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Boozhoo, indinawemaaganidog! Aaniin! That is to say hello, all of my relatives! Welcome to another edition of An Irritable Métis. It has been a busy couple of weeks here and my attention has been pulled in every direction. But whose hasn’t? All the more reason to be so grateful that you continue to direct some of yours here, with me. There are some exciting things on the horizon that I will be reporting on soon, just not today.
As for today: I’ve had pieces of this edition of the newsletter in my draft folder for over two months but things just kept coming up to write about instead. Given certain and recent exciting developments in my public life it has become that much more relevant.
Also, before I forget, I want to share this wonderful piece called, “Montana’s Poet Laureate Inspires Storytellers at UM.” It was written by Abigail Lauten-Scrivner for the UM News Service and I think she did a wonderful job. You may read it HERE.
Miigwech, as always, for reading and for your continued support.
Some months ago a writer friend was approached to edit an anthology about a specific topic and this friend invited me to co-edit with her. I said yes. I’m not saying more about it because who knows if it is actually going to happen but it seems like it might; if it does, I’ll bloviate ad nauseum as the project unfolds.If all goes as planned it will be cool and somewhat unprecedented given the sense we have for the contributors to do something a little different on the theme.
The first step in making sure the project was even feasible (after raising money to ensure contributors would be paid) was to make an effort to interest those potential contributors. We made a list of people we thought would be great to include and then divided them up between us for the purpose of contacting them. One of the first names on my list was an Indigenous acquaintance I’ve known for several years; a sharp writer, and smart, and engaged in poking at the cruel and white supremacist structures that prop up everything around us. It was important to me to make sure they had an opportunity to participate because their voice is important. When I sent the original email of inquiry, they were the first to respond, barely over an hour after I sent it, agreeing to contribute.
In the coming weeks I had some back and forth emails with everyone who signed on based on questions posed by the publishing representative we are working with on the proposal. My Indigenous acquaintance didn’t respond to any of those questions but I wasn’t too worried, they weren’t details that were going to make or break us at this point. Then, a month or so after all the exchanges had ceased and the proposal was turned in and we began waiting to hear what the next step would be, I received the following email from my acquaintance:
That was it, no context, nothing. I didn’t follow the link because I had enough of an idea what the email was referring to and the writer’s approach did nothing to inspire any interest in doing the work to understand wtf they were talking about. It’s the “people like you” part that got me. Not to mention that “the good Indian” bullshit. What’s that even supposed to mean? I took it as a personal attackbecause at the time this project had nothing to do with Humanities nor had Humanities ever been mentioned in the communications about what we are working on. It felt almost like a blackmail-type attempt: “If you are doing this unrelated thing over here, then….”
I ground my teeth over all the clever ways I might respond but fighting over email or texts or anything else is just dumb. I allowed myself to seethe a few minutes then opened the spreadsheet we are using for keeping track of contributors and took their name off the list, as they requested, because I am indeed still doing work for Humanities and will into the future.
For context, this headline from The Daily Montanan that posted barely more than a week before I received that stupid email says it all: “Gianforte appoints right-wing conspiracy theorist to Humanities Montana Board.” It’s true: wherever he can, our governor is appointing people to boards whose political ideologies are in lockstep with his own, and it sucks. Humanities isn’t the only org he’s doing it to, and that is a drag for everyone, but there is little these organizations can do about it. Even if the person is a straight-up nazi like this guy seems to be. Don’t think because this governor appointed me poet laureate that I’m going to be all, “Ah, shucks, he isn’t so bad!” Quite the contrary. It’s made me more intent in engaging with organizations like Humanities to do what I do, which is the opposite of upholding efforts to swing things to the right. I’m not going to self-righteously keyboard warrior myself into obscurity. I’m going to get out in front of people in person, using the very tools this state government has to provide whenever I possibly can.
Humanities Montana is a nonprofit organization who “serves Montana’s multicultural communities through stories and conversation.” Of the list of nine programs they support, I am at least indirectly involved with half of them.At the time of this newsletter, let alone the email I’m all a-gurgle about, I’ve yet to do anything with Humanities in 2023, though that is going to change this week. Thursday I am traveling to Fort Benton, MT, to do an evening program about the Little Shell for adults, and then speak to school kids the following morning about the same thing. Humanities pays a small stipend for each program and also covers my travel expenses. If they weren’t doing this for me – as they have been doing for a couple years now – my reach would be significantly less. Like hundreds and hundreds of people less. No one has done more to enable me to go out and talk about my people than Humanities has … with the exception of paid subscribers to this newsletter. one of the first people I contacted was John Knight, the Program Manager at Humanities. I feel like over the last few months and a couple sitdowns over coffee we’ve become friends. He isn’t just some nonprofit bureaucrat, he’s an artist too who understands what it’s like trying to make a living work as a creative person. I wanted to know if there was anything in the Humanities budget to support what I want to do in this role, since the appointment comes without any stipend or honorarium or anything like that. And they do! So we put a program together that people can choose to connect to me through and, once again, get my expenses paid with a little extra. This program isn’t going to compensate me for everything I do, but it’s a heck of a lot better than nothing. It expands my reach exponentially and I am grateful for it.
If you imagine that the people actually doing the work in the community that Humanities tries to do are happy about the governor’s bogus appointment to their board then I don’t know what to tell you because clearly you haven’t considered anything beyond the clickbait headline nature of the issue.
If this sounds like a lot of cheerleading for Humanities Montana it’s because it is. They’ve been taking a lot of guff from people, like my colleague, who really haven’t been thinking things through as it relates to that solitary board member. If you imagine that the people actually doing the work in the community that Humanities tries to do are happy about the governor’s bogus appointment to their board then I don’t know what to tell you because clearly you haven’t considered anything beyond the clickbait headline nature of the issue. Quitting in protest is a choice a person can certainly make and I respect it. What I don’t respect is folks in the community at large pressuring them to do so. If the mission of the organization started to shift because of one guy on the board, or even three or four, then we have a different story. But one guy on the board is as powerless as vague, passive aggressive emails from self-righteous alleged do-gooders. It’s laughable to think otherwise. Damn near the entire United States government is “that guy on the board” to us as Indigenous people, not to mention every other institution from education to religion. Are we supposed to curl up and take it or fight back within the structures we find ourselves in whenever we can? That’s a no-brainer of an answer to me.
Humanities has never once tried to tell me what I can or can’t do. If they did I’d still do what I want and if that ended our relationship, then fine. Until they do, I feel like the best way to counter a board-appointed fascist is to keep going out and doing what I do for the organization he allegedly has influence over but is utterly powerless to guide. He can’t make me do anything I don’t want to do. Going out and doing more of my thing under his so-called auspices is a nice way to keep kicking him in his ignorant teeth.
Am I somehow compromising my sense of morality by taking this stance? Maybe, but I don’t really think so. I’m compromising “the world I want to be” by living in “the world that is” every time I step out the door. Turning on a light or driving my car is a major compromise. Getting online, especially via a smartphone, is a flex of colonialism that is keeping the boot on the neck of people essentially enslaved in other parts of the world by our so-called “need” to have them. It is a relentless tidal wave of compromise every moment of every day that I can easily get swept away in. So I pick my battles and I do what I can. I could abandon Humanities in a huff and feel self-righteous but that would also mean that there are people all over the state that may never hear the (what I think are) important things I hope to say to them.
In a community of so-called allies who falter at the first sign of inconvenience or difficulty, I feel like Humanities is a collection of folks in it for the long haul. As long as they’ve got my back, I’ve got theirs.
Miigwech, as always, for reading, my friends, and for your support. It is everything.
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If I’m not mistaken I believe the final meeting/hurdle to clear with the publisher happens next week!
You might think this is overreaction on my part but given the relentless nature of crab pot lateral violence in the Native community, it isn’t even close to a stretch.
It’s possible, even likely, that they will be involved at some point in the future, though.
Vigorously so with Montana Conversations, Speakers in the Schools, and Montana Poets Laureate; less directly but still somewhat connected to, if potentially, with Montana Center for the Book and Montana Reads/Montana Writes
Not hyperbole. Paid subscriptions really make so much of what I do in my community possible.
One might think “MPL” would be a cleaner acronym for “Montana Poet Laureate” but one would be wrong because that three-letter combo has already been claimed by the “Missoula Public Library” and if I know one thing it’s this: one should think long and hard about treading on their well-earned turf.