Can This Photo Speak the Native American Story?

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This building pulled us off US 12 as we were traveling though South Dakota. It was in a small town of 68 residents (obtained from the town’s web site) in the middle of nowhere. At least it felt like that to me because this was new scenery. For the 68 people who live here it is somewhere – the somewhere they live in.

Since I was there last summer, this building has haunted me. I have wondered what the story is. I’m sure that the residents know the story, but we didn’t ask, and this made it possible for me to wonder and think and come to my own conclusions. Conclusions that were wrong – but still stimulated me to hear new voices telling old stories..

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge this week invites us to post a photo of an object – one that might tell a story. Storytelling is a powerful potential of photography. In photojournalism it is important to make sure the photos are an accurate portrayal of the reality of the story being told. In artistic photography there is a lot more latitude to leave the story untold so the viewer’s mind can be stimulated to create a story and to explore divergent paths of discovery.

Here is the reality behind this object. It is in Morristown, South Dakota, a community that celebrated its centennial in 2008. A small sign on the building’s front says Community Building. It drew me off the highway because it has the look of an old school house that is much bigger than the community would seem to need. How quickly I diverge from the known facts.

Here is where this object took me in the 6 or so months since I photographed it. Here is the story I have been exploring – the story that diverged from this building’s untold story. I believe it was once a school, because of its shape, having two doors in the front (at my schoolhouse I lined up at the girl’s door) and the bell tower. I wondered if it was one of the many schools that were established to educate Native Americans but it isn’t on the “official” list of where these schools were located. Many of these schools were set up by religious organizations, some by the government. All of them were designed to help Native Americans change their ways, their culture, so they could better assimilate into the European culture of the US. This “education” has the hallmarks of cultural and ethnic cleansing, no matter how noble the intentions were. This is hard for us (of the white culture) to hear – especially since it didn’t happen all that long ago. Within my lifetime.

My daughter suggested I read Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. It isn’t an easy read because the plot was foreign to my “white” ears. It took me about two-thirds of the way through before I could hear the story, feel the tempo, discern why I couldn’t pick up the plot. Silko lived this story and she tells it from her oral history heritage. It helped me emotionally understand, for the first time, the spiritual tie and power Native Americans experience within the natural world. I have heard about it for a very long time, but never in this way. Now I can come closer to experiencing that connection – although I never will completely because I wasn’t raised within this culture. The cultural patterns and stories and intelligence aren’t a part of my DNA. It could have been, but how and where and when I was raised gave me a different cultural pattern and stories and intelligence. Maybe with diligent effort I can nurture some of this “natural world” intelligence back.

Some Native Americans are appreciative of the efforts to educate for assimilation – it helped them be successful in the dominate European culture of the US. Some believe it was a dismal failure. I tend to think it is bad politics to take away the best environments from a group of people, so they have no means to maintain their cultural customs and ways of supporting themselves, and to then tell them that their culture is bad and they need to believe like the defeating culture. It doesn’t fit my standards of justice, fairness, and respect. It makes me angry and my anger usually is a sign that something has been taken from me or someone I love.

I know it is possible to care about people I don’t know and be angered about injustices towards them. This is a part of my anger. I suspect the anger also boils up because of a personal loss, the loss of something I never had. Is there a longing in me for this sense of oneness with creation? I know it doesn’t threaten my Christian value system because God calls me to respect and be at peace with His creation. If I allow myself to think about it, I feel the frustration of my desire for this spiritual connection with nature, while experiencing this desire being in conflict with the “developed” lifestyle I live. The one that treasures things more than life. Silko’s story of Creation is the story of this conflict.

The story lives on, even if the story isn’t accurate to this photograph of this building. To hear an example of how this story is living on for assimilated Native Americans, I urge you to read Michael Watson’s post “In a Sacred Manner.” It is powerful because Michael is very articulate in explaining the current experience of him and his friends. Here is the link.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern

Here are some patterns That are found naturally – in nature. Succulents at the Hidden Lake Gardens in the Irish Hills of Michigan.

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You can find more interpretations of patterns or add your own at:

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

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Yes, Spring does mean a big change – especially for people who have lived through the drab and cold of a Michigan winter. This isn’t from Michigan because there aren’t many signs of Spring in Michigan – it is from Tennessee. I took it Saturday morning at a rest area along I-75 on our two-long-day-drive from our southern Florida winter home to our Michigan home that is in late winter or early, early Spring.

This April drive is always interesting because we get to see a time lapse of Spring disappearing. The dogwood was beautiful in northern Georgia and the last of the deciduous trees were budding out so there was gold among the light new green leaves. When we got into Tennessee, the red bud was blooming along the roads and the early-to-leaf trees were sprouting foliage but there were still many bare trees. By the time we hit Kentucky there were daffodils and really green grass – but trees were still bare with only occasional flowering trees. By Ohio the terrain was – well, drab. In Michigan I saw a Robin which is always a sign of hope of Spring coming soon.

Viewing this change of seasons in reverse seemed to work on our nerves and we were cross on Saturday. The car didn’t seem quite big enough for the two of us. But there is a change that is much more interesting that takes place as we move from Florida to Michigan. We need to adjust our brains from one house to the other.

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My husband came out of our bathroom and said that he couldn’t figure out which way to turn the faucet handles. I laughed because they didn’t work right for me either.

Darn, that isn't where I keep my knives.

Darn, that isn’t where I keep my knives.

Every time I do something in the kitchen, I have to open several drawers before I find what I need. As I was unpacking our bags last night, I had a moment of confusion because I couldn’t remember what I do with dirty clothes between being on my body and the washing machine.

The biggest change comes from being in a home that is small and without much stuff to being in a home with a lot of stuff. We never were big collectors of stuff but when we moved after 35 years in our old home we realized that we had lots of stuff from raising three kids and having one set of grandparents and two sets of parents die and leave us stuff. Our moving mantra was “Do we really want to move this two miles up the road?”

Our Florida condo is small and every purchase involves a discussion of “Do we really need this?” “Do we really want to store this?” and “Where are we going to store this?” We have deliberately kept our life simple by not having a lot of “stuff” to pay for, store, maintain, and clean. I get to Michigan and look around and get a little overwhelmed by all the stuff – even though I have been brutal about discarding stuff.

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I did some heavy thinking about my northern stuff and realized that this is where I keep my life things. This is where I keep my memories – the things that remind me of my life and its meaning. If I lost it all, my life would still have meaning but there is a comfort in having these things around me. Besides, maybe our kids will want some of this stuff. If I’m logical instead of sentimental, I know most of it will  be a burden for them.

This yearly migration stimulates me to continue to discard things that have lost their importance or I won’t likely use. Today I cleaned out a linen closet that doesn’t have any room for linens. It still doesn’t hold linens, but it is neater. I also am getting rid of some papers and books in my library so it is less cluttered. That will make my life less cluttered, too.

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What isn’t changing is my favorite chair where I write for my blog and drink my coffee out of my favorite chipped mug. This is where I will rest as I spring-clean-away excess clutter. This is where I will sit and think about the changes that spring and aging and, well, being alive brings. Florida life feels a long time ago even though it was only three days ago.

To read more interpretations of change and to participate, click on the following link:

Weekly Photo Challenge: 2012 in Pictures

I have a hard time following rules – so I’m approaching this assignment from a different perspective. I bought my camera in early August so I can’t do the monthly thing, although I have really enjoyed those posts that have followed this format. These are the pictures I took in 2012 that I especially like because they helped me identify how I like to use my camera to capture and share my world.

Some may argue that I should only post five because I only took pictures for five months but I already said I have a hard time following rules. Here are my favorites with captions to explain why they are special and what I learned about myself through them.

To learn more about the Weekly Photo Challenge click here.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise – Under the Christmas Tree

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That’s my Kindle Paperwhite, in the green package with the red bow. The silver package behind it is a cover for it. They are my husband’s presents to me – I know what they are because I ordered them and wrapped them. He loves giving me surprises and presents but imagination isn’t his strong suit. I probably won’t be surprised Christmas Eve when I open them, but I couldn’t be more excited. I feel like a kid again, not able to stand the anticipation. I find it amazing how well our marriage is working since we gave up trying to do things as the “should” be done (like in our family of origin) and instead doing things the way that works best for us.

There are lots of surprises under the tree, however. Son, Mike, and I have our presents wrapped, and Natalia, his special love, sent presents for under our tree. She, and her two children, will be joining our celebration again this year. She is from Azerbaijan and found the most beautiful paper to reflect her heritage. See if you can pick it out.

Daughter, Sharon is flying in from Texas tonight and then will be picking up her special love, Joe, at the airport on Sunday. I am excited about Joe visiting from Arkansas for a few days because he cooks really good – and we like him a whole lot. Sharon e-mailed me that she had a couple of packages being delivered and to NOT OPEN THEM. It is about to drive me nuts – they will be a SURPRISE.

Sunday we will be meeting daughter, Carol, in Lansing to pick up our three granddaughters. It has become tradition for them to sleep under our Christmas tree on the night before our party on Christmas Eve. Grandsons Zach and Alex are a little too macho in their early 20’s to sleep under the tree, so they will be driving from Grand Rapids and Zach is bringing his special love, Kim.

I am so excited about our family coming together for another special holiday. I remember how exciting it is to gather at grandma & grandpa’s with the anticipation of surprises under the tree.

To join in the fun of the Weekly Photo Challenge click here.