This Is How It Is For Me

The day began, as many have of late, in deep fog. Now there is ample sun and warmth, the light literally bouncing off the leaves.

The summer solstice occurred Saturday late afternoon in the Northern Hemisphere. We gathered with friends virtually last evening to share ceremony and conversation. Grief was present as we struggled to make sense of the harm done to so many people of color, and to the environment.

This post is a bit of a broadside. I have tried to be direct and not snarky. I know it is different in tone from most of my writing here and I hope you will bear with me. I welcome your thoughts.

I’ve spent too much time of late trying to educate mostly European Americans about the realities of being Native and/or disabled as I experience and understand them. I do not want to hear about the settler’s side when I talk about the historical and ongoing genocide of Native peoples in the Americas and around the world. (I’m half settler and I know their side.) I do not want to hear how Natives should not talk about the genocide being waged Natives as these stories might take away from Black Lives Matter. There is no excuse for silencing Native voices.

The simple truth is that colonialism is a shared problem and if we cannot create a coalition of system impacted groups, the colonizers will win again. I have literally lost track of the number of Native men and women killed in North America by police in the last six weeks, the number of killed and disappeared Native women, the number of incarcerated Native teens and children, and the number of Native sacred sites under attack by state and federal governments. I do not know what to do with the grief I feel for these things, and for the destruction of the Amazon and her people, including individuals I knew.

I do not want to hear about the expense of curb cuts when I am speaking about having to drive my disability scooter in the road because I can’t negotiate a sidewalk curb. I do not want to hear how needing aid going down a ramp, or struggling to hold a glass of water disqualifies one from public office. No! Being a mean, arrogant, compassionless, hate-filled person disqualifies, or should disqualify one from office but apparently does not.

I do not want to hear how someone is a good liberal as they actively discount, disqualify, and undermine people of color or disability. I do not want to hear anything about skin color as a legitimate gauge of Nativeness, nor about how eastern Native families that passed as white for generations but remained Native in thought and lifeways are not real Indians. As my grandmother repeatedly said, we first have to protect and save the children if we are to have a future. Passing was a necessity for isolated families living in hostile, racist conditions throughout the east. Grandmother wanted us to assimilate rather than live in fear as she had for much of her life.

I do not want to hear from theater practitioners, especially Playback Theater practitioners, about aesthetic concerns when those concerns are really a means of disqualifying actors due to disability.Too often you completely fail to get the stories disabled, Indigenous, and other systems impacted groups tell. If you can’t grasp the intensity of the lived experience being spoken before you, ask for aid or admit that the story is beyond you and allow it to stand as is. Remember, theater as now practiced in the US is a European, ablest enclave that has long marginalized all others. The discourse is too often colonized and the aesthetic is ableist.

I imagine none of us can truly walk in anther’s shoes. We can practice refusing to overwrite others’ experiences and needs with our cultural norms. It is hard work and probably doomed to fail. The power is in listening and doing our best to make space for others’ stories and voices.

Want to know about the Native experience of this current moment with a focus on theater? Watch this interview with Muriel and Gloria Miguel,  wise Native American women.



29 thoughts on “This Is How It Is For Me

  1. I bear with you; I hear you; I grieve with you. Your experience is unique and specific and important; you are unique and specific and important and one with me and all others; we humans can do better. I am trying to do better.

  2. Thank you, Michael, for telling your current story with authenticity and integrity. Sometimes there are things that need to be said even if there is no guarantee that everyone will listen. It sounds like you are ready for one of those deep sobs that comes from deep in the gut. I want to cry with you. And it sounds that you might also be ready for a majestic scream from the top of the mountain so all can hear your rage and the rage of all the ancestors. If you need more height, you can stand on my shoulders. May peace come to you – and please stay safe.

    1. Lara, I wonder whether feeling too much comes from being torn open to the suffering in the world. I struggle with the overwhelm and the numbing. It seems so hard for people to allow complexity, to step outside the binaries, and their insistence on simplicity just pile fuel on the fires of hatred.

      1. I cannot watch TV without feeling ill. Yes, I do go numb as well. This time, with all the threats to simplicity, it is making many become unhinged. I have no answer as to how to make anyone feel better or safe, Michael.

      2. Lara, I am constantly reminded that I cannot make anyone feel safe. At best I can try to create the conditions that aid someone in feeling connected and supported. Maybe that is as good as it gets right now. And yes, news feeds are toxic and addictive….

      3. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the sickness I feel was something I picked up – then I breathe it out to release it. Man, you do have to be careful. (Love to you always Michael)

  3. I feel the pain of your words. I have sat with aboriginal people here in Australia and listened to their pain over what has happened here in the name of colonization. They tell of some terrible events. The world needs to hear these stories. They have to be acknowledged so that healing can occur.
    I empathize with your situation as a disabled person. We have a disabled child in our family. My daughter has been largely left alone to care for him during the pandemic because many of the care workers have been unable to provide their usual respite services. Those of us in the extended family have helped where we can but a lot of the assistance needed is highly specialized. Both my daughter and her son are suffering because of their current situation.
    This pandemic has really highlighted the gaps in society. There is so much that needs to change in this world. The injustices and the greed of those in power and positions of privilege have to be balanced with the needs of those on the margins.

    1. Suzanne, it is hard to know how we can find the return to balance that is so needed right now. The wealthy have too much and the poor far to little. Those of us in the middle are endangered by the greed that has taken over governance in many countries.
      I am glad you listen to Aboriginal stories. I often wonder how we can make more room for the stories that need to be heard, the repressed stories of those who are systems impacted. Stories are sacred, even the bawdy ones, when spoken from truth and connection.
      My heart goes out to your daughter and her child. I often think of how difficult it must have been for my parents to raise a disabled child. Fortunately, in the end I was able to lead a remarkably normal life, as many polio survivors did. Tee ableism always hurt, and was a constant source of limitation, yet I often feel blessed in my life.One must still speak up.
      I believe we all have stories to tell. The deep stories really do matter, yours and mine.

      1. It is hard to see how things can change but I feel it’s of utmost importance that those of us with an inner spiritual life hold onto the faith that things can change for the better. These are strange and difficult times where much old darkness is rising to the surface to be seen, heard and healed. As you say, telling the deep stories is so important.

      2. Suzanne, I think that change often occurs in mysterious, even unexpected, ways. Since change is inevitable, we can encourage the change we want to see. Those deep stories we have been speaking of are beacons for change.

  4. What you write is so true, but so sad!
    The powerful don’t like different people, even if they pretend otherwise
    Some humans are able to doing well.
    But those who have power don’t have this priority!
    They pretend! They seem to listen, they seem to understand and one would think they will act well.
    The powerful in this world don’t wish the happiness of the people.

    They want more power and more wealth.
    The white man captured black man to be their slaves… They massacred the Native American to steal the place.
    White people don’t respect nature. He doesn’t understand anything!!!
    I am sad, angry. It’s very unfair. I don’t know how we could stop this. I think at my grandchildren, at all the grandchildren in the world and it hurts.

    1. Dear Colette,
      You speak so much truth. I think we can only do our best to make the world a place for our grandchildren to live happy lives. I, too, fear for them. Perhaps all we can leave them is our love and our resolution to act in their defense, for their good.
      I know there are many good white people. There are also dangerous people of color. If we are to make the world welcoming for future generations we need all of us people who seek to do the right thing, to work together.

  5. I think that men (whatever their color) are capable of intelligence and kindness. Education is necessary, without forgetting a good conscience.

    1. Thank you, Carol. I was wondering around your blog, enjoying your wisdom and creativity, and the beauty you bring to the blog. Reading your comment, I am reminded of your persistence and courage. You bring so much to your work and the rest of us benefit.

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