Returning to the Roots: Pathways and Strategies for Resurgence in Indigenous Communities

Returning to the Roots: Pathways and Strategies for Resurgence in Indigenous Communities

Being born into a race or culture is not enough to sustain one’s heritage. This is especially crucial for Indigenous peoples who desire longevity for their culture and history. Leanne Simpson, an Indigenous writer and academic, paints a beautiful image of the choice mixed Indigenous peoples must make to avoid the destruction of self-identity. An elder had shown her Nishnaabeg teaching rocks that contained three paths: the one on the left represented the White way of life, the right represented the Nishnaabeg path, and the middle ended abruptly. The elder explained that it was the path of those who had “mixed blood,” and that those who walked it had little time to get on another path (Simpson 73). Resurgence is defined as an increase or revival after a period of little activity, popularity, or occurrence. There are several pathways or strategies, Simpson argues, that will aid in a resurgence for the Nishnaabeg and Indigenous people alike by restoring ancient teachings: the need to confront funding mentality; the need to confront linguistic genocide; the need to vision resurgence; using ancient treaty and diplomatic mechanisms to build solidarity with neighboring nations. To perpetuate that for future Indigenous generations, the people of the present must set aside divisions over mixed blood and status and instead focus on decolonization and restoration of values (Simpson 74).

The perfect system requires returning to the ancient Indigenous teachings that show the future generations the value of their heritage and way of life. However, Simpson cautions that the method by which the ancient knowledge is taught is equally important to what is be taught. According to Nishnaabeg Knowledge Keepers, “the process…use[d] for transferring that knowledge will either positively or negatively influence the outcome.” (74). It is not enough to show Indigenous children the way; they should be led by example and encouraged to appreciate and respect their cultural background. Instead of being shown their heritage behind an observation glass, the children should be actively a part of their language, have a strong connection to the land, and practice Bzindamowinan (listening) to be fully immersed in their culture (Simpson 74). This cannot be accomplished if the teachers, the adult Indigenous peoples who hold the most influence, are not doing those things considering the Knowledge systems. Settler systems usually misinterpret Indigenous teachings and the government education systems will not show children the Indigenous children the way, so it is fully the responsibility of Indigenous peoples to ensure their future generations are brought up correctly.

One strategy necessary for the resurgence is the removal of the funding mentality that plagues many Indigenous peoples. The need for funds to aid desired projects and programs often puts Indigenous peoples at the whims of both government and private organizations. These institutions are usually looking for their best interests over the Indigenous peoples’ and are unlikely to fund anything that supports decolonization. The answer is not to convince these organizations to fund said projects, but rather to utilize tested methods for decolonization. Simpson believes in growth without funding, such as grandparents teaching their children the ancient ways, and communities and families supporting the Knowledge Holders (77). The ways in which this knowledge is passed is also crucial, and Simpson suggests returning to the oral methods of teaching. It served Indigenous people well for many years and the fact that it is not written down does not make it less effective than Western ways of pedagogy. Excessive written record also destroys natural resources, argues Simpson, which are already in dire danger (77).

It is not enough to revert to one’s cultural ways of knowledge if the traditions are merely observed as opposed to being practiced and utilized daily. A culture’s language is a cornerstone of the heritage and should not be taken lightly. “Too often,” says Simpson, “I have academics, non-Native and Native, myself included, speak and write about the importance of language…only then to go on and speak or write entirely in English.” (78). English is incapable of fully expressing the Indigenous Knowledge systems because Indigenous languages were created to have a symbiont relationship with the culture of beliefs of Indigenous peoples. Many of the ancient laws and teachings are strictly in Indigenous languages, much like how the Torah remains in Hebrew to honor Judaic tradition and value. If Indigenous peoples across the world do not try to teach children their cultural language, “as many as 90 to 95% of the world’s spoken languages…may be facing extinction by the end of the present century.” (Simpson 79). The rebirth of native language could be greatly aided by allowing Knowledge Holders to play a crucial part in the education of Indigenous children, even if that means combatting traditional Western ways of academia. Strategies such as the Master Apprentice Language Learning Program are perfect embodiments of what it means to pair Knowledge Holders with students for optimal language learning without requiring the assistance of colonial government and education programs.

Nishnaabeg Knowledge Holders teach that the first step in change is a dream or vision (Simpson 81). Simpson illustrates the importance of vision by sharing a story of when she asked Indigenous students at the University of Victoria to come up with a better plan than the British Columbia Treaty Process. At first, the students were stuck on the flaws of the Treaty, unable to offer up a viable solution. When they began to formulate their own ideas, Simpson learned that brainstorming and dreaming “laid out a long-term strategy to move forward.” (82). The power of vision cannot be underestimated. However, vision is lost without action, and therefore it should always be a fluid and ongoing process. The Indigenous Knowledge Holders believe a powerful tool in inciting vision is to create a strong connection to the land (Simpson 82). Elaborate education systems and programs funded by the government are hardly necessary to create this connection. It can be accomplished virtually free by simply providing the time and space to allow students to formulate their own relationships with the nature around them (Simpson 82). The local elders, not curriculum, are instrumental in the success of this strategy.

These educational tactics are lost if Indigenous peoples cannot find a way to relate to neighboring nations to build solidarity. Reviewing old treaties and international relationships among Indigenous nations can provide “contemporary models for Indigenous solidarity in both urban and reserve settings.” (Simpson 83). Knowledge Holders and elders are helpful in this area because they understand the political traditions that made ancient treaties successful. Reverting to these ancient ways, however, requires a deep commitment to one’s heritage and traditions (Simpson 83). For the Nishnaabeg Nation, pre-colonization relations were based on values from the Seven Grandfather Teachings which were formularized through the concept of “Gdoo-naaganinaa, Our Dish.” (Simpson 83). The idea behind the concept was that all native peoples were eating out of the same dish, i.e. their territory and the resources that came with it. This was strongly driven by environmental awareness and concern, and the mutual respect for the land allowed multiple adjoined Indigenous nations to live in harmony. Each nation was expected to follow their own traditions and governance while respecting the lives of those around them, both human and non-human. Returning to this method would allow Indigenous peoples to better free themselves from the shackles of colonization while simultaneously returning to their traditions and culture.

The answer for resurgence lies not in support from external organizations; instead, it found in within Indigenous communities. Newer is not always better, and in the case of decolonization, Indigenous peoples will only be successful in creating a flourishing culture for generations to come if they revisit the ancient teachings that have withstood the trial of time. By utilizing local elders, Knowledge Holders, native languages, and nature a classroom, Indigenous culture will resurge without external funding and systems. Native cultures must not be afraid to break away from the Western traditions that were forced upon them during colonial times. The Indigenous way is radically different in how it relates to the land and being a part of this world, and the Knowledge Holders are the key to adequately dispersing this information to future generations (Simpson 85). It will only be successful, however, if Indigenous peoples are willing to risk the separation from the annihilating jaws of Western culture. Only then will the children choose the right path.

Works Cited

Simpson, Leanne. Lighting the Eighth Fire: The Liberation, Resurgence and Protection of

Indigenous Nations. Winnipeg: ARP., 2008. Print.

Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 4 of a Semester’s Reflections

Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 4 of a Semester’s Reflections

*Please read Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 1 of a Semester’s Reflections for an explanation of this series. This week’s post is a response to a reading from an insightful book on successfully publishing serious non-fiction. Chapter 1 was the assigned reading for the week, and in it, Rabiner emphasized the importance of audience, audience, audience. Below is the question prompt followed by my response.

In your blog post for this week, I want you to take a stab at telling the story of how you became interested in the topic, as well as how you came upon the question that now drives you. Ask yourself the questions that Rabiner asks on the top of page 78. This material might make it into your proposal rough draft; it might become a building block with which you address questions 1 & 2 (and maybe 3), setting the stage to transition into material that addresses the other “big five” questions. In any case, you’ll be pushing your thoughts in the direction that Rabiner insists they need to go for the proposal. Remember, the proposal is not the place where you need to defend your argument or outline all its steps in detail. Editors really want to get a sense of the big picture: the scope, the guiding question, the basic thesis, the audience, how your mind works, and what your voice sounds like. You’ll need some details to animate and substantiate the proposal, but you certainly can’t acknowledge everything that the book will cover — indeed, too many details at this stage may cloud your project’s appeal.

I suppose most children are drawn to animals at one point or another, especially due to the non-human main characters that cover the DVD cases of most animated movies. Little girls especially, I am told, are often drawn to horses, puppies, and kittens. Now, I love all of the above and will be the first to tell you I’d chose an animal’s company over a human’s most of the time (they are the best conversational partners), but something in me was drawn to the wilder nature of forest creatures. Wild horses, tigers, mountain lions, and foxes were some of my favorites, but wolves inspired a feeling in me unlike any other. They were more like cats than dogs, it seemed, fearless and self-aware. I knew they were dangerous, but every time I gazed into the eyes of one (through a screen or page, of course) I never saw savagery. Rather, they seemed to have respect for the natural order of things and a cunning that was outmatched. Often shown as the antagonist in media, I cherished the film Balto and books like Jack London’s White Fang because they showed a pure and loving side of wolves. They were still fierce, but beautiful. Dangerous, but just. Protective, but loving.

My interests with wolves and nature never faded, but it was raised to a new level when I began taking courses at my local community college a persuasive speech class followed by an environmental science class led me to uncover the atrocities of our food system, the guinea pig testing of human with harsh chemicals, and the detrimental impact industry-hungry humans have had on the environment. The more I unearthed, the angrier I became. My anger turned to passion, which turned to further research. I have been blessed with teachers who have strived to show me the truth and encouraged me to examine more on my own. When it became evident to me that the forests and animals I loved were in grave danger, my tree-hugging Oregonian spirit awoke in me a desire to speak out for the voiceless.

I have been told that I’m a leader. An inspirer. But what I want to do is build a wall of protection around my sacred place and make the government and industry pay for it. The trees cannot cry out. The birds cannot protest. The rivers cannot relocate. The mountain lions cannot defend themselves. They need guardians. I want to emphasize that plural because one guardian just simply isn’t enough. If I evoke such inspiration in people and can coerce them into following my bidding, then I implore people to stand up for their earthly home. Regardless of what you believe, we are responsible and tied to this world and we do serve a purpose in it.

Wolves became symbolic of my environmental passions this past year because they are how I see the natural world. Dangerous, beautiful, meaningful, and worthy of protecting. Even if you aren’t the outdoorsy type and you prefer penthouses to cabins and skyscrapers to mountains, they environment places an intricate role in your survival and well-being. Be it a selfish motivation or not, people need to realize that they are in a symbiont relationship with the natural world. Still, the environment is too broad an organism to be the face of this call, so in an attempt to preserve it all, I deem the wolves worthy representatives of nature in America. They are intricately woven into its purpose and their story is the perfect poster child for raising awareness. The wolf symbolizes everything America once stood for: independence, strong family/friend bonds with those in your community; a fresh start in new territory; establishment and sustainability with respect to the surrounding world; a natural and cooperative order of leadership established by the pack. But like the decline of American values, the wolves and their habitat are ever diminishing.

Coming back to the prompt for this week, I believe there are two overarching questions driving my interest in this book concept:

  1. Wolves, and much of the American environment as we know it, were nearly eradicated until the environmental awakening in the sixties and seventies. Despite the progress and new laws, we are now—forty years later—nearly back to where we started. What changed to make Americans so careless and selfish again? What happened to the environmental protests of our parents and grandparents? What happened to the fight against the industry in favor of our land, animals, and well-being? Why has progress been little to none on the Homefront, the New World?
  2. Following question one, question two beckons the answer as to what the solution is. What is necessary to snap people out of their cyberspace (I acknowledge I write this hypocritically from a laptop and post it on my blog—the internet can be used for good, it just often is not) comfort zones and act? Is it the responsibility of the people to make the small day to day changes to protect the wolves, or does it simply require protesting and petitions, making it ultimately the responsibility of the lawmakers and industry leaders?

These are the questions that surface in my mind multiple times a day, and I hope I can uncover the answers as I work through this book proposal. If nothing else, maybe I can awake the questions in your mind. The goal, as my environmental political science professor likes to say, is to raise more questions, not find the answers and rest content.

A Coastal Girl’s Journey to the Mountains and Her Undying Obsession with All Things Furry

A Coastal Girl’s Journey to the Mountains and Her Undying Obsession with All Things Furry

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not man the less, but nature more.”

-Lord Byron

            I have cared for the environment and animals as long as I can remember, but looking back, I can see clear nuances that affected my view of nature as I grew. At some point in my journey, my interest in the environment changed from that of casual admiration to a fiery passion for something I both respected and wanted to preserve. My love for animals has been a driving factor, but I have recently begun to see the day-to-day impacts caused by excessive consumption. My Oregon home is a cherished place to me due to its easy access to nature, and I have adopted Colorado as my second home for similar reasons. It is frightening to imagine a society stripped of natural resources and accessibility to nature, and I am thankful for the people and circumstances that have shaped my life to make me a person who seeks cooperation and harmony with the environment. After all, I have always been taught that we are stewards of this world and all in it, and therefore we must treat the environment with love and care.

My mother’s side of the family remains a mystery due to the unknown identity of my grandfather and the circumstances she was raised in, so for this reflection, I will focus on my father’s side. From what I recall, the Herolds (my maiden name) immigrated from Germany sometime during the early 1800s and settled in what is today North Dakota. I believe they were primarily farmers, raising cattle and chickens, living off the land, working in mills. The story I know best begins with my grandfather, Claude Herold, when he met my grandmother, Mary Jayne (a young woman of French and English descent mixed with some Niitsitapi or Blackfoot Indian), and they moved out west and settled in Oregon. Grandpa became a logger at the local mill in Coos Bay and Grandma worked as a CNA at a hospital. They had four children and owned several hundred acres inland. Staying true to their roots, they raised cows, chickens, goats, horses, and the like, as well as maintained multiple gardens. Grandpa eventually built a shop a hundred yards from the house because he loved working with his hands, and he also added an entire half by hand to the original house they purchased using lumber from the mill he worked at. The Herolds lived simply and liked their space, valuing family, faith, and hobbies above all else.

My father, Richard Herold, was more academically and artistically inclined than the rest of his family, and he attended the University of Oregon in Eugene to study history. He met my mother, Cristie Sanchez (a young woman born in Los Angeles to a full-blooded Italian woman and a mystery father) a summer later, and when they married they settled in the center of Oregon’s city life: Portland. My dad simultaneously served as a pastor and began pursuing a Master’s, and my mom quickly became pregnant with me. I was born in the city and grew up surrounded by culture and buildings. I remember little things about Portland, like how colorful it was in spirit and how easily accessible recycling and inner-city transit systems were. The city always seemed alive, but I developed a special interest in nature at a young age. Books and stuffed animals were my best friends, and I treasured trips to the aquarium and summer campouts. I begged for a pet constantly. We still frequently visited my family in the country, however, and when I was about six years old, we moved back to my father’s hometown. We still lived in the city—if you could call a town of 15,000 people that—but my three younger siblings and I could visit the country almost every week.

My grandparents lived only 20 minutes from town, and my father’s brother and his family ended up purchasing the land just down the road from them. My cousin, Emily, was my best friend, and all of us lived and breathed the outdoors. I spent countless days running through fields, riding horses, picking up chicken eggs, raising animals, helping my grandma in her garden, hiking, climbing trees, swimming in the ocean or rivers or lakes, dancing around tidepools, and only the Lord knows how many nights under the stars. If I was not outside, I was reading. I loved many classic books (stories and writing are my other passions), but I also spent many hours reading about forests, wolves, tigers, and horses. I finally got my first pet, a Siamese cat I aptly named Nala, and that only strengthened my lifelong passion for loving and protecting as many animals as I met. In summary, much of my childhood relation to nature was like a young, spring romance filled with only the fondest of memories.

Around my sixteenth birthday, my family moved to Colorado Springs. I was bitter about leaving home, but Colorado’s mountains eventually won me over, whether I would like to admit it or not. My nuclear family has never been as nature-dependent as my extended family, but we still spent the weekends out camping and hiking. It was not until my first year of college that I felt a true passion for sustainability and the environment. I was taking a public speaking class and ended up doing a final persuasive speech on our current food system in America. The findings disgusted me, and my then boyfriend and I made the decision to switch to primarily organic, humane, and local-sourced food. My education continued to further my interests, and future environmental science and writing classes gave me a hunger for a sustainable lifestyle. We made choices to recycle, to reuse more, to waste less food, we and tried to purchase environmentally-friendly items for both hygiene and household. We also rescued three pets, with hopefully more to come. I am currently in the process of making more hygiene and household items homemade and natural, and now that we are married we are trying to plan a sustainable future for our family. Ideally, we hope to have land and a small house one day and use it sustainably, much like my family back in Oregon.

Although my inclinations towards preserving the beauty of creation are somewhat innate to my being, I accredit my family and upbringing to fully raising up those passions. Had I not been taught to respect the environment and animals from a young age and been constantly encouraged to spend time outside and read, I do not believe I would care for it the way I do now. The leaders in my life (my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and now my husband) have always lead by example, quietly commanding respect and inspiring me to have the same for the world we live in. Do not litter. Be gentle to animals. Go outside. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Take care of your belongings and land. Everything in this life is a gift. We connect to each other and to our Creator best when we cast aside the mediocre possessions of this world and focus on what really matters. Nuggets of wisdom like these were passed down through my family subtly but intentionally, and it paved the way for my desire to have a harmonious and cooperative relationship with the environment around me. If I can live a life that reflects that, and persuade others to do the same, perhaps then I will have fulfilled my role as steward.

Screaming Without Voices: An Overview of the Cause, Effect, and Extent of Sexual Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada

Screaming Without Voices: An Overview of the Cause, Effect, and Extent of Sexual Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada

Whether the media chooses to acknowledge the truth or not, the fact remains that sexual violence towards Indigenous women and girls in both the United States and Canada is prevalent. Although hostility and sexual assault towards Indigenous women date back to early settlement days when they were used as forms of subjugation or annexation, many factors are still present today and contribute to overwhelming statistics. In fact, the Amnesty International Report found in 2007 that American government statistics show “Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the USA.” (Maze of Injustice 1). Taking place over several decades, Amnesty International Report published a detailed research paper in 2004 documenting the violent crimes committed against nine Indigenous women and girls (Stolen Sisters 2). This study concluded that the Canadian government could have done more investigative work to bring justice to the perpetrators, and it also identified several factors that make Indigenous women particularly vulnerable to violence.

One factor that contributes to violence towards Indigenous women in Canada is “social and economic marginalization…along with a history of government policies that have torn apart Indigenous families and communities…” (Stolen Sisters 2). This issue has resulted in many Indigenous women being placed into treacherous situations such as poverty and homelessness which can lead to undesirable vocations like prostitution. For the women who have, willingly or not, chosen prostitution to make ends meet, sexual assault and violence are common. Even though “under Canadian law, the act of prostitution is not illegal,” many acts surrounding the publicity and circumstances of prostitution are criminal (Stolen Sisters 16). The threat of being arrested is enough to prevent many women from reporting the violent crimes against them, resulting in missed opportunities for investigating and prosecution. This means the offenders learn that they can get away with violent acts towards prostitutes and women of similar occupations, resulting in an increased number of assaults. In the rare event that a case makes it to court-level assessment, the criminals often remain inadequately punished. The trial for Pamela George in 1995 is a perfect example of the inequality. Two 20-year-old white males forced George, a 28-year-old Indigenous mother of two daughters, to perform oral sex and then beat her to death on the side of a road, but they were only convicted of manslaughter (the sexual assault charges were dropped because she was a prostitute) and sentenced to a meager six years in prison (Stolen Sisters 25).

Another common factor is tied directly to the Canadian police force. The authorities have not made it a priority to implement changes that would protect Indigenous women going forward, and therefore violence towards them continues to ensue on a widespread level. Some discriminatory views are products of the colonization-centered mindset which recognizes Indigenous men and women alike as being less than first-class citizens. That mentality plagues many of those who administer the criminal justice system, including judges, prosecutors, and police. They often embrace the ubiquitous opinion that “women are responsible for violence committed against them or that they deserve to be punished for non-conforming behavior.” (Stolen Sisters 7). Many of the cases that make it to court are overlooked due to alleged insufficient evidence which causes the severity of the punishment to be greatly lessened—assuming charges are pressed in the first place. When crimes are initially committed against an Indigenous woman, families have often described how “police failed to act promptly when their sisters or daughters went missing, treated the family disrespectfully, or kept the family in the dark about how the investigation – if any – was proceeding.” (Stolen Sisters 17). Since crimes are best assessed in the early stages to increase the odds of capturing and punishing a culprit, the authorities are doing a disservice to Indigenous women and their families by refusing to act with urgency when a crime is reported.

The fact that the previous two factors exist leaves Indigenous women further vulnerable to future crimes. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous men see an opportunity when the law is not being enforced sufficiently, and therefore the number of attacks against Indigenous women only continues to rise. Janet Henry was a victim of multiple factors, starting with the government removing her from her home and placing her in foster care when her mother struggled to financially support the children after her father’s death (Stolen Sisters 27). Henry remained strong through that ordeal, but following a divorce where she lost custody of her child, she was forced to take up residence in an impoverished and dangerous area on the Eastside of downtown Vancouver. Henry, like many women living there during that time, ended up finding work in various sex trades. In 1997, her family reported her as missing, a circumstance that was increasingly common with Indigenous women in that vicinity. The local police rarely took the claims seriously, even refusing to offer rewards for information on the missing women when they would do exactly that to locate robbers and other minor criminals in affluent communities (Stolen Sisters 27). Henry’s sister, Sandra Gagnon, reported the following: “I can guarantee you that if it wasn’t the Downtown Eastside and they weren’t hookers, something would have been done in an instant.” (Stolen Sisters 27). The lack of police intervention only minimizes the validity of the violent acts committed against Indigenous women, creating an influx in crimes.

Finally, racism can trigger acts of violence towards Indigenous women. This can manifest in attacks motivated purely by the attacker’s racial discrimination, but it can also occur because of the lack of legal justification for Indigenous women in Canada’s criminal justice system. If an attacker knows the consequences are not as detrimental for assaulting an Indigenous woman versus a non-Indigenous woman, it would simply be wiser for him to target the former. Many statistics suggest that racism amongst those in the legal system has created an illusion that Indigenous people do not deserve protection and instead are a group of people the rest of society must be protected from. The Manitoba Justice Inquiry emphasized the impact of racism when they suggested that “the over representation of Indigenous people in the justice system may partly stem from the predisposition of police to charge and detain Indigenous people in circumstances ‘when a white person in the same circumstances might not be arrested at all, or might not be held.’” (Stolen Sisters 18). Finally, many Indigenous communities distrust the local police force not only because of discrimination to their culture but also because the police force has been used to force Indigenous children into foster care systems for supposed optimal forms of education and upbringing, ensuing in homes torn apart by government interference. This results in Indigenous peoples feeling “over-policed” but “underprotected.” (Stolen Sisters 18).

If these factors remain unaddressed, it will be nearly impossible to overcome the violence directed at Indigenous women. There are several solutions proposed in the study that, when applied at both local and national levels, will greatly alleviate the crimes these women experience while simultaneously bringing better justice for those who have been violated. One obvious, but nonetheless difficult, resolution is for the Canadian government to simply acknowledge the problem and admit fault on a national level. Without admitting a problem exists, it is impossible to further address it. Another suggestion is to set aside resources dedicated to the research of crimes against Indigenous women. “In consultation with Indigenous peoples’ organizations and organizations representing ethnic minorities,” research should be focused on the cause and extent of the violence towards Indigenous women (Stolen Sisters 35). Specifically relating to the local Canadian police force branches, authorities should be trained to take immediate and action and treat these situations with urgency, and this cannot be achieved unless additional training and resources are provided to the police “to make prevention of violence against Indigenous women a genuine priority.” (Stolen Sisters 36). Finally, on a wide scale approach, the Canadian government must work directly with Indigenous administrations to “address the social and economic factors that lead to Indigenous women’s extreme vulnerability to violence” and “end the marginalization on Indigenous women in Canadian society.” (Stolen Sisters 35). Unless these steps are taken to abate violence against Indigenous women on both local and national levels, crimes will prevail and continue to grow.

Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 3 of a Semester’s Reflections

Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 3 of a Semester’s Reflections

*Please read Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 1 of a Semester’s Reflections for an explanation of this series. This week’s post is a response to a reading from an insightful book on successfully publishing serious non-fiction. Chapter 1 was the assigned reading for the week, and in it, Rabiner emphasized the importance of audience, audience, audience. Below is the question prompt followed by my response.

In your blog post for this week, use your thoughts about audience to further refine the scope and angle of your idea. To appeal more clearly to readers who are passionate about a particular interest (i.e., not just history or biography, but say military history or biographies of women), how might you alter the key questions and focal points driving your idea? In the early stages of brainstorming, we often deal with our topics in too general a fashion (probably to assure ourselves that we won’t run short on material). But clinging that such safety blankets runs the risk of being too generic. View this week’s blog post as an opportunity to make a big, perhaps daring decision about the scope of your book. We’ll start working on the proposal in the coming weeks. Sharpening this connection between your core audience and your book idea is an extremely important step to get your ideas into proposal-ready shape.

Cold feet. That was my first reaction to Rabiner’s dissection of the hypothetical book pitches discussed in chapter one. Out of the four proposed books, I was instinctively drawn to the Women Who Kill topic and shocked when it missed the bar. The other three topics seemed equally convincing to me, and I couldn’t fathom why anyone would toss the content aside. As the chapter went on, it became obvious why. The topics made great fiction, magazine, articles, journalism pieces, and TV specials, but none had a clearly defined and understood audience for the field of serious non-fiction. They all had, as Rabiner put it, an “audience identification problem.” (43). Other nuggets of wisdom included the need to make your book stand out from the others in its genre, the importance of idea books over practice books (for professions), and the fact that being an expert on a topic is not enough to guarantee successful sales.

I’m grudgingly revaluating my topic now, due to my enlightenment. I’m not arguing with Rabiner at all, hence the hesitation. I’m simply fearful of stepping outside of my interests and into the mindset of a sales-driven editor (rightly so, it’s their job, after all), or worse, into that of a partially interested modern-day reader who has little precious time to waste on the frivolities of reading. Netflix awaits, of course.

Here goes my dissection. May the odds be ever in my favor.

Last week I discovered that my content is best-suited for the Current Affairs & Politics section of any given bookstore—virtual or not. That’s still a big genre, however, filled with little niche groups. And people are generally more polarized than anything (except maybe religion) when it comes to Current Affairs & Politics. What one person loves might send another hissing into the corner, making my target audience selection and catering even more crucial. Jumping back to the fictional book concepts used for illustration in the chapter, one of them failed because the content was ill-suited for an entire book. It should have been a magazine article. I believe my strength lies here. I’m not writing a book about the history of wolves, their lifespan and attributes, or the fact that they are becoming extinct. Instead, I’m using bits of all of those topics to support a stronger claim: wolves are a crucial part of our ecosystem and if we do not do something to address the mistreatment that has been ongoing for hundreds of years, we will wipe out yet another species and add a notch of the belt of mankind’s destruction. It’s thesis in progress, but, hopefully, the idea is there.

Another reason a book failed was because it was catered to a professional or scholarly audience as opposed to a general interest audience. I also feel good about this because my content is not aimed at environmental scientists and wolf researchers (although I’d hope they’d enjoy it), but rather environmentally conscious adults and people with a love for wolves or animals in general. I’m a connoisseur of this genre, and so I’m hoping to bait that niche group of readers who are already concerned about our world and what we are doing to it. It’s broad enough to grab those who aren’t necessarily die-hard save-the-wolves-junkies, but specific enough to single those readers out.

The third reason for a failed book was the inability to correctly define the audience. Essentially the audience is not solely those who find the title compelling. I don’t have a title yet, but picking up on that last paragraph, I’d continue to say that the correct audience is those who are environmentally aware. Although my goal and dream would be to reach those who don’t care, realistically, readers that err towards that conservationist way of thinking are going to be most likely to pick up a book that recommends we respect non-human life. The purpose of my book, then, isn’t to prove the wrong that they are wrong and turn them. Instead, the goal should be to hook like-minded readers and empower them to make a difference. It makes more sense to strengthen an able and skilled fighter than to force a couch potato to turn off the TV.

Finally, the first book’s issue was that it was simply not compelling to the core audience of the genre. It was a book for non-fiction art that didn’t have a strong grounding in purpose or in a famous artist. This question is a bit scary to me because assessing the interest levels of hypothesized people is no easy feat. What makes my content stand out? What’s my angle? I think it’s to derive meaning from the madness. It’s easy to argue positions, to throw out numbers, to hypothesize about the future. But I believe people do have hearts, and drawing an underlying meaning or playing this out in light of the human condition con make it relevant or real. I want to take this from being just another issue or political debate and make it a matter of ethics on a deep and primal level.

I’ve got a long way to go, but this chapter has helped me realize that I’m strengthening allies instead of challenging enemies with this book and that I need to continue to set it apart from other books in this genre to make it stand out.

Rabiner, Susan, and Alfred Fortunato. Thinking like your editor: how to write great serious nonfiction—and get it published. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002. Print.

 

The Cultural Genocide of Indigenous Children Through Legal Means

The Cultural Genocide of Indigenous Children Through Legal Means

The fact remains however, that the ideas used to construct and maintain such patterns of domination are not a physical container, nor a physical object; they are nothing more than mental processes. The paradigm of domination is more and foremost, a product of the mind.

Steven Newcomb

            Genocide is often taken in its literal sense: the slaughter or massacre of a large group of people, particularly those of a specific ethnic group or nation. What is not so easily understood is that genocide can occur on a non-physical level by infiltrating the very culture of a certain group of people. Eradication of a people does not always end in a physical death or extraction from society (though that is often the case). Rather, many genocidal acts are manifested in assimilation. The act of dissolving one culture into another is far subtler and met with less resistance than the archaic form of annihilation. The removal of killing, however, is hardly preferable to the alternative. A lost identity can be exceedingly harmful and its effects nearly irreversible. Tamara Starblanket, a Cree scholar, believes the Canadian government is guilty of committing genocidal acts to Indigenous children through the eradication of their culture in boarding schools. If the Canadian government does not admit to their assimilation (intentional or not) and make drastic changes in the education system, a generation of indigenous culture will be lost, further perpetuating the genocide of native peoples.

One of Starblanket’s first arguments is that “the colonial mission could not have been accomplished without the widespread harm experienced by Indigenous Peoples’ children in government-controlled residential schools and child welfare systems.” (3). Even though Indigenous peoples are no longer slaughtered, the colonial genocide is still greatly at work through the means of cultural eradication. Per the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, one of the specific definitions of genocide is “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (Starblanket 4). The Canadian government violates this in many ways, including placing Indigenous children in foster homes so they can have direct control over a child’s upbringing, and therefore, education. “The peace and friendship treaties made between Indigenous Nations and the Crown of Great Britain early in the colonial invasion of Great Turtle Island” require Indigenous peoples to be subjects of international law, removing most of their rights and say in the matter. Much of this is rooted in historical treaties that were perverted in favor of the settlers.

The Cree people created the Treaty Six in 1876 to confirm their deep connection to Creation, basing their proposed legal system as a way to protect and respect the land. While peace was made with the colonial settlements, “the authority to protect the land or underlying title and their children was never relinquished or surrendered by Indigenous Nations.” (Starblanket 6). Instead, settlers violated their treaties using deceitful repartee and, ultimately, forcing the children of Indigenous peoples to partake in setter culture exclusively, negating the culture and history of the natives. This process was considered benevolent by settlers, a “grand object that justified colonialism as a means of redeeming the backward, aberrant, violent, oppressed underdeveloped people of the non-European world by incorporating them into the universal civilization of Europe.” (Starblanket 7). The argument was that it was for their own good and development, masking genocide even further under the guise of progress. This gave the Canadian government permission to continue their assimilation of Indigenous peoples by means of education, furthering the evidence that “forced civilisation is a process of colonialism.” (Starblanket 9).

The indoctrination of Indigenous children through the education system traces back to 1883 when John A. MacDonald explicitly requested the Canadian House of Commons “to change the ‘uncivilised’ condition of the ‘savage’ Indian child to a child that would speak, think and write like a white person.” (Starblanket 10). Many other aspects of early colonial law and policy were rooted in racial superiority and social Darwinism. Once it became legal to force Indigenous children into the colonial education systems, no one raised an eyebrow as the Canadian government set out to “kill the Indian in the child.” (Starblanket 11). No one was being murdered, after all. Concern was renewed surrounding WWII as the United Nations revisited the meaning of genocide in light of the Nazi brutalities. Greek delegate Mr. Vallindas stated that “there could be no doubt that a forced transfer of children…constituted genocide…. [It] could be as effective a means of destroying a group as that of imposing measures intended to prevent births, or inflicting conditions of life likely to cause death.” (Starblanket 17). Many other delegates from around the world echoed their agreement that the method was, indeed, genocide, and most certainly still an ongoing issue. Still, the program continued through the omission of this international definition on a local level. Theodore Roosevelt has even been quoted in saying that state law and policy were to be a “mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass,” making it difficult to deny colonial intents for Indigenous children (Starblanket 20-21).

Genocide through indoctrination can be considered worse than massacre because of the long-term effects it has on a culture. Instead of wiping out a mass group of people, this form of genocide aims to destroy an entire culture through the assimilation of generations. Detrimental effects are too numerous to count, but they can include the following: eradication of language and traditions; a child viewing his or her own people as inferior; lack of identity because children do not recognize themselves as settlers or Indigenous peoples; developmental issues due to being removed from loving families and communities; depression culminating from all the other impactors (Starblanket 23-24). Principally, forcing Indigenous children into the Canadian government system has been generally dangerous both physically and mentally for Indigenous children, and it is undeniably a form of genocide. The psyche of a child is constantly at stake as they are frequently being forced to see themselves through the eyes of the colonial government. It is not happening on some small scale either, as in “some provinces 80 per cent of children in [welfare system] care are aboriginal, yet they make up only 5 per cent of the total population of Canada.” (Starblanket 25).

Current laws prevent Indigenous peoples’ capability to protect their children, specifically the omission of the international definition of genocide in the penal code. Moving away from colonized government is crucial in returning rights to Indigenous peoples, and in order to do so, Starblanket suggests “decolonised critical analysis is necessary to enable a true movement towards healing on a global level.” (34). Indigenous peoples must counteract the dehumanizing acts of colonial domination, thereby reestablishing a new identity as an Indigenous nation. This will only be attainable if nations like the United States and Canada are willing to acknowledge the crimes that have been committed—and, in some cases, are being carried on to this day—and seek reconciliation. For true peace and harmony amongst contrasting societies, and in an effort to avoid war, destruction, and persecution of peoples, all nations must be given the right and responsibility to live within their cultures laws, especially when it is causing no harm to surrounding nations. There is no one set of rules or type of government that is well-suited for all people, and mankind flourishes most when exposed to ample diversity.

Works Cited

Starblanket, Tamara. “‘Kill the Indian in the child’: Genocide in International Law.” Ed. Irene Watson. Indigenous Peoples as Subjects in International Law: We Were Here First. (Routledge, 2017): 1-36. Print.

Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 2 of a Semester’s Reflections

Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 2 of a Semester’s Reflections

*Please read Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 1 of a Semester’s Reflections for an explanation of this series. This week’s post is a response to a reading from an insightful book on successfully publishing serious non-fiction. Below is the question prompt followed by my response.

In your blog post for this week, I want you to follow up on your initial idea(s) expressed in your first blog post. Has anything Rabiner said thus far served to push or pull your thinking in a new direction? Does she give you a clearer sense of what serious nonfiction writing entails and how your idea(s) might be refined to fit better with the genre? If it helps, you could imagine you’re sitting in her office and sharing your early thoughts with her: How would she react to your ideas? What advice do you think she’d give you to help you move the idea(s) forward?

After getting over how cool it was that Rabiner had a hand in The Physics of Star Trek (I didn’t even know that existed!), it became apparent that she was more than qualified for this book. It felt like I was reading something I shouldn’t have access to. She gave many insightful examples and suggestions in the prologue and introduction, so I’m eagerly awaiting the next assigned reading. Several things stood out to me this week regarding my topic and the process of serious non-fiction writing and publishing.

  • I had never given much thought as to which category my book topic would fall under, so I was slightly appalled to learn that it’s rare for a book to be placed in multiple sections (darn mega-bookstores). It makes sense, of course, in the grand scheme of things. It just sucks for the writer in realizing you really must choose your target audience ever so carefully. I suppose that should be the premise anyway, but being forced into an even smaller category has its challenges. For my topic on the endangered lives of wolves in North America, it would seem simple enough to place. However, upon reviewing an extensive subject/genre list for non-fiction on Barnes&Noble.com, it appears I could place it into any of the following: Current Affairs & Politics, because the environment is, unfortunately, intrinsically intertwined with politics; Education, because I intend to educate people on the current state of the wolf population and the struggles they face; History, because the first section of the book will include a history of the wolves in North America; Nature, because, well, that’s self-explanatory. The obvious answer would be nature, but due to the nature (pun very intentional) of my book, I would rather it be in Current Affairs & Politics because this is ultimately an issue that needs to be addressed.
  • In light of that discovery, I can better visualize the direction I want my book to go in. I still want to cover the same topics outlined in my previous post—a brief history of the wolves in North America and the effect of settlers from the mid-1600s up to the environmental awaking in the twentieth century; recovery and rehabilitation efforts by environmentalists from the 1960s to the present; the benefit of wolves to our ecosystem and what will happen if things do not change or worsen; suggestions to sustain and grow the wolf population and specific ways people can help—but now I want to do so with a constant emphasis on politics while tying it into current affairs. People, the readers, need to see why this topic is relevant. I don’t want it to be lumped with all the nature books where we admire the environment from afar with little regard to how we impact it daily. I also don’t want it categorized as strictly history because a lot of the content will be current events. And while it should be educational, this is more than a teaching tool. Writing with the Current Affairs & Politics category in mind should help me keep my four sections streamlined, each one coming back to the main issue at hand and how we might resolve it as a nation. My intended formula is showing a problem exists, showing how that problem came to be, and, finally, showing ways to reverse the detrimental trend.
  • Finally, on a different note from my previous bullets, I’m happy Rabiner emphasized the importance of having a solidly constructed pitch before submitting materials to a publisher. It’s no longer (was it ever?) an industry—at least before you are established and recognized as a “published” author—where you simply toss out an idea and develop it on the go. To have your serious non-fiction submission taken seriously (puns on a roll today), you have to craft not only a detailed and well-thought out pitch, you also need to have a solid idea of every chapter of the book. What will cover? What genre does it fall under? What is the structure of each chapter? What’s each chapter’s individual goal? Will it come together as a cohesive book? Is it necessary? How is it different? Bottom line, you have to understand exactly what you intend to accomplish. The publishers and editors are only there to fine-tune your work, not to aid you in creating the raw material.

I have a long way to go with this project, but if every week gives me as much insight, I should have a solid proposal in no time. Until next week!

Rabiner, Susan, and Alfred Fortunato. Thinking like your editor: how to write great serious nonfiction—and get it published. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002. Print.