Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Holidays from the Minnesota Humanities Center

The Minnesota Humanities Center Blog will be taking a holiday break for the next two weeks. Please check back for new blog posts starting January 8, 2015.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Senator John A. Hoffman - How were the humanities vital to your life and/or work over the past year?

First elected to the Minnesota Senate in November 2012, Senator John Hoffman represents residents of Minnesota Senate District 36, which includes Champlin and parts of Brooklyn Park and Coon Rapids. Senator Hoffman was the Senate sponsor of HF 2812, the successful legislation that created Veterans’ Voices Month in Minnesota. He serves as vice chair of the Environment and Energy Committee and is a member of the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee and E-12 Division Committee (Education Finance). He is also a member of the Rules and Administration - Subcommittee on Elections and the Fish and Wildlife Subcommittee.

As a freshman Senator, I chief-authored 116 and co-authored 242 pieces of legislation, all of which were bills that I had a good understanding and knowledge of. I felt each and every one of those bills had purpose for our life in Minnesota. More importantly, I was chief author of three bills pertaining to Veterans, from establishing regions dealing with housing to pursuing funding for renovation of the Brooklyn Park Armory through the Bonding Bill process.

I couldn’t have had the success of many of my bills if it wasn’t for partners. One such partner, the Minnesota Humanities Center, approached me to chief-author a Veterans’ Voices Month bill to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of Minnesota Veterans and to educate the public by sharing and studying Veterans’ experiences. With passage of the bill, the month of October would be set aside so that schools, communities, and the general public could not only celebrate Veterans, but would also provide them an opportunity to learn from our Veterans and increase understanding of Veterans and military culture by exploring their stories as told through art, essays, poetry, and other media created by Veterans.

This new partnership between the Humanities Center and I came about from a history of knowing how important it is for us to be thankful to those who served. I learned this lesson as a young child growing up with a father who served during the Korean War, and he would tell me stories of the sacrifices many have given and continue to give. He would get up early and raise the American flag in our yard and then, upon returning home, would take it down. We would participate in Veterans Day and Memorial Day services every year. However, the one occasion that I have always held close, which includes many fond memories for me, is when my father would take me to buy “Buddy Poppies.” He would tell me to wear the poppy proudly and to always remember the sacrifices that were made in order for us to enjoy our freedoms.

True to form the term "buddy" was also mentioned this past year in the process of getting the Veterans Voices Month bill signed into law. One Veteran said the Humanities Center was his "battle buddy." I believe his words to be true. This past year the Humanities Center was my partner (buddy) as I proudly carried the Senate Bill designating October as Veterans’ Voices Month in Minnesota.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ethan Neerdaels - How were the Humanities vital to your life and/or work in 2014?

Bdewakantunwan – In 2012 Ethan was a Minnesota Historical Society History Museum Fellow as well as American Indian History Museum Fellow. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in American Indian Studies and a focus on the Dakota language, where he also was a teaching assistant of the beginning and intermediate Dakota language classes. Ethan is the Director of the Dakhóta Iápi Okhódakičhiye (Dakota Language Society). Ethan is an American Indian Culture and Language Specialist for the Osseo Area School District.

Wótakuye is a word from the original language of this land meaning relatedness or kinship. It is the original dream/responsibility of humanity, to be good relatives. An important part of the humanities is understanding where you are. The history of this place, Minnesota, is most accurately narrated in the original language birthed of the land.

Living in Minnesota in 2014 there are many reminders that Minnesota is Dakota land. From the hundreds of place names with mispronounced Dakota words to the historical markers at Treaty Signing Sites marking the illegal land theft that has yet to be reconciled. How can one live in a place and not even know the origins of the name of their state “Minnesota” are rooted in the Dakota language?

Dakhóta Iápi – The Dakota language contains words that express the unique relationships and natural phenomena of human existence in this area from time immemorial. After the first treaties with Euro-American colonizers, the Dakota language continued to accommodate the people’s experience as new terms had to be created to reflect the new experiences and concepts such as land ownership, concentration camps, forced relocation, just to name a few. With the advent of the reservation era, the Dakota language entered a period of darkness, where it went underground in order to survive the government and church-run boarding/residential schools. Many Dakota children were verbally, mentally, or physically abused for practicing their own traditions and speaking their language. These institutionally supported assaults on the Dakota family created a period of trauma and assimilation during which the Dakota language, for the most part, stopped being transmitted inter-generationally by the family. Recent estimates put the number of first language speakers born in Minnesota Dakota communities at less than ten. There are an estimated 5,000 speakers of the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota language across the surrounding area of Dakota exile communities, but the average age of a Dakota first language speaker is over 65 years old. Across all Dakota communities there is resurgence among the youth to bring the language back to health.

Even with a strong revitalization movement of the Dakota language, language learners are running into a variety of challenges that most other language teachers/learners do not encounter. For example, there are currently no K-12 immersion opportunities for Dakota children within the original homeland of Minnesota. Why can one easily find and attend an immersion school for immigrant languages, but the indigenous languages of this area are so marginalized? Why is there no state-wide or community support of indigenous language revitalization? If the humanities truly matter in the modern world, we must do everything in our power to ensure the indigenous are not forever silenced by the systematic death of the original language and lifeways of this place, Minnesota.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mike Lotzer U.S. Army Chaplain (CPT) - Gifts for Veterans

Mike Lotzer served as a U.S. Army Chaplain from 2004-2012 and now serves as the Lead Teaching Pastor of Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN.

The Minnesota Humanities Center has given Minnesota Veterans a profound gift—four in fact. Through the Veterans’ Voices program, I have received four life-giving gifts including: acceptance, self-awareness, hope for civility, and a desire to see more Veterans leverage their pain in order to flourish more as human beings. Allow me to elaborate briefly:
  1. Stereotypes about Veterans are being challenged. Consequently I feel accepted on a deeper level. Veterans who feel lumped together and accepted by society find it difficult to flourish after military service. Of course, this is not unique to Veterans. Human beings seem hard-wired with a need to be accurately known and generously accepted—or, if not accepted, at least valued. If the gift of acceptance and/or the value of Veterans as individual people continues to play out on a broader scale, Veterans will contribute more to human flourishing. Why is that the case? They will start to flourish themselves, and are we or are we not people who have been trained to lead in the worst conditions imaginable? Accepted and secure individual leaders who have been trained to navigate unknowns and adversity will be a game-changer in our present culture.
  2. Veterans are being invited to share our stories and reflect carefully on our past—resulting in greater self-awareness. This is a gift that keeps on giving to the Veteran and society. I sense that Veterans who lack self-awareness are perhaps more at risk of simply blending into the background than many others in society—we were trained to blend in by the way; note the uniform. Self-awareness comes, in large part, when we are invited to share our true stories with others. This endeavor is pushing individual Veterans to courageously articulate and live out their unique vocation and identity based on their unique past and that, I suspect, will only help our society and fellow human beings. Why? Consider this: Innovation, lasting solutions, timely progress, and saving partnerships all seem to require some of the same ingredients. Among those common ingredients appears to be—self-aware and resilient people.
  3. The initiative has reminded me that many people do, in fact, have an innate longing to relate with civility and warmth amidst diversity. This is a true gift to anyone who has witnessed the prolonged and radical absence of civility. Some of the people who witness that professionally are called ‘members of the military.’ What they witness is called war. Prideful cynicism is a common side affect of prolonged exposure to a lack of civility and warmth—at least that is what my heart, therapist, and experience tells me. As a coping mechanism, cynical disbelief and apathy towards the common good is a dependable way of regulating painful memories and internal hurts. Yet cynical apathy towards the possibility of a more civil and warm society will certainly produce some kind of result of which I cannot pretend to know. What I do know, however, is that cynical and apathetic Veterans will certainly not help to produce a warm and civil society.
  4. The initiative has urged me not to waste the painful parts of my story by either underplaying them or overplaying them. Something strange happens when you are out of the military for a few years and suddenly find yourself honored among Vets of multiple eras. You notice the universal tendency to feel awkward in relaying your painful experiences. I’ve watched Veterans who I deployed with to the same combat zone exaggerate about the chaos and carnage they witnessed. I think they believed every word they spoke. I’ve also watched soldiers and Military families, who I know well, completely underplay the chaos and the carnage of what I know they experienced. Why is this so common? As humans we seem almost universally uncertain when it comes to knowing what we are to do with the most painful parts of our story. The process of accepting the Veterans Voices Award this year has pushed me to consider that perhaps I am to accurately recognize my painful chapters in the military and then promptly leverage them for the common good of humanity. This is a gift indeed. This world needs less under and over-playing of Military trauma and much, much, more leveraging of that trauma for the flourishing of all people. Consider that the greatest pains in all of our life may be uniquely designed to serve as the launch-pad of our greatest contributions to the common good of all people.
The Minnesota Humanities Center helped me to seek out the common good in people and remember what connects us rather than what divides us. For that I say thank you.