American Indian Heritage Month – Lakota, A Lost Nation

Brown toasted hills with sparse vegetation looked like scenes out of a Western movie.  I could picture an Indian riding a painted pony over the rise in the Wild West of yesteryear.  Instead, today, rusted cars line the dusty alleyways where trailers and dilapidated clapboard houses replace the stallions and tipis of the past.

desolate Bad Lands

desolate Bad Lands

The land is golden, not from crops or minerals riches, but from sun baked grass.  In clusters resembling tribes of long ago, only the hardiest of trees survive in ravines along dried riverbeds that trickle occasionally with life sustaining water.

The Pine Ridge Reservation, Lakota grounds in South Dakota, is the poorest Indian Reservation in the U.S.  Ninety percent of the population lives below the poverty level on average annual incomes of less than $4000. The 36,000 Lakota left, survive on misery and memories of the Great People they once wear when they existed in harmony with a brutal land, before being driven off their land and away from their natural life.

The Lakota, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, once covered a territory that extended from the Big Horn Mountains in the west, to eastern Wisconsin.  In the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851, the Great Sioux Nation was reduced to the western half of South Dakota. Though it remains the second largest reservation in the U.S. it covers an area only about the size of Connecticut.

Once able to live off the land by hunting, the barren landscape offers little in the way of livelihood in today’s society.  Unemployment fluctuates between 85-90 %.  Jobs are scarce and poorly paid.

buffalo & cub

buffalo & cub

Few Indians can make it is as ranchers, so they work for other people on the land they once owned.  Thirty-nine percent of the population lives in homes without electricity and 60% of their houses are infested with black mold.

With limited job options in such a desolate area, destitution has become a way of life.  The Lakota lack financial stability to afford good nutrition and health care.  Infant mortality is three times the national average.   Life expectancy for male and females is twenty years less than the national average.   Half of the adult population suffers from diabetes.  Stripped of their pride and ability to provide for their families, it is no surprise that despair sets in.   The suicide rate among teenagers is 1.5 times higher than national average.

In the 1800’s, the White Man brought alcohol to Indians in exchange for beads and crops.  It was a poor trade for the Lakota.  Now alcoholism runs rampant.  In White Clay NE, population under 35 people just one mile from the dry Pine Ridge Reservation, four million cans of beer (10,958 beer cans a day) are sold annually.

Pine Ridge Lakota reservation

Pine Ridge Lakota reservation

I marveled at anyone’s ability to survive as we drove across the savage lands to visit the Red Cloud Indian School on the Lakota Reservation.  When I stepped outside the air-conditioned car, the wind slapped my face as if to jump-start my breathing, my lungs sucked dry by the heat.

In the Heritage Cultural Museum, filled with artifacts, paintings and beadwork of the Lakota, Red Cloud high school students recaptured the Wounded Knee Massacre in a moving display of black and white photographs. Beside each picture, the story was told in three different perspectives.  The white card represented the White Man’s viewpoint; red card, the Indians interpretation and the blue portrayed the students’ opinion. In what has become the symbol of a horrible genocide of their people and way of life, on December 29, 1890, the 7th Cavalry rounded up Lakota women and children like animals and gunned them down.

“It chills us to the bone,” one student researcher wrote,” to think we weren’t even considered human, as brothers, as sisters, as life.”

Outside the school, a gravel path lead to an Indian burial ground where the tomb of Red Cloud, (1822 –1910) lies.   Buried on a grassy knoll overlooking rolling, baked hills Lakota land the great Oglala chief’s spirit surveys what little remains of his nation, once the White Man arrived.  His soul does not rest in peace.

Happy Memories and Halloween Dreams

countryside by Geneva

countryside by Geneva

Ever a kid at heart, every October 31st, as the fields turn from emerald to autumn hues of auburn, I watch the bold sun bleed crimson as it sets over the gray-blue Jura Mountains. As the sky changes from gold to pink, purple to black, I can picture witches flying over the treetops, goblins dancing through the apple orchards and ghosts floating out of the mist above the vineyard.  Halloween fills even old hearts with a sense of mystery and excitement.  It’s a night where even adults can imagine anything is possible.

Every Baby Boomer remembers a favorite Halloween costume of childhood.  Mine was the time; I wore a football helmet, shoulder pads and a blue and gold jersey that my dad borrowed from his high school team. I swaggered down East 19th street ringing doorbells as a proud Sterling Warrior.

When we lived in Paris, I tried to celebrate the American holiday with my children without much success. The kids decided trick or treating at only one house – your own – is not fun.  But when we moved to an in Switzerland, the All Saints Eve was celebrated with aplomb.  Parents even bussed kids in to trick or treat in my international neighborhood.

Swiss farm with pumpkins

Swiss farm with pumpkins

Halloween has always been sacred in my house.  Late October, years ago after a full moon, our daughter Nathalie was born.  She has long outgrown her nickname “pumpkin,” but I still buy a jack-o-lantern every autumn.     A candle in an orange gourd, once thought to frighten evil spirits, now represents my hopes for my Norwegian-Scotch, Franco-American children.

halloween kids

halloween kids

That little girl who once trick or treated disguised as a doctor, now dons a white coat daily as she makes hospital rounds giving baby wellness visits as a pediatrician.

Alas though I never became an American football star, today, truly all things are possible. Wonders never cease.  Times do change. My niece became a state rugby champion, not once but twice!

What favorite Halloween memories haunt your household?

Divine Wine in Burgundy

Every October I see migrant workers with baskets laden with fruit strapped to their backs, crouching low to pick grapes. Though Switzerland may boast of some fine crus, nowhere is wine more divine than on the rolling hillside outside of Dijon where we lived for two years.

vines and a village in Burgundy

vines and a village in Burgundy

American children in Illinois, my home state, ,detassle corn as a rights of passage,  whereas, French kids in the burgundy region of France pick grapes. Years ago,  I accompanied my daughter’s fifth grade  class, the day they helped harvest the grapes during the vendange. We weren’t picking just any old grapes – these were  the world famous ones on Nuit-St. Georges domaine.

The vineyards on the Côte de Nuits on the outskirts of Dijon extending to Corgolion are 20K long and a few 100 meters wide. This strip of land,  known as the Champs Elysées of Burgundy and Nuit-St. Georges, is the la crème de la crème of the Grand Crus Reds.

Originally, the vines grew wild and were pressed into wine by accident before 312 A.D. Image if the knotted ancient vines could talk the stories they would tell ?

Generations of French children will have their own tales of the harvest to pass on. The students skipped along the rows of perfectly aligned green vines that burst out of the dry, sandy soil and spilled down the slope toward the stone walls of the red-roofed village. Their small hands deftly clipped the vines that held the tight bunches of Pinot Noir grapes, while I struggled to bend low with an aching back.

les vendanges !

les vendanges !

While the winemaker explains the intricate process, kids couldn’t resist popping the tart, purple grapes into their mouths.  Though I love grapes, these were thick skinned and sour and inedible.  The wine grape differs form the table grape in that they are smaller and tarter.

Most French wine growers still hire help to pick the grapes by hand. I will certainly never forget my sole back-breaking, grape-picking stint.  After spending a sun-kissed autumn day with wine growers, witnessing first hand their art, I will never again carelessly gulp a cheap red.  Instead  I savored each sip and appreciated the complexity between the vine and land, the wine and the winemaker.

As my French husband likes to remind me, « Life is too short to drink bad wine. »

Minnesota Lynx First WNBA Championship-One of Many Firsts

On Oct 7, 11,543 fans watched the Minnesota Lynx win their first WNBA Championship by sweeping the Atlanta Dream. And over 15,000 lined the streets of Minneapolis to welcome them back home to the Target Center. http://www.wnba.com/lynx/

It was a celebration of many firsts starting with the first win for a Minnesotan professional team in 20 years. The first time in WNBA history  that two women coaches met in the final. Lynx Coach of the Year, Cheryl Reeve, faced off against Marynell Meadors who led the Atlanta Dream to back to back final appearances (Only once before has a woman head coach won the finals when in 2004, Anne Donovan coached the championship Seattle Storm).

Laurel Richie, the first African American woman to be president of  U.S. professional league, presented the championship trophy to a team that hadn’t won a play off game since its inception in 1999.

I am a long distance Lynx fan, not only because half of my family live in Minneapolis-St.Paul, but also because the first WNBA game I saw was in 2003 at the Target Center where my daughter caught a T-shirt, printed with Lynx logo, New Game in Town. I was thrilled to see Lisa Leslie, LA Sparks, smooth moves to the hoop. But what made the greatest lasting imprint was the image of my thirteen-year-old son, waiting in line for five-time Olympian, Theresa Edwards’ autograph. I never thought I’d see the day a boy would request a female basketball player’s signature.

This past summer, Nathalie and I saw the Lynx play LA again. This time, the Lynx dominated, in large part due, to their  depth. Whether it was Whalen or Wiggings dishing assists at point, Seimone Augustus (MVP) or Maya Moore (Rookie of the Year) flying at wing, or Taj McWilliams-Franklin or Rebekka Brunsen clearing the boards at center, no matter who was on the court, they jelled.

Fans don’t realize that it has taken decades for women to be accepted in the macho world of pro basketball. However, in Minneapolis, women’s pro basketball is not a new game in town. Three decades ago, in the first women’s professional basketball league (WBL), my franchise, Washington D.C. Metros, went bust mid season, but the Minnesota Fillies were one of only three teams to last the span of the WBL 1978-1981. Unfortunately, back then, the media found women’s basketball newsworthy only when linked to scandal. In 1981, the Fillies became the talk of town when a player was murdered, and when the team promised paychecks that never materialized, walked off the court ten minutes before tip off  before a full house in Chicago.

The contemporary player that impressed me most was Mama Taj, a steady, calm, solid presence. My daughter, beat up in the paint in college ball, wonders how could a post player survive the banging on the boards for over a decade?  Like Theresa Edwards role in the foundation of the league, Mama Taj, with 12 years experience in the league could be called the grand dame of the game.

Minnesotans, ever loyal, love their Twins, Vikings, and Timberwolves, but it was the ladies that put the Twin Cities back on the map.  The greatest appeal about the women’s game is not the slam dunking, showboating of the NBA, but the passing, teamwork and cohesiveness.  Families -mothers and sons, fathers and daughters -bond over basketball.

The WNBA promotes fitness, families, and education, the same values advocated in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area with their abundance of lakes, bike trails, walking paths, and family- orientated communities.

Thumbs up to the first African American pro league  president, a first WNBA championship for Minnesota, and a first all female coaching final. It’s all good!

What really blew my mind was that for the first time the women were feted at the Vikings football game in front of a crowd of 60,000, including my son and brother-in-law.  In a gesture so frequent in the women’s game, the Lynx wearing purple jerseys, cheered the Vikings to their first victory of the season!  The Lynx have arrived… New Game In Town… No More!

Apple, Innovation, An Icon – Steve Job’s Legacy

“Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

~ Steve Jobs

The first thing my husband told me on October 5 was that Steve Jobs died. His death struck a chord in hearts around the world, including mine. Gerald born in February 1955, too, is the same age. I am not far behind. For my generation of fifty-somethings, it is a reminder that we are infallible, even geniuses are mortal. It is wake up call to take action before its too late.

Breaking news bulletins across Europe reported his passing and offered tributes to the man whose remarkable innovations changed our lifestyle. His death caused reflection as we enter the digital age.

Steve Jobs name is synonymous with Apple. In 1976, he helped usher in the age of the personal computer by creating the Apple I and then II. Then he further revolutionized the industry with the introduction of the Macintosh.

You didn’t need to know anything about computers to navigate the Mac. The user friendly Macintosh was designed for computer illiterate, technologically disabled folks, like myself.  I still struggle working the television remote control and turning on the stereo system.

He gave me and millions of other writers a voice. When the printed paper began to die out, digital communication took off and blogging was born.

Not only has Steve Jobs contributions to society improved our lives, his own story is inspires our soul. He defied the odds. Abandoned as a child, adopted by a family of modest means, he dropped out of college and started the Apple empire in his garage.  The computer geek struck gold, becoming a multimillionaire before the age of 30.  After being fired from his own company, he created successful ventures as NeXt and Pixar, then was rehired to turn Apple around and make it the most valuable business in the world.

His rags-to-riches, self-made man story, is the essence of the America Dream. His contributions are a tribute to the American spirit of discovery. As a visionary, he transformed the markets of computers, digital music and cell phones. He launched the first iPod, iPhone  and iPad.  As an innovator and entrepreneur, he found a new frontier and then shared it with the world.

His renegade life is a reminder for teachers to encourage students to think outside the box, to foster other pathways to success than traditional education, and to acknowledge that learning is a lifelong endeavor.

His life, cut short too soon, reminds each of us to seize the day. Dare to “think different.” iLove it!

Brain Glitches, Genealogy and Grandpa

How do you get anything done with a brain that short-circuits like mine does? To prepare my English class lesson plans, I googled celebratory dates and found out American Indian Heritage Month is coming up in November, which reminds me of our trip to the Badlands and visit to the Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota. That enticed me to read about the Battle of Wounded Knee. While admiring photographs of famous Native American Chiefs, I kept seeing images of my grandfather’s weather-beaten, chiseled face with his high cheekbones and prominent nose. Convinced that we have some degree of Indian blood, I am off on a wild goose chasing missing links to my ancestry.

One thing led to another. In the online census report of Madison County Iowa, I discovered my great grandfather, John, was part of a family of 14 children. John’s grandfather, Aaron was born in Osage Indian Territory of what later became Kentucky. His first cousin also named Aaron later lived on the Osage and Kaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma, a stone’s throw from where my grandpa grew up when great grandfather moved his family West. Naturally, I filled in the gaps of history with my imagination, convinced mighty warriors are part of my ancestry.

Sound crazy? Not if you knew my grandpa, a.k.a. Coach Mac. If Coach Mac took off his glasses, folded his arms across his chest and replaced his baseball cap with a headdress, he ‘d look just like the Indian American, Afraid of Bear – proud, sage, ageless.  How many white folks do you know with 40 second resting heart rate, like grandpa? And he was afraid of bears, too!

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

One fact is sure. The census report answered a question that has perplexed my family for years. My grandpa, never sure of his birth date, thought he was born in early October. Well I found proof  – Ralph Clyde McKinzie born Oct. 1, 1894. He had a middle name, which he never knew about either. No wonder. Imagine having the nickname R.C? Like the cola. If I had a middle name like Clyde I might tend to forget it, too.

As if working for the missing persons bureau, I spent a weekend cruising the web genealogy files. On Monday morning, when the class bell rang, I wondered where the heck did I put my lesson plan? I’ll have to confess to class that I got lost navigating the Internet looking for my McKinzie lineage.

My Grandpa Mac defied age by remaining active by coaching college football in his nineties.  He died at the age of 96. He would’ve been 117 years old today; I still celebrate his life.

Have you discovered  skeletons in your family closet? Do you have any links to genealogy search engines that you could share with readers?