Happy Anniversary, The Auntie Way Blog

February 28 is the one year anniversary of The Auntie Way Blog! In a recent interview with the Oregon Humanities Center’s UO Today, one of the questions prompted me to discuss why I’d written The Auntie Way. I mentioned how Aunts have a special role in our community and that we honor Aunties, both blood-related and chosen. During the interview, I read “Academic Aunties,” a story from The Auntie Way that describes the generous and persistent efforts of women who help support and encourage us in our educational journeys. At the end of the story, I conclude, “I hope we all get to attend the University of Auntie Magic.”

I enjoy celebrating the kindness, fierceness, and creativity in our lives and communities. This was the spirit behind my writing The Auntie Way, although you’ll see it in all of my work: a consistent lifting up of our people’s brilliance, wisdom, and courage. This same spirit guides the work I do here in The Auntie Way Blog, a free resource for anyone who wishes to engage The Auntie Way.

I’m proud of the 62 posts to The Auntie Way Blog this year, and am especially honored to share the six award-winning Auntie stories from youth and adult winners of The Auntie Way Super Auntie Writing Contest. If you missed them, or want to savor them again, you can find the winning entries here.

I’m so grateful for all of you reading, engaging, and sharing The Auntie Way.

Auntie says, “Do something kind for yourself today!”

Michelle’s next book, Fox Doesn’t Wear a Watch: Lessons from Mother Nature’s Classroom, is scheduled to be published in March 2021 and is available for pre-order here.

Kiss, Kiss, Kiss

I got to watch the sunrise this morning. Or rather, I watched the beautiful work of Aan (Sun) unfold. First the earliest rays of light kissed the top of a tree-covered mountain range I see out my window–kissing the tip top of the highest peak.

It reminds me of when we humans kiss the top of a dear child’s head. I remember doing so years ago, sitting on my parents’ old red living room carpet, keeping close watch over nephews or niece playing with favored toys. In that sphere, love, curiosity, kindness, and acceptance defined our total existence. I wonder if sun and mountain feel the same?

Now, a few minutes later in the morning, sun bathes more of the land in crisp, clear, golden light. Winter sun on a clear, cold day is magical. Sun illuminates more hills, and trees are dazzling. Nearby Papsh (Fir tree) shows an endless variety of shades of green, each branch lighter or darker depending on sun and shadow. Niní’s (Aspen tree’s) bark almost sparkles with delight in greeting Morning Sun, the bright white of Niní’s bark so intense I almost need to squint.

“Kiss, kiss, kiss,” I think I can hear Sun blessing each tree, hill, and rock.

I feel certain they’re wishing us a day full of love, kindness, and acceptance.

Photo credit: “aspens” by Katya Horner is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Michelle’s latest book, Fox Doesn’t Wear a Watch: Lessons from Mother Nature’s Classroom, is scheduled to be published in March 2021 and is now available for preorder. More info is here.

Backpack Full of Doubt

Today I’m thinking about doubt. Doubt is so interesting to me–this invisible, colorless, odorless, weightless thing that, at times, can be so big, strong, and heavy in our lives. Like a big backpack that we may or may not notice we’re carrying as we journey through our days. That backpack full of doubt can influence what we imagine is possible, whether we view ourselves as capable of tasks assigned to us, or–more importantly–whether we should even bother with the tasks and plans we dream up for ourselves.

Does your doubt have a voice? Does it whisper or shout? Or maybe it drones on monotone like the worst pastor or teacher you ever had, yet somehow that voice–that may or may not know anything that’s actually of value to you–somehow it asserts authority. In this tricky way, an oppressive math equation manifests: doubt = truth.

Hmmm…that’s rough. And when I find things rough and tough in my life, I sometimes remember to pause and ask: What would my most loving Aunties say and do in this moment? How would they want me to feel?

And then I smile. Feel lighter. Because of course my beloved Aunties would never want me to feel, or be, weighed down with the heavy burden of a backpack full of doubt.

“Let it go,” they would say, kindness and care shining in their eyes, the soft skin on their elderly faces crinkling into a gentle smile.

“But…,” I might say, making excuses to defend the logical proof of doubt = truth.

“Here, let us help you,” my Aunties might say, lifting the heavy bag and removing the straps from my arms. “There, that’s better,” they’d wisely observe.

Wow. My mind reels with the new possibilities of the gift my Aunties have given me: doubt ≠ truth.

I stand taller, amazed at the strength and comfort I feel in my body without that heavy backpack of doubt weighing me down. I move my shoulders and arms with ease and joy–remembering this is what freedom and possibility feel like.

“Thank you,” I tell my Aunties, wondering how I can repay them.

They smile again, and their wishes for me are clear: Go. Do. Be.

With my heart full and spirit renewed, I do. I carry their Auntie teachings with me.

If you ever see me on the path of life weighed down with a backpack full of doubt, please remind me to shrug it off.

I’ll do the same for you.

Photo credit: “2018 NST: Backpack mt. Adams” by College Outdoors is licensed underCC BY-NC 2.0

Michelle will be speaking about Indigenous Pedagogies at the UOTeachIN conference on February 22 at 6pm Pacific. Registration is full; overflow can watch this event live streamed on YouTube https://youtu.be/MF_y4GzQ964

Marathon Lessons for Life

As an educator, I often pause to ask myself, “What am I learning?” I try to do this often, and especially when I feel things are going extremely well or poorly. I tend to assume I get my biggest insights at these times. But I’m also trying to be mindful of the in between times. When things are just kind of going along, nothing outstanding–when things just kind of are, the mundane times. There are so many rich possibilities for learning and growing in these just-kind-of-cruising-along-times.

I’m working on a project about the marathon lessons for life. It’s remarkable how many lessons there are. Most of marathon training, at least for me, consists of hours upon hours of plodding along. Step, step, step, breathe, breathe, breathe. My watch beeps to let me know when another mile has gone by. That little noise sharpens my awareness, analysis, and reflection. How did that last mile go? How do I feel right now? Mentally, what is my mood and outlook? Spiritually, am I connected to Mother Earth and the place where my feet step, step, step? Physically, how do I feel? I scan my body, paying attention to the smoothness or tightness of my movements and each muscle group and joints who support them. I adjust my gait accordingly. I note my breathing–do I have a sense of ease, sustainable challenge, or–as with occasional spadework–am I at my cardio limit with effort so great I can barely get enough air and even my teeth hurt?

Mostly, though, it’s just an easy pace. Step, step, step. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Notice, notice, notice. These hours and hours of plodding along don’t seem remarkable in and of themselves. But when I look at the long-term plan, I know each step will get me to the starting line, and then the finish line, of the marathon.

It’s kind of magical, this journey of transformation, taking the mundane and weaving it into a dream come true. And when I find magical lessons in the mundane some of my greatest learning indeed takes place. Step, step, step. Breathe, breathe, breathe.

Photo credit: “snow woman” by elisaboba is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Do you have time to pursue your dreams? Join the Indigenous Time Management workshop on March 29, 2021. More info and registration is here.

Honoring Elder Wisdom

In our Sapsik’ʷałá Seminar, we are reading Tuxámshish Dr. Virginia Beavert’s book, The Gift of Knowledge / Ttnúwit Átawish Nch’inch’imamí: Reflections on Sahaptin Ways. In the book, Tuxámshish recounts the beautiful history of her lifelong involvement in caring for our people’s history, culture, and language. We are blessed this wise Elder chooses to work with our program, serving as Distinguished Elder Educator. Tuxámshish attends our seminars, and it is a joy to witness the gift of Elder pedagogy at each class meeting. Key lessons she shares with us are simple yet profound:

Take care of your language.

Take care of your culture.

In an effort to heed the wisdom of my Elder, I’m launching a fun new project, Áwna Sínwisha Ichishkíin! (Now let’s speak Ichishkíin!) Each Tuesday morning, I’ll share an Ichishkíin quote square on Twitter and Facebook using the dictionary by Tuxámshish and Dr. Sharon Hargus as my primary source. Audio files are available here if you want to hear Tuxámshish speaking in our beautiful language.

Here’s a preview of an Ichishkíin quote square to celebrate the launching of this heartfelt initiative. Enjoy!

Join the Dare to Soar Telesummit tomorrow, Saturday, February 6, 2021. Michelle is speaking at 11:30am-Noon Pacific time at this free event. Learn more here.

A Sacred, Healing Place

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately. A dear Sister-Auntie-Friend has suffered an unimaginable loss. In our families and communities, we are not unused to young death, violent death–both are grim. When they intersect, exponentially so. So what do we do? What can we do? Pray. Write. Create messages of love and kindness. Send these, with gifts that can hopefully help our grieving loved ones. Our efforts feel so small, especially now in this strange and isolating time of the pandemic. But we keep going, keep doing, keep trying. Keep the steady streams of prayers and love flowing that have always seen our communities through impossible times. Goodness knows we have enough practice.

And then I remember. It’s not enough to pray with my mind and heart. I must use my feet–get my whole body involved. And so I tie on my running shoes on an eerily warm winter morning and run on my most favorite running surface in all the world: the slightly damp dirt and gravel roadways on my Indigenous homeland. The earth, damp from melted snow, isn’t dry and dusty when the cold wind moves across us, sending greetings from the snow-covered foothills and our sacred mountain to the west.

Pat, pat, pat, I hear the soft sound of my feet kissing the earth with each step. I sense Mother Earth inviting me to release days, decades, and centuries of grief. She knows I can’t carry it myself. Like all wise and generous relatives, she offers to help. And so I let it go. Pat, pat, pat. I feel lighter and faster as I release the troubles I’ve been holding. I feel wind’s approval at my back, gently pushing me to go faster. Pat, pat, pat. A gravel and dirt road becomes a sacred healing place.

Photo credit: Michelle M. Jacob

Michelle believes in the power of stories to help us heal. Learn more at the Dare to Soar Telesummit, a free event on Saturday, February 6, 2021. Michelle will be speaking from 11:30am-Noon Pacific time.

Super Auntie Teachings

I saw on Twitter from Sandy Grande that today is Chandra Mohanty’s birthday. How wonderful to have an opportunity to pause, celebrate, and honor the impact of this amazing “Super Auntie” scholar. Many of you know I love making little quote squares to share inspiring words. Here’s one I made for today:

Dr. Mohanty’s words encourage us to be in community and connection with one another as a fundamental part of our education. I am also encouraged to embrace this wise pedagogical approach from another “Super Auntie,” Yakama Elder Tuxámshish Dr. Virginia Beavert, who in her role as Distinguished Elder Educator for the Sapsik’ʷałá Program mentors our Indigenous teacher candidates, staff, and myself. Tuxámshish emphasizes the importance of kinship in our education, and our lives. She urges us to see one another, acknowledge one another, and greet one another. These particular teachings are rooted in our Yakama cultural ways, which our people have carried with us Since Time Immemorial.

I feel so grateful to witness the possibilities and beautiful solidarities all around us in our educational systems, and in our lives. I feel gratitude for the wise teachings and powerful role models who inspire me everyday.

Happy birthday, Dr. Mohanty.

Photo credit: “Happy Birthday” by jbelluch is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Thanks for reading The Auntie Way blog. Find all the latest events and updates here.

Marathon Lessons

One of my relatives and I are training for a marathon. I found a training plan and we’re adapting it slightly so race day falls on the very date a small marathon is being planned on my people’s homeland (with Covid precautions in place). I did that race the very first year it was held, 20 years ago. The race and I have both changed since.

I haven’t done a race since Covid time began. My last marathon was almost two years ago now. I’ve completed many marathons, but I’ve never had a great race at a marathon. My problems vary. Sometimes I’m undertrained. Sometimes–usually–I go out too fast at the beginning, full of hope and excitement and feeling good and well-rested, as training always eases up before a long race. “This pace feels good! Maybe today I’ll have my best race ever!” My flawed logic goes, as I’m swept up with a pace group too fast for me. And then there I am, miserable and paying the price later in the race.

In those long races, pacing is so important. It is perhaps the most important, along with preparation and proper hydration and nutrition. Prep, pace, water, food. It sounds simple. And in many ways it is–to take the time, effort, and thoughtfulness to really nurture oneself. Other factors: wearing shoes and clothes that help you feel good on race day, although this is really part of prep–that you’ve practiced running on different terrain and in varying weather so you have the experience to know what works best when race day rolls around and it’s freezing cold, or pouring rain, or blazing sun. Or perhaps all three happening on the same morning, Mother Nature keeping you on your toes.

So, we’ll see. I hope to show up at the starting line with my relative. I hope this time I’ll be focused in how I manage prep, pacing, water, food. And most of all I hope, like 20 years ago, to take time during the long race to savor the beauty of my Yakama homeland, and that each step is a blessing and a prayer on our Tiichám, with the beautiful awareness of my ancestors watching over us.

Photo credit: “Yakima Canyon” by theslowlane is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Like marathon running, academic writing takes prep, pacing, and nurturing. The Auntie Way Writing Retreat will help you with this! Registration ends Friday.

Writing Amid Distractions

2021 is off to a challenging start. The violence, hatred, fear, and oppression shouts so loud it seems to try to drown out everything good and nurturing and sustaining. Sigh.

At times like these I remember I need to pick up my Auntie teachings and hold them close to my heart. Write them on a post it note and stick it on my forehead if needed. Anything to help me get and stay grounded in the loving teachings and visions of our People.

At times like these I remember it’s important to get back to basics. I reflect on the wisdom and instruction of our Creation Story, shared with me by my Aunties and Uncles, and I recall a powerful lesson: Water is Sacred. I remember to keep Water close to me during all parts of my day. I pause throughout the day, as often as my busy mind will allow, and remember to pray: Water is Sacred. I am surrounded by the Sacred. I am Sacred. And I sip Water, sometimes remembering to greet this Holy Being by name, Chúush.

Such a simple teaching and ritual, but it restores me. I recall that Water is ancient and wise and loving. I recall that Water loves me, as I’m taught in my Creation Story. Water, like my favorite Aunties, wants me to have life and love, and so nurtures me to reach my fullest potential.

Now, with Water’s blessing, I continue in my day, writing the messages I believe our world most needs now. I smile on my face and in my heart as I think of the brilliant scholars who will gather with me Friday as we bring about our individual and collective dreams–through writing. Yes, we find our way to our perfect destination–in our lives and in our work–when we get back to basics.

I think of all the many and diverse bodies of water shifting and tumbling and freezing and thawing, going over and through so many obstacles, all in their perfect ways and time, all headed toward our Sacred River, Nch’i Wána. Just like precious Water, we too can make our way on this sacred journey.

Photo Credit: “Yakima River near Milepost 14 — winter” by Scott Butner is licensed underCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Join an awesome space to honor and advance your most important writing projects. The Auntie Way Writing Retreat winter quarter sessions begin tomorrow, Friday, January 8 at 10am Pacific.

Calendars Are a Sacred Tool

What we place on our calendars becomes what we focus on in our lives and work. Our calendars set the boundaries for our days–how and with whom we spend our time, energy, and presence.

In yesterday’s Auntie Rules for Meetings Workshop we discussed each attendee’s aspirations for how we want to feel when we look at our calendar: energized, a sense of moving forward, gratitude, spaciousness. We boldly articulated our aspirations for meetings placed on our calendars: productive, inspired, calm, a sense of a collective working together. Then we made a plan for evaluating and deciding whether attending or hosting a meeting met these fine criteria.

Magic happens when a group of scholars and activists come together dedicated in vision and purpose. As I looked at the Zoom room of social justice leaders and scholars I felt such hope for a blessed future. When each person claims their calendar as a sacred tool so much is possible.

We concluded the workshop with attendees sharing what they’ll have more time for as a result of their workshop participation. A beautiful list emerged: cook healthier meals, take more walks, writing, yoga, precious time with a child, more time building an Indigenous language nest in one’s home.

My heart is full of joy knowing these brilliant people are making room in their calendars for what nourishes them. In doing so, they heal themselves and the world.

I hope your 2021 is saturated with all that is blessed and nurturing.

Photo credit: “Business Calendar & Schedule” by photosteve101 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Join a powerful and productive group of writers in The Auntie Way Writing Retreat. Winter quarter sessions begin Friday, January 8 at 10am-Noon Pacific (1-3pm Eastern). More information and registration is available by clicking here. Maybe you want to join to honor your own writing projects. Or perhaps you can share this info with a colleague who needs support around their writing to reach tenure or promotion goals, or maybe a colleague needs support recommitting to a writing practice in the midst of heavy administrative duties. Thanks for helping spread the word!