Living a principled life
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Nick Metcalf,
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Itís that time of year for renewal. Itís a time to be reminded of our principles.†† For some of us, itís this time of year that we participate in our ceremonies. Itís this time that we put our worries away, give thanks, imagine possibilities, and be in awe of creation. Itís time for ceremonies.

What do I mean by a principled life?† Principled is defined as: a person or their behavior acting in accordance with morality and showing of right and wrong. Morality is defined as: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Oftentimes, these are taught to us by our parents and our relatives. It is there we are taught how to conduct ourselves in the world and in relationship with others.

I have recently been learning about the 7 Anishinaabe Grandfather teachings. They include:
ē Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom): To cherish knowledge is to know wisdom.
ē Zaagi'idiwin (Love): To know peace is to know love.
ē Minaadendamowin (Respect): To honor all creation is to have respect.
ē Aakode'ewin (Bravery): Bravery is to face the foe with integrity.
ē Gwayakwaadiziwin (Honesty): Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave.
ē Dabaadendiziwin (Humility): Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation.
ē Debwewin (Truth): Speak the truth. Do not deceive yourself or others.

As I sat and listened to an Anishinaabe Elders it dawned on me that the Lakota have similar teachings. I was taught many of these by my parents and family.

As I sat there in ceremony, it dawned on me that not everyone lives their life in accordance to these teachings, or participates in our ceremonies. There are parts of our community who are in survival mode, or caught up in addiction, or are afraid to learn.

What I know is that each time I meet a person, I give them the benefit of showing me who they are. Itís then that I decide if they are someone I want in my life. Iíve learned that not everyone should be in my life.
Not everyone lives a principled life. Shocking, I know, but for me it was a realization. Recently, I was fooled into believing that a family shared similar values as me, but they didnít. I mistakenly brought them close to my family and assumed they were my family, but they werenít.

Itís been a life of trial and errors as I learn that people have different values. Some people donít value family. Some people do not have any regard for others. Some people deliberately exploit people for their own personal gain. Some people are cruel for the sake of being cruel. These are the kind of people that I avoid.

Iíve come to realize that sometimes my disappointments are tied to my expectations of people. For me, these relationships are not how I imagine them to be. People arenít living up to my expectations. People arenít behaving how theyíre supposed to. Note, all of this is occurring in my mind.

s I write, I struggle. I am reminded that I donít know how to give voice to my desires. The sound of my voice is unfamiliar. I fall back into myself. As I shrink into myself, I wonder, how dare I speak?† Who am I to give voice to what I need?† Who am I to give voice to what I want?† My words taste unfamiliar. Are these my needs and wants? †

Verbalizing my expectations requires confidence, or sense of agency about oneself. Confidence, itís a trait Iím learning. Oftentimes, I quiver in myself. Years of abuse, assault, and rape taught me to disassociate.

As a child, I didnít have control over who I was around because the adults oversaw this. It was confusing because our parents encouraged us to respect our Elders, but we were treated disrespectfully by some Elders. I later learned that they ainít Elders, they are just old.† †

As an adult, I choose who is in my life. It is my right to exclude people from my life. If someone tears at me, diminishes my light, speaks to me disrespectfully, then they have no place in my life or my families. Respect, it goes two ways.† †

I have a right to state if my needs are not being met. Yes, Iím learning to manage my expectations in relationships and disappointments. They are a bit unwieldy. Life is still teaching me how to live it.

s the summer is upon us, and for those who go to ceremony, it is that time for renewal, for understanding, for forgiveness. Iím not carrying any disappointments into my new year with me. Life is too wonderful and living is too beautiful. Iím taking clarity into my new year and a sense of renewal of our principles.

Tuesday, April 05 2016
Written by Nick Metcalf,
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Not once in my 43 years has anyone ever asked me to join them in the arena at a Powwow. I hear the call for the intertribal. I watch people make their way to the floor. I sit tucked safely in the bleachers. Part of me is grateful that no one notices. Part of me longs to be there. Most of me is fascinated watching people. Itís this conflict that has been going on for a long time.

Itís that time of year when we will gather together for social and spiritual events. For some of us, being involved and getting involved is wrought with confusion, insecurity, and tentativeness. If youíve not grown up around these occasions, then you may wonder whether to participate or not. Iím here to tell you, PARTICIPATE.† †

As I prepared to write about Powwows this month, I was trying to remember when I learned about them. I learned about a powwow from a guest speaker during Culture Class during grade school. I attended St. Francis Indian School during the years, it was transitioning from a mission school run by the priests, Jesuits, and nuns to a tribally run school.

I learned about Powwows from a guest speaker in Culture Class! It's sad really. I was born and raised on a rural reservation in South Dakota. Sit with this. My story is not unusual. †

My parents ďshieldedĒ us from everything and anything Native. My parents were products of the Catholic school mission. They were protecting us, my siblings and me, from the feelings of loss that would occur, if we learned. They kept us away from as much as they could.

It was my maternal grandmother who would sneak us to ceremony. She'd sneak her grandkids to ceremonies! I remember when we got home, if we got caught, my parents would be angry with her. There would be lots of screaming and loud talking in Lakota. Eventually, my grandmother would be sitting there quietly while tears rolled down her cheeks.

My mother was angry with her. My mother believed she was protecting us kids, that there was no need for us to know any of that stuff. When I tried to comfort my grandmother, sheíd brush me off. Sheíd tell me in Lakota to go play and it was adults talking.

I could feel her sadness. I remember her tears. Tears I didnít understand. Eventually, as an adult, Iíd go against my parents. They were angry with me to begin with, that I spent too much time learning about stuff I didnít need to know. They were angry when I began to participate in our traditional ways. Eventually, in time, my parents became supportive. In time, my mother helped me prepare for ceremony.

As I found my way back into the circle of Native people, it was difficult. Insecurity and confusion were my familiar friends. People assumed I knew what to do, but I didnít. When I would ask childish questions, I would get a perplexed look. Iíd have to explain my background and my intention to learn. †

Part of my returning to the circle was reconciling living in mainstream America and being educated in American educational systems, but not knowing anything about my cultural ways. In time, I discovered that although my parents kept us away from ceremonies, they lived their life in accordance to our traditional way. They just never spoke about it. They kept our way of life alive by living it and they kept it safe by not speaking about it.

Now, I may look a little spazzy and out of rhythm, but I dance. I may shuffle my feet trying to find the rhythm, but Iím dismantling the emotional and spiritual shackles Iíve unknowingly inherited. I may look stiff, but I am actively trying to return my spirit to my body. There are moments that I feel it. I feel myself be whole once again. It is from this place that I feel joy and pride. One day, my spirit and our way of living and being will rest in my body.

So, for those of you who are familiar with our traditional ways, reach out to those of us who need a hand. Welcome us back. Encourage us. Help us remember our majesty. Remind us who we are meant to be. If you hear someone snicker, or someone who displays their insecurity, stop them. We need help finding our way.

Now, I enjoy my time at a powwow. I see many people I know and adore. I feel the calling of the drum. It is a reminder for me that weíve come a long way. I can feel the Ancestors smiling with satisfaction. Iím filled with pride watching young people participate. Weíve come a long way and survived a lot.†

Spring Time Contemplation
Tuesday, March 08 2016
Written by Nick Metcalf,
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Spring will be here this month. Itís an exciting time of year. Everything that has been asleep will reawaken. The trees regain their leaves. The colors of nature become vibrant. The sounds of the morning birds will return. The bustle of nature will happen once again.

In my busy years of my professional life, I looked past nature. I was so busy with deadlines. I needed to get the next project off my desk. I needed to set up a meeting. Every call was urgent. Every moment was essential. At least, that is what I thought.

On February 16 at 10:20 pm, my Grandson was born. Mi Cante Olowan Ė Song of My Heart. He was 9 lbs 4 oz. A big boy. Amazing. The heavens opened up and allowed another angel to join us here, at least that is what I believe. I watched my son and his adoration. I saw myself many years ago. I remember that look. I remember that feeling. The awe of it all. Itís breathtaking.† †

Another generation is born. This is the circle of life. Iíll enter into another stage of my life. Iíve been fighting it, but itís necessary. Iíve been dragged kicking and screaming into middle age and I hear the call of becoming an Elder. Itís time. Youth and being young was for that period of time, but now itís time to move onto the next stage of my life. Iím the link from one generation to the next.† †

Throughout this journey, Iíve had my Mother to help me understand what was happening. She was my rock. She was my comfort. She was my understanding. Nearly 5 years ago, her body gave way and she joined the heavens. I still speak to her daily. We have our conversations. I tell her the latest goings-ons. I ask her for guidance. I seek her consolation.

My favorite memory with my Mother was at Sundance. Iíd gotten involved in our ceremonial way of life against my parentsí wishes. They were boarding school children who had these rich cultural ways of life torn from them. They believed they were saving me and my siblings from this loss by not teaching us. Yet, it is what defines us, so I sought it out.

Every morning during Sundance my Mother would be there to help me prepare. Before the sun came up, in the cold, damp dark night, Iíd come out of sweat to find her at camp getting my ceremonial stuff ready. This particular year it was a hot year with several of the days in the upper 90s and 100s. I was physically exhausted. I sat there while she braided my hair and cried. I couldnít stand myself. My skin was burnt. My muscles were sore. My feet hurt. I smelled. And, I didnít know if I could go on.

I was hopeful that my Mother would comfort me, but she didnít. In her true Native woman nature, she reminded me in Lakota, this is who we are. She reminded me of our strength. She reminded me, we sacrifice for the people. We offer our prayers so the people may live. She told me to put my sorrow and pain at the tree that day. I did.

As this new generation of my family begins, I have enormous amounts of hope that we continue to thrive. I reflect on the trauma weíve survived. I reflect on how in the darkest of days of our ancestors, they dreamed. They knew that one day weíd be ok.

Yes, our community still struggles and some families are finding their way out of the darkest of places, but I see more and more people thriving. Iím witnessing our capacity. Iím witnessing people whoíve learned to maintain a rich cultural life in a contemporary world. We see each other. We hold one another up. We cheer one another along.

This spring time, as Mother Nature reawakens our part of the world, take a moment for quiet prayer or contemplation to be in awe of it. Itís magic. Our part of the world is a small part, yet important.
We are responsible to keep Mother Earth in its pristine state, so that our grandchildren, great grandchildren, and other generations that we will not see, will have a place for themselves. Itís our duty to them and ourselves to care for each other and the Earth.

This year, Iím going to enjoy watching my Grandson grow. Iíll be in awe and watch my son with his family. I know this, they are the best of me. Iím a writer, a storyteller, Iím the one who keeps the memories alive. I can hear my Mother remind me of this. Iím the best of her. And, she was here. Mitakuye Oyasin Ė All My Relations.

Learning The Art of Love
Friday, February 05 2016
Written by Nick Metcalf,
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This month because of Valentineís Day I want to write above love. I want to share how I learned about love. First, I want to share my recent insight into love. I figured out a place where love resides. Recently, as I was with friends and family celebrating the coming of my Takoja (Grandson), I realized something Ė this is where love resides. Friends and family = LOVE.

My first memories about love were from my parents. Over the years, Iíve watched many romantic comedies and Iíve read about love, but nothing compares to my first impression of love. The love between my parents.† †

The moments my parents demonstrated love include:

  • The touch my Father gave to my Mother. It was the first time I saw them communicate without words† My Father gently touched my Mother during an interaction. She looked up at him, suddenly the expression on her face changed. I remember her gentleness. This gentleness was so unlike her strong nature.
  • When my Father would try get my Motherís attention and finally catch her eye, heíd smile and wink. Sheíd giggle. Theyíd speak to each other in Lakota. They laughed. I remember the playfulness of this interaction. It was their stolen moment of happiness and laughter.††† †
  • When I watched my parents slow dance. My Father would lead my Mother across the living room. Theyíd move in unison to a country song. He was bold, yet graceful as they danced. I remember the vulnerability in her face. They brought out the humanity in each other.

Unfortunately, my parents divorced. There were many things that came between them and they didnít know how to get past them. Eventually, both my parents began new families, but they remained connected to one another over the years because of us children.

n the end, I knew beyond question they loved one another. When my Father died, my Mother endured his family disrespecting her. My Fatherís family rendered those the years my parents spent together and their children, us, as inconsequential. Yet, regardless of the way they treated her at my Fatherís funeral and wake, she helped. She mourned. She wept at his grave. I sat with her as she howled in pain for the loss of her first love.

His love, her love, their love transformed me. I bore witness to it. And itís a wondrous feeling knowing that I am the consequence of such beauty. Thatís love.

Over the years, in my own self-discovery, Iíve spent many a night wondering about love. On those nights, Iíd be filled with longing. I came to believe that my salvation and love could only be found in another person, but I was wrong. I forgot about myself. I forgot who I am. Love begins with me. I am the one who must seek my own salvation. I have to forgive. I have to let go. I have to believe. Ultimately, love is about faith. And, love ainít easy.

Iíve learned that there are many other kinds of love. Somehow weíve come to believe that romantic love, or the love between a husband/wife, husband/husband, wife/wife, or partners is all that there is, but it isnít. There are many other kinds of love in the world. Love is all around us.
I want to describe a few types of love:

  • Friendship Love Ė Someone who you respect, admire, listen to their stories, bear witness to their joys, and help them when needed. They do the same for you in return. †
  • Parental Love Ė Itís the moment when you see your son or daughter for the first time and everything is there Ė compassion, caretaking, worry, fear, joy, happiness, etc.
  • Erotic Love Ė itís the first stage of attraction. Itís when you meet someone and you get Ďthe butterfliesí. Itís infatuation. Itís magic.
  • Self-Love Ė This is where love begins. Itís being able to love yourself enough to protect yourself; put your needs and desires first; and itís about knowing yourself.
  • ē Spiritual Love Ė Itís the connection to the universe; itís that inspiring feeling when you are in nature; itís that sense of wonder about our place; and itís all encompassing.

What I learned from my parents about love is that love transforms. They taught me that love never dies. It changes. It becomes different. The initial urgency quiets to a deliberate pace. The dizzying anticipation relaxes into safety. The discovery and exploration falls into familiarity. Patience abounds. A glance becomes a full conversation. Iím grateful for their lessons.

So this year when you find yourself being without love, start with yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Do something kind for yourself. Celebrate you. Discover what makes you laugh and brings you joy. Remember, love begins with you, so start there.

Change is Hard but Inevitable
Thursday, January 07 2016
Written by Nick Metcalf,
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As I reflect on 2016, Iíd like to share a few experiences of change. What Iíve come to know about living is that change is inevitable. Change is hard. Change, itís a part of life.

A few months ago I was reminded that everything that I believed to be secure isnít. I realized it was time to venture on from my job once again. The time came to wander onto the next place. Iíd learned everything that I was going to in my job. I was hurt because I believed in the security, I bought into the safety. I believed I could see my life into the distance with the same job. I saw ordinary days, piled on ordinary days. †

Eventually, my last day at work came. I was alone in my office. My going away party was done, with all the well wishes and promises to stay in touch. I sat there and packed my thoughts and gathered my things. I prepared for where life was gonna take me next. I was kind of afraid, but I was excited for another adventure. Iíd learned as much as I could at that job and I know, change is inevitable.† †

Recently, my sister and I spent some time talking about when we left home, the Reservation. Leaving was one of the hardest decisions we made. We left the familiarity of family. We left the environment we knew. Change was necessary. We moved to pursue the opportunities for work. With the blessing of our parents, we embarked on making our lives here in Minneapolis.

It has taken us awhile to get settled into our lives here in Minneapolis. Initially we were home sick and went home often. After a while, we established our lives here. We have friends who have become family. We found a supportive community. Our lives are filled up with many things here, so we donít go home as often as weíd like. As my sister and I sat visiting, we fell into quiet reflection remembering how difficult the change was, but how far weíve come. We both agreed that weíd do it again.

In times of change, the content of a personís character is revealed. If you unprepared for it then itíll be a difficult. I say this because some people use alcohol or drugs to numb the quandary of change.†† †

People get caught up in addiction. Addiction is heart wrenching and devastating to witness. Itís a horrible experience when itís someone you love, or someone who is fundamental to who you are, ie. parents, siblings, relatives, a partner, a lover, your best friend, etc. You listen. You help. You offer support. You assist. Until one day, you realize that you are drowning with them. Youíre gasping for air. You stand up while they continue to thrash about. They tug and pull at you. Youíre desperate to hold them up.

Itís instinctual, itís you or them. Letting go feels like failure. Letting go feels like loss. Letting go is filled with guilt. When you finally let go they interpret this as betrayal. They scream at you. They say horrible things to you. They say horrible things about you. They tug on your values to get back in your good graces and to rejoin them. Sometimes, you falter then find yourself caught up in the throes of their addictive cycle.

Eventually, you mourn the loss of them. Their words haunt you. Their addiction becomes too much to bear. Itís a difficult lesson when you realize that their darkness, their dark day of the soul, their struggle belongs to them.

Guilt from abandonment becomes your unwelcome friend. Sometimes, there are momentary glimpses of the person you know. They are vibrant. They are alive. They are themselves. It is momentary. The day they die everything comes crashing down. Often times, their death is at their own hands, or as a result of a lifestyle they are caught up within, or as a result of someone who is caught up with them in that lifestyle. You pray they finally found comfort in death cause their life was wrought up in pain.

n time, you sit along their grave, so to speak, then you tell their story. You share the times they were awe inspiring, life changing, and the person you knew before addiction. Their story becomes a cautionary tale. Drugs or alcohol took them way too soon. Their story, their life, changed you. †

Iíve learned that change begins to ignite each time a person lives their ordinary lives doing extraordinary acts to be themselves. Those moments occur without public fanfare. Each and every moment you are becoming who you are called to be, now that is revolutionary.† †

2016 is gonna be another incredible year, another opportunity, another chance to be better, to do better, to accomplish more, to hold my loved ones closerÖChange is amazing. Change is inevitable.

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