Wednesday, April 18, 2012

By the River of Slippery Rocks: Escanaba

What a great time it was for me last night presenting in Linda Cree's (my mother's) Cultural Anthropology class down at Bay de Noc Community College! A wonderful discussion throughout that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Escanaba, or zhooshkwaanaabi, comes from the river (or ziibi) of the same name, meaning "river of smooth, slippery, flat rocks" in Anishinaabemowin - the language of which the Ojibwe language is a part. Today it's a town that sits on the border of the treaties of 1836 and 1842. With the river as the dividing line for those treaty areas emptying into michi-gami (Lake Michigan), at the delta, an interesting situation has arisen. As the river delta is in constant flux, the bureaucratic mindset wanting to pin down the territory to enforce game laws on treaty harvests is in an uproar. At one time, those from the 1836 Ojibwe nations can hunt on a particular piece of land, but as the river delta shifts, that same piece of land ends up on the other side of the river and now is no longer 1836 territory but 1842 territory open only for treaty harvests to those who's nation signed the 1842 territory.

Although this provides a headache for the tribes in game enforcement, I think the DNR is the one with the greatest headache. From my view, though, I see it as a lesson the river is giving - how can you divide the land in such arbitrary ways and expect it to stick? Mother Earth sets the rules, no matter how hard people may try to tame her and keep her controlled.

The zhooshkwaanaabi area is also near a great known piece of history - the Grand Island-Bay de Noc Trail. Much more than a hiking trail, this path has connected gich-gami (Lake Superior) with michi-gami (Lake Michigan) for centuries, perhaps millenia. To my knowledge, no one actually knows how long people have been traveling this path between the two lakes, but it was already well established when the fur traders started using it. When I take my classes there, I remind them to really let themselves soak in the place. After all, if many Indigenous cosmologies are right and if quantum physicists are correct about this being a holographic universe, all of time is connected, like a sphere. Thus, as we walk that path, so too are our ancestors walking it, according to these theories.

So, it was a real treat to present to an anthrology class, particularly this one, as the students had a great background in the material to fully understand the implications and meanings of a lot of the concepts discussed in the presentation. What a great group! Miigwech to my mom and everyone for a wonderful evening!

Marquette, the Iron Ore, and a Place of Long Habitation

I'd never been in the Kaufman auditorium before until presenting there for Marquette Alternative High School last week. Quite the impressive place!

And the students were too! The ongoing discussion we had, the great questions...I very much enjoyed it all.

Marquette is an interesting place for me. As a city that sits on the boundary line between the 1836 and 1842 treaties, I'm never quite able to forget what Marquette boomed out of, especially with the old iron ore dock down in the harbor, a dock that, to me, is a symbol of all that is being done to the Earth. Everytime I drive by it I think of this and of the treaties of 1836 and 1842 - that in order for that iron mining to happen (and the subsequent poisoning of the land), entire nations of Anishinaabe people were pushed off their land. And it was Kawbawgam, as I understand it, who showed the iron ore to those seeking it - yet he was never paid any part of the profits that rolled in from such mining. Just another story of exploitation.

Marquette, though, has history much deeper than the iron mining. Just outside to the east on gich-gami (Lake Superior) is the site of one of the oldest known human village sites - near the Carp River where today we have the prison, the sewage plant, and the bike path - it is some 6000 years old. You wouldn't know it, as there is no sign marking the site, yet archaeologists such as NMU's Dr. John Anderton have been talking about the site to those who're interested.

This area is also home to some of the oldest exposed rock on the planet - nearly as old as the planet herself. Amazing. In Ojibwe culture, stone is thought of as "asin," as grandfathers from a long way back. I think we can all feel the presence inherent in stones, rocks, when we're near them. Ancient. They've "seen" much.

Miigwech/thanks to Nora Taylor and the other teachers at MAHS for setting this up at MAHS! It was a pleasure to be there.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Back on Keweenaw Bay

One of the first things I noticed pulling into the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College's parking lot was what a beautiful view there was to be had, overlooking the Bay. And what a beautiful college! It was my first time to KBOCC and I truly enjoyed it.

I was honored to be a part of Jessica Koski's class - she's definitely someone who's been in the trenches herself as well as having done a great deal of study on Indigenous environmental movements and philosophies. In fact, she'd just come in from a meeting in Denver on mining where one part of the program, on acid mine drainage, included Rio Tinto and other mining corporations discussing how much of a problem acid mine drainage is. As part of this, Rio Tinto also described how the "Eagle" Mine is mining sulfide rock that is particularly reactive. Right from the horse's mouth. Why don't they include that in all their U.P. PR? Haha. As if.

The discussion that took place in Jessica's class, though, throughout the 7th Fire presentation last night was not only interesting, not only inspiring, but also...healing. Healing in the sense that most of the time we're all out here flapping in the breeze, doing the best we can against the gale. But every once in a while you run into those who understand and are doing the same thing.

In fact, the trip over from Marquette County had been hard for us and left a hole in the soul as, traveling along M23, pine after pine after pine was very obviously dying or already dead. These were pines that not so long ago, when I made that same trek fairly regularly, were doing fine. Besides, going through Negaunee and Ispheming is always a downer - each time I wonder how people can voluntarily live in places riddled underground by mines, whose waters have been poisoned, and whose very skyline is shaped by the massive tailings mountain of the area mines.

At any rate, the class was wonderful and the discussion a much needed one for me personally as it was a re-grounding.

Plus, the return trip's sky marvels were so dazzlingly gorgeous it blotted out nearly everything else along the roadway: a (almost completely) full moon was rising in the blue turning pink turning lavendar sky while the blazing red sun set in the west. This lasted throughout almost the entire return trip. We even caught a fantastic view of Grandmother Moon rising huge and white in the blue sky over a small lake with the trees reflecting in its stillness and a pair of ducks swimming by. Absolutely stunning.

So, a big chi-miigwech to Jessica, her students, and the very land over that way!!! It gives me strength to be reminded that there are folks like you out there.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

North Star

What an awesome class! I had a great time presenting with all the wonderful comments, questions, and insights that were brought in by everyone along the way. Much more to say on this, but have to run for now. Will update later!!

Miigwech/thanks so much!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

On the Beautiful Manistique

It was beautiful to be in Manistique last week. With the first taste of such early spring weather coinciding with our visit there, it was great to be able to get out and walk the shoreline of michi-gami (Lake Michigan).

Chi-miigwech/a big thanks to Ms. Mulligan and her art students! What an inspiring place to be! The wonderful art displayed around the room combined with the great discussions in second hour and the intelligent comments in all classes. I truly enjoyed it. And I loved to see how much Ms. Mulligan and many of her students care about these issues.

Manistique is another special place for my family. The lakeshore. The nearness to the Garden Peninsula. We've traveled through here ever since I can remember in our crossings of the U.P. to visit family. And we're always keeping an eye on the land. Can anyone tell me why such huge powerlines have gone in in the area? Who/what are they for?

At any rate, I had a great time!!! Be sure to stay in touch.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

On L'Anse Bay - Inspiring Land, Inspiring Students!

Wow! What an amazing time at L'Anse Junior High with Mr. Anderson's classes. The seventh and eighth grades were great at sharing their ideas and questions - I had a truly awesome time. Miigwech/thanks for your contributions!

Home to the nation of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, this land has been a special place for people for a very long time. As we talk about in the presentation, the Anishinaabe returned to the Great Lakes some 500-1000 years ago and intermarried with the nation that had been living in the Upper Peninsula for some 6000 years. The Anishinaabe, then, have a history of at least 6000 years in the U.P. And, according to some Anishinaabe stories, the nation may have been here before the glaciers came (and, of course, had to leave as the land became covered in ice).

The area has also long been a touchstone for my family. When I was younger, we'd travel from our home in Eagle River, Wisconsin to visit the L'Anse Bay and Canyon Falls. After graduating from college, I returned to the U.P. to live in Baraga County and was a substitute teacher in L'Anse and Arvon - so old stomping grounds for me.

One of the things I miss most about living in Baraga County are the wolves. Where I live now, although it's out in the woods, I've only once in the years I've been here heard a wolf. In Watton, I heard and saw wolves on a regular basis. Talking with the students in Mr. Anderson's classes brought me home to that again as I'd forgotten how much wolves are a part of people's lives in Baraga County - exciting stories of sitings, sad stories of pets lost... Where I used to live there was a wolf's trail that ran right across the road from our home. I remember following the prints in the snow once. I miss that very much.

So many stories come to mind of this area. Mount Arvon - Michigan's highest point. Did you know that the mine tailings pile from the Tilden/Empire iron mines once rivaled Mount Arvon for being the highest point in Michigan?! A bit embarrassing for Cleveland Cliffs, the company that owns those mines, or so I hear. They trimmed their tailings down a bit....and deposited them elsewhere. But Mount Arvon still stands tall. It's a beautiful landmark that you can see from the western side of the Bay.

The area has other beautiful landmarks as well. Mount Curwood, for example. Although I've never been there myself, my dad, in working as on a logging job, gave me a photo of when he reached the summit.

Coming around L'Anse Bay (L'Anse is French for "the bay"), I remember watching to see what bird life I'd see that day. Yesterday we were honored to see miigizi (the bald eagle). One of my most vivid memories of the Bay is seeing a pair of beautiful swans...but they were worrying something around their neck. Thinking they had gotten into some plastic trash (like 6-pack rings), I drove to the DNR and told them there were some birds in distress. They smiled and said it was nothing to worry about because it wasn't a pop ring around their neck, it was a DNR number tag - as if that made a difference. They said if I drove back and could read the number, they'd tell me all about that particular bird. Yeah, right. It didn't matter, obviously, that the birds didn't want that band around their neck - what mattered was they were curiousities whose lives could be observed by all. However you look at it, those swans were wearing a tether. In my book, this is not respecting our relatives.

According to Karl Bohnak's "Upper Peninsula Alamanac," L'Anse Bay was once one of the largest cargo ports in the world back at the end of the 1800s. Today, looking at its peaceful waters, its surrounding hillsides, one might never know that. I take hope from this for the Marquette area - maybe Marquette can one day let go of its industrial past....and, specifically, get rid of the looming ugly ore dock that stands as an icon of what happened to the area after the treaty was signed in 1842 between Anishinaabe nations and the U.S. When taking a class to the area around the iron mine in Palmer, I once had a student of mine from Keweenaw Bay Indian Community look at the devastation there and say, "And this was our land."

So much to say about L'Anse. And a place facing interesting choices these days too. With the Kennecott mine opening up north of L'Anse/Marquette and potential mines surrounding the town, this community is mulling over its future. Some see mining as a means to obtaining a decent income for their families. The problem, though, is that a mining economy is not a sustainble economy. Yes, it can provide good income for a a small group of people for a few years. And that's good. However, when it's done, what's left? What condition is the land left in for your children, your grandchildren? This isn't ivory tower gobbledygook. The land is the base. If you can't fish it, if you can't hunt it, if you can't go berrying on it - what can you do? You stick future generations in a cycle of poverty and ill health is what you do, deprived of a healthy landscape from which to make a decent living.

I know poverty. My mother's immediate family were homemakers and independent stone/brick masons. Poverty for them has been a lifelong thing. When she was growing up they had no running water or electricity, no phone for even longer - and all perfectly happy without all that - but it is hard to feed your family on a small income.

Poverty is how I spent much of my growing up years too. I watched my mom struggle as a secretary, a cashier, a temp worker, working at poverty wages. I know a good income is necessary for families in this cash economy. But mining offers a good income for some by taking away from everyone else - mining destroys the very land that provides a safety net (think hunting, fishing, berrying) for those who don't have a good income.

There are more possibilities for a good income that come from sources other than mining. For example, Walt Bresette from northern Wisconsin was well-known for his vision, had worked out an inspired economic plan for the northwoods - he saw the potential of this area to become a truly green economy with opportunities for entrepreneurs and jobs based on
- restoring the land (think Civilian Conservation Corps projects but privately run)
- producing green products (small-scale energy projects, old-fashioned farming...)
- orchards
- tourism
- education (perhaps based on the land, learning the old ways of living)
- health (nursing, doctors, perhaps health facilities based on the land)

So many possibilities! Do we really have to destroy our base with mining in order to provide jobs for a few for a few years? What about the rest of us who are not hired by the mines? Will those who want the mines for their own benefit forsake the rest of us? I hope not.

When talking about the possibility of acid mind drainage from a metallic sulfide mine, one of Mr. Anderson's students asked yesterday, "Why would anyone do anything that might get sulfuric acid in a river?" Her classmates replied:

"Because they're not fishermen."

"Because they're don't know anything."

"Because they don't care about the rest of the community."

Some food for thought from our young adults. May their wisdom inspire the rest of the world!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In the Heart of Superior

Had a fun and interesting time in Mr. Bliss's environmental science class at Superior Central this week! I especially loved hearing other peoples' thoughts and opinions on the issues such as living on the land, metallic sulfide mining, and mega-windfarms.

We definitely face a major conflict here in places like the U.P. - we're in a cash-based economy (a relatively new thing in human history), so we need jobs to earn the cash. Coming myself from a family of independent stone masons, homemakers, and cashiers, I know how hard things can be economically.

However, coming from a family that has lived in this northern land for a long time and having grown up here myself, I also know that our land is our base. Without it in a healthy state, we have nothing. Our kids have nothing. Our grandkids will have nothing. Do we have the right to pass on such an empty legacy to them? Short-term thinking will give them only the short-end of the stick.

Anishinaabe activist, Walt Bresette, outlined an alternate economy for the Northwoods based on creating a Green Zone in the north here. The Green Zone would generate jobs for people by employing people in healing the land, cleaning up the pollution, and starting new businesses based on business goals that incorporated a genuine respect for all our relations.

Many Indigenous environmental thinkers today feel we have reached a point where we have very little choice but to turn back from the brink. Either we do it voluntarily by drastically re-shaping our lifestyles, or we do it involuntarily at the hands of an environment that we have so polluted it has actually become hostile to us through our own actions. Many believe we don't have much time to do this - we don't have time for the intermediary technological fixes that continue to damage the Earth. We need to start thinking how to create a society that is respectful of all life, and we need to begin that change now so that it is gradual enough to be done in a humanitarian way.

Miigwech/thanks for a great time!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

On South Bay in Grand Island Harbor

A big shout out to the Natural Resources class at Munising High School! Had a great time along another beautiful Upper Peninsula shoreline. And what a view from the classroom. Can there be another such beautiful location for a high school? I love it.

The history of this area has always offered me much for inspiration: Pictured Rocks with its beauty and old Native settlements along its shores; the Bay de Noc-Grand Island trail, traveled for untold generations by the Anishinaabeg and others - walking there you're walking in footsteps perhaps 1000s of years old, retracing the portage path between gichi-gami (Lake Superior) and michi-gami (Lake Michigan). Another wonderful spot to be in the U.P.!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

At the Straits

Had a great time at LaSalle this week! Miigwech/thanks to Mr. Brines and the students in his Health classes! :)

The Straits area is truly an awesome place with its great bodies of waters merging (some of the largest in the world!), Mackinac Island (Great Turtle Island) a sacred place, cedar (giizhik) trees over 1000 years old - wow. Long settled by the Anishinaabeg, St. Ignace is also one of the oldest European settlements on the continent. Here, we're not only at the heart of Turtle Island, we're at the core-center of the heart of Turtle Island. There's no other place on Earth like these lakes and these Mackinac Straits.