Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Another one in the books

Come on in, I have some nice oranges, some egg nog, some whiskey. I'm sure we can also rustle up some kind of meaty thing as well. Come on in and enjoy the festive spirits.

Another semester done. Was a tough one, sickness, death, all kinds of distractions. Got through it though. Was a feat of itself and I've still got a high enough average to apply for honours. Yah me.

And of course, it is that time of year. Christmas. I've said it before, not a fan, but whatev. I wish all of you out there in the ether a fine holiday and joyous spirits to celebrate with friends and family. And of course fight with them. No holiday is complete without a family fight or two. It's the beauty of the season. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

That Crazy Coyote

Come on in, and enjoy the fire, watch the smoke again... maybe you can see the story it tells...

I like Coyote. Coyote likes me too. That crazy Coyote loves to tell a story and boy sometimes Coyote loves to really trip me up. I should tell you a story Coyote told me and you can see how that crazy critter messed things up and put them straight. Coyote loves to listen to this story too, sitting there in the shadows with that giggling grin. It is a fantastic story, one that makes me feel like I should bleed it out rather than write it but it ends happy so that is good. The question is: How dark does it get before Coyote uncovers your eyes?

There was this boy, you see, and he was very unhappy. From the moment his mother let him fall to the earth he had nothing but problems. He was too curious, so curious Coyote felt a bit jealous. So Coyote laid traps, big ones, the kind of traps that could kill a moose! The boy walked into every one of them too! That Coyote got a good laugh out of them, grinning his giggling grin and barking his bouncing bark. “That boy is nothing next to me, watch him, he falls all the time, nothing makes him better!”

You see these traps held so many dark corners and spaces that the boy felt he was always in the dark. And when you are in the dark nothing can be done but to grope around for anything you can find. You see this boy had a father, powerful man, a man so strong the world was molded by his very touch. But he didn’t want to be powerful, he told that world, “You can’t make me yours!” He found holes to crawl into, bad places, dark like the boy’s. Places filled with poison and bad spirits. Until one day he did an Awful Thing. He knew his time of fighting the world was over and he walked out, poof. Gone and gone but never let go. He spent so much time fighting the world that he did not realize that it swallowed him up, just like Coyote when it catches a mouse. This was the first trap Coyote left for the boy.

The boy did not understand how such a powerful man, a giant really, could leave so soon and not leave any of the love he needed. He wept so hard that blood fell from his eyes and pooled at his feet. It made the dark slippery and even harder to navigate, so he clung to the things that were dark and bad, he relished those traps. He learned to change the shape of the world around him so no one would recognize what he did. This upset Coyote as well, for the boy never changed but could change the world with a touch. Coyote got jealous again and laid more traps.

The boy’s mother was also strong, but she never understood why the boy acted as he did when he had such marvelous powers. She would scold, and admonish the boy, but because she was so far away she had to do it so loud that it hurt the boy, cut him more so that the blood around his feet grew thicker still. No matter what the mother tried the boy still did not learn, instead he seemed to run right into Coyote’s traps, jumping in head first and suffering the most horrible consequences.

That the boy kept going started to really upset Coyote, so much so he left the biggest trap of all. He taught the boy about the worst things human beings could do to each other and left it there where the boy could think of nothing else. Coyote knew this would finally stop the boy because the people around the boy would surely kill him for such awful things.

And so the boy did it. He did the most Awful Thing. He did not hide it either by changing the world so no one would know. He fell into the trap so completely that he was sure to die.

Fortunately for the boy, Owl watched. For dark things are of Owl and Owl did not like Coyote touching Its things. He watched as the world closed around the boy, waiting to swallow him like his father was. Before the final darkness could be laid over the boy, Owl swooped down and plucked him out, setting him down in a place where No One Could Be Hurt. As the two flew to this place Owl told the boy he was Very Bad, but that Very Bad was just a part of the Whole. Sometimes Very Bad Things had to happen so we all knew what was Very Good. Like the blood.

The boy cried to the Owl, let me go, let me leave this place. It does not want me and I do not want it, but Owl said, “No. You are one of my Very Bad Things now and you must let the world see that.” The boy asked for his wounds to be healed at the very least, for he knew he was to suffer even more, for he saw that he could make no changes in the place where No One Could Be Hurt, and this would hurt him despite the name. Owl said, “No. You have to learn to do that yourself. Watch Coyote.”

“But it is so dark, I never see him or his traps!” The boy wailed to Owl to let him see in the dark at least, and Owl finally said yes.

“You may see in the dark boy but that means you will see the worst there is. Seeing in the dark will not help you heal and will only make you know that what you are is what I am.” Owl dropped the boy and flew off, but kept watch, for Owl did not want Coyote to play with Its things again.

Coyote was furious and growls and snarled for quite a while that his trap did not work. Coyote was mad at Owl because Coyote felt the boy was his to play with and not Owls. “He is both of ours Coyote,” Owl coo’d, “For you gave him something of Mine and now we must share.” Coyote was not good at sharing.

Coyote watched the boy from outside the place where No One Could Get Hurt, waiting for the boy to be let free. Coyote could not get to the boy inside that place so Coyote got to thinking, “What if the boy were all mine? Then I could really get him good.” At this Coyote came up with a plan and it was a very good one.

You see once the boy got out he was sent to a new school, a place where they let you do all kinds of things. Unfortunately, because the boy was of Owl now, the Very Awful Thing he did followed him so he was never really safe. The people who wanted to kill him were still around but the boy thought, “If I must die, I will do so without giving up.” It seems the boy learned something after all.

Now Coyote’s plan was to become someone who could teach the boy. Since Coyote could never come across as a real teacher, instead became a large gruff man who would teach the boy how to fight on grass. This involved a lot of heavy things, helmets and such, and Coyote knew it would interest the boy.

Coyote set his final trap here, knowing that the boy would fall for anything. Coyote arranged that the boy would never know true success and would instead become only a Mite-uv. A Mite-uv is a horrible creature that talks of what he could have been and knew that it would be the worst thing he could make out of the boy.

What Coyote did not know was that the boy could see in the dark and he had watched Coyote change. While watching him change it gave the boy an idea. “What if instead of changing the world outside me, I changed it inside me?” Being able to see the huge trap off in the distance now because of Owl, the boy started to mimic Coyote.

After many years, Coyote knew it was time to spring the trap. Coyote had not noticed that the boy had been watching and copying Coyote. Coyote thought himself far too clever, especially in man-skin, for the boy to ever outwit Coyote. As the fated time came Coyote failed to see that the boy was luring Coyote ever closer to the trap as well, and when it was finally sprung, the boy leaped clear away from it and instead shoved Coyote in! Once Coyote was trapped, the boy said, “I make one last change on the world,” and forced Coyote out of the man-skin. Coyote was very mad, and very upset, but the boy was no longer cruel.

It was true what Owl had said; seeing in the dark let the boy see all the awful things of the world and understand them better than he had ever wanted to. Because of that compassion and caring grew in him and he recognized now that while Coyote may have left the traps, it was the boy who always jumped in head first. “Coyote, you are not mean, you are just you, and I am sorry I have made you angry. I will let you out, even if it means you will forever be trying to trap me.”

Once out, Coyote was overjoyed! He bounced and barked, and grinned and giggled. “Boy,” Coyote said, “I think I love you.”

That Coyote eh? You never can tell when Coyote grins. Coyote teaches, but never like you want. And the boy? Oh yes Coyote still traps him from time to time, but usually they both end up in it. Luckily Owl still watches.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Loving Goodbye

Come on in, and enjoy the fire, still a bit low. Life is certainly different now. Here are the words I chose to speak at my Grandmother's memorial. A huge thank you to Cenobyte for her careful editting, I owe you so much friend, thanks.

Thank you for coming to share your grief at the passing of my Grandmother, Phyllis Mathews, and to celebrate her life. She was a remarkable woman who led a remarkable life; we will miss her and cherish the memories we have of her. I would like for each of you to think of a memory or two you have of Phyllis that gives you joy and reflect on it. There will be a short quiz when I am finished. While you're reminiscing, I'd like to offer this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer.

O HEAVENLY Father, help us to trust our loved ones to thy care. When sorrow darkens our lives, help us to look up to thee, remembering the cloud of witnesses by which we are compassed about. And grant that we on earth, rejoicing ever in thy presence, may share with them the rest and peace which thy presence gives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thank you Grandma for the time you spent with us; thank you Phyllis for the love and caring you have shown us. You will be forever missed, cherished, and celebrated for a life that has had such an amazing impact on the world around you. Once bound to us in flesh you now are free and flow through us in spirit. With joy I stand here and speak of the beauty and grace you demonstrated and embraced. The impact you have had on this world has not diminished, nor will it. Instead, your spirit will continue to grow through the love you have shown us and that we in turn offer to others. You have made of us mirrors of your own indomitable spirit. Through fortitude and patience you showed time and again that you would seize from life what you wanted, never complaining that you did not get what you deserved, instead rejoicing in what you had.
I would like to recite a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins called “The Caged Skylark,” that speaks to the freedom of the spirit after death.

AS a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage
Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells—
That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;
This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.

Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage,
Both sing sometímes the sweetest, sweetest spells,
Yet both droop deadly sómetimes in their cells
Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.

Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl, needs no rest—
Why, hear him, hear him babble and drop down to his nest,
But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.

Man’s spirit will be flesh-bound when found at best,
But uncumbered: meadow-down is not distressed
For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bónes rísen.

Thank you Grandma, I love you.

Death is never easy, and each of you feel and live your grief in your own way. The experience of grieving is universal: all things die, but it is inside that experience we find a place where we all share our sorrow. Right alongside our grief is the hope of eternal life.

I cannot speak with enough skill to concepts of the afterlife; like death it is a universal concept that is expressed individually. What I can speak to is the immortality that we each gain through love. Each of you carries memories of Phyllis that nurtures you, guides you, and comforts you. Through her actions, her love for each of you, she has created a space that will carry forward who she was and what she represented.

This is not just an act of remembrance; the essential truth is that we are, in part, who we love. There is no action or inaction that does not represent who we are and those we love. It is a never ending cycle that enriches our lives and gives us the room for growth we all need and desire.

I would like to come back to those memories of Phyllis that I asked you to recall, and think of them again during this prayer, also from the Book of Common Prayer.

O LORD, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Those memories we rejoice in are the eternal life I spoke of earlier. Each of those instances is moments when the things that defined Phyllis came out and we took notice. In that moment we saw the truth that was her and loved it, made it a part of us and we continue to do so.

And so in that spirit I wish to share a couple of my favorite memories of my grandma with you. When I’m done I want to invite each of you to do the same, to come up here and share with the rest of us the memory you most cherish of Phyllis and help enrich the world with her presence. Just remember this is an invitation, feel free to keep your memories private, because as I’ve said we each embrace our grief in our own ways.

One of the things I’ve always marveled at about my grandmother was her toughness. I often referred to her as the toughest person ever. I think on the multitude of injuries and afflictions she lived through with little to no complaint. The most significant was when I visited her the day after her first hip replacement. First I find out that she did it with only a local anesthetic, and was aware and speaking with the surgeon the whole time, but the most she took for pain killers after the surgery was Tylenol 3. I’m not going to go into the gory details of hip replacement but I cannot imagine anyone going through that procedure with so little anesthetic to dull the extreme trauma that was done to her body. That fortitude always amazed me and is something I too try to emulate to this day.

Coupled with that toughness was her thirst for life. Her ability to go out and enjoy what she wanted to enjoy, and seize life, sometimes literally, for all it was worth. Specifically I’m reminded of a time I had a friend over and we were playing cards and discussing heading to our local watering hole. My grandmother was also in town for the week and she and my mother had gone out for supper and returned around 9. When they entered my mother greeted my friend and commented that my grandmother had never met him and I waved her over, while imploring my friend to stand up. Normally not something I’d mention but my friend is 7 feet tall. So grandma went over to say hi and stare up at him, throwing her arm around his waist, or so I thought, as she talked with him.

My friend looked over at me and said rather quickly “We should go soon,” with a somewhat surprised look on his face. I said “ok,” and said my good byes, and grandma kept chatting up my rather tall friend until we left. Once we got in the car he told me why he wanted to leave so soon. Apparently grandma did not have her hand around my friend’s waist; instead she was doing a very good job of groping his butt. Yep, to this day we still tease said friend about the day my grandma got a piece of his ass.

There are so many memories I could share, we could be here all day. Instead I want to hear yours. I want to, for today, revel in who she was and what she meant to each of us. To rejoice in the things that were essentially the true Phyllis Mathews and laugh and cry and smile and live. So please come on up, and no matter the story, how long or short, although under an hour per story would be good, and share with us the Phyllis you knew and loved.

If you out in this virtual space have a memory of my grandmother you'd like to share, please feel free. Thanks.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Loving Memory

Come on in and enjoy the low fire. Excuse the extra ghosts, but they're the memories of a special person.

This morning my grandmother passed away. She was a remarkable person, and, in my mind, the toughest person who lived. There is so much I wish to say about her and so much I want to share that it is too much right now. Eventually I will share them but for now let me say this. Immortality does not occur through what we do but who we love. And Grandma was well loved. For that she will live forever through those of us still here.

Goodbye Grandma. Love you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A sports filled weekend

Come on into the den, grab a seat, and yeah ... the fire is green. Neat huh?

So this weekend was filled with all kinds of sports. And all kinds of friends. And good food. The Ringbearer is one fantastic hostess. Let me just repeat that. The Ringbearer is one fantastic hostess. I'm still thinking about that apple pie. Damn that was good.

So anyways we start on Saturday night. UFC PPV, main event Tito 'The Huntington Beach Ball Head' Ortiz vs Forrest Griffen. Overall was a fairly decent card. Some really great undercard fights, and main card fights, with the exception of the co-main event between Josh 'A Whole Bag of Cocks' Koscheck and Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson. After watching Koscheck play up an eye injury from an admittedly illegal blow that didn't come anywhere near the 'injured' eye, and then to watch him TWICE purposefully poke Johnson in the eye makes me just pissed.

Now my favorite fight of the night was Amir Sodallah vs. Phil Baroni. Damn, Amir just picked apart Phil, it was a surgical dissection of one human being by another. Phil came out banging, and seemed to hurt Amir early on, but after that it was all Amir, knees, elbows, punches from the clinch, was just incredible to watch. And that Baroni kept fighting through a complete destruction was incredible. He kept swinging and banging and trying to keep Amir off his neck.

Of course, for some reason the UFC saw fit to award the Koscheck/Johnson fight the Fight of the Night awards. What a fucking joke. So a fight that was a decisive win and incredible to watch gets shafted and that punk ass bitch Koscheck gets FotN? I'm kind of glad he did win, because like the Ringmaster says 'Give him hope...' because once GSP gets ahold of Koscheck he's gonna serve his ass up on a platter. GSP outwrestled and outgunned Koscheck last time, it can happen again.

So onto Sunday. The Eastern and Western CFL finals. I loved that Montreal BC game. Because Buono made the face. I love it when he makes that face. I love watching his lips go through those bitey, pouty, twisty motions. It's the confused/whiny look of a grade schooler who can't find a bathroom. I will now, for the benefit of all those without TV Telepathy, rebroadcast Wally's thoughts: "Why are we loooOOOoooosing! Aw, c'mon, I'm the winningest coach EVAR! These guys suck!! Why don't they do what I sa-ay! If they just went out and did that we'd win!" Beautiful.

So onto the Main Event! 'Riders vs. Stamps! The chants of HEEEN-REEEEE can be heard all the way out to Pilot Butte. TYG is humping the TV, the Youngest Clown is doing the only cool handshake white guys can do repeatedly, The Ringmaster is handing out pounds like Richard Branson. The Ringbearer is acting like an immigrant mother with chants of 'Eat eat!' and the game was spectacular.

Most spectacular being that we won the game in the THIRD QUARTER!! What the hell?! To quote TYG 'We just outscored ourselves in the third quarter in this game as compared to the entire season!' And of course there is Ken Miller, wandering the sidelines with this open mouth confused look. Even he wasn't sure what was going on. Fantastic! GO RIDERS GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So overall great sports weekend. I would have pity for the BC fans except they act like such douche's when they win it's hard to feel any sort of sympathy. And after hearing from everyone all season long how the 'Riders shouldn't even make the playoffs, to end up First and also go to the Grey Cup is just too sweet. Great stuff.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Big O

Come on in, I'm still glowing from the wonderful performance of my baby bear, which of course can be viewed here. Don't have much to snack on, I've had a lot of teenagers in my house lately. They're like freakin' locusts. Time to hit the grocery story.

So the big O is leavin' her show. I heard this in passing and I had a sudden moment of worry. 'Oh no, what will the American people do without Oprah to tell them what to do?! What will they think/eat/read without the Big O telling them!! The masses will be lost.' Folks you want to worry about a zombie apocalypse, I'd say Oprah cancelling her show is right up there.

And then someone says 'Oh she's not stopping doing TV she's just creating her own cable channel and doing her stuff there now.' And again I say 'Ooooh fuck. Now there really will be a zombie apocalypse.' 24 hours a day of Oprah with people slavishly following her every word and direction?! I'ma go head for the hills soon people, I suggest you join me. We'll load up on guns and bring our friends, that Cobain musta seen this comin' cuz he's lookin' like a prophet to me!

Ok calm down, it can't be that bad, right? People won't constantly tune into Oprah's cavalcade of mind warping programming right? Right?!

Fuck we're all doomed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Word Warriors

This is the latest in my shots at Dale Turner, so feel free to grab some yogurt, it has saskatoon berries in it, and enjoy the fire and some light reading.

Dale Turner’s book This is not a Peace Pipe contains a very interesting concept in a type of indigenous academic called a word warrior. While the intention is very admirable and there are some very interesting aspects to the role the author envisions for word warriors Turner fails to create a philosophical argument for both the restrictions and validity of who can be a word warrior. On top of that he completely ignores indigenous spirituality to create this concept and despite his desire to have his philosophy seen as being outside Eurocentric ideals that he pigeon holes who may or may not be a word warrior and what knowledge they may share outside of indigenous culture shows that despite his claim Turner is still heavily affected by post-colonial thought and attitudes. Turner may be attempting to create a new way for First Nations to engage the dominant culture and refute what he refers to as White Paper philosophy through out the book but instead all he has done is create new ways to segregate First Nations from the rest of Canada as well as show a complete lack of understanding of the values that unite First Nations culture as a whole.

The concept of a word warrior is a fantastic idea. An individual who is knowledgeable in
both First Nations history and philosophy, as well as trained in European styled academics who is responsible for both defending and asserting First Nations rights and national sovereignty is an admirable and important job. To recognize that for First Nations to engage the dominant culture they must do so both in their own way but on the battlefields of law and academia is not necessarily a new concept but to lay out a plan that may encourage people to take up verbal arms is. Turner recognizes that both forms are important for the overall success of future negotiations. It is the implementation of this plan that requires a great deal more work as well as fully recognizing the importance of traditional values.

While First Nations have become more panistic it is important to recognize that even though there may be significant language and value system differences there are still recognizable and verifiable similarities that identify First Nations thought and philosophy. The most recognizable being that of the interconnectedness and inclusion of all things. While this may be represented by some philosophies as the Sacred Circle it is important to remember that this is merely a representation and not an entirely accurate one at that. It is helpful for ritual and symbolism but does not describe this concept as well as it might. The best analogy that I can think if that actually encompasses this philosophy would better be described as a globule of liquid in zero gravity. While it may mostly retain a circular shape it by no means is entirely spherical, nor does it have a particular point of power or importance. The whole is important, not any one facet. So to translate this to the world view of First Nations it means things such as spirituality are not a separate or ignorable part of existence. The spirit world is not a separate one from this, but in fact an active and vital part.

Turner does not address spirituality, and his reasons for avoiding it until just a few pages before the conclusion. His reason behind this is somehow privileging the spiritual knowledge yet for First Nations all acts are spiritual acts. Spirituality is not the sole province of a select few but the very ways in which an individual must live. Turner explains on page 115, “I am indigenous, yet I am not an indigenous philosopher; and therefore I ought not to place myself in the privileged position of explaining the meaning of indigenous spirituality.” This statement itself shows Turner’s lack of understanding that even without being an indigenous philosopher, that if he is engaging the role of creating a coherent and lasting Indigenous Philosophy then he is partaking of that spirituality as well.

To explain this let’s turn to Jordan Paper’s book Native North American Religious Traditions. In the introduction he speaks of many things that may be seen as general components of these practices but the one line that is most profound in this introduction is this from page 4: “These are religions of doing, of spontaneity, of taking active responsibility for one’s spiritual life and of encountering the spirits with one’s entire being.” Simply put, if you are to engage in Native philosophy you must also engage it from a spiritual, a holistic, point of view. To fail to do this will ultimately cause the entire theory to fail as it is not dealing with the entire issue. Turner fails to do this and offers up the excuse that since he does not have the specialized knowledge he cannot explain it. While there is specialized knowledge in certain aspects of ritual and knowledge, spiritual actions are not in of themselves limited to these specific times. On this principle Turner fails to recognize the importance of this central tenant of First Nations ideology.

To compound this error Turner then goes on to place qualifiers that eliminate a great many individuals from the role of a word warrior. The first qualifier is that “Aboriginal intellectuals must develop a community of practitioners within the existing dominant legal and political intellectual communities, while remaining an essential part of a thriving indigenous intellectual community.” (Turner 90) Essentially the claim is that to be a word warrior there has to be an outward representation of being wholly “Indian.” I use this term because the claim is one that does not resonate with the central tenant of a holistic approach. Many intellectuals who are from urban communities, from mixed race, or European descent are fully capable of the task of understanding and embracing a First Nations philosophy as well as creating an intellectual community without being purely indigenous. By eliminating these forms of discourse Turner is doing a disservice to those both inside and outside of indigenous communities who are attempting to forward the goals of First Nation sovereignty and rights.

This stance is doubled by Turner’s claim that certain types of knowledge must be privileged and held to only indigenous communities. He suggests that only by protecting and keeping traditional values from European culture can they retain their purity. This again flies in the face of the central tenant of inclusion. By creating a separation that does not invite equal participation how can an indigenous philosophy grounded in ideals from both societies ever be understood without the application of both dialogues. If word warriors are to be the bridge between worlds then it requires that they share the knowledge of their own culture so that it can be understood. While there will be difficulties in translation between both world views it is impossible to create a space of negotiation without at least finding a common ground from which to work.

In answer to these failures by Turner I would instead suggest merely two qualifiers for word warriors and how these would implement best in Turner’s goal of creating a new indigenous philosophy. First is the knowledge of both worlds. Here I agree with Turner; the only way in which First Nations will be able to address the dominant culture is by understanding both it and how First Nations world views can be used within these frame works. Already this is being accomplished as many First Nation professionals inhabit areas where these two worlds are at play. Specific examples would include professors, lawyers, and creative writers. While art may not hold the key to an exact problem the creation of art that focuses on indigenous issues still allows the beginning and the sustainability of fruitful dialogues.

The second qualifier has more to do with intent than anything else. A respectful and complete understanding of First Nation goals and ideals and the willingness to participate in those same ideals as both an individual and a member of the community. This can be anything from fully living in an indigenous community to participating in those ceremonies that would engender a feeling of community between various parties. The reason for this lack of strict definition yet still having this component has more to do with the nature of First Nations interaction than any exacting need for word warriors to be held to a certain ideal.

The name of Turner’s book alludes to the practice of initial Europeans using the pipes they were given as carte blanche means to invade and manipulate First Nation people and customs. This practice came about both from misunderstanding of the importance of those pipes but also a need to gain an advantage over the First Nations. By dispelling the myths and misunderstandings First Nations culture may eventually be able to overcome the prejudices and cultural means through which they are dominated. Recognition of the ideals and world views that are apparent in the dominant culture by sharing the ritual and spiritual knowledge may help to overcome a great deal of the adverse situations that currently afflict both the First Nations people and the continued negotiation and settlement of treaty claims and rights.

Turner’s definition of word warriors is flawed and dangerous to the overall health of First Nations culture and its relationship to the dominant culture. When he ignores the spiritual aspect he undermines the central tenant of the First Nation world view and devalues the culture. By allowing the definition of word warriors to be expanded beyond Turner’s flawed view and disseminating a world view that would encompass more than what is currently viewed would greatly increase the chance for a renewed and rewarding relationship between First Nations and the dominant culture.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why the Eff Bee Eye wanna get me

Come on into the den, this weather is certainly different. And while this won't make some folks happy, I want the snow. So grab a seat and let this humble storyteller explain why he was once hunted by the FBI.

So back when I was much younger and even more of a romantic (imagine that!) I chased after a fairy tale down in Maine. But since I was young and wasn't that well behaved they decided to track me on my visit. I had to turn in a card when I came back across the border. So I did that and headed back to the Land of Living Skies, and got a job and started my fairy tale with the little bear's mama.

This was all fine until one day we get a call from mama's family back in Maine. Turns out the Canadian folks didn't send that card back to the States. So they had no record of me coming back across the border. So the FBI considered me AWOL from Canada and as I was a young man with a troubled past that meant I was unwanted in their beautiful country.

Now when we got back to Rejayjay, I ran across a fellow on a newsboard group that was interested in Socialism. Turns out he was a student at Rice University. So we exchanged a few emails about Socialism and political ideology.

Turns out this guy also happened to be into some hacker activities and got arrested for it. So when they confiscated his computer, they come across emails from someone who they track down and find out it's the same name as a guy they think is in their country and of bad moral character.

How did I find this out? Y'ever been visited by the RCMP Computer Crimes folks? I have. They wanted to make sure I wasn't a hacker too. I had a crappy 386 with 2 megs of ram and a 2400 baud modem. No hacker was I.

What do these two things equate to? An active file with the FBI!!

How did I find his out you ask? I crossed the border after this but had my car searched for no apparent reason. So I asked 'Why the hell are you guys suddenly treating me like a drug dealer?' 'Dunno about drugs, but our computers say you're a person of note to the FBI and so procedure is to search your car.'

Oh and a few months after that I received a letter saying I had an active FBI file and if I wanted to have it closed I'd have to get a lawyer to present a case to them on why. Woulda cost more money than it was worth.

In the end it was just erased because I don't go to the States that often and they have no real reason to watch me but somewhere in that big cavern of old files my name is in a few of them.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How to properly judge an ass

Come on in, time for another funny story. The fire is bright and the weather is fine. Oh yeah and there's some BPT sammiches available. That's bacon pickle and tomato. Quite tasty.

So there I am working one day at the old call center and these two very nice looking females on my team had a disagreement. Said disagreement was on who's butt was nicer. And seeing as how I was established as the best one to determine which ass was nicer, both asked me to judge said butts.

Now seeing as I take the female form, and it's appreciation of it, very seriously I told the girls that any judging of asses would require a complete and thorough testing of their various aspects. This would require much touching, grabbing, slapping, pinching, and fondling. And that I would not be rushed to a decision.

Suffice it to say I spent most of my shift while not on the phone having a wonderful eight hours of playing with two different asses. And we all went out after the shift to a local bar to sing and have fun and spent a few more hours studying, comparing, and testing said asses.

Once I had compiled all my information, I said it was impossible to say either was better. Girl one had a firm little butt, nice to slap and rub, and looked fantastic in a pair of jeans. Girl two had a full soft butt that was so nice to dig your fingers into and looked so good in a skirt with her longer legs. It would be unfair to either girl to say one was better than the other, instead each were equally fantastic and deserved to be played with on a daily basis.

Two things are incredibly funny about this. First off, these things happen to me on a fairly regular basis. And that they happen with such regularity and yet cause me no ill effects makes me very happy. Two, is that the call center had one of the most anal group of people when it came to the whole sexual harassment issues. Despite the fact that I did these things in plain view, even explaining it to my supervisor, I never ONCE got brought up on a complaint, even one brought by someone who was offended on the 'victims' behalf.

So ... maybe not funny. But life is good.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lotsa political talk

Come on in, enjoy the last of the soup and some good music. I've found a new love in Cage the Elephant and think I may have to pick up some of their discs. Also my friend Cenobyte has gotten herself hooked up with some right wing nuts and now her left wing nuts are mixing with them and it's quite a fun little bit of hilarity. And all this political talk has me reminded of a political system I'd much prefer to the one we have now.

So this is what I want to see. First off we're gonna toss out this whole majority rules thing. No one is happy with that. It makes some of the people happy some of the time but beyond that it sucks. It also doesn't work. If the majority enact an action plan that doesn't include everyone then someone gets marginalized and they will act counter to the plan and it won't succeed to it's full potential. Just doesn't work.

Next we're gonna stop calling elected officials our leaders. It goes to their head and they think that just because we voted for them once that means we're giving them our voice for every single issue and that is just not the case. From now on they will be referred to as Speakers. They speak for the individuals who elected them. There is no set term for how long these speakers may serve or have to serve, and they can be removed at any point that the community loses their confidence that the Speaker is working for their best interest.

Next, no more political parties. Communities will pick their speakers not because they follow an ideology but because everyone agrees to have that individual as their leader. Remember this isn't a case of majority rules. EVERYONE has to agree to that person. Total consensus. Trying to convince the majority isn't good enough anymore, you've got to achieve true consensus which means your goal will not be to gain power but to serve your community.

Oh yeah and it means that everyone has to participate. No more not voting. However your voting is limited to just your community. Maybe a group no bigger than 500-1000 people. I'm not sure what size would work best yet, but I'm guessing the smaller the better to start with. Your speaker will then move up and up and up until we have one speaker who will be our 'Voice to the World' but no longer the leader of the country.

Only women will vote on matters involving the military and warfare. I'd love to explain this, but I'm sure if you think about it you'll figure it out. Besides I'd rather hear why you think this is a good or bad idea.

Taxes will now be based on local use first then upwards. We will pool our money across communities if a bigger project is done. This may mean rethinking how our justice system works as well but that's another post.

Does anyone recognize this system yet? This is the system the Haudenosaunee used. Also known as the Six Nations, or the Iroquois Confederacy. They did things this way and held one of the largest sections of North America for a very long time. They were not the only ones who did this. Majority rules was not a part of their way of doing things. It took the consensus of every individual for major changes to their confederacy to change or to do something that would be life or lifestyle changing. Everyone was included.

The drawback to this is that sometimes it takes a little longer to actually work out a plan that everyone is happy with. On the flip side of that once that plan is put into place with everyone pulling for it it happens with amazing alacrity. And happens with a great deal of success.

In case you're wondering a great many First Nations around the Great Lakes region still use this model as how they rule themselves and works quite well. Think about it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My right thumb nail.

Come on in, the soup is cooked, and another is on the way, lentil next time. The fire is nice and high and blankets abound. And of course, I've another funny story for you.

So I can't remember if I was five or six. My mom signed me up for soccer and off we go to my VERY FIRST PRACTICE!! And I'm hyped cuz I've never done this before. So I rush out of the car and somehow I manage to slam my thumb in the door.

I screamed and howled and once my thumb was out of the door I wanted to go to practice because I was afraid that if I didn't go they wouldn't let me play. And they might kick me off the team, cuz I've never done it before and I want to be good at what I do. Instead my mom forces me in the car and off we trundle to the hospital.

A screaming five or six year old is easily the first thing admitted. Because we scream. And every time they touched my thumb I'd scream some more, or louder, depending on the situation. And this nurse, who I can only assume either had no kids or had suffered some brain damage says to me 'Ok dear, what we're going to need to do is relieve the pressure on your thumb. To do that we're going to heat a needle and stick it through the nail.' Now some of you might question how I can remember something nearly thirty years ago, but when someone says they're going to shove a hot piece of metal through a part of your body, you remember that shit ok!

So my reaction was pretty predictable. I mean I was in an incredible amount of pain and they want to help me by sticking hot metal into me? I screamed some more and bolted, headed for the car in the parking lot, screaming the whole way.

My mom tells me that she told the nurse she was an idiot, and how could she describe that procedure to a kid and expect them to sit still. When the nurse suggested my mom go get me and help her do the procedure, my mom's response was something along the lines of 'Fuck you, you caused this problem, you deal with it,' and she promptly went to wait for them to be done with me. So I'm hauled back into the hospital, and the nurse reasons with me. Well a little kid in pain is the worst person to reason with, but she played the 'brave big boy' card and had me at least sitting in the room. So there she is with a frickin' flame and NOT a needle but a goddamn paper clip, and she's heating it up. And she goes 'Ok here we go...'

And out the door I go. I mean fuck being a big brave boy, they were going to stick hot metal in me!! BLUNT HOT METAL! So the nurse chases me down and asks an orderly to help. So he comes in and the nurse holds my arm and the orderly holds my shoulders. And the nurse goes 'Here we go ...'

You know what, it turns out I was pretty damn good at soccer, especially the kicking part. I kicked the table, kicked the chair, jumped up like a wild animal, kicked the orderly and bolted.

So the nurse and the orderly haul me back in, this time by brute force. They call in another orderly. No wait, they get the idea and call in TWO orderlies. One grabs me around the chest, another holds down my legs by basically wrapping himself around the chair and my legs, and another holds down my right arm, so the nurse can hold down my hand. And the whole time I'm thrashing like a wild animal and these adults are yelling at the nurse to hurry the hell up cuz they don't know how long they can hold the crazy kid.

So the metal goes in, and this SPURT of liquid goes flying out of my thumb, about three feet in the air, and INSTANTLY my thumb stops hurting. I stop thrashing, I watch the liquid splash down and go 'Oh wow, that feels better.' After a lecture on how my nail would fall off and grow back, I went home. And I'm sure that there are still three orderlies and a nurse who talk about a fateful day in the early eighties when the bride of Satan's child was unleashed on their emergency ward.

I like soup

Come on in, enjoy the smell, tomorrow we'll have some wonderful turkey soup. The fire is low to let the soup cook nicely.

I do like cooking, and there's many things I love to cook. Not much of a baker. Never got the thrill out of baking that I get out of cooking. Baking is more like chemistry. Y'gotta follow the recipe or it goes blauw. Cooking seems more like an art, because while there are set rules for it you can play with them, change them, move them around. I like that creative element. Of course someone will disagree with that assessment but hey, it's how I see it.

I especially like making soups. Not only are they easy but they're also delicious. And they require as much inspiration as anything else. How else could I look at the desiccated corpse of a recently eaten animal and go 'That'll make a great soup!'

And they're very comforting for me. Dunno why, I don't have any reason for it to be a comfort food. But they're something about a nice rich soup made from scratch. It just smells good, it looks good, it tastes incredibly good.

So come by tomorrow, we'll ladle out a few bowls and share some stories around the fire, and just enjoy good food and good company.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Oh wow. That's fantastic.

Come on in and watch the fire, it contains funny things.

Like this chick who really likes Fedor.

Ok slow the brain down.

Come on into the den and let me ramble on for a bit about a few things, this and that and the other. Try not to get to close to the fire as it may be a little hot under these circumstances.

I have just finished reading This Is Not a Peace Pipe: Towards a Critical Indigenous Philosophy by Dale Turner. The object of the book is to place a new understanding on how Aboriginal people in Canadian society might best become a part of the process when dealing with Aboriginal rights in Canada in regard to both the treaties and self-government. The guy has some pretty neat ideas about the overall landscape and what might be done to improve it but damn it he pisses me off on a couple of very important points.

First off, it is not until the end of the book that he genuinely makes a case about the essence of First Nations thought in regards to spirituality. Since both are intrinsically tied it bothers me that he would leave it to so small of a point. And maybe this is my misunderstanding of it so perhaps I'll have to talk to a few of my professors and some of the elders to see if maybe I'm off my nut but it boils down to a fairly simple point.

Native thought is holistic. It infuses the idea that all things are important to the overall health of the individual and the community around the individual. It is a individual out concept yet paradoxically the overall health of the community is of a greater importance than any one individual. I have done a little bit of writing on my own concept of egalitarianism and how this is tied to First Nations philosophy so it frustrates me to see this point ignored.

The second part that boggles my mind is Turner does a great job of deconstructing what he calls White Paper liberalism and European philosophies in regards to it's colonial treatment of First Nations people, but then he goes on to use those EXACT same ideas to separate up his 'work load' of what is needed to defend First Nations rights in Canada. He has a concept known as word warriors and these would be individuals who are First Nations who engage the dominant society both from within as accepted intellectuals in the legal and philosophical realms but also from without as distinctly aboriginal people. I like this idea however he goes on to qualify it question who can legitimately do this work.

He also seems to defend the segregation of First Nations and non-First Nations when it comes to the understanding of First Nation philosophy. He calls it 'Crazy Horse' segregation as a way to keep the philosophy pure and protected from the dominant culture's colonialism.

Well bad news for you Turner but that is A) against the overall philosophy that I understand of First Nations, and B) a left over thought process from colonial impact. The reason for the keeping of knowledge away from the white folks was because they were abusing it to get the better of us and then enacted laws that made it illegal to BE a First Nations person. Those laws were repealed and now these things can be open and inf act are mostly supported by the government so that they may regain their overall strength and impact within the communities. Because they work. To fall back on that is to succumb to the colonial mindset rather than to embrace his idea of 'indigenity.'

So at this point it appears his boiling it down to a chess match where we match intellectual wits and see who can come out on top, while also bemoaning the fact that he fails to see how it might work because the folks that control the end result are still non-First Nations. The overall argument left me feeling that he's spoiling for a fight yet is too chicken to get his hands dirty with a little brawl.

I do believe that for my final project for this class I am going to engage this book on the idea of spirituality and the holistic approach of First Nations. Of course, where do I start with the research on THAT one.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I might consider it genocide.

Come on in, the snow is just starting to collect in tiny cold corners on the ground about the den and the fire is stoked high. I love winter and I love snow. It's gorgeous to watch the sparkle of the ice crystals as they lay on the ground on a really cold night. However what I want to talk about isn't so nice.

So something tragic happened. A promising young artist was killed by two coyotes on a hiking trail in Nova Scotia. I am so sorry for this woman and her family and friends. The loss of life is never pleasant and I grieve for this loss. However I am also frightened for the loss that will begin now that this has happened.

If you read the article there is already one listed loss, a coyote shot that most likely was not a part of the attack. Add to that the focus of the article which implies people feel generally scared because of the intrusion of these coyotes into their lives. I disagree wholeheartedly with this assessment because it places the blame of the attack on the coyotes rather than taking a wider view as to the behavior of these animals and why the attack happened in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I don't feel that this woman was supposed to die or I feel more sympathy for the loss of the coyote. Yes I share an affinity for these animals. But I am a human and am saddened by the loss.

What bothers me is this is exactly the kind of talk that gears up a community to kill animals indiscriminately without understanding the nature of the situation. I would lay money that something else was done previously to this that caused the need for these animals to attack something they don't normally recognize as food, instead as a much larger and more dangerous predator.

I will postulate that some form of animal that is seen as a nuisance has been actively targeted by the human community and killed off, and that this same animal was most likely a food source for the coyotes. A similar thing happened around here in Saskatchewan a few years back when the gopher and rabbit bounties were reinstated due to an explosion in their population. Rather than allowing the natural predators a chance to hunt these animals, they were destroyed and suddenly we had coyotes showing up in cities looking for food. Poisoning and hunting these animals doesn't just kill them but a great number of other animals in the area, increasing the need for food for the predators.

Not to simplify, I understand at this point there will mostly be a requirement for the thinning of the coyote population but it would not have been necessary had the natural hunting cycles been left alone to do their own work. My point is that it didn't have to happen, nor did this girl have to die had the human members of that community not seen themselves as somehow separate from the ecosystem and interfered overly with it to the point that the coyotes were forced to seek whatever food source available.

Now instead of a system that would check itself, we will now needlessly slaughter a great deal of the animals. Most likely due to the fear this killing will go well beyond the necessary means and lead to an explosion of certain types of rodents, which in turn will lead to dealing with that population by more direct interference ... do you see the cycle now?

And now I must also point out that my own belief is that these animals are just as important as we are in the overall cycle of living. They are a nation unto themselves and deserve the same respect as we might address another group of humans living in another country or culture. And while there would be an issue if these were two groups of humans killing each other, it doesn't require a genocide, instead a restorative action would be far more responsible, especially if that action would recognize how our own interference was what initially caused this issue. We as a nation must learn to temper our own actions when they directly affect another. Even if that nation is something completely different from our own perceptions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The City That Rhymes With Fun!

Come on in, the rain is providing such beautiful music and smells. I've got some munchies, mostly veggies and such but it's good fare. Come and sit with me a while, so I can tell you about my favorite place in the world.

I love my home town. I was born and raised here and all things considered, will most likely die here. I love it's streets and buildings, I love the feel of it, the smell, the sounds. I've lived right in the core of it and couldn't think of a nicer sound than all that traffic in the middle of the night. Love it.

I love the people of this city. They are genuinely friendly people. Very rarely do I run into some one who is going out of their way to be miserable to a stranger. Well unless it's someone in the service industry but I think that's becoming the norm everywhere.

I love that I have just about every single creature comfort and type of culture available to me without sacrificing that 'small town feel' people talk about here. And in case you were wondering, there is very little you can't get here, and even then, you could probably fanangle it anyways.

I've never had a desire to live elsewhere. Well, maybe the valley but that's because it just feels like an extension of this beautiful place. With a lower sea level. I love this city and always will.

It's not just because I was born here, trust me there are enough folks who hate here to show you that being born here doesn't engender a strong home feeling. It is everything about it that makes it so special to me.

In line with that are my own personal goals which really focus on making this place a better and better place. I volunteer for many different things so I can help make this place a more enjoyable home for all. my own education goals have me staying here to attempt my own little world changing movement.

It's not that I don't like to travel, I've travelled lots, I love road trips. I like anything that gets me someplace else and will let me experience new things. I just don't feel the need to travel to make me appreciate my home because I already do. I've never understood the 'see the world' mentality when it comes to 'broadening my horizons.' I'm quite aware of the fact that there is a huge world out there beyond my home, I just know I can't change all of that without first changing this. So why worry about it until it becomes important?

And no this doesn't mean I'm not critical of my home, I have many things I dislike about this place, like the whole no alcohol while lookin' at nekkid people thing. That's just so stupid. It means of course that we can't afford to get any quality nekkid people and end up with ... well I like the dancing that the nekkid people do. Not much of that here. Sucks.

Mebbe if I ever move out to the valley I'll start an underground drinkin' and watchin' nekkid people place. Of course I'll probably end up getting boot stomped into dust by our government but y'know it'd be a fun ride.

Sorry that was a digression, more on point, I recognize those things that need to improve in my city. I don't just casually accept them out of blind love, instead work to better them. I love this place so it deserves my best.

I'm so happy my kids get to grow up here, and experience what I have. Of course it will be different for them but hopefully they'll come to recognize and appreciate the beauty here. Then again, to each their own and if they find another place to call home I wish them the best.

I know this seems like a long winded bit of fluff, but it comes with a serious set of questions. What do you think of your home? Does it thrill you? Do you love it and feel connected to it? Would being someplace else really provide those things or is it in fact you who needs to recognize what is already in front of you? Everything is what you make it folks. You get what you give. Next time you feel like you don't belong somewhere, maybe it's because you never tried to live there. So live.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"The Windigo" Speaks

Come on in and forgive the cold, I've been thinking about a creature of ice and snow, so it tends to affect the den. Grab a blanket and get close to the fire. First off I'd like you to go and read Louise Erdrich's poem "The Windigo" and then you can sit down and read another little point of view on the poem. For those that have never heard of Louise Erdrich, a websearch does wonders, but she is also one of my favoriete authors, I still reread her book Love Medicine about once a year.

Louise Erdrich’s ‘Windigo’ uses strong domestic imagery and subtle tones to flesh out the political ideas contained within the title. A surface reading of Erdrich’s poem coasts one through an intersection of day to day lives, yet they hover with an ominous tone. It is the understanding of the Windigo myth and its own intersection into the political and cultural differences of First Nations and European society that the subtle and alarming nature of the poem become more than a story and instead you see the persona of a social commentator emerge. Erdrich’s statement, thought quiet and an undercurrent to the narrative, is no less filled with anger and strength than a bold statement that dominates the plot.

To start with is a further understanding of what a Windigo is. While the description at the beginning of the poem gives us a brief introduction of what one is and how it is defeated it is the creation of the Windigo that is also important. It requires an evil act that turns a human’s soul cold, causing the body to collect the ice and snow that transforms a man into a cannibal. Essential to this cannibalism is the Windigo’s hunger, it is never full, and that is unmentioned. Instead it is that subtle subtext unannounced which adds to the quiet voice that is part of the persona built within the poem.

Adding to the Windigo’s unmentioned hunger is the historical significance of the moniker used in reference to the coming of European settlers. While not a universal descriptor across the North American First Nations, those that were some of the first to encounter the coming Europeans were the tribes who lived among the great lakes, which the Chippewa were among, used the name Windigo to describe the actions of the Europeans. Europeans appeared to have an unending hunger for resources, coupled with their pale skin, which caused many observers to make unfavorable comparisons between the mythical figure and the settlers.

Between the unmentioned aspects of the Windigo legend and its historical context Erdrich has placed a poetic narrative that starts to take on a much darker and powerful nature besides the home and hearth imagery employed. Only one last historical piece is left unturned to fully complete the stalking, hungry tone of the words. Canada’s history is not the only that used assimilation schools to tear at the fabric of First Nation culture. In the United States of America Industrial Schools, boarding schools similar to our own residential schools, were created to take children who were coming close to working age to indoctrinate skills and social values. The aim was to give these people who could get no other job skills in jobs that no one else would want. Mine work, industrial factories, and chemical orientated manual labour were all the focuses of these schools and like the residential schools of Canada they were the cause of societal disintegration within American First Nation families and reserves.

Although the poem makes no explicit mention of any of these facts, and only glosses over the myth of the Windigo, it is these facts that combine to give Erdrich such a powerful social voice. “You knew I was coming for you,” (1) speaks the narrator, a construct like the Windigo; a society much more powerful and ruthless in its goals. In fact who the narrator is now insignificant and the sense it is now what the narrator is that matters. Erdrich here does not speak from the point of view of who she is, in fact she has fully stepped outside of her own life and experience to occupy the nebulous ‘other’ who that has oppressed and targeted her people and society.

Once the point of view of the narrator is made clear due to the significance of what a Windigo is the shocked and stilted use of language and form become yet another hint at how these unmentioned actions have caused rifts within the First Nations and the narrator. There is still an overall rigid form, like a loose framework that it all fits into: five stanzas of five lines each, with a small exception. The fourth stanza is only four lines. Here the narrator has “stole […] off” (16) with the young target of line one. In terms of a culture colliding here we have the first three stanzas establishing the stalking of another, and when they finally intersect the rules are broken, only four lines. Deeply imbedded in this stanza are the various other breaks throughout the history of interaction between European/American culture and First Nations. Like the agreements, treaties, proclamations, and simple basic human decency that have been ignored, warped or destroyed, this stanza too rings with that same violation. The beast runs off with its captive through the woods, destroying all he passes due to the wintry aura “until they stood, naked, spread like the cleaned spines of fish.” (19) These images are no different than the agreements that have been ignored or broken.

This form is taken a step further in the language of each stanza. It harkens to memories of home yet takes disjointed images and pulls them together within the eyes of a stalking beast. The first stanza takes a simple piece of home cookery, “the kettle”, and has it “jump[ing] into the fire.” (2) The action of heating water, instead of being an action of solace to make a tea to comfort or warm a body is instead now a hellish act of sacrifice. This same image of burning, a paradox to a creature of ice, follows in the second lines of stanzas one to four. The food is scolded to warm it, the copper is burned in the raw wood, and steam rolls from the arms of the beast. Like the paradox the burn of cold is virtually identical to the touch as heat is. Each leaves destroyed flesh, withers the body through cellular destruction. Like the body of culture of the First Nations, the introduction of the beast has withered and destroyed its overall cohesiveness.
Erdrich introduces a strong element of the malaise of First Nations people. Line 10, spoken from the beast as it eyes its victim, is italicized, and brought out to stand alone as a statement that speaks both from the Windigo and the soul of the people. Just as the two cultures are locked together so is the beast locked to the soul of the victim. Paradox plays a role again in the passive yet active nature of the statement as the child is told to both hide and lie still. Hide from it but lie still, work to stay away from the beast, yet it will still find you. These are elements that are strong points of a dominated culture, as the First Nations have taken years to start to re-assert their own culture and take the reigns of their destiny again. That Erdrich brings this line into contrast with the rest of the poem by italicizing it strengthens and asserts this idea within the context of the previously stated parameters. Simply put, she is shouting by whispering a small yet powerful truth.

The final stanza densely packs itself into five lines that hold a significant amount of commentary, both from the narrator and the underlying social commentary Erdrich is laying into the poem. Five lines again, but broken and disjointed. A disconnect not just in the language but the subject matter. The young victim is taken, and in turn takes. The child is taught the nature of greed, of unrelenting hunger, and slakes itself on the very flesh of the Windigo, shoveling its hands full of the flesh of another. A new lifestyle is shown to the child of simple domestic pleasures. Just as the First Nations culture was taken, repackaged, and sold out again, here too the youth are taken, re-educated, turned into the other.

The beast runs all night, carrying the child along as it feasts. Night to morning the child is taken. From one day to the dawn of another. Standard for most uses of dawn as re-birth but the narrator tells us that the morning “broke the cold earth,” (22) and while it can be suggested that this could be a hint at the child’s own actions reflecting the legend told in the poems introduction, instead the emphasis should not be placed on the breaking or the cold but instead what is broken. The dawn, the rebirth, broke the cold earth. It broke the foundation. The earth was sundered; the basis for life, the wellspring of future generations, the repository of natural history, the one thing we all share, the common element that might cause reconciliation is broken. The past has been rent and a pit lies across the path from now to then. The rebirth of the stolen child has no connection to the past it once knew and now continues on without a past.
And as such, the beast returns the child, lies down this broken and changed thing, no longer a part of what it once was and now no longer a part of the world it was shown. It is home, and lay down like “a river shaking in the sun.” (24) This last line seems so problematic and out of joint with the rest of the narrative it requires special consideration. To this point all mention of water has been in one of its transition states. Boiling water, ice and snow, and steam; we have not been given an image of water doing what it does naturally. Yet the water shakes. It trembles and this too is an image at war with a river. No river ever shakes, it flows, winds, bends, hurtles, speeds, slows, mires, but never has a river shaken. However, water does shake given the right circumstances. We just don’t call a shaking river a river anymore. If water were to shake in the sun it would be falling, perhaps off a broken piece of land: a waterfall. The land has been broken by the rebirth, and the flow of this newly born thing now hurtles off into the space, shaking and dispersing itself over air and the rocks below, shaking itself apart as it must now deal with the rift between past and present.

The last stanza builds these densely packed issues one on another until the discord falls back into a meaningful image yet even then that too is a disconnect. Bringing the images back to the cultural and historical a person without a past, without knowledge of their culture will no longer be a part of that culture, yet the culture, the Windigo, that remade the child into this new thing will not accept it as a part of their culture either. There is now a state of perpetual change within the new person, a constant war between a culture that it no longer understands and a culture that it cannot belong too. The Windigo has succeeded in his action, and the subtext has succeeded in pointing out the paradox and impossibility of the action ever truly succeeding.

“The Windigo” uses powerful thrusts as Erdrich lets the monster tell its tale. Lying beneath that persona lies Erdrich’s own message, and she builds strong bonds between each image that lie scattered after the path of destruction the beast creates as it plows its way into the home and hearth of First Nations families. With the cultural understanding lying within the title itself, and building from a subtle hint as to the nature of the Windigo the poem builds itself not as a narrative of the people being harmed but from the monster’s point of view. Erdrich here leaves her subtle trap and her own touch of the cultural perspective. Each is a part of the other and what happens to one will happen to the other. Each becomes a cannibal of sorts that must feed continuously off the other. The monster takes the child but only succeeds in making another monster which it must now contend or compete with. By understanding the monster we understand both the actions that led to the current state of First Nations in relation to the dominant culture but also why those actions are not an isolated matter that can be ignored but instead are a relevant and dangerous situation that lies in wait to create even more unending cannibals.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sweat Lodge

Come on into the Den. Excuse the heat and steam, but just thinking about this even makes me relive it. The sweat lodge cerimony I was a part of was such a major point in my life it really does come all flooding back when I think of it.

A small amount of background is required to properly place a context on some of the details below. First is that while I am a Status Indian, I often refer to myself instead as a half-breed, as my mother is of European decent. Even then I may not be considered a half breed as my father had green eyes and there is some European ancestry on that side of my family. Next, my father had committed suicide when I was six years old, and due to some disagreements between my mother and my father’s side of the family I had not had any contact with my Native relatives for a considerable amount of time. My mother had run into my Uncle Brian, also a participant in the ritual, and had started a dialogue that allowed some interaction, including having affidavits signed that allowed me to apply for my Status Card through Bill C-31 as my father was never included on my birth certificate. At the time of the ritual I had run somewhat adrift in my life, had worked in a number of different jobs and was unable to find a direction. I was suffering from depression and was at times suicidal.

While working at a job that was partly retail, my Uncle Brian came in and I mentioned how great it was to see him, as I had a lot of questions and was feeling very low. He suggested I come out to the reserve that weekend as they would be holding a Sweat Lodge. I jumped at the chance for several reasons, some for my own curiosity and some for my personal health. I was told to fast the 24 hours before the ritual and to arrive at 6 am. I was so nervous I didn’t sleep the night before and headed out early, arriving well before dawn, so I finally slept a few minutes in the car, before the house woke up and invited me in.

Sitting around the kitchen table in my Uncle Glen’s house, I had some of the ritual actions explained to me. To begin I would have to first cleanse myself, which started with the fasting. During the cleansing, which included a smudge, I was to take a small amount of tobacco and while placing my hand on the trunk of a birch tree and facing east first, I was to circle around the tree, sprinkling the tobacco as I went around the tree in a clockwise rotation. As I was doing this I was to recite a prayer to the Grandfathers, the name of the heated rocks used during the lodge, of what I was hoping to learn or accomplish during the sweat. It took me a long time to figure out that prayer. I stood with my hand on the tree for a long while, staring off into the dark morning sky before the question entered my mind simply. Why did my dad kill himself? With that I walked around the tree, with that prayer in mind, asking the Grandfathers to help me because I truly needed it and wanted nothing else but to know.

Once that was done, I helped my Uncle Brian get the fire going for the rocks. We piled up the rocks in a particular formation, and then surrounded the rocks with birch wood in another particular fashion. Since it was important for me to know since I was not learning the ritual at the time I am not sure why they were done that way. A tobacco offering was made before the fire was lit, with my Uncle reciting a prayer in Salteaux, ending the prayer with a noise like ‘ho’. He explained that was their version of Amen and I should feel free to use it to end any of the prayers I took part in during the ritual.

It is important to note that between my hunger and the cold I was already starting to feel different. I was excited to be taking part in something that I hoped would help me but also had a sense of things become slow, an almost suspension of time. I was removed from the general flow of the world and partaking in something that would create a new phase of my life. While I could not articulate that at the time, reflection on the entire ritual afterward I was able to realize that there was an intense sense of anticipation that was very much akin to the moments before my first child’s birth. I was about to embark on something that would alter me so fundamentally that it would change my world view entirely.

While the fire was starting to warm up, my uncle showed me the lodge. It stood at about six feet high, with one opening facing east. It was made of birch saplings, but I wasn’t able to see the pattern in how they were constructed, covered by many tarps. From the top hung an Eagle feather, which my Uncle Brian explained was a gift from the Sioux who had taught them the ritual.

Once the fire was going strong, and another prayer of thanks was uttered by my Uncle, both of us ending with a ho, we returned to the house. There was small talk around the table between me and my family. Partaking in the ritual would be my Uncles Glen, Brian, and Butch, and my Aunt Marsha. When I asked if there was an issue with mixed sexes during rituals such as this I was told that in times past they were partaken of separately but since so few knew any forms of rituals for cleansing like the Sweat Lodge it wasn’t practical to continue them segregated. The only restriction would be when a woman was having her period, which wasn’t an issue for my Aunt Marsha as she had already passed menopause. Strangely this was the only talk of the ritual; mainly we discussed Uncle Glen’s participation in the Echo Dam issue, and my Uncle Butch’s use of herbal medicines that were being rediscovered. I was fascinated by it all and was nearly hyper aware of my surroundings, I could see my relatives watching me and seeming to assess where I was in the process.

Without much preamble, my Uncle Glen said “Time to start, come out in a few minutes, me and Brian will set things up.” When they had both left, my Aunt Marsha explained to me that Uncle Glen was nearly deaf and wouldn’t wear his hearing aids during the ritual, so I had to speak up when I was spoken to. They both explained the order we would enter in. My Uncle Glen would already be inside, sitting on the north side, and when we entered we were to circle around from east to him in a clockwise manner, first Marsha, then me, then Butch, and finally Brian would enter and close up the door. They explained the opening prayer, which we would all participate in, and then move from door to Glen to have any questions or specific healings answered. This meant that from first to enter they would be the last to be answered. Before we went out Aunt Marsha put a huge pot on the stove to start cooking to be eaten afterwards.

Once outside I noticed the sun just barely beginning to crest the horizon, the wind had died to nothing, and all around me there were smells and sounds I hadn’t noticed previously. I was unable to see too well, as I had left my glasses inside, yet I didn’t feel the need to see detail, the sounds and smells were enough. We were each to once again smudge ourselves with the smoke from sweetgrass and sage, and pray silently for the blessing of the Grandfathers. Once Marsha climbed through the hole I joined her and moved around, sitting down cross legged. Inside I could still see a bit due to the door being open. There was a pit dug in the middle, more than a foot deep, and at least a foot and a half in diameter. Glen had arranged a small pot with water and a dipper by him, and several small plastic bags filled with various plant life which he was crumbling between his fingers into the water. Once Butch was inside, Brian started to lower red hot rocks, the Grandfathers, from the fire into the pit in the middle of the lodge. As he did so, Glen sprinkled the rocks with various items, and by the smell I guessed they were cedar and sage. While each performed these parts of the ritual, they also prayed in both English and Salteaux, asking the grandfathers to take our prayers to the Creator, and he who sits beside and wears the crown.

Once Brian entered the door was closed and it was entirely dark, I could see no light and could already feel the temperature rising. The ground was still a bit cold beneath the blanket but not uncomfortably so. Glen started a prayer in English that asked a number of spirits for their blessing and ended b thanking the Grandfathers for all they had done for us and to lend us their wisdom once again. Every couple of lines he would slowly pour a small amount of water onto the rocks and a warm full smell gently filled the space of the lodge. I breathed in deeply, and let the heat and moisture fill the space, listening with everything I could. I kept my eyes open, and let them soak in the darkness of the lodge. After a few minutes of deep breathing Glen started the opening prayer, which we all recited together. After the ‘ho’ of the prayer, Glen instructed us all to concentrate on our bodies and what we would experience in the lodge, that we must all keep our minds and spirits open to the input the spirits would give us, and rather than try to judge what we might be experiencing to instead let those things happen and let the meanings come as they would. During this I continued to breath very deeply, noticing the heat in the lodge was rapidly climbing and already a thin sheen of sweat was covering my skin. My nose was filled with the scent of what was on the rocks and already I was starting to see elements of the darkness that had differences, each patch of darkness had its own texture and manner of being, each seemed to take on new dimensions.

Once the different types of darkness set in Glen spoke again, asking Brian if there was something he was specifically looking for, a brief discussion of ritual inspiration happened, and they agreed to talk later and share what each saw as they meditated. Next Butch was asked what he was asking for and he expressed his desire to find a plant that would help with diabetes, something that runs in our family and both he and I are suffers of. Glen gave some directions to a place to meditate and that the spirits would send him an answer. The descriptions of this may be brief but each of these things took quite a while. I’m not sure how long as time was meaningless once inside, but there were long pauses between as each participant and the ritual leader took their time to let the spirits in the lodge talk to them.

At this time Glen called a small break to allow everyone to stretch their legs and to let the lodge cool a little bit. We all stepped out into the winter air and I was amazed as I watched the steam rise slowly from us all and the patterns I saw in them. Brian asked me how I was doing and all I could do was smile goofily and nod. I felt completely in tune with everything yet utterly unable to express anything. He patted me on the shoulder, and as we smudged again to re-enter the lodge, I could feel where Brian had touched me and it grew warm. The heat radiated out and I slid in feeling incredibly comfortable and happy.

While it should have been my turn Glen said that it would be best to leave me to last, that he felt it would be better for all involved if we dealt with Marsha first. I was a bit disappointed, but far too comfortable to do much more than nods and then finally realize he could not hear my nod and say “Ok.”

I can not remember what occurred with Marsha, the feelings in the lodge were intensifying and I was having a hard time focusing. Small sparks of light were swirling and the heat had made even the earth beneath us warm. I kept seeing a symbol appear in different patches of darkness that looked like a perfect right parenthesis. I thought it was weird but again I followed what Glen told me and tried not to assign any meaning to it. I felt my heartbeat and could feel the movement of the blood beneath my skin and I became hyper-aware of everything my body was doing. With slight concentration it felt like I could make individual strands of muscle tense and release and with just a thought of physical activity my heart rate increased. The patches of darkness that took on different textures now appeared to breathe; in fact the whole lodge seemed to breathe. Life was emanating from every tiny aspect of everything around me.

Finally Glen turned his voice to me and spoke slowly without any preamble, “I know what your prayer was, the Grandfathers have already told me you want to know why. Why isn’t always a useful question Richard. Instead I want to tell you what I see. You stand on a path but you have gotten no further down it than when you were a child. Your feet are covered in blood, in fact it pools around them it is so thick. You can’t see it but this is your fault not your fathers. Why would you pray for him when you need the help?” He paused and poured a small amount of water on the fire before continuing, “You see yourself of two worlds and you think you need to make a choice. Are you White or Indian? Why choose.” As he spoke the heat in the lodge was becoming hotter and hotter. The sparks of light were more numerous and moving with far greater speed. I had to turn around and look, there was a great yellow smear behind me in the darkness and it was very disappointed in me.

“Your feet are covered in blood Richard. You know you are not responsible for your father, but you let it rule your decisions. He is not gone, he cannot move on. He is watching your brother’s children. He is needed there and it is rare if ever you will see him. We, your family, and we the world, and the spirits know how strong you are. You can do what others won’t or can’t. You don’t need him, you have others who watch you. But you need to make a decision. You need to accept who you are.” At this point I was bawling and scared. Not because of what I saw but because of what was expected of me; because of the change that was required. Find me one person who is not afraid of change. Things started to fall into place and I sobbed out the one question I was always afraid to ask, “But didn’t he love me?”

“More than anyone else.” Glen’s voice didn’t sound right, and I have no idea how he heard me because my question was whispered. “You were his pride of all things. He thought of you when he killed himself. He knew he would hurt you if he stayed. He was nothing but a shell and even you know that.” Every time that Glen would say what the spirits knew it shook me. I had not talked to Glen for over a decade. I always got the impression he did not care much for the half-breed kid. Yet here he was saying things I’d said, in the exact way I’d said them. My dad was a shell, cored out from alcohol like too many of my family.

I continued to sob but everything he said felt true. The yellow presence behind me showered me with annoyance that I would ever doubt that my dad loved me. The heat in the lodge was making everyone pant. The steam seemed to breath in and out of us by itself and every so often one of my relatives would bark out a ‘ho.’

“So here is the choice Richard. Are you White or Indian? Do you follow the White world and ignore your Indian side, or do you become an Indian and ignore your White side.” While he spoke I heard the undertone of derision. The question was stupid. The question was all wrong. The question was mocking me. “You are both Richard, stop making stupid choices.” I just about fell over, my whole body shaking as I sobbed as all the pain of near three decades of guilt and doubt started to pour out of me. Hands touched my shoulders. Later Marsha and Butch would tell me that neither had touched me during the lodge, it was too hot and I was radiating as much heat as the rocks.

“Why do you doubt yourself? Why do you refuse yourself? Open yourself to all things that are yourself Richard, you know what they are.” It suddenly hit me who was behind me, another Aunt, yet one of very devout Christian faith, yet here she was to talk to me. Well to throw intense emotions at me. She threw every single emotion at me so strongly I shook even harder before it dawned on me what I was to do. I’m emotional yet I walked around like a stoic cut off from all extremes.

Glen started gasping and said “Is anyone else feeling like it’s hotter in here than it’s ever been before?” Everyone agreed, except me, I sobbed. I kept sobbing as I exited. Once I stepped out, and I saw the sun hanging above a tree I just stared. We let the cool air touch us, and the amount of steam coming off was enough to make a little localized fog around us. We smudged again and finished the ritual.

Glen spoke again, “We have surely been visited today, the spirits came and each of you has been touched. Take this next while to merely think on what you have experienced, and the spirits will give you one last vision for you to take with you from here.” That perfect right parenthesis appeared again, except rather than a small little flash now it was like something burned onto my retina from a flash bulb.

When we exited the last time I felt drained, but not exhausted. I felt different, new and rejuvenated. I did not know what to think exactly but I knew I did not think like I previously had. When told to come in to eat I tried to beg off, I felt the need to just think. I was told I couldn’t leave till I ate, so I went in and found out I was not just hungry but ravenous. I ate four huge bowls of stew and a half dozen buns slathered in butter. We all talked about the ritual and our final visions. When I mentioned the perfect right parenthesis Butch exclaimed “I saw that too, but it is a moon phase! That will be your holy day.” To this day it is. I tend to fast on it and sacrifice my meals to the spirits so they might continue to speak to me.

When I finally got home after the ritual I was exhausted and immediately fell asleep for most of the day and night. I had dreams that were more vivid than before, although I have always dreamed lucidly. My mind worked out many things that I saw and felt in the lodge, not all of them recounted here for they were me alone.

Strangely I had a very hard time with the writing of this paper and a small amount of fear. Not because I feel I was sharing anything I should not, or because of sharing things that others may judge me for. Instead it was reliving an experience that meant so much to me and had such a huge impact. Despite the length of time since that ritual I am still deeply affected and moved. I can recall certain things with perfect clarity and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I learned a lot from that one simple ceremony.

The most important thing I learned was I am not meant to be either White or Indian but both and to live as me, a man of passion who will do those things others will not or cannot. I will bring about what I know and can do and from there I was able to find out who I am which has led me to what I am to do. I am a carrier of stories and visions, dreams and signs from spirits and these things are just as important as the knowledge I must learn to do what is ultimately my goal: To teach new ways between both White and Indian. I am a facilitator and teacher, and someone who will with time grow to the potential the spirits saw. For now I am happy to share and speak, to learn and be filled with many types of knowledge. I am impatient but can wait.