We Are Water: Walking the Howsatunnuck for the 7th Generation

Grandmother Carole Bubar-Blodgett, explaining aspects of the 220-mile Prayer Walk of the Howsatunnuck River (Housatonic).
Grandmother Carole Bubar-Blodgett, explaining aspects of the 220-mile Prayer Walk of the Howsatunnuck River (Housatonic). Photo: May 27, 2018.

Easily taken as just another crazy old lady, Carole Bubar-Blodgett talks a lot. Her stories are personal, about the lessons, teachings, and experiences she’s had walking the Good Red Road. Emotion runs through her, especially gratitude.

Grandmother Carole was at Standing Rock, where she gifted the Water is Life Eagle Staff to the youth of the Seventh Generation. “It was always theirs,” she explains, “I was just holding it for them.”

Healing

Beginning in 1999,  Carole danced the Sun Dance at Chief Leonard Crow Dog’s Paradise Grounds, and continued dancing for twelve years. Sun Dancers commit to a specific focus of their dancing in four year cycles. Grandmother Carole’s commitment is to the Seventh Generation, to strengthen the children as they lead us in healing the planet. She renewed her Sun Dance commitment three times. In 2011, Carole transferred her Nurture the Children Prayer from the Sun Dance to Walking the Sacred Water.

“Ceremony,” Grandmother explained during this year’s 8th Annual Water is Life Walk along the Howsatunnuck (Housatonic), “is about healing.” Carole had been raised white and learned by chance that her family had suppressed their native lineage. A decade before her first trip to the international Sun Dance at Paradise Grounds, Carole offered tobacco to Bill Soaring Eagle Martin (circa 1989-1990), asking him to become her teacher. Then aged thirty-five, Carole had a lot of whiteness to un-do. Soaring Eagle explained to her that the kind of instruction he could provide was primarily about healing. Personal healing. In the beginning, Carole did not comprehend how sincere he was. “I didn’t know I was going to be digging to China!”

About a decade later, Carole went to Sun Dance in support of a friend. Following communication with Spirit and strict attention to protocol, Carole was soon authorized to Dance. Like all Sun Dancers, Carole was required to conduct a Vision Quest prior to Dancing. In preparation, she was instructed to select and tie the prayer ties that she would need to a stick. Having never been exposed to a vision quest before, Carole did not know the traditional structure of how these ties would be incorporated into the Ceremony. Left with her imagination, Carole created a multicolored rainbow replete with seven ties of seven colors for the seventh generation, including extra yellow and a single purple tie for herself. She was abashed when she saw the sticks made by the other initiates, who used only the four standard colors of the four directions: black, red, white, yellow. Convinced she had “done it all wrong” and showed herself “an idiot,” Carole nonetheless was guided to an appropriate location and completed the Vision Quest.

Upon completion of the Vision Quest, Carole was sent to Auntie Diane Crow Dog in order to debrief the experience and share dreams. Turns out that Auntie Diane had anticipated the arrival of someone who would inherit her responsibility to pray for the children, and had previously instructed the men to watch out for this person. Carole’s unwitting deviation from tradition singled her out for this honor; it also identified her as a contrary, a person who works with opposites, heyoka.

Auntie Diane adopted Carole in a private Hunka Ceremony, and passed her a medicine bundle. “I will be an expensive teacher,” she explained, “because you will have to call me long-distance every week.” Today, Carole misses those weekly calls, which she made faithfully until Auntie Diane crossed over in 2006.

Water is Life Walks

In 2011, Carole was experiencing high blood pressure and took the question into Prayer about how to renew her next four-year commitment to Sun Dance: should she dance only three days each year? A white earwig appeared during her Vision Quest, with the communication that it was time to switch the four-year commitment from the Sun Dance to Walking the Water. Carole did not delay: she completed that year’s Sun Dance and conducted her first Water is Life Walk that same summer.

The next year, for her second Walk (2012), Carole was ready to embark when her friend, Raven Redbone, told her that Josephine Mandamin would be speaking nearby at Evergreen College. Josephine invited Carole to wait a few more days so that she could participate in the special “Paddle to Squaxin” sea canoe event. Paddlers from 102 canoes poured water from their points of origin (not only North America) into the Budd Inlet at the Port of Olympia. Carole then collected water from the shore. She carried that water across the country, along the way collecting discrete amounts of water from 28 sacred sites, all the way to Indian Island in Penobscot Maine. There she “married the waters” from the East Coast, the West Coast and points in-between to illustrate the primary lesson of water: unity.

Once water is mixed with other water, it is indistinguishable: you can no longer separate out which water came from where. This is a lesson of getting along with each other that humans need to (re)learn: we are all one.

“We Are Water”

The 2018 Walk is along the Howsatunnuck River (Housatonic) with Headwaters in Massachusetts and New York, running down through the Berkshires and Central Connecticut to the Long Island Sound.

This river was suggested to Grandmother Carole by Micah Big Wind Lott, who was supporting actions against the illegal extension of a fracked gas pipeline in the Otis State Forest in western Massachusetts. It is mind-boggling to comprehend the poison in this river, given the pervasive gorgeousness of the landscape. Fishermen, kayakers, and tourists gawk at the beauty. But what do they make of the signs warning of fish you cannot eat and water you cannot enter, should not even touch?

Sachem Hawk Storm, of the Schaghticoke, admitting to his daughters that he licks rocks.
Sachem Hawk Storm, of the Schaghticoke, admitting to his daughters that he licks rocks.

One evening on the Walk, we were treated to a cozy dinner with Schaghticoke Sachem Hawk Storm and his family. Grandmother and Hawk spoke of many things, but mostly we laughed. Some of the more serious topics included the inadequacy of the English language for conveying the sacred nature of water, the absence of a discrete word for time in some indigenous languages, and being heyoka. At one potent moment, Hawkstorm emphasized that we (humans) are water. The emphasis on language—how to say things properly—seemed (to me/nerdy white grrl) similar to the prayer Grandmother has taught us to offer whenever we cross a waterway: seeking permission to cross.

We ask permission, she explains, because water can either be soft and gentle or hard and forceful. The gesture of asking could be literal, yet it is the ritual of asking that is most significant because it is about an orientation to the water. Seeking permission is a way of showing respect and remembering relationship—of affirming kinship and connection of humans and water. Language and language use is also about orientation: soft and gentle or hard and forceful.

For a few millenia, the hard aspect of language has sent us spiraling toward disaster. We must re-orient ourselves, somehow, so that we can slow and divert the onrush. Humans have two unique tools for this task: our languages and our cultures. Spending a month walking 220 miles in the company of a river will not automatically cleanse it of pollutants or free it from dams. But devoting such time to thinking about and caring for the water is a way to signal the intention of doing whatever it takes to ensure this water is clean and free-flowing for the next seventh generation.

My First Risky Nonviolent Action

Going to Boston to counterprotest white supremacy following the violence in Charlottesville did not turn out to be dangerous, but there was no way to know this in advance.

Walking the Talk or keeping my plans?

When I first learned of the antiracist rally in Boston, it did not cross my mind that I should go. I was already booked on a flight away from Massachusetts that Saturday morning. However, on Thursday, a friend invited me to a preparatory training hosted by SURJ — Stand Up for Racial Justice. I was curious and that evening was free, so I went. Once I arrived to the training, I realized that I had been too busy to consider that I might change my plans. Nearly everything that I learned that evening was, to be honest, a reason to keep my original plans, that is, reasons not to go participate in the counter-rally and march in Boston.

Stellan Vinthagen holds the Endowed Chair in the Study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance at UMass Amherst.
Stellan Vinthagen holds the Endowed Chair in the Study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance at UMass Amherst.

There were more than 20 people attending the just-in-time SURJ training; emotion in the room was high. Introductions and conversation centered on personal motivations for participation—almost nothing about strategy, goals, or specific mission. Similarity of purpose was assumed. No one seemed to blink when we were told that the march organizers, the Movement for Black Lives, had asked for white allies to put our white bodies physically in-between Black activists and white supremacists, and also between Black activists and the police. Further, the leadership had decided not to commit this march to nonviolence: they reserved the right to self-defense. Finally, just as the Mayor of Boston was actively discouraging the white supremacists from holding their (so-called) free speech rally, the Mayor had also sought to discourage the counter rally — creating a pre-condition in which violent police intervention was more likely.

It had already been a long day at work. My energy began to fade as each risk, and their compounding interactions, became increasingly clear. About an hour 1/2 into the training, we divided into groups for bonding purposes. Since I didn’t think I was going, I let my friend know I was heading home. We had a quick conversation about the lack of input into the design process…for instance, were we being deployed disposably by black leadership? Did they care about or disregard our (possible) intellectual contributions and the health and safety of our bodies? A basic reversal of power roles is not the kind of society I’m seeking to help build. I kept to myself my worries that the white supremacists had planned the sequence and locations of rallies long in advance, so their prior planning was possibly more extensive. We could literally be marching into a trap.

Who was I kidding?!seeds tshirt

Before I’d driven ten minutes I knew that I was going to cancel my flight to Missouri to see the total solar eclipse with my closest longterm buds. Yes, the counter-protest felt like a set-up. Yes, it felt like if things went wrong, they would go wrong very, very, very badly. But I’d been talking all week with Patty Nourse Culbertson, who had been on the frontline in Charlottesville. She had explained that even though anti-racism activists in Charlottesville had an entire month to prepare, they still weren’t ready. I realized readiness has both existential and practical aspects. Practically, one can only be as ‘ready’ as one is, and this may never feel like enough.

Preparation

First, communication. Not intending to be dramatic, I just touched base with my main peeps, letting everyone know that I was going to be there. I deeply appreciate the support of my friends and family. It wasn’t that I assumed there would be violence and people would get hurt or possibly killed, but the reality is casualties do happen: prior to Heather Heyer’s murder in Charlottesville, there was Sophia Wilansky’s terrible arm injury protesting the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. The chances of being that individual are drastically lower in nonviolent than in armed, violent conflict, but I cannot pretend there is no risk. It seem important to at least attempt to minimize any subsequent mess.

Grover's signSecond, gear. I perused the links provided by SURJ:

I followed the recommendations for clothing, and selected first aid items, personal protective gear and snacks that I could carry in cargo pants (since backpacks were prohibited).

Action

Will and GroverWell, it was a beautiful day. Sunny, no rain, quite warm but not excessively hot. There were 40,000 of us. We had a marching band, witty and poignant signage, and many, many onlookers who showered us with thanks and gratitude. The free speech rally was fractional in comparison, about 50 individuals. A small amount of incidents with police occurred, some which seemed unprovoked and others that were in response to taunting. I enjoyed myself and remained vigilant, seeking to stick with my group members while staying alert for trouble. Thank god nothing happened because our group(s) had practically zero discipline. If something had happened we would have been scrambling. But nothing did, and so we had a successful march and, as a result, free speech rallies across the country were cancelled.

Aftermath

We returned from the march just in time to attend a free evening concert. I couldn’t muster the juice to celebrate, too exhausted. I went home, ate and went to bed early, sleeping for 11 hours. I was still groggy and out of it on Sunday morning. By a delightful coincidence, I was able to go camping overnight at a lovely spot on a beautiful lake. Sitting there in the woods, basking in the afternoon sun, watching the calm water, listening to the sounds of birds, children playing nearby, and the breeze in the trees, I began to feel restored.

Lake TullyLater, after dark, gazing into the flames of a campfire, I realized I was experiencing white fragility.

Think about it. I had just spent an entire day acting as if nothing was wrong, as if everything is normal, as if it was just a usual day…while at the same time remaining alert to the fact that super bad shit could happen at any second. I know it is not an exact parallel, but I had a small epiphany: this is what people of color in the US feel all the time. They must develop and allocate internal resources to manage this tension every day, all day long, and all night, too. 24/7.  No breaks. No 48-hour recovery period, and probably no easy access to nature in which to draw spiritual sustenance.

Not only was my fragility on display, but my white privilege, too.

 

The Plurilingual Advantage: Making the Business Case for Simultaneous Interpretation

Language has become a serious issue for multinational corporations.

Research in this sub-field of international management has blossomed in the past decade, generating powerful data pointing to the need for interpreters within the daily operations of international business. However, there is a strong bias toward language standardization.

If culture is a tree, the health of the trunk is composed by the practices of codeswitching among languages.
If culture is a tree, the health of the trunk is composed by the practices of codeswitching among languages.

Arguments in favor of ‘one corporate language’ rely on a managerial imperative for control, and depend upon people’s (seemingly) natural discomfort with the interpreting process. While language standardization does appear effective in some contexts, in most situations there are adverse consequences . These side effects interfere with morale, teamwork, innovation, and the achievement of company goals.

Extrapolating from the work of Appadurai (1990), Steyaert, Ostendorp & Gabrois (2011) coined the term linguascaping to describe the discourse effects of the “ongoing negotiations among accounts of how to ‘choose’ between languages” (p. 277) in companies that have two or more official languages. Linguascaping occurs with reference to local, national and/or global spaces, and is temporally-oriented either to short-term situational fixes or long-term enduring solutions.

This study of an mid-size IT firm in Bangalore, India involved interviews and observations about language use in a multinational with no formal language policy. The linguascaping accounts of codeswitching and using interpreters provide a significant point of comparison with research about organizations with formal one-language policies.

A poster presentation at Baystate Health’s Celebration of Academic Research.

Research in Bangalore funded by a Business Language Research and Teaching grant from the Illinois Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). View the presentation on Misunderstanding and Innovation: English as Lingua Franca (2011).

 

Interpreting Eureka! The Possibilities of Plurilingualism

Presented by co-author Jeffrey A Kappen in Copenhagen, Denmark at GEM&L 2017

“Revisiting Multilingualism at Work:

New Perspectives in Language-Sensitive Research in International Business”

GEM&L, Groupe d’Etudes Management & Language, is the French Research Group on Management & Language.

“I want to know, what is human conscience.”

“I want to know, what is human conscience.”

“Human consciousness?” I asked, not hearing him correctly.

“No,” he said. “Con-sci-ence. When I search for this word in the English dictionary, I find that it is from Latin. Con means ‘with’ and science means ‘knowing.’ So conscience means ‘with knowing.’ With science.”

“I’ve never quite thought about it that way,” I told him. “But I’m sure you’re right.”

"Conscience means 'with knowing.' With science."
Conscience means ‘with knowing.’ With science.”

He continued. “But this does not make sense.” He pulled out a piece of paper. “The dictionary says ‘A knowledge or sense of right and wrong, with a compulsion to do right.’”

He held up the piece of paper for me to see, so I took it. “That seems like a reasonable definition.”

“But I do not understand. Knowledge and sense are not the same thing. Knowledge I understand, but how about sense? Is sense the same as feeling? Is conscience a fact that I can learn and know, or is it more like an emotion? Is it related to empathy? Is it different than shame? And why is it a compulsion?”

I must have looked as baffled as I felt, because he went on to explain.

“I’m afraid that even though I am trained in computer science, I have never felt such a sense or feeling. This is a big disadvantage for my work. I would like to ask you, can I learn to feel such a feeling? At my age, is it too late?”

~ from A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, 2013, p 306-307 (italics in original).

Reflecting Whiteness: Beatriz at Dinner

Why is the ending of Beatriz at Dinner so disturbing?

Because throughout the film, we have witnessed our own whiteness: normalized, privileged, comfortable. And then we are confronted with the stark reality of existential choice.

Salma Hayek is Beatriz
Salma Hayek is Beatriz

There are only three ways the film can end:

  1. White people heal ourselves and change.
  2. White individuals are killed.
  3. Healers die.

The first option is decidedly unappealing. The Trump-like character of Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) reeks of white fatalism, and his supporting cast stinks of white fragility. What can one do but ignore the damage and keep doing whatever provides pleasure?

The second option doesn’t solve the problems whiteness has created for all other living beings and the planet.

The third option is our history and our present. Are we so incapable of sacrifice, so afraid of discomfort, that we have already surrendered the future?

Brilliant, unsettling filmmaking suitable to this desperate era. A must see.

Native Nations Rise (5 Seconds of Eternity)

She was watching from a window.

We exist. We resist. We rise.
We exist. We resist. We rise.

I waved.

She waved back, then gave the universal symbol of prayer and respect.

I returned the gesture: “I greet you. I honor you. We are connected.”

She pressed her hand to her heart.

I flashed a thumbs up.

Resources on Whiteness

These articles informed a recent talk on the topic of whiteness for sign language interpreters.

white-fog
A continuum of character development from white fragility through white fog toward appropriate whiteness.

“White people [must move] from an individual understanding of racism—i.e. only some people are racist and those people are bad—to a structural understanding [of white privilege].”

~ Dr Robin DiAngelo ~

White People: Stop Microvalidating Each Other, Stephanie Jo Kent

White Fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to White people about racism, Robin DiAngelo

Fighting White Supremacy and White Privilege to Build a Human Rights Movement, Loretta Ross

Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of ­­­Holding Each Other Accountable, Ngoc Loan Tran

It’s time for white people to reckon with racism, Eve Ensler

28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors, Jona Olsson

The Near Certainty of Anti-Police Violence, Ta-Nahisi Coates

Dear White Parents of my Black Child’s Friends: I Need Your Help, Maralee Bradley

White America Couldn’t Handle What Black America Deals with Every Day, Henry Rollins

This is what white people can do to support #BlackLivesMatter, Sally Kohn

Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda on Finding Originality, Racial Politics (and Why Trump Should See His Show), Lin-Maneul Miranda & Frank DiGiacomo

10 Books I Wish My White Teachers Had Read, Crystal Paul

What it’s like to be Black in Napierville, America, Brian Crooks

Police shootings won’t stop unless we address this problem no one is talking about, Jack Hitt

Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no. Wesley Lowery

Could all this racial violence bring two sides together? Faye Higbee

Branches of Mentoring, Michael Meade

end white silence

Climate change is happening within us [book review]

Kelly, an acupuncturist and Taichi student, draws on cases from his clinical practice in Chinese medicine and a solid comprehension of key scientific findings about anthropomorphic global warming to come to a diagnosis of climate change as a symptom of Yin-deficient heat.

My Taichi teacher, Wolfe Lowenthal, asked me to write a book review for our school’s newsletter,  Taichi Thoughts, so I read Brendan Kelly’s book with an eye to implications for practicing Tai Chi.

In The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis: Healing Personal, Cultural and Ecological Imbalance with Chinese Medicine (2015), Brendon Kelly, an acupuncturist and Taichi student, draws on cases from his clinical practice based in Chinese medicine, and a solid comprehension of key scientific findings about anthropomorphic global warming, to come to a diagnosis of climate change as a symptom of Yin-deficient heat. “Heat,” he explains, “is an excess of warmth and a state of overstimulation, which can eventually cause our internal fluids, or coolant, to evaporate.” Kelly jumps back and forth between the levels of an individual human body, majority US culture, and planetary environmental conditions. This logic is legitimate from a Chinese medicine point of view, which holds that “the microcosm and the macrocosm reflect the same conditions and tendencies, with the only significant difference being scale.” Accepting this premise and Kelly’s diagnosis means most of us are operating with too much Yang, generating too much heat and thus contributing via our very bodies to the ecological processes of climate change.

Kelly spends time detailing both the ways in which too much heat is generated and ways in which cooling systems are failing, hence the specific designation of Yin-deficient heat. Water is the element mainly responsible for cooling, in our bodies as well as for the planet. Critiquing the rapid pace and consumer-orientation of our culture, Kelly argues that “stimulation is not strength; it’s heat.” This got me thinking about the sensations of practicing Tai Chi, especially Wolfe’s frequent instructions about how we are to engage the air: “caress the air;” “treat the air as if it had the substance and weight of water;” “feel the water-like air.” What if, in addition to sensing the air as an element in physical contact with our hands, we considered the air as literally cooling the excessive Yang in our bodies?  A new mantra might be, “feel the air like cool water.”

“Climate change is not just happening in the world around us;
climate change is also happening within us.”

As an introduction to Chinese medicine, I found the book compelling. In particular, Kelly’s description of the interaction of the “Five Phases” (or “Five Elements”) with the Sheng and K’o cycles was instructive. “The Sheng or Nourishing cycle is what allows organs and phases to feed what comes next. While the K’o cycle creates balance by limiting and controlling things, the Sheng cycle is the relationship among the different aspects of who we are that promotes growth – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually” (136). If you want to learn the major symptoms of climate change without perusing the scientific literature, Kelly provides a fair and specific representation. His lessons about the Yin and Yang are familiar, e.g., “By itself, the Yang of doing things won’t lead us to the Yin of understanding our lives.” The unique contribution of his book in Tai Chi terms is his articulation of parallels and successful treatments that will help us “to know within us what climate stability would look and feel like” so that we can help to bring about climate stability “in the world around us.”

Brendan Kelly: “The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis“, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.

Republished with permission, includes minor revisions. Originally published in Taichi Thoughts, Volume 16, No. 3, November 4, 2015.

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