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Posts Tagged ‘respectful behavior’


I just finished watching “The Fault In Our Stars”, a great tearjerker about love, eulogies, etc.

It made me think of what I would say if I wrote my eulogy, and I realize that anything one says or writes, is a part of their eulogy.

I think part of my eulogy would be an apology. Because I can come across as hard and unyielding in the moment, when I know that my intentions are good. And that’s because of pride. Pride is such a defense mechanism, a flawed way of protecting yourself. It is a dis-ease, a dis-ability. It’s a way of hiding vulnerability in the moment. Of not being in the moment. Or perhaps of being someone you don’t want to be in that moment; when the moment is all we have, and that most important moment involves people.

Humility on the other hand, is being vulnerable in the moment, open to the moment and flexible in relation to all of its possibilities. That’s the funny thing about being vulnerable. I don’t know if it’s something that you can spontaneously feel in the moment once you have reached a certain level of awareness. It is only something that you can practice.

It’s like patience. I don’t consider myself a patient person though some other people may, I don’t know if patience will ever feel natural. I think it is something you can only practice. I only know that to date, I do not comprehend the feeling of patience. But with practice ( like choosing to wait in the longest grocery line) patience is becoming second nature. I don’t have to think about it. Perhaps when one reaches a certain level of awareness, anything/everything becomes second nature.

The point being that for me,

humility in the moment ,

is an intermittent short in the wiring.

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Nanabozhu is on his way to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where the people are unique and peculiar.

“Can you pull up next to that guy driving that semi?” He rolls down the back passenger side window to the Chrysler Town and Country.

“I don’t think it’s going to accomplish anything.” Says the blond in the front seat.

“Well, I have to try,” he replies.

By now they are alongside the guy driving the semi at 75 miles an hour. Nanabozhu sticks his head out the window (which doesn’t quite open up all the way so he’s kinda squished through it.)  The trucker looks down at them and sees an older Anishinabe fellow squinting with effort as Nanabozhu tries to make a  rolling motion with the one hand he can get out of it.

The truck driver rolls down his window with a curious look on his face. With the wind whipping by, he thinks he hears Nanabozhu yell something like “Your barn door’s open!” (Which is a euphemism for “the zipper on your pants is undone”.) Nanabozhu can see him mouth “What?!” with an incredulous look on his face.

“Your back door is open!” Nanabozhu yells again. The trucker smiles and waves with that easygoing look of someone who has heard you say something but is too polite to tell you that they didn’t quite understand what you said.

Their Town and Country pulls ahead, leaving the truck behind with Ben their driver glancing back in the SUV’s rear view mirror to watch the trucker checking his side view mirrors looking like someone who, with a little thought, has finally  figured out what you were trying to say,  and the trucker finally begins to pull off the road.

Mission accomplished.

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Cemetery

Are the dead meant to fade away?

Are our forebears meant to be forgotten,
when the ones who loved them pass away?

Spirit houses are not made to last.
They are new at the time of death
and old and decrepit after a short time,
a few years.

This so the spirits of those who linger
near the world of the living
have time to transition.

In some of the reservation cemeteries,
there are the newest graves at the front,
with their gaudy plastic flowers and mementos
and bright and shiny polished granite
fading to graves halfway back.

On these, no plastic blooms.
They are the somber, weathered, dusty tombstones;
some in the lichen covered, obsolete limestone,
of those who could afford them.

And the simple wooden crosses
rotting and askew,
of those who could not.

And further back still,
the depressions in the grass
of those old, old ones,
silent and unattended,
unmarked and forgotten.

The lost ones

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Now that I am back, I have been thinking about the different feeling of living on the reservation versus living away from it.  The Anishinabeg are blessed to live in Red Lake. There is a different feeling living there.

Ours is big for one thing, so there is a lot to see. I found myself rediscovering places I had known before, but also discovering new things and new places. As time passes I discovered many things stayed the same and many things had changed.

The scenery is all so varied. There are different kinds of lakes: Red Lake, which is BIG, and small lakes, lakes of different sizes, lakes which have different kinds of fish in them, rivers creeks, swamps. sloughs, marshes,  Forests of different trees: Birch, Jack Pine, Norway Pine, Cedar, Poplar, Maple, Various Oaks and Tamarack, and all the different kinds of plants.

I also found myself enjoying spiritual experiences. I don’t mean supernatural experiences, I mean just meeting another/other beings. Sometimes those were people: family, friends, people from high school, and people I hadn’t met before. Sometimes they were the crows, deer, eagles, squirrels in mom’s back yard, mom’s or the many neighbor’s dogs, the huge bears at the dump, fish in the water, the partridges I heard out in the woods, ducks, geese, loons, a field mouse.

I am reminded that we take so many things for granted. I remember moving here to Missouri and seeing a Nuthatch hopping down (facing downward) a tree trunk looking for bugs. The first times it was such a novel experience. Now I take it more for granted. The point is however, that there are so many strange and beautiful things in nature, and I found myself wanting to travel about the reservation as an exercise in experiencing those things.

One difference, I suspect was that I felt this was land held in common with other Anishinabeg that I could experience as I wanted, subject to my personal controls of common sense, moderation, and consideration, and not to the outside rules imposed on me by an impersonal authority.

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In the old days, the Anishinabeg as a people where virtuous. Parents would not allow their young daughter to meet with a young man unattended. So it was that he would use a courting flute to woo her (and them).

At night, just after the sun went down, the young man would play his flute while hidden in the woods near their lodge. If she liked what he played, she would invite him in for further discussion. If she didn’t like what he played, then she would throw stones at him while making disparaging comments until he stole away in the night.

Mă·nō´mĭn was the name of the flute maker’s beautiful daughter. Her name meant “wild rice”. Her parents named her that for many reasons: one, because they liked the way it sounded; two,  just as wild rice was essential for the survival of the people, they knew they could not live happily without their precious daughter, and three, because her auntie, who was a powerful mĭdewiwĭn, prophesied at her birth that she would have a wild (as in free and unfettered) temperament.

Now being the flute makers daughter, and he having a very young son not yet old enough to learn the tricks of the trade, happily taught Mănōmĭn all of his flute making knowledge. This gave her quite the advantage over her friends. Not that she would take advantage of them, rather, that she knew things that would help her to make a better choice concerning her suitors.

For instance, she knew the four most important things about courting flutes and their owners: how the flute itself reflected the characteristics of it’s owner, who all the young men in the village were; the love magic associated with a courting flute, and how to make her own flute.

You see, either a young man came to the flute maker to learn how to make his own flute, or he came to the flute maker to have a flute made for him. This helped Manomin because she saw all the young men who visited her father.

But this was not all, for in this family, (and so in most of this village) a flute was traditionally as long as the forearm of its maker–from elbow to the longest fingertip. There was a hand’s breadth of space between the mouthpiece and the fetish, another between the fetish and the first finger hole, and still another between the last finger hole and the bottom. The bore was as large as the dominant forefinger of it’s owner and there was a thumb’s breadth between each of the six finger holes.

So, if the owner of the flute was a tall young man with big hands, his flute would be long, with a large bore and so would have a low tone. If the young man was short and had little hands, his flute would be short with a small bore and thus would have a higher tone. Knowing this, Manomin could generally figure out who played what flute.

In either case, the young man came to the flute maker to learn how to play his flute. For her father had to learn how to play his flute well in order to woo and win over his wife, and for a fee or trade he passed this knowledge on to his proteges.

Now, here’s the rub. You see, while each young man was given the basics on how to play a flute well. They all had to practice their flute in private, either deep in the woods, or at their own lodges, which were far away. Not only that, but they also had to create their own songs, becoming one with their own flutes during the process,  so Manomin could not know exactly what songs came from who.

Now, having this knowledge was compounded by another factor. There was love jē´bĭk,  or magic, that could be associated with a courting flute. If a young man wanted to entrance the young woman with his courting flute playing he had to get a personal item or piece of hair from his intended and incorporate it into the decoration of that flute. This was how he would hopefully “seal the deal”.

Knowing this, and knowing that her father wasn’t above trying to “stack the deck” for the  young man of his choice, Manomin was very careful to keep all of her personal possessions hidden away in her Mă·kăk´, which was a birch bark container that is square on the bottom and round on top, and routinely burned any strands of stray hair that ended up in her comb or brush.

Finally, knowing how to make a courting flute was knowledge that Manomin kept up her sleeve for later.

****

As things go, the courting started in earnest that spring.

It was late enough so that there were leaves on the trees and grass on the ground, but early enough that the mosquitoes and biting flies had not come out yet. It was still cool enough that Manomin would sit by the fire just outside the lodge by a large pile of river pebbles she had gathered over the previous months for that very purpose. These stones were large enough that she could throw them a great distance but small enough that if you were beaned with one it would hurt, but not knock you out.

There were many suitors. Some played so softly and tenuously that she could barely hear them. Manomin figured that she needed someone who played boldly to reflect their bold spirit. So she threw stones at them and they disappeared.

Sometimes she heard rustling in the bushes as if someone were fighting and she would call out and throw stones, letting them know that if they did not let each other play that she would have none of them. So it was by the agreement of the suitors that each one played on a different night until all had a chance.  They would play until Manomin got tired of listening and went inside the lodge or until she threw stones and chased them away.

Some of the songs were unoriginal, like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. That got the stones. Some of the songs were painful. Their notes too high. Manomin figured that if she didn’t like the songs, that she wouldn’t like the young man who wrote them. Stones, stones, stones.  They were the recipients of stones as well.  Some of the songs were repetitive. Manomin did not want to have a boring relationship so those young men were stoned.

The songs that she liked the most were those that incorporated the sounds of her favorite courting  bird, the Mahng or loon,  and the various woodpeckers. The combination of tremolo in them was either from the player being nervous which she didn’t mind at all because it made her realize she had power to make that young man nervous, or because he was accomplished enough to deliberately incorporate that quality into his song. She also realized that having such a skill might translate into other areas as well. There were a few flutists whose songs made the hair on the back of her neck stand up, they were so thrilling!

The young men were also tenacious enough that they came back night after night. They would play one song that identified them  and then they would play the new songs they had made up over the past few days.

****

This lasted until near the end of the Fall when Manomin decided to do something totally unexpected. She pulled a flute she had secretly made out of her sleeve! Whenever one of the young men who were left tried to play their songs she would play hers. One of the young men tried to drown her out. She was sad to have to throw stones at him because his songs were so beautiful and sad that they made her weep, but she knew that if he was not smart enough to figure out that she mattered in this way that he would not treat her equally later.

Her playing initially silenced the remaining flute players until only one was left. He came every night and announced his presence with a short song, but Manomin started playing immediately after that.

Then a wonderful thing happened.

When there was a break in her song, the young man would play counterpoint.  When it was possible, and their flutes were in tune –which was very difficult because the notes of Anishinabeg flutes were not tuned to scale as the Europeans do, but were made to the measurements of the user, the young man would play harmony to her melody. This went on four nights with their songs becoming increasingly complicated and intertwined. On the last night, Manomin gave her final test. She ad-libbed! And the young man, well knowing how she played by this time ad-libbed right along with her. The result was a musical synergy that each could not have developed without the other.

It was on that night, just before the first snow fell, that Manomin invited the young man who would become her husband, in to meet her parents.

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I discovered I had a new superpower as I stepped off the plane in Bemidji. I was invisible! It’s true.  Grown-up people I didn’t know did not see me until I said something to them or did something to attract their attention. They looked right through me! This was not true for children. They could see me all the time. So it must have something to do with complicated minds.

This power became stronger as I traveled through Red Lake. Sometimes people could not see me, even if I waved at them! The interesting  thing about this super power is that while my friends could see me easily, the more people did not know me, the more it seems like I had a force field around me that actually repelled their gaze.  It just slid around me.  I’m not sure I want to say too much about it as the NSA and the CIA might want to make use of it. I know it would come in handy in places that are not Minnesota.

Perhaps it’s like the instinct in monkeys. You don’t want to look them in the eye because one of you might be afraid the other is hostile. I just wonder if this is an invisibility gene that comes from someplace.

The other interesting thing I found was that I was not alone in having this super power. It is also true that all the other Minnesotans and especially the  Indians have it as well. But I think it is like a fish being underwater. The water is all around us but since we are in it all the time we don’t notice it until someone points it out to us.

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Up to this point I have never re-blogged a post, (considering such a thing to be cheating). In this case, I thought Lori’s blog was so good that I’d make an exception. Enjoy.

Lori Potter

As we rapidly approach the end of 2012, I believe now is a good time to focus on something big.  What I’m talking about is an issue so deep and dark that it has plagued my community for at least twenty years.   It’s the root of many reasons why so many people are emotionally disconnected and refuse to attend meetings, volunteer, or have generally anything productive to do with the tribe whatsoever.  Yes, folks, it’s high time I address the elephant in the room because frankly, he’s been toying with my community for far too long.

I’m talking about…

Unforgiveness.

Oh yes…a lot of crap can happen in twenty years.  There is indeed a list reasons why people feel the way they feel, and that list is very long.  It includes:

  • broken promises,
  • false assumptions of life-long prosperity spoon-fed to multiple generations,
  • secrecy,
  • political manipulation,
  • financial misleading,
  • threats to remain blindly…

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