Monday, November 28, 2016

Final Poem for Native American Heritage Month and Standing Rock

We are ending Native American Heritage Month in a few days, and throughout the entire month, militarized police have been violently attacking the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, leaving hundreds with hypothermia and injuries, especially one elder in cardiac arrest, one young woman with a torn retina, and one young woman with an arm that she may lose, even after several surgeries. This poem is one I wrote about rivers and the concept of river, and perhaps it will offer a different way of looking at these great entities of creation beyond the concept of commodity or barrier to profit. Too often we forget that water is truly life.


The Cherokee call me Long Man,
yun wi gun hi ta,
because my body stretches and unravels
with my head in the mountains
and my feet resting in the ocean.
I constantly speak words of wisdom
to those who can understand me—
fewer every day.
It takes a quality of attention
fit for magicians or poets.
I have much to tell those
who expend the time and energy to listen.
I have seen so many things.
I know the history of rain
intimately, leaning on the world
to feel it on my skin
and take it inside me
to swell my body. Maybe,
they should have called me Long Woman.

I remember when
the mountains were home only to gods.
I knew your ancestors,
now tangled in the ground.
I swallowed my share and more.
I have seen innumerable generations
living into their deaths.
I am acquainted with the bones of earth,
ancient as the word of God
and stronger by far.
Men have tried forever
to change me and chain me,
but I still wander where I will
when I grow tired of being tame.
I remain the promise of tomorrow,
the hope of new growth
that haunts the night with hypnotic murmurs
and softens the edge between act and dream.

When all hope has fled,
come to me.

Published in TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism, 2015

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dreaming Fox--A Poem for Native American Heritage Month

I wanted to put another poem up for Native American Heritage Month, and I decided to post this one.

I’ve always taken for granted that I could see more of the natural world’s plants and animals, even in the city, than most other people I know here, who seem totally oblivious to a pair of golden eagles stunt-flying on the thermals overhead or the waddle of a beaver across a grassy knoll to his creek home. I know I owe this gift to my grandmother and aunt and uncle who taught me when I was young to pay attention to the land around me and its plant and animal inhabitants—and thus vastly enriched the rest of my life.

When the rest of my family erupted in chaos and violence, focusing on the natural world of which I was a part saw me through the pain and desperation. Nothing pulls me out of despair like going to water to see the dawn in and watch the dance of the real world behind the shabby drapery of made-up, pretend, commodified daily existence. 


Early on a Sunday walking
past a bank drive-through on a hill
above a creek running through the city
surrounded by a narrow band of wild growth
I see him and freeze
big dog fox stopped at the sight of me
one foot still in the air
tail of fire just brushing the uphill
shrubbery from which he came
we stand and stare
unable to move or breathe
his eyes staring into mine
against a background
murmur of morning traffic
neither of us supposed to be here
not me at this just-after-dawn-in-summer hour
not him in the middle of the city
curiosity more than fear
behind his big eyes I had always
thought foxes had small close-together eyes
from cartoons or wildlife films or something
like that but his are set attractively
distant from each other
an intelligent face staring
me down wanting me to turn
and run from the predator
he must have a den nearby
with mate and kits so he will stand
against me forever
if need be he must be afraid
he knows humans are dangerous
to his kind especially
if he lives here in the heart of the city he must
dread the moment he will have to take
me on so many times his size
and probably with noisy metal weapons
against his needle teeth and claws
feeble in the world of cars motorcycles sirens
thrown rocks gunshots in this neighborhood he will
do it nonetheless I watch him set down his foot
lightly the muscles of his haunches tense
to spring in one final hopeless suicidal
attack to damage and drive me off
away from the den down among the brush
on the banks of the urban creek
hidden deep among the willows
I wish I could follow him down there
to see his mate and babies
he is right to fear me and attack
that human curiosity impulse to know
to somehow own experience fatal
to him if someone less harmless sees
and follows he hunkers down on his tail
silent no warning growl prepared
to launch himself through the air at my throat
only he will not be able to leap
that high from the lower ground
where he stands he will have to settle
for chewing my waist and legs
taking pity on us both
I back away slowly still
holding his vulpine gaze he turns back
to the shelter of the woods with only
one long look back
to make sure I don’t follow
to make sure I was real
one flash of movement and all trace
of red gone only undergrowth he might
never have stood and stared into my human eyes
so early on a Sunday morning
in the heart of the city
leaving us both to wonder
if we dreamed he of a human
who did no harm me of a fox
who did not run improbable dreams

© Linda Rodriguez 2016

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Native American Heritage Month--A Poem for Standing Rock and #NoDAPL

I've been so frigging mad about the news coverage of the Standing Rock protests. The media, for the most part, can't be bothered to go out and actually investigate what's actually going on. No lattes out on the prairie. So they just take the word of the lying sheriff and governor. After NPR's recently, I just blew, and my poor husband had to listen. Finally, I decided to try to tame the anger in form. So, a sestina for Standing Rock.


I have run out of time
and patience with news coverage so
lazy and biased with a bow
always to
the company owners, powerful and rich,
and to what they want said.

It never matters what my people have said
again and again. Every time
government or corporate forces, so
violent and powerful, require us to bow
in submission, and we won't, the rich
dictate what's broadcast—and written, too.

When I try to explain to
well-meaning white friends, they've said,
“But disorder!” to which I reply each time,
“But oppression!” and sow
seeds of doubt in their comfort. The bough
must break some time and dump the rich

into the mud with the rest of us. The rich
tapestry of cultures that we are can't be reduced to
only WASP—Native, Black, Latino said
to be lesser, negligible, inferior. Each time
I hear this, the fire of anger grows within, so
hot and fierce. It's time for the ruling class's farewell bow.

So long we've stayed peaceful. Soon, it may be time for bow
and lance and rifle, if the rich
can't be compelled to lift the boot, too
sure of their own power to listen to what we've said.
They don't realize it, but they're running out of time.
In arrogance, they rip the fabric of the nation we sew

back together in new, shiny shapes, so
colorful, strange, stronger, tied with the bright bow
of human dignity and rich
gleam of equality and justice. To
those who've always had power and said
to the rest of us, “Give us time
to dole out bits of freedom,” we say, “No,” so...

You've run out of time. Now, reap what you sow.
We'll no longer bow in submission to
the demands of the white and rich. Hear what we've said.

© Linda Rodriguez 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Enough Already, 2016!

I have had it. I'm fed up with this year. We won't even talk about all the talented, loved figures who've died this year. There are always deaths like that, but this year, we were hit hard in this arena. Aside from the Angel of Death hovering over our favorite writers, actors, musicians, and other artists, this year has been downright ugly and mean—one could even say, nasty.

The election has thrown its grotesque, sinister shadow over the entire year, dredging up thousands of people who are happy to do and say—nay, shout—things that insult and demean whole swathes of the citizenry—immigrants, women, Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, Natives, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA people, teachers, veterans, journalists, and just about every other segment of society you can think of that isn't privileged White male. We've had one candidate running who's made no secret of his admiration for ruthless dictators and intention to become one himself and another candidate who's faced accusation and investigation after accusation and investigation, only to be repeatedly found innocent but tarred with the constant scandals, and we've had a national media who've falsely focused on those faux scandals while giving the would-be dictator a pass and billions of dollars of free publicity.

Every day, we think we've seen a new low in this election, surely the lowest it could ever go, only to have a newer, lower low replace the old one in the next day or so. We've watched Nazis, white nationalists, and the Ku Klux Klan roll out from under the rocks beneath which they'd had to hide for decades and parade openly with swastikas and Confederate flags in the would-be dictator's rallies, unashamedly retweeted by him and his campaign. The election has become a sickness infecting the entire country.

Then, there are the extrajudicial executions of people of color by modern, militarized police, the same police that our would-be dictator intends to use as shock troops to impose his will on the country, rounding up millions of people “from the first hour of [his] presidency,” the same police who enthusiastically endorse this man who openly brags about breaking laws and disregarding our constitution.

Add to all this, the standoff at Standing Rock, where Native nations from all over the United States have gathered to protect the Missouri River and their own sacred lands from destruction by a rapacious corporation. I have friends and relatives with the Oceti Sakowin Water Protectors, who are being attacked by dogs, pepper-sprayed, maced, teargassed, beaten, shot at, dragged from ceremonies and sweat lodges, strip-searched in public view, and caged, naked, in dog kennels by militarized police from seven different states—sort of a preview of what many of us in this country could expect at the hands of the would-be dictator if we're foolish enough to give him that power over us. When young students must throw themselves physically on top of elders to protect their more fragile bodies and bones from beatings with billy clubs and batons by men in law enforcement uniforms and combat gear, it seems the final straw in an ugly, hateful year.

The election will be over in a couple of days, and I hope and pray that the majority of voters in this land prove themselves to be sane and decent. But that will not do anything about the many others who have proved not to be either. As a country, we'll still have to deal with them, especially since they talk loudly about riots and violence if their dictator doesn't get the chance to rule us all. We'll still be dealing with militarized police who act like an occupying army in their own country. (I've had combat vets tell me they never rolled out in Afghanistan or even Fallujah in all the equipment these guys are using against their own citizens.) My relations will still be standing firm and peacefully as they're attacked, humiliated, and caged out in North Dakota. I want all of this nightmare to be over with the election, but I know it won't be. 2016, hateful year that it's been, seems determined to carry on its ugliness and hate into 2017.

Against this, I try to impose the facts that my husband and I are happier than we've ever been in our own private life, even as the public world seems more dangerous to us and more frightening, that I've come through a dark, physically threatening personal ordeal and am heading back to normal, that I have so many wonderful friends of all colors, races, ethnicities, classes, religions, and all other backgrounds who believe in the same love and tolerance that I do, that I do believe—in the long run—goodness, love, truth, and justice eventually triumph over hate and bigotry (though I fear that sometimes the long run is awfully long), that there are an awful lot of us working to bring decency and equality back into our public sphere.

2016, you've made it downright hard to remember these good truths, but I keep reasserting them against your miserable meanness. I can hardly wait to see your backside, nasty year. Good riddance, even though we won't be rid of most of your pestilent detritus. But it won't be the first time in this country's history that we've had a big moral cleanup job to face after a horrible paroxysm, i.e., mass deportations of citizens of Mexican descent in the 1930s, the camps for Japanese-Americans in the 1940s, the McCarthyism of the 1950s, the violent segregationists of the 1960s, and more before and after those. Every so often, the worst this country contains comes out publicly. Then, the good, decent folks, who usually spend their time quietly minding their own business, have to come out and clean house—and then work hard to mop up the resulting mess. But we always do. I remind myself of that.

2016, you've done your worst, and it's been pretty bad, but we decent folks of the U.S. are coming after you finally. We've had enough, and we're bringing our brooms, mops, and disinfectants with us. Your time has finally come.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Poem for National Breast Cancer Month--TO THE NURSE WHO TOLD ME TO GRIEVE FOR MY BREAST

Yesterday was my birthday, a time for reflection. I realized that National Breast Cancer Month had almost passed without me posting anything for it. In a way, that's a very good sign, a sign that my life is getting back to normal. After a battle with breast cancer that made me focus on that disease, I'm now too busy to pay it a lot of attention, except when I go in for my periodic appointments with my oncologist and my semi-yearly visit to the chemo clinic. 

Yet, I don't want to forget or ignore this month. It's important to recognize the struggle I've made and that countless other women are making every day. This year, as a way of giving back to the cancer clinic that gave me such excellent care, I'm giving a writing workshop for breast cancer survivors later this week. As usual, writing helped me through the ordeal, and I hope to give these women tools to help them make it through, as well.

To all the survivors out there, I salute you. To all the nurses and doctors and therapists who work with breast cancer patients, I thank you. And to all the caregivers out there, those spouses, lovers, parents, siblings, children, friends, who've cooked and cleaned and driven to radiation and chemo treatments and held us while we cried after diagnoses, surgeries, and pathology reports, I am in awe of your strength, courage, and love, and I know a lot fewer of us would make it through if it weren't for you.


I sit here unable to understand.
My breasts have been good to me,
I’ll admit to that—
lots of sexual pleasure
through the years,
large cup size when it mattered
to the world around me,
never any problem with infection,
mastitis, fibrosis, cysts.

When I had babies,
my breasts overflowed.
No problem nursing—
I pumped breast milk
for La Leche to deliver
to neonatal preemies.
Men and women who were born too soon
and struggled to live
may be alive today
in part because of my breasts.

It’s not like we’re talking
a hand, an eye, a leg.
It’s just a breast,
mostly a big inconvenience,
always in the way and vulnerable.
Not something I can’t do without.
Losing it won’t cripple me.

And the son of a bitch tried to kill me.

(Published in Black Renaissance Noire, 2015)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A War Against Women in a Rape Culture (with poem)

At the debate tonight, I saw Donald Trump make light of his leaked video admissions of being guilty of serial sexual assault. I saw him get away with it and have read the comments of many men who say, "It's no big deal." To them, apparently, it's not, but to millions of women, it's a terrible, terrifying reality that we have had to deal with since we were girls.

We know that, any time we are around men, we are at risk of being assaulted. Nowhere is safe. We've been assaulted in churches and schools, on buses and trains, at home and our friends' and relatives' homes--everywhere. We also know that this society doesn't take these assaults--or us--seriously.

I have a poem that I've written about this. I don't read it a lot when I give public poetry readings because it's long and because it's such a grim subject, but whenever I do read it, I always have many women from the audience come up to me afterward, sometimes in tears, to tell me that it struck home, that something similar had happened to them.

Here is that poem.



Before I fall into the past,
I drive to the library,
thumb open a book
about the death of a child
in Greenwich Village and
to trash-filled rooms smelling
of milk, urine, beer and blood,
doors locked and curtains drawn
against the world,
dirty baby brother caged in a playpen,
mother nursing broken nose,
split lip, overflowing ashtray,
and father filling the room to the ceiling,
shouting drunken songs and threats
before whom I tremble and dance,
wobbly diversion, to keep away
the sound of fist against face,
bone against wall.

The book never shows
the other little brothers and sister hiding
around corners and under covers,
but I know they are there
and dance faster,
sing the songs that give him pleasure,
pay the price for their sleep
later, his hand pinching flat nipples,
thrusting between schoolgirl thighs,
as dangerous to please as to anger
the giant who holds the keys
to our family prison. Mother
has no way to keep him from me,
but I can do it for her and them.

Locked by these pages
behind enemy lines again
where I plan futile sabotage
and murder every night,
nine-year-old underground,
I read the end.
Suddenly defiant, attacked,
slammed into a wall,
sliding into coma, death
after the allies arrive,
too late, in clean uniforms so like his own
to shake their heads at the smell and mess—
the end I almost believe,
the end that chance keeps at bay
long enough for me to grow and flee,
my nightmare alive on the page.

Freed too late,
I close the book,
two hours vanished,
stand and try to walk
to the front door on uncertain legs
as if nothing were wrong.
No one must know.
I look at those around me
without seeming to,
an old skill,
making sure no one can tell.
Panic pushes me to the car
where the back window reflects
a woman, the unbruised kind.

In the space of three quick breaths
I recognize myself,
slam back into adult body and life,
drive home repeating a mantra,
“Ben will never hurt me--
All men are not violent,”
reminding myself to believe the first,
to hope for the last.


Years later, my little sister will sleep,
pregnant, knife under her pillow,
two stepdaughters huddled
at the foot of her bed,
in case her husband
breaks through the door
again. Finally,
she escapes
with just the baby.

My daughter calls collect
from a pay phone on a New Hampshire street.
She’ll stay in a shelter for battered women,
be thrown against the wall
returning to pack
for the trip back to Missouri,
a week before her second anniversary.
With her father and brother,
the trip home will take three days,
and she will call for me again.

Ana and Kay, who sat in my classes,
Vicky, who exchanged toddlers with me once a week,
Pat and Karen, who shared my work,
and two Nancys I have known,
among others too many to count,
hide marks on their bodies and memories,
while at the campus women’s center
where I plan programs for women students
on professional advancement
and how to have it all,
the phone rings every week with calls we forward
to safe houses and shelters.

In my adult life, I’ve suffered no man
to touch me in anger,
but I sleep light.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Writing About Other Cultures--Talk Given at SinC Into Great Writing 2016 in New Orleans (long)

I'm just recently back from Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans, and the day before B'con began, Sisters in Crime presented its SinC Into Great Writing workshop, as usual. This year as part of SinC's emphasis on diversity that began with their Report for Change, it was "Doing Diversity Right." Walter Mosley gave a masterful keynote speech, and was followed by four presentations by Frankie Bailey (dialogue), Cindy Brown (characters), Greg Herren (plot), and mine about setting or culture. After all of us finished, we made a panel for Q&A with Terri Bischoff, acquisitions editor for Midnight Ink, representing publishing.

I promised several people to post my entire talk when I made it back home, so here it is, along with the resource list I handed out at the conference.

Writing About Other Cultures

This piece of our workshop is called Writing about Setting, but in my view, setting implies environment, background, and culture. It's much more than simply a case of painting backdrops of landscape or buildings for each scene, more than picking out a few exotic and colorful places and fascinating ceremonies to make strange and beautiful set-pieces of spectacle. So we'll be looking at how you learn how to write about the whole thing—environment, background, and culture, most of which is covered by the term culture.

On the resource handout, you'll find the best book possible on writing the Other, as academics call anyone who's not of your own gender, class, race, religion, ethnicity, culture, or ability status. This book is small and inexpensive, and it was written for science fiction/fantasy writers, but almost everything in it is equally applicable to crime fiction. It contains hands-on exercises and all kinds of helpful goodies. It covers character and culture. I can't recommend it enough.

You'll also find two blogs written by children's literature librarians that hold writers' and publishers' feet to the fire on writing about other cultures—because it's so important to write about the Other in kid's lit, but even more important to do it right. Read them, holding your writer's indignation in suspension. They're pretty unrelenting on those who didn't do that important work, especially if those writers double down on their mistakes once they're pointed out. After reading a while, though, you'll see that they also praise those who do the hard work to get it right and those who got something wrong, were called on it, and agreed to correct it in the next printing/edition.

I included these two blogs, so you'll see what you're facing when you try to write other cultures. These are the extremes because of the perceived importance in developing self-esteem and shaping world-views of children's books, but you will face folks doing a similar kind of judging on adult books, just usually not as important or well-publicized (librarians all over the country pay attention to these kid-lit blogs).

I believe strongly that it's important for writers to honestly portray cultures other than the mainstream, and the next blog listed is one I wrote after the Charleston Mother Emanuel Church massacre, talking about how dishonest and lazy portrayals of Black people had played a role in reinforcing the bigotry that caused that shooting, how these bad portrayals happens to other peoples and cultures, as well, and how vital it is that they stop. Writers must learn to portray cultures other than the mainstream. An artist must paint a true portrait of the world, not whitewash it.

The internet is awash in blog posts and articles on how to write about other cultures. Some of them are excellent, some mediocre, and some downright wrong. (Hint: while empathy and imagination are vital, they alone will not help you write authentically about a culture you've not experienced.) I've combed through most of these (new ones pop up almost daily) and listed the best ones.

As you can see, I strongly encourage you to write the Other. But at the same time, I don't want you to be blindsided by criticism you weren't expecting and decide you'll never make that attempt again. I want you to go into the arena aware of the dangers and armed against them.

For there are dangers in writing about a culture that's not your own, and those dangers are especially fierce if you're a middle-class-or-above, white, heterosexual, able-bodied writer.

First of all, simply by writing about that Other, you may well be keeping a member of that culture from being able to publish their book set authentically in their own culture. It's not your fault, but publishing is a very white, often dumb business. A publisher who publishes your book about XYZ culture will then say to everyone else who submits, “We have our XYZ book already.” And other publishers will often say, “That publisher does XYZ books, so we can't.” The mindset of mainstream publishing is that the world needs an infinity of books about the world of middle-class or rich heterosexual able-bodied white people, but the number of books it can handle about people of color, of varying genders, of the “lower” classes, of varying physical and mental abilities is extremely limited. And because of this limited experience and worldview, a publisher is much more likely to buy a book by a white, able-bodied, middle-class, heterosexual writer about XYZ culture instead of a book by someone from XYZ culture—simply because they will share the same assumptions and perspectives, and it will feel less foreign and uncomfortable to the publisher.

Tony Hillerman is usually set up as an example of a good way to write about another culture—I've said so myself. Hillerman loved Navajo culture and people and had many Navajo friends—he really worked hard to get the culture right. But how many Navajo novels have been published by Navajo people since Hillerman's books? There are lots of fine Navajo writers, many of them friends of mine, but usually they only get published as poets or literary short fiction writers, because there are so many little literary magazines for those genres, and not many readers or any money or recognition. The niche for trade or commercial fiction about Navajo people has been filled by Hillerman, as far as publishing is concerned. I don't think he'd be happy about that, if he were still alive, but it's still the case. So the people who get angry about someone from the mainstream writing about their culture and keeping their own voices from being heard have a real point. There's your first danger: People may be angry with you, even if you get things right, because they see your book as preventing a person of that culture from writing and publishing—and they may not be entirely wrong.

Tony Hillerman is a good example of the second big danger, as well. As I said, he worked hard to get Navajo culture right. He had many Navajo friends and ran things past them and went to them for information and answers to questions he developed. Big hint—this is what you should do when writing about the Other—check it with someone you've developed a relationship with who belongs to that culture. Hillerman's problem was that most of his friends were fairly assimilated and didn't still follow the most traditional teachings, so they told him about religious things that were supposed to be kept secret, and Hillerman put them into his books, telling the world. In traditional Navajo religious beliefs that tampered dangerously with powerful essences and may have allowed them access to the world. Also, because his friends were no longer still highly traditional, their understanding of some of these more religious things was a little off. None of this was Hillerman's fault, and the Navajo Nation awarded him Friend of the Navajo Nation status, but a number of traditional Navajo were very unhappy with him and still are.

As a part of this second danger, one thing you must remember about doing research on other cultures in books, libraries, on the internet, is that much of it is wrong, accidentally or willfully. Accidentally, because journalists, anthropologists, other scholars, and explorers may have misinterpreted what they saw or heard or because—and this was common—their informants deliberately misinformed them to protect their people or to protect their own source of whatever the white man was providing them. Consequently, even primary sources from past times can be contaminated if they are “as told to” or are translated. Willfully, because a lot of that research was done by people, usually white men, who had an agenda that placed wealthy white male Europeans at the pinnacle of creation and everyone and everything else downhill from that, which led to eugenics and a lot of other horrid, stupid things. So there's your second caveat: You can do your research and still get it wrong in some way.

Still, as I pointed out, Hillerman was named Friend of the Navajo Nation by the culture about which he wrote, and even though there are some naysayers, he's counted successful at his attempts to portray Navajo characters and culture in some depth. If you can manage that, you'll have done very well, indeed.

How do we go about the process then? The beginning is always research—keeping in mind the caveats above about mistakes and agendas in the work of scholars. You can learn some basic history, etc., from these, but remember they're written from another culture's viewpoint and therefore are tales with unreliable narrators.

Look in particular for any primary sources you can find, work written by members of the culture as memoir, other nonfiction, or even fiction or poetry. There are magazines, often online, that focus on the writing of women, LGBTQIA people, Latinos, Natives, Asian Americans, African Americans, Muslims, working-class and poor people, and people with disabilities. In these, you'll not only find primary literary work you can read and learn from, but you'll often find references to books written by people of this Other culture.

Next, you must find and meet people of this Other culture. Do that basic research first, though, so you have some foundation. Nothing is more insulting to anyone than to say, essentially, “I know nothing about you and your culture, and I couldn't be bothered to do even the most minimal research on it, so please do it all for me and make me an expert overnight.”

If you already know some people from this community, now is the time to follow up on those relationships and deepen them. If you're someone who lives in a segregated community—and this is the case for most people now, congregating in suburbs and neighborhoods that are filled with people just like themselves—and you don't have any friends or acquaintances from work or an earlier time in your life who belong to this Other culture, this is the trickiest part—you will have to make friends. And people from marginalized communities can be quite wary of strangers who come in to their areas wanting to exploit them for some reason and then drop them. They've usually been there before. If you don't have any acquaintances in that community, ask among your friends and their friends and see if someone you do know has any. If they do, they can arrange an introduction for you. This can be extremely helpful.

Take your informant to lunch or dinner. Treat this person with respect. When researching another culture or anything—say, life as a policeman or the way City Hall works behind the scenes—please remember that common courtesy and respect are your best friends. If you've been recommended by a friend of theirs and you treat them well, they should relax in your presence. It's like making friends with anyone else new. You want to spend plenty of time getting to know each other with a huge emphasis on real listening on your part. (All the while you're listening, you're learning.) If you can show that you're really interested in them and what they have to say, that you're receptive and truly paying attention to them and truly listening, they will be much more likely to help you. Tell them what you're trying to write and that you want to give an honest portrayal, and ask if they'd be willing to answer some questions for you. You can take a list of specific questions with you, but you may well want to reserve your first meeting for getting to know and trust each other and set a second meeting to go over the questions.

It's a matter of building a relationship. If that's simply not something you can see yourself doing—many writers are extreme introverts—it's also possible to find paid “diversity readers” online, who will read your work to point out flawed areas and problem portrayals. Some of them are excellent writers from those communities, and their help is worth the money paid. Some of them are self-styled diversity experts who may not actually be of the cultures they purport to know. As with anything on the internet, you must do your own research on people before hiring them to make sure they're actually what they present themselves to be. Ask for references.

Once you've finished your first draft, you will want to have a reading by someone from the culture you're trying to bring alive on the page. And if that someone points out a problem with representation that needs to be fixed, don't argue with them. Go fix it. Even if it's a lot of extra work.

In the front or back matter of your book (wherever you put your acknowledgments page), acknowledge the help you received from the people you consulted on the cultural environment, and see to it that they each get a free book.

And remember, you can do it all right and still have someone upset that you published the book because there will be less room for a writer from that community now—and they won't be wrong. Do whatever you can to help writers from that culture to reach success—signal boost, give blurbs, mentor, recommend, whatever you can do. And continue to do this. Your book may be out there in the marketplace for a long time. Make sure you're helping people from that community be heard for at least as long. Aside from being the right thing to do, it's good karma.

Above all, know that what you're doing in trying to diversify your writing is absolutely important. Many of the problems we have with racism, sexism, homophobia, able-ism, classism, and all kinds of xenophobia stem from the damaging stereotypes that are continually presented about other cultures and the people living in them. You are changing the world for the better when you change that.

Resources For Writing About Other Cultures

Best book around about it—Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward

Blogs/online articles – a blog about good and bad representation in children's books – a blog about good and bad representation in children's books – a blog post I wrote about the need for accurate representation by writers, etc., and what terrible effects the lack of it produces

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Tecumseh's Dream, Part II

Tecumseh was the great Shawnee leader of the early 19th century, who had grown up in a time of constant warfare and continuing displacement of Indigenous nations from their lands by violent white settlers. He had a vision of uniting as many Native tribes as possible to stand against the flood of white settlers and save the traditional lands of the Shawnee and other nations. He had to convince other nations to join his confederation of nations, and we still have his prescient words to Pushmataha of the Choctaws when he worked to convince them to join, words that resonate with the history between his time and ours—and even with the actions of a pipeline corporation in North Dakota just last weekend.

"Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mochican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man... Sleep not longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws... Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields?"

Tecumseh was a man ahead of his time. He came close to achieving his dream, however. He united several of the northern tribes, including the Delaware, Potawatomie, Kickapoo, and Osage, but had little luck with the Southern tribes, except for a band of the Creek Nation that came to be called the Red Sticks. Had his brother, Tenskwatawa (also known as the Prophet) who was no warrior, not led a failed sneak attack on the American soldiers, and had Tecumseh not been drawn into the War of 1812 to be betrayed by the cowardly British general he was forced to fight with, I've often wondered if Tecumseh might not have been able to lead a united band of Indigenous nations to force the settlers back beyond the Appalachians and change the entire history of Native America.

Recent events have left me thinking of Tecumseh and his dream of uniting the tribes in dealing with the settlers. Since April, a movement that began with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe offering peaceful but determined opposition to a potentially dangerous pipeline has increasingly drawn members of over a hundred other tribes and the formal endorsement and physical and financial support of over two hundred other tribes. The understanding of the sacredness and importance of water to all of us has led them to become Water Protectors, standing up to a powerful corporation and saying, “We will not allow you to endanger our water and the water on which millions of others depend, as well.”

The two camps of Water Protectors at the Cannonball River, Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp, now contain over 5,000 people who have come from tribes all over the United States and Canada to join the Standing Rock Sioux in opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Recently, this situation had gone to court, and the court had said it would rule the next week. The Standing Rock Sioux delivered materials to the court, identifying an important burial site and other sacred lands lying in the proposed path of the pipeline, another reason its construction should be halted. The corporation sent out workmen over the Labor Day weekend to destroy those sites, in order to make them irrelevant to the case. When the protectors tried to stop them, private security employees assaulted them with pepper spray and attack dogs. The workers and security agents left, probably because of a news program and its video cameras, which recorded what they did, but the site was torn up and destroyed. As Tecumseh said so long ago, Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields?"

Still, the federal government has called a temporary halt to construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline. The fight is hardly over. The protectors are not leaving the camps. They are preparing for winter on the prairie. The gathering of tribes that they have built, however, is unprecedented, and I can't help thinking when I see so many relatives from so many different sovereign Indigenous nations gathered together, the flags of the more than 200 nations supporting this action waving above them, that, finally, Tecumseh's dream is coming true.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

An Old, Old Story—Dealing Illegally and in Bad Faith with America's Indigenous People

Near the Cannonball River in North Dakota just outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, over 3,000 people are gathered from Indigenous nations all over the United States to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (a kind of stealth or back-door Keystone XL Pipeline approved under a “fast track” option that didn't require the scrutiny Keystone had undergone) from destroying tribal burial grounds and sacred sites and from crossing the Missouri River, endangering the source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and for millions of other Americans downstream.

The land the pipeline is scheduled to cross is ancestral land of the Standing Rock Sioux, taken from them in the 20th century in violation of U.S. treaties with the Standing Rock nation. When they went to federal court in 1980 over this and other land depredations, the judge said, “A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.” President Obama, when questioned about the DAPL situation at a university in Laos this week, said, “...the way that Native Americans were treated was tragic. … This issue of ancestral lands and helping them preserve their way of life is something that we have worked very hard on.” He did not, unfortunately, answer the question he was asked about the situation of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The elders, who are the leaders of the Standing Stone camp in resistance to the DAPL (as is customary among most Native nations), issued this statement:

With over 200 river crossings the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline puts the drinking water supply of a large part of the country at risk. Our prayer is to keep the waters pure for all tribal peoples and all Americans.

We pray for the waters used by farmers in Iowa and Illinois, the water consumed by schoolchildren in South Dakota, Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

Millions of Americans get their drinking water from this system.

We are Protectors not Protesters. Our camp is a prayer, for our children, our elders and ancestors, and for the creatures, and the land and habitat they depend on, who cannot speak for themselves.

We wish the Army Corps had done their job in protecting federally administered lands, unceded Indian lands, and Tribal lands, relying on science and judgement in protecting Indian culture from construction. Whether by intention or omission, the Army Corps broke federal laws, and didn’t do their job.”

The pipeline was originally slated to run past Bismarck, North Dakota, at a distance of 15 miles from the city, but there was outcry that the state capitol's drinking water might be endangered by a leak or break in the 1,100-mile pipeline. Thus, it was shifted to run within half a mile of the Standing Rock reservation. As Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, told CNN, whenever the United States wants to make sacrifices for economic purposes, it tends to do so on the backs of its Indigenous people, and this longstanding history of economic decision-making at the expense of Natives must stop.

After a federal court injunction to stop construction until the matter could be litigated and the day after the tribe's lawyers filed additional papers in court with information of sacred sites and burial sites along the pipeline path, DAPL sent work crews on a holiday weekend with three bulldozers to dig up those sites and destroy them in order to make them irrelevant to the case. As the gathered Natives tried to block them from digging up and destroying their relatives' graves, a private security company hired by DAPL blocked all cell phone reception to keep word from getting out and then assaulted them with pepper spray and attack dogs. Several protesters were bitten, including a pregnant woman, and one was hospitalized with facial dog bites. Amy Goodman and Democracy Now were in the camp interviewing its members and caught the entire event on camera (see link below), including dogs with bloody mouths after biting Natives, which is probably the only reason the security guards finally left and didn't cause even more injuries. It becomes apparent from this and from the sheriff's statement afterward that the camp attacked the security guards and dogs, injuring them, (when the sheriff was not on the scene at the time) that neither DAPL nor the local authorities are dealing in good faith or legality.

This is national news of great importance, but until the past two days, this defense of sacred lands and waters, which has lasted for months, was paid no attention by the national news media, although multiple major international media outlets stayed on top of it and broadcast/wrote about it for their audiences around the world. It's an old, old story, however—U.S. government and private corporations deal in bad faith and illegally with Indigenous nations. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, land theft, you name it—this treatment of its Indigenous people by a country that claims to be a shining city of virtue and fairness on a hill above all others as an example to the world is, with slavery and its modern results, as well, hiding dark, shameful roots.

When racist trolls at public events and online tell us to “get over it,” this is why we can't. It's still going on, still happening to our people—even today when Americans say, “That was our ancestors, not us. We would never do that.” To all those Americans, I say this, “If you allow this corporation and your government to do this today, you are still doing what your ancestors did to the Indigenous people whose land you live on and work on today.”