Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Benefits of a Land Acknowledgment


Last week's blog explained what a Land Acknowledgement is and offered some reasons why a person might consider preparing a Land Acknowledgement himself, whether for a public reading or simply for exploring certain issues.  This week I will share some things I learned by taking the challenge of how drafting a personal Land Acknowledgement might be beneficial to me.

I begin with this map showing the reservations in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri.  I was unaware of the number of reservations and of the tribes involved.  Some reservations were negotiated by treaty while others were imposed.  I had no idea of the numbers of reservations in Eastern Kansas.

As well as learning a bit about reservations in Kansas, I also learned that Kansas has a Native American Affairs Office opened in the summer of 2011 to serve as the Liaison for the Governor.  It is intended to ensure that Native American concerns and needs are addresses in state policy making decisions.  I was not aware of that, so it is another thing I learned in my research.

Do you know that Haskell opened as the United States Indian Industrial Training School, with the purpose of educating American Indians and Alaska Natives, focused on elementary grades, but soon expanding through high school, and by 1970 adding a junior college curriculum?  Today it is known as "Haskell Indian Nations University" with an average enrollment of over 1,000 culturally diverse students each semester.  In conjunction with the University of Kansas, Haskel students may complete M.A. degrees, joint M.A./J.D. degrees with KU Law, as well as other provisions for undergraduate minors, non-degree courses, and other admission opportunities. 

Not only KU, but also Kansas State University has a program in cooperation with the Kansas Association for Native American Education (KANAE) to provide guidance for teachers who might not otherwise be sensitive to actions hurtful or embarassing to Native American students. I enumerated some of those things in last week's blog.  Another program, through the college of Veterinarian Medicine at K-State, encourages Native, Indigenous, Tribal, and rural Kansas students to consider Veterinary medicine as a field of study.

Caw Indian Group

These are all things about which I became better informed because of my interest in what Land Acknowledgments might accomplish.  One of the things Land Acknowledgments are intended to do is share information with others, and through my blogs, perhaps I have done that.  Now, if you attend a meeting and the moderator begins the event with a Land Acknowledgment you will understand its purpose.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

What is a Land Acknowledgement?


Caw Family Portrait

Some of you reading this may have attended a meeting during which someone read a Land Acknowledgement.  Others of you may not be familiar with the term.  Some of you may have been confused by hearing a recitation without understanding its purpose.  This blog will attempt to explain.

The origin of Land Acknowledgements may be traced to Australia and Canada, although more recently the practice has come to the United States.  A simple description of a Land Acknowledgement is 'acknowledgement in a formal statement that an event is taking place on land originally inhabited by indigenous peoples.'  The acknowledgements are supported by some and criticized by others who see them as an excess of political correctness or just empty gestures.

My husband often accuses me of having sandy loam running through my veins.  In retirement we  returned to the farm where I was raised, and we rescued a house that was in serious disrepair from having been vacant for many years.  I have written in this blog about picking sandhill plums to make jelly, following the traditions of my grandmother, mother, and now of myself.  I have written about the old cottonwood trees that I have tried to continue at the farm by planting seedlings.  In fact, many blogs have been about history and traditions.  Now I have published a book about the early homesteaders--Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement.  There is little doubt about my own feeling of connection to the land and its history.

However, there were a different people who felt a connection to the land before my ancestors arrived.  I certainly understood the words of Mary Lyons of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, who wrote:  "When we talk about land, land is part of who we are.  It's a mixture of our blood, our past, our current, and our future.  We carry our ancestors in us, and they're around us.  As you all do."  Her words touched me, because I feel that connection to the land and my own ancestors, a connection that I fear is waning among many young people.

But, why would someone like me have any reason to write a Land Acknowledgement?  I certainly do not feel personal guilt for the fact that my great-grandfather took advantage of President Lincoln's effort to settle the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase by allowing Union Soldiers a year's credit for each year of military service in the Civil War toward the five years necessary to secure a homestead.  Might I have any reason to compose a Land Acknowledgment?  While I am not proud of the horrible abuses of indigenous people as they were driven from their land and too often killed for the land they claimed, I did not personally do any of that.  Where is my responsibility? 

Here are some explanations for a Land Acknowledgement that I found online:

To learn the history of the land my ancestors settled, the specific indigenous people that were displaced, and the manner of their displacement.

To understand the emotional reality of the manner of displacement of specific indigenous people, such as treaties (both honored and ignored) and removal of children from their families to attend 'Indian Schools,'

To be more sensitive to offensive things like dressing up for Halloween as an Indian, school mascots, pretending to do Indian dances, using the 'tomahawk chop' at sports events, and teaching historic events inaccurately. 

To become aware of indigenous people in your area and what they are doing to perpetuate the history of their traditions to future generations.  

To learn about organizations in your area that are trying to help their people in a variety of ways and consider whether you might want to help.

Next week I will share some things I learned by following the suggestions I found. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Thanksgiving Wishes

What if today,
we were just grateful for everything.
Charlie Brown

  Wishing all of you a Thanksgiving filled with gratitude and joy!

Wishing all of you a Thanksgiving filled with miracles and gratitude.


Wednesday, November 9, 2022

What is Poetry?

Walt Whitman at desk

Recently, the editor of our local newspaper mentionedthat, "It would be fun to publish locally-written poetry in our paper...I would gladly publish such items, if mailed to me."  As an example from the Pratt Tribune of 1997, she shared Elm Trees, by Reva Obrecht McAnarney, a clever little verse referring back to the well-known poem "Trees," by Joyce Kilmer.  However, in McAnarney's poem it is not the beauty of trees that is described but rather "...A plant as stubborn as a tree.  The elm tree is the tree I mean, It often makes me want to scream..."  When I think of poetry, what comes to mind is the use of language in a beautiful way, often rhymed.  However, it was apparent that McAnarney was intentionally humorous.  If our newspaper editor was actually inviting poetry for publication in the newspaper, what is poetry?

The first definition that I found was "Prose = words in the best order; Poetry = the best words in the best order."  I didn't disagree with that, but it was a disappointing finition.  What I discovered was that the definition of Poetry is complicated.

The next thing I found was the suggestion that "the greatest poetry in the world is in the King James Bible."  However, according to there are 450 different translations of the Bible in English today.  Wikipedia suggests a list of ten, identifying the New Revised Standard Version as being broadly used, but with the English Standard Version emerging as a primary text.  The intention to make the text of the Bible more understandable for modern readers is understandable, but the beauty of the King James Bible is difficult to match and the reference to it as the world's greatest poetry is difficult to refute.

Edgar AIlan Poe

However, there are many examples of beautiful poetry, so I continued searching for a definition.  In a letter written in 1818, John Keats said, "I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess, and not by Singularity--it should strike the Reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Rembrance."  I like that explanation, but that seems to exclude many types of poems, so I kept looking.

I hated turning to poets long dead for a definition, but modern poets seem to have largely abandoned specific rules, leaving me to turn once more to the past.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge was taught that Poetry "had a logic of its own, as severe as that of science, and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more, and more fugitive causes.  In the truly great poets, he would say, there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word."

One author, in trying to express the difference between prose and poetry, searched for two definitions of old age, one taken from the book "The Biological Time Bomb," and the other quoted from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.  It was a great example of the differences but omitted a specific explanation. 

Mary Oliver
I never found exactly what I was looking for, but poet Mary Oliver came the closest. "Everyone knows that Poets are born and not made in school.  This is true also of painters, sculptors, and musicians.  Something that is essential can't be taught; it can only be given or earned, or formulated in a manner too mysterious to be picked apart and redesigned for the next person."  She explains with this:  "The poem is an attitude, and a prayer; it sings on the page and it sings itself off the page; it lives through genius and  technique."  And in her closing words, "For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry." 

 So much for finding a definition.  All that I have found for certain is that there are many kinds, from Free Verse, rhymed and unrhymed, humorous, Epic, Ballad, Sonnet, Haiku, Cinquain, Accrostic, and many more.  If our local newspaaper editor was serious about publishing local poets, there just may be a closet poet, who has been quietly waiting for an invitation.  I'll be watching.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Forgotten People & Things

 Those of you who follow this blog are well acquainted with Isaac Werner, a once forgotten man whom many of you now know well, whether through reading "Prairie Bachelor" or by following this blog or by attending one of my book talks.  Except as a name on a genealogy chart, until I began my research, even his family had forgotten Isaac.  Perhaps his life would have remained unknown had he not kept a journal, and but for my curiosity about my own family, would anyone else have picked up his 480 page journal and discovered its priceless content?

I am intrigued by history.  As a new bride, I began the genealogy quest for both my own and my husband's family that has grown into three long shelves of research.  Now the question is, what to do with all of that research!  Last April we were in Wichita and my husband spotted a newspaper rack with a Sunday New York Times for sale.  He bought it for me, knowing it would keep me busy reading for several days.  He was wrong.  I am still reading some of the articles I clipped out of it, and one of those articles inspired this blog.

The book of an author named Maud Newton, "Ancestor Trouble, A Reckoning and a Reconciliation" was reviewed in the Times.  Her book was inspired by her own family, but, she admits it is only partially true.  Is it also true sometimes that as we prepare our own genealogy charts, what we put on paper is not always fully accurate.  Do the family secrets get into the genealogy chart, and should they?

I once gave a now long-deceased elderly person a blank book with the instruction, "Please write whatever memories you want to share."  The memories that person chose to share were angry, critical stories about other people.  Only a few pages were written, and nothing was about that person's life, although I'm sure a history that reached back into the 1800s could have provided a wealth of interesting information. For a long time I left that book on the shelf, unsure what to do with it.  After all, I had gifted the blank book with the instruction to share whatever history that person chose to share.    Eventually, I carefully tore those hateful pages out of the book.  Maybe some things ought to be forgotten.  

Sometimes it is objects that provide family history.  In my case, it was my Aunt Helen who gifted me a teacup and saucer that started my collection, perhaps because she had no idea what a girl too old for dolls and not old enough for anything a preteen might want I was transformed into a collector of teacups, continuing my collecting for decades.  I put notes in the cups to describe where I bought them or who gave them to me.  What would that collection reveal about me?  Since I don't really know why I continued this collection, why would anyone else know?

Author Maud Newton suggested that there is much to discover from the 'deeper the connections, deeper questions' of material objects once held close by her ancestors," but as my examples of family objects described in this blog show, sometimes those forgotten people and things leave behind more questions than answers.  Maud Newton used the term "ancestor hunger" to describe that quest.  The popularity of genealogy research is proof that many of us share that curiosity. 

I will close with a picture of one object that does connect me with the memory of my father's oldest sister.  Verna died at the age of 22, but the picture of her dresser set is dear to me.  She was a young teacher who died from consumption, probably contracted from one of her students.  If my only connection with her had been knowledge of her early death, my memory would be sadness.  Instead, her dresser set makes me think of a pretty young woman who must have sat at her dresser many times getting dressed for a party or some other happy occasion.  

Verna's Dresser Set