Living in the city (however large or small) tends to make you feel isolated, even when you have the technology to make you feel connected.
As a technology user since my first Apple Macintosh in my second grade class, I have always found the crux of technology and real life an interesting intersection. My predecessor at The Circle is as much of a Sci-Fi geek as I am (if not more so) and she is not a Luddite, but she knows how to balance her life between the technological and the visceral. I do not.
I live for the next ding, pop, jingle and buzz to tell me that someone needs to get ahold of me, has something to tell me or is just generally being annoying. If I go an hour without any one of those noises, I check my phone or computer to make sure it isn’t dead (which, my last phone was), or I wonder if I died in my sleep and am just too stubborn to accept it.
In the “Battlestar Galactica” franchise, there is a prequel entitled, “Caprica,” that explores the marriage of spirituality and technology. Every time I take the Light Rail Train, I envision the scene above, take a photo and upload it to instagram just to be safe. Nothing ever happens — thankfully — and I walk to the Post Office or back my office, unscathed.
The concept that keeps me wondering is how do we pass between this existence and the next?
The ultimate lesson given in the series is how humanity has developed technology to the point where it merges with theology. The lines are blurred and we’re never sure if the protagonist is real or simply a bundle of code.
A friend of mine explained to me the concept of the Noosphere and how it is essentially a cloud of thought emanating from the earth, the product of human conscious thought. That is a joy to know that when we all pass beyond the veil, there is somewhere more interesting for us.
It’s a joy because most of the time, I border somewhere among ambivalent Catholic, Traditionalist Lakota and Agnostic. I believe in something my mother and father taught me, but I’m not sure if it’s orthodox or unorthodox and what impact those beliefs have on my daily life. I know I have survived things that should have killed other people and that I have succumbed to things others would shrug off.
The middle ground for me has always been the concept that technology will provide us answers. It has answered such questions as, how, when and where. It has not, as of yet, answered, “why?”
And then, I saw Nova: The Fabric of The Cosmos two years ago, which theorized how reality as we know it is not only pliable, but subjective, only beholden unto our own imagination. In the last five minutes, the host posited a working theory that reality as we know is simply a projection from the nearest black hole, from where, we may originate.
It aligns with Lakota concepts of the end of our journey when we go to the edge of the galaxy and meet an elderly woman who reads our wrist to see if we’ve learned all we can or if we need to return to learn more. Of course, these scientific theories and spiritual beliefs are hardly compatible, given the available evidence.
But since when has belief and infant, scientific theory been predicated on available evidence?
Things we don’t talk about: God. My biggest fear is that there will be nothing at the end of my life.
I was baptized Catholic, raised in WoLakota and Episcopalian by my parents. I grew up with God. He and Mother Mary were my besties as a child. But then, as with all things religious, I entered my period of doubt. In Catholicism, we call this, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Blessed Mother Teresa was in it for decades. It is all about the doubt of not just god, but whether we all serve some higher purpose than the insects and livestock we slaughter every day to live.
And that’s where I still am. This is my home: doubt.
In addition, I am selfish. I want everyone to be my friends and relatives forever. I plan on living until I’m 200 or a thousand years old, which ever comes first. I don’t want anything to change, I want everything to be exactly as it was when I was a child.
But then, a beloved aunt or uncle dies and I’m reminded of our mortality. And all I can think is, “my mom is next.” To which, my mother always says, “I don’t plan on dying until you’re an old man.” My father died when I was just shy of my 26th birthday and it was a shocker for everyone. The center of our universe did not hold and we have been struggling to find a direction ever since. We still remember him in the best, humorous terms and try to ask ourselves, “What Would Lala Do?” And the answer is invariably, cuss, kick the dirt, eat pickles, pig’s feet and drink coffee.
My struggle always borders on trust in god’s plan and how I have separation anxiety. I worry. I worry. I worry. I worry. I worry. I worry. I worry and then, I worry more. It is no small understatement to say that I am a worrier. It’s just my nature. I like things to be set, planned and figured out. When they’re not, I hit eight panic buttons and call in the National Guard. This is what happens when you survive a winter car wreck at four years old, watching your mother being hauled into an ambulance with her head bleeding and the paramedics trying to calm you.
Ever since then, I have struggled to find order in the universe. Wherever I can, I look for patterns and a plan, even in the cosmos. Unfortunately, the best minds in astrophysics can offer us is that nothing makes sense, other than the randomness of gravity … maybe. There is also the comforting theory that reality as we understand it, is simply a projection in the fabric of reality from the nearest black hole, thereby establishing that we are puppets, enacting a very familiar pantomime on a screen.
Even so, Mom says, “Always trust in the Lord, put away your selfishness! He didn’t make you to be a doubter!” But my doubt persists. I have tons and tons of doubt and selfishness and anger. I struggle to understand the world and our roles in it. As they say on Battlestar Galactica, “This has all happened before and it will all happen again.” And I take that to heart. There is something enjoyable about the idea that we are all beings, repeating the same play every night. At least, there is a plan for us.
I was raised to believe in Tunkasila/God/Lord Buddha/The Mother/The Lord/Jesus/Jah, whatever we want to call our progenitor, the one who decided we were worth a go. I will always have the belief that we are doing it’s will each and every day. But my reason tells me, “You have no idea what is in the future, hold onto every vestige of your physical life here and never let go.”
Perhaps that’s the balance of life: we have a belief and few supporting facts. Our science may progress to measure such things. And that’s what we Catholics come to call Communion. The understanding that once we commit to one being, we are healed.
God be with us all the day we realize we are all healed.
Being both a political observer and reporter, it’s hard not to enjoy a good election season. However, when it’s my own tribe, I get a special kind of jaded bemusement about the political process.
After broadcasting close to two and a half years of RST Council meetings, some of my most-hated phrases are:
1: “It’s for the people.”
2. “It’s for the youth.”
3. “It’s for the elders.”
In general, these are good things you want to hear in tribal leadership. We’re a small group of people who constantly need advocates and leaders at every level to help us continue to enshrine our culture, heritage and future. In my experience, however, those phrases have been used to justify any manner of short-sighted budget deficits, credit extensions, cavalier hiring and firing practices and personal score settling. Particularly when two constituents complain to a member of government about one individual, it becomes bloated into hyperbolic protests, bordering on riots.
We as Native people do tend to exaggerate just a bit, but seeing one council representative receive two text messages during a session and then redirect the whole meeting into a witch hunt, justifying it by saying, “the people are complaining,” was a bit much.
It’s not hard for me to understand why we want 75 different things from 25 people every week. We’re in a starvation mode, we grasp at straws for any kind of way to uplift ourselves and we never have time to sit down among ourselves and work out any kind of meaningful plan. And even when we get that far, we feel hurt and overlooked when what one of us may think is a good idea doesn’t appeal to everyone else.
So we wacinko (pout), walk away and decide everyone else is wrong; never bothering to think of the bigger picture in terms of decades and centuries.
What appeals to me is leadership that is able to say no. Or at the very least, not right now. And what appeals to me is a tribal electorate that is able to say, “OK … maybe later.”
Today is the RST Primary Election for the offices of Treasurer and Secretary. The outgoing officers have done a remarkable job in their terms of office. Wayne Boyd has always provided our council with sound advice on the financial health and future of our nation in honest, but sensitive terms. Linda Marshall provided as open access to tribal government and records as she could, given her resources. Including, providing one tribal journalist with as many bits of exclusive information as possible without earning the ire of the current president.
So, let’s hope my fellow Sicangu start picking the candidates who do not make a career by saying, “for the people”/”for the elders”/”for the youth,” to justify anything and who can look at priorities with dispassion. Let’s also hope my fellow Sicangu voters can start looking at elected leadership with a little more dispassion as well.
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
He said in reply,“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Today’s Gospel had a significant meaning, given the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Because the constant conflict of being human is deciding whether to be filled with humanity and compassion, or to collapse to your worst fears.
George Zimmerman clearly chose to collapse into his worst fears about Trayvon. He chose to act as judge, jury and executioner of one child whose life was filled with endless possibilities to do great works and be a compassionate human. Zimmerman chose to believe his fears justified his actions under a stupid law that, as we see from the case of Marissa Alexander, is a deep miscarriage of any kind of justice in America.
We fear “the other,” we fear what is unknown, alien or foreign. This is also a basic instinct of humanity, from the deepest parts of our tribal heritages, it is a survival instinct. What Christ tells us today is that it is one thing to say we follow the letter of the law; it is an entirely different thing to interpret the spirit of the law.
How great would it have been if we lived in a world where the “Stand Your Ground” law was the Good Samaritan law? Even greater, how proud would God be of us if we made no laws to exclude or “other” anyone else who was not like us?
This morning, I woke up to claps of thunder and pats of rain outside my window. My first Minneapolitan thunder; beautiful, serene and not one song on my Sleep playlist could compare. The problems were: I had to be on the office in 105 minutes, I had no umbrella and one of my sneaky nephews lifted my waterproof hoodie that goes with anything I wear before I left and, well hell, Mabel, I don’t have a car.
After I pulled the covers from my head, I realized I had 87 minutes to get to the office and hopped in the shower, without my morning stretches (I imagine time in increments of blocks with every minute passed as a chip I’ll never get back). After my pointless shower (I’m going to get soaked on the way to the bus stop alone) I looked for any combo that could withstand the pouring rain and look stylish. The last thing I bought was a pair of white shorts at the Gap almost a year and a half ago. The last time I asked a friend for fashion advice on what I was wearing, she texted, “go home in shame.”
Read: I am not your average gay, Native, journalist, Catholic, politico, organizer, anything.
Taking stock of the folded shirts, pants, socks and underwear tucked in their slatted slots, (I have a lot of great closet space and no dresser and am compulsively organized now) I spied a gray friend of my past life: the embroidered RST Business Office Columbia hiking jacket … with a hood!
Then, my city instincts kicked in. This thing not only has my tribal logo emblazoned on the back, but my full name on the front left. If anyone sees who I am, where I’m from and what I did in my past life, I am a stalker’s dream. (Forgetting entirely that I am of a decently intimidating build that people in my genteel neighborhood do cross the street when they see me plodding home.)
But still I hemmed and hawwed and said, “Fuck it, I have become more than my enemies, myself included, ever thought I could be. If the good lord above sees fit to take me out now, it will be his will. Never be ashamed of who you are and where you come from” and donned my jacket we all worked so hard to get. Countless 50/50 Raffles, lunch and breakfast sales (one where I undercooked the hash browns so bad, everyone lied through their teeth, saying, “They’re GOOD! I like them to crunch!”)
By the time I hoofed it to the Walker Arts Center, I was sweating but the rain stopped.
God rewards faithfulness to the sacrifices we make to one another. I just wish God would do something about my fashion sense.
So, here’s my thing about America. I really do love America. I think the idea, the concept and the ideal of America is a fantastic goal to always strive to become. In practice, however, we suck. And I do say we, because as Natives in this country, we were brought along for the ride, whether we wanted to be brought along or not. The flip side of that is that during the Battle of the Little Bighorn (better known in Lakota communities as the Battle of Greasy Grass), we kicked the ass of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry. But not only that, the elders used to tell quiet stories about how the survivors of the Seventh survived on the prairie a few days by hiding from us and drinking their own urine, which may or may not be part of the saga of Lakota storytelling, but it signified that we had won, once and for all.
The thing that sealed the deal for us is that when the battle standard for the Seventh fell, Lakota and our allies picked it up. It was a symbol of not just our victory, but our new stewardship over this country that came to us and decided to call itself America. We have thought of ourselves, since that day, as the battle born victors and protectors of this nation. It is why Native Americans (particularly from the plains tribes) have a higher prevalence toward US military service.
And on the reservation, we honor our akicita, the soldiers who protect and fight for our rights. We always give them thanks and do our best to provide for them, before, during and after their service.
But we still have ambivalence over our enforced, shared destiny with America. In some families, there will be great talk of patriotism and in others, there is still talk of tribal sovereignty and independence. It is a conflict that we live with among ourselves and try to figure out with every successive generation.
This holiday, overall, marks a need for paradigm shift for tribes. With last fall and winter’s #IdleNoMore Movement from the Canadian First Nations and adopted by tribes in the United States, we find ourselves in increasing political relevance. After our recent loss with the Supreme Court rulings and impact on ICWA and the Voting Rights Act, it is clear and apparent that the attitude of assimilation continues to prevail in mainstream American society.
Now comes the generation that will decide for tribal nations whether we continue to accept the rulings of a foreign court and legislature as domestic dependent nation or whether we get our collective acts together in time to become educated, motivated and determined to provide a better future for our people, even when the country we have fought for, died for, protected and defended believes we are still subject to its opinions.
The first night in Minneapolis, my oldest nephew and I barrelled down Hennepin Avenue in search of a place to feed our hungry bellies. My fantastic landlady (who stayed up until 11 p.m. to greet us) recommended The Leaning Tower of Pizza, where two bass-ackward kids naturally had burgers.
As I negotiated my 1989 Cadillac DeVille, with no power steering, down the narrow streets of residential Uptown for a place to park, I was sure as I’d ever been about anything to let my car go back to the Rez, where it’d have a free life among the wide, navigable avenues we call roads.
After my eventful week during Twin Cities Pride (before the Marriage Equality law takes effect), I set about my route to hoof it to work. The map tells me it’s close to two miles from my lovely appointed apartment to my office, so I haven’t even bothered counting the blocks, I just know if I walk briskly, it takes me about 45-55 minutes. I’ve begun to think of this time as my prayer/gratitude time when I listen to my best music playlist: “Musica Caprica.”
Anyone who knows me knows I love the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica franchise, including the pre-cursor, “Caprica.” The themes are universal and apply to Indigenous people now, more than ever.
And though it may have its problems with crime and race relations, Minneapolis really is a city of acceptance, inclusion and celebration. I am blessed/fortunate to be here at this time.
So, I plug in my earbuds, walk to work, learn everything I can about my new job and give my thanks at the end of the day that the Mystery saw fit to bring me here at this place and time to report, enjoy and do no harm to another living being. We should all, regardless of our geographical location, practice a city etiquette.
When my mom was a teenager, she wasn’t the most popular at the St. Francis Mission boarding school. Being the youngest and having had four sisters go through the school before her, she kept to herself to distinguish her own identity. In a word, she was a wallflower. But at the first dance she was forced to go to, she didn’t know how to be social. At that point, her cousin waved her over to his table and introduced her to his friends. He acknowledged her as a relative and made her feel welcome in a hard world. Over the years they grew closer, like siblings. Tonight, we are said our goodbyes to her cousin, my uncle, Albert White Hat. For those in Indian Country who know him by his reputation, they won’t ever forget what a great historian and leader he was. For me, he will always be the uncle who did what was right and good for the woman who taught me to do what is right and good.
In the past, whenever I had to leave somewhere it took a day and I was pretty cavalier about it, just a quick, “I’m headed out now, bye.”
Three years ago in Reno and then on the campaign trail, I did swan songs. I’d stretch it out over a two or three days.
Now, I have two weeks of goodbyes and comforting others, dealing with the long sighs and declarations of, “I can’t believe you’re leaving!” Now, it’s not about what I’m leaving behind, but who I’m leaving behind. Two weeks is a good period, I think.
Every now and then, I’ll receive a media inquiry for the tribe. Most of the time, they’re specific enough. Sometimes they’re governmental, legal or cultural.
Today though, some hitch hiking travelers called about rites of passage. I went through the traditional laundry list. They wanted sun dance and ceremony. I told them filming and reenacting were forbidden.
Then, I thought about contemporary rites and flashed back to my first paycheck and using it to support my mom, nephews and niece.
Sometimes, some rites aren’t dressed up in ceremony. Sometimes, they’re as simple as being an adult.
I found an apartment in Minneapolis … within walking distance of my office … close to Loring Park … close to a bus stop … and a Nice Ride station … the weekend of Pride … the month before the marriage law takes effect.
I started this Tumblr during the long and boring days of unemployment on the rez. Oddly enough, it took me thinking, “by God, I should get a personal Tumblr now,” to realize I had already set one up.
I spent 8 months working for my tribe as an underling in the Communications project; then quickly took over for 20 months as the overling/managing editor of our tribal newspaper. And if that doesn’t explain half the journey, you really need to experience the world.
Now, I’m moving on to being the managing editor of a very decent publication in Minneapolis. (Once we get the Web site up and going again, I’ll inundate you with pointless, but proud posts.) God willing, I won’t screw it up.
Transitions are scary. Transitions are hard.
But in the end, we become better people for having made the leap.