hope, and hypocrisy.

I decided I no longer want to wait to write this post, so I am writing this from my iPhone while I sit in my work truck, waiting for site construction work to start up again.  (At least I get to engineer outside this week.)

When it comes to social justice, creating equality, erasing prejudice, fighting global warming, etc…. Sometimes I just get downright depressed.  In one moment, I am so strong and so ready to make a difference, then in another I am deflated.  I look at the immensity of change needed and I feel defeated.  And when I end up talking in circles to people who don’t see my side, two things happen: 1. I start questioning why I am so headstrong in my opinions, and have to reassure myself that I am on the most open-minded side; and 2. I start really disliking people.  A generalization, yes, but sometimes humanity straight up depresses me.

I’ve worked for several years now on a clean water engineering project in Cameroon.  For the first couple years, I felt like I was responsible for fixing community sanitation and water problems.  After a long time of working with the community, learning their culture, and having heartfelt conversations in Cameroonian French about their views of the world – over some palm wine, of course – I began to realize was the one with the problem.  

My American experience had trained me to transpose my own understanding of how the world should be – and of how happiness should be quantified – so that I failed to see my own impact on the community.

I saw villages with not enough water projects.  I saw our own village only reaching so many households per water tap.  I saw kids in December 2012 trough January 2013 wearing the same clothes every day…and they were wearing the same clothes on my next visit in March 2014.  I saw poverty.  I saw a lack of impact.

What I wasn’t seeing is “wealth” that isn’t measured in U.S. dollars, “happiness” that isn’t quantified by gallons of clean water delivered.

These people in the village may have only received a small amount of clean water, but they are rich in culture and avocados, in music and laughter.  They may wear the same clothes on any ordinary day, but they don’t have a need for more.  What we were giving them was more than just an education on how and why to wash their vegetables and hands – it was also a sharing of cultures, a new perspective, and friendships.  We gave them RESPECT, and they gave it back by making us honorary nobles and queens of Batoula-Bafounda.  The King even stamped my passport with a jolly laugh of pride and power.

I bring this story back up because I think it reflects a couple lessons I have recently learned in my travels across four continents.  And I suppose it is fitting since I turned a quarter of a century old today: 1. Culture is the most important context, and 2. It’s not up to me to fix the whole world but 3. I will fix it through others if I mend what I can reach, because sometimes people are more broken than the planet, and there IS hope.

Reverend Daniel Budd of the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland – where I teach 8th graders on social justice – recently posted an opinion piece on Cleveland.com calling for Native American mascots to end.  This was a confidence booster for me as I respect all the things I have hear Reverend Budd preach on.  On Earth Day, he gave a sermon about Global Warming. In many ways, it was depressing – but he uplifted us by saying, We cannot expect to mend the whole world ourselves, but rather we can mend what is within our reach.

After a year of being away from the village in Cameroon, I returned and was met by a wall of screaming children.  The minute I set foot out of the passenger van, they flung themselves at me, shouting Linda!  (They nicknamed me that after hearing stories about my family, and liked the name of my late Aunt more than Kayla, apparently.)

I guess I had more of an impact than I ever realized, for these children told other children and some have even decided to do better in school so they can do more for their communities.  I saw the same effects while traveling in rural communities across India.  It’s amazing – and scary – to think so many children are watching me, maybe even making me a role model in their eyes.  We must always set the best examples.

As I see hope in this, I also see hope in the people I reach out to.  Some folks are quick to shy away when I make mention of the mascot issue, and I’m often afraid of droning on endlessly about it.  Some people won’t listen to me for a second.  Then I got to a peaceful demonstration to me ridiculed by a man in red face, being told I’m being honored by a self-proclaimed Apache in a chicken feather headdress, and being the background of several selfies of fans with Cleveland gear on and their middle fingers up.  “Go back to where you came from!” and wawawawawa sounds ensue.  All in the presence of indigenous children.

It sucks.  And I start to think it will always be this way.

Then a coworker, born and raised fan, posts my blog to his page on Opening Day.  A friend argues via text with me until I tell him “just read my blog”…and he later apologized and said he sees my side.  Another coworker listened to me in silence as I explained for an hour my experience and admitted he never saw it that way, and the mascot is an issue.  A 64-year-old construction worker drilled me with questions just two days ago.  He read some links I wanted to share and saw my side.  “I’m white, white people did horrible things, it wasn’t my fault but I mean just look at the blacks, still… It wasn’t my fault but it’s still happening and I’m old, I was raised prejudice, but I don’t want to be anymore.  I try hard, and folks need to try harder.  They need to be talking more about th, because the world is still so wrong.”

And then, as if by a miracle, this strong mother and Biloxi resident not only reached out to Deloria but she wrote this and posted it today: https://justabiloxigirl.wordpress.com/

One drop makes a ripple.  All of our honest work will pay off.  THERE IS HOPE.

And yet…

Only our HONEST work will get an HONEST outcome.  Only RESPECT will be rewarded by RESPECT.

When I posted the other day about what the alumni were saying, it was a way to expose the hypocrisy in their arguments.  These statements were on social media.  They clearly demonstrated the wrongness in the approach those individuals were using in their defense of “honor” and the mascot.

But I am very disappointed in some of you.

No one – NO ONE – is justified by attacking the people in the screen captures.  Engage in a meaningful dialogue, if you can and must, but if you have cyber bullied Lauren or any of the others from the Biloxi issue, then you have hypocritically undermined the work of both of respectful mascot debate and also the #IndigenizeZuckerberg movement.

Think about it.

Maybe it wasn’t many of you, I wouldn’t know.  None has retaliated by giving me your names.  However, if I were you, I would learn from Lauren’s examples and take ownership of what you have said.  Not just to Lauren, but to anyone.  You are not helping our cause, or yourself.

And, remember – children are always watching, always making role models.

a case of social injustice.

Social Injustice is a bizarre concept. It is complex, multi-faceted, and takes different forms relative to perspective. By its very definition, social injustice embodies the deliverance of unfair treatment and bias by a group to an individual or subset group with differing views. It is often made synonymous to immorality, or being contrary to accepted principles. It is a particularly difficult reaction to withhold when judgment is passed cross-societally when fundamental beliefs are more likely to contradict, even acutely.

Without a single, universally-accepted version of “truth” or even a universally-accepted and plain definition for the word, society naturally diverges into a plethora of worldviews, principles, and opinions. This divergence in moral views is what has given birth to variance in political parties and in religious beliefs among humanity. It creates diversity. It creates democracy. It also creates conflict.

Conflict, when used as a tool to address issues and deliver justice, can be a healthy side effect of social-moral divergence. It’s what makes democracy work: discussing how matters do or do not conflict with a nation’s fundamental principles and laws. Oppressing a way of thinking because it is not the popular opinion is when society causes democracy to fail. When these outlying opinions are disrespected and punished, social divergence and moral conflict transform instantaneously into a case of social injustice.

In the United States, Canada, and much of Western Europe, the employment of democratic governments has solidified moral foundations on which the governments operate. Amongst these and in the forefront are the rights to freedom, equality, and free choice. Not only was such freedom almost denied to a young Canadian Aboriginal Makayla Sault and her family, but their principles continue to be assaulted online and elsewhere by ignorant and self-righteous critics.

Makayla Rain Sault

Makayla is the eleven-year-old daughter of two Pastors, Ken and Sonya. They are members of Ontario’s New Credit First Nation. In January, Makayla was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a blood cancer. She had been going through chemotherapy treatment per standard procedure until her story surfaced in the media around early May. It surfaced because Makayla reportedly asked her parents to quit chemo. She felt sick, she didn’t want to die sick, and wanted to exercise her rights to seek traditional medicine instead.

This story surfaced in communities such as Indian Country News as another tidbit of relevant happenings in the native community. Comments were of the supportive nature from other Indian Country community members who demonstrated their belief in the power of traditional medicine and the right to choose. In Canadian and American media outlets, however, articles ranged from liberally supportive to accusatorily denouncing. Comments on such electronic copies of the articles ranged as well. The supportive ones either came from people claiming native ancestry and thus having no qualms with traditional practice or from others who agree with the fundamental right for people to make their own choices, regardless of what one’s personal viewpoints were on traditional medicine, leukemia, or modern medicine.

The comments and the articles, however, which denounced Makayla, her parents, and their choices, built their foundations on their own beliefs of what is knowledge and of what is truth. A nauseating number of comments even took stabs at Native Americans as a whole, laying one inappropriate racist remark after another. Such comments served no purpose toward the end-goal and only exposed the grotesque ignorance Americans and Canadians have regarding the cultures that originally founded the landscape on which they now supposedly exercise freedom and equality for all. And while it would be hypocritical to withhold these people from their opinions, no matter how racist and ill-informed, their actions still work backwards against justice, freedom, and other constitutional pillars.

Between all the outcries, Makayla returned home to her reservation – but the medical “professionals” spat their protest in return. (I quote “professionals” because of, well, the whole what is truth and what is knowledge thing – on which I will elaborate in a bit.) Child Services was thus brought in to investigate. Should Makayla’s parents be deemed incapable of providing her the sound minds and care she was owed by them, the outside, non-tribal government would step in to take over. During the wait, Makayla’s parents released a video of their daughter reading a letter about how she felt in chemo, how much healthier she felt she was already becoming using traditional medicine, how she would rather die this way than in chemo, and how Jesus came to her in the hospital and assured to her that everything was going to be okay.

Now that it is June, the court has made its decision: to let Makayla stay at home with her parents. It was realized that Makayla’s parents were of sound mind, that Makayla was aware of her choices and knew which one she wanted to make, and that forcing her against her will might actually cause more stress, strain, and damage to her life than it would be an act to preserve it. Again, Indian Country comments praise her choices, her freedom, and traditional medicines. Mainstream comments either praise her right to choose and the strength of her family to let her, or they again denounce Makayla with such keywords as ignorance, stupidity, and shame. Some commenters are even gracious self-righteous enough to suggest her parents order the coffin now.

To me, the choice is obviously Makayla’s and her family’s. To me, disagreeing with her choices is fine, wanting to withhold her choices is diverging from the fundamentals of American and Canadian society, and choosing to actually withhold her choices would be an act of social injustice. To me, acting on racist comments, ignorant opinions, and cross-societal judgment is also a form of social injustice. My viewpoints are obviously not universal, so I will break down the key components of this situation.

Race

A lot of reactions that I have encountered in arguing the rights of Makayla have been ones that insist race is an irrelevant factor and that it should be. But I don’t think that’s the case, that it is either irrelevant or that it should be (although it would be great if past conflicts hadn’t kept that from being the case). For one, if race were truly irrelevant, why is it in the majority of the posted reactions online? Why is it even mentioned in the article? Well, it’s mentioned in the comments because self-righteous, ignorant people evidently choose to base their arguments on fallacy, or maybe they are just cruel and insecure. I’m not about to attempt explaining why humans diverge from their own social standards, because maybe it’s just an inherent folly of our race as a whole. As for the article, it is an important factor in two ways: It, as with the mentioning of Christianity in the Sault household, lays the moral foundation on which the Sault family operates. It also develops a slightly more complicated situation as far as governmental procedures are concerned.

Although education on the histories and present states of indigenous cultures in North America still lacks significantly considering the proximity and relevance these groups of people have had and continue to have to America and Canada, the majority of the populace should have a basic understanding of their past conflicts. Without delving into a whole other argument, consider that the American government has been notorious for not delivering social justice to the hundreds of peoples encompassing the aboriginal population in North America. As a result, several factions exist separately from the mainstream government.

In America (I’m more familiar with this system), this means that certain tribes own reservations, which have their own tribal governments. The land of a reservation is technically not part of the state or states in which it geographically belongs. The federal government oversees both the state and the tribal governments. The tribal governments operate separately, as state governments do.

There is no way to easily summarize the complexity of issues on the average reservation, but here’s how I see it: Between the sudden relocations and unfair land allocations made through past acts of social injustice by the American government, many of these tribal communities find themselves with insufficient natural resources. So many societal and governmental changes over the last century, too, means that many have struggled to develop rapidly enough to catch up with “modern” society around them. Yet, these tribes still function under the same federal system and they still choose to exercise the cultures, traditions, and beliefs as those who have immigrated to the same lands also choose to do. Unfortunately, such exercise was not permissible until the 1970s, later than any other “race”. So between struggling systems, depleting natural resources, and culture shocks, these people have a lot of justified fear and have not forgotten what has happened to their cultures over the last few centuries by a government that has since absorbed them.

How does this pertain to a modern Canadian such as Makayla? Well, Makayla lives on a reservation. She is protected by treaty laws that would be violated if the Canadian government removed her from her reservation. (History repeating, anyone?) Furthermore, Makayla is of Ojibwe descent and actively living with her family in their tribal community. It is not surprising that her family values their culture and traditional medicine much like it is not surprising that a daughter of Christian Pastors speaks of Jesus having come to her. To denounce her and her family of their belief in medical healing would be, in my view, the same as denouncing her for their Christian beliefs – and I bet a lot more people would have a problem with the latter. But what is the difference? They believe God is Truth just as they believe traditional medicine is the same, better, or at least more peaceful than “modern practice”. So, please, save your comments about “white man” and his “strong medicine”. I don’t know whose egos are even boosted by such disrespect. And please respect the reason for reservation treaties, rather than mocking natives for being “racists” and “trying to isolate” themselves. It wasn’t that long ago that Canada had residential schools for “savages”. And by not long ago, I mean 50 or 60 years ago. Maybe within your lifetime. What oppressions have you faced in your lifetime that are of that intensity? Honestly and without making this a pity competition?

Knowledge

Accompanying the denouncing of traditional medicine is the belief that modern medicine is in fact the answer. Wow, talk about history repeating. This is looking down on another culture’s view of the human body and of its traditional knowledge. This is the same attitude that landed so many innocent people in those residential schools to begin with. It is the same attitude that, if unchecked, blossoms into a hatred as strong as Hitler’s for a single race or a single way of thinking. People believing they know the absolute moral truths of the planet are exercising their rights to moral standpoints, but forcing those beliefs on others is where lines are crossed. The truth is, we don’t know what truth is – at least not as a collective when so many varying fundamental truths exist amongst today’s cultures. All we can do is hold our own truths and respect the truths of others. These truths are what allow us to live and practices ways that we believe are correct. The combination of truths and beliefs allow us to ascertain what we consider “knowledge”, but “knowledge” is word that has been of strong philosophical debate since at least the time of Descartes. Why does this matter? Because knowledge is also a cultural perspective.

We might have facts. These are statements that are made and cannot be disproved because they are true. But to say something is factual is a difficult process. Religion is one of constant “factual” debate. In my view, Science is, too, a religion – something that cannot be humanly controlled and therefore is difficult to prove. Maybe things can be disproved. But to prove something? To actually make something true? You can expect society to develop diverging opinions. As mentioned before, that’s why we have different branches of government and different denominations of religion. (If “the Word” is “truth”, how are there so many different kinds of Christianity?) Alas, what makes science any different? Some “believe” in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some don’t. Gravity is a theory, too, a thing that we can’t see but that we have so far consistently demonstrated – but it could be inaccurate. At what point is it a true, completely defined, controlled thing?

Modern science is no exception. We get statistics. We try to control simulations. We perform experiments, derive theories, draw conclusions. But we haven’t always been right. Do you know how many times chicken eggs have been considered “healthy”, then “unhealthy”, and then only “healthy” if eaten with some arbitrary amount of moderation? Quite frankly, I think the human body is super complicated, that modern medicine has discovered some amazing details and observations about it, but that humans don’t know jack. Humans also love to think they have knowledge and then use those notions as a weapon to beat down others.

One of the steadiest arguments against Makayla’s case is the reportedly high chance of survival with her particular kind of leukemia. Statistics have been report here and there, inconsistently, but most seem to average out at about 70%. That means there are four cups in front of you. Pick one. (Slighly more than) one contains a death sentence. No one denies chemo isn’t horrible, although I bet you the majority of medical “professionals” dealing with cancer patients have not actually experienced cancer or chemo themselves. So back to the cups: suffer through chemo and pick one. Was it worth it? Would it have been worth it if it were 50/50? What about 10%? What if? Someone says this: There’s virtually no way you will survive this, but modern medicine says chemo is your best chance. If you try traditional medicine, you can bet you’re going to die. Without the side effects of chemo. And you can bet it based on that “professional’s” opinion, a “professional” who has only studied and been given the opinions that exist in “modern” medicine to date. Because so many statistics exist regarding traditional medicines. Because, Billy Best anyone?

Let’s not forget where “modern” medicine even came from. Did it just crop up one day, like someone opened a box and declared “I have found modern medicine!”? No! It started with the basics, with plant remedies and simple survival skills that are the reason why we exist today. Our ancestors survived on these basic medical practices. Our bodies evolved consuming(or were simultaneously created with to consume) the plants, the atmosphere, the world that naturally occurs around us. Traditional medicine isn’t some spontaneously invented, unwarranted native voodoo – it is, to some cultures, also a “profession”. A “profession” that not every member of a culture is skilled or knowledgeable to even practice. To be as arrogant as to declare that we know something that we can’t possibly know but that we can only infer from select inquiries? Well, isn’t that like the whole GMO argument? Isn’t that “playing God”?

The Right to Choose

But really, who cares? Who cares who or what Makayla is or anything else? Her parents aren’t lunatics but reportedly loving. They believe they are exercising their love for their daughter by giving her the choice of comfort and familiarity. They are all well aware of the possible consequences, but they believe in the power of natural remedy in the way they believe in their Savior looking over them and making choices that human hands can never make. I don’t care if you believe the Spaghetti Monster is by your side – it’s no one’s business to hold your beliefs against you, especially with something as intimate as a life-or-death matter. With all political, religious, and cultural turmoil aside, they are Canadian citizens with the right to choose. And poor Makayla… To quote her, “I live in this body, and they don’t.” Child or not, Makayla clearly understands her rights and her right to choose, and no Ontario law prohibits her from doing this. Her community supports her right to choose as well and all authorities are in compliance that her parents are of no danger to her. So why is this so complicated? Because doctors disagree with Makayla and some members of the outside community have voiced opposition based on their differing views. All I can say is Thank you, Makayla, the Saults, and the supporting community for recognizing the right to choose and exercising it. Thank you, Ontario, for honoring and protecting the rights of Canadian individuals and choices regarding their own lives. And now let’s show support – whether you like the choice or not – for a sick but strong girl. It’s not a call to liberals, to aboriginals, to Canadians, or to Christians – it’s a call to a humane humanity. Gishwe’ muk kshe’ mnIto pine’, Makayla!