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

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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!

Fierce, Loving Writing

I believe in the power of writing to heal ourselves and the world. I believe words are magical. Words have power. Because they can be tools for us to powerfully place our spirit and intention into the world. Perhaps most importantly, words have the power to reflect back to ourselves all that is good and brilliant and capable in our minds and hearts.

For those of us who do critical scholarship, social justice scholarship, community-based, and community accountable scholarship–we’re always using our words to change things, whether we’re pushing against structures and narratives that harm, or making visible the love and strength of people too often overlooked; in many ways, it is our heart-work. We perhaps have no choice but to do this work, the calling is so strong. It’s part of who we are, if not our entirety.

I love reading scholarship fiercely dedicated to these radical aims. Perhaps I love even more seeing fierce writers turn that loving gaze upon themselves.

Tomorrow (December 21): The Auntie Way Academic Writing Plan for Success Workshop–join us to create a nurturing and effective plan for your own academic writing! More info and registration is here.

Átway Wakámlat (by Roger Jacob)

Congratulations to Roger Jacob for winning 1st place in the adult category of the #SuperAuntie Writing Contest! Please enjoy reading Roger’s interview responses and winning entry. Thanks again to everyone who entered the contest, the awesome panel of judges, and to all of you who’ve read the winning entries from our fabulous youth and adult authors! The Auntie Way is all about honoring the kindness, fierceness, and creativity in our communities and ourselves–all of our award-winning stories demonstrate this in really powerful ways. Thanks for being part of The Auntie Way community!

Name: Roger Jacob

Hometown: Wapato

What is your advice for other writers?

  1. Come up with an idea or theme, and start typing whatever pops into your head onto your computer. Just start cranking out sentences and paragraphs.
  2. When you feel like you’ve got a decent amount written, go back and begin rearranging and editing.
  3. Then let whatever you wrote sit for a day to cool off. After one day, re-read it and make your final edits.

What are some of your favorite hobbies? Digging, picking, shooting, and catching ndn foods.

What is something you enjoyed about school when you were a youth? Girls and sports.

Anything else you’d like to share? In writing my Super Auntie essay I followed my own writing advice. After writing for what seemed like just a little bit, I did a “word count” and surprisingly had about twice as many words as the 500 word limit. I couldn’t believe it. In my initial writing I merely scratched the surface in listing some of the ways my Auntie Wakámlat cared for, inspired, and mentored myself and so many others. The fact I had to cut and leave out so much is a testament to the sheer super-ness of my Auntie Sue. This writing contest proved what I and all her other nieces and nephews have long known. Our Auntie Sue was truly a 1st place champion super Auntie of not only the Yakama Reservation, but the whole wide world. Kw’ałanúushamatash.

Title of story: Átway Wakámlat

My Super Auntie is Átway Wakámlat, a.k.a. Auntie, a.k.a. Sue Rigdon. Auntie Sue was one of only two Indians I recall being on staff at the Wapato public schools I attended K-12 on the Yakama Reservation. My Auntie Wakámlat was a Jr. High school counselor and Mrs. Miller was a playground aid.

Auntie had a husband (Uncle Mel), three sons and a daughter close to me in age who are my cousins, like brothers and sister Indian-way. The first time I remember Wakámlat auntying-up on me was when I was in the 4th grade. Her oldest son and I were in the same grade and got into a fight on the playground. I don’t remember over what. Probably something important like who was better, the Dallas Cowboys or the Washington Redskins. The person who hit the hardest in this fight was the principal, as he hacked us both with a board. The next time I saw Auntie she asked me why I was fighting. I told her I didn’t know. She told me when the principal called her about us fighting it made her sad. That simple statement had a powerful effect, as it made me feel both terrible and like I never wanted her to hear about me fighting again.

Wakámlat wasn’t just my Auntie, she was Auntie to hundreds of Indian kids who went to Wapato public schools. She not only told us to get good grades, play sports, speak our language, sing our songs, and practice our dances, she facilitated it. Auntie started the Wapato Jr. High Indian Club and designed and purchased blue satin Wapato Indian Club jackets as an incentive. All the Indian kids and even some White and Mexican kids all wanted one of these jackets. You couldn’t buy one. You had to earn it. Auntie set up a system awarding points for grades, participation in cultural performances, sports, and extracurricular activities. If you earned enough points, you earned the jacket.

After I graduated high school, my dad was being nch’i tútanikni ts’ɨ́x̱aas (repugnant) and I got the boot. When I was a homeless 18 year old, it was Auntie Sue and Uncle Mel who welcomed me into their home. Shortly thereafter, I joined the Navy and they continued to mentor and encourage me to be good and to do good. They both have meant and done so much for me that when my first child was born, I humbly asked them to be the godparents.

A few years ago Auntie passed. Her funeral was held in a church on the Reservation. I couldn’t get into the church as it was already full of Auntie’s nieces and nephews. I paid my respects outside the church with their godson and several rows deep of more of my Auntie’s nieces and nephews. As I stood outside the church I prayed in Indian and asked my Auntie, why’d you have to die? It makes me sad.

Credit: Quote from Yakama Rising by Michelle M. Jacob

Engage with more awesome Auntie stories in The Auntie Way. Order autographed copies here.

Aunt’s Love (by Leanne Colette Allen)

Congratulations to Leanne Colette Allen for winning 2nd place in the adult category of the #SuperAuntie Writing Contest! Please enjoy reading Leanne’s winning entry. 

Title of story: Aunt’s Love

When I was ten years old, my mother decided to choose her substance addiction over her family. That had left a big hole in my heart and constantly wished for a mother figure in my life.

I am fortunate to have many mother figures throughout my life. My grandmother, Lillian Spino taught me how to crochet yarn belts. She wanted me to live up to my Indian name of Wapa Lech which means Good Weaver in the Umatilla language. She began teaching me how to weave flat and round bags which was a challenge because I am left handed and she was right handed. She did not give up on teaching me. Sadly, I was not able to learn cornhusk weaving. She was a well-known basket hat weaver. My aunt, Celeste Reeves used to dance jingle. She taught me how to make my own jingle dress. I was not very good with the sewing machine but she took the time to teach me. Once I was done with the dress she took me to the long house to bring me out onto the floor as a new jingle dress dancer. Since then I have made a number of regalia for my friends and family. I charged little to nothing for my work because I felt that it was more important to encourage the young people to dance. That is the value that my aunt has passed down to me.

My grandmother, Sylvia Allen has been my main mother figure once my mom left. She taught me how to cook many of our family’s favorite meals. During one of family dinners, my uncles were telling her how much they missed her potato salad and she had to inform him that I made it. She also taught me how to make frybread. I used to get so discouraged when the bread would not come out right. She constantly worked with me. Now with her permission, I use her recipe to set up an Indian taco stand at events and fairs. Through her teachings I have learned that with patience and determination that I can persevere. My grandmother likes to say she is just a housewife but she taught her children many traditional family values and instilled good work ethic. Those lessons were then passed down to grandsons and granddaughters so we can walk through the world with confidence.

Photo credit: “Jingle dancing” by K. Kendall is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Auntie Way is a great gift idea–order autographed copies here.