on Diné Family Day: why i hate Thanksgiving

I live on the Navajo Reservation, work for the Navajo Nation government, and have today off because today is Diné Family Day.

Operative word here: FAMILY

In the words of my boss this Wednesday, before President Begaye ordered a half-day of work, “Have a good Thanksgiving…and have a good Family Day.  Be with your family that day.  Or whoever is your friends, if you are alone.”  I know he was probably directed that last bit towards me, as I had told him I would have to spend the holidays with my friends in Saint Michaels.  But, regardless, I wouldn’t be spending the time in a store.

This time of year, I never know what we’re really celebrating anymore.  The October, November, and December months are jam-packed with holidays, but the spotlight is on sales, buying things, and handing out candy and change to the Goodwill.  Admittedly, Halloween and Christmas are my favorite holidays – but they’re my favorite on account of the atmosphere, the changing weather patterns, the music and creativity…

What is Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving
is, of course, a controversial topic.  It’s supposed to memorialize the exchange between one group of English and one group of Wampanoag.  However, 55 years after the exchange, the residents of Massachusetts began massacring the very peoples that had saved their lives, launching Turtle Island into the start of hundreds of years of genocidal policy…which still continue today in various discreet forms.

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We are supposed to be thankful for what we have…while remembering what was stolen to get here?

My dad texted me yesterday, “I hope you’re in an area that understands the true meaning of the holiday…who respects Mother Earth”.  I would like to think that’s true, but I also see how much the kitschy, off-the-rez border town lifestyle has consumed my neighbors.  It’s like when I lived in France: we all flocked to Camaïeu, craving a piece of affordable French fashion only to find our French peers seeking the exotic American styles that they thought were in vogue.

And that brings me to an enormous hypocrisy in our “American culture”:

  • We insist we have to be thankful for what we have, but we don’t always understand what it took – or what we took – to have it.
  • We rally against large corporations, forming unions, and spew hatred against the 1% that controls so much of our money, yet we are obsessive consumers willing to feed our money at the drop of a hat into these monopolies that are utilizing a foreign workforce.
  • We want to be grateful and equal, but we also want to have the one-up on those around us, we want to have a taste of anything that someone else is able to have, and we don’t think about the greater consequences behind our actions.

The Meat & Grocery Store Culture
Thanksgiving was about survival.  It was about learning how to manage with what you have, how to farm and harvest.  Today, rather than throwing together humble plates of maize, squash, beans, root vegetables, and maybe some venison or fowl… Today, we joke about how much we over-ate, all of the turkey we spent hours preparing, the dozens of lavish dishes….but is it really that funny?

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One depressing reality of American gluttony is that our meat culture is, literally, destroying the planet.  A solid 51% of global emissions are caused by animal husbandry, a number that you feed into every time you purchase a meat, dairy, or egg-based product.  So forget turning off the lights or cutting your shower short – if you eat a burger, you’re causing way more damage than that will ever reverse.

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, 300 million turkeys are slaughtered for centerpieces.  I’m not saying that because you should be vegetarian! or something.  I’m saying that because I’m an environmentalist, concerned about sustainability, about ethical practices, and about what we are putting into our bodies.  Peta is an over-aggressive organization, but all it takes is a short video to understand that ethical animal husbandry in the industrial food world simply does not exist.  But there are other factors that should make anyone cringe.

While most turkeys live in the wild to be a decade or so old, the ones raised on farms are sent to the slaughterhouse at about 5 to 6 months.  This is only possible because of the chemicals and hormones injected into the poults (baby turkeys) cause unnatural growth side effects.  To demonstrate the changes in the industry, consider this: In 1970, the average turkey raised for meat weighed 17 pounds.  Today, he/she weighs 28 pounds, resulting in many animals with broken legs and distorted bodies because, well that’s just not natural and their bodies can’t keep up.

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But meat isn’t the only thing that I find upsetting about our destructive society.  It’s also the produce we buy.  Arguments for organic and non-GMO products aside, we have a collective insatiable palate.  We’ve tasted the exotic coconuts and pomegranates, we crave watermelon in the winter, and it doesn’t matter where we live….we will eat it because, well, this is America dammit and it’s our Constitutional right!

We are so out-of-touch with the origins of our food, with the real world consequences of our choices.  We want to fight against raising taxes, emission regulations, and whatever else…but we will freely reap the benefits of having access to a global economy without once batting an eyelash at the problems this gluttony causes us.  We would rather not think about how the dishes we cooked use out-of-season vegetables and fruits, shipped to Minnesota from Mexico and Peru.

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But why is being apathetic considered the norm??

Insert cries of: Shop local!  Shop small!  Shop seasonal!  Shop Organic!  Shop non-GMO!  Keep the integrity of our food and protect the livelihood of our farmers worldwide!

The Must-Have Culture
Piggy-backing off of the must-have culture of our food ethics is the must-have culture of our consumerism in general.  Rather than retaining DIY skills in big cities – with the exception of trendy Pinterest boards and “projects” – we are obsessed with the luxury of having whatever we want whenever we want it.  But that all comes with a cost.  That cost may not be one we see as we pull the credit card from our wallet; but it is a cost that will have more consequences than monetary if we don’t change our ways.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Take only what you need.  Unless you’re on a shopping spree.

We buy new things all the time.  We buy plastic things all the time.  Antiques become talking pieces.  Convenience becomes the norm.  Anything that takes any more effort because this baffling topic, like You seriously don’t have a microwave?  You don’t have television??  You AIR DRY your clothes?  HOW DO YOU LIVE??

Yeah, I get those all of the time.  My internal response: How do you live with your conscience, or do you not have one?

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I’m not trying to be negative or cynical; I’m just trying to be the voice of logic that too few people are choosing to listen to.  When we become a must-have culture, we are jeopardizing so many freedoms.  We will stand up and rally for our freedoms, but we are simultaneously throwing them away.

When you fall into these Black Friday sales, you are abandoning your values.  You are abandoning your families, and supporting the large corporations who take family time away from their workers.  You are feeding into the monopolies.  You are supporting the manufacture of products outside for the US which, in turn, takes away from American jobs and supports foreign employment systems that treat humans as less than what they are.

We might be willing to throw a dollar or two into the Salvation Army pot come the holidays, probably out of guilt, but we are neglecting the amount of damage we are creating by our hypocritical consumer practices.  No dollar will fix that; only a revolution in our spending practices can.

Don’t Shop on Black Friday: State Parks are Offering Free Admission

Yes, it’s that bad.  Even State Parks that have historically suffered to make ends meet are now offering free admission to get your hypocritical asses out of the chain stores.

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Maybe you don’t see how this will affect your lifetime.  But it will affect the lifetime of your descendants.  And anyone who cares about his or her children should care about the children of his or her children, and so forth.  It’s the same damn thing.

Yesterday, I made organic, vegan dishes for me and my friends.  Today, I will not enter a store but will instead do homework and work on xeriscaping my lawn.  What we do may not be perfect, but actively trying is a start.

What will you do (or refuse to do) to show that you care?

“he’s just so nice”.

I have heard that so many times.  “He’s just so nice”.  Someone who’s just so selfless and does things for people all of the time, someone who goes out of his way for no reason.  Someone who’s just so nice.

Well, I used to think that.

I used to see all of the favors done, all of the thoughts thought of me or the prayers prayed to keep me safe.  I used to think the food handouts, spare change, and bought meals were just part of that perfect niceness.  But it’s not.  He’s not so nice, really.

What is it to be a good person?  Is it doing favors here and there, smiling, asking about someone’s day, and making materialistic contributions to others?  No, it’s not.  Not at all.  Being a good person is doing things for someone that often never get acknowledged.  And it’s NOT about donating money and things but more about donating time and making sacrifices.

It’s about staying behind after work – even if you have somewhere to be – to make sure someone makes it to the car store for oil, not about asking if they’re okay and handing them cash then going home.

It’s about telling someone else “no” to something you wanted to do, like sub in a volleyball game, so you can say “yes” to do something you know means way more to your friend, like be the only fan she’s ever had at one of her games and sitting the whole way through.

It’s about volunteering or going to church to better yourself, but it’s NOT about telling someone else what you’re doing in hopes that you can win them over in some way.

But most importantly, it’s about treating those closest to you the best.  It’s great that your mommy thinks you’re just an excellent, attractive good-doer.  (Part of that is she has to, she’s your biased mom.)  But does mom see how you treat those who are emotionally the closest to you?  Who rely on you to feel better about themselves?  Who invested trust in you and then you broke it fifty times along the way?  Mom only sees what you let her see, and you’re not letting her see that.

Why do people give money anyway?  Well, honestly, it’s a selfish act.  Donations make people feel good without having to really do anything.  Seriously, look it up.  Why we do things for others.  It’s actually centered around ourselves more than the people we’re helping.  So when he’s being so nice, isn’t he really just boosting his ego?

And when you give out money, ever considered how it hurts?  To feel so incapable of taking care of yourself that someone with a similar job has to be giving you handouts?  So there we go.  You boost yourself up, I bring myself down.  Who’s it really helping?

I don’t care how much money you give someone or how good you make your life look on a resume.  If you can’t make real sacrifices from your own life to be a true, supportive friend… If you can’t stop thinking about yourself long enough to keep from breaking trust and wounding someone… well then you’re really not such a nice person after all, now are you?

Think about it.

Inspiration for Change.

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It’s been too long since I posted something.  I guess that’s what you get for not having Internet or any other connection to the “real world”.  As much as I love my satire and ruthless criticism of both irrelevant and current issues, it’s nice to take a break from something I get paid to do and just write something that’s a bit of a reflection.  Today’s break is a reflection on something I dislike entirely: confrontation.

The quote is “You can’t change what you refuse to confront.”  I see this in two lights.

The first light is me being caught up on that word, confront.  I hate confrontations.  I will go completely out of my way to avoid people and conversations about things that make me uncomfortable, which is a lot of things…  I take this feeling to a whole new level; the conversation doesn’t even need to be hostile for me to fear addressing someone on an issue.  In fact, today I had a spark plug go bad in my new car and I almost walked 3 hours after sunset in the snow because I was unwilling to ask my friend for a ride.  That’s not even a confrontation, that’s just asking for help.  But it meant admitting I had a problem and asking for resolution.  I finally wised up and called, and the friend is even offering to drive me to work in the morning instead of me biking (as I had planned to do… in the snow).  But, no, what about real confrontations?  Those conversations that you know are just going to go bad, whether they will start bad or end by blowing up in your face.  Someone isn’t living up to someone else’s expectations.  Someone failed to follow directions at work or on a test.  Or even someone noticing I skipped dinner and then making me feel like a criminal for it.  Things that I’ll see coming from a million miles away that make me swerve so far out of the way that it becomes absurd.  I hate confrontations.

The second light in which I see this quote is a much more simplistic view: I focus on the change.  If there’s something wrong in the world, you’ve gotta go fix it!  It won’t fix itself.  Sometimes things need someone standing there, saying they’re broken before anyone will acknowledge the fact that something does indeed need to be fixed.  That’s kind of how I view the work I want to do for the reservations; just because I’m native doesn’t mean I’m obligated to care about it, it’s just something that every American should have in the back of his or her mind.  I’ve realized, in some situations, maybe I’ve gotta be the one to put it there.

So whether you’re worried about making that change or having that confrontation, we can see now how the two come hand-in-hand.  In my efforts to acknowledge this fact and to better myself, I’m making strides to fear confrontations less – to realize that I have the right to speak out against things that aren’t as I think they should be.  And, as always, I will continue to volunteer my time to the causes that are nearest and dearest to my heart: indigenous cultures and rights, hard work, virtuous living, local food, protecting the planet, animal rights, and respect.

Namaste.

4 Reasons Why Overseas Volunteer Projects are a Waste of Time

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Shanties on a US reservation, no better than houses I’ve seen in rural India or West Africa and unfathomably worse than donated facilities at the Nuevo Paraiso mission project in Honduras.

It seems like, growing up, the cool thing for kids to do who went to my fancy private school was to be sent off by their parents on some overseas volunteer project in a third-world country.  I never did anything like this until college, mostly because my mom always shot the idea down.  I never fully understood her reasons until I went on a trip of my own and began reevaluating such overseas volunteer projects.  I decided that I agree with my mom.  The only people these trips really benefit are the travelers themselves, giving them something to put on their resumes.  And although the benefits operate on a case-by-case basis, it is my experience and observations that suggest how these projects are often just a waste of time.  I will outline my reasons below:

1. GIVING OUT FISH.
My family strongly believes in the motto: “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man how to fish, he eats for life.”  I’ve grown up knowing that expression and beginning to see the truth behind it.  Although my parents use that approach in their political views and anti-welfare standpoints, I see how this fish comparison directly relates to volunteer projects.  It’s easy to give a monetary donation and let someone else handle what happens to the money.  That’s obviously no way to help an impoverished community.  But too often we are still transfixed on materialistic things to improve an entire village.  Why save up money to go build a building?  Most of these communities have all the resources they need to build a building that suits their needs.  Why not lend a physical hand instead?  Why not teach and do less of handing these people supplies and new, shiny things?  Give them all of these donations and the only thing they’ll think is “Wow, Americans have nice, fancy things.  When I grow up, I want to get out of here and go somewhere where these things can be handed to me.”  Not only does handing out fish not allow these people to fix themselves, it encourages them to seek out where they can be handed more fish and prevents them from fixing their old mistakes.  Indirectly, it could also cause communities to disband and lose culture as the younger generations with more potential greedily seek out a life outside of their community for shiny things they don’t need.  And I’m not just making up a hypothesis; it is a serious issue I learned about while on some community projects this summer in rural India.

2. BROKEN THINGS THAT STAY BROKEN.
When I signed up for Engineers Without Borders, I though, Gee, this is cool – I get funded to travel to a really unique place and practice both my French and engineering skills!  The experience helped land me a job and gave me some real world perspective on what life is like in West Africa.  But my trip to Cameroon benefitted myself more than it did the community.  We spent endless weeks organizing, building, delivering, preparing, teaching,…all to end up with empty wallets and a failed system.  We visited a nearby project similar to ours: a solar panel-powered well system installed by the University of Delaware.  What did we find?  An empty water tank at the top of a hill next to a school.  Why was there no water pumping up here?  We found the lower pump where a few kids were squeezing out the only drops they could get.  Why was there not even water at the taps with the greatest hydraulic head?  My colleague found the answer: the solar panels were coated in weeks worth of red, Cameroonian mountain dust.  No one had been cleaning the panels, despite clear instruction from the volunteers to do so.  Back at our own project, we even set up a committee dedicated to clean the panels once a week.  You would think that a quick cleanse isn’t much to ask from a slower paced, rural community, but even our village had to provide an incentive by offering weekly pay to the volunteer.  When I returned to the States and shared my story with my friends, my best friend gave me a link to a video that discussed exactly how EWB projects are inevitable failures.  There is no water coming out a year later.  All of this money and time, and for what?  Why is this happening?  The answer is multi-faceted, having its roots in my fish theory.  Plus, things that break in these rural communities often stay broken.  Why?  Well, what resources are there to fix them?  To fix these projects that are not the standard way of life?  What motive is there to gather the information and to find a way to bring back something that these villages have survived for thousands of years without?  And that brings me to my third point…

3. DON’T FIX WHAT’S NOT BROKEN.
Why are Americans so in love with themselves that they think their way of life is the solution to the planet’s suffering?  The wasteful, materialistic American way of life is not only greedy and corrupt, but it could easily be contributing indirectly to the suffering of these remote areas.  The environmental impacts of our decisions in the States causes a global reaction that can directly impact the weather conditions and water cycles of these victimized areas.  Still, they thrive the way they have known to thrive for thousands of years.  Throughout history, ancient civilizations have survived and thrived without the assistance of outsiders.  In fact, if anything, these outsiders have obliterated these civilizations before ever significantly impacting them in a positive fashion.  For example, think about the situations in America.  All of the tribal peoples who have lost their identity and land.  All because we think the way we live is the right way?  The sophisticated way?  Go to West Africa and you will see a collage of old and new.  People living in huts who have cell phones.  Why is that?  Well, they want to take advantage of the best of both worlds the best that they can.  But, at the same time, not everyone wants to jeopardize their old ways of life.  It’s what they know.  It’s their comfort zones.  It’s how they have evolved to believe they should live.  I’ve had countless political arguments with sheltered people and friends who felt that invading countries and transforming their governments was the correct solution to everything, but is it really?  Is our government system really the answer?  Is it our business to decide that for anyone but ourselves?  How do we know that we’re right?  I’ve seen first hand how these “less fortunate” people actually believe we’re the unfortunate ones, leading stressful lives and answering to people we hardly know, not understanding anymore what living is or how to appreciate life.  But it’s not just how their systems aren’t broken but how we try to fix them and break them to pieces.  How we strip people of culture.  Perhaps the worst offender of such things is religious cleansing.  I am absolutely opposed to mission trips and anything that operates in another community by the “light of God”.  Can’t people do good things for the sake of life, living, and kindness?  Why is religion attached to any good notion when religion is in fact the cause of so much evil?  So much war?  I see people going to Africa every year on “mission trips”, and all I can think is I hope you feel good about yourself when you shove Bibles down these poor peoples’ throats and rob them of any cultural identity they used to have.  Why not teach them how to read and write?  So they can buy books and learn the newest herbal medicinal discoveries or how to fix their water issues naturally and without the use of energy and pumps?  This religious debacle leads me to my last reason…

4. HELP YOURSELF BEFORE YOU HELP OTHERS.
Even airlines tell you this before your plane leaves the runway.  While we are so transfixed with being the heroes to people in communities that will never remember our names once we have parted, why don’t we take a look at our own country?  And I don’t mean just soup kitchens and giving handouts to homeless people who continue to drink away their handouts.  I mean the thing that I’m most passionate about: poverty on the reservations.  It’s not because I’m biased because my grandfather is Indian and it’s my focus of work.  It’s because I strongly believe America is responsible for the situation it’s created.  You can’t invade a territory, take over completely from peoples who you don’t even acknowledge as people, set up a system familiar only to the invaders and only at the advantage of said invaders, and then expect the natives to thrive.  That’s just it; they weren’t expected to thrive.  They weren’t considered people, they were murdered without consequences, and they weren’t even accounted for on the census rolls until tribal counts were created.  By that time, most of the less powerful tribes were wiped out or assimilated to a different culture anyway.  The territorial borders kept pushing back, tribes were hit with European clothes, weapons, alcohol, and Bibles, all in an effort to strip them of their identity if not kill them off altogether.  The answer to this problem, when peaceful terms were supposedly going to be met, was to shove these peoples onto a hodge-podge of lousy land parcels called “reservations”.  That was no solution, but everyone seemed to “roll with it” until the Dawes Act sparked up in the late 1800s and unconstitutionally revoked the rights of thousands of American people – American Indian people.  What efforts have been made since to right these wrongs?  A similar wronging was in the African-American slave industry around the same time.  That dispute divided our whole nation until it was resolved and, although we still have racial issues, the States made an enormous effort to right its wrongs.  Can you say that about the native people to whom this land really belonged?  Whose voices aren’t being heard despite their protests?  As an example, Gilmour Academy near my university (and where several of my friends went) sends students annually to Honduras on a mission trip.  Ignoring the fact that it’s a mission, can we ask ourselves why these people are spending thousands of dollars for the glory of assisting (handing fish) to people in a remote, foreign village that will likely stay broken?  One that maybe wasn’t all that “broken” to begin with?  One that actually used to be full of native peoples that were conquered by the Spaniards?  But we’re continuing to perpetuate that wrong as a right by influencing our western ways on the rural populations?  And if the reason of choosing that location is solely based on the poverty level in Honduras being under 50%, have we stopped to consider that a few of the largest Indian reservations in the US with a majority of the native population is in fact exceeding that level of poverty?  Within our own borders?  Okay, so South Dakota or the desert in Utah maybe isn’t as “cool” as Honduras to visit…but is it a volunteer trip or a vacation?  Spend your money wisely.  Don’t blow $1000 on airfare to fix a problem that doesn’t concern you.  10 students’ airfare to go to Honduras could send multitudes more in a workforce to address the issues in our own country.

So there you have it, my rant for the day: how overseas volunteer projects don’t teach a village anything life-changing, how they have a tendency to be short-lived, how they aim to fix things that may not be considered a problem internally, and how they take our attention away from our own neighbors suffering.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who think differently but, until I see some serious changes within our own country and in these overseas projects to be more economical and sustainable, I see no reason to advocate my opinions in anyone else’s favor.

The Unprecedented Reverse Psychological Effect of Earth Day

Earth Day was created in 1970 to increase environmental awareness and spark interest in the population to heal the world’s health problems. It is one of my least favorite celebrations because I believe it is ineffective and almost counterproductive.

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Picture on my run in Cleveland this weekend.

To me, every day is Earth Day. Every choice I make has been done with preconceived intention and consequence. I operate on a level of mutual respect for my surroundings and nature. I ethically cannot violate this respect; thus I have no need for a celebratory day with events within driving distance or farther for me to demonstrate my good intentions. Each breath I take resonates my purpose.

I do not doubt that Earth Day had held its significance in environmental education; but with the turning of the tide in this new ages Green Revolution, dedicating a sole day to volunteering, clean-up, environmental education, and vegan potlucks seem to miss the point and enable us to accept this “holiday” as our only “work day”. The same things demonstrated on Earth Day should, in reality, be incorporated in every intention of our daily lives and in every classroom within the American education system. Instead, we drive ourselves to an Earth Day event, commit a few lazy hours to picking up litter (which is more of an aesthetic concern than environmental), and then indulge in bowls of food that 9 times out of 10 contain imported, genetically modified, or otherwise unnatural ingredients somewhere within the depths of the dish. Then April 23rd comes around and it’s back to factory beef, taking out the trash, and watching sports on our televisions.

Earth Day should be more of a day of reflexion. “Look how far we have come since last Earth Day” with numbers ensuing for proof. Rather, local events I see for Earth Day fail to carry this message. The unprecedented result has thus been to instill in the minds of the youth that today we remember the planet, and then tomorrow they will remember their video games. In dedicating one day of the year to our cause, we have dedicated 364 to 365 of the off-days to ordinary lifestyles. This doesn’t mean we should make the Anti-Earth Day and dedicate one day to slacking…or should we? Talk about reverse psychology.

So, rather than ask what you will be doing for Earth Day, what will you be doing 6 months from now for your planet? What about every other day in between?