drew (I remember her name). The went immediately into the business at hand, and doubled my budget. That was that.

As I look back, of course it's troubling that no one had a word of comfort for Jeanne. But back in the day, the silence was almost expected. It was the action which said everything. That night felt like a bitter victory -- once again at the sacrifice of a young boy and a Mother who brought the image of his self-mutilation to the board that night. I did go up and talk with her and also Henry another network connection for the long work ahead of us all. The work is far far from complete. Which brings me to Henry's request for me to join Study Circle and my not being able to say no.

It wasn't until yesterday's study circle that I found out that Henry had invited Jeanne to come with him to the board meeting. He was going to rile things up, and he needed someone to tell them a truth that would cut through the facade. Henry Luvert had been in Eugene only a short time, and he knew more about what was happening in the classrooms to Black children than the principals and teachers of the buildings in which they were being abused. He certainly knew more than I, the multicultural coordinator.

In my mind, I owe him and Jeane Drew, and Bob Newell "yeses" whenever they ask. If they ask me to step up it's for a good reason and I don't even ask "WHY?" I just say alright, I will. I could do no less than the Mother who was caring for a hurt and abused child to take some of her precious time to come to a meeting to speak up for a program which might be doing some good even if no help came her way during her time of trouble.

Although I resisted Study Circle for years, I go every week and sit with a group of European American people around a table at their work place. Study circles had been a volunteer only circle of people who came from many places, some retired, some students, some working people, some parents and they would talk. I stayed away. It felt like sort of a sick relationship to me, people like me spilling our guts to others and then what?

But when Henry and his wife Arbrella took on Study Circles, they took it to institutions and convinced those institutions to involve every layer of their organization, group by group, to engage in the conversation of "white privilege." And in the six week program, the final week is dedicated to "so what can you do about it?" That answered the "then what?"

From the first day one thing that becomes very evident is that our country is truly divided by a color line. Two very different Americas. For example, it is hard for me to write America with a "c" because that America went up in a puff of smoke, or tumbled like a house made of playing cards as lie after lie -- lies for no reason which served no good -- was exposed. As the historic lies, the foundation of America tumbled, then the work stood out clear in front of us -- Black Brown and anti-racist White. It's hard for me to say "our" country because at home Grandma and Grandpa or even my mom's generation referred to white people as Americans. That is the message immigrants with black hair, in dark skin, Asian eyes get. If you're not white, you aren't American, ever. It's hard for me to say "our country" because as a Winnemem, the land, the earth, is demarcated by lines formed by the true landlords of this land -- the salmon, the great Canadian geese, the deer -- marked by their rivers and mountains and unbound as the skies.

A question is asked on the first day of study circle, "when is the first time you encountered racism." It becomes so apparent that some of us encountered racism on our first day of school, our first time out of the protection of our home, when we were just little children. The other half, when they left town, the protection and control of their families, for college or for a new job, they may have witnessed racism if they were around people of color. And for they most part, it left them feeling ashamed and powerless. Others testified that when they visited Asia or went to Honolulu they felt discomfort because they were the only white person and people stared. Some may have mistakenly gone into a Black bar in Texas and left quickly.
(I can't help breaking here to say that Henry testified when he went to Japan, because he stood a bit taller than Japanese, the hundreds of Japanese coming out of the subway, that he was a head above everyone and all he could see was all this black hair like waves around him -- and looking out on the mass of black haired heads, he got sea sick. Please, give me a break!)

But is being the only white person anything like how it is to grow up in Amerika? If it were merely being stared out and standing out, that is one thing. Racism is deeper than that.

Study circle continues from that point, story shared after story. Stefan's experience as an African American at Sheldon High School where even his close friend can sabotage his day by calling him the N word showing off to the other friends. And learning to be tough "so people would respect him." Or Abas talking about when he went to school in Chicago as a youngster on foot, that meant he crossed three turfs and he'd have to fight his way through them to get to a day at school. Or Snake being asked to speak and in his understated way describing how it is to grow up in a small town, that when you saw a cop car it came from 30 minutes away from the city of K Falls and everyone knew as they saw the police cruise in, they were there to get Indians. Or to hear Paulette talk about her children not wanting to be Black and that day to even hear young Stefan when we were all tho share what it is about our race which we liked. Stefan said after a long pause, "I have nothing to say." Uncle Henry did though and Stefan was there to hear it "Black people endure -- no matter what, no matter if we're poor, if everyone is against you, we endure."

I am caught off guard every time at first at how differently people think coming from the two sides of America. The Euro Americans hear the same story and they feel very sad. Some cannot control their tears. They feel alone and somewhat anxious that now they know and they'll have to do something about it.

People of color hear the story and they feel mobilized. They feel the emotions too but it puts us on our toes to act.

During the confession of guilt because of inaction, I turned to one of our study circle colleagues and said "you never do it by yourself. There's plenty of people who you'll be doing the work with together. Your voice is necessary. Some people will listen to it when they won't listen to an of us. No one can do it alone."

That person felt such relief. It never occurred to him and others also agreed that they would not have to do it alone. White privilege is taught as individual power. It's about ME and doing it alone. I never thought how individualism keeps racism alive. I told my colleague, "You can call anybody here and say, 'This racist thing happened. I need some words.' " That rocked his world.

There are children growing up in this country who are going through and witnessing things no child should. There are other children whose parents use their privilege to prevent the truth to be taught their children mistakenly thinking they are keeping their children "safe" from having to see this discrepancy which white privilege causes. Then their children will grow up, get into the real world, and be angry at not knowing what to do. Some may be even more damaged and may never learn how to care about something humans can't help but care about. Some may even be so shut down that they don't know how to give a F*** really. No tools. But one thing, internally, they will blame and even hate the upbringing which kept them from the power of doing the right thing, from feeling for another person, from the creative power that comes from an expansive fully involved life.

This blog has a second Title besides "Owing Henry." It's "Study Circles: or How to Give a F***."

I'm stopping here for now. There is more to say. But I'll just say that it isn't mean to tell the truth. And truth will make us free.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween in Ashland

Will and I took time off to go to Ashland to see a couple of plays and to watch the Halloween Parade we had heard about. Nothing prepared us for this annual Ashland community event. I suppose you could call it a parade, people in costumes coming down mainstream to the beat of drums and symbols led by two cop cars, lights flashing. But the similarity stops there.

For a couple of hours we saw people in costumes, all ages from those in baby rollers to elderly people going up and down streets not very different than from a high school hall at noon, back and forth, meeting in groups, excited to see friends in neighbors. Even when the cop cars with flashing lights and drum beats could be seen and heard, people continued to cluster and to take their time walking in the street to their destination, the starting place of the parade. Somewhere two streams met and became one, here and there along the route and became one flowing mass, about 14 across and about eight blocks long a continuous mass of costumes, some gleeful, some shy, some proud, some taking their parts seriously, some playing with the audience, high fives, growls. We spectators lined the parade watching, but as Will and I looked this way and that, we decided unless we wanted to stand out as turista, we definitely need to dress a bit for even watching a parade.

I counted about 18 ethnic stereotypes, Japanese kimonoed women winning hands down with 10. One was even Asian (poor thing. Finally something she could wear the yukata and happi her Obachan must have given her to something in Ashland.) Bumble bees were a clear favorite, with about 16. I didn't even bother to count dead people who came in all different categories. The knives, stakes, cleavers, swords etc through the heads were very popular. I liked the three Japanese guys costumed as their version of white tourists. I don't thing everyone understood their effort thinking they were lost and swept up by a parade just being themselves.

The parade was preceded by the runners who also came in all ages, many costumed -- a choo choo train trying to outrace a chef, followed by the bubbling sponges of the tv ad advertising shower and toilet bowl cleaner and a tailed, bright blue avatar.

The parade ended when the streets finally were made to be for vehicles, again signaled by two cop cars with lights going in both lanes down Main. But the festivities never stopped. All the shops were open giving treats out to trick and treaters, and we couldn't go anywhere without bumping into teens in costume circled up in cliques just like in the halls, with the same energy as they do in the halls. If you needed to get past them, you just had to make your way around sometimes ducking a hit or a trip meant for their friends but catching you instead.

It was great!

Halloween in Ashland is definitely something I'd like to do again!! The ex-hippy, retired middle school teacher in me loved it! Next time, bringing the costumes along!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reality show got too real

I'm sharing my secret sin. At least one of them. I'm one of those people who watch tv and read for one thing -- entertainment. If I happen to pick up a book or sit in front of the tv for something informative, I will become engrossed, but if the channel changer were in my hand, I'm looking for a mindless reality show. So today I am blogging to say my last word on my former addiction, Project Runway.

And I am assuming that some of you know what I am talking about when I say GRETCHEN?????!? ARE YOU FRIGGING KIDDING ME?!!!!!

First I'll start out with the dead silence of our living room when Gretchen from Portland was chosen over the talented, bold Mondo. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It descended like a blob of marshmallow. All the fun of watching something just fo pure entertainment and escape disappeared under it's goo. BLEAH! Racism is in my house. This reality show just got too real. I guess I got my Thursday nights back because I'm outta' here.

The words were popping out of their mouths all night and I should have known. Michael Kors said you couldn't tell if it was Chinese or Mexican . . . . WHAAAA? and Nina Garcia Columbian gatekeeper and sidekick did say to Andy that he had "over orientalized" his collection but still, . .GRETCHAN? REALLY? Hippy fashion, culture vulture, sage and beige Gretchen? Kors turned orange with passion arguing to keep the borders closed to the fashion elite domain calling Gretchen forward thinking, her finger on the pulse of fashion. Heidi and Jessica Simpson gawked at him. I imagine this idea was scary to them. Hide the body? Wear straw hats? And those panty shorts? Me?!!! This guy is telling women that they want to wear flowey, form hiding, burnt sienna hippy clothes which is meant to have a "tribal vibe"?

Looking back from here, I bet Michael Kors must have itched where he can't scratch when he saw the final lineup and sacrificed Michael C to retain Gretchan. Three BROWN gay men and HORRORS! they had already sent all the white people home! What to do?! So Gretchen got to stay. This explains it for me because before I was wondering, they sent Michael C., Mr. Effortless Chic, home and chose hippy dippy culture vulture clothes? They chose sage and beige? hopsacking over silk? but lined up on the stage like that, Michael, Mondo and Andy must have made Mr. Swimsuit design squeal inside like a little pig who sees the shadow of the ax.

But the last straw . . . when Mondo and Andy came back from their two weeks home with their lines, worst nightmare. Both announce they were inspired by their heritage, that each of their lines came from their heart and soul. Beautiful clothes. Exciting fabric, design. As Mondo said, he touched every piece -- the head gear, the bags, the outrageous WOW factor clothes. Andy's structural work, his fabric choice was flowey with an edge. One never knows how Andy sewed mere fabric to do what it does under his fingers. To me he is like Rumpunzel without the magical help, creating unimaginable beautiful garments. The judge's reaction? "orientalize" "Mexican/Chinese" as if we're indiscernible from each other, as if it were a bad thing? Doesn't it sound like Kors has "border issues"?

So Gretchen whom I referred to as culture vulture leaves with the $100,000 which is appropriate in its own way. Mondo and Andy already said their designs came from their heart. And they left with their hearts intact. Gretchen I am convinced came for the cash and the title, looking to the left and right to snatch a bit of this and that and finally with the help of Kors and Garcia, was finally able to snatch the title. She called her line "Walking through Thunder" (GAD! New Agey culture vulture to the max) and looked to her idea of tribal designs, deserted her original style which worked in the beginning, the clean simple lines and voila! She wins. Winning was her one goal, so I guess it had its own symmetry, dissatisfying as the evening turned out to be.

Kors argued until his blood vessel popped out of his head that Gretchen was the future. But the blog reaction that next day certainly says differently. She may be "in" last night but it seems the woman may already be out.


Kors and Garcia, you may have protected the borders of the fashion elite Thursday Night.

But Mondo, Andy and Michael C. had already stormed the walls and they have already secured a place inside. Your time has passed!

My evil twin is finally finished ranting about this tv show. I will find other guilty pastimes and go back to keeping them my secret.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Second Step: WRITE

It's been days since I began to balance my Facebook use and return to blogging. I a staying away from Facebook until I have blogged to my heart's content.

This is October 29, just a few days away from Election Day. In Oregon, we mail in our votes. Today is the last day to mail in because postmarks do not count. This is the first year that I'm going to election center. As a volunteer for Basic Rights of Oregon, we did phone banks for Governor Kitzhauber I like him. He's the governor known to have actively pushed the salmon plan before leaving office. I talked with my friend Bob Tom the other day. I didn't realize how the governor designed his plan. First step, he brought together the tribes and other stakeholders. That is the group who worked together to design the plan.

Governor Kitzhauber runs against Chris DUDley, one of the "nouveau Republican crazy people." No shame. No boundaries. I suppose on a national level they are called the Tea Party, with three second bytes which may sound populist -- "the education candidate," "for the working people" but they stand for the extreme opposite -- anti-government, profit based, wild reactionary unchecked self-interest and greed.

Then we have the usual measures, one by Oregon's Kevin Mannix trying to sneak his agenda in -- profit for the prison industry at the expense of schools.

It's good to be back!

And in California where our Winnemem family live they are voting on a very important race. Congressman Herger (25 year incumbent) is finally being challenged by a candidate within Shasta Lake (Herger's town) a lawyer named John (?) Reed. If he defeats Herger, he defeats THE block keeping the Winnemem from restoration of their tribal status. The State Legislature have already passed the joint resolution agreeing that the tribe should be restored. All that needs to happen is for the Congressman of their area to champion them. My opinion is that Herger must hate the Winnemem. He not only refuses to carry the bill onto the floor but he threatens that he will stop any movement by Boxer or Feinstein should they be moved to sponsor the bill in the Senate.

Tonight was Colin's ballot party at our house. Colin is the new Eugene staff of APANO, an Asian Pacific Network for social justice. Not many people came. But there is an idea that those who are supposed to come are who show up. Tonight made a believer out of me.

One of the people who came was Rita, Colin's mother. She is Chamorro of the Marianas Islands, one of the peoples whom Magellan encountered. You remember the Mariana Islands. I think that was his last trip. They call the area she her ancestors are from Guam, the last US territory. We talked about everything. She is concerned about immigration, about invisibility of Asian Pacific Island peoples in this country. She is very concerned with the political climate. Somewhere in our conversation Rita mentioned she's going to New Zealand, two thumbs up and excited. She's going with her friend who is Maori, living here in the States. That led to our telling her about our trip to New Zealand and since there was some time before others came, showed her the film Will made of the Winnemem trip to New Zealand

She and Colin were quite moved by the story. By the end of the evening, Rita and Colin are now part of Winnemem Support Group of Oregon and maybe going to ceremony. The Pacific Island people are the most recently colonized. The ancestral memories are still fresh. The spirit still burns bright in the parent's and the youth, three and four generations since conquest.

I am sorry that more people did not come to the ballot party, but as for the beginning of a new friendship, I feel this is a very special day. Rita is the first person I've met in the API community who I can talk without editing myself, and more than that, can listen to to get more insights on this system we live within but do not belong to.

Friday, October 22, 2010

AHA moment, First Step

This morning, typing away and reading FACEBOOK, I realized the true reason I have not blogged. Facebook is sucking my brains out! Facebook, at the very least is eating up my time. After some intervention, I shall return to Outside the Belly.

Apologetically, Misa

Saturday, October 16, 2010


My friend Marc Dadigan just blogged. Today is Blog Action Day. I am printing his piece today because it moved me and expresses what I believe is the most important
action to take today:

“Why don’t they understand what keeps the rivers clean?”

The Shasta Dam, 600 feet tall, destroyed the McCloud salmon runs when it was built during World War II

“Why don’t they understand what keeps the rivers clean?”

Caleen, the spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu, asked me this last night as she drove us back to her village outside Redding.

We were returning from Sacramento where NOAA had held a public meeting to solicit input on its salmon restoration plan for California’s Central Valley. Only about 15 people attended, and Caleen and Mark, her husband and the tribe’s headman, were the only tribal people there.

The Winnemem spoke, in part, to try to build support for their unorthodox plan to return salmon to their river, the McCloud, by importing eggs from New Zealand’s Rakaia River salmon.

But the meeting was a frustrating experience for Caleen. NOAA’s lead coordinator for the project, Brian, showed graphs that depicted how the Pacific salmon populations had precipitously plunged over the past 50 years. Of the 18 historical wild salmon populations that once existed, only three remain.

“These are the patterns,” he said of the graph, “that are consistent with species that eventually go extinct.”

He said this matter-of-factly, and Caleen clenched her jaw and her eyes started to glisten.

When Caleen saw those graphs, she didn’t just see numbers. She saw her relatives dying. In the tribe’s genesis story, it was salmon that gave the Winnemem, mute and helpless at their birth, the ability to speak.

Brian continued to talk about NOAA’s plans to conduct cost-benefit analyses to validate the economic value of saving the salmon, and he also spoke about collaborating with power companies, water districts and other stakeholders. It was only so long before Caleen had to interject.

“How long do you think the salmon are going to wait for you?” she asked him, her voice shaking. “You’ve only got three salmon runs left, and people are dragging their feet. The creator put the salmon in the rivers for a reason.”

Caleen expected NOAA to have more power to force this plan into action and was disheartened it didn’t.

Later during the drive home, Mark was sleeping in the backseat, and Caleen posed her question to me, wondering why no one valued salmon’s vital role in upturning rocks, keeping the river clean and, after it dies, seeping back into the soil as nutrients.

“To be honest,” I told her. “Before I met the Winnemem, I just figured a river was clean if we didn’t dump any crap into it.”

Every St. Patrick's Day, the Chicago River is dyed green with unknown chemicals

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, a city with a river that was reversed to send sewage toward St. Louis. Chicago also used to dye the river green every St. Patrick’s Day with fluorescein, a chemical that’s been documented to cause many health ailments including sudden death from anaphylactic shock. Today, the city uses a secret formula it claims is safe.

The Winnemem revere the water and see it as living. They were, in their creation story, born from its womb, a bubbling spring on Mt. Shasta.

On the other hand, I come from a community that shows a lot of disrespect towards its water, a disrespect that stems from ignorance.

In the schools I attended, I learned next to nothing about hydrology, the importance of a clean river to the local ecosystem or even, as Caleen knows so inherently, what a clean river is supposed to resemble.

Before I moved to the West Coast, subconsciously the idea of a clean river was nearly a foreign concept to me. All the rivers I’d known were dirty, polluted and not much different, in my mind, than a roadway, a mode of transportation that could be painted green like we might paint a billboard.

Caleen has wondered why kids aren’t taught how many rivers in their state are polluted or how many dams there are. And it’s an intriguing question. I wonder how this lack of education plays a part in our widespread abuse of water, especially in California.

There is probably no resource more valuable and paradoxically treated and used with such recklessness. We’ve sucked up underground aquifers, flooded sacred lands with dams and reduced powerful rivers to a trickle. And we are all ignorant about the damage we’re causing not only to ecosystems, but to the supply of freshwater we need to survive.

Today, Oct. 15 is Blog Action Day, and bloggers across the world are blogging about water. My hope for today, and every day after, is for all of us to spend some time educating ourselves about our local waterways. Learn about the rivers or lakes in your community. Are there dams on that river? Are the flows anywhere close to where they’re supposed to be naturally? Have invasive species disrupted the river’s ecology?

These are questions that we should all have the answers to, and yet almost nothing has been invested in teaching us about water.

By 2025, the U.N. estimates that two-thirds of the world will be facing water scarcity, and it would be dangerous to assume this won’t apply to anyone in the United States.

So take some time today to learn about your water. It’s not only the Winnemem’s womb, but the world’s.

We can no longer afford to be so ignorant about something so precious.

On Oct. 11, Caleen gave a speech at the University of Oregon’s Many Nations Longhouse about the importance of salmon, water and water education.

Listen to it here.
October 15th, 2010 | Category: Uncategorized | One comment

Monday, August 23, 2010

"Outside the Belly"

I haven't had the time to sit down and blog. Since my last blog we have gone through two strong ceremonies, and in between time we've had friends and family come to stay awhile. Since my last blog, I retired from one more longtime commitment -- the Rites of Passage Summer Academy for Pan Asian American students at Lane Community College -- and since my last blog we've demolished the kitchen which I found spreads throughout the whole house. No area is left untouched. I am also doing the nitty gritty paperwork involving a severely damaged car door of the Prius. I backed out without closing it. I am dealing with all my teeth and vision work and filling out all the paper I need to in order to transition from insurance to medicare through my retirement system. So I have not had time to introspect, to write. For me, I need a settled place, and settled time to write, and that is not going to happen until October.

But to those who follow "from Outside the Belly" I need to say that outside the belly has been a good place to be these two months! Out of the belly with the Winnemem people in ceremony! A short summary follows.

*Balas Chonas, or Coming of Age Ceremony, despite all the potential and risky problems, carried on smoothly. Someone in the National Forest System was doing their job and sent staff to monitor the river for safety. While Forest Supervisor Sharon Heywood turned her back and did nothing and while the NRA Ranger of the Shasta Forest Kristi Cottini continued to break ties made over decades with the Winnemem Tribe insisting that all past agreements regarding their freedom of religion disappeared with the death of the past chief, Florence Jones, and that there no longer was any ties between the Winnemem Tribe and the Forest Service, some other entity of the National Forests decided it would be foolhardy to sit by and allow racist recreational boaters and drunks run over the Winnemem youth as they swam over to join their friends and families on the fourth day of the ceremony. And they watched the river, talked with the leaders and in the end shut down the river for safe crossing.

Further, the young women and young men of the tribe really stepped up and took leadership roles. Babers who had the first Balas Chonas in 2006 with confidence and heart taught all she had learned of the traditional knowledge to the young initiates taking an important place alongside the elders. In fact, because she was the first to go through puberty ceremony since the 1920's, she knew more than her aunts' generation. Puberty ceremony was not allowed during their time. The Hoopa tribe's Kayla Brown was right there assisting and lifting spirits. The two of them, Kayla and Babers (Marine) forged the strong ties between their two families and two tribes for the next generation. The young men on both sides of the rivers fulfilled their roles as protectors and keepers of the Sacred Fire. A new team of cooks not only assisted the treasured chef of the Winnemem, RT, but they brought experience, and a strong commitment to keep coming back. The women followed the young women's example to strengthen their bonds of relationship. As the Chief said, a tribe is only as strong as their women's bond with one another.

This bond was made even stronger because all the women who could at that time bought their basket hats, and went together with the young initiates to Colchima Salwal, a sacred spring, to do ceremony, washing their hats in the waterfall which tumbled down past sugar pines and yew and thanking the waters there for the hats and making a commitment to the water, to the salmon, to the sacred places. These hats, Caleen says, will help us think better, think right. These hats, like the acorn, will bind us to these sacred lands and to the ancestors' responsibilities to nur, to mem, to all that is sacred.

There were so many allies at the Coming of Age Ceremony. Environmental Justice for Water, Winnemem Support and AIM West -- from Portland to L.A. The circle grew larger and stronger.

And when the protectors, the assistants, the fire tender and the two young women -- Jessica and Winona -- swam across the river, there was a large and emotional crowd who met them. Each young adult who was part of ceremony and swam across to join the supporters were smoked up as each one came out of the river, new, and ready to join the adult circle. I looked at them. All of them Winnemem, and most of all, all of them from the Village. I remembered when I started coming to ceremony. The fire tenders traveled to be there. And there is just a difference now that the center, the core of the tribe live together. They are stronger. It is as Granny always dreamed of. And she is there so strong in spirit with her family. This is not to trivialize the travelers because those who travel all have large commitments and even though they live far from the village, they do Winnemem work and pray and keep that Fire alive wherever they live. The heart of the tribe, the Village, is very strong, though, the main fire which has been burning for over a year, the main village where we all call Home, the leadership.

I will come back to blog sometime soon. I will blog about both ceremonies. I just want to thank you for all your support with postcards to Barb Boxer. She did respond. It just did not do any good with Krisi Cottini. And for those of you who still want to support Winnemem, so much work is happening and your support is appreciated. The tribe is doing whatever is necessary to bring the salmon home. Steps are being made. New Zealand is ready and willing. Mark and Caleen are speaking with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ) and NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) (on the salmon) as well as the DFG (Dept. of Fish and Game in CA. The lawsuit is still happening.

The United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples is being discussed for ratification. Please send your letters and ask your organizations and tribes to write or email supporting the US adoption IN FULL the UNDRIP WITHOUT ANY RESTRICTIONS OR LIMITATION OF THE ARTICLES to S/SR Global Intergovernmental Affairs, US Department of State, 2201 C Street N.W., Suite 1317, Washington D.C. 20520. Or email,

When our Chief went to the meeting regarding the UNDRIP joining representatives of federally recognized tribes (although not invited since she was chief of an unrecognized tribe -- like 300,000 tribal people of 90 percent of the tribes are in California -- this time she was allowed to speak anyway. She also was allowed to speak the second day to the Non Governmental Organizations assembled (NGO's). She even was able to talk with Obama's person, Cherokee. All of this is first time. She has asked for them to come to California and call all the tribes who were de-recognized in the 1980's together and listen.

The people assembled at the UNDRIP were complaining about the acronym and some talked about the name being changed. The Chief spoke up that UNDRIP might be the perfect name and talked about water as a central issue for indigenous nations as well as the strength of water, one drip at a time cutting through mountains, forming the land, providing a home to the nur, giving life to all beings -- one drip at a time.

The Winnemem are out of the belly people, unfazed and undigested by what the "Monster" offers -- profit and paper and the power to destroy all of life -- and watching from the outside the vulnerable belly, still following the sacred -- the waters, the salmon, the great mountains and ancestral spirits -- as all their ancestors before them did. The drip of water joining others is the image I carry with me during these difficult almost daunting times. United (UN) we can carry on and with such leadership as shown by Winnemem and side by side with the leaders among the young adults coming up after them, and with the support of the leaders of past generations who still surround them. Into the future, we shall always carry on.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

WW/ From Chief Caleen Sisk Franco four days before Ceremony

This Saturday the BaLas Chonas begins! The most the US Forest Service can do is a "voluntary closure". This informs the good people to turn their boats around go somewhere else on the 375 mile shoreline of the Shasta Lake. But it also allows the 5 -10% who will barge through the voluntary closure to come up the river and they will... be the ones that perform the indignant discriminatory behavior because they have a "public right" to do so. The U.S. under the UN declaration to eliminate discrimination of any kind, finds no way to protect our young girls ceremony from the re-occurrence of what happened in 2006. The U.S. and California educational systems have failed to teach American's about the indigenous people of the U.S. and provide them understanding and respect needed to allow us to carry out our religious ways in peace.

This only goes to support why we pray that President Obama will sign the UN DRIP, because many of the Articles will allow the Winnemem, an indigenous people of the McCloud River to utilize so many of the Articles, but in particularly Article 12 states- 1.) Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to use and control of their ceremonial objects; the right to the repatriation of their human remains. 2.) States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned.

We have a "right" to exist and continue our tribal ways. Our Tribe has survived much tragic discriminatory treatment in the California history, but we must have the right to continue to be Winnemem Wintu through our ways of life, customs, religion, and use of sacred places. There is no where else in the world we can go to do this, being of Winnemem bloodline is not enough to sustain our "tribal" life way!

Friday, July 16, 2010

WW/ Please Support the Coming of Age Ceremony
Here is the blog site for the Coming of Age Ceremony. You will see the beautiful young women who are Coming of Age.

It's hard to fathom. We're signing postcards, signing online petitions, setting up protection just to bring our young people into their adulthood -- like people have Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs, Qincenerra, Confirmations, -- families getting together, putting together traditional finery, learning sacred text, getting the feast ready, family, friends, beauty.

Who has to think of preparing for possible tragedy set up by those in authority, the youth being run over by drunken racist speedboaters, brazen hateful women flashing their breasts, racist epithets -- all documented by the Forest Service employees who were sent to help last coming of age ceremony because they are the only ones who can order the sheriff to close the rivers. Knowing what they know, does the US Forest Service of the Trinity Forest act responsibly? Do the higher ups of the Forest Service act this time, knowing all this? Do they do the responsible thing? Do they care? Sharon Heywood! Do you really mean to set up a possibility of a disaster by doing nothing and ordering your people to do nothing? Ms. Cortini, do you have feelings?

Here's a blogsite about the Coming of Age Ceremony. May it be filled with stories of beauty, hope, and adults who love their youth.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Petition to go to Senator Boxer w/Over 1000 Signees~!

Thank you all of you who took the time to sign the Winnemem Wintu Petition to Senator Boxer. It's 1000 plus now. I will blog how things went. Prayers, support, great allies. My heart is full!!!

Second Wind!

We are at the point which seems to go on endlessly, the goal just in sight. We are forty four signatures away from the 1000 signature goal petitioning Senator Barbara Boxer to encourage the Forest Service to honor the Winnemem Wintu Tribe's right to Freedom of Religion. The tribe seeks to carry on a Coming of Age Ceremony for two young women, one of whom is the future Chief of the Winnemem in less than two weeks.

Here's the site.

So if it matters to you that the original historical traditional tribes carry on their way of life and do not become extinct

If you believe that their prayers, ceremonies and advocacy for the water, earth, for the whole circle of life is relevant and important to have at the table in these times of ecological disaster

If you want the tribes to go on for seven more generations and seven beyond that with young people learning the old ways and continuing on

If you believe tribes still deserve basic human rights of freedom of religion under the Native American Religious Freedom Act even if they are tribes who will choose responsibility to take care of sacred lands over getting on the faster path of economic development or the casino road and who will not change their original form of government for tribal council and government which mimics the US just to be federally recognized

If you care that 90 percent of California Indians, in the 1980's, were dropped from the federal recognition list, a list which exists because of machinations of a Reagan Supreme Court, a list the Federal Government unjustly relies upon as the only Native people who shall enjoy human rights, the ear of government, and the right to exist as a tribe. The huge majority of Indian people, tens of thousands, in the State of California has been disenfranchised and their language, culture are endangered!

Please, if these things concern you, take a few seconds to go to this link
and sign the petition. You don't need to write anything. But we need 43 of you good people to join the 957 who have already signed so the petition can be sent to Senator Boxer. It's urgent because we have 10 days only until we go down to the ceremonial grounds for the Coming of Age Ceremony.,

Your help is needed for that second wind for a strong finish. Thank you!!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Just 70 More Signatures to Go!!!

Please if you have not already done it, please sign the petition to Boxer asking for her help to encourage the Forest Service of the Trinity Forests to close down a small part of the McCloud River for only 4 days so the Puberty Ceremony can proceed with safety and without interference. We need 1000 signatures and we have gathered 930 in a week. Please help!

Here's an article written by a young leader of the Winnemem tribe, Michael Preston, son of Caleen Sisk Franco, Chief.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Almost 1000 signing for the Winnemem ceremony!

Seriously!! In less than a week 834 people have signed a petition to US Senator Barb Boxer of California to do all she can to help the Winnemem Wintu carry on their important Coming of Age Ceremony for Jessie and Marisa Sisk on a small stretch of the McCloud River as it has always been done in safety and without interference and danger. Senator Boxer has been helpful in the past encouraging the Forest Service to support religious freedom and respect of the indigenous peoples of the land over which the FS has authority.

We have only 166 more signatures to go!!! Please take the time to go on site and sign.

Jessica let us know that she ane Marisa practiced swimming across and made it!! They are shy but they are getting ready for the ceremony.

We would not want boaters who ignore our voluntary closure of the river to endanger them as they swim across to join us on the fourth day. We would not want the boaters bring beer and wave their bottles, harass the people, women and children included, flashing them as they did when Babers went through her Coming of Age ceremony. At that time the Forest Service finally did close the river down because the drunken boaters ignored the Forest Service employee in his kayak, giving him a bump when he tried to talk to them.

So please take some time to help this ceremony carry on, support these young women to go through the ceremony which will give them strength as women, and join the tribe and their supporters in our prayers for them. Please go to this link and sign.

I hope that the petition can be sent today!!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

WW/ Will the US Ratify the UN International Declaration of Human Rights

Our Chief and Head Man are headed to Washington DC again, on their own dime, without certainty that they will be heard but with a heart full of commitment on behalf of 90 percent of the tribes in California who were "de-recognized" by the federal government in the 1980's. They will be seeking to be heard about what has been done to the California Indians by the very same Federal Government who is hosting a discussion on whether or not to reconsider their non-ratification vote of the UN Declaration of Human Rights regarding Indigenous Peoples since New Zealand recently joined Austrilia in ratification. The State Department has invited feedback from "FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED TRIBES" and NGO's -- or Non Governmental Organizations.

One would hope that the Winnemem would be "allowed" to speak at least if NGO's can speak unless this so-called free and democratic government also has the arrogance to determine who are federally recognized non-governmental organizations as well. I appreciate that Chief Caleen Sisk Franco and Headman Mark Franco are flying clear over there and taking the energy and time once again to speak on behalf of the tribes/salmon/water and speak to the injustices. If they are heard, then this government is finally doing the right thing. If they are told "you cannot speak; we do not recognize you" it gives the people of this country some valuable information, more evidence that there's something really rotton in Washington when it comes to basic human rights for the Native Peoples of this land. Whether a tribe is recognized or not, whether Caleen and Mark will be allowed to speak as even a non governmental organization or not has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the Winnemem Tribe. There is no doubt that they are a historical, traditional tribe respected around the world. Their legitimacy is not at question here. And there is no question that their leaders are legitimate. Their leaders are being Winnemem and leaders no matter what, against great odds, at great personal sacrifice. I know no leader equal to them when it comes to prioritizing leading over all personal gain, doing what is right for their people, their ancestors, their future generations, for the Earth, their spiritual responsibilities for all the people of the world. Leaders don't get more legitimate than that. If the State Department representative won't hear what Caleen and Mark have to say, the absurdity of federal recognition of tribes will be revealed.

Do you suppose the BIA and the government also have a federal recognition list of who is a non-governmental organizations, or a federal recognition list on who is a human being? A federally recognized human being? Federal Recognition reveals more and more to thinking peoples the rotten core of this policy. Thinking people, if they learn about what federal recognition really is, will all finally arrive at the single observation -- that Federal Recognition is a human rights violation of the worst kind. It's what a government uses to try to hide their sins against humanity by choosing who is Indian and choosing who is to be invisible and stripped of all rights due them by any treaty, the Constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

I appreciate from the bottom of my heart that Caleen and Mark are flying back to DC once again. I am grateful they keep doing this because it is something leaders must do. They must not allow extermination of their culture and historical presence, responsibility and participation. They cannot disappear. Caleen and Mark are doing the right thing. The big question mark is will the State Department do the right thing.

Caleen Sisk Franco was one of the framers of the UN Declaration of Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples 2009. She was asked to testify, then she was asked to keep coming and representing. Her presence there opened up the whole conversation on "federal recognition" as a tool for human rights violations against indigenous peoples all over the world at the UN conference. What kind of blind arrogance and stupidity would keep one of the very people who helped frame this document from speaking about it? Guess we'll see and I hope the World sees. If you know some journalists out there in DC land, far from the great mountains of California, its rivers, the ordinary people of California, certainly the tribal people of California, let the journalists and media people know to look for Caleen and Mark taking a letter from 90 percent of the California Tribes and their allies around the world and all over the country to help the US understand and make the right decision to ratify the UN Human Rights Declaration for Indigenous People. Tell the story. Were they able to walk through the door? take the floor? speak? be heard? Please give them the back story and encourage them to cover this. If you're in DC and you have a camera and can do YouTube, find where this is happening, and please show up and upload the story. What did you see? Granny said to us, tell the world and the good people of the world will hear you.

It will take us all to get the word out. There will be a Prayer Fire in Eugene, Oregon, praying for justice for the Winnemem and a safe journey there and back for the Leaders.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

from Miguel Luna

This was posted by my friend Miguel Luna who has a school in LA called AGUA. He and his students come to ceremony every year at Coonrod in the Mt. Shasta forest. They do not learn about water from a book -- but by working for it, activating for it, praying for it. He is a teacher who is not a "five years of schooling and you're an expert" kind of teacher but instead is a teacher who models humility and respect for Water preparing students for a committed life of stewardship or relationship with it. He sent this out on Facebook. Please don't drink bottled water, and please teach that:

The Facts About Bottled Water
Via: Online Schools

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dan Franco, Warrior, Grandfather, Patriot and "Lawbreaker"

We broke the law this weekend. The last of the elders living at the Winnemem Village, Dan Franco, died June 4 and we honored and buried him in the graveyard promised to the Winnemem Wintu Tribe -- the only promise kept when their homes were drowned with the raising of Shasta Lake Dam in the late 1930's.

However, without notifying the tribe, the US transferred the cemetery to the BLM in the 1980's. Not only does the BLM not hold lands in trust, but it is also illegal to bury people on BLM land.

The Winnemem did not discover this until another 2007 later when they went as they always have done to fill out the papers to bury their beloved last Winnemem elder, Margie Charles and were told by the clerk, "ooops, it's BLM land." A cemetery was made BLM land without any consideration for the party with whom the agreement was made. Does that make sense? Since then, we have done what needed to be done, the wake, the burial illegally. We have been made lawbreakers by the US Government whom the Winnemem leaders trusted back in the 1800's and again in 1938 with the Central Valley Project when they were promised like land, a cemetery, and again by the Freedom of Religion Act -- both of them -- that the Winnemem Wintu Tribe would be able to practice their religion freely, above ground, that their unique cultural and spiritual ways should not be exterminated but should be able to exist.

But the "lawmakers" become lawbreakers making laws "willy nilly" without any consideration for the Winnemem and other California tribes. In the 1980's, Ronald Reagan's Supreme Court made a shameful decision which allowed the federal government to "de-recognize" 90 percent of the California historical tribes. The government created two lists -- Unrecognized and Federally Recognized. The vast majority of California's historical tribes were stripped of all their rights in an instant. Of the ten percent Recognized Tribes, only four percent are historical tribes. The other six percent are tribes created by the Federal Government. They are now the tribes with casinos and benefits and without that pesky special tie to the sacred lands of California. Handy for dam builders, energy companies, water bottling companies.

The Winnemem were told when they followed up on this making the case that they have many documents which proves they had a relationship as a tribe with the Federal Government that they had been dropped erroneously, however, it would take an Act of Congress to put them back on the list. After tenacious work, the California legislature passed a Joint Resolution in August 2009 which encourages the Federal Representatives of California to introduce a "restoration bill" restoring the Winnemem tribe. But it is not as easy as it seems. Congressman Herger of Shasta Lake who has made his hatred for the Winnemem known has already stated he would fight any attempt. Senator Feinstein, the same one who sneaked in an attachment regarding water into the work bill which would have eradicated salmon from northern CA doesn't care about the Winnemem. And Senator Boxer has never met with them and has let them know through her aides that she is not comfortable moving in front of Herger. Deadlock.

In recent years, I am disturbed how the Bush government has viewed the few freedoms and rights given indigenous people of this country. They have arrogantly taken it as the federal government's right to determine who the tribes are. It doesn't matter that the tribe is historical, still practices their way of life. In fact, it seems these are the very tribes who they wanted to stamp out. The only tribes which they seem interested in recognizing are the BIA tribes who have traded in their traditional way of governing so they can access federal grants. The Winnemem Tribe has never chosen to have a tribal council for of government. They do not care about grants and casinos. Florence Jones, the spiritual leader and Chief before Caleen Sisk Franco always said that casinos will rot a tribe from the inside out. All the Winnemem wish to do is follow their traditional way of life and keep their traditional responsibilities given them by the Great Olelbis to take care of the Sacred Lands, the Salmon, the Water.

It is such a deep disappointment that President Obama has chosen to maintain the Bush policy toward indigenous tribes. He has surrounded himself with BIA Advisors guarding their pot of money. Any petition sent by the Winnemem Tribe which has to do with sacred land, water, accepting an invitation to attend Obama's gathering indigenous leaders is detoured to a low level bureaucrat who whips off a form letter, "you must be a federally recognized tribe."

In the past, all tribes were considered in human rights laws such as freedom of religion. But Obama, like Bush, has grasped on to a racist Supreme Court's mischief which erodes what good lawmakers passed when they saw the Supreme Court could not do their job with the second Freedom of Religion Act. It is supreme irony that the spiritual leader who was the first to access the freedom of religion of the first Freedom of Religion Act, Florence Jones of the Winnemem Wintu, and brought her ceremonies above ground would today be sent an insulting, arrogant letter by a bureaucrat -- "are you recognized" -- and ignored under the Obama administration. When the Winnemem tribe access the rights of indigenous people of this country, they are told "you don't have these rights. You're not recognized."

This is the most severe of human rights violations. No where else in the world are these ceremonies practiced, these languages spoken. No where else in the world are this particular Chinook Salmon prayed for. No where else in the world are these sacred lands. These rights which are denied them include advocating for their sacred lands, village sites, burial grounds. These rights denied them include practicing their religion, and ceremonies as they have from the beginning of time, ceremonies which exist no where else in the world, ceremonies which will become extinct without generations carrying them on. These rights include healthcare and college for their young people. The only and last generation of Winnemem who went to college was that first generation who entered in the 1960's but by the time their children reach college age, the federal government through Reagan's Supreme Court had rendered them non-Indians. These rights which are promised indigenous people of the United States so they do not become extinct are forbidden the Winnemem Wintu who are known all over the world as people who tenaciously hang on to their ancient way of life, their ceremonies for the water, sacred land and fish in a time when these places, the water and the salmon need prayers more than ever before. The Winnemem Wintu are important to people all over the globe; yet that means nothing to the law breaking lawmakers, the Reagan/Bush Supreme Court, and the President who made promises he could not keep because he surrounded himself from the beginning with Clinton's crew and his focus is "on more important things" -- Wall Street. There will be no justice this Presidential term for victims of environmental disasters, for middle income to homeless people who seek a just health care reform, immigrants, and there is no justice for the indigenous tribes of this land especially those of California -- the tribes who are the focus of greedy corporations and the Water Wars predicted by Mo Udall back in the early '70's. Obama, sadly, aspired to one thing -- the Office -- and now that he sits there, those who put him there will have to wait a long time for justice as he panders to those who did not elect him and do not want change, and who in fact, ran amok and profitted during the Bush years. What else can a tribal member think when the leaders of their tribe known to the world for who they are petitions their President and he never ever responds because he is upholding a bad policy.

We broke the law this weekend to bury Dan Franco the way he wanted to be buried, beside his wife in the Winnemem burial ground, proud Apache elder, Winnemem tribal member and last elder, an honored veteran who has served his country and the Winnemem tribe with distinction. We sent him off with a 21 gun salute. A grandson was there in uniform, a young soldier who served in Iraq twice.

Dan Franco, proud Apache man and patriot who spent his whole life serving the United States of America, as a Navy Man in WWII, seeing 8 campaigns, and an officer in the Police Department as well as the Sherrif Posse later and after retirement continued to work serve ended his life with the Winnemem Wintu. He has the distinction of being the only Indian John Wayne "Duke" shot and lived to tell about it. That is a joke the family shares. Wayne, his good friend, had accidentally shot his friend, a bullet ricocheting and hitting Franco in the forehead. Bloody as it was, he refused to go to the hospital and said a little bandage would take care of it.

As a Winnemem, he played the important role as grandfather to the tribe's many young men and women, elder and counselor to his son Headman Mark Franco and his daughter-in-law Caleen Sisk Franco, Chief of the Winnemem tribe. Dan Franco, proud United States Navy Man, Police Officer and Deputy believed that Chief Caleen Sisk Franco was doing the right thing by her people, one hundred percent. He was proud of her. He was proud of his son for dedicating his life to the Winnemem.

There is something wrong happening today when a man like Dan Franco is found to be on the other side of the law on the day he is buried, five days after his death. There is something very wrong.

It was a good day, with family and friends of Dan's family. The grave was dug by the young men of the tribe. One of them had flown in from Kansas to do this for his grandfather. The young men also put him in the grave after we all said our words for this good and honorable man. We had lost our last elder so it was a sobering day for us. The feast was cooked by his Winnemem "son," a Sac State counselor, and father of the Iraq War veteran. Everything of that day was done by people who loved Dan Franco, who owed him honor and the deepest respect. Surrounded as he was with family, on a blue - sky day, the American flag draped over his casket, with a color guard and 21 gun salute, this hero was sent off on his last journey. And in the Winnemem way, far from unjust laws and human rights violations, we surrounded him and sent him off with reverence, respect and love deeper and more personal than I witness in other places.

May our dear elder, our grandfather, rest in peace.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Open Adoption

This was not an easy night for our daughter. We were very proud of her. Will and I accompanied her to a circle of people thinking of adopting through Open Adoption. The circle included birth mothers and father who had gone through the process. They were going to share their experiences with the interested future parents.

It was not easy to sit there and listen to the birth mothers and the father talk about their experiences as different as night is from day from Maki's experience. They shared stories with glowing faces about adoptive parents who had become like family -- the gay couple raising the young man's son who sends him and the birth mother pictures each month, calls them, a young woman Maki's age with a son she adopted to a couple the same year, welcomed into the family, a room in the basement when she goes to visit, visiting even on Mother's Day, able to name the baby, her family invited to their family gatherings, or the older former drug addict who had twin boys, also welcome, given pictures every month, phone calls all the time, honored and treated respectfully by the adoptive parents.

It was hard to sit beside our daughter knowing how she is treated by the adopted parents, a law professor for a dad, a stay at home mom, well respected by their peers, and their treatment of our daughter a dirty secret we all keep. I looked over at her expecting tears and saw her soft smile for each couple. I marvel at Maki's good feelings and it makes me proud of her. This is our daughter who came to us at five years old with no expectations of being hugged, no expectations that she should be held in a healthy way, no expectations to have a family stay with her through thick or thin, no expectations of any permanence -- and as a teen, rebelled against a thick or thin, permanent, consistent, big family. Our daughter became pregnant at 18 and when she finally accepted the reality, focused the whole of herself on the twin girls growing inside of her -- stopped her partying, thought of the little ones before she thought of herself. As I sat beside Maki in the Open Adoption circle, I remembered our walks up Mt. Pigsah, her talking to the twins, explaining to the twins what she wanted for them, telling them she loved them, that she was going to work very hard so they would be healthy and feel loved, that she was going to choose carefully two parents with a home who could take care of them and love them too and give them what she could not. She promised she would never abandon them and would be in their lives. She said she would tell them someday what her thoughts were while she carried them. She kept a journal of those thoughts. It was very important as an abandoned child herself that these two little girls did not feel abandoned at all. She would ask me to pray that for her and them. And I did. I prayed that they would always have a happy life and never feel like something was missing. She would squeeze my hand when I said those words. She had no ego. She wanted the girls to feel complete with their adopted parents. I remember Maki talking about how the trees would be there for them anytime they felt lonely. That is what she learned from Grandpa Marvin our Kickapoo relative. Her name meant "tall straight evergreen" and she felt related and comforted by trees. She prayed for the girls. She played calm music for them. She gave up bad food for them, and the drinking and the hard life, just like that for them.

Months before any of these other parents in the Open Adoption Circle did, she picked the parents and made a relationship with them. She honored and respected them. They were 40 years old and she felt they deserved respect from her. One was a professor, Japanese American, the mother Jewish. They seemed friendly, and committed to Open Adoption and seemed respectful of Maki. They were respectful when they came to the hospital, and when Maki let them in the hospital room with her and the twins, and they could carry them. They were respectful at the formal ritual Open Adoption does when the babies are given to the adoptive parents. And then slowly at first and then more and more boldly things changed.

It was hard to listen to the other birth mothers talk about their experience with a tone of entitlement, with such sureness about their importance and status in their children's lives. They referred to them as "my sons." Our daughter does not claim that right. Granted, she went through the same up and down transition as the others, visiting too many times, calling too many times, asking to see them too many times. I was surprised it was common where the birth parents and the adoptive parents compassionately work things out with each other during the tough transition. Now that I look back on it I see that the girls' adoptive parents did not handle it as the other adoptive parents of that circle. M., the mother, would call me and I would have to rein Maki in. I had no context or understanding of Open Adoption. I should have said, "call Open Adoption" and let them work it out together. So from the beginning, I now see that the commitment to Open Adoption just was not there for them. The conversation was sabotaged. There was no intention to communicate with Maki herself. From the beginning, Maki's presence was like a fly in the ointment.

For the past seven years, Maki would call politely and ask for pictures. She hinted she wanted some she could frame, not the emailed pictures which printed into tiny little squares -- a hundred little photos sent as if to keep her satisfied for a long time so they wouldn't have to bother. She would ask if she could visit and has been able to only a few times during the girls' lives, maybe three times in seven years. She called and left messages. No return calls. One day she said to me, "I think I should just not bother them anymore. Maybe I can ask for one picture a year?"

I said, "Maki, you know, the adults in your life have not kept their commitments to you so you are someone who maybe even thinks you don't deserve commitments kept. But you deserve it. You deserve to be respected. These parents owe you what was promised." So she would call or write and ask again.

It's been so long I don't remember the exact words or even the request but I finally sat down and wrote M. and K. a "mother to mother" letter asking them to have compassion for our daughter. I think I did tell them that Will and I did not expect nor will we ask to be part of their lives but that we wish for them to have compassion for Maki.

Fast forward to the Open Adoption circle tonight. How was it that we became part of the circle. Maki moved home to be close to us last year. She came as a grown, mature woman, able to take care of herself, a forthright young woman whose power is truth. Maki is vivacious, energetic. She does what she believes is right and fair. She has lots of friends because she is fun and does things for them. But once in awhile she admits how sad she is and asks, maybe I should give up and not bother them. I know who she is talking about. I don't even have to ask. "Maybe if they could just send pictures a couple of times a year." I told her you have two choices. Wait until they are 18 because they will come to find you. All of us look for the parent eventually. And when they do, you should show respect for their parents and never say anything bad. She said, "Yes, of course. I would do that, Mom." I knew that. I think we all were so jumpy about how the two adoptive parents see us, like "beggers" waiting for a handout on their front lawn. I think we all felt ashamed and apologetic deep down. And the other choice? Go to Open Adoption and ask for advice.

She did. And Open Adoption responded with such clarity. No hesitation. They called M. and talked to her. They read her the contract. I won't go into detail but they got the picture. They picked up the tone, the lack of intent.

According to Open Adoption, Maki's situation is a very rare case, which is good. I am embarrassed for the two adoptive parents to have taken such a road to become one of the least sensitive parents of this organization. But our family has a mantra, "the girls are happy. They are really good to the girls." And we try to let it go.

Open Adoption told our daughter her rights. They said she could even ask for us to be grandparents which she shared with me. "I'm sorry, Maki. We will support you, but we have experienced M. She has no intention for us to be in the picture. The twins have grandparents already. Your dad and I made a decision a long time ago for peace for the girls and not provoke the adoptive mother." We will, however, support Maki's right to see the girls and the Open Adoption process.

So that's how we came to be in that circle. When it was Maki's turn to speak, I put my arm around her. Was she going to be able to follow these exemplary Open Adoption stories without breaking down? It was overwhelming, the difference. Following the other birth parents who boldly shared what they demanded and got, she would say, I never would think of asking to see them on Mother's Day. I never would have asked to have them flown to my home. I never thought I could go to a family gathering or fly in and expect to stay at their house. She did not expect anything, maybe two pictures a year, a call back, an email back.

Finally I spoke. The question was, are there any suggestions for these prospective parents?

"I have something to say. Look deeply into your hearts, be really honest with yourselves before you adopt through Open Adoption. These two people who adopted the girls are nice people, as nice as anyone in this circle." Maki nodded in agreement. "But they picked the wrong kind of adoption for themselves. And that wrong fit made them do bad things. They should have chosen a closed adoption. But because they chose unwisely and followed their own selfish needs rather than their commitment, they have harmed our daughter. If there is anything in you that prefers to have your own family, no interference from the outside, your own holidays, your own lives, don't choose this way just because open adoption sounds cool, valiant, liberal, open-minded. There is no shame in a closed adoption."

I also said, "We are adoptive parents. Our daughter came to us when she was five. She did not know nor did she expect anything but broken commitments. The adults in her life let her down. I had to tell her that she deserved to have these two people keep their commitment. They are adults. They are in their 40's or 50's and should know how to live a dignified life. They are professionals aspiring to the higher echelons of society. They can keep a commitment. I am a "mother bear" in this situation. I am upset our daughter is treated badly, disrespectfully, and still is to this day. I am upset that things are done begrudgingly, and without any respect or compassion for her, of all people."

I hope they listened. I hope none of them adopt through Open Adoption unless they are determined, uncomfortable as it may be sometimes, to honor their commitments. I hope they know that commitments must be kept even if they are much too busy and much too important to bother with a former "troubled teen." I hope if any of them meet the birth mother and she expects the minimum as our daughter does, that they will appreciate her and give her a little more than what she asks. And if open adoption is not for them, I hope they honor and respect and accept themselves lovingly and say, this is not for me. I must parent another way.

I received a letter from M, I suspect as a result of the mediation which Maki sought from the Open Adoption staff. I decided to wait to open it with Maki when she returned from a six week job in Utah, just in case she wasn't sent anything. During the early years when they still lived in Eugene, I received long phone calls from M telling us how much they enjoyed us and how they must have us over to their home. Such phone calls preceded a long disappearance into nothing. This letter felt no different. Intentions are clarified by action. And the actions have made what almost seemed like a cruel game. I don't know how else to explain this strange pattern except as a game. I feel toyed with. But I accept that there are such people in the world. And say the mantra to myself. "The girls are happy. Their parents are good to them."

So I set the letter aside and waited for Maki to come home. If she came home to no letter or pictures, if the letter to us was a retaliatory gesture, I was prepared to go to Open Adoption and ask them to call M and inform her that she is not to contact us to hurt our daughter again. But that was unnecessary. When Maki got home, she had an envelope from M. waiting for her, opened her envelope. Pictures, a letter, a program of Sarah in a play, a piece written by Sarah about her day, a nice crayola drawing from Rachel. I was satisfied and sent a thank you and acknowledgment of the letter and pictures. The girls had grown so much, of course. The last time we saw them or heard anything of them was when they were two years old. Now they were seven and in the second grade!

I suppose I believe in miracles so there may be another letter for Maki from the adoptive parents, probably the mother because apparently, in the arguments between M and K, dealing with Maki has become the mother's responsibility and the father is not involved at all. Perhaps the communication will be done in a timely manner without our daughter having to ask the agency to call the adoptive parents again to remind them of the contract. But I am heartened to know that the agency is more than happy to continue to call those parents for as long as they are needed in order for the parents to remember, and they will not stop. It did me some good to hear a circle of people gasp to a very tamed down version of Maki's experience. She does not want to hurt the adoptive parents. She is the first to admit how busy they must be, how it's easy to forget. The group gasped, nonetheless, and that emphasizes for Maki that she is a human being who counts for something in this world and deserves to be treated as such. The former addict gave birth to twin boys who had weathered drugs and carbon monoxide poisoning before being born. Maki, our wild child, stopped all her wild ways determined to have healthy girls. She talked to them and told them en utero that they were loved and she would always be in their lives in some way. She nursed them while they were in the hospital so they would be as strong as possible. To their credit, the former addict's adoptive parents have no fear or prejudice of her life style and honor and respect her. Meanwhile, my daughter has to struggle and beg so she can keep a promise she made to stop the cycle of abandonment that she suffered and do whatever possible to keep it from the twins' lives.

I saw one thing tonight that really did my heart good. The Open Adoption birth mothers and father, I noticed, held their head high, talked with authority of their high place in their children's lives, as I said. Their adoptive parents helped the birth parents be proud, as they should be, sure of themselves and the good decision they made, and that in making this decision, they could feel that they were good parents. Tonight,although she spoke with much fewer expectations of K. and M. and although theirs is a failed open adoption, I saw my daughter sit with her head held high enough. She no longer felt like an interference. Her cheeks were no longer red with stress, head held obsequiously begging for a bit of a letter or a photo big enough to frame and hold in her hand rather than a hundred mini-shots she has to xerox from a hurried email. She was finally respected. She was respected by the Open Adoption staff who had heard both sides and are helping to smooth the way for both parties to have a successful Open Adoption someday. Our daughter was respected by the prospective parents in the Open Adoption circle tonight because she had so few requests, had kind thoughts and kind words to say about the adoptive parents, had compassion for their situation regarding her. She only came to emphasize how important communication was and to testify about Open Adoptions' staffs' ability to mediate successfully. She came to share her true feelings about the heavy responsibility the commitment brings to it and to think carefully. She carried herself with dignity. I am so happy for her that she finally got some respect for being a birth mother outside of her parents respect for her.

I hope that eventually these two adoptive parents will find the energy, the will, and take the time to integrate their Open Adoption commitment into their lives so that it is not an added bother but instead as important as their important lives are. I hope they break the destructive cycle of neglect and abandonment which our daughter tried so hard to break. Only a birth mother knows instinctively how those things get passed down, how those unexplainable empty spots still hang around deep inside the heart that is not tended.

She picked Open Adoption for reasons others had not even considered in that circle. Tonight I heard their stories and found it missing Maki's most heart felt reasons. She picked Open Adoption for Openness, for the truth, for no dirty little family secrets. She is conscious of the hurtful legacy of family secrets, of BEING a secret. It broke her heart to know the two adoptive parents -- as she calls them HER adoptive parents -- never told the girls they were adopted. Their family doctor unknowingly blurted it out at an appointment and the girls were shocked. M described that to Maki over the phone, how their mouths dropped open. The foundation stones Maki had thought she had carefully placed for her girls were kicked to the side from the outset. They were a secret. She was a secret. They weren't connected. She was made to have abandoned them. And they will carry those circumstances into their "fifteen year old phase." I don't know how or if it will play out. It certainly played out in our lives as adoptive parents. I will pray for the family that same first prayer that the girls will feel whole and want for nothing in their heart and feel things complete with their family. That was our prayer together, Maki and I. Maki was hoping to avoid any possibility the girls would would replicate the hardship of the out of control period of her younger life which came up because as a small child in an orphanage, ripped out of familiar surroundings for a 24 hour jet flight to Eugene, she had no control. She tried hard and planned to give the girls she carried and cared for and talked to and crossed the t's and dotted the i's for a life of great satisfaction, no empty spaces, no secrets, nothing to yearn for without knowing what it is. All for naught. Some people just don't know a gift when they see one staring them in the face.

I wouldn't want that said about me. So I will say, Maki Doolittle is a gift staring us in the face! Many blessings, Maki! We are very proud of you.

Monday, May 24, 2010

WW/ "On" for Granny

Yesterday Will found a video link which showed Granny in 1975 at Ceremony. It was one of her earlier ceremonies which she brought back for the sake of the young people, we think held at Dekkas, her doctoring place. By the time I met Granny, this spring ceremony was known as an Elder's ceremony, giving thanks that the elders -- having gone through another winter, were here with us. At least, that is what she told me that year, and it was a hard winter.

I felt such happiness as I watched Granny saying prayer in her own language, surrounded by her people, blessing them, going into trance as she was going to doctor them. The film stopped there, of course. It was just a little glimpse reminding me of the way she held herself, so strong, when she was taking care of the people, focused energy, and beside her was her translator and cousin, another beloved Elder I was lucky enough to have known, and another elderly cousin who taught me "the ropes" when Maki, my eight year old daughter and I showed up on her doorstep to stay with them until Granny got strong enough from a small stroke the summer after I went to my first ceremony up at Dekkas. They all looked younger on this film, their hair still greying, not white. Granny's translator was heavier. Granny was strong, moving among her people without a walker, she called it her "horse." Granny was the first spiritual leader to follow up on the first Native American Religious Freedom act and apply to bring her ceremonies back.

Recently, I stumbled upon a blog referencing me as a Japanese (correct) Tribal member (correct) and a foolish woman who worshiped Florence Jones as a god. That caused a momentary "ouch" but I understand that non-traditional people could get that idea in this fast world where the generations do not follow in their elder's footsteps so in a hurry to make their individual mark.

I bring this up because this little video clip brought to memory my relationship with Granny -- and how it must look to people who have not been raised in old ways, and those who were non-Indians if they were to observe me at ceremony with Granny. It was my responsibility during that time when her family was very busy hosting hundreds of people, and carrying on the old ways, that there was someone who would make sure Granny was comfortable at all times, and the family kindly let me carry on because that was kind of my role, why I visited every month, why I came for a month during a summer to be with Granny. I liked our relationship. And it continued at ceremony. I'd bring her tea, I'd push her wheelchair. I liked staying with her while others went to the other sites important to ceremony. I fixed her plate up. I liked to sleep in her tent to help her through the night if needed. Those observing this who never had my upbringing would think this was foolish, understandably. But what they were seeing was not a worshiper. They were seeing an old-fashioned granddaughter lucky to have a grandmother who was healthy, with a strong mind into her nineties. She grew precious with each passing day.

The blog which was critical of my actions also gave my blog address out, so perhaps some of you reading find yourself here through that picture of me, so I welcome this opportunity with a clip of my granny (and other people if you're interested). She is very special to her people, and she was very special to our family.

Will and I came to Granny with our newly adopted daughter, five years old, relatively new parents, and already over our head. We were trying to parent the best we could without support. No one had ever walked in our shoes before. Counselors, psychologists were stymied. I'm not going into detail about what we all (including our daughter) were dealing with -- extraordinary circumstances which baffled Holt Adoption Agency. All they could say was that our daughter came from a bad orphanage and they have stopped working with them after meeting her. That was not helpful.

Her story did not fit the neat little legend many adoptive parents get from Holt about a little baby found at a fire station and cared for in an orphanage, wanting a family. Maki didn't want a family. No one asked her what she wanted to do before they ripped her up and put her on a 24 hour plane ride to these two strangers. And before then, no one held her, watched over her, hugged her, spoke to her. Her good memories were guys who put her on their lap and gave her candy for being cute. Clearly, in her new life, that was not the case. Maki soaked in language quickly. Her quick clever mind picked up many things, but the baggage she brought overwhelmed us all.

I will return to this at a later point, and connect it to our Granny.

Yes, I was born Japanese American to a farming family in southern Idaho. I was born after the war by a little over a month, 45 miles from a Japanese American concentration camp but not in it which made all the difference in the world in terms of family bonding and sense of stability including how I felt being Japanese. My family was multi-generational. We spoke Japanese because it wasn't outlawed. We ate as a family not in a mess hall. The circumstances of a failed arranged marriage put my little sister, mother and I with my grandparents, two uncles and an aunt. We were surrounded by caring adults. My first language is Japanese. Since we worked on a farm, the only adults we saw were family and our only playmates, each other. We also were the water carriers for our family in the field, and obediently stayed in one place while they hoed crops so far they appeared as white dots, a half inch high. We were a very traditional family. We were taught, not that we always followed, but we knew the importance of patience, endurance, non-complaining, and giving rather than taking. Obedience was not a bad word. That is fortunate because we waited for our family from the head of the row without investigating the drain ditch having been warned against drowning. We were did this day after day, which now as an adult, I am surprised by our dependability. (Neither of us swim, though, which is the side effect of those days in the field). Obedience was more descriptive to us. It was what our job was as kids who did our part for the family. I remember feeling really good about doing that well, both of us with the burlap water bags in tow for our family as they neared us every half hour or so. May sound weird in the individualistic society all around us, but like I said, on a farm, life was not complicated by what others did or believed. We liked our life, we liked family, it was our rock. Our upbringing had a pre-war Meiji era bushido core with definite "inaka" -- non urban -- leanings. We were mountain people living on the Gifu River. My grandparents raised us in the way they were raised by their parents. That is the only way they knew. Grandpa was born around the mid-1880's and Grandma born around the late 1890's. Their family lived in a mountain village small it had no name close to Kami no Mura. To this day, my grandparents are the only ones of the village to have left it. That means our family were a bit different from those who immigrated from busy seaport cities caught up in the great changes.

One of my core values family values is "On." "On" is that feeling of unrepayable debt a person owes one's parents. I learned about "On" in Japanese language class in college when I was in my late 20's. I never heard the word "On"while growing up, but I must admit that I felt it every day of my life. And, actually, the way I experience "On" extends further than one's parent which I will talk about later. I cannot really put into words sufficiently that feeling of "On." For example, as I'm typing this, the word unrepayable comes up as a misspelling. The concept is foreign to this culture and English. But I will try.

In the presence of the elders of my family I have that feeling of treasuring them, of great fortune to be "of them" through thick or thin. I experience their human foibles on the one hand, and on the other, their moments of courage, all of that with an enhanced emotion. Frustration is accompanied with a feeling of endearment. Adults do some crazy things and I often share with my sister and my cousins some of those stories with laughter and affection, not indignation and embarrassment. If there is a small break and disagreement, it comes with personal pain. It's not something easily ignored. And the good we are given by our parents and grandparents is also enhanced, deepened. It is never unnoticed and taken for granted that we receive much and with sacrifice. They don't have to talk about what they do for us; it is noticed, and felt. I can't describe it except to say having "On" for them is a good feeling to the core. Also when we follow in their footsteps, it feels good. It feels grown. It feels right. We are not embarrassed that we are being naive, unsophisticated and to follow in your parents' and grandparents' footsteps should be avoided. That is a difference between traditional peoples and American society which I have noticed.

In 1950, when I started public school, everything changed and life did become complicated for me. Everything about school was radically different from family life and I began to try to navigate all the cultural conflicts just as many generations of traditional children do, not the least of which is the process to unlearn one's mother tongue. In my days, it was forced learning and on a particularly bad day when I returned home in a condition that revealed to my family that I was being severely punished for speaking Japanese, everyone switched to English when speaking to my sister and me . .. except for my Grandmother who stubbornly held on to her language and was my harbor. But it becomes second nature to my sister and me how to shift from home culture to school culture seamlessly.

Now I move the story to 1968. I leave home to teach in a small Washington school. Like youth my age, 21, I do feel the great change in the country. The Vietnam War was central. My friends were drafted, going to Vietnam. My classmates were dying. Dr. King is assassinated in April, 1968, before I report to school in the morning and when I walk in, the hallway is crowded with celebrating students AND teachers dancing and yelling "the N--- is dead!" I escape by plane disregarding the cost if the ticket on a first year teacher's pay to go home to my family where I can grieve Dr. King then back to work with renewed strength to say to my precious classes, "It hurt to see the celebration of a great man's death so I went home. I tell you this because I care about you and we should be honest to each other." That spring RFK is also killed. I don't have family, friends or community where I fit. My alienation is complete.

It is not until I move to Eugene that I find myself in a community. Advertised in the papers was a class called Asian American Experience, one of the classes added to the syllabus of colleges across the nation after the Berkeley and San Francisco sit-ins and school boycotts where students and faculty sacrificed so that colleges could become more than factories. I joined the class and I finally met a community -- each of us did -- and formed unions inside of the University and community cultural groups in the city. In Eugene, with very few so-called minorities, the unions and community groups worked with one another to support one another. And being who we are, we also played hard with one another. BSU, NASU, AASU, Gay Pride, Bridges (low income political support group). The multi-ethnic networking which I still value today is rooted in those years.

In Eugene, The Asian organizations and the Native organizations, both on campus and in community, began to especially connect. I remember those days when we'd hop in a car to Root Feasts, Pow Wows, basketball games on the reservation, and also to Obon in Seattle, Portland. NASU and the Longhouse community would support our Asian conferences and come to our after-parties. Asians from Vancouver BC to LA would travel through for the conferences, some staying at my house where the parties were. The parties attracted college students and people through grandparents age and the children. THAT kind of party. There were the other kinds too. We would be on each others committees. Pow Wows meant the Asians would be making sandwiches and lemonade by the jugs for the drummers, and would help by housing drums (families) and when that happens, friendships are made and some of them for life. When the friendships are made, from the tribal side everything is shared including family. My family also began to consider my "little brothers" and "aunties" from these relationships their family too. That is how Marvin Stevens and family of the White Horse Drum and Kenny Moses and his family became part of my own family circle.

This leads me back to Granny and my daughter. When our daughter came she came to a community, a huge extended family of Native, Latino, African, Anglo, Asian Pacific uncles and aunties, cousins. But it was not possible to have that fantasy life Will and I had dreamed of, a child to raise in our circle. Maki required something else. Our good friend from the White Horse Drum from Seattle area was a father figure to me. He took care of us down here in Eugene. He married some of my friends. He put a Sacred Prayer Fire in our backyard to help us. He came through each year to see how we were. We learned a lot from him. I would say at that point, we were following a path of life through him. The year before Maki came to us he came through on his way to Granny's Ceremony, his first time, and stopped on his way back. He talked excitedly about this woman Doctor who did with water what others did with fire. He talked about the sacred spring of Mt. Shasta and what he witnessed there. We had news to share. We would be parents of a child from Korea before the holidays and he would be Grandpa Marvin. As a vet of the Korean War, he felt this was a blessing and said he would be very happy to meet his Granddaughter on his way through next time.

I bring this up because by spring after our daughter joined us, we called him for help for our daughter. He said we should wait until summer and he would take us to the ceremony at Mt. Shasta. He said for this, we needed to see a woman doctor, and we needed a doctor who could see us more than once a year. That is when we went to our first Coonrod Ceremony and met Granny and joined the lines of people who came for help.

Granny and her cousin smoked me up and told me to breathe the root in. I shut my eyes and breathed deeply. They asked me to share what I saw. As soon as she said that, images came to me. The first was a little animal on its hind feet and a small pine. Then in front of them the Great Mt. Shasta bolted out of the ground, shoving itself up to a great height. I told her. She said, how do the animal and the tree feel? I said, they feel satisfied to be who they are and for the mountain to be what it is. She responded, "they feel just normal." I said "Yes! That's it!" She coaxed, "what else."

I said I saw Maki's face, laughing, and Granny said, "You think you're a bad mother don't you." The tears came as I nodded. My heart which felt like a clenched fist broke open like a dam and cried too. "Well, you're not," she said.

Grandma took my hands and held it in hers and told me to settle my heart. That she was there for me and my daughter. She told me anytime I needed help, to ask. She said she was my mother. Inside, I felt like a thirsty person drinking her words in like fresh water, and then I remember hesitating because I have a mother. I pushed that guilty thought away and breathed her words in deeply, opening wide up for this blessing.

Then just as the next image came in, her translator clapped loudly and then he shouted, "Did you see that!" and the image disappeared leaving me confused. I opened my eyes when I heard him not focusing. I heard him, "that white butterfly just came out of her and flew away." It was finished and I got up on wobbly legs, and the next person in line took the chair to be doctored. (By the way, after years with the Winnemem I know what that third image meant. It was simply my old friend Mark Miyoshi's Winnemem Name in a picture. I saw it even before Granny met him. She met him two years later.)

I continued down to Ash Creek where my little brother Roger Amerman was with our kids, his two sons and my daughter. He said, "Hey, Misa! You should have seen it. This little white butterfly came and touched the head of each of the kids and flew away!" Our children splashed and loudly joined in in excitement of the white butterfly that touched them. They felt special.

The June after the second time I went to ceremony at Coonrod is when my daughter and I started going every month to Granny. We spent the month with her to take care of things after a small stroke but Granny had used her medicines and showed no effects of it. She did need her rest though.

This is where those who are raised differently miss out in understanding what our relationship is. They call it worship. I felt such solace and comfort there with my then eight year old daughter. I felt more myself in my skin than anytime before since I left my Idaho family. I was me, peaceful, and grounded. My heart felt normal, it felt the way I felt at Home around my grandparents and my mother. That is my niche, to help my elders. To be happy together WITH them. Granny's cousin had taught me exactly how Granny likes her kitchen. I figured out what kinds of food Granny liked by our visit. I learned when she liked her tea. And I improvised what I wanted to serve her, a treat with tea, something healthy and yummy for dinner, things cut for easy eating. It made both of us happy. And my daughter learned by watching and being there, by serving Granny. This didn't have to be one of those "back when your mommy was your age" speeches children hate. Maki got to feel the best childhood I could give her, my childhood with grandparents, helping her mother. My daughter and I cleaned the house as I was sure Granny liked it. We went outside. There was a litter of pop cans. I said, Granny doesn't drink pop. Let's pick these up for her. She'll feel so much better when she can look out at her yard at her roses if we picked up the cans."

I also noticed that her helper had mowed the lawn with the tractor mower and mowed over newspapers because the ground was littered with strips of paper. We took a rake to it. We made short work of it together. It was still cool in the morning and a few hours before we should fix lunch and the hot early afternoon. When we went in, her cousin, Leona said, "She (pointing toward Granny's bedroom) that that woman works like a man." I filled up with happiness. I shared that with Maki, that Granny said we worked good and hard.

My daughter's days were filled with puppies and kitty kats which helped her heart. We would take Granny on rides. We would sit out at the pond or in the backyard and just listen to the insect buzz in the sunshine.

In my private prayers I thanked the Creator for filling that sad and lonely place with another Grandma. I was Grandma's girl and when my Grandmother died, I, the whole family was, as my uncle described, thrown in all directions. He said she was the hub of the wheel who kept us together. It was true. We were scattered and never came together as a clan after she died.

Granny made a home for our daughter far from the chaos of urban Eugene on her little farm with animals, a pond, and roses, three elders, where her heart could grow. I felt part of a village, not alone raising our daughter. At ceremony, it was the same thing.

Caleen who is now Chief was the first person in Maki's life to say to a circle of women, this little girl must be told No when she is doing something wrong. The men need to be told that they must say No to this little girl when she is doing something wrong. It is their job as uncles. And Maki sat on my lap and listened. She listened to me frankly talk about what was happening and listened to her Auntie Caleen and felt safe. I didn't know that at the time but now as adults when we talk together, she appreciates the adults so much who took the time and had the courage to be honest with her.

Florence Jones, Emerson Miles and Granny's daughter Margie are our daughter's Rock. Florence Jones is my second mother. She was my doctor and cured me of small things and big. She cured me of cancer the same year she cured two of my friends who came to her for help. She saved my mother's life. My mother was given very little hope when she was taken in for her second heart surgery. But the morning of the operation when I went to her room she was smiling and said, a star landed on my feet last night and traveled up my leg to my head, and I felt so warm inside. I'm going to be alright. I knew what happened because I had called my Granny that night outside the hospital to share my sadness of the doctor's dim hopes and she said she would go out to the Fire and to settle my heart. She would pray for my mom.

Despite the fact that the operation could not help her and considered a failure, my mother lived to be almost 90 years old. She lived about twelve years more -- able to live independently, take cruises to Alaska and tours to Asia, and finally live four years with me which was a blessing for me.

And that is what I owe my Grandma Florence -- no less than for rescuing our family, for rescuing our daughter whose life was twisted by neglect and prolonged abuse and who is now healed and who is now a strong, happy adult, for curing me of cancer, for saving my mother's life so that she could experience an independent and carefree life she had never before, for introducing us to her sacred places so they will know us, for taking care of us all like a Mother my Doctor and Spiritual Leader.

So it is not worship I feel for Granny, not anything as foolish as that. It is the deepest feeling of unrepayable debt. It is "On." That unrepayable debt means that you are blessed with the drive to "do the right thing to honor Life and future generations because of what was done for you by those who took care of you" and it is a gift which keeps on giving.

One more note. I notice, though my life, that immigrants and their children learn very quickly what part of their culture, their family, their way of life must be checked at the door before entering -- before entering the school, the classroom, the meeting, the job, whatever place. We automatically learn what things about ourselves will cause us to be misunderstood, limited, judged, overlooked, disrespected, put in danger, whatever the level of negative response. Being a hyphenated American can feel mentally unbalanced, I've always explained, like a split personality. But I have found a better more accurate metaphor through Karen Yamashita's excellent new novel I-Hotel about our generation and the state of the nation 1968 - 1980. Being a hyphenated-American is like being conjoined twins with yourself (Siamese Twins). We are seen as freaks no matter what, dragging along the American me and the traditional me.

I have not experienced a hyphenated identity in a tribe. There may be a moment or reaction individually from time to time, but in the big picture of the tribe and everyone in it, in tribal societies, we can bring our whole selves in -- just do it with respect. My husband who is Anglo by birth, and I who am Japanese by birth do not have to leave anything outside the door as citizens of the Winnemem tribe. Sometimes we both have that awkward moment of doubt if we are interfering with a tribal person's view of how things should be but that's more our worry, or our putting too much on something not important at all. We are solidly tribal members whether we are at the village and ceremonies or whether we are here in Eugene. As Caleen says, it is our belief, our path. As Granny helped me clarify, "where do you go for your kids? where do you go when you're sick? where do you go to pray?" We go the Winnemem way. It is the way of the least contradictions, the least compromise of my childhood upbringing, the least violation of our most deeply felt values, where the core and center is, what is the most important in Life for Will and me.

So for those who came to my blog through the person(s) unknown to me who judges me foolish because my relationship with Granny is different than what they're comfortable with, thank you for reading and taking the time to hear my point of view.

Here is my Granny before I met her. It is in 1975 after she brought back her ceremonies, the first spiritual leader to apply to do so after the First Native American Freedom of Religion Act was passed.

"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.