Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wrapping up tidbits

I am finding myself really tempted to write about guns today, but that doesn't seem like the best idea.

I can't rule out that I will hold off on switching to misogyny and spend some time on guns next week. But hey, if racism and colonialism fit in well with misogyny and patriarchy, there's certainly room for guns in all of that discussion too.

Instead, I have a couple of minor points, and I don't know that either of them needed a whole blog post, so I'll mash them together today.

First off, in terms of listening to the person you owe an apology (and in conjunction with yesterday's musings on human nature), this has come up in my own family dynamics. I will have a complaint, and maybe I am not calm enough, but all I get in response is how wrong and unreasonable and stupid I am. Then, the next day or so, the other party will tell me what they will be doing differently.

One thing that is unsatisfactory about this is that the action they choose is often not what the key issue was anyway. It has the added bonus of leaving me feeling unheard. I mean, clearly something was heard if they are trying to make a change, and it is better than being completely ignored, but it would mean a lot to hear that I have a point. It might be easier to discuss things rationally when your worth isn't consistently being called into question.

One thing I remember really well from recently, though, is that I needed time to figure out what would help and I wasn't given that. Listening doesn't just involve asking the question, but asking it sincerely, and that needs to mean allowing careful consideration. If someone knows right away, that's great, but when we are talking about groups that have been historically marginalized and abused, there are many reasons why they might not have a response ready. It doesn't mean that they won't be able to come up with one, and that giving them that agency isn't a part of the solution.

The other thing that I should mention is that I am currently kind of in over my head on online classes. It's getting better now, but when I signed up for the Indigenous Canada class, I already had five music classes going on, and then before I finished Aboriginal Worldview and Education I signed up for another four classes related to Roman art, architecture, and archeology because I couldn't choose between them. On the plus side, they reinforce each other, but it has been hectic trying to keep up.

Other than just letting you know something that is going on in my life, I also mention that because of something from back when I was reading The Feminine Mystique. It mentioned things being set up for housewives like lectures on classical architecture (yes, my classes covered the three main types of columns, as well as composite and things that came later) and how it left them unsatisfied.

I thought that kind of lecture sounded great, and yes, given the opportunity I did find it really interesting, but that can happen because my life isn't empty.

Filling an empty life with fluff still leaves it empty. Those women needed things to do and ways to matter, not just methods to fill up empty hours. (Empty hours sound like a treat to me, but that's because I have so many things that could go into them.)

At the same time, there were many women who never experienced the problem with no name because they were working hard to support their families. They didn't have to deal with emptiness, but they might have worries about being bone-tired, or how both incomes were not enough, or all manner of things. Often, for people in that financial class we don't even think that they would appreciate a lecture on classical architecture, but they might. People from everywhere have all kinds of interests, and it's nice to be able to indulge them.

This is my messy way of leading up to saying that people need both. They need to feel like they are doing something that matters, and that they are relevant and capable. They also need diversion, where it's okay to know something that you don't need, but that you enjoy. There should be a balance there. Economic inequality and gender roles and racial constructions can get in the way of all that, but everyone has something to contribute, and will be happier for getting to contribute it. Everyone deserves to have some fun, and will be better off for having that fun.

It shouldn't be too much to ask.


I felt like I should put up which classes, in case anyone is interested:


Vocal Recording Technology (Berklee)
Music Theory 101 (Juilliard)
Introduction to Performance Psychology (Juilliard)
Music for Wellness (Berklee)
Discovering Instruments of the Orchestra (Juilliard)
Introduction to the Music Business (Berklee)

(Previously had taken Religion and Hip Hop Culture through Rice, The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture through Smithsonian, and Macronutrients and Overnutrition through Wageningen. I also discarded an annoying Harvard Class that was too much science and not enough cooking.)


Roman Architecture (Yale)
Arch of Titus: Rome and the Menorah (Yeshiva University)
Roman Art and Archaeology (University of Arizona)
The Changing Landscape of Rome: Archaeology and and History of Rome (Sapienza University of Rome)

(Previously completed Aboriginal Worldviews and Education through University of Toronto and Indigenous Canada from University of Alberta.)

(The comic book classes I had taken on Canvas were through Ball State.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

NAHM 2017: Our better natures

Having recently mentioned the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and Canada withdrawing its objector status, I want to circle back to that.

When the declaration passed in 2007, there were four votes against it. We know about Canada, but they were joined by Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. You may notice that these are all countries that had colonizers fighting and subjugating and abusing the previous residents, and that those issues are not completely resolved yet.

There were also some abstentions, and some "yes" votes that you could easily question - this may be something that I want to delve into more later, but I had not really been aware of the declaration in the first place. I saw a reference to it when I was researching the apology, and then when I saw there was such a thing I was curious because of the Sami.

I was reminded of them by a Final Jeopardy! question. If I had been playing I would have had to answer Lapplanders, which they would have accepted, but which can be seen as derogatory. Anyway, that got me interested and I read up a little. As much as we laud Finland for their educational methods and programs that are helpful for children, Sami get underfunded. They are entitled to day care and instruction in their own language; they have a hard time getting it. Land rights are disputed.

It doesn't seem to be an issue of colonizing. The Sami are classified as indigenous, but they have shared space with the dominant groups for a long time. Somehow, there still seems to be a desire to look down on someone, and discriminate against someone.

As we get more into misogyny we will get more into the resistance to accepting the equality of others when there is a cultural tradition of looking down on them. Yesterday I used my human frailty as an explanation of why I can't be perfectly organized; there are much uglier aspects to that frailty.

Still without intending to excuse it, I do think it is beneficial to acknowledge it and try and understand it. People like Justin Trudeau a lot. He does do some good things. His shortcomings seem to most often come up in relation to indigenous Canadians. Is that a coincidence or a not at all surprising result of years of conditioning? And I ask that knowing that there are other people who are much worse.

For anyone who wants to argue that Trudeau's shortcomings are really more in the realm of the environmental, that's where a lot of the conflicts with indigenous Canadians come up, and that one is definitely not a coincidence.

Also important, I am not picking on Trudeau. He has his good points and bad points like most people, but another key human trait seems to be a desire to divide the world into good and bad people. That can feel very comforting, and it might even seem convenient, but it can't truly be convenient because it doesn't work. That's not how people work. So we need to deal with that.

Recorded history has many instances of people sucking. If we had more historical records, they would probably provide more examples.

But we do good things too. Sometimes we rise to the occasion. Sometimes we say "No!" to injustice. We work toward something better, and then we lose progress again because of the sucking part.

That is not a reason to give up. It is a reason to be realistic. It is a reason to try harder.

Monday, February 26, 2018

NAHM 2017: Taking sides

That title isn't exactly what it sounds like.

For the Aboriginal Worldviews and Education class, I watched 8th Fire: Aboriginal Peoples, Canada, & The Way Forward:

It was really excellent, and I highly recommend it from an informational point of view. I acknowledge that part of my enjoyment was the very charismatic host, Wab Kinew.

He did a great job, and I wanted to look up other things he had done. In addition to a pretty interesting career, that included two domestic assault allegations.

Well that was a turnoff.

He denies the allegations, and it would be easy to believe him, or to downplay the allegations against all of the good things he has done, but that doesn't feel quite right, especially in the wake of #metoo, which was at its height right while I was taking the class.

There is also an impaired driving conviction on his record and an assault on a taxi driver. Some of those charges have been cleared and he is applying for a pardon for another one, at least according to Wikipedia.

I mention that because we can look at the stereotype of the drunken Indian, and I have no doubt cracks have been made about that. At the same time, it was only a few posts ago that I was writing about how the disruption of the residential schools and the lack of autonomy and other things could have had a big influence on alcoholism.

In addition, I know Kinew's father was a victim of residential school abuse. I don't know if that abuse was passed on, but Kinew did experience "racially-motivated assaults" while he was growing up. He has definitely been a victim of violence, and it may have been hard for his parents to show him how to be affectionate and safe.

Beyond his personal experience, when we get into all of the rape and assault and harassment that has been coming out with #metoo, I know that there are cultural factors that make it easy to accept a lot of that - which is a vague way of saying it, but that can be explored more at another time.

I also know that there are victims of violence who do not commit violence; it's not an excuse.

In trying to think of how to navigate that - where I am looking at the big picture and having compassion for all parties - that is where studying the apology was most helpful. Seeing that the Canadian government was not asking the recipients of the apology how they felt or what they wanted, that is what was missing.

We are so used overall to focusing on those in power and their side that we may not even realize that we are doing it, but that's the part that needs to change. That's what we need to do for victims of colonialism and racism and misogyny. That's what we need to do for people who had land stolen and their careers halted and people who were raped. That's what we need to do for the descendants of people who had the primary crimes committed against them (though there are usually things still happening now).

It goes against tradition, but looking at the wreckage tradition has left, that's a good thing.

And it would be lovely if I could just segue here so that the next post would be about centering the victims of sexual assault and how we do that, and I would feel so organized and sharp, but I think I forgot to mention some things that are pertinent. I am looking at complex topics with messy intersections, and my posts will reflect that.

I am human, but I am trying to be a good one.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Band Review: Kozen

Kozen is a progressive rock band from Toronto.

I had originally thought I read hard rock, and it quickly became clear that was not the case.

While there are some effects that sound a little experimental, especially on Swimming to the Stars (B), the overall sound is pretty mellow. Based on that and the spiritual content, they reminded me of Afterglow (which is a real throwback, I know).

I enjoyed their most recent track, "Barricade", best. I think that has a stronger rock sensibility.

They are a good-hearted band, recently taking time on their space to appreciate other musicians. I do think they might be more successful by emphasizing the spiritual content more, as there are audiences that specifically look for that.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Band Review: Melba Liston

Convergence comes about in odd ways sometimes.

Do you remember the Musical Black Girls post? I had started out wanting to feature Black women in the songs of the day for Black History Month 2015, but I kept finding more musicians. That ended up running through July 23rd with no repeats. Well, Diana Ross and Cissy Houston both came up twice because of solo and group careers, but that was a lot of good music, and I went back and reviewed a lot of them later.

That was the first time I encountered Melba Liston. (It was also the first time I encountered Esperanza Spalding, though not directly.)

Melba Liston was an amazing trombone player, composer, and arranger, but she was also a broke ground by being the first woman trombonist to play in big bands. I found that impressive, but at the time it really only got her one song in the list - "Pop" - and I moved on, except that I remembered that she was there.

This year while looking at children's books, I found one about her, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison.

It reinforced how young she was and how quickly she became great. That is not just for starting to play at all, but also for getting good enough to be sought out by popular musicians.

This was also the year that I got around to reviewing Esperanza Spalding and concluding that I hate jazz, and yet here I was, being drawn once again to someone who played jazz.

I did not hate it.

As far as that goes, I probably don't know enough about the different kinds of jazz, though I'd say there is more swing in Liston's discography.

That almost can't be known, because she played for and with so many people. I focused on her recordings as a band leader, but that was a comparatively small part of what she did.

Also, I have nowhere to refer you from here. Liston died in 1999, without creating a web presence. The music is out there, and I linked to a Youtube list of videos with various recordings, but all I can really say is that she was remarkably good at trombone when it would have been easy not to be.

There were things in her favor too. She came from a musical family in a musical city (Kansas City, Missouri), then got to study with Alma Hightower, who inspired many performers. But still, Melba Liston got really good at playing while still really young, and she learned enough about how music fits together to become really good at arranging and composing. She faced opposition for being a woman and for being Black, and she overcame that opposition.

She is worth remembering.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

NAHM 2017 - The Apology

There has been about a twenty year period in which Canada has technically made progress on its stance on indigenous people. I am counting this from a series of residential school recommendations made to the government in 1996 to Justin Trudeau removing Canada's objector status to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) in 2016. It includes some class action suits and the Common Experience Fund payouts referred to in earlier posts. What I want to focus on is the 2008 apology. Yes, the Canadian government, in the form of then Prime Minister Steven Harper, apologized for the residential school system.

This is not unheard of. The US government has officially apologized for slavery, internment of the Japanese during World War II, the Tuskegee experiment, and overthrowing Hawaii. In this case, it was a class assignment to listen to and write about Harper's apology.

The first thing that none of us could help but notice is the lack of responsibility government. Everything was stated in a passive sense, as if the schools were not carrying out government policy and it were not a policy that was based on racism and greed.

I suspect some of that is  "Well it wasn't us personally who did it." At the start, no, but for some of the things that continued, there could very well be sitting members of their legislature who were involved. That's the one thing you keep finding when you look at history; the past is closer than you think.

There is probably some desire to wash hands of it: "We agree this is bad and we aren't going to do it anymore, so lay off, all right?" White people get really uncomfortable when you talk about horrible things done because of racism. If you keep things distant and neutral enough, maybe that can make them less uncomfortable, though my memory of any government apology is that some people get really mad about them.

The thing I really noticed though, was how one-way it was.

No, that does not mean that I think both sides should have been apologizing, but I do think the one that is admitting wrong should at least consider listening to those wronged about what they would like done.

I'm sure there are concerns about expenses; we can't even get the United States Congress to agree to study reparations, let alone pay them. Beyond that, I suppose there could be some fears about the practicality of possible requests:

- We want you all to go back to Europe.
- We want to release smallpox on your population.
- We want to take away all the children you are clearly unfit to raise.

(That last one is not just a reference to the residential schools, but also the practice of taking children for adoption and fostering, prevalent from the 1950s through the 1980s, not really ancient history.)

I don't think the bulk of indigenous people would be likely to say anything like that, though I can imagine the 1491s coming up with some great comic material related to it. It would also be possible, in the face of a sincere request that would disrupt all life as we know it, to then look for a compromise, or an end goal that can be worked toward that benefits everyone.

I do think we need to make a room to hear anger though. Maybe you will hear more sadness than anger, which can also be uncomfortable. We still need to make room to listen to it.

The bad feelings are still there. If the dominant group is able to ignore them, and wants to continue that by plastering over things, that's just putting a nice surface over rot. We have to do better than that.

I have this segue in mind from Indigenous American issues to issues of sexual harassment and abuse that I should get to Monday.

Until then, well, you can probably draw a few connections on your own.

Just think about it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

NAMH 2017 - Reverberations

I want to briefly return to Dawn's parents initially saying they didn't have it so bad compared to others. There are reasons that could be true.

For one thing, Dawn's mother only attended for two years, when she was already a teenager (probably a big part of her being able to speak Cree). That put her in the path of the abuse for a much shorter time than other students.

Without it being specified, I am guessing that it was possible for her to spend most of her childhood at home because it was getting closer to our time, and some of the policies for killing the Indian inside the child were loosening their grip. This also makes it very likely that older generations could have suffered more, in general.

Another thing she did mention was not getting beaten for attempting to run away, and being glad she hadn't gone with the girls who tried. Clearly, failure to comply could lead to greater suffering, but greater suffering may have made it harder to comply. The students who tried running may have had worse homesickness or a harder time with schoolwork or other things that made staying at the school less tolerable.

Dawn's father had a humorous memory about how long you could stay in a closet, hiding from a beating by the older boys. He was able to successfully hide, but beatings were still a danger, and not from the priest.

Granted, older kids can bully younger kids at any school, but that it was an environment where the children did not have a lot of power and were in the middle of structural racism could be the kind of thing that led to more abuse. Not every child was raped by priests or nuns, but a system where you could be raped and then be told that's all you're good for is not a set up to inspire kindness and mutual respect.

It is also easy to assume that the mass graves and the hidden individual graves are part of an earlier time, but as recently as 2011 there was interference with investigations, and still living witnesses about some of the deaths that would have been hidden.

Those are all things that are hard, but the thing that kept getting repeated the most is that multiple generations didn't know how to parent. They were taken from the parents who loved them for an education by people who despised them. They were unsure how to show affection to their own children after that, even if they didn't pick up any other demons.

You can see how some of the residential school abuse might result in parents who were likely to be physically abusive or sexually abusive, or that they might have reasons to abuse substances, like alcohol. That's the stereotype, right? Indians tend to become alcoholics because they didn't have the genetic background of years of becoming accustomed to alcohol that built up resistance to alcoholism.

This makes sense because alcohol abuse is so rare among people of European descent, and because there was no history of Indians being systematically killed and relocated and setting down roots only to be uprooted again and again, each time to a place with fewer resources where starvation on the land was likely and getting off the land was not allowed, and then they started separating families.


Dawn's mother frequently left her father because of his drinking. They would keep reuniting, bound by love and children. It would be easy to think that her loving him more if he could speak Cree was a joke, but what would it mean?

If her father could speak Cree, would that mean that he had spent more time with his own family? Would it mean that he had spent more of his formative years where his heritage was valued instead of seen as something to be stamped out?

If the residential schools hadn't been part of his growing up, would he still have the drinking problem?

Once you set damage like that into motion, where does it end? You can't always control results.

And in this case that's a good thing; the goal to eliminate the Indians - physically or culturally - was abominable and it failed. It still caused a lot of pain, and much of that pain is still there.

How do you fix that?

Monday, February 19, 2018

NAMH 2017 - Talking about it

Getting back to Nobody Cries At Bingo, while the part about Dawn's mother loving her father more if he could speak Cree did stick in my head, it meant more to me after other people asked about it.

One thing that does is remind me that taking a class in person instead of online, or being in a book club again, could be great. Beyond that, I think I didn't focus on it as much because there was something else that seemed more important.

What the children learned about the residential schools horrified them, but their parents shrugged a lot of it off. As more people started coming forward, they agreed that those stories sounded bad, but that it hadn't been like that for them, at least not that bad. Well, maybe it was kind of bad. Eventually both parents applied for Common Experience payouts, for which their children teased them. That is when the exchange about the language happened.

That can easily sound cynical, and Dumont acknowledges in the book that they thought their parents deserved it. (Having a chance to tease their parents was just an opportunity that needed to be seized, which I get.)

What was more interesting to me was what was said along the way, before payments were available.

p. 268

Mom told us about always being hungry. "My stomach would hurt but that's only because I was used to eating so much more at my mom and dad's. Sure it bothered me that the nuns and priests ate better than we did. That was to be expected, they're God's helpers." Her off-hand manner was confusing; it was wrong to hurt children, but how come Mom and Dad weren't mad about what happened to them?

Honestly, my initial preoccupation was probably just anger, and maybe an idea that if you are really sincerely trying to help God it's not likely to involve eating well while children under your care starve.

Beyond that, the denial bothers me, and the need to justify it. Maybe it's a survival mechanism; you tell yourself how much worse everything could be and isn't, and that's how you get through and then how you continue to remember it.

What became interesting after that was seeing that it was other people telling their stories that allowed the parents to start admitting to themselves that it was bad.

The next post is going to spend a little longer on the effects of the residential schools, and what that has meant for families, but before going on to that, I want to point out that hearing other people share their stories can help us tell ours.

It can be dangerous to draw comparisons between different types of oppression, mainly because it tends to let the more privileged group forget their privilege and erase others who are more marginalized. There are nonetheless sometimes things that do relate and are pretty hard to miss. There are things about the residential school issues that remind me a lot of the #Metoo movement now. One is that some speaking up lead to more speaking up.

If you want everything swept under the rug and for things to get back to normal, that is bad news.

If you care about people, if you know that abusing people is wrong, and it benefits abusive people not to examine that, if you know how hard it is to hold on to a sense of your worth when it seems like the whole world is telling you that you have none, then you know these conversations are important.

There was a web page the class sent us too that had residential school survivor stories. The stories were powerful and the sheer number was overwhelming. I wanted to link to it here, but now the page is down. Maybe it's a coincidence, or maybe funding was pulled because it wasn't a necessity, or maybe there was something malicious. I don't know.

It does seem like a loss.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Band Review: Palaceburn

I am pretty sure that I was led to Palaceburn back in September via a Black Women Appreciation thread, because of vocalist Meredith Bell.

Bell's voice is certainly worth appreciating, but a desire to pursue music with others - rather than solo - led to the formation of Palaceburn, a Philadelphia-based rock band.

The music tends to be harder, brushing up against metal. Without being soft, the piercing clarity of Bell's singing adds an element that takes makes the overall sound more palatable than many metal bands.

I was particularly intrigued with some of the guitar and percussion details that add intricacy and interest to the sound. The intro to "Believe" makes me think of a zither at the same time that I am feeling like there is something futuristic about it. That's a pretty neat trick.

I was sad to see from the band's Facebook page that they are on an indefinite hiatus. I understand life's uncertainty (more and more all the time), but we may be at a point where burning the palace is more necessary than ever.

Best wishes for the band, and all of us.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Band Review: Delta Deep

I came to Delta Deep in a roundabout way.

Last June I went to see Tesla, Poison, and Def Leppard. One of my favorite songs from Tesla was "Save That Goodness". Its video featured not only Phil Collen, who wrote the song, but vocalist Debbi Blackwell-Cook. I wanted to hear more of her, as she had a fantastic presence.

Searches revealed that most of her work had been backup vocals, but that she was in a band, Delta Deep. Okay, I would review Delta Deep.

I liked the connections of Tesla and Def Leppard touring together, and sharing songs, but the connections go so much further with Delta Deep.

Blackwell-Cook is Collen's wife's godmother, and sang at his wedding. The three of them began writing songs together, and a band began to form. Blackwell-Cook and Collen were joined by Forrest Robinson on drums and Robert DeLeo on bass.

People jamming and finding that they want to record and tour is both special and common, but it is impressive to grasp the combined experience of this quartet. In addition to Def Leppard, Cullen was also in Man Raze with Simon Laffy (also of Girl) and Paul Cook (also of Sex Pistols), both of whom appear on the "Black Coffee" track.

Robert DeLeo has played in several bands, but most famously for Stone Temple Pilots. Forrest Robinson has drummed for TLC, Ray Parker Jr., Randy Crawford, and Engelbert Humperdink. As well as performing theatrically, Debbi Blackwell-Cook has sung backup for Michael Buble and Gregory Hines.

Putting all of that together -- the years of experience, and the range, and the connections -- it is no surprise to find featured appearances by Joe Elliot and David Coverdale. It shouldn't be a surprise to hear traces of root music and soul and lots of rock and so much blues.

One of my favorites was "Bang the Lid". The intro reminds me a little of "Ram Jam's "Black Betty", but it is its own song and it certainly doesn't sound like anything forty years old.

Delta Deep is their own band, and they are new, but they bring with them a rich musical tradition that they can pull from to build whatever they want.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

NAHM 2017 - Language and family and worth

"Honestly, I'd love your father more if he could speak Cree. A lot more."

-- Nobody Cries At Bingo, Dawn Dumont, p. 270

I read that at about the same time that we were talking about language and residential schools in one of the classes, so I shared it in the discussion forums.

There are a lot of ways in which the forums can be inefficient for facilitating communication, but this struck a chord with at least one other student, and we did think about that. Why? Why would it mean more love?

I know nothing about the Cree language, but I do know there are languages that are better for humor, or at least some types of humor, or for intimacy. One of Anna Karenina's complaints was that her husband always spoke Russian instead of French, and because there was no "we", it made their communications more distant.

(I know nothing about Russian either, so I am going to have to trust Tolstoy on that.)

It could be that Cree had such strong family connotations for Dawn's mother that there was always something that seemed wrong about not being able to share it with her husband.

It's not like the relationship didn't have other problems, and that the abuse of the schools went far beyond the native language suppression, leading to many other problems. I am running late today and that should probably be another post.

I'm going to hint at it thought, with one other story of abuse, from a man who was sexually abused by a nun when he was a student. After she was done, she told him that was all he was good for.

I am sure a belief in the worthlessness of the students made abusing them easier. I am equally sure that abusing them reinforced their worthlessness in the minds of the abusers, and in the abused. The disrespect for the language was just a part of the overall contempt for the people and culture.

With thinking all of that, then I think any respect that you show the culture can reverberate into other parts.

So when we went into that classroom one hour a week and worked on Lao with one small girl, I hope what it told her was that her language mattered and she mattered and her parents mattered. Being able to talk to other Lao people mattered, and it was worth working for.

I hope for the high school students taking Lao, that it reinforced that they and their families were valuable and that there were things worth holding onto.

And I hope that as people work to revive different native languages, and create language nests that they will find effective teaching methods, and that it will build esteem. I hope ties between generations are strengthened.

I believe in their worth.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mission memories and the primacy of language

There was another elder I found annoying while I was on my mission. Well, plus the two yesterday, I could come up with three others pretty easily. As much as I admitted to being mean yesterday, I suspect I am not unique among sister missionaries.

This particular elder was in my Missionary Training Center class, and he was native Lao. He initially thought he would be able to coast, and then found the language harder than he was expecting. He was starting to try harder by the time we left the training center, but months later when we met up again I was amazed at the change. He not only seemed more mature (which you would hope for), but also smarter.

It made more sense because of things I had seen in the field.

He would have grown up like a lot of the children and teenagers I had gotten to know. Many of them were born in the States, and some in the camps. In their homes they spoke Lao, but then once they started school they spoke English there, and then it got to be in the homes that the parents would speak to their children in Lao and the children would reply in English.

The parents knew some English, and the kids knew some Lao, so it wasn't a complete disconnect. It wasn't ideal either. It is hard to have meaningful conversations when you are literally speaking different languages.

For a time we were helping in one classroom with a Lao girl whose teacher wanted to shore up her home language. Another one of the refugees we knew who had taught in Laos was working for the school district teaching Lao. At least some of the Lao students we knew were taking it. I thought that was good for family communications.

When I met this elder again, it struck me that there was an inner language barrier too. It's not just being able to communicate to others, but even for comprehending for ourselves, and knowing our own minds, having words for that is important. Building English knowledge on a Lao base left a lot of those kids with some language gaps. It didn't make it so they couldn't function, but it could be emotionally frustrating and it could be an obstacle to acquiring knowledge, at least for some things.

His mind worked better as he became fluent in his early language, and it made me look at things differently.

That's all very well for mission memories, but it doesn't appear to have a lot to do with my 2017 Native American Heritage Month reading. I just wanted to explain the base I was starting from.

As I took my online classes, that was how I understood the importance of language. We talked about native language preservation in the classes, and about residential schools forbidding the use of native languages. I understood it on one level, and then something happened to deepen and broaden in because of one of the books.

More on that tomorrow.

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 the way 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 1987 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.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Band Review: Darell Christopher and the Ingredients

Darell Christopher and the Ingredients is the last of the bands I've been meaning to review from the Smithsonian article by Touré.

It was fun to hear an interviewed Christopher mention the article and the featured festival both, as it had been a positive experience for the band.

During the interview Christopher also did some wordplay with "ingredients". Those are the band members, and it is the mixing together that creates the end result. The band has had to deal with one member relocating and another being in and out while attending college, but continue to work on assembling the "right" ingredients. One member's bass skills, or keyboard skills, or the sound of a particular instrument... those things become the key ingredients.

Having the right ingredients can be misunderstood. Instead of knowing that for this particular recipe you need these specific items, it is probably more that these elements we have are wonderful, and then figuring out what special thing can be made. It seems like a very good analogy for blues.

To be fair, they play more than blues, including elements of jazz, gospel, and rhythm & blues. It is nonetheless impossible to ignore the infectious delight when the band plays. Blues may start in sorrow, but it can be turned into joy, and with a good combination Darell Christopher and the Ingredients make that happen.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Band Review: IAMOMNI

For the purposes of this review, IAMOMNI is a vocalist and MC from Los Angeles.

It is clear from reading more that he does other things and goes other places. His debut album was produced in Los Angeles and Paris, and included contributors from London, Japan, and Australia. There is a very citizen-of-the-world feeling.

I specifically appreciated a greater level of musicality than is often found in hip hop. This is particularly noticeable with the piano on "Animal" (one of many enjoyable collaborations with Tiki Lewis) and the intro on "Power".

Beyond that, I loved that I wasn't constantly distracted by profanity and misogyny. That shouldn't be such a shock, and it definitely shouldn't require the artist being so cosmopolitan, but perhaps it makes sense that in this case that's how it worked out.

Definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

NAMH 2017: Other books and media

You might expect this to just be all the books that aren't children's or comic books, but there are two twists.

The first twist is that I had tried a search for recommended children's books - without the lists - and I had found one that was pretty good. I like the list of awards and will be going back to it a lot, but random can work out too.

Corn is Maize: The Gift of the Indians by Aliki

This is really impressive on two levels. First of all, there is a ton of information given, but doled out appropriately enough that young readers and listeners should neither become overwhelmed or bored. That is not easy. In addition, as Aliki depicts different eras, the illustrations change to resemble period-appropriate artwork. It's subtle, and a really nice touch.

The World is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, edited by Diane Glancy

My other innovation has been adding books of poetry, but I have had a hard time finding volumes by a single author. I,thought maybe an anthology would be a good start. This one was fascinating. Many of the contributors had been invited to a conference, with everything being canceled because it looked like of the participants was Jewish. In addition to being a stark reminder of the tensions in the Middle East, it ended up being many stranded poets having an opportunity to try something different, and explore and adapt. I enjoyed the poems and appreciated the notes from the individual authors on their processes and inspiration. It gave a fuller picture. While that should not be necessary with poetry, I still kind of like it.

Then there are "normal" books too.

Native Americans in Comic Books: A Critical Study by Michael A. Sheyahshe

Yes, I treated this one in great detail in Monday's post. Nonetheless, it is still a book I read. Also, if you remember the post "Down and Out", this was the book with the price change that caused so much angst. I did finally get it, and it was worth it.

Nobody Cries at Bingo by Dawn Dumont

This was my final bit of homage to the Women of the Four Winds tour. I did not have a way to review Dawn Dumont's comedy, but I could read her book. It was not as much consistent laughter as I thought a book by a stand-up comic might contain, so I feel I should warn that it is not a laugh riot. There is humor, but there is also a lot of hardship, and overcoming of that, too, but it's rough. It was a nice fit this year because I ended up in a lot of Canadian history, and Dumont is Canadian herself, and grew up on reservations there.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

This book is full of terrible people doing terrible things, but it is fantastically written. That's good. For people who like to believe that the problems with Indian poverty are the results of bad choices by the Indians, they should spend some time on the plundering, scheming, and collusion that happened for the purpose of taking Osage money. They weren't even on a reservation; they bought the land in advance as they realized it would not be long before settlers were going to want their land. They bought the land, got set up on there, and then oil was found. Enter the crooks, liars, and murderers when that wasn't enough. And they weren't poor desperate people either. They were rich respected people who still wanted more. This is an angry-making book.

Separate Beds: A History of Indian Hospitals in Canada, 1920s to 1980s by Maureen K. Lux

First of all, I had not known how brutal some tuberculosis remedies have been historically. As tuberculosis has since come up in some other books that I have been reading for other reasons, it is helpful to know more, but medicine can be really cruel, and it is more likely to be cruel with non-white patients. I chose this book because I saw the "separate" in the title, and since I will soon be reading Medical Apartheid, I thought there might be some correlation. There probably will be, but on its own it is pretty sickening.

Now for that other twist: I found Separate Beds on a list, 150 Acts of Reconciliation for the last 150 days of Canada's 150, referring to the celebration of Canada's 150th Anniversary.

It had been tweeted with a suggestion to take the class Indigenous Canada. The course was from the University of Alberta, but available through Coursera. I thought that would be perfect; I would get started on study, and I love online courses, and it just made sense. As I finished that course, Aboriginal Worldviews and Education from University of Toronto was suggested. I took that too.

That is why this year's Native American Heritage Month (which pretty much ran from September through January) was so Canadian. Both classes and two of the books were very Canadian, and there are similarities to our US issues, but there are differences also.

Next week I will write about some of the thoughts I had during that, and how things came together, but there is one thought that came up a lot and that is worth mentioning now.

When we came over they should have just killed us all.

Natives should have slaughtered everyone at Jamestown, and let the Pilgrims starve, and killed anyone trying to settle.

I say that liking being alive and liking living where I do, and knowing that the slaughter would be terrible, and it would just bring more people with more weapons, probably. The Vikings gave up.

I'm just saying there has been a lot of bad. We can move forward from there, but we're going to have to acknowledge past and present bad to get there.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

NAHM 2017: Children's books

My interest in children's books is a fairly recent development, starting with an interest in the art. As I began to have more experience reading to children that interest deepened, because I started to see whole new levels of effectiveness when pitted against the attention span of a two year old.

Once that became a thing, wanting to fold children's books into the special reading months was also an obvious next step, similar to adding in the comic books. Sources could have been more difficult, but I have a sister who teaches kindergarten, and constantly has to take additional classes for job development.

She came back from one with a handout, I believe intended for librarians: "Your Patrons Need Diverse Books: The Care & Keeping of a Diverse Collection", with nine pages of resources for finding diverse books. These are primarily groups, usually with web sites, that give awards to books in various categories.


And somewhat less awesome, because it does not appear to be online anywhere, which I fear will disappoint some readers.

Still, it is a good resource for me, and something that I will slowly work my way through.

They are not all specifically children's books. Actually, I will probably not check out all of them. I support diversity in BDSM and erotica on principle, but they're not really my genres. Still, it's good that someone is paying attention to diversity issues.

I will probably check out the Coretta Scott King Book Awards soon, probably closely followed by the Schneider Family Book Awards and the Asian Pacific American Awards for Literature. For today, I want to focus on four books honored by the American Indian Youth Literature Awards, awarded every two years for the "best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians" in the categories of Picture Book, Middle School, and Young Adult:

Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story, by Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Illustrated by Sam Sandoval.

The author credit was interesting in that the book was written according to a traditional telling. There was someone who wrote it, and who gets credit inside, but the general impression is that story belongs to the people.

The lack of embellishment makes the telling a little stiff, and Frog getting eaten by Snake just happens, without any extra meaning or point in it. However, the story is part of a larger curriculum with other materials on traditional methods of fire management and so can be used really well.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of my Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. Illustrated by Ellen Beier.

In the waiting rooms of pediatricians there were always stories about being selfless and being rewarded, and I liked them then. Here it hurt me a little. She is rewarded for being willing to give up the coat that she needs, and in a way that makes sense, but I think too many years of giving things up has made me unable to view this through the eyes of a child.

Even if I didn't love the first two stories, the artwork was beautiful, and the stories have value. But I like the next two better.

A Coyote Solstice Tale by Thomas King. Illustrated by Gary Clement.

I love the update of bringing Coyote (and other animals) into the modern era, and having them baffled and intrigued by a mall. Coyote behaves exactly as he should, and there is a lesson and there is humor, and there is some sweetness for all that.

Little You by Richard Van Camp. Illustrated by Julie Flett.

I loved this one so much that I kept going back to it and finding new details.

It is essentially a very simple book, with short rhymes singing the delight of a new child as the pictures show her growing and being adored by her parents. Despite the simplicity of the words, the joy in familial love is so strong that I can imagine children who have aged into more sophisticated reading still enjoying it. It is very well-done.

Beyond that, the book is such a triumph of representation. The family appears to be Native American,  with brown skin and black hair and wearing non era-specific contemporary clothing. None of that should be distracting or alienating for non-Indigenous readers, and no one would blink if the family were white.

But it is an Indian girl, and she is adored and beautiful and prioritized, who means the world to her parents, and that is a priceless image. It is easy to forget how many missing and murdered indigenous women there are, and how hard it can be to even get justice pursued. I don't want to be thinking about murder when I am reading a children's book, and I am not exactly, but the background knowledge is there, and seeing this little girl cherished was important to me.

The other books are fine, but Little You is a treasure.

And I only found it because the American Indian Library Association gives awards.

Monday, February 05, 2018

NAMH 2017: Comic Books

I did finish my Native American Heritage Month before Black History Month, and I started that list, so hey, I am doing pretty well.

However, there were things about the month that were different this time. I am going to go in a different order, some of which is to avoid building too much momentum before I am ready to get to it. There's a lot.

It works well for this because last week I was writing on comic related thoughts, so going over the comic book portion of my Native American Heritage reading today can make for a nice transition.

Last year I held off from reading Michael A. Sheyahshe's Native Americans in Comic Books: A Critical Study. I decided at the time that it would give me too much to read, and I didn't have the time for it then, catching up on all my other comics backlog. This year I believed that reading it would point the way to lots of comics and I was excited to dive into them. That was not exactly how it worked out.

I did find titles that interested me. Many of them were not easily available, though I was able to get a couple of interesting anthologies from our library by searching on author names:

Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 1

Graphic Classics, Volume 24: Native American Classics

Sheyahshe was a contributor on Moonshot. Also, reading his book made me view Graphic Classics much more critically.

Nothing was contemporary in Graphics Classics. Based on reading it, Native Americans are relegated strictly to the past.

I would not have thought about that before. It is respectful in many ways, and the subjects are treated sensitively. Offensive speech stereotypes (like "heap" and "ugh") were not used, and different people were allowed to have distinct personalities, so it could have been much worse. There was just no place for imagining that they continue into modern times and belong there.

(Moonshot, in contrast, had two science fiction stories setting Indians into the future and on other planets.)

Perhaps it's time to return to Blue Corn Comics:

I have looked for reading material there before, but there is so much that it is overwhelming, and it is often not clear what the quality of any particular title is. I can find titles there, and I have titles I am interested in from reading Sheyahshe's book, but in addition I need a clearly defined goal.

Reading older literature that honors the history while relegating Indians to the past can have value, but it needs to be done with an awareness of that. Even reading the work with harmful stereotypes could be useful in terms of remembering how mindsets have been.

Every year I try and work within designated months and turn my attention toward groups who contributions are often overlooked. That's been working out for me, and I like that.

I also like comic books, and so incorporating reading comic books along with regular books is also something that seems reasonable.

Do I want those comic books to teach me history? Do I want them to reflect the contemporary culture? Do I want the focus to be on making sure that I am reading work by indigenous creators, and supporting that they get a voice too?

I think I am leaning toward the third one. Some of that is probably remembering how much I hated Scalped, and then how off it felt to find out it was written by a white guy. I mean, what was the point of him writing it?

I have no idea what I am going to find next year when November rolls around again. (I hope I can finally find a copy of Darkness Calls.) Regardless, I know that I have better tools for evaluating what I read now, and I appreciate that.

And, if you get a chance to check out Moonshot, do so. Some of the artwork is absolutely luminous.

For more from Michael Sheyahshe:

Friday, February 02, 2018

Band Review: Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding is really good at what she does, but also I hate it. I don't feel good about this.

I first became aware of Spalding while look for other versions of "Throw It Away". I was excited to see that she was from Portland and so well-regarded, so that seemed like a good reason to review her.

That was 2015.

I have tried before now, but I keep getting tripped up on how much I hate the music. Specifically, I seem to hate jazz.

Before an Iggy Pop concert (where I hated the opening act), my friend and I started talking about musical mastery and taste, which made it natural for me to mention Spalding. My friend was familiar with her because Prince has spoken so well of her with regard to jazz and her musicianship. That made me feel more like I should be able to listen and appreciate her, but I still can't.

However, the point I had been making in that conversation was about knowing that there were things that I was missing in jazz, and that Esperanza Spalding would probably know. I believe that she is good at it, even if I don't like it.

I still have not learned to appreciate jazz, but I can appreciate that my lack has nothing to do with her abilities.

And lots of people do like jazz.

If you like jazz, you should check her out.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Band Review: E.O.K.

This is really because of Contagious MindzZ. That was the Twitter follow I got.

When I looked closer, it appeared to be a label instead of a band. It's not generally possible or desirable to review all of the bands on a label, especially if technical problems have caused you to be about a month behind on reviews. However, at the Youtube channel it looked like most of the videos were from E.O.K.. Reviewing one band is possible, though I can't help but feel like I should try and get to Po-Yo later.

Beyond that, there isn't a lot to report. I don't see much information about individual performers or the label.

E.O.K. is pretty listenable, lying somewhere between rap and R&B. "No Frauds Too Many Years" and "Good Life Swalla" are reactions, filling out the rap end of the spectrum, but for all that is spoken "Take It Away" reminds me more of Al Green, and it makes me uncomfortable defining E.O.K. as rap.

For all of that, "Goddess" is probably the most interesting track, with unusual choices of effects, including an ill-humored laugh. It is interesting and distinctive, but not my favorite. That is probably "Headphones".

E.O.K. has six tracks available on Spotify, but it looks like the Youtube channel has more options, and it also gives you a chance to give some attention to Po-Yo.