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Woodrow Morrison, Jr.

As we strive to end violence against all people, we especially focus on those most vulnerable; women, children, and elders within our Native communities. The story and lessons addressing anger help us to understand the need for balancing emotions. They also help us to know that all of our emotions are valuable, and that we must learn to listen to the messages delivered by each one.

In the following lessons, writer Numpa Foxes Singing presents teachings designed to help us re-establish respect and harmony throughout all generations of Native families and communities. These teachings include the integration of positive identity development with building healthy relationships, encouraging appropriate conduct and skills development, and the restoring of traditional cultural values back into our family relationships.

Lesson 1 – The Orphan: The Hoop was Broken

Goal

Learn about feeling alone and separate and how this contributes to the cycle of anger, angry behavior, and isolation.

Activity

Listen to Woody’s story in Video #1 and review the information and questions presented in this Lesson for self-reflection. Use these links to access the available resources with this lesson: Woody Morrison’s Biography, History of the Haida Tribe, Anger Information Sheet, Feelings Resource Sheet, and the Historical Trauma Resource Sheet.

The Sacred Hoop: We are always connected

All tribal people have Teachings of a Truth that we are all connected. Many know this as the Medicine Wheel and the Sacred Hoop. These Teachings share that Life consists of relationships with our families, with nature, with spirits, and all of creation.

“NARA’s Elders have chosen to use the word “Tamanwit”, based respectfully from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla (Oregon), as a descriptor for “Indian law”. This Elder Group uses this to understand the view of relationship and need for harmony between the people, land, water and air, sprits, creatures, language, ceremonies, celebrations, customs, dress, and traditions; history and future; and, the need to be taught or learn how to live. To live outside “Tamanwit” is to live in conflict with oneself and others, to live in illness, mental, physical or emotional, or all three; to be sick as the Elders say.”

– NARA Elders

The Hoop was broken

Native cultures where colonized by an invading culture. There was a great loss of values, beliefs, and practices. Significant to Indian people was the loss of traditional foods, introduction of alcohol, and movement to a society where individuality took precedence to living in balance with the natural world. This historical trauma exists in all Indian people. Beyond the historical trauma Indian people often experience personal trauma that further isolates and separates them from their culture.

In the Hero’s Journey, the Orphan is one who feels alone, separate, different, and misunderstood. Woody Morrison tells a powerful story of being separated from his family, his tribe, and his culture. The separation he felt created his sense of becoming an orphan.

“In my dad’s generation, my father’s now 96 years old, and the generation just before him were sent to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. They sent them were sent all the way from Alaska to Pennsylvania and others were sent to the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. When they were there, they had to wear a little patch, like Hitler did to the Jews. But they wore a little patch just with a thin thread holding it on that said “Speak English.” And if I caught you talking Haida, I’d take that name tag, and take that tag and it had your name sewn on the back. At the end of the day we’d turn them in and whoever turned in the most would get a prize. So that was one of the things they did to stop you from speaking your language.”

– Woody Morrison, Jr.

Examine Woody’s story using the following questions:
1. What historical trauma did Woody relate that existed in his family?

“What they did to us is they had to take us away from our grandparents, because our grandparents were the ones who raised us. Our parents didn’t know anything about raising kids, so if you could break that link between us and our grandparents, you’re taking out a generation. And so that’s how they could get us away from the land too.”

– Woody Morrison, Jr.

2. What did Woody do to prevent going away to school?
3. What feelings did Woody experience when he learned he had to go away to school?
4. Once Woody went away to school, was he isolated and alone?

“You can’t fit in any other place, but now you’re an individual. They’ve taken away that cohesiveness that’s permitted us to survive intact for literally a hundred thousand years. But now we have individual liberties. And now I can do whatever I want, because I am free to do what I want, and the constitution guarantees me my liberal freedoms. And so, now, I can go get drunk.”

– Woody Morrison, Jr.

5. Can you identify for yourself historical trauma that may be influencing your life?
6. Have you ever felt isolated and alone?

In the Hero’s journey, the orphan begins to question. The questioning is often about why something in life happens the way it does. These questions motivate the orphan on a journey, often one of wandering.

When a person has experiences of loss or injustice, there can be many emotions such as fear, sadness, aloneness, and pain. These emotions are difficult to experience and often do not surface. Anger is a valuable emotion in helping us to identify those feelings and the experiences we or our ancestors have had. It motivates us to question. When we don’t question the situation and choose to justify or ignore feelings or experiences, the anger grows. Silence and disconnection also grows. It is in silence that anger can become a destructive force.

When the decision was made for Woody to go away to school, the silence and disconnection from his family, tribe, and culture occurred. Review the concept that silence and disconnection supports anger as a destructive force through the following questions.

1. In Woody’s story, was there evidence of him questioning what was happening to him?

2. If so, how did he express these questions? If not, what did he do with his feelings and the experience of being sent away?

3. Do you have experiences in your life where you became silent and disconnected?

“When a hoop is broken, when it deteriorates, it happens very quickly. In just a matter of time the understanding that you once had, the values that were very vital to you, the justice that you sought out in other people and for other people, the generosity that you experienced from your life, the forgiveness that you gave other people, the honor, the respect, the wisdom that you gave other people; once you start breaking those values, laws, traditions and principles, it gets to a place you begin isolating yourself, no longer able to trust; you maintain a vigil… You doubt… You can’t trust other people… You blame others.”

– Larry Salway, Lakota Elder

 

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