Learning from my own history

It was 1962 when I moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, never having lived south of the Mason-Dixon line, and unaware that I’d inadvertently enrolled in a total immersion course in white privilege and institutional racism— terms that didn’t even exist back then.

I learned to ask “How can I help?” and “Is there anything I can do?” I learned that there were some things you do without asking. When a colored person – considered the polite term in the ‘60s — works for you, always pay them more than they ask for and give them a ride home, to save them bus fare and at least an hour’s time.

I’ll always remember when I was carrying my year-old daughter in the grocery store. She was just learning her words, and, pointing to a black man, she asked, “That’s a man?” Before I could answer, he just beamed at her and answered, “Yes, baby, I’s a Man!”

It’s a sad fact that groups without power are still regarded as separate from the fabric of our country, even those whose country it was to begin with. When I moved to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, home to eight indigenous tribes, I found that many locals considered Indians the bottom of the socio-economic heap; a Community Multi-Cultural Alliance worked to transcend stereotypes.

More than 10 years ago, the local powers-that-be decided an ancient tribal burial ground was the perfect place for a public works project.  A  few of us were given a special tour of the diggings at Tse-whit-zen, an ancient site being uncovered  in Port Angeles. Our faces were painted with streaks of protective red ochre before entering the site where the remains of dozens of tribal members had already been uncovered and ceremonially removed in special cedar boxes. I was brought to tears seeing the outline of an ancient longhouse and watching a young tribal member on his knees with a tiny brush, gently uncovering a skull while a huge bulldozer scraped the ground less than 10 feet from where he was working.

Afterword, we ceremonially washed our hands in snowberry water and gathered around our guide, a young woman from the Lower Elwha Tribe.“What can we do to help?” we asked. “Anything! We don’t know what to do, we’re all in shock, digging up the bones of our grandparents,” she said.

We walked away in somber silence and a few of us went to a nearby coffee shop to confer. We decided we’d begin gathering signatures on a petition asking that the excavation along the waterfront stop. Together we made sure the petitions were visible at local grocery stores and such, we wrote letters to the editor and made sure we got coverage in the local newspaper.

Soon Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles famously said, “Enough is enough!” and demanded that the construction cease. Later I was told that our support was the first time that white people had stood with the tribe against the rest of the community.

I’m digging up my ancient history to say that somehow we need to find ways to partner with the tribal folks, or stand with the water protectors at Standing Rock, and simply take on supportive things — without going through the formalities of asking.

It goes without saying — but it looks like I have to say it — that no white folks would stand for Arlington Cemetery being bulldozed for a construction project. Few would contend that  a community has a right to  protect its water supply. Most people would applaud people taking action to protect the water supply of some 18 million others downstream.

There are supportive actions we can take. So I contacted the President.

After finding the White House comment line busy, I sent this email to President Obama:

Last night some 400 people trapped on a bridge near Standing Rock were attacked with water cannons, tear gas, mace and percussion grenades — an action as egregious as what happened on Birmingham’s Pettis Bridge decades ago.

The water protectors’ camp has been sprayed with chemical agents by night-flying, light-less helicopters — a clear violation of international law. These are U.S. citizens and citizens of hundreds of indigenous First Nations.

Please step in to stop these assaults NOW and restore people’s confidence in peace and justice — and clearly show that bullying and violence are not the American way.

We need your voice and the moral power of your office if we are to believe that we’re still a country ruled by laws and not special corporate interests.

Thank you.


Perhaps you’d like to help too? You can Call the White House Comment Line: 202-456-1111

Or donate money; the official site: https://www.gofundme.com/sacredstonecamp

Or call the

Army Corps of Engineers
Main: 202-761-0011, press 9
Regulatory (permits) office: 202-761-5903

Here’s a sample script :
Hello, my name is ________. I’m calling from {city, state, county}. It is your duty to pull the permits for the Dakota Access pipeline immediately. Police are violently attacking peaceful water protectors, putting their lives in danger by blasting them with water cannons in freezing cold weather. They are trying to protect this project and are will to risk killing people to do it. You must stop this project now. It will be dangerous in the long term, but right now, this very second it is a threat to the lives at Standing Rock.

Or call their  comment line (202-761-8700)and simply say “Rescind fraudulent permit and deny permit to bore under the Missouri River. Demand full Environmental Impact Study.”

Call the Morton County Sheriff’s office (701-328-8118 & 701-667-3330) and demand they end their life-threatening attacks on peaceful unarmed protectors immediately.

Morton County law enforcement is already claiming that they were putting out fires started by the protectors, but several livestream feeds show that the fires were started by Morton County officers and their tear gas and concussion grenades. Do not let them get away with telling this lie.

Another sample script:

Hello, my name is ___________. I am horrified by the violence used by your officers against the Standing Rock water protectors last night. It is nothing short of torture to douse people in water, in below freezing temperatures, for hours. People could die from this inhumane escalation. Your officers are willing to risk killing peaceful protectors. It’s time to end these dangerous tactics and torture against the people at Standing Rock.

Another call – the Department of Justice:

Main: 202-514-2000, press 0. (This one has been hard to get through.)

Department Comment Line: 202-353-1555

You can say:
Hello, my name is __________. The Morton County Sheriff’s violently attacked water protectors  – drenching them in water in freezing temperatures, using concussion grenades, sonic weapons, and projectiles that ripped through skin and bone. This is torture and must be treated as such. The Department of Justice must investigate the awful human and civil rights violations at Standing Rock and charge the Morton County department.

We can light up the phone lines of every official who is allowing law enforcement to assault, injure or torture people who are fighting to preserve their sacred sites and maintain clean drinking water for themselves and some 18 million other people downstream.

You can also move your money from banks supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Here is a PDF with the names of CEOs and other bank executives involved in these decisions—along with their phone numbers and email addresses. The first 17 banks (*) are directly funding the Dakota Access pipeline: banksters


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A freelance writer who lives near Olympic National Park in a house overlooking the Salish Sea, I'm nourished by Mother Nature and enjoy exploring the places where science, spirit, and story come together. Part science geek, part spiritual feminist, part Earth-loving tree-hugger, I continue learning the many ways that how we think and what we believe helps shape our world. Quantum physics shows us that our personal energy is too often overlooked as force for positive change; indigenous wisdom leads us to connect with all beings in a good way. I've told the research stories of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado, Boulder, and contributed regular columns for newspapers in Boulder, Colo., Sequim and Port Angeles Washington.

2 thoughts on “Learning from my own history”

  1. Once a Board member of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, Hollis Higgins of Spokane’s Veterans for Peace, passed this on to me and I really liked the article. Having read many in the last few months and especially since Standing Rock situation has become such a terrible situation, I am planning to pass this on to our Center for Nonviolence list-serv. And WILPF’s list-serv too. The list of things at the end that we can do is very helpful and all in once place! Thank you for all you do and I look forward to reading other blogs of yours.

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