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Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti: We Must ALL Help

Tuesday, January 12, at 4:53 p.m. a 7.0 earthquake hit 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. Current estimates by the Haitian government suggest that 200,000 may have died already, 80,000 have been buried in mass graves by bulldozers, and millions others are injured; most are unable to obtain medical treatment. Surgeons are amputating limbs with hack saws and no anesthesia; people not killed in the quake are dying from dehydration and treatable infections. Millions are homeless.
The people of Haiti are suffering
What can we do  to help?


On January 20th, another earthquake hit; this one a 6.1 on the richter scale.

The people of Haiti are suffering
What will we do?
Before the earthquake, Haiti was already ranked as "the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of its people living below the poverty line and 54% existing in abject poverty." (The Week, 1-15-10)

40% of the population of Haiti is comprised of children. 
Aren't the children of Haiti our children too?

Before the earthquake the life expectancy for the average Haitian was only 60. According to the World Food Program  1.9 million people in Haiti "were ‘food insecure’, meaning they needed assistance to stave off hunger" before the quake and only 50% of the population had access to safe drinking water prior to the devastation wrought by the quake.

Haiti has been suffering for a long time
Shouldn't we have been helping them for a long time now?

Everyone is jumping on the "collect donations for Haiti" bandwagon. It makes more sense to donate to organizations who are already in Haiti, have been working for Haiti for years, are run by local agencies, or who have financial profiles that show their money goes to the victims not to the administrators. Consider giving to one of the following organizations:

Doctors Without Borders has been in Haiti for 20 years and needs donations to provide crucial medical treatment and supplies; they only spend 1% of their funding on management.

Quisqueya International Organization for Freedom and Development, founded by a former Peace Corps volunteer, is on-the-ground, assisting with relief efforts; QIFD is a nonprofit organization that works on the grassroots level to advance political, economic and social rights by working with community organizations to empower poor people to help themselves;

Yele Haiti, a grassroots organization set up by Grammy-winning musician Wyclef Jean, a native Haitian, whose programs have used music, sports and the media to create 3,000 new jobs, put 7,000 children in school, feed 8,000 people a month, and provide HIV/AIDS prevention education to 2,000 young people a month.

The Pan American Development Foundation is the disaster relief arm of the Organization of American States. It has been in Haiti for over 30 years, and currently has over 150 people on the ground there. Go here to make an online donation or call 877-572-4484;

Partners in Health (Paul Farmer's organization) has been on the ground in Haiti for over 20 years. To support its efforts with a donation, go here;

Action Against Hunger has mobilized an emergency response and has teams already on the ground, assessing and responding to needs;Recognized as a world leader in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, the ACF International Network has pursued its vision of a world without hunger for three decades.

CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, also needs donations for its on-ground work in Haiti;

Habitat for Humanity has been working in Haiti for 26 years and will be sending a team to assess the impact on affordable housing after the earthquake. To make a donation, go here

The United Nations World Food Program has teams "already on the scene, mobilizing emergency food assistance to families." To support these efforts, you can make an emergency donation here;

Staff from the United Nations Foundation is currently on the ground, and its United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is accepting donations toward these relief and recovery efforts. Donations can be made online here.

Dreaming of Haiti

Lush green, people singing

Children running in the streets
I try to fly away at night

To this ancestral land
Where the people’s eyes shine

America will have me
But Haiti knows me

From the marrow
Loves me from the soul

And Haiti waits for me I know

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Have You Seen Any Indians?

When I was interviewing for my current job in Florida, I asked the host institution to arrange
for me to meet with other Native and Black faculty. They had me meet with an old white man wearing feathers who interspersed his authenticity questions about my heritage with anecdotes about all the ceremonial objects he had acquired from Indians. In his office he actually had a number of sacred objects on display on bookshelves on top of books. He took them to class for show and tell, he explained.

I was too busy clenching my teeth to ensure that the smoke did not escape to ask him the
only question he was in a position to answer,

"Have you seen any Indians?"

After getting hired and relocating to Florida, I heard rumors of an Indian professor on campus who reportedly also had a gig as a judge back home (somewhere in the Southwest) As a result he was rarely seen on campus. After five years of not meeting him I became convinced he was merely a myth.

Then I met another mixedblood Black/Indian in a faculty workshop and we practically knocked people over trying to claim each other in some mad spastic rush to recognize each other as kindred. It was hilarious only because it was so pathetic.

He too had heard about the mythical judge but like me, he had never met him. "We should start a Native faculty group," he said. "Yeah, we should," I replied, knowing full well two people does not an organization make. "We might need to find the other Indians to do that," I suggested. He assented and then we both sighed.

Neither one of us had seen any other Indians.

Mostly when I want to see Indians I drive down south to the reservation to hang with my peoples. Its always a good time but four hours is a long way to drive in search of Indians so I began looking locally.
I started going to Pow Wows in the area. Imagine my surprise when I arrived and found them peopled by non-Indians in Indian garb. I brought a white friend who had never been to a Pow Wow and because she is a shopper she insisted on visiting all of the vendor booths that circled the arena. Since I had nothing better to do I joined her. Big mistake.

In every booth for four booths in a row somebody felt the need to say something anti-Indian to me. All the vendors were white men and I was wearing my Seminole jacket and had my hair in braids. A caustic combo apparently. After four stops and four insults I told my friend I wanted to sit out the shopping expedition. She understood. In fact she was shocked by all the bad behavior.

She turned to me and asked in all sincerity why a person who hates Indians would sell Indian artifacts and go to Pow Wows for a living?

Good question, my friend. I wish I didn't know the answer. I wish I was blissfully ignorant. It would be so much easier.

"They act like that because they don't like Indians," I told her. "Just Indian stuff. Dead Indian stuff."

I went home still wondering where all the Indians in Central Florida were.

Then I heard about this Spiritualist camp. The religion of spiritualism shares many beliefs with Native American religions and it turns out that the founder of one particular Florida settlement claimed to have been led by Native American spirits to the tract of land. Many early Spiritualists wrote books they channeled from Native American spirits and most of the mediums in the settlement claimed to have Indian Spirit Guides. In general, Native American culture and beliefs appeared to be held in high regard in this community.

Or so I thought.

Then I met church members who were holding ceremonies and organizing their own tribe. They called themselves Indians, burned sage, and had monthly meetings compete with drums and dancing. They seemed harmless enough- hobbyists perhaps?- until they began to actively try to get federal status as a tribe. Why become a tribe? They wanted to be able to become healing practitioners, to bill themselves as medicine men and women, to give mediumistic readings without following state laws regulating such practices and they wanted to sell Indian items without paying taxes. They openly pitched this ability to make money as Indians to potential recruits as the benefits of joining their "tribe."

Nobody invited me to join their tribe (somehow they knew better) but I overheard their recruitment speech one day at a church event.

My mouth dropped so far so fast it took a week to close it. Were they serious? Did they really think they had a right as white people to benefit from treaty obligations the federal government had with tribes as a result of stealing land? And why so shameless? How can people claim to love Indians and want to exploit them? Oh, right, they don't love Indians, just Indian ways.

So just when I had resigned myself to making the four hour drive to the rez, I got schooled on where all the Indians were.....

There had been a rash of small time burglaries in the community, all committed by white men against the residents late at night. Then, the unthinkable happened: tourists visiting the Camp in broad daylight were robbed on the street by armed gunmen.

Word spread like wildfire: this small time spiritual community was no longer safe. Officers in the Religious Association began sending out emails to the membership alerting the residents to the danger and advising them on how to be safe. An email went out describing a "suspicious looking black man" prowling the area. Only later did an email go out informing people that the armed gunmen and women were all white.

Next an email went out advising residents to talk to their neighbors and to be alert. It was suggested that people begin to employ a codeword to alert one another when a dangerous person was nearby. Guess what code phrase the Association Officer recommended?

She suggested, "Have You Seen Any Indians?"