Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I recently learned a new Spokane word. 

My uncle was talking about a respected family on the reservation. As the various family members aged, they eventually passed away, and when the oldest member of that family reflected on his life, he was all alone - the last of his relatives. My uncle referred to this time in life as: nc'spuleʔxʷ. 

A literal translation: "There are no more people from that family."

I am not sure that an equivalent word exists in the English language. In any case, the term is derived from the root word c'sip, referring to something that is all used up or consumed, with nothing left. The suffix -uleʔxʷ refers to the land. Another translation might suggest that a family was extinguished with no one left upon the land. What a tragic word, both haunting and beautiful in the way it places value on the memory of those who made their journey before us. 

The elders sometimes speak of the grief associated with aging and seeing all their elders, siblings, and friends pass away. I cannot imagine facing the end of my generation, but when my days expire, I pray the new generations will never end - that our lineage will live forever. 

These photographs were taken on January 29.
I wanted to photograph the contrast of artificial light
on the snow-covered trees. 

The tree branches seemed match the theme of this post:
The many branches of our families. 


Check out this fascinating story from the Smithsonian Magazine about a Russian family who lived in complete isolation for more than forty years. Impelled by religious persecution, the family retreated to the wilds of Siberia and lived by whatever means they could manage on their own. Their story offers a compelling perspective on nature connection. 

Click the link below:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ethic of Respect

My coursework at Gonzaga is becoming more meaningful. 

Most recently, I enrolled in a course called 'Feminist Ethics.' Our first assignment was to write a personal manifesto describing our individual ethical stance. Of course, we are required to situate our personal ethics within the context of Western ethical orientations or schools of thought, but at the end of the day, we are free to express an ethical position based upon our own cultural experience. The purpose of the assignment is simply to understand ourselves and others as ethical beings. 

I decided to write my personal ethical statement based upon an indigenous worldview. Obviously, this presents a few challenges. Most significantly, indigenous cultures have been heavily influenced by an overwhelming force of colonization. In particular, both Catholic and Protestant missionaries attempted to extinguish indigenous forms of spirituality while a long series of government policies attempted to eradicate Native cultures by assimilating tribal peoples into the dominant culture. As a result, some now argue that it is nearly impossible to find a 'pure' description of indigenous ethics, untainted by outside influences. 

However, I would argue that our language is the best source of pre-colonial thinking. 

When I recently visited my uncle on the Spokane Reservation, I posed the following question: "In our language, how do we say that something is ethically right or wrong?"

He thought for a moment and said, "I suppose there are many ways to say something is 'right,' but perhaps the easiest way is just to say 'xest' or 'good.' To say something is morally wrong, we would say, 'tam qe nk'ʷulmn,' or in other words, 'That is not our way.'"

His philosophy allows our family or tribe to take a strong ethical position on any subject without necessarily assuming that other practices are 'wrong.' In fact, his answer embodies the Ethic of Respect that I have come to experience across many indigenous cultures. We respect the ways of our own people while allowing others the same privilege. This is a powerful distinction between a traditional indigenous worldview and the ethics of colonization. 

These photographs were taken last Sunday 
when I drove to the Spokane Reservation. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013


A few nights ago, I paid another visit to Cain and Todd's mural at Greenstone Homes. Obviously, I wanted to see how the project has progressed since my last visit. I was not disappointed. Previously, the faces were mostly sketched into rough blocks, but now they have a sense of depth and personality. Likewise, the city skyline continues to emerge.  Parts of the mural are almost ready for a layer of color.

The mural is beginning to generate some excitement. During our visit, an employee from Central Food joined the conversation and said that she and her fellow workers have taken an interest in this piece. "We are all excited to see the finished work," she said. Also, my previous blog post generated more traffic than usual.

More importantly, we continued our conversation around the importance of community. Todd mentioned that their family moved a lot when he and Cain were children and so they never spent more than a few years in any one place. On the other hand, he observed that my family has lived in Spokane for generations, since before written history. He said, "Maybe this mural pays tribute to that sense of belonging."

I'm sure to visit again as the mural gets close to completion. 

Compare the picture above with the one below.
This will give you a sense of the progress. 

To be continued....


My friend Ruth was buried today. Her passing opened my heart and caused me to reflect on the meaning of life and death.  

My elders often speak of death as a continuation of life. They rarely say, for example, that someone died or even passed away, but instead they say that someone "made their journey." Sometimes I hear my uncle pray for the recently deceased and say, "cekʷmi wičis łuʔ šušuwełs." In English, the phrase translates as, "May she find her road," or "May he find his road" (The phrase is actually gender neutral). This prayer speaks to the belief that when our loved ones cross over to the other side, they embark upon a journey to a place of their ancestors. 

For me, the graveside service really did seem like the beginning of a journey instead of a final farewell. Friends and family held one another and wept, but they also laughed. Many expressed their hopes for the next world, while some felt the loving presence of those who have already gone ahead. 

As the final prayer ended, the bagpipes played "Amazing Grace," and just as the people went their separate ways, the clouds parted and the sun appeared for the first time in days. I was reminded that I once heard my Uncle Pat say, "When our loved ones make their journey to the other side, their first job is to make the sun shine again."

The faithful hand of the living
does not desert the hand of the dying.

~Walt Whitman

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

~Civilla D. Martin and Charles H. Gabriel

...I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.

~John 10:28

Even after life is gone
In our hearts your love lingers on
Even after you have left our sight
In our thoughts 
your light shines bright
Even after you are gone
In our memories 
you forever live on. 

~Injete Chesoni

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we first begun.

When our loved ones make their journey to the other side, 
their first job is to make the sun shine again. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


When I arrived to work this morning, the newspapers were stacked in neat piles on the round student tables in my classroom. For everyone else, this was a morning like any other. One student sipped coffee and perused the morning headlines while another pair of students compared math problems. But for me, the daily obituaries confirmed the passing of a friend, as if seeing the print made her death more painful and real. Her smiling face looked back from the page and tears sprang to my eyes.  

I first met Ruth when I was a senior in high school and when I still attended the old Sixteenth Ward of the LDS Church. During that phase of my life, I was an awkward, lonely kid with almost no close friends. Ruth's family welcomed me into their home and loved me unconditionally. They gave me the gift of acceptance. 

Maybe we were both awkward and misplaced, each in our own way, but that didn't seem to keep Ruth from always holding an open, trusting heart toward others. She had a quirky, infectious laugh that I will always remember and cherish. She was also a tender spirit - always sensitive and sincere. 

We grew apart in recent years. I would like to say we had good reasons, but I'm not sure it would be the truth. Perhaps we had obligations or life circumstances that called us in different directions, but as I remember her sincerity, I can't help but feel a sense of regret. Is there ever a good reason to misplace friendship? At times like this, my heart is always a little more open to the truth of our existence: there is nothing greater than kindness and love. Maybe it sounds trite or cliche, but only because we sometimes find ourselves jaded by our daily routines. But in my experience, when I finally break away the hardened edges of my heart, the feeling returns. 

Ruth's passing is a reminder of this simple truth. 

Monday, January 21, 2013


Todd and Cain Benson are a team of local artists who also happen to be brothers. They invited Dakota and me to preview the progress on their newest mural, an installment that is part of the development with Greenstone Homes at Kendall Yards, and that is situated in a long hallway in the Central Food building.

The mural celebrates a spirit of community.

The Spokane city skyline spans the length of the wall and depicts a variety of local landmarks, such as the Spokane River, the Monroe Street Bridge, and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Cathedral. More importantly, the community is revealed in the faces of its people: a young couple walks hand in hand, a woman blows soap bubbles, and a child reaches hopefully toward the sky. Todd and Cain refer to the mural as a “love letter to Spokane.”

Their artwork captures my interest on several levels.

First, I am interested in the personal connection. Dakota and I will eventually have a part in the pieces they create. This is a story in progress that I’m sure to mention again.

But more than anything, I admire the artists for adding something of value to this community. I love Spokane, and I appreciate their effort to infuse creativity and a sense of artistic expression into our local culture.  At one point, Todd said, "This mural is a story of our lives. Someday we'll look back and say, 'This was our life. These were our times.'"

On another level, I’m interested in how culture evolves because of the internet. Several years ago, I happened to photograph a piece of street art created by Todd and Cain. When I posted their work on my blog, they took notice and contacted me. The connection deepened, mostly by means of Facebook and Blogger, but eventually the mural grew from that connection, at least in part.

Before digital technology, I would have never used a film camera to photograph their art. The cost was too high. And certainly, I would have never published the photograph in a public forum. In all likelihood, we would have never met.

Digital media allow an acceleration of connections and synergy, but creativity speaks to the soul, and that is the value of art. The artist gives an outward expression to an inner vision. I’m grateful to Todd and Cain for honoring that vision and for including my family in their work. 

I'm excited to see this project as it progresses. 

The artists are working from a grid
superimposed over a digital collage.

The piece is still in a preliminary stage.

The faces are shown in black and white,
but color will be added later. 

Eventually, bubbles will be added to the mural.

A dog adds a whimsical touch.

Todd and Dakota...

I love the shimmer depicted in the eyes...

A little perspective to show the length of the hall.


More grids for the mural...

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Dakota teaching himself guitar...

I love how McKenna is trying not to appear in this picture. I suppose if she doesn't see us, we must not exist. She makes me smile. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013


A million responsibilities demanded my attention throughout the day. Of course, I taught my normal classes at the Hillyard Center, but I also rushed over to the Monroe Center to give a report at our monthly department meeting. As soon as one meeting ended, I hurried to the Magnuson Building for yet another meeting regarding the new Adult High School Diploma. 

As I left the final meeting of the day, my mind jumped ahead to my responsibilities at home. I still had to finish reading 377 pages of  text for my doctoral program and write a 1,000 word critical analysis. 

Despite the pressure of work and looming deadlines, I stopped for a moment and simply looked up to notice the white frost crystallized onto the tree branches. It was magical, and just enough to calm my anxiety. "I may have a million things to do," I thought, "But the trees are white with frost, and they won't wait for my convenience. I have to appreciate them now." With the remaining light of day, I went to Riverfront Park and photographed the beautiful freeze that had settled over the city. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


The frost formed sharp, thorn-like spines on all the tree branches. Even in the afternoon, the air had not warmed enough to melt the frost. Beautiful. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013


A year ago, I made a commitment to honor the 13th of January. 

As I've mentioned in the past, this week is a difficult time, a week-long series of anniversaries connected to my father. On January 5, my father would have been 65 years old. He passed away on January 8 exactly 19 years ago, and we buried him on January 12. 

It has always been hard, but then a year ago, I was reminded that life continues and that we have to be grateful for all our loved ones who still live among us. I was also told that if I observe these days, then I have to remember that the 13th of January is a day for new life, a day to be thankful, and a day to honor the next generation. Life doesn't end. 

So today, I really felt the gratitude, the love, and the connection to spirit. 

In honor of this time, I started a watercolor portrait of my father, shown above. It's not done yet, and I'm not even sure it's a good representation, but I don't care. It's a prayer in art.   

This is another portrait that was painted by my cousin Christa Garcia. Our families have been apart for many years, but she has recently found her way back. She truly honored me with this painting, but I have not had the heart to share it until now. I wanted to wait until the right time. 


Related Posts with Thumbnails