Native American Heritage Month: Helen Danser, Joy Gritton, & Stephen Black Bear LaBoueff

(KL=Katelyn Lusher SLBB=Stephen LaBoueff/Black Bear JG=Joy Gritton HD=Helen Danser)

KL: Alright, well it’s wonderful to have you all here today at the University of Cincinnati. So I’m just going to get started. So this is a special episode for Native American Heritage month. So the first question that I have for all three of you. In one way or another, all of you are focused on teaching others about Native American Heritage and issues in the Native American community whether it be through art, history, or mental health awareness. So can each of you briefly explain the work you do and its mission?

SLBB: My name is Stephen LaBoueff, but my Indian name is Black Bear. And I’ve been doing suicide prevention, crisis intervention among young people for thirty-five years. And we have a nonprofit that is called the You Are Not Alone Network and three of us work with it and we focus on young people, mostly Native American young people, but we all hurt at different times, so we use the art as a way for young people to have a voice, to give voice of what’s going on with them. And a lot of the work we do is we go to different communities primarily out West and other things to do work on reservations. But, we also work a lot on social media because young people today use social media as a way to communicate.

JG: This is Joy Gritton and my focus is both Native American Studies as well as Appalachian Studies. I coordinate the Appalachian Studies program at Morehead State University, but I have been a student, someone who has avidly learned about Native American cultures for, I guess I’m telling my age here, close to forty years now and I teach both Native American Art History classes as well as other Art History classes at MSU that look globally at different traditions, particularly Indigenous traditions around the world.

HD: I’m Helen Danser and I’m Chair of the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission. As Chair of the Commission, it is my responsibility to stay within the confines of what the Commission’s work is which is primarily preservation and education. But, I tend to stretch that as far as I can. What we are doing in the community is trying to educate the community and community leaders about the presence of Indigenous peoples in the Commonwealth, the preservation and the history of what was left there, the activities that we’re involved in today, and to engage with the legislative body when possible, and all of the educational systems within the commonwealth, and we are beginning to look at engaging or at how education levels in terms of looking at what the Indigenous bring and what their special needs are in the Commonwealth.

KL: So today at UC, you all will be speaking on a panel and the panel is called Native American Healing Through Art. So it’s interesting that you use the word healing here. So, I’d like to know from each of your perspectives, what is this wound to be healed? If you could comment on that.

SLBB: Well, make it plural. Cause we’re talking about many wounds. Historical trauma when they took our lands, when they put us in boarding schools and the whole thing of trying to take the Indian out of the Indian. They took the lands because they wanted it because sometimes it was gold, sometimes it was other things. And so, they tried to take all of those things away from us and unfortunately today, those reservations are primarily covered by the federal government. There are some state government recognized tribes, but primarily federal. And because that is so, that funding comes from the federal government Indian Health Service, Indian Education, Bureau of Indian Affairs, everything else, and may control the resources that we have through that federal funding. And that makes Native people’s being dependent upon that and even though we talk about tribal sovereignty, every time we use it to say, “we have tribal sovereignty,” well then the federal government will turn around and they’ll say, “well okay, well then we’ll take the funding away.” And then, essentially, people crumble because they don’t want to lose the money. And all of this is control, it creates all kinds of trauma on the reservations because the funding and the ability to have their own control over developing their own businesses and everything else then what happens is you have a lot of them that are poverty stricken, a lot of alcoholism and drug use, and everything else and the dependency on those programs. And so, that creates the trauma and the hurt. And the second part of that is because they’re doing that, they essentially have destroyed a lot of the understanding, the living based upon our traditional cultures.

KL: Yes, thank you for that distinction. Thank you.

JG: And I think that Native peoples, because of this historical traumas have experienced these wounds earlier and have been, they’ve had a longer history of this, if we can talk about dis-ease in the sense of dis-ease. And I think that this is becoming a far more widespread problem and stemming from different reasons, but nevertheless, a separation of many peoples today from the land, from nature, from a clear connection to however you want to define spirit, but from the spirit world, from community, from each other, and as Black Bear mentioned from any sense of autonomy of your own capacity to contribute in a healthy way, your own healthy sense of identity. And I think that’s plaguing many peoples today. And the wound is growing unfortunately. And I think going back and looking at how Indigenous peoples organize their communities, how inclusive they were, they acted to prevent wounds and not just to treat things after they happen, but to prevent that from happening. We have a lot that we can learn to apply to our communities today.

KL: Thank you.

HD: And I want to bring the healing of the wounds east of the Mississippi River off the reservation. Everyone forgets that when those marches West occurred, not everyone went. There was a family in Cherokee, North Carolina who actually negotiated with the army that if you will let my sons and me surrender to you and let you do whatever you will to us, if you will let my people go into these hills and stay and not pursue them, we will submit ourselves to you without question. That is one of the unwritten agreements with the US federal government that was kept and so there are in the Appalachian regions and North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, the Virginias, a host of descendants of those people. Our wounds are as significant as those on the reservation because while not detracting from the wounds there, we also were stripped of our identity. We belong neither in the white man’s world, nor do we belong in the Indian man’s world. And therefore, we are in no man’s land. It as though our total identity is removed and taken from us. And there needs to be healing across tribes, state recognized tribes, federally recognized tribes, and recognize the Indian peoples of all sorts and there needs to be healing among all of those entities with the dominant culture, and all of the other mixtures that are coming into what we call Turtle Island.

SLBB: Additionally, a lot of the things that we don’t understand is that cultures of any kind, anywhere come out of the relationship to the land itself. Okay, that means whether it’s Mountains or Desert or Woodlands, the culture comes out of living in that because that gives you the understanding and the basis for what your weather patterns are, what foods you have available for you, both the kind that you eat and also for medicinal purposes for healing. That culture comes out of that. And that is based with language, traditional ways, teachings and everything else. When you’re not living that anymore whether it’s east of the Mississippi, West, or any other place you’re living and you’re going to Starbucks or you know, McDonald’s or anything like that, or you’re total time is spent on your cell phones, you’re not living those traditions anymore. And if you don’t know those traditions, you start losing who you are. And if you want to understand who you are, you have to go back and you have to understand who your people are, where they were from, what their traditions were, and you start trying to practice those again and that’s apart of the healing process.

HD: I will echo again what my friend Black Bear had said because I have experienced that. I have experienced not knowing and yet not feeling at home in my own skin and for me, the Indian community, the Indigenous community as a whole to me is home. It is where I live, it is where I belong, it’s where I reach my greatest level of connectedness.

SLBB: And just as a follow-up, it echoes, the whole thing that we’re talking about as people don’t understand we’re just not talking about Native peoples here, but if you talk about a gang, we’re talking about rites of passage and in those rites of passage, you have to commit to it, you have to learn their language, their landscape where they are, and everything else and often you’re forced to go through things in the same way. If you’re talking about an urban area, you have a whole different culture that comes out of that, you have gated communities and those are different cultures. Here, what we’re trying to talk about and understand is Native peoples that come out of cultures that were based in a particular landscape and the traditions in our lifetime and what we were taught and everything. And we’re losing those unless we spend the time to reclaim them and live them, not just talk about them.

KL: Yes, thank you. Wow, that was a good question. So the question I have next actually I feel like does have some connection to what all three of you said and all of you in some sense are very much engaged with your communities and so I guess I wonder if this is possible to answer how your work with the community, you know, in some ways, you know, brings knowledge and awareness about just what Native American Heritage is and means to a broader public.

JG: For me, working with and not being Native, I wanted to make that clear, I’m not Native, I’ve been very fortunate to have been welcomed in to the Native communities and I spent a number of years teaching at the Institute for American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and learned a tremendous amount from my very diverse students who were from all different tribal groups, but I live and teach now in the Appalachian region and so you have the Indigenous presence in that region, but you also have a mixture of people with many different backgrounds that have come into that region and I see a lot of comparisons for what is going on today in Appalachia with what is going on with many Indigenous peoples around the world in terms of, not only, you know, a disconnection sometimes with the land, but the desecration of the land that has occurred through surface mining and different things that attempt to, and you know, this has occurred on a lot of tribal lands in the attempts to, you know, through mining or you know, if we’re talking about gas lines, we’re talking about all sorts of things non-renewable energy sources etc. that are being extricated or transported through the lands that, you know, if you hurt the land, then you hurt the people as well and so there’s that kind of a wound, I see that kind of a connection between what’s happening at large in the region and what’s happening with Native communities, but I also see connections in terms of the history of being stereotyped, of people not understanding your cultural traditions, not understanding you, belittling you, and it’s rampant. I mean, the stereotypes of Indigenous peoples and the stereotypes of Appalachian peoples. There’s also a history of people coming in from the outside because of these stereotypes, because of the denigration of the peoples and trying to get them to leave their ways behind, abandon their culture, to speak a different language or to speak English differently so you don’t have an accent, you don’t use dialect etc. A lot of the education in Appalachia is very much like the education for Indigenous peoples. It’s trying to get the Appalachian out of you so that you can get out of here and be “successful.” And that’s certainly been true for the education, which has been far more brutal in Indian communities. So I see a lot of these same problems that they have had to counter and unfortunately a lot of the same results in, we’re looking at high levels of impoverishment, and you know, you can cope to a certain extent with impoverishment where we’re just talking about finances, but that kind of stereotyping and that kind of beating you down, and that kind of desecration of your land leads to a different kind of impoverishment of no longer believing in yourself and feeling like you’re not as good as, and then that can lead to all kinds of issues of substance abuse, sometimes domestic violence, sometimes abuse or neglect of children, I mean, I’m just being really honest here because we see it in Native communities and we see it in Appalachian communities. There’s a lot of wonderful strengths, but there are a lot of people who get lost because of what has happened to them, and so I think my own work in Appalachian communities has made me pause and reflect on what I have learned from Native communities and to get at some of the root causes and then also to help me seek out solutions, and I think that if we go back and we look at, it’s not that we’re going to go back to the old ways wholesale, too much of the world has changed, we can’t go back and put the cell phone in the, you know, put that genie back in the box, I mean, it’s here, but there are a lot of lessons that are equally valid. A lot of ways that are equally valid like Black Bear mentioned initiation rights for example. I think a lot of our young people are lost because those kind of initiation rights aren’t there for them. Transitioning from childhood to adulthood is very painful and I think that if we learned from Indigenous ways and could modify those for a lot of young people, it would be very helpful. And then just helping young people through education through learning about the past to understand what has been lost, I think would be helpful because then they understand what is happening to them, what they’re experiencing now, I don’t feel like it’s somehow they’re just at fault and inept, and there’s something wrong with them, but they understand how they got to the place that they’re at.

KL: Wonderful. Thank you.

SLBB: There’s other things that we need to kind of understand what’s going on and I’m bringing this up because we’re talking about climate change for instance, and a part of that has to do with overpopulation and one of the lessons that’s a common understanding with Native peoples anywhere in the world, any species that overpopulates is going to consume all of the resources around it and then we’ll die out. Now the world, when that happens, will create a new way of life, but not as we know it. Now in doing this, the world population as humans, we’re doing that, we’re clearcutting, we’re taking all of the resources, everything else, we’re polluting our sacred waters, and we need water. That’s a major part of our lives. And we’re polluting the air and everything else in order to healthfully understand that and do something about it, you really need to go back and look at Indigenous ways and the way that they lived and they protected it because the Mother Earth is sacred to us. Water is sacred to us. A quick example because it’s deer season right now, who goes out and goes deer hunting? Why do they go deer hunt? Most of them, they’re doing it for trophy. And we’re going to talk about art in the same respect pretty soon. The definition of art, but they’re not doing it. They’re not going out and making an offering and a prayer and then taking that deer, you’re taking its life, you’re not using it for food, doing buckskin, or other things like that. So what you’re really doing is, doing it for trophies. And everybody, they’re living their lives like that now. The more trophies you have by the broader definition, you got huge mansions, what are you doing with the space? Well, I got a huge mansion, that doesn’t matter. But you have to understand how this is all related to what’s going on in this world. And I think Native traditions and teachings help you understand exactly what’s going on if we have any chance of changing climate, what’s going on with climate change. We need to come back and think about those ways.

KL: Thank you.

HD: I have the opportunity a few weeks back to participate with the NAAEE, which is an environmental education group. So one of the things that I’m going to be looking at from the Commission standpoint is to see how we as Indigenous in Kentucky can work with the NAAEE to spread the education to collaborate together so that maybe our voices together can make a greater impact in terms of just what Black Bear is speaking about there in relationship to the water, to the land, to the total environment that air, because in the Indigenous culture, everything is alive and everything is sacred, and if we can begin to develop allies to spread the message, perhaps, we can get it heard over a wider population and in relationship to what Joy was talking about in Appalachian country, I’m one of those people who got told by New Yorkers to change the way that I speak and I could do all kinds of wonderful things. Being a stubborn Indian, I said, “Thank you very much” and I did not talk to that New Yorker again.

KL: We were discussing this before we got started, this kind of complicated question about land rights. Because I feel like often times when people talk about Native American Heritage, especially if they are from outside of the community, you know if they don’t know a whole lot about it, you know, land rights is something that they might think of automatically. So the question that I originally had was how are Land Rights part of the conversation in your own work like either directly or indirectly, but I think that in many ways, you all have addressed that to some extent, but I know, Helen, you had some commentary about like where we might be able to look if we wanted to know more about land rights. Correct?

HD: Right now, yes. The National Congress of the American Indian. At the last three or four Congresses that I’ve been fortunate to attend. Land Rights and Land Reclamation was on the agenda in some fashion or another, so I would direct anyone who really wanted to have a better understanding of Indigenous Land Rights to get in touch with The National Congress of the American Indian, you can google that. You can just google NCAI and it will bring it up. It will have a link there that will connect you with the Native Rights fund and they can help on education of Land Rights and so could the legal offices of the NCAI.

KL: I have a question that is specifically for Joy and Black Bear. So why is art so important for understanding Native American Heritage? And how do you see its role in an educational context?

JG: Well, I think one of the things that we have to grapple with here is this word art. And Black Bear alluded to this earlier because art generally in the Western world implies individual self expression and often unfortunately, today it implies a commodity value. Rightfully, our artists paid for their work. Artists have to pay their mortgage or rent and put food on their families tables. I am not in any way demeaning professional artists to hope to make a living  from that which they enjoy so much and which can benefit all of us. But in Indigenous, not just Native American peoples, but people’s all around the world, creativity was deeply rooted in the community and then the worldview and was at the service of the larger community. Often, you did not have the right to use any symbol you wanted to use, any image you wanted to use, often, it was not about you personally and your personal expression, it was about community needs of well-being. There were times when imagery that was used would be very individual and thinking in terms of say a plain shield when the imagery might be derived from someone’s individual were exploits or an individual’s vision that they had for example. But often, this creativity was used within the context of ceremony so and that would mean, not only visual arts things that were painted, you know, that you had to hide, you had to tan it, you painted it, you may apply beard work, or before bead work, quill work. You may be creating pottery that was going to be used in ceremony. And this would entail storytelling, it would entail songs, it would entail dance, what today the Western world might refer to as theatre, all of that was a part of ceremonies that were designed to prevent individuals from being disconnected, not knowing who they are, not being connected to other members of the community, not understanding the natural world around them, not understanding the spirit world. And so, this creativity, these skills, the intellect, and also the imagination would be put at the service of the larger community. And I don’t see that as a sacrifice. Every individual that carved and painted masks for example, you’re going to be able to tell one individual’s mask from another individual’s mask. It’s going to have that individuality. But the end goal was to serve something larger than yourself. And I know that many Western artists have that as a goal as well. I don’t want to be drawing hard line distinctions, but I think when we’re talking about the A word art, sometimes there’s a disconnect between how it’s viewed today, these objects, they are on gallery and museum walls today. They’re being sold by art auction houses for exorbitant prices, but that’s not what they were intended for. And I think that’s something that is important for people to understand. And there are some things that are not meant to be seen outside the context of certain ceremonies and not meant to be seen by other peoples. And that’s a hard thing for some people to swallow in our very individualistic society that no you don’t have the right to view that mask and it should not be put on display etc. so.

SLBB: I think throughout history again, all Indigenous peoples use different forms that we now consider art, dance, storytelling, theatre, poetry, creative writing. Those are all forms of creative expression. But they are now kind of labeled as the arts. And we have to get away from that limiting definition. If somebody goes out and creates a garden for instance for themselves mixing foods that they can eat everything with flowers and creates this, you know, this nice atmosphere of feeling like you’re home, that’s decorated, that’s creative. Good cooking, people who take the time to cook instead of just buying their stuff, that’s creative. Creative ways in raising your children. Young people would get out and they would play along the creeks and would take rocks and sticks and everything and they would create. Okay, and a lot of the times today, we think of again, going back to the limitation of the way art is defined. Because then art becomes a commodity. I did pottery for almost thirty years and I did it, I learned how to do it from a Pueblo woman that I was married to at that time, her mother, and I learned it from another person that was from Peru. I did it and I did different markets, the Indian market in Santa Fe, I did the Idol Joerg in Indianapolis, I did another one at Haskell, and I use to make a good living off of it and I enjoyed it, but pretty soon, I was doing the same, the exact same forms and the same designs because I knew they sold well. And once I started doing that, it no longer became creating. I was just producing and I was producing art or commodity.

KL: Thank you. And I appreciate how both of you specifically said Indigenous peoples all over the world because I’ve been phrasing things as Native Americans specifically, you know, because it is Native American Heritage Month, but I think it is very important, right, to recognize that there are Indigenous peoples all over the world. So thank you for bringing up that distinction. So a follow-up question I have here is understanding a particular perspective is essential to fostering community and oftentimes, this is thought to stem from storytelling and you may have answered this in some form or another, but maybe if you could be more or like explicitly say so how is art a form of storytelling?

SLBB: A quick example and there are many examples that Helen may talk about and other people. Back home, I’m from the Blackfeet Tribe right next to the Canadian border, east slope of the Rockies. It gets down sixty below sometimes eighty per mile hour winds coming off the Rockies, slope of the Rockies. Okay, in the Spring time, you begin having your ceremonies that prepare you for the Spring, new growth, new life, and then you go through the Summer. And you’re preparing again for the coming Fall and the Winter. Now you have to be prepared in order to survive. Now during those Winter months and late Fall months, you’re often confined by the weather patterns and everything to living in the traditional tipis. When you’re in there, what would happen would be then they would start talking and teaching you the traditions and using storytelling as a way to so you begin to understand what those came out of. That was the real storytelling and that’s the way young people learned because young people sat and had to listen to those stories so they would understand what it’s about. And that’s what I consider storytelling and the traditions.

JG: And you know, one thing that pops into my mind or that the amazing performances that were performed at potlatches on the Northwest coast and parts of other ceremonies in Initiation Rights where you had these extraordinary, huge carved and painted masks that, you know, they are transformation masks where they would open up and, you know, and it would look like a particular bird and then you open it up and you see the spirit or a transformation mask where they’re telling a story about a bird that transformed into a human or vice versa. And then there was a dance that went with that, there’s a song that goes with that, but it is as Black Bear says it’s teaching the young people where they came from, it’s teaching them about their ancestors, it’s also stories that are teaching them as well appropriate conduct. What happens when you’re greedy? What happens when you don’t listen to the elders? You know, so that, the behavior that is expected and that is going to be conducive to people living with less conflict. Living well amongst one another, that’s reinforced through these stories, but there are all kind of artforms that went into that telling.

KL: I had to ask you. You have this smile on your face after something about conduct stories. I was like oh boy! I want to hear.

HD: When I present to kids at school and I missed a presentation yesterday because in Jackson county, the weather was severe enough that school was cancelled, but when I’m presenting to young people and sometimes even with adults, I will talk about the fact that our ancestors did not discipline the children in the same manners in which people discipline their children in today’s world that storytelling was used as these two so clearly indicated as a form of discipline. And I have two stories that I inevitably will use in that classroom to talk about how that was actually done. I use the story of how the opossum lost his bushy tail and that speaks to what Joy was talking about when you get too arrogant or you get too greedy and you want to be sort of pompous and show off and then I use the story about the rattlesnake and the rattlesnake will go back to what Bear was talking about when he was talking about the cost and the gangs and the myriad organizations that are created because people have a disconnect and they don’t feel like they belong any place and so somebody gets a brilliant idea that they will fix this, they will have this cult, and everybody will be very happy and maybe it works out and maybe it doesn’t. So the story of the rattlesnake talks about or tells the story of what happens when you disrespect the rattlesnake. And it’s a painful lesson. That lesson is painful to death and that’s in the story so what I try to convey to the audience regardless of their age, the tail end of that story is when the young lad says, “You promised, why did you bite me?” He says, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.” And so, I try to get the message across that this is how we would talk with our kids and remember the drugs are the rattlesnake, alcoholism is the rattlesnake, the cults are the rattlesnake, you know what they are and so we have to build the community so our kids feel welcome. They feel at home, they understand their place, they have a valued place. Now there are a whole host of other stories, but these are the two that I see from U.S. continental Indigenous peoples lives that speak best to what our kids currently face today.

JG: I would like to follow up on that. So often we have this philosophy of we’re just going to tell kids no. Just say no. I don’t know of any young person that, you know, starts out thinking I want to be a drug addict, I want to be addicted to drugs. That’s not their goal. That’s not how they end up there. There’s a void and if we don’t in our communities as Helen was saying fill that void. And bring a young person into the community and allow them to fully participate and feel like they have a meaningful contribution, they’re going to fill that void somehow and some of the ways they’re going to fill it are not going to be healthy. I had a student who did a study asking other young people why they don’t get involved in their community and the response that she heard most often really kind of surprised all of us. We thought it would be I don’t have time or I’m busy as a student. You know, or I’m working two jobs or whatever. But it was I don’t really feel included. I don’t know how to connect with community in order to volunteer or in order to do community service or participate. And that really hit me that wow we have a lot of work in our communities whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous.

SLBB: And coming back to what both Helen and Joy was talking about that’s important. We go back to those Rites of Passage. Those Rites of Passage from the time a child is born because any little child just wants to be loved, cared for, hugged, valued, and then taught. And a part of that is us spending time with him and then teaching them, whether it’s through storytelling, but most importantly, our own behavior. Okay, and what’s going on with that is that’s not happening as much as it use to. And you go through these kinds of Rites of Passage and everything and you’re learning who you’re supposed to be as not only in your community, but as a person. Naming ceremony. A name is usually not given to a young child before birth like a lot of people choose it because that hasn’t been given life yet. You wait and then you watch them and their behavior as they’re growing up and if they’re greedy and they always want something, you give them a name that they don’t like. And so a part of that lesson is that they’ll change their behavior. You know, they want to be somebody that’s a part of the community, they want to belong and that’s what we were talking about. Every person wants to belong and if we don’t do it then they’re going to be doing the gangs and other things like that because they want to belong. Okay, and that’s scary.

KL: I got a little bit emotional from those responses so thank you.

JG: And the belonging doesn’t, you know, today often and this isn’t just for young people, I see it also with those that we would categorize as adults and you know,  belonging and self-worth does not depend on how many likes you have on Facebook. It doesn’t depend on how well you, your body, your dress conforms to the latest fashion trend. So if that’s, if you feel like your belonging, that’s your only way to belong then often, you are always going to feel like you’re shut out. Like you never measure up. And those are very false senses of belonging. So community has to provide legitimate ways that will benefit everyone and most importantly that young person to belong.

KL: Okay, so I have a question for you Helen. So I know as part of the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission, you are the Chair, correct. Yes. So I was looking on the webpage and there were these educational objectives. Correct. Yeah, so, I thought that was really interesting and just so important, but I wondered if you could explain a little bit more about just exactly why it’s so important to integrate a better understanding of, like we say Native American here, but we can say Indigenous to broaden it out more, Indigenous History and Heritage in school curriculum and how might this help maybe push back against some of the historical depictions that we sometimes see in history books.

HD: One of the reasons that it’s important to teach and to integrate information about the Indigenous people who were on Turtle Island before the invasion is because if we do not know our history, we are bound to repeat our history. And in many ways, having been born just at the apex of what was going on in the world just before the United States entered into World War II, I can see firsthand how if we do not pay attention to our history, we’re going to repeat it. One Dwight Eisenhower’s outgoing messages when he left the Presidency was be aware of the industrial and military complex. We’re living that complex today. At the end of World War II, he instructed the people coming in liberating Germany “Take pictures. Take pictures of everything you can. Don’t spare it. Take pictures of the crematorium. Take pictures of the piles of bodies because there will come a generation that will say it never happened.” We are living that today. We are living today with people who say Indigenous peoples never lived in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia. And we are here, we never left. If we do not integrate into our educational system the history of those people, our people, our ancestors, we will truly truly become extinct. It will be as if we never saw the face of this Earth. So it is of utmost importance that we educate as many people as we can as correctly as we can about who we are, who we were, what are traditions were, our love of the land for all Indigenous people on Turtle Island. We understand in our spiritual practice that the Creator gave us this land, our job from the Creator is to take care of this land. If we don’t take care of this land, we have failed in what our original instructions were from our Creator. That needs to be in the educational system, that needs to be understood because from that then can come some form of understanding of what we’re doing to the land, some form of understanding of what is going on in the air, some form of what is going to be our extinction if we don’t pay attention now.

KL: Absolutely and that is a point that absolutely needs to be driven home.

JG: And I would build on that by saying that I think our greatest challenge in the world today, I mean our greatest challenge, I agree, has to deal with environmental concerns right now, but I’ve always sort of thought that at a certain point, Mother Earth will take care of herself and we’ll be the ones that will be gone. I think though are real great challenge in and this is globally really, we see this conflict all around the world, we are all of us living in a multicultural societies, there is no this is my neck of the woods, we don’t want you here, we’re going to force you, we’re going to build a wall, we’re going to force you out, we’re gonna keep you out. That is no longer an option. I mean, I don’t agree with that option, but it’s just not viable. So we have to find a way to not just coexist, not kill each other, but to build on each other’s strengths and each other’s, to build on diversity, diversity is going to allow us to survive. Understanding that there are many ways of thinking and being in this world and some of them far less destructive than what the dominant society is doing today. And so we need to find ways to listen to each other. The polarization is just frightening and it’s palpable. It is everywhere. And we need to find ways to listen to each other, really listening. And through listening you can learn and you can begin to reevaluate your own perspectives in thinking. This is why I do so much cross cultural work in my classes because I really think that’s the most important thing I can do.

SLBB: I think an important part of it is regardless what your roots are, what peoples you come out of, what your teachings are, if you’re not living them and you’re starting to buy into today’s society, today’s society literally has to do with how important you are, how much money you make, you know where you are, and a part of that is so you’re above other people and how you use those people and everything else. Now it doesn’t matter whether you’re Native, African American, or anything else. If you’re doing the same thing, you’re doing the same thing. We have to change our behavior. When I saw you tear up a few minutes ago, I was looking at you and I was thinking because in the work that I do at the suicide prevention, we cannot see somebody that’s hurting, a child or anybody else and say, “How are you doing?” and then when they start tearing up or “I don’t feel very well,” You can’t say, “Oh, I hope you feel better” and walk away. Okay, a part of what we have to do is we have to take the time to give up ourselves to help other people. Okay, and that is critical because we’re seeing this disintegration of our Mother Earth and resources and the peoples around us and we have to care enough to give of ourselves and make the changes and most people are not doing that yet. They’re thinking as long as I get mine and we’re taught to think seven generations ahead for our children and our grandchildren etc. like that. That’s our teachings, but so many of us are not doing that anymore.

KL: Wow. I think I’m going to have to wrap it up unfortunately. Thank you all so much for sitting down to talk with me. This was really just an amazing conversation and I’m really glad that I got to talk with you all today. So thank you very much.