Thursday, December 17, 2015


by Professor Deborah A. Miranda (Ohlone/Costanoan Esselen Nation) 
Dear Sierra, 
My sister Louise passed your message on to me; she's very busy as Chair of our tribe, and often asks me for my 2 cents worth when fourth graders write to her. You wanted to know the Ohlone-Esselen-Costanoan opinion of the missions. 
That's a tough question. The truth is, California Indians were doing fine before the Spanish, Mexicans and Americans arrived. We had everything we needed, including our own religions, leaders, music, languages, homes, families, foods, jobs and education. Our ways were different from the ways of Europeans, however, so they thought we needed "civilizing." When a people has religion, music, language, culture, education, and so on, however, that means they already are civilized. To force European culture on our culture was a huge mistake.
Our Ancestors were curious about the Spanish, of course, and about their religion, but we should have been allowed to decide for ourselves what we wanted. Instead, the missionaries made that decision for us. Of course, none of the Indians knew what baptism really meant, since for many years, no Spaniards knew any of our many languages. 
Can you imagine trying to go to your confirmation classes or learn a catechism when you don’t even speak the language – and then, the teachers beat you with hard, thick leather whips if you are upset? This was the situation our Ancestors found themselves in when the Spanish priests arrived.
Recently, Professor Jonathan Cordero, who is Ohlone/Chumash (California tribes) and teaches at California Lutheran University, published his research that shows how few California Indians truly converted, and how many of those converts subsequently died. Professor Cordero writes,
“Based on the Spanish records kept by the missionaries themselves, less than five percent of all baptized California Indians voluntarily converted (i.e., genuinely converted as opposed to simply having been baptized) to Christianity, and the vast majority of converts held a syncretistic faith comprised of both native and Catholic beliefs. 
On the other hand, nearly eighty percent of all baptized natives died prematurely. In other words, five of every one hundred baptized Indians was genuinely converted, while eighty of every one hundred died an untimely death. 
The high death rates for Indians did not result primarily from epidemic diseases as is commonly reported. Instead, the austere living and working conditions at the missions contributed to rates of death that grossly exceeded birth rates and that consequently led to the near destruction of native populations in a manner more severe than in Baja California.”
Civilized people don't hurt other people for being different. Many Indians do not think the Spanish were very civilized. Even during Junipero Serra’s time, visitors to the missions from Europe wrote letters and diaries saying, “This is as bad as the slave plantations in our colonies [in the West Indies]” and an explorer named Kotzebue wrote that “ … the soldiers attacked the Indian villages by night, lassoed the Indians, and dragged them back at their horses’ tails to slavery in the missions.”
As we know, making slaves out of people is not something a civilized nation should do.
The Missionaries did a lot of things that hurt Indian people and families. For example, all little girls over the age of 7 had to go sleep in the monjerio, a small building with no bathroom and small windows way up taller than anyone could reach. These rooms were dark, smelly and dirty, and the young women and girls kept in there got sick from germs and lack of fresh air. They were also very homesick for their families. It must have been scary to be away from their moms, dads, and siblings all night.
The Spaniards whipped Indians – men, women and children - if they broke any of the priest's rules. In our Native culture, we did not rely on physical punishment to discipline our people, so being whipped or put into stocks or chains was very frightening. Many Indians didn't agree with, or understand, the Spanish rules, but were punished even more if they protested or tried to run away.
You asked about favorite priests. The Spanish priests, and later the Mexican priests, were human beings with the same gifts and flaws as anyone else. So, some priests were considered 'kind' and others were considered 'mean.' But even a ‘kind’ priest world keep Indians in the missions against their will, have Indians whipped for leaving or for breaking other Spanish rules. Father Junipero Serra, for instance, wrote in his letters about how much he loved the Indians, and how badly he felt when the Spanish soldiers hurt or killed Indians. But even though Father Serra knew that the missions caused many terrible problems and deaths for Indians, he still did not change how he went about trying to convert Indians to Catholicism. He still believed that the Catholic Spaniard's way of being human was the ONLY way of being human, and that Indians – even the very old and wise! – were “children” who needed him to be their “father.”
This way of thinking is called "colonization." Colonization (or in California what we call "Missionization") was the belief that Indians needed to be taught how to live like Spaniards even if those Indians didn’t want or need to be taught.
Other Spanish priests who came to California, like a man named Father Horra, saw what was happening to Indians in the missions, and spoke out against it. The Church said these men had “gone insane” and sent them back to Mexico or Spain. Is it crazy to want to stop killing people?
Even as far back as 1552, a priest named Bartolomé de las Casas decided that enslaving and killing Indians was wrong, and wrote an honest report about it. Father Junipero Serra and all the other Spanish missionaries knew about this report.
In short, Missionization was a disaster for California Indians. The average Indian baby born in a California mission only lived to be 7 or 8 years old. Also, because of a European-American disease called syphilis, many Indian men and women could no longer have babies. It became harder and harder to maintain our population when so many were dying of starvation, over-work, and disease.
In the 65 years that the California Missions were run by the Catholic Church, the numbers of California Indians went from about one million to 350,000.
Can you imagine if 8 out of every 10 people you know died from being taken over by another group of people who showed up in your town and took over? Nowadays we call that bullying.
So mostly, the missions were not that much fun for Indians. But some of us did survive. We are still fighting for simple human rights like religion, education, languages, health care, and the honoring of our Ancestor’s remains (construction often leads to the digging up of Native burial grounds or sacred places). 
I hope you learn a lot about the missions and the California Indians who had to live there. It was a crazy time, a hard time, and a sad time. My sister and I want our Ancestors to be proud of us. We are only here because a few of them managed to survive, and used up all of their strength so we could live. But we know who we are, and we work every day to make our Nation stronger. 
Good luck with your project, 
Professor Deborah A. Miranda
Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of the Greater Monterey Bay Area
author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir 
Washington and Lee University
[updated 2015]

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Real Thanksgiving

Yesterday, on Thanksgiving Day, our neighbor up on House Mountain left a message that he's got a deer for us.  Since we eat only local meat as close to organic as possible, whether game or domesticated, this means once again our freezer will be full of protein unadulterated by antibiotics and other USDA-approved additives, and for that - especially as non-hunters - we are most grateful.

I am grateful particularly to Calvin, our closest neighbor up on the mountain. He is our age, mid to late 50's, but he looks 20 years older.  Maybe it's his thick silver beard and weathered skin.  Maybe it's working flat-out all of his life to support a family on very little actual cash but lots of ingenuity and smarts (I knew many men and women like this, growing up poor in rural Western Washington).  This man's family has lived on House Mountain for six generations.  They have always lived primarily off what they can raise and hunt.  Calvin remembers when his family used to raise goats because the deer population had been decimated (along with turkeys and pheasants) - a combination of over-hunting, cattle-grazing, and reduced grazing/food resources for these animals.  All of these creatures have since rebounded, and the deer, in particular, now require careful culling to maintain an even environmental keel (the turkey are plentiful, too, but it takes a lot more turkeys to overeat a mountain than it does deer).

So we have always given Calvin and his son permission to hunt on our 68 acres in the saddle of House Mountain - the 68 acres we are blessed to steward - in exchange for some of the venison.  It's been a deal that works out for both of us, as he augments his hunting area, and we don't have to buy expensive, organic meat.  Over the years, I can't count the times Margo and I have stood out under a starry winter sky talking with Calvin when he came to deliver our share - sipping his peach moonshine (no, we don't know where he gets it and we know not to ask), exchanging local gossip, catching up on the movement of deer, the number of eggs his hens are producing, the howling of coyotes all around us, a cooler of venison at our feet.

We moved away from the mountain into town two years ago, reluctantly, but motivated by a need to be closer to medical facilities and eliminate the 20 minute drive both ways in order to get to frequent appointments with massage therapists, acupuncture, neurologists, and all the other specialists required for someone with a rare degenerative disorder such as Margo's.  But Calvin keeps us in his deer deliveries.  When we head up today we'll take a homemade apple pie as our ritual thanks to him.  A bartering system as old as human beings.  

I'm thankful for this good ol' boy who treats his Jewish/Lesbian/Native American neighbors with respect and affection.  True, Margo's butchering skills, her ability to sip moonshine and smoke cigarettes, talk local politics and swear like a ... well, a mountain man, doesn't hurt.  And I can sip that smooth, smooth moonshine with the best of them, swear reasonably well, and make good enough conversation.  

But that's not what earned us Calvin's respect.  I think it is the fact that he knows that Margo and I love that mountain and everything on it in a way he recognizes deep in his bones.  For him, that says it all.  For him, that's the litmus test of a good person.

Maybe ... maybe that love of place, of creatures, of the way this planet is home, is the common ground we've all been seeking.  A place to meet and agree, be thankful, appreciate what we've been given - maybe that's the only thing that is going to save us from our more destructive selves.  Out of all the ideologies human beings have come up with, home is the simplest and most complex one of all.  The one we must agree on, if we are going to make it through the inferno of hatred and fear we've created for ourselves.

In that spirit, I offer this poem, written a few years ago after another one of Calvin's deliveries.  It appears in my collection, Raised By Humans, from Tia Chucha Press.  Here you go; the real Thanksgiving.

Eating a Mountain

You stand in the kitchen, cut
up a buck that a friend
shot for us.  I watch you trim,
slice, decide: this is stir fry,
this is steak, this is stew.
These are treats for long-suffering
dogs on the porch, panting.  Oh,

we are rich!  I rinse, pack,
mark the cuts, this beautiful
deep red velvety offering. 
Eating this deer means
eating this mountain:
acorns, ash, beech, dogwood,
maple, oak, willow, autumn olive;

means devouring witch hazel, pine,
lichens, mushrooms, wild grape,
fiddleheads, honeysuckle,
poison ivy, crown vetch,
clover; means nibbling wild onion,
ragweed, beggar’s lice, Junegrass,
raspberry cane, paw-paws,

crispy green chickweed,
and so you give the meat
your most honest attention,
dedicate your sharpest blade –
carve up that deer with gratitude,
artistry, prayer, render a wild, sacred animal
into wild, sacred sustenance. 

How we eat this deer is a debt
that comes due on the day
we let this mountain
eat us.

Deborah A. Miranda

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Writing Race: Claudia Rankine's "Citizen" in the Creative Writing Classroom

I'm teaching a new Creative Writing class this term that lets students explore mixed-genre, blurred-genre, hybrid, experimental forms.  It's been a learning experience for everyone, but so far both students and I have loved it.

One of my assignments is called "The Race Memoir Digital Storytelling Project."  Yes, this is a sneaky way to get students to express themselves about race and ethnicity in our culture, as it personally affects their lives.  You might think that this could be a total disaster.  You might be right.  But then, as a professor, I've learned the value of taking risks, even though the discomfort can be alarming.

It's been an unexpected context to this assignment that current events have brought race, ethnicity, and human rights so out in the open that it has penetrated my college students' world in powerful ways outside the classroom, and they have not only been shaken awake by those events, they are hungry to find a way to write about them, to respond, to take part.

A couple of caveats: 

First, this IS an Advanced CW course, so these students are accustomed to workshopping, freewriting, independent work, and most importantly, reading the work of other, established writers as resources and teachers.  

Secondly, I purposely placed this assignment toward the end of the term, when the workshop members have bonded, created a community, and established a tough, resilient level of trust with each other.  

Thirdly, I have put myself into the mix on a regular basis: I do most of the assignments with the students and present them with my crappy first drafts (I don't workshop them, but I give them my experience with the writing and my own brief critique).  

Finally, for this class, I "taught" my own book, Bad Indians (never having done this before, I was nervous; I didn't want to appear self-serving, but I learned a lot about multi-genre construction through this text, and wanted to pass it on)I presented the book as one of the many sample writings we read, and created an assignment based on the book's collage technique (I call it "The Bohemian Rhapsody Assignment" - like the Queen song, students had to construct a piece out of 3-4 different genres).  I presented myself as a guest author who came to class to read a few of the pieces and to answer questions from them about craft, topic, research, and personal involvement.  To my relief, this went over very well - students liked the faux-interview aspect. This reading was also a way into the topic of race/ethnicity; it makes the issue of race immediate, models how vulnerability is often a key element in creativity and powerful writing, and raises the stakes in terms of investment - I let students see that I am invested in this discussion, that this discussion about race is going on all around them in very legitimate ways.  Bad Indians also signaled a shift into the most intensely personal material that the course was moving towards. 

Most importantly, I chose an amazing text as our exemplar: Claudia Rankine's Citizen.  

In a particularly glorious instance of serendipity, this image broke just as we were deep into Rankine's work:

The woman, later identified as 23-year-old  Johari Osayi Idusuy, is clearly reading a copy of Citizen behind DT.  Not only that, but she is a Black woman making a political statement at a widely televised, recorded event.  The power of Claudia Rankine's text in this context provided interesting fodder for discussion in class!

Some words about Citizen: An American Lyric.  This book requires time.  It is not something that can be read quickly.  It introduces my all-white class to a world in which they are strangers, and they required translation, immersion, reflection, and guided exploration.  We looked at the text over a total of 2 weeks (six class meetings), during which we sometimes simply asked questions and attempted to answer them, focused on the vocabulary necessary to read the book (we started off with a list that included privilege, micro-aggressions, race, racism, and power), and soaked up the multi-genre moves made with photographs, art, white space, different forms of text.  I assigned several interviews with Rankine, including an excellent video interview from the LA Times Festival of Books.  During this time we also did many freewrites, using a line from the book, or an image, as a jumping-off point, or a response to either one.

We also went to Rankine's website to view some of the "video essays" - digital storytelling - that evolved for her out of the work in Citizen, in partnership with her (white) husband, John Lucas.  Clicking on the link "Situations," we were taken into powerful images and events through the lens of microaggressions and invisibilization, silencing and anger.  Rankine's treatment of these situations via video/voice-over/text is intense, and jarring, and dislocating.  Just what I like best.  Analyses of these 'texts' helped prepare students for the power of combining visual texts, audio material, and movement.

This is a great segue into the Digital Storytelling Project itself, moving us from the immersion experience to some articulation of experience in a multi-genre form. 

I'm pasting in the assignment as it has evolved (this is my first time teaching the course, so I'm playing almost everything by ear).  It may evolve some more.  Please write to me and let me know if you try it, what you did differently, suggestions you have, or off-shoots.  One thing I can't emphasize enough is the importance of the 1-minute Practice video; having tried DSP in other courses, I've learned that students will put off exploring iMovie too long, and end up supremely frustrated at 2 a.m. trying to figure it out.  Unfortunately, there's no way to bluff your way through iMovie; either you did the work, or you didn't.  Requiring a Practice video at least a week ahead of time threw workshop participants into the project AND paved the way for an excellent group discussion in class of tips, shortcuts, problems, ideas, and crowd source brainstorming.  (It also alerted me to a student with real concerns about technology, and I arranged for a private tutorial with our IT guy which helped enormously!)  I ended up opening a forum on Sakai for students to exchange questions and solutions outside of class, as well.

At the end of the term, I'll ask students if they'd like their projects to go public.  It's important to me to leave them the option of keeping such personal work limited to the workshop.  But it's also important to me to point out that writing has work to do in the world, and they are part of that work now.

The Race Memoir: Digital Storytelling Project
English 305/”Writing Outside the Lines”
Deborah A. Miranda
Washington and Lee University
Fall 2015

Three deadlines: 
  • 1-minute Practice DSP, screened in class on 11/9 
  • in-class workshopping of your narration for DSP, 11/16 and 11/18
  • in-class screening of your DSP, 11/20

The 1-minute Practice DSP, due 11/9
Familiarize yourself with the DSP resources listed on Sakai: 
  • ONLINE IMAGES-MUSIC-SOUNDS Creative Commons Licensed and Royalty-Free 
  • Using “Audacity” to Record Voice-Overs 
  • Video, Images, and Audio Located on the Library Website 
  • How to Move Your iMovie to an External Drive 
  • 7 Elements of Digital Storytelling (also see

View other digital storytelling projects by beginners!  Watch several times: for content (what’s the story? how much narrative is there?), again for materials (still photos? video clips? graphic lettering? music/voiceover?), again for techniques (transitions effects? pacing? titling?). Write down anything that might work for your own video. 

One of my favorite collections is from TheNative American Health Center. 

View this iMovie tutorial (iMovie 2015; one of many tutorials available on YouTube - Your computer may have a previous version of iMovie; in that case, search YouTube for that version’s tutorial.  It makes a difference); there are also short individual tutorials on specific techniques.  Search for them. 

Create a ONE MINUTE iMovie (or other video software) using the prompt “race.”  Text is not as important as the practice you’ll get, but the text should matter.  You may use freewrites or thoughts about Citizen if you like.  The purpose of this practice video is to allow you to explore iMovie and get a taste for the intensity and time that DSP takes.  Requirements: 

  • Include still photos, a video clip, music, and/or vocal narration. 
  • Try out various transition effects. 
  • Experiment getting text on the screen. 
  • Upload links to your iMovie onto Sakai; use the folder in “Digital Storytelling” file. 
  • During class screening, be prepared to share specific challenges, explain techniques, and brainstorm with your workshop peers!

AND . . . 

The DSP Project, due 11/20: We’ve spent two weeks reading and discussing Citizen as creative writers, scholars, and members of the same nation and culture from which Rankine writes.  You now have:
  • a notebook full of freewrites and writing assignments about her book, the online videos by Rankine that complement Citizen, your responses, your own life and subject position.  
  • a digital collection of collage materials you’ve been saving up: scanned still photos, newspaper articles, music or sound effects, archival items, ephemera and video clips relating to your topic.  These can be your personal items combined with those from the internet, library collections, Creative Commons materials, etc. Since you’ll be using a MacLab computer all or part of the time, store them in the cloud for easy access (use W&L’s Box if you don’t have your own storage). 
Utilize these materials to help generate your Race Memoir. Your goal is to craft a finished piece of written material that you can use as narration for a Digital Storytelling Project of about 3-4 minutes duration.  If your written piece ends up being longer than your DSP can accommodate, make sure you can excerpt a section of it for your DSP that holds up alone.  
You will turn in a hard copy of your written narration/memoir as well as a fairly polished draft of your DSP.  (You will be able to revise both before turning in as part of your final portfolio for the class, but what you screen for us on 11/20 should be a solid nearly-finished effort that reflects the amount of time we’ve put into this project). 
Your final project will be a 3-4 minute DSP that speaks to your personal experience with race and/or ethnicity.  What have you experienced?  What have you witnessed?  What are your concerns?  What are your realities?  How do race and/or ethnicity impact you as you walk through your daily world, either here at W&L/Lexington, or back home, or in your life as an athlete, choir member, daughter/son, employee, bystander, customer? 
iMovie Workshop: 

We have a REQUIRED basic iMovie workshop with IT meister Brandon Bucy scheduled for Friday, November 13th, during class time.  Meet in MacLab 101 at Leyburn Library.  Brandon will also give you a quick tour of the library’s Video Editing Suite and explain how to check out headset microphones which also give good audio when connected to a computer. 

[If you want to use a different software with which you are already familiar, that’s fine.  See Brandon for any questions that come up. Attend this workshop anyway for the DSP techniques discussed.] 

Remember to store your digital collage materials in the cloud or on W&L’s Box for access during this workshop; you’ll be using your own materials.   

You may also contact Brandon Bucy for an individual help session, or send him a quick email with a question, at .  He’s available and ready to assist!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Being California Indian in a Post-Canonization World

In the aftermath of the chaos surrounding Junipero Serra’s canonization, California Indians are exhausted.  Whether we thought there was a chance of derailing Serra’s sainthood or just wanted to record our anger at the injustice of his canonization, we worked hard and pushed ourselves through an emotional hurricane the past year.  We are not beaten, though; just bone tired, heart-weary. 

But a lot of ugly words are being thrown around on the internet and in conversation about Indigenous people who attended or even participated in the ceremony. Words like “traitor,” “betrayal,” and worse are being used.  I’d like to say something about this. 

I am not Catholic, and have absolutely no loyalties to the Church or the Pope.  Yet clearly, as a woman with Esselen and Chumash Ancestors, I am angry, anguished and frustrated by Serra’s canonization.  Of the many problems I have with the canonization, one of the biggest is this:  sainthood for Serra sets up what I feel amounts to permission for Round 2 of missionization and an outright gift to genocide-deniers.  Therefore, I have invested much of my writing and energy to speaking out against the canonization. 

At the same time, I feel that other California Indians - like Vincent Medina, who read a passage from the Bible translated into Chochenyo as part of the canonization ceremony - have the right to take part in the ceremony without the scathing criticism or disrespectful jokes now being slung at him.

Why do I feel this way?  I have said many times, as survivors of genocide, every single California Indian person alive right now is a treasure.  We do not have the luxury of denouncing or expelling people because their methods of decolonization differ from ours.  Working together, creating bridges across those gaps, can only make us stronger and more vital, and give us the diversity and strength we need for this battle.  Because of this belief, I can respect Vincent's position even though I would not have chosen to make my stand in exactly same way.  This wasn’t an easy journey for me, though.

As someone who values transparency and clarity, I appreciate that Vincent has been up-front about his choice; he repeatedly spoke out regarding his anti-canonization position in the media and on his personal FB page, yet he did not renounce his Catholicism, which comes to him through a beloved and devout family network of Indigenous people.  He is also open about being gay, which is another difficult stance for a devout Catholic.  This kind of border-dwelling is not for the faint of heart, but Vincent is not keeping any secrets.

I grew up in a family plagued by secrets; secrets about violence, dysfunction, alcoholism, sexuality, mistakes, death, and fear.  I learned early and continuously that to speak my truth about the world was dangerous – people might abandon me, hurt me, take away my freedom, or even hurt themselves.  There was a time in my life when I internalized my family’s aversion to truth and dependence on lies, and I was not honest about many things.  I put up with abuse, I did not defend those who needed it most because I feared conflict.  It was easier to remain silent, to look away, or to make up a story that hid the truth. 

In short, you might say that I grew up with a missionized mind and soul.  I “feared the lash” that would come from speaking my truth, from resisting oppression.  I cowered, and in my cowering, I allowed great damage to happen, and to continue – to myself, to my little brother.  As I grew older and moved away, the scars of my early obedience to fear controlled every relationship I had, from my first spouse, to my friends, and eventually, to my own children.  The mission followed me wherever I went.

For a long time one way I avoided the truth about my life was to simply hate the ways in which both my father and mother contributed to my scars.  I blamed them in a simplistic black and white scenario in which they were bad parents, and I was a victim.  As I got older and learned more about colonization, missionization, and Historical Trauma, I was tempted to extend my hatred and righteous anger to the religious and legal institutions that stood behind those events.  I teetered on the verge of hating Catholicism, hating all of Christianity, hating every priest I saw on the street, hating just because it felt so good to have someone to blame for the blows I’d taken, the blows the people I loved had suffered.  This is what they mean by “internalized oppression”: the mission of my mind made me think that hatred was my idea.

It took years, a lot of lessons from life, and yes, a certain amount of courage, for me to learn that something as easy as hate can’t be right, or satisfying.  I still wrestle with the desire to hide from conflict, to blame others, to lash out at someone else in ways that make me appear to be the victim.  I still feel the weight of that mission wall around me.  Some days I think, seriously?  Is there no end to these adobe bricks?!

But it took so much time to be that hateful.  It took so much energy.  It ate so much of my soul.  As I began to value my writing and my creative energy, I realized that the more my hatred took over, the less generative and productive my work became. Each burst of hatred and bitterness was another adobe brick in the mission walls, locking me down.  I was becoming bitter, incapable of generosity, unpredictable in my moods, at a loss, spiritually. This was never so clear as when, in the course of writing Bad Indians, I tried to describe my father.  Initially I thought, I have to write about all the bad things he did – I have to write that truth.

Yet, my writing of those details was terrible.  Terrible to write, and terrible to read. Flat, predictable, without heart, with nowhere to go – I found myself thinking, I might as well just write, “My father - meh,” and leave it at that, since any extended attempt at writing came out shallow and pointless. In short, my writing didn’t create any goodness – for me, or in the world - when I wrote from hatred. I was building more walls, not bridges.

It was only when I finally admitted that I had loved my father – truly, madly, deeply, the way a young girl idolizes her daddy – and wrote that part out first, that I could then turn to the ugliness he had also given me.  Because my father wasn’t all good, or all bad.  He was a terrifying, beautiful mixture of both, and although talking about his alcoholism or his anger was part of the truth about him, it wasn’t ALL of the truth about him.  He also had an incredible touch with plants, understood color like an artist, could be tender and heart-broken as a child over a sick pet.  In fact …

My father was complicated.  And so was my love for him.  That was the truth I’d been trying to avoid. That was the bridge I’d been trying to burn.

So when I see people slamming Vincent Medina or other California Indians for their choice to remain Catholic, or even to participate in the ceremony, I want to say, look: it’s complicated.  There is no one way to be California Indian.  Many people think that my choices to live far away from our homeland, be active in academia, live as a Two-Spirit person, are very un-California Indian.  And I admit that there are times when even I desperately wish I were living at home, learning things I can only learn from elders and people who have been working all their lives with the materials, languages, land and peoples of our homeland.  But one thing I’ve learned in 54 years: each human being has individual talents and skills, and the trick is to figure out what yours are, and what choices you must make to put them to best use. I’ve made choices that not everyone approves of, or is comfortable with.  The choice to come out.  The choice to identify as Indigenous and commit to the work of decolonization (hey, as a mixed-blood, I could pass as vaguely ethnic and run with the unaffiliated pack).  The choice to support a woman’s right to abortion.  The choice to say, I’m not a Christian.  Some people have written me off for those choices, even in my own family. 

Here’s what I know about living in a black and white world:  Lumping people together into one group – those people are good, these people are bad - is almost always an act of fear. 

So while I would have chosen differently for myself, I respect Vincent’s choice and I acknowledge his reasons for making that choice.  

Vincent posted a statement on FB saying that by participating in the canonization ceremony, he specifically wanted to let the world know that not only did California Indians survive such a massive genocide, but that some of us are actively working to reclaim language, culture, and identity, to thrive as creative and modern people, and to speak languages that the Church worked violently to wipe out – and to speak these words in the presence of the Pope and the world. 

I have fears about what the post-canonization world is going to look like for California Indians, but I recognize that Vincent’s actions have solid reasoning behind them, a strategy that has value in any struggle against oppression.  During the Civil Rights Movement, their African heritage did not prevent a large majority of Blacks from being both Christian and opposed to racism, even though most American slave-owners were Christian and imposed Christianity on their enslaved workers.  Instead, Civil Rights activists called out Christians who did not live honestly by their own belief system and challenged them to live up to their own sacred truths.  For these activists, evolving as a people who rejected institutionalized racism did not mean a refutation of a once-foreign religion that had become theirs.

Thus, I can see the value of Vincent’s hopes that his Indigenous presence might act as a catalyst and reminder of Indigenous surviance.  Perhaps because I am a woman who lived in silence about my romantic and sexual attraction to other women for decades, I know the power of finally speaking out, and the yearning for an audience to hear my voice. In addition, I admire Vincent not just for his cultural work, his commitment to learning his language, and for his work as a Two-Spirit person, but for his courage to do all this in the face of much opposition.  To voice his truth as a contemporary California Indian man is not the easiest path he could have taken. 

I want that kind of courage – along with the courage I saw in so many California Indians during this fight – as part of our community.  Together, we have so. much. power.

We Californian Indians live now in a post-canonization world.  Canonization of Serra happened, and we must work to survive its aftermath: the disrespect done to us by the Church, by media coverage, by educational institutions and yes, by each other.  Wounds have been re-opened, and many of our learned coping responses to stress and anger have popped right up (oh hello old triggers!  I see you!).  We must ask ourselves, is this the best bridge I can help build toward what happens next?  Have I cut myself off from the possibility of diverse, rich California Indian voices in conversation?  Will I be part of a community that stretches and grows with change, or divides and diminishes? 

As I write this, I’m speaking to myself.  I’ll be fifty-four years old next month.  Some days, it feels as if there is so little time left in this life for me to learn everything I want to learn, and to accomplish all that I want to leave behind.  Some days, it feels as if I have just crawled out of the mission.  Sometimes, I think, if I have to move one more fucking adobe brick, I am going to lose my mind.

I want to have conversations with my relatives, not battles.  Let’s save our ferocity for decolonizing, and give our compassion and patience to one another.  I want to be part of a strong, deep California Indian future.  I’m not saying we can’t disagree or engage in critical thinking, even argue back and forth - but haven’t we built all the mission walls we ever want to build?  

Nimasianexelpasaleki.  Thank you for listening.