Tag Archives: hope

To Minot With Love

Sent June 14: Hi there. I hope you are doing well. Not sure if you remember me. I just happened to find a note you wrote me many moons ago when we were both in Minot, ND. Your profile picture looks fantastic. I am hoping you still carry that same confident, determined spirit always trying to understand why… Take good care.

 – Awesome Therapist*

I found this message a couple weeks ago in an obscure folder on Facebook. OK, maybe not that obscure, but I never check the “Other” folder under the main messaging area in Facebook. That I did at all was purely chance. Maybe.

It’s an amazing blast from my past. Here’s my response:

Sent June 23: Of COURSE I remember you! When I speak to student youth groups about overcoming challenges I refer to the wonderful advice you gave me back in the summer of 2001: you are responsible for yourself (well, maybe those weren’t your exact words, but I do remember you putting the emphasis back on ME to take control, versus letting outside influences determine my thoughts and actions). How wonderful of you to message me!

Crazy – seriously – but I thought about you (beyond totally plagiarizing you at speaking gigs!) just the other night. I work with a juvenile diversion program – lots of kids on home detention – and was trying to explain how I came out of my teenage rut, and I fixated on you during my explanation. Not in a weird way (!) but the kids asked me a lot of questions about what exactly you did for me, because I really do come back to our sessions [in Minot] as being pivotal in my personal success. I told them that after a lifetime of counselors and therapists rehashing my parents’ viewpoints, you showed me the power of personal accountability. Or at least led me in that direction.

I know we only had a summer fling of a relationship but the impact you had on me is truly… astounding. I will end here for fear of writing you a novel of a response (I am known to be introspective, but you probably knew that – ha!). Please, if you want, keep in touch. If you ever need a good boost of ‘my work is meaningful,’ I will definitely provide input.

– Taté (Finn) Walker

PS – I still have the bookmark with your note hanging on my wall. Interesting the mementos life brings back to us time and again.

I was quite the shithead when I was a teenager and fueled by overflowing family drama. I won’t bore you with the details, but I was abused, depressed, repressed, and full of potential. I am jealous of people who look back fondly at their youth; personally, I’d willingly suffer a blow to the head if it would mean forgetting everything up until age 18.

With my depression came self-harm and cutting. Suicide attempts. Drug and alcohol use. Rape. It all blended together for a spiraling cocktail of woe. I was eventually sent to live in a group home my senior year of high school, where I would give up completely. The group home staff was ill-trained and some staff were downright abusive. At the time, I thought getting a few cigarettes in exchange for doing “favors” was a great deal.

In the destruction of the tornado that was my life I got pregnant (while a participant in the group home system, no less). I remember my dad asking me what I planned to do. I was eager for responsibility and control over my own life, and so I told anyone who would listen how I planned to raise the child myself. Now, working with youth as I do, I see how unfair it was for the adults in my life to leave the decision wholly up to me, especially considering I was ill-informed.

I was just a kid.

Kids having kids.

How odd is it that I was locked away in an intense treatment facility, yet somehow could manage the responsibility of pregnancy and motherhood? I know, young mothers do it all the time. Doesn’t mean they should.

My social worker, a nasty she-devil (and I feel qualified in passing such judgment now, especially since I’ve worked professionally with many wonderful social workers these last five years), was adamant about adoption. My dad and step-mother… I don’t remember them throwing in a definitive opinion one way or the other; my step-mom would later tell me they had discussed raising the baby on their own, but I know them well-enough that this line of thought is rather a joke. They could barely raise me. I felt the same way about my biological mother – the woman I have since come to love and admire for all the wonderful things she is, but with whom I had no healthy or developed relationship with during my youth (that’s another blog post). My mom stepped forward early in my pregnancy to say she would raise the baby. I said no to this; my dad and step-mom had raised me to doubt any issuance of love my mother offered me (gifts were “buying me off,” letters meant she didn’t want to see me in person, visits were forced, and any bad behavior I had was caused by the bad genetics I got from her — no, seriously, these and more were the messages my dad and step-mom threw at me throughout my youth). So to her offer I said no, and I said no in such a cruel and spiteful way as to make my dad, step-mom, and She-Devil proud.

And so the state child welfare authorities sent me to the middle of nowhere (otherwise known as Minot, ND) to hide my growing belly. It was a place for pregnant youth to learn healthy living skills. It turned out to be a dream destination for me. The group homes in Bismarck were Guantanamo compared to this oasis. The staff were mother hens, and they cared for and protected us fiercely. At 17, I was an old participant; the other girls were 12 and 13, although a 19-year-old came in eventually. We made healthy (if fattening) meals, got lots of naps, and I was allowed to volunteer with the local humane society.

Also in Minot, I was introduced to Awesome Therapist*.

For all intents and purposes, A.T. is my own personal Jiminy Cricket. I can’t explain well-enough except to say she empowered me with personal responsibility, self-reliance, and control. She helped me recognize the vast majority of my problems – depression, cutting, acting out – were a result of feeling powerless. To be fair to my parents, they probably said some of the same things to me, though their communication system was definitely in the realm of “The Authority,” whereas A.T.  took a more equitable approach (if you were ever once a teenager, then you know the difference). She helped me see how imperfect my parents were (that may sound silly – no parent is perfect – but, truly, the pedestal I held them on had grown to skyscraping proportions throughout my young life, and before A.T. they could do no wrong in my eyes), helped me understand the shit I had experienced in my life, including getting pregnant, were not all my fault.

Accepting responsibility for my actions is one thing; A.T.  showed me how harmful and unhealthy shouldering ALL the responsibility was. She also explained the importance of learning from the past, letting it go, and moving forward.

But the most important thing she did for me was encourage me to study my Lakota culture and reconnect with my biological mother. She said strengthening those two relationships would also strengthen me. And they did.

They still do.

With personal accountability came enlightenment on many levels.  My most immediate situation – pregnancy – engaged my initial focus. Abortion had never once made it into my conversations with other adults (very taboo) until Minot. I did some research and made an appointment with the clinic in Fargo. North Dakota law cut off legal abortions at 12 weeks. I was right at the cusp, which further validates my belief that all things happen for a reason – usually a good reason. Blessedly, extremely supportive women in Minot surrounded me, many whom did not agree with my choice, but were non-judgmental and loving to me all the more. I owe them much and more for their unyielding support; what could have proven to be a really difficult and stressful experience turned out to be a huge relief and turning point in my personal recovery. So many people talk about either their or others’ abortions as a negative event – something they regret. I am lucky in that my only regret is I was ever in a situation to be victimized, which led to the pregnancy. Once I was fully educated of the options, having an abortion became the only road I wanted to take. Maybe I will post another blog on abortion – like sexual or domestic abuse, it’s something a lot of us who experience those life-changing moments push to the back of our minds, yet in talking about it we open up avenues for others to learn and progress.

Abortion has taken up a lot of space here, but only to explore the amount of growth I undertook after meeting A.T.  It’s unfair to say she pushed me toward a pro-choice attitude. In fact, I have no idea where her ideologies fall on the issue, and I’m not trying to paint her as anti- or pro- anything. She simply empowered me with the tools I needed to make my own decisions. That’s really all any teen needs. We adults tend to think teenagers can take on only so much information and we ‘protect’ them from the scary real world. Teens are resilient, and strong, and thick-skulled. They have the potential of doing some great things if we lay out a full spectrum of options. Sure, some will continue to make bad choices. But I’m willing to bet just as many – maybe more – good (better) decisions would be made if we imbued kids with some knowledge power.

A.T.’s impact has stayed with me all these years. And as you can see, she still has the ability to bring out some serious self-reflection. As I reflect, it dawns on me that I use a lot of her methods when working with youth:

  • Empower Youth
  • Encourage Family Connections
  • Enlist Spirituality
  • Educate Culturally

Those four “E”s seem to work pretty well. The youth I spend time with just need someone to believe they can succeed. For whatever reason, we adults make that harder than it needs to be. When all signs pointed to failure, A.T. was by my side with assurances and approval for all the things I had done right (strength-based care is amaze-bombs, btw – most every teenager I encounter is a survivor of SOMETHING, and surviving IS something…).

I apologize if I’m making A.T. out to be some kind of magic bullet. I don’t expect she’s beyond criticism. No one is. But I’d put a cape on her and call her a hero any day for the way she made me feel about myself. And maybe that’s magic, and maybe it’s just letting kids know you care, so they can start caring, too. I can only hope I’m having half the impact on the kids I work with as A.T. had on me. Anyone who knows me also knows I still trip and stumble – hard. We all do. But if A.T. left me with anything it’s that life’s too short to sweat the small things, I’ve gotta move on from mistakes, trust myself, and love fully. She met me when I was at the banks of the Rubicon, and she showed me I had the means to cross it and achieve victory.

Vini. Vidi. Vici.

Sent June 24: “What a humbling, beautiful response! You definitely have not lost your touch in getting your thoughts and feelings across! I’m glad for that. I do think of our summer [in Minot] often (believe it or not), as you have always stood as a benchmark for resiliency and determination that I used as a litmus in working with other teenagers since. I’m actually tutoring a young lady right now in math, grammar and science that reminds me a lot of you…I make her question everything! My journey as a therapist and now teacher has been an interesting one the past 10 years and I do reflect on our conversations fondly. I’m so glad to hear that you are sharing your experiences with other teens. I have no doubt that the way you have incorporated everything is extremely invaluable to them. To be honest…my personal work to do the same lent part of the magic to our sessions not that long ago…”

– A.T.

*Name changed to protect identity

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Dear ND Voters – Thank you. Love, Me

Let’s get this out of the way: I have never claimed North Dakota. I graduated from Bismarck High School in 2001, and my dad’s family still lives on the ranch-type property they bought back in the summer of 1997. But that’s it. Aside from family, I have no connections or feelings for that state just north of South Dakota. Thanks to some rough-and-tumble times during my volatile teen years, I dread driving through the state for any reason. You couldn’t pay me enough to live there.

With THAT said, I am all smiles today. North Dakota voters – those amazing oil-stained dontcha knows (I write that in a loving, Fargo-style accent) – effectively ended a terrible and racist legacy in yesterday’s state primary: The Fighting Sioux nickname and logo at the University of North Dakota. At least, those of us who have struggled and opposed the nickname for years (me) or decades (many brave others) hope this is the end of that hurtful era.

From the Associated Press:

Voters in Tuesday’s North Dakota primary were asked whether to uphold or reject the Legislature’s repeal of a state law requiring the school to use the nickname. The vote sends the matter back to the state’s Board of Higher Education, which is expected to re-retire the nickname and American Indian head logo that seven years ago was deemed hostile and abusive by the NCAA.

That the issue became a political one (who ever heard of a college nickname being placed on a ballot, honestly??) is irrelevant now. The demeaning moniker is on its way out (ding dong!) – FINALLY! I get kinda choked up every time I think about it :*) I can’t tell you how often I have spoken to students, teachers, friends, family, and the general public about the need to retire mascots like the Fighting Sioux. I wrote last semester’s ethics final on the subject (posted for your enjoyment below). I even wrote my first editorial in high school opposing the nickname; I’ll never forget the backlash. How dare I be offended by a stereotypical image and its historically and culturally inaccurate pejorative?!? I mean, really, Taté – you should be proud, because every time a hockey puck hits its mark, a Native gets her wings (or some other “honorary” dismissal of MY feelings).

So, cheers to North Dakotans, who broke state elections primary turnout records to vote overwhelmingly in favor of chucking the nickname and logo overboard into the dirty annals of America, filed right next to Custer, land theft, broken treaties, reservations, boarding schools, and Wounded Knee, among other atrocities.

Onward to Washington’s hateful football team name.

My ethics final, in case you were interested 🙂

USD Masters of Public Administration

Administrative Ethics Final Spring 2012

In which I argue Indian mascots are America’s new-age gas chambers.

NOTE: I CUT TWO BORING INTRO PAGES. YOU’RE WELCOME.

The Fighting Sioux nickname, alongside its logo, an Indian head in profile, has generated both alumni foundation dollars and major athletic and community controversy. Those who study ethics, such as Philip Zimbardo, as well proponents of ethical justice, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., would argue against the use of Indian mascots, which not only dehumanize Native American people, but also contribute to their continued unjust treatment.

MASCOTS, A HISTORY

Beginning in the 1960s, colleges across the country began dumping Indian mascots: in 1969, Dartmouth College swaps “Indians” for “Big Green;” in 1972, Stanford University changes from “Indians” to “Cardinals;” and in 1978, Syracuse University drops its “Saltine Warrior” (Rosenstein, 2008). Dozens of institutions followed suit; some, like the University of Iowa, refused to play teams with Indian mascots, making it difficult for schools with offensive names to play regular season games (Rosenstein, 2008). Then, in 2005, the NCAA “banned the use of American Indian mascots by sports teams during its postseason tournaments, but will not prohibit them otherwise… Nicknames or mascots deemed ‘hostile or abusive’ would not be allowed on team uniforms or other clothing” (ESPN, 2005). While many of the 19 schools targeted by the NCAA ruling complied, UND held out:

North Dakota challenged the NCAA edict in court. In a settlement, the school agreed to begin retiring its nickname if it could not obtain consent to continue its use from North Dakota’s Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes by Nov. 30, 2010.

Spirit Lake tribal members endorsed the name. But the Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal council, which opposed the nickname, has declined to support it or to allow its tribal members to vote.

The law forcing the school to use the name and logo was approved in March [2011], despite opposition from university officials and Grand Forks legislators…

The law was repealed during a special legislative session last November, with many former supporters switching sides and saying it had not accomplished its purpose of influencing the NCAA.

Supporters of the nickname, including some members of the Standing Rock Sioux, said they turned in petitions with more than 17,000 signatures…in support of the law. (CBS News, 2012)

Then, on April 4, 2012, the North Dakota State Supreme Court ruled voters should decide whether to keep the UND nickname before the courts judge whether the 2011 pro-nickname law violates the state constitution (WDAZ Television 8, 2012). Until then, UND’s president, Robert Kelley, said the school and its athletic teams will continue to use the nickname and logo – and comply with NCAA sanctions – until June 12, when North Dakotans have the opportunity to vote to keep the nickname (Kelley, 2012).

THE BANALITY OF EVIL

But the issue here is not a legal one, nor is it a question of tradition or honor. The use of Indian mascots and nicknames is an ethical issue – a question of whether Indians are people to be respected or whether it is acceptable to dehumanize an entire culture. In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) “called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities,” because it found this brand of racial stereotyping to have harmful effects on the “social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people” (APA, 2005). Even more harmful is the effect stereotyping and dehumanization have on the ability of seemingly normal citizens to commit evil and horrendous acts against those seen as mere “things,” according to psychologist and researcher Philip Zimbardo (2008):

Dehumanization is the central construct in our understanding of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ Dehumanization occurs whenever some human beings consider other human beings to be excluded from the moral order of being a human person. The objects of this psychological process lose their human status in the eyes of their dehumanizers. By identifying certain individuals or groups as being outside the sphere of humanity, dehumanizing agents suspend the morality that might typically govern reasoned actions toward their fellows. (p. 307)

Zimbardo (2008) explains how dehumanizing can trigger an ability in ‘good’ people to commit atrocious acts, i.e. the Jewish Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, and abuse by guards at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Dehumanization allows people to redefine harmful behavior as honorable, minimizes personal responsibility, maximizes apathy, and “reconstruct(s) our perception of victims as deserving their punishment” (p. 311).

In the case of Indian mascots, the context behind the offensive nicknames and logos is at issue. Many schools adopted Indian mascots and nicknames during the early part of the 20th century, “a time when American Indian people had little political power, rights, and were not very respected as a result of the United States enforcement of federal Indian policies” (LaRocque, McDonald, Ferraro, & Abe, 2012). Along with this are the inaccurate portrayals of Native Americans throughout United States history; according to Chaney, Burke and Burkely (2012):

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns regarding AI [American Indian] mascots is that, because AIs may be largely defined by (and socially represented in terms of) mascot stereotypes, AI people have ceased to be perceived as real. From the time of first contact with European explorers, AIs have been portrayed fictionally as barbaric, wild, and savage––terms that imply AI people are less than human. Thus, it could be argued that AIs have existed as mascots for the 500+ year history of this country, and one consequence of AI sports mascots is that they keep AI people allegorically fixed as a kind of ‘cultural souvenir’ preserved in the American identity. (p. 43)

NOTE FROM ME: Not in the essay, since this was more my opinion than anything else, but I argue the use of Indian mascots exacerbates the issues plaguing Indian Country today (including, but unfortunately not limited to, extreme poverty, youth suicide, diabetes, unemployment…) by making the American public complacent and indifferent to those “Indian-only” problems. Mascots further divide Us and Them, because we Natives are nothing more than ticket sales and sports jerseys. Who cares about the Indians when there are REAL issues to deal with. Dehumanizing Natives through mascot imagery has been the most effective modern means of annihilating the few of us remaining.

AND JUSTICE FOR ALL

Thankfully, this ethical dilemma is easily resolved by doing away with Indian mascots, logos and nicknames altogether, not just among high school and college athletics, but in professional sports, as well. This would not only bring an end to the hurtful and demeaning practices of mascot stereotyping, but also offer Native American people a sense of justice. Martin Luther King, Jr., classified racist and stereotypical acts against minorities as unjust: “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust,” (King, 1963). King goes to explain how a moral and ethical citizen has the obligation of confronting injustice and demanding redress.

Therefore, while Indian mascots may generate hoots and hollers at athletic events, and perhaps even have been in use for decades, the continued use of these inaccurate depictions of Native Americans is both hurtful and harmful not just to tribal people, but to the society in which they live. For any nation that can take one segment of its society and turn it into a caricature of itself for the purposes of entertainment and capitalism has sunken into Zimbardo’s world of evil. Yet just as King’s message of justice and morality swept across the nation, so too can the knowledge that Indian mascots, logos, and nicknames are wrong and should be brushed away in the dustbin of history.

References

American Psychological Association. (2005). Summary of the APA resolution recommending retirement of American Indian mascots. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/indian-mascots.aspx

CBS News. (2012). UND to keep contentious Fighting Sioux nickname. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-400_162-57373510/und-to-keep-contentious-fighting-sioux-nickname/

Chaney, J., Burke, A., & Burkley, E. Do American Indian mascots = American Indian people? Examining implicit bias towards American Indian people and American Indian mascots. Retrieved April 27, 2012 from http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/PublicHealth/research/centers/CAIANH/journal/Documents/Volume%2018/18(1)_Chaney_AI_Mascots_People_new.pdf

ESPN. (2005). NCAA American Indian mascot ban will begin Feb. 1. Retrieved from http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/news/story?id=2125735

Kelley, R. (2012). Statement from the UND president Robert Kelley for the campus community. Retrieved from http://nickname.und.edu/logo/

King, M.L. Jr. (1963). Letter from Birmingham Jail. Retrieved April 28, 2012, from http://abacus.bates.edu/admin/offices/dos/mlk/letter.html

LaRocque, A., McDonald, J.D., Ferraro, F.R., & Abe, S. Indian sports
 mascots: Affective
difference
between American Indian and
non‐Indian college
students. Retrieved April 30, 2012 from http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/affective-difference.pdf

Rosenstein, J. (2008). Banned mascots: American Indian mascot & nickname changes. Retrieved from http://jayrosenstein.com/pages/honormascots.html

WDAZ Television 8. (2012). ND supreme court won’t block Fighting Sioux election. Retrieved from http://www.wdaz.com/event/article/id/13007/

Zimbardo, P. (2008). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York: Random House Publishing Group.