Introducing a Native American Author Part I
IT IS TRUE THAT, for the Native American journalist – an individual distinguished by culture and tradition – the process of writing promotes a profession replete with a powerful sense of accomplishment, direction, purpose, and satisfaction, honing one’s voice into a fine- tuned instrument of mass communication. Most Native journalists would prefer to do things like promote diversity and defend challenges to free press, not to mention to increase the representation of Native journalists in the mainstream media newsroom, and in doing so, attain the highest standards of professionalism, ethics, and responsibility. It is like that way for me also, however, and I must emphasize that this is just me now, it is more a deep-rooted need to feel a sense of immediate gratification that only comes with experiencing the tactile immediacy felt when pen glides across paper, a deep-rooted need that causes me to toil with the chore of writing and rewriting from sunrise to way past the point of burning midnight oil; a task that at times produces something worthy of print. At the end of the day, when the last drop of oil has been burned, my heart embraces the awesome feeling of satisfaction that the direction and purpose of my intellectual work has turned out to be a major accomplishment, even if only for myself.
Sense of accomplishment
Every journalist wants to feel that their intellectual work is worthwhile. Perhaps the writing was never meant to actually be published. Rather, the flow of thoughts onto paper was only meant to produce a sense of accomplishment. Here is an example of what I wrote one day just to feel like that way.
Stewards of the Earth
I was sitting in the library the other day minding everybody else’s business but my own when I happened to reach down and pick up a copy of a periodical published by Red Card Media out of Madison, Wisconsin. I couldn’t help but notice that the cover story appeared to be far more interesting than a pottle of boiling lobster and by the time I negotiated the final sentence I had to grab my cup of morning joe and sip the situation over.
Enter stage left: Hinteruer, Adam Mathew. “Melting Away: According to science, we’re losing something magical.” Isthmus February 2018: 15.
According to what my eyeballs were soaking in, Mr. Hinterhuer postulates that due to global warming the four lakes of Madison (tribal territory of the Ho-Chunk Nation) are now experiencing one month less of ice than in years gone by. It would appear that if we don’t do something soon to climate change, climate change will soon do something to us.
In his feature story article Hinterhuer wrote eloquently of his Hallmark moment when, once donning a pair of skates, he went slip sliding away out on Lake Mendota to ponder the effects of the industrial world. Heartwarming. Truly. Like a cup of hot chocolate next to a blazing fire. I could feel the tug of the tear when I read his words: “The impact of change is, perhaps, best summed up by John Magnunson, the former director of the Center for Limnology [the study of inland waters], and a lifetime lover of Wisconsin winters, saying, “Human beings have a strong sense of place. They get homesick or long for the country they emigrated from and, in Wisconsin, our sense of place includes...winter. This sense of place affects how we see ourselves and what we do in our lives and what we hope our children will get to do in their lives.””
Hinterhuer laments that his children and their children will inherit an environment vastly different than the one he’s inherited. To that I say, the future holds no ice. Thank you very much, global warming. As for the Hinterhuer lamentations, I can’t help but to think of what I like to call the “plight of the vanishing islands of the Caribbean.” Bear along with me here. This is where the pot begins to boil.
I postulate that due to the effects of global warming, climate change will usher in a brand-new era of worldwide awareness for the indigenous sovereignty of the western hemisphere.
Case in point: the Guna Yala and all its glory (a glory that will soon go the route of the lost city of Atlantis).
What is Guna Yala, you wonder? Only a small token of the ancient homelands of the Guna Indians of Central America. You see, once upon a period of a real long time ago, the Guna Indians occupied what is now known as Panama. Their territory has dwindled down to a small area on the map the size of a gumdrop, a map of the northeast side of the Panama peninsula, facing the Caribbean Sea, stretching 232 miles long, including an archipelago of 365 islands, one for each day of the week, if you can stand it. The Guna Indians could stand it. That’s why they left their ancestral rainforests.
Err, no. Wait a minute. That’s not why they left their ancestral rainforests. They left their ancestral rainforests because they couldn’t stand the insects, the diseases, the conquistadors. But soon that cause will no longer be important. What will be important is the cause that actually returns them to their ancestral rainforests, that cause being global warming.
According to sources (see David Dudenhoefer. Indian Country Today. “That Sinking Feeling.” Vol. 2 Issue 39. October 17, 2012. p36), “The islands are becoming increasingly valuable, since Guna entrepreneurs have opened rustic lodges to accommodate travelers who come to enjoy the ivory beaches, turquoise waters and Guna culture. Yet those idyllic atolls are threatened as the polar ice caps melt, the sea level rises, and waves whipped up by seasonal winds erode their beaches.” In order to stave off the erosion, the natives “fortified the ocean sides of the islands they inhabit with walls of stone and coral to keep the waves from entering their homes…”
Also in quoted feature story article above, “Atencio Lopez, president of the Institute for Research and Development - an office of the Guna General Congress - notes that removing coral from nearby reefs to build those seawalls actually exacerbated the problem, since coral reefs serve as natural barriers, causing waves to break before they reach the shore.” [Lopez stated,] “Climate change is going to cause the sea level to rise and that our territory is one of the most vulnerable regions.” It is the plight of the vanishing islands of the Caribbean.
The industrial nations are polluting the worldwide environment to such an extent that the contamination will be irreversible. For now, the four lakes of Madison are experiencing a shorter ice season. By the time the Guna’s territorial islands are inundated by rising sea levels, our own environment will be inundated with carbon poisoning. As stewards of the earth, shouldn’t we as Ho-Chunk people stand up and fight for those who can’t stand up and fight for themselves, whether ‘those’ things be people, places, or things - or is that Ho-Chunk tradition another thing that is gone with the ice?
Journalizing thoughts and feelings are a great tool for bringing out into the open those things that are otherwise internalized to the nth degree. The vast majority of writing, for me anyway, is done in the mind. Outlines are formulated in the mind. If you and I were sitting down to lunch at your favorite restaurant (I’d be picking up the bill) and you see me staring off into space it is because I am mentally working on a possible outline, experimenting with ideas. In this transaction, I am developing a sense of accomplishment.
The hour of the day is not relevant when it comes to literary inspiration (as I write this particular sentence it is 2:10 AM). When the intellectual work jells, it is time to bring out the pen and paper. I start out with a block of marble and slowly chip away the excess material until the statue inside the block of marble sees the light of day. Even God chipped away at the stone tablets until the 10 Commandments were revealed. In this light we can say that writing is a holy chore.
Sense of direction
The writing process promotes a sense of direction. If it is true that all of life is but a stage, then it is also true that we are all directors of our own personal life stage. Journalists are no different. We give ourselves instructions and we do the best we can to follow them.
Writers put together an outline, starting with a strong thesis statement. From that statement we hammer out the main topical ideas. These topical ideas we flesh out with body text.
Journalists like to use the general to particular writing strategy. I often find myself thinking this way in my everyday walk of life. I cannot help myself. I will come up with an idea, say, I need to go to the area community center. Before I know it I am mapping out my every move to get myself to the point of destination.
Writing on a daily basis empowers my internal compass. It helps me to set goals to meet objectives. It promotes critical thinking. I learn to detect when there is a change in the character, a property of a certain thing, or of a condition of something that has been put into effect. Some things are obvious, like rising sea levels; other things, not so obvious; like what God is doing while the rest of us are busy making our own plans.
The sense of direction also gives the journalist a feeling of power and control; not of the world externally, but of the world internally. Putting thoughts down on paper is no easy task. It takes a great deal of self-discipline. Within the mind of the journalist is a task master. To produce a news story requires planning, scheduling, and a system of checks and balances. The journalist needs to be prompt, needs to stay on schedule. Sometimes this fact of life is exacerbated by the reality of “Indian time.” Timing is crucial to the Indian way of thinking; not to be lumping everybody together and homogenizing them into the stereotypical Indian figure head. What I’m talking about is the Native tendency to go with the flow. I am certainly guilty of going with the flow; however, I prefer to see it like this way – I am waiting for God to prompt me to take certain actions at certain times.
Visit soon for part II