Maine Indigenous People’s Day

I was told, from the earliest age, that Columbus had discovered America. I recall my teachers assigning us to draw his ships and being greeted by Natives on some imagined shore. This was the education of white supremacy. I recall being insistent to the teacher that he couldn’t have discovered the New World if Natives were here to greet him. I was being cultivated as a racist and inducted into the established world of Colonialism. I was reprimanded as an unwilling participant of this farce.

As I worked my way through adolescence, and I learned more about the tragedy imposed upon Native Americans by the government I had pledged my allegiance to, the more reluctant I became of supporting the stars and stripes. 

I have spent much time imagining Indigenous people here,  on Turtle Island, living in harmony with the Earth before European contact. And I grieve for the great injustice and genocide bestowed upon them for the sake of greed. 

If you are not familiar with the Doctrine of Discovery please educate yourself to better understand the foundation of our laws. It is an abhorrent document invoked in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI and it justified colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians.

This is the foundation of entitlement and genocide upon which we have built our country. It has denied Native Americans sovereignty and if we look at Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the 1823 case Johnson v. McIntosh, we see that Indigenous people had the right to occupy land only, which could also be abolished. Without this Papal Bull, what have we really and who are we to presume it is of good Christian virtue of which we are entitled?

I denounce the Doctrine of Discovery and suggest its intent and reprehensible language be invalidated and rendered null and void. I cannot imagine a more toxic instrument which has delivered us to this place in time. By many accounts, our planet is struggling to exist, due to excess and out of control consumerism. 

In honor of Indigenous People’s Day please consider the ancient and harmonious existence the pre-contact Natives practiced and the wisdom the Europeans and other immigrants have tried to strip from them. I believe it would behoove us and our planet to look to the Wabanaki Confederacy’s wisdom to help guide us into the future. We can act as individuals, if not collectively. 

Although Indigenous People’s Day is a giant leap forward in recognition of a vital culture, we need to recognize it as a step to a pathway of reconciliation. I am grateful for this day and the work of the Wabanaki, Janet Mills and the State of Maine to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day!

Inspiration Comes Running

I love to be inspired by others. I especially love to see people doing things I could never do and things I would never have imagined doing and of course things that I would consider impossible.

This is such a story. My wife, Sandra has been an avid runner since my oldest son ran cross country and track in high school. That was a long time ago, maybe 12 or 13 years ago. She started by just running with him in the neighborhood and by entering a few 5k road races. Eventually, she did her first marathon. This was pretty amazing.

I had been inspired by my children’s running as well, though not enough to keep at it and do a marathon. When she did a marathon I naively thought that was all there is to it. She has reached the highest pinnacle of running. Her accomplishment was pretty significant. But then she began sharing with me accounts of barefoot runners in the desert running a 100 miles. Yikes!

Her fascination with ultra running has been building for many years. She loves to read about and watch youtube vids of runners with GoPro cams running across mountain trails in Europe and the U.S. So, it was quite natural for Sandra to eventually, after much thought, no doubt, consider an ultra run herself. She mentioned to me early this summer that there is an upcoming 50k on the Sunapee, Ragged, and Kearsarge Greenway. My first thought was OK? And within a few more weeks, Sandra had signed up and she was all in.

I had seen how many ultra runners have a support team, naturally, I thought that is my job. I would support her fascination into something so ambitious I was unable to believe she could accomplish making it to the finish line. But I had no doubts she would go down trying. And then I pondered what this could mean.

After carefully packing for a few days, Sandra was ready to hit the road in the direction of Lake Sunapee. We left Saturday, around noon and got to Sunapee mid afternoon. We drove around the lake and had a picnic at Sunapee State Park where we serendipitously sat next to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (unknown to her) which is another story altogether.

We checked out the starting line at the middle school and checked into our hotel room for a good night of sleep. Around midnight we were awoken by a few ladies right outside our open window discussing matters relevant to only themselves in a most enthusiastic manner. After I made a call to the front desk, the voices vanished into the night and we fell back asleep.

We arrived at the starting line at about 6:30 am. I studied the map in haste, not sure where I was going to see Sandra during the race. I hoped and had planned on seeing her at three of the aid stations out of four. The first one was inaccessible. Off they went at 7 a.m. I drove off in the other direction and to a Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and then in search of the second aid station. There was little or no cell reception so my map apps proved useless. I had a topographic map showing the SRK Greenway but it proved to not be a great driving aid.

I saw some walkers and asked for help. They guided me back and I arrived at the second aid station with the volunteers who were just setting up. I headed down the trail to take photos of the runners as they came. I posted the photos on NH Running on Facebook.

I was there for the first runners and got a lot of photos. This aid station was 11 miles into the race. Suddenly, Sandra came along with a big smile. I walked with her to the car where she told me her right knee was feeling tight. She rolled it, hydrated and took off up a hill. Remember, her longest runs were marathons at 26.2. She was suffering an injury already.

Sandra Freeman
Sandra coming up to mile 11 aid station

The next aid station was at mile 19. I found it and walked into the woods a few hundred feet to where the tables and volunteers had been helping the runners. It was a very beautiful place. There were lots of large evergreens with a small babbling brook. It reminded me of our own property, back home. There were some very large trilliums with red berries atop. They were quite dramatic above the sienna, pine needle forest floor. Again I snapped many photos of runners as I waited for Sandra. As there was no cell connection and I wondered how I would know if she was to drop out of the race due to injury.

Not to worry! She came along and looked great. I had carried in a pack full of food and other support items she has carefully packed. Her leg was feeling tighter but she was determined. And after a few minutes, up she stood and ran off, onto a mountain. The next aid station was at mile 26.2.

I arrived at the fourth aid station and really didn’t know what to expect. It was hot. I pulled the car about 50 feet from the aid station. The volunteers were greeting the runners as I sat in the car, waiting. I had brought drawing material thinking I might saunter off into the woods and do some sketching as I waited. But I didn’t want to risk not being available when Sandra came off the trail and into the aid station. So, I pulled out from my drawing bag a copy of Leonard Cohen’s book, Beautiful Losers. After the first 20 pages, I realized I was reading some serious stuff.

After 35 pages spotted Sandra coming off the trail. I had the car positioned with the hatchback open, making anything she might need immediately available. She said her knee was getting tighter but there was no way she wasn’t going to go for it. She thought she had eight miles to go. She ate some watermelon and off she went. It was hard for me to believe she had passed the marathon mark and was determined to keep on going. I drove off looking for Ragged Mountain.

The map I had, I discovered later, didn’t show the access road to the ski resort, where the finish line was. So I followed DOT signs, but not confident enough to just keep on driving off the map which included the race course. So I stopped at a convenience store and was told by the attendant that she had worked there and knew where it was. She assured me to just keep on driving and I would find it.

Realizing Sandra might cross the finish line before I got there, I drove and drove and finally saw a large bill board directing me right at an upcoming intersection. I turned right onto the “Ragged Highway,” With the hills all around me, I realized the challenge Sandra was facing. She was out there someplace, way past her comfort zone, in a place she had aspired to be, with an injury. As I kept driving, I eventually came to the Ragged Mountain visitor center, parked and walked over to the finish line.

I arrived at the finish line at 9 hours and 9 minutes into the race. As I looked up the mountain, I realized how significant an effort Sandra was making. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for me to run 34 miles, except impossible. Yet, only a few months ago, she mentioned the idea and here she was, somewhere on the other side of this mountain, climbing a rock laden trail closing in her goal.

On our family text chat all three of our kids were texting her encouragement. I could see that she wasn’t moving on the app, Find Friends. But she was very close to the top. The descent would be the most difficult for her injury and that is what lay before her. I didn’t know how to offer support. If I gave her misguided encouragement, I would regret it. After about 15 minutes I could see on the app she was moving down the mountain.

I was truly amazed that she pulled this off. We often talk about the strangeness of things we like to do in this life. Why does she like to run, why do I like to paint. We don’t have answers, at least deeply philosophical ones. We keep on going though. Setting goals. Honestly, this goal, that Sandra had set for herself, seemed more than I could imagine. That is why I find it so inspirational. I really can’t understand how she could run 34 miles but am totally awestruck to have been there and seen it!

Sandra Freeman
Sandra Freeman crossing the finish line at stage 3 of the Ragged 75 Stage Race and 50k

National Museum of the American Indian

I had the opportunity to visit the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. yesterday. The architecture is grand if not overly stated. It is difficult to imagine that the seemingly organic facade is representative of a people who place great respect upon the earth.

In another context the curves could portray elegance and wonder. But as a welcoming to a museum which presumes a tribute to indigenous people, I immediately felt a disconnect. It seems that assimilation is at play here.

After revealing our metal objects and being wanded by museum staff, we followed the signs over the elevators and followed the suggestion above the elevators to begin our tour on the top level, four. 

We were immediately submerged into a series of curvy chamber like rooms, very dark, each profiling a tribe of the Americas highlighting distinctive features. The exhibit space was confining and not intuitive to navigate. Each exhibit was like a singularity or a pod and stood disconnected from the others. The connecting hallways were confusing and crowded. 

Everything was untouchable and behind glass. I kept thinking this is so antithetical to a culture that I have come to admire for their connection to our planet. None the less, the prevalent slickness of the skilled placement of beautiful and often authentic objects combined with the pinpoint accuracy of lighting couldn’t dispel the sadness of the plight of a beautiful culture.

A tribute to the demise of a culture or maybe its survival in spite of the efforts of their rivals and adversaries couldn’t be more clear, than here, in DC. This location, “our great Capitol,” represents what I was taught in public school to be the essence of our democracy, the essence of sanctimony.

After self guiding ourselves through the upper level we stepped down into level three. This is where things became confrontational. The exhibit was titled Nation to Nation and featured many, I think dozens of broken treaties between Sovereign Natives and the U.S. government. Each treaty featured the Native vs US interpretation of the specific treaty and how each meant different things to both parties and how each have been broken. 

I noticed that we were the only whites in my view in the museum at one point which heightened my shame for my ancestors and contributions I unwittingly make to colonialism. There was a mural depicting a treaty signing that looked like the same white male model was used to depict about 30 U.S. representative signees. It was deplorable.

At some point we walked over to the sound of Hawaiian children signing Native Hawaiian songs on the ground level in the Rasmuson Theatre. They were being accompanied by adults with instruments. The voices and instrument tones were coalescing upward to us from the vast open area from which we were looking down over a railing with a dramatic view. It sounded very pleasant and celebratory. My heart could not bridge the gap and I felt only sadness as these young people jubilated their Native songs with pride. We retreated back into the broken treaty exhibit to dismay.

We could hear Robert Redford narrate the horrific injustice imposed on Natives by westward expansion on a video in a nearby theatre. The treaties were commingled with quotations of our founding fathers, including Jefferson. My feeling of angst and shame continued to escalate. How could one nation commit such atrocities to another people? 

And then, as I walked into another gallery, there was the Indian Removal Act. As hideous as all this had previously been, I became at an even higher level of consternation and disbelief. Graying ink on a large sheet of parchment proclaimed the removal of Indigenous people from their land and to the east of the Mississippi. How could this all be possible, how could my European forefathers and mothers perpetuated genocide, willingly and orderly without regard for moral impairment?

The Trail of Tears bears witness to the abhorrent removal of Native people by the U.S. government from lands that had been occupied by their ancestors for thousands of years.

At this point of our museum visit I was overwhelmed by emotion and conflicting thoughts. The museum, at the heart of the Nation’s Capitol put much resources into the exhibition of a genocide it committed and has never ended. Native people have never been rescued in the way that Jews were liberated from the concentration camps. Rather, they were pushed further and further and in many cases required to assimilate with their white oppressors.

On the lower floor, we rushed through, as it was getting near closing time. In a very large gallery there was an exhibition of posters that demonstrated how influential Native American life has been in marketing U.S. goods, products and services. As we exited this gallery there was an exhibit on Pocahontas. As I tried to read the many interpretations of her life I mostly thought of how trump mocks Elizabeth Warren by bullying and trivializing a great people and how we continue to dehumanize a frail culture and have brought them to the brink of non-existance.

The atrocities committed by the country I was brainwashed, from an early childhood, to respect is morally corrupt and a dark cloud upon humanity.

I didn’t discover methods for reconciliation, healing or positive reflection during or after my visit. The experience was more like I had been reported to about a terrible, hateful country of which I am a part. The National Museum of the American Indian (although informational) highlighted, brazen and without accountability, the Native American Genocide. How shameful.

Goodnight, mom

Black as a moonless night sky without twinkling stars your desires twisted the Milky Way into knots forever clenching me, and to those I am helpless to love. Ours was no love, certainly not the promised mother’s love. Rather a pit into which we threw all sorts of things, perhaps each other. I was pulled from you with cold forceps and tugged into the bright cold lights and resisted til faint of breath. It’s another day and your shadow inhabits me, buzzing like a pesky fly. Your gang’s loathing shall be testimony to your eternal essence. And yet you told me you loved me, sobbing and believable. Helpless I replied, I love you, too. 

Winter Snow

It has been a while since my walks in the woods revitalize and inspire me. At one time the woods were clearly a place for me to go and rejuvenate. Now, I bring a bag of sadness, always close.

Yesterday, at dusk, that magic moment and as the snow was spitting slightly from the west I walked into it. I couldn’t help myself. I needed to be outside. Very quickly I felt sad and empty. My dad was on my mind, my friend Roland and my friend Greg and Wayne and Brad. They were there but not there.

Photo of Brad Webber on right (1943-2017)

My two sons have moved to the opposite coast. One is in a band touring the country and based in LA. The other has settled with a family and I am happy for them both. Alternately, deep in my heart there is a loss for these two, who I feel I never had enough time with. Someplace in my mind I had always imagined spending time with them in the woods. Doing things that my dad and I did. It seems to have vanished before it got started.

Growing up, the woods were always a place of immense discovery for me. I couldn’t stay away. I loved hunting and when it wasn’t hunting season, us neighborhood boys would build forts and camps and chop out trails with our coveted axes and saws. Every turn ahead was unknown. What would we see next? A rabbit, an old cellar hole, an old well, an unknown hill with a view to the ocean?

It is so strange, now I feel mostly loneliness when I walk in the woods. The trees and topography haven’t changed and the wildlife, as evidenced by the photos on my game camera is still abundant. I am in the process of training my brain to get beyond this feeling of melancholy but it feels like a heavy rock, to big to move, currently.

photo by game camera

Unlike many of my friends I have never suffered from depression, anxiety or PTSD. I have much empathy for those who do and cannot really imagine a life under such duress. In this past year however, I am getting a glimpse into what it is like to feel empty and not full of enthusiasm, courage and a willingness to embrace my uniqueness. Some days I have felt empty, mentally and physically. Not all days though, thank goodness, as some mornings I wake up inspired to tackle my creative interests, especially drawing and painting.

photo of Kevin Freeman
photo by Sandra Freeman

I attribute my current circumstances to having the benefit of age. I am 58 years and am entirely grateful for each new day. They come and go so quickly, I can barely grasp them. As I sit at home at the kitchen table, my makeshift winter studio, I gaze out the picture window into the woods beyond our garden. I see the maze of tree trunks and reaching branches. I look for some relief and imagine walking and the memory of the all familiar embrace of nature, the maternal nurturing that I was once so compelled by and dependent on. I won’t give up, for it is to compelling. But now is right for this shift in my soul. It is undeniable.