Monday, February 12, 2018

NAHM 2017: Mission memories

I realize that writing about my NAMH - Native American Heritage Month - reading during January, which is also when NAMM - National Association of Music Merchants - has their trade show, can be confusing. No misdirection is intended.

I am also still writing on the fly instead of doing a draft and editing it before publishing. I have been doing that since all of the computer issues occurred. I feel like the writing is lower quality, but that so many things are still unsettled that it is currently inevitable. I hope for things to get better soon.

Now that my excuses are out of the way, there were a couple of things that came back to me strongly during my study.

I guess the excuse I should put in here is that most LDS missionaries are really young. Many of them were really good people, and are probably even better people now, but there can be some immaturity, and some things about the world that are poorly understood. In each of these cases, I suppose the memory is about a young person who was shaped by their environment without having a deeper understanding of it.

There was one elder who always proclaimed that he was from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, home of Phillips Petroleum, like that was really something to be proud of. For me, also immature and possibly mean (he and his companion served in the same ward that I did for a while and annoyed me a lot), I though it was a weird source of pride and pretty hick, though that may have been influenced by his accent. (I do not deny being mean.)

When I was reading Killers of the Flower Moon, I kept flashing back to that. I had remembered it many times over the years, and it had been jogged a little with Catch-22 and Chief Half Whiteoat. His family kept finding oil everywhere they moved, and thus kept needing to move and being followed around by oil speculators and something that should have made them rich and comfortable ends up being a curse.

I guess he was Osage.

And I already went over that a little in the list of books, and it's not like cheating and murder and terrible things didn't happen to Indians who didn't have oil, but it was just so disgusting how white people were about acquiring that oil, and acquiring the money that went with it, and how cruel and ruthless they were.

I suspect if you looked deeper into it, this prominent company that shows how successful the town is might have a broad section of employees they underpay, or ways of wiggling out of taxes, or something like that even now, but there is a dirty past, and that should be known and understood.

I wish I could say that this lack of deeper awareness is why I was thinking "stupid hick", but that could have been just the drawl. And that would be wrong of me.

If I didn't particularly care for him, I loved the other person in this story. I enjoyed my time working with her, thought she was great, and flew to another state to attend her wedding reception after we were both home. Still, her home has a dirty past too.

The story did strike me wrong at the time. I don't even remember why we were talking about it, but maybe we were talking about prejudice. We were working with Laotian refugees, and they were judged a lot by the white people around them.

She was from Cardston, Alberta, and they did have First Nations students at their school. Actually, I believe she referred to them as Blackfoot Indians, but this is many years ago and I am not sure. Anyway, there were conflicts at times between the students, and she mentioned an assembly they had where one of the counselors who was Indigenous said some really heartfelt and beautiful things, but she also said, in talking about things you do without thinking, "You can hurt their feelers."

And that was what people remembered about her presentation, the presence of an accent. Like, how can you take someone seriously when they talk like that?

(This is how I know that I am wrong to think poorly of the drawl.)

She was not a bad person, but she didn't question that it was so easy to negate another person because of an accent, even though that type of pronunciation is not exclusive to brown skin (it sounds somewhat like our stereotype of a Minnesota accent), and even though they was we pronounce "sorry" in the US sounds sarcastic to her, and even though there were subtle differences in how we pronounced other things.

(She didn't say "eh" a lot, but I hear that a lot in British Columbia.)

Here's something else, though: one big point of pride for the Mormons in Cardston is that their temple incorporates indigenous elements into its architecture -- we're proud of our past Indians, but don't know about these contemporary ones.

Here's another thing, Cardston came up in Separate Beds.

Initially a lot of the segregation in Canadian health care was to protect white Canadians from tuberculosis. I mean, you treated it differently anyway, because if you were a white man you probably needed wholesome rest and sunshine, but if you were Indian you were likely to have ribs cracked open and sections of lungs cut out, and those treatments are a whole separate nightmare.

Beyond that, though, even though one large scale infection started with contaminated milk being fed to students at a residential school, and then sending them back to the reservations where a lack of nutrition put the inhabitants at a high risk for infection, and regardless of what percent of the white population was infected, you needed to keep the dirty people separate.

Maybe with attitudes like that making up the history, there's no surprise when there was resistance to integrating hospitals, but among those communities that resisted was Cardston. In fact, there is this quote from federal officials based on meetings on the issue:

"One of the main reasons the people of the Blood Band do not want to close the Blood Indian Hospital is the fact that they are afraid they will not get adequate services at the Cardston Municipal Hospital in view of the 'discrimination' against the Indian people by the people of Cardston." (p. 158)

They were working on integration in 1972, the year I was born. I think my companion was born in 1971, and we served together in 1993. Her time in high school was probably 187 to 1990 or so, like me.

It's just not that much time. Her parents and grandparents were there when the community was resisting having Indians in the same hospital, and discriminating against them when they were there.

I'm not saying that her parents or grandparents took that side, because I don't know, but if you have that happening in the 1972, and you don't do anything to make attitudes better - like say you finally integrate the hospital and people grumble but move on and it just gets brushed under the rug, is it any wonder that the white babies born that year might be jerks to the Indians later on when they meet up in school? And it is certainly possible that the students from the rez might cop an attitude as well, and we can find the motivation for that pretty easily, but this is what happens when we don't interrogate the racist structure!

There is one more mission memory that relates. Actually, it's more than one, but they are all on the same theme, so tomorrow we are going to talk about language.

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