Monday, September 19, 2011

Charlie Champlin Eating Machine

When people ask me questions about sacred site issues, I try to figure out how much they really want to hear (rather than how much I want to share). My husband describes it like discerning how much food you can serve to a guest.  What if they simply don't like the taste?  Do you keep throwing food at them hoping some of it will go down?  If you serve it too fast, they simply can't keep up!  A good host also recognizes that eventually the food hits the stomach and you get full no matter how wonderful the meal was.  I heard once that a good teacher doesn't teach information, a good teacher TEACHES people the information.  

So it's important to discern how many bites of a new-information "meal" someone could stomach.  Did they just want to graze at the buffet and try a little of this or that?  Were they just being polite?   Did they genuinely want to sit down and eat a meal and they are pretty hungry?  Nothing worse than forcing someone to keep eating when they are already full or they simply don't want to eat for whatever reason.  "HERE HAVE ANOTHER BITE!"

I have found it fascinating to see how people receive the information I share when they ask me what I'm doing in my free time for fun.  As I share that I volunteering as a mediator to help guide discussions about sacred sites that are on government property, you can imaging that I get some interesting looks.  And I try to not over feed them with information!

Besides, I am not trained as a historian so it's not like I have expert status that would draw a crowd based on credentials.  I don't have first person experience or perspective from either the indigenous community or as a government employee, so I can't speak to their concerns directly either. 

Apparently American Indian Treaties from the 1800's and the ramifications in 2012 is not a regular topic of conversation that you hear about on the sidelines of a sporting event or at dinner parties!  "You do what?" So I often get the wonderful opportunity to tell a story of how a girl from the midwest moved to Minnesota to pursue a sports medicine career and began serving in sacred site mediation. Invariably I share about the 150th anniversary of the US -Dakota Indian War coming up in just a few months and how events set in motion all those years ago still have repercussions today here in Minnesota.  This is apparently new-for-most-people information. Like going to a restaurant and you don't recognize any of the names of items on the menu and you can't describe the spice you just ate. Although some people will shrug and take only a small "bite" to start, most of the time people are eager to try this new idea out.  Their eyes get big and they ask tons of questions and they leave shaking their heads, wondering how they were "completely unaware of this whole other parallel universe" until our conversation.  So we scratch the surface in what can be conveyed in a brief chat and I try to refer them to some helpful resources to learn more if they want to take some more bites or actually have a full meal at this restaurant.

It continues to surprise me how many people who live in Minnesota are unaware of Minnesota history (or history in general).  As a rash stereotype, Americans are traditionally not aware of anything other than the events that happen in their "back yard", so image my surprise to discover how few people know what happened right here either!  We are so focused on the here and now and we're so overwhelmed with information overload that yesterday news doesn't have any space in our lives... much like a health history doesn't matter until you try to figure out when the disease came on and how to diagnose it...or like a maintenance history on a care doesn't matter unless you want to buy it.

If you're not full yet this morning... keep reading.

It isn't my job to be an advocate per se for American Indian rights... As I've said many times, if I become too close to the parties involved on EITHER side, then I would no longer be an effective neutral.  So I try to share what I know to pique people's interest and invite them to get to know people who can tell their story from the first person perspective.  We've been privy to some fascinating conversations!

And although I'm still far from perfect, I have developed a skill in guiding dialogue, asking critical clarifying questions and holding up a mirror to those participating in the conversation.  I joke that I'm good at messing things up equally for both parties.  HA!  Over time I've begun to bring others who are neutrals and together we try to mediate a dialogue that would bring people to understand each others' perspectives more clearly than when they started and to hopefully arrive at some positive action points that both parties can live with.  It's not about who is right or wrong, what version of history you personally believe.  It's about affording someone else the dignity to listen to them as they share their perspective.  Sometimes the road to progress seems like I'm scratching concrete with a plastic spoon (but it's still progress!) and other times it is so rewarding as we break through an impasse.

Now that I've been given a "microphone," I'm trying to introduce people to some very different perspectives about land use and hopefully they will want another bite.   It's not that I'm a master chef or the one with the recipe cards...but I know where the good food is I can refer people to some good resources.  On Wednesday this week I addressed a Rotary Club that meets in a community that is in close proximity to Bdote (the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers) that the Dakota consider sacred.  I am speaking to a university class on Thursday about some of the lessons I've gleaned from this human rights work and another Rotary club next week. 

To me, sacred sites issues are "right-to-pray" issues.  Not only is it "worth the time" but it's also very critical that the majority listen to people who have views that differ from the majority.  More people believing in something doesn't mean that they are right.  More people with political or economic power believing in something doesn't mean they are right.  And the people who talk the loudest don't always have the right answer either.  This goes back to Kindergarten playground rules:  "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." 

Because of my background in medicine, I often find myself in prevention mode and default to thinking about the future and what we should do NOW to get the desired results in the future.  Much like the Winter of 1862, when there were plenty of signs and symptoms that many members of the Dakota community were "at their emotional tipping point long before things turned violent, we see many similar symptoms. Looking back at the letters from Minnesota to President Abraham Lincoln, there were plenty of warnings that things would probably turn violent if the government did not take a new direction and listen to the concerns of those who had no food and had their human rights taken away.  And I'm not trying to scare people that there will be an uprising in 2012!  You completely missed the point if that's what you're reading.  Rather, I believe that the WORLD is at a tipping point.  There are plenty of signs and symptoms that our young people are displaying around the globe that indicate that they are at a tipping point and  we should pay attention. 

Here in Minnesota we see some different symptoms that maybe you won't see where you live because they are specific to our area.  But they follow some trends.  What happens when people don't have hope?  What happens when you don't have food and the prospect of a job is pretty bleak?  What happens when people want to pray and for whatever reason are denied?  What happens when people do not feel like anyone is listening and their most important values are being ignored?  What happens when the economy and other social issues simply light a fire under the issue?  What happens if it seems that no one is listening to your concerns?  What happens if you are told that your values don't matter to the majority?  At what point do things tip to the wrong direction and a course of events is set in motion that could lead to further conflict and even violence?

I can't fix everything...and thankfully it's not my job.  But I recognize that when times are hard, that's when people return to the values that they once held precious or what was taught.  When they return to God and seek His face in their traditional way, then they can find hope and peace and strength to sustain them through the challenge.  But conversely, if you don't have the access to your sacred sites or if you can't practice your faith/cultural traditions, suddenly things tip to the negative.  People have simply had enough and they break.   I believe that prayer is a human right and that that we all should be protecting this right for each other.  That doesn't mean I have the solution for how to make it all work when people want to recreate on government owned parkland that also is considered someone's sacred site...but hopefully we can meet to talk about it.