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?

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!

Sisters Only A Heartbeat Apart

“What’s wrong? I whispered as my middle sister coaxed my little sister out from under the bed.“Grandpa yelled at her cause she didn’t finish her milk at dinner,” Sue, explained.

“Oh, Kar, he yelled at me too,” I said as I stuck my head under the bed. “C’mon, I got a great idea. We’ll dance in the living room.”

Together in our matching pink nighties we pranced in front the our reflection in the picture window to the beat of the Pink Panther until Karen’s tears turned to giggles.

From the time we were little children, our heartiest laughs and greatest tears were shared as sisters; three girls just four years apart.

I, being eldest set the example.  I taught them how to slide veggies off the dinner plate and onto the floor for the family dog and to sneak out of at bed night to watch The Honeymooners from behind the divider in the dining room.  I kept them in line by pretending to hit their face, then socking their stomach.

3 sisters

3 sisters

We shared childhood memories of vacations when we sat facing backwards in our nine seater wagon and smoked candy cigarettes, waved at truck drivers from behind plastic sun glasses and pretended to be ladies. When we tired of comic books and games, we argued, until Dad threatened.  “Quit squabbling or I’ll stop the car and you can walk home!”

In instant solidarity against the enemy, the almighty grown up, we held hands in silence for the remainder of the ride.

Together we survived the early adolescence “uglies”.  Our finest feature striking blue eyes, hidden behind thick brown cat eye framed glasses.  Sue developed too much up front, I, too little, and Karen, The Babe, Miss-Perfect-In-Between was just right. Our personalities were as different as our body types.  I, an aggressive brunette tomboy, thought kitchen was a four-letter word. Sue, an easy-going blonde homebody loved to bake and clean. Karen, a chestnut haired social butterfly, enjoyed the outdoors and domestics.

“Get off the phone blabber mouth,” I yelled at Karen.  “It’s my turn to have the car,” Sue yelled at me.  In high school we were selfish about the use of the phone and car, but generous with our clothes and friends.

We went to the same college, Illinois State, and majored in helping professions.  One summer, we even fought for the same beau.  Sue caught in the middle, shouted, “Never thought I’d see the day a guy tore you apart!”  When he dropped me for my baby sister, I thought the hurt would never heal.  Later when he tired of her, I helped her put back the pieces.  Now, we laugh about the jerk, who tried to come between us.

In high school and college, Karen and I played on the same basketball team.  Sue never missed a game.  When a car accident ended my career in France, the sound of their voices over the phone helped me heal faster than the ministrations of a hospital full of foreign doctors.

We were always together for the important moments.  When I got married in Normandy, Karen flew over and Sue helped pay for her ticket. When Kar married a year later, Sue was her maid of honor.  When Sue wed, I was the best gal.

Now every summer, we set aside a week to return to our family cabin in Wisconsin where we roast hot dogs over a crackling fire, float on inner tubes on a silver-blue lake, and take long walks in the woods. We still dance in the living room, now we call it aerobics.

For in between times, we write long letters and make short calls, “ I can’t afford this, but I wanted to hear your voice.”

We developed a sixth sense sisters’ share.  After my miscarriages, my sisters mourned, too.  The night my daughter was born in Paris, Sue dreamed,” it’s a girl!” in Chicago.

As children we shared a room, held hands before falling asleep and vowed we’d live in a triplex, so we could always be together.  As adults, we ended up living thousands of miles apart in different states and countries.  Yet, as sisters, we remain only a heartbeat away.

Anders Behring Breivik: The Tragedy of Terrorism in Tranquil Norway

The blond-haired, clean-cut, blue-eyed man who triggered the bomb in Olso and went on a killing rampage at the liberal Labor Party’s camp on Utoya Island, did not look like the dark bearded, evil terrorist we immediately suspect. He looked more like my cousin.

I am an American born, second-generation Norwegian, living in neutral Switzerland, and I am shocked and deeply saddened by the tragedy in Norway.

I feel the pain of an entire nation that mourns the loss of its innocent children, gunned down at summer camp.  What makes it even more unimaginable was that the act was committed by one of its own, in a country that founded the Nobel Peace Prize and has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. Where did Anders Breivik go so wrong? His actions defy everything Norway represents – freedom, tolerance and inclusion.

the fjord of Narvik, by Evanskjaer

the fjord of Narvik, by Evanskjaer

The Norwegians I know are soft-spoken, kind-hearted, and open-minded; a welcoming people, living in a nonviolent nation, equally respectful of nature and man.  Tolerance is a natural birthright.

How are we breeding homegrown domestic terrorism within our greatest democracies?

Freedom of speech also extends to violent expression of the hate groups, zealots and fundamentalists. It is disheartening to think that Breivik followed the teachings of American extremists.

How does the rhetoric of street based groups, which filter into more broad-based political forums, influence individuals? What role does social media play in fueling the flames of hatred? In Breivik’s manifesto, he denounces immigration, multiculturalism and proponents of democracy, which more mainstream groups like the Tea Party also alarmingly condemn.

In our world today, we are so quick to blame anyone whose appearance or beliefs are “different” than the majority – immigrants, Blacks, Arabs, Latinos, Asians, Muslims, Jews.  But who is responsible when the avenger is one of our own “Aryans”?  How could Breivik’s mind become so twisted after growing up in a tranquil country as the son of a diplomat?

What enemy lurks within?  For tolerance to become an inherent part of our social fabric, we must confront our own demons and question the soundness of our reasoning, every time we make a snap judgment of an entire people based on the evil actions of few.

As my thoughts and prayers go out to fellow Norwegians, I am also soul searching? What am I doing as an individual to help defeat a social climate that fuels fear and bigotry?

What are we doing in our families, churches, neighborhoods and political parties to promote tolerance and peace, instead of prejudice and hatred?

No matter what color our skin, country we live in, language we speak, political party we adhere to and church we attend; we still belong to the same specie.  We are all brothers and sisters in the human race.

Sisterhood, motherhood and marathons

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Hannah & Karen

Hannah & Karen

When my professional basketball career ended, my goal was to start running marathons.  Accidents and illness thwarted that dream; I never ran again, so my little sister is competing in a sprint triathlon for me.

Karen was always a good athlete with a body built for competition. She had perfect teeth and toes, providing a good bite and great balance.

During thousands of dollars of treatment for a misaligned dental occlusion, my dentist explained, “The massetter is the strongest muscle in the body. You ever notice all the best athletes have beautiful teeth?”

Ditto for the toes. Whereas my sister polishes her beautiful toes, my crooked ones remain hidden in clunky orthopedic shoes. My podiatrist has told me I should retire from teaching because my feet are so bad. My ankles are pronated, my arches too high, my big toe too short, so my balance is bad. My second toe is too long and the other three are curled like claws to grip the ground to keep me upright. Leg aches plagued me since childhood, but never slowed me down.

So while Karen and her friends train for the Chaska River City Days Sprint Triathlon – a third-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 5K run, I cheer them on. After raising children and caretaking in helping professions, they decided to do something just for themselves and began training together for the event.

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Ever the competitor, I secretly train for my own triathlon – a walk, bike, swimathlon. Everyday I bike around the neighboring lake, walk to town, and swim to the island, each day pushing to go a little farther and a bit faster. It takes some ingenuity because I have to avoid the sunlight.

While my baby sister paints her nails and runs in preparation for the big event, I don full scuba gear, like the Loch Ness monster, to swim in a cold, purple lake.

When Karen finished the triathlon reaching her personal goal wearing the number 60, her birth year, she called me first.

“After the swim – my best event – I felt great,” Karen said, “But after the 16 mile bike, my legs turned to Jello on the run, then a guy ran by and offered me good advice – just put one foot in front of the other.”

My sister admires me for never giving up in spite of all my physical limitations, but she remains my hero, a younger, more refined, fitter version of myself.

Our competitive spirit spurs us on. If my baby sister, can finish her first sprint triathlon at the age of 51, I can darn well make it around the block again on my own two faulty feet.