Just Stop

In a future trial to affix blame for the collapse of world culture that began in the year 2020, my two previous blog posts could be  “Exhibits A and B” for the prosecution. Because although I was responding to private requests to write something that would help people understand the ways Indigenous worldview could help people respond to a challenging time like this one, those two blog posts and the “memes” that were their centerpieces wound up expressing — smack dab center-fire — the very culture that’s causing the problem. Because as I wrote those words and started to share them, lots of people (not just one or two) told me, “It needs to be shorter,” and “It needs to grab people in one or two sentences,” and “It would be good if it was funny, or at least cute.” Those two previous posts were the results, and there were several more lined up to go out after them.

But I am not going to do that this time. I woke up at 2 o’clock in the morning and the realization of what I’d let happen with those posts was rising up inside me like the lava dome inside Mt. St. Helens. And it was every bit as hot, steaming with the power of the Land itself, molten and alive. So I am going to write words in response to what I have been asked, but I am not going to be dragged onto ground that people insist must be stood upon in order to communicate. I am going to stand my ground as a Native woman, and I am going to say what actually needs to be said. And if people refuse to hear it because it doesn’t have a funny picture with it, all I can say is: My god, if hard things cannot be heard at such a time as this, if no one can be bothered to sit down long enough to take in more than a sound bite or a funny picture . . . then we are done for. It’s that simple. Because it is this impatience that is going to kill you.

Yes: you. All of us with you, of course. But my understanding right now is that this doesn’t carry nearly the weight it should. So I tell you: it will kill you. Worse, it will kill your precious children and grandchildren. This is simply true, not a threat. It grieves me as much as it grieves you; I have no wish to see it happen. But I’m not the one insisting that the bad news can only be entertained if it’s literally also entertaining. And these deaths are not going to happen in some unimaginable future hundreds of years from now when you will be gone and not know about it. If you don’t sit down and pay attention and really change some things, these deaths will happen in your own lifetime, and be the thing that brings an end to that lifetime. And it won’t be a happy or peaceful end, either.

Now: I have not said we’re all doomed. I have said we’re all doomed if you don’t change your ways. And one of the most insidious of “your ways” is to insist that you only have time to read 200 characters (or whatever it is) and look at a quick picture and then be off to the next thing. I realize you’re busy. I realize you’re anxious right now, and distressed, and upset, and very stressed. Which is all the more reason to sit down, calm down, and knock it off.

Just stop. You can. I am 100% positive. Just stop and sit still for a while and you’ll see.

It’s the perfect time for it. In fact, the times demand it. In more ways than one.

–to be continued, tomorrow — Meanwhile, a word from our sponsor . . .

Cliff in Left Hand Canyon where golden eagles nest, near Boulder, CO. Photo by Jo Belasco.

Circling Back Home

Twelve years ago this month, we had to leave our beloved ranch in Northwestern Nebraska. The programs that we ran on the land there were life-changing for people who participated. While it was incredibly hard to leave, we had no choice because of the financial consequences of the wildfire that had swept through the ranch the year before. We never imagined we would be lucky enough to come back to that area, an area we love and that people found so powerful through our meetings and workshops.

But life has a funny way of working. It seems to like circles, which is appropriate given our model using the Sacred Circle. This month, Tapestry is relocating back to Northwestern Nebraska. We aren’t located at our former ranch. We are actually working on finding a new land partner in this area.

The world has changed a lot in the decade-plus that we have been away from this area. If anything, our mission is even more important than it was before. Some change has been good. Indigenous knowledge has gained prominence in mainstream media, and people are paying attention to Indigenous voices in many endeavors, including climate change and land conservation. In other ways, the news is not so good.

Along with our relocation, we have new programs to address the changes in the world. Our IKhana Fund provides financial support to people engaged in projects of reciprocal, relational knowing to acquire Indigenous Knowledge that can help communities adapt to changing environments and that can help preserve and protect environments threatened by catastrophic change. The Horse-Human Relationship Program continues to grow with Horse Ibachakali and Mindfulness with Mustangs, providing opportunities for people to connect with horses — and the natural world — using mindfulness and within Indigenous worldview. Finally, we will have exciting news this month about our journey to find a new land partner.

We want all of our friends and supporters to know how much your kind words and support have meant all these years. It’s thanks to you that we are back in the Place that supports our work and that will allow us to move forward with our programs. Stay tuned for more exciting information about our programs. Remember to join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to follow our work. If you want to support our work financially, all donations are tax-deductible.

Clarissa Rizal Walks On

Clarissa RizalClarissa Rizal walked on to join the ancestors this week. The fact of writing that sentence seems surreal. She was diagnosed with what would turn out to be a lethal condition less than 8 weeks ago, went back to Colorado to her adult children, and then left us. Our hearts haven’t caught up with reality yet. We still expect to get an email from her, telling us when she’s going to visit this spring as we’d planned. She was going to buy an RV and tour the country. We’d planned to talk to her, our old and dear friend, about joining Tapestry’s Board of Directors. Here’s a very recent picture from her website of Clarissa with one of the astonishing Chilkat robes she wove. It is this face of joy, the beauty of person and created art, that live so strongly in our hearts and our minds that we can’t get used to the fact that she’s gone.

Clarissa RizalWe met Clarissa back in 2002 at a conference Tapestry hosted called “Stories from the Circle: Science and Native Wisdom.” Then she was part of a film pre-production team that met in Palo Duro Canyon the next year. The group went for a horseback ride that bitterly cold but beautiful weekend, and Clarissa was thrilled to draw the only mustang in the string as her mount. Here she is horseback on that mustang, smiling her beautiful smile, ready to set out on the ride. That same trip she walked off into the scrub oak and cedar as shadows began to fill the canyon floor, and a short time later the sweet sound of her flute drifted out of the trees to echo from the soft canyon walls and rise into the clear and darkening sky.

In 2004, Clarissa attended a Snowchange meeting in Alaska with Dawn, dancing joyfully with the local people and making good friends of visiting Maori. She and Dawn stayed up late at night as Clarissa talked about her girlhood growing up in Homer, Alaska, the town on such steep slopes that houses were above one another rather than side by side. We talked marriage and children, life and rebirth, mystery and the mundane. Such was Clarissa’s gift of weaving different things together into a breath-taking whole you never saw coming.

Visit Clarissa’s website to soak up the beauty of her work and her life. The more people who carry her glorious vitality and love of life in their heart, the stronger Clarissa’s spirit will live on in a world that so desperately needs it.

Clarissa, we miss you already! Walk on in beauty now, as always, and revel in all the new adventures before you.

Research In Service to the Land

Figure 5. A photograph made in 1890, when naturalist Lewis Lindsay Dyche was mounting the skin of the horse called Comanche, showing what is inside it.
Figure 5. A photograph made in 1890, when naturalist Lewis Lindsay Dyche was mounting the skin of the horse called Comanche, showing what is inside it.

Last year, organizers for the 2016 meeting of the American Indigenous Research Association asked me to share my experience in science as a Native woman. As I started preparing the paper, which I delivered at the end of last month, I asked myself: “What do I wish I had known, going in, that could have prepared me for the hidden obstacles that face a Native person in science research?”

I decided it’s not the “how-to” of the concrete ways I applied Indigenous research methods to studies of plesiosaur and dinosaur locomotion, sabertooth jaw mechanics, and evolutionary theory. It wasn’t actually hard to apply Indigenous ways of knowing and learning to my work. Like many Indigenous people, I do it in my regular life. So of course I do it when I teach, and of course it’s how I approach my research. It’s second nature. I think all you have to do is open yourself up to it and it happens.

What I wish I had understood is how deeply Western science was going to resist my methods and how relentlessly it would try to change them. And I wish I’d known why. Because this is the key to realizing you can’t fix the problem. What looks like a stone you can dislodge with a bit of effort when you trip over it is actually the visible tip of a buried mountain.

You can read more about my thoughts and experiences in science as a Native woman in the published version of this presentation, “In Service to the Land: Indigenous Research Methods in the Natural Sciences,” which is now online in full format.

The Power of Story: Procrustes in the Land Between the Mountain and the Sea

Last fall I had the great privilege of making a keynote address to the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment at their meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Although I developed my presentation on different ways of knowing and the ways that contemporary practices of assessment relate to them with that audience in mind, this particular talk expressed information that I’ve learned is of tremendous interest to everyone. In particular, I focused on not just explaining, but demonstrating the power of Story as a way of learning and knowing. Story is, after all, a universal language for transmitting vitally important information. And Indigenous understandings of Story take our understandings of its power and even its very nature much farther than does most contemporary academic research.

I have now published this presentation as a new Tapestry Occasional Paper. The first paragraph is below. Please click the link at the end of the paragraph to read the rest, and to experience the images, music, dance, and (yes!) story that form the structure of this learning experience.

Let us begin our journey together today with one of Western culture’s favorite stories, as it was told in 1985: the really Western – as in “it has horses in it” Western movie — “Silverado.” (1) I will tell you right now, by the way, you’re going to see a lot of horses in this presentation. Learning always employs a vehicle. Mine happens to be alive and have four legs. You might actually start to wonder after a while, when you see the story return in other places, if I am in fact beating a dead you-know-what with this one movie. And maybe I am and don’t know it. But what I’m hoping to do is build up enough layers of complexity in your mind that a new understanding about the reality of Story will emerge. N. Scott Momaday (2) has said in “The Way to Rainy Mountain” that the most deeply mythic stories are about epic journeys “made with the whole memory, that experience of the mind which is legendary as well as historical, personal as well as cultural.” So let us begin with a short video clip that summarizes the movie’s opening scenes and then reveals its truly mythic nature.

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