MNN Column July 2008

Hensci. Feeling homesick about now. I’d like to get back for Green Corn. It’s expensive to go anywhere. Airfares from Hawaii have doubled since last year. Gas prices are outrageous. Someone’s getting rich. “I’ll pay for a tank of gas”, I told my daughter when she headed to Tempe to take my granddaughter for an ASU Indian student orientation a few weeks ago. I got the bill. It was almost two hundred dollars for one fill-up. Her vehicle has to hold five kids, the two step-grandkids she’s taking care of, and her husband. Cars are being made that run on air. Why not political hot air? There’s always plenty of that blowing around.
I’m down here in San Diego for the Autry Native Voices Playwrights Retreat with three other playwrights, Diane Glancy (Cherokee), Laura Shamas (Chickasaw) and Julie Little Thunder, another Creek. The playwrights chosen in the competition this year happened to be all women. Little Thunder’s play is The Girl Who Was Captured by Ghosts, about a Cheyenne woman dealing with breast cancer. The story is powerful and evocative. We are being given support to develop our stories through the assistance of a wonderful program for native theater built by Randy Reinholtz (Choctaw) and Jean Bruce Scott. We will do a reading of our plays in Los Angeles at the Wells Fargo Theater.

Arigon Starr is here acting in two of the plays, and as always, is larger than life. She’s also rehearsing her Red Road play, a one-woman show in which she plays eleven characters, and just returned from a successful Australian road tour. I also hear on the estv cate grapevine that she did a great job mc-ing and performing at the Creek Festival this year.

One of the actors, Robert Owens-Graygrass (Lakota) told us the strange story of how his son and granddaughter were in a pile up. His son drove around a corner and saw a car that had just rolled out of control. Just then his car went into a spin and rolled several times over the car that had rolled off the road. No one was hurt, just bruises and a little shock. Then, yet another car came around and rolled over their cars! They were all right, yet all three cars were totaled! Everyday he prays for his children and grandchildren. Those prayers must have helped, he said. Grandpa prayers are some of the strongest, I think.
And a final thought--about honor, came to me the other morning: Honor everyone who crosses your path. Everyone includes time as a person or persons. It includes sky, earth, air, water and other elemental beings. It includes your body. Think kindly; think light. Even each email, text, each word is a transmission. Each transaction brings either light or confusion. Paying attention is honoring. Even a roly-poly bug taught me about honoring. I saw one making his way across the bathroom of my hotel room in Kolkata, India. I’ve always liked them. I went into my light body; then we were equal. Then I saw the light around him, and the light trail his path made across the bathroom floor.

Three of the Finalist Judges for Youth Speaks, July 19,2008 in Washington, D.C.

The esteemed poet Sonia Sanchez, Ishle Park who has the distinction of being the Poet Laureate of Queens, and me, just before we go to the Lincoln Theater for the Youth Speaks finals, being filmed by HBO as Brave New Voices. Congratulations to ALL the teams, especially the finalists: Rochester, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and the winner Team Hawaii!!

And to Santa Fe Indian School and Taos!!

All the teams.

You are brave and beautiful. Now I know that our hopes and dreams are being carried forward.


In dreamtime I am in the shadow level of emotional distress. We all know that place. It is night, or otherwise dark. I am at an intersection or crossroads. For me in the dreaming it was Yale and Central in Albuquerque. I have stood at that intersection waiting for the light to change to begin my first day at the university many years ago, or with my little son jumping around in agile joy. I stood there in labor with my daughter. I've stood there more recently in an anxious cloud because a negative force is chewing up the beloved program that has been my teaching home for the last three years. I may be forced to leave. At that intersection are many levels of memories and awareness, not just mine but everyone who carries attachments there. They stack up and interact. Past, present and future merge and nudge.

In the dreaming I am assisting a young woman in escape. We move about the shadows. Then I watch a man with so much rage he’s literally red, running toward us. At first I think the man is the one we're escaping. It's not him. This man is small, wiry and running hard at us. I appear to be the object of his fury. He leaps to attack me. I do not react. I have made myself absolutely calm. His wild, red form goes through me without a quiver. He's surprised,too, there was no reaction on my part. He becomes himself again. And as he transforms he apologizes for being overcome by Fury. Fury stalks off looking for someone else to attach to, to gain energy from, to suck.


Traditional Foods 2008 By Monica Charles

I'm honored to introduce you to Monica Charles blog, which can be found at:


I first met Monica at Indian school, at IAIA in the late sixties. She was an amazing writer and personage then, as she is now. (I will add her to my links (once I figure out how). )



It’s amazing how fast time passes. We started our Traditional Foods dinners in the year 2000. The diabetes nurse and I went to a workshop put on by Rudy Ryser chairman of the Center for World Indigenous Studies.

We immersed ourselves in Traditional foods of the Coast Salish and the Plateau Tribes. The Yakama man who was to speak on his Tribe’s Traditional foods couldn’t make it because of a death in his family. Bruce Miller is both Coast Salish and Yakama. He spoke in the morning about Salish foods and stepped up to speak about Plateau foods.

This was very exciting for me. I had seen a TV news magazine segment on a Native Hawaiian doctor who had put his Native patients on a Traditional Hawaiian diet. They have the same health problems Indians do.

They didn’t have to count calories or weigh their food. They could eat as much as they wanted to but they could only eat their traditional foods. It was amazing. Their blood sugar normalized. So did blood pressure. Arthritis disappeared. They lost weight.

They caught the taro root before it disappeared. There was some still growing unattended in old gardens. They began cultivating it again. This planted a seed in my mind.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s I had tried to revive the First Salmon Ceremony in my Tribe. No one was interested. There were Elders still living who knew how to do the real old ceremony. A few years later the Shaker Minister would ring his bells and sing to bless the fish at the fish hatchery.

Now the Fish Committee has a blessing of the fleet and a first salmon ceremony. We are going forward, back to our roots, our strength.

This year will be my first time without my Mom. She has supported our Traditional Foods dinners since the beginning. It will be hard not to have her sitting at the table with me.


The dinner is over now. I felt mom’s Spirit supporting me during our dinner. There were new people that came. I went to see a cousin that was decorating the tables and making the buckskin bread.

I came across some boys about 8 or 10 years old. They were cutting branches off young trees by the side of the road. They looked guilty and scared when I stopped. I told them we were having a Traditional Foods Dinner in a couple hours. I told them to come eat with us.

The boys came and filled their plates. I saw them go back for seconds. My grand nephew was one of them. He kept going back for desert.

My older sister had promised to bake bread but wasn’t able to. I got out my flour and yeast and prayed it would taste good. Mom was famous for her yeast bread. My other sisters are good bread makers. So I prayed the whole time. There wasn’t any left after the dinner so I guess I did okay.

It was the first time that a cousin came from Muckleshoot. She had a good time. Another came from Oregon and cooked the duck for us. She promised duck again for the fall dinner.

I tell the same story at each dinner.

On the Elwha River, there is a rock with a deep depression in it like a basket. That is our Creation Site. It is buried beneath one of the dams.

The first People were the Trees and plants. Everything was good but there was something missing. The Creator then made all the animals. This was also good, but there was still something missing. The Creator made all that is Spirit. He then reached into the earth and pulled out the red clay. He fashioned it the way he wanted it. He filled the rock with water and bathed each Creation in it. He lifted his new Creation to each direction so all life would know it. He then worked out from the Elwha River placing each Creation where he wanted them. These new Creations are the human beings.

The Creator gave us simple laws to follow. We were to love one another and take care of one another. As long as we prayed and sang we had a good life. After a while people stopped praying and talking with the Creator. They stopped listening to him. We forgot our mandate to love and take care of one another. We became lost.

We forgot our sacred beginnings. We forgot our teachings. We thought we were the source of power. We forgot the Creator in our lives. We did unspeakable things to each other. Men began abusing women and children. Balance went out of the world.

The Creator became sorry he had made his Creations. He decided he would destroy them. Those that still prayed and listened to the Creator knew his plans. They got their canoes ready. Some made rafts. They gathered food and fresh water.

The rains started. The rivers flooded and the oceans rose. The fresh water became salty and undrinkable. Most of life on earth died.

Our People tied their canoes onto the mountain top so we wouldn’t get lost. The rains stopped and the waters receded. You can find this story in petroglyphs in the mountains. Our People recorded how long it rained, how long the flood lasted, how long it took the waters to recede. They recorded the animals they saw and how many.

After the world dried there wasn’t enough food for all the humans and animals. They got together and discussed the situation. They decided they would play a game. The winner would get to eat the loser. Our Ancestors won the game.

The animals and plants still keep their word. They give up their lives that we might live. We had ceremonies that thanked all the ones that feed us. These ceremonies were outlawed in the 1800’s by the States and the US federal government.

So much time has passed we have forgotten how to do those ceremonies. So now we have a non-denominational dinner and accept the gift of those that give up their lives that we might live. We thank and bless them. I trust that the Creator will give back to us the way he wants those ceremonies done.

The white staff has done much to undermine our Dinners. They have bought farmed clams instead of our Native ones. These clams come from the Philippines. Whites prefer them because to the white palate they are milder. They have bought farmed salmon. It comes from the Atlantic. I guess it tastes milder to them too. This year they did not invite the other Tribes. They said we were feeding more guests than our own tribal members.

That kind of stinginess is not Traditional. It is the white man’s way of thinking. We are famous for our hospitality. It is our pride and joy.

Our Potlatches or give-aways were outlawed because the white man could not understand giving away everything we owned. We knew a secret they didn’t. There was always more where that came from. Giving away keeps the luck and abundance flowing. What makes the white heart so stingy?

We didn’t become poor until the white government outlawed our giveaways. We have started them again. We didn’t ask anyone’s permission. We exercised our sovereignty and took it back.

We have started our Memorial Dinners and giveaways for those that have gone on. Our children started a Potlatch with the school district. They thought it would lessen the racism if the teachers and other school employees understood their culture or way of doing things better.

The students came up with this idea themselves. I think they were in the 5th grade. They are young adults now. The white teachers were embarrassed at first to receive gifts for no reason but the honor their students gave them. They now participate whole-heartedly and bring books for the Tribal Library. The parents put on a great dinner.

That is another thing whites don’t understand about us. We have dinners for everything. It is the most healing thing we can do for our Tribes and our communities.

It is called “Eating out of the same dish.” There was a time when we actually did eat out of the same dish. You can see in museums beautifully carved bowls that extend the length of a longhouse. It would have an animal representative of the owner carved into the bowl. We would sit around that bowl and eat out of it.

When we do that we become one-heart one-mind. We become even and equal. The elders and the sick take what they need from that combined energy for their health and strength. All of us do. The youth and children have the most strength and energy to contribute. We must not chase them away. They must be allowed to know their importance and our need for them in our Tribes and communities.

I did not understand why people had begun telling me that I did not start the Traditional Foods Dinner. Other people began taking credit for doing that.

We may get a grant next year for a Traditional Foods program. We can do so many healing things. We can teach our children to hunt and fish. We can teach them how to clean and prepare those foods. We can teach them how to smoke and other ways of preserving food.

We can bring back our Traditional values. Life will then have more meaning to us and our children. The possibilities are exciting.

All of this has come from a simple dinner, to acknowledge what the Creator gave us and to give thanks. We love our people. We love God, The Creator, by whatever name a person chooses to call that Life Source.

We have taken that first step to get us back on the right road. We have connected with the Creator and brought prayer back into our lives. We are including our Tribe and our relatives and friends from other Tribes in our journey back to healing.

We will be like our Ancestors that knew enough to ready their canoes. We will be the ones that step into the new world that is coming. We will be the ones that know how to gather from Mother Earth’s garden. We will be the survivors.
Posted by Monica at 2:14 PM

George Carlin on Indians

(Thanks to Kristina Bitsue for forwarding this. And thank you George Carlin for your gifts of wisdom, humor and clear vision.)

"Now the Indians. I call them Indians because that's what they are.
They're Indians. There's nothing wrong with the word Indian.

"First of all, it's important to know that the word Indian does not derive from Columbus mistakenly believing he had reached 'India.' India was not even called by that name in 1492; it was known as Hindustan.

More likely, the word Indian comes from Columbus's description of the people he found here. He was an Italian, and did not speak or write very good Spanish, so in his written accounts he called the Indians, "Una gente in Dios." A people in God. In God. In Dios. Indians. It's a perfectly noble and respectable word.

As far as calling them 'Americans' is concerned, do I even have to
point out what an insult this is? ----- We steal their hemisphere, kill twenty or so million of them, destroy five hundred separate cultures, herd the survivors onto the worst land we can find, and now we want to name them after ourselves? It's appalling. Haven't we done enough damage? Do we have to further degrade them by tagging them with the repulsive name of their conquerors?

You know, you'd think it would be a fairly simple thing to come over to this continent, commit genocide, eliminate the forests, dam up the rivers, build our malls and massage parlors, sell our blenders and whoopee cushions, poison ourselves with chemicals, and let it go at that. But no. We have to compound the insult."...

I'm glad the Indians have gambling casinos now. It makes me happy that dimwitted white people are losing their rent money to the Indians. Maybe the Indians will get lucky and win their country back. Probably wouldn't want it. Look at what we did to it."