Pandemic Journal (# 29): Current Reflections on COVID-19 Pandemic

As of 8:48 CST on September 20, more than 6,790,500 people in the U.S. had been infected with the coronavirus (the most of any country in the world) and at least 199,500 have died. In Minnesota, there have been 88,773 cases and 5,133 deaths. For the world as a whole the numbers are 30,675,000 cases and 954,427 deaths.[1] These statistics cause one to have sympathy for all those who have or had the disease and all those who have died from it and for all their family members and friends.

I only know two people who have had the coronavirus. One is a nephew who is recovering at his home in another state. The other is Nachito Herrera, a friend and a  famous Cuban-American jazz pianist in Minnesota, whose ICU care with a ventilator was covered by Minnesota media and who recently played several pieces, including his arrangement of “America the Beautiful,” on a public television program. And on September 25 he is scheduled at the Minneapolis’ jazz club, the dakota, for a concert.  [2]

On March 19, 2020, our condo building management instituted new regulations in response to the coronavirus: residents were required to report to the office coronavirus symptoms; all common areas in the building were closed; new practices of cleaning and disinfecting the common areas were adopted; and residents were requested to minimize the number of contractors and visitors entering the building. Since then other measures have been adopted and some of the common areas were reopened with usage restrictions.

Thus, for roughly six months my wife and I have been spending most of our time in our own condo, walking and biking outside on nice days and going to grocery stores for our food supplies. More recently we have been going to doctors and dentists for necessary care, a barber and hair stylist for necessary services and restaurants for occasional meals outside on patios. For example, on an afternoon last week we walked on Nicollet Mall to Barrio Restaurant for delicious tacos at a table on the sidewalk. The Mall, which is Minneapolis’ main street (in normal times) for restaurants, bars, stores and office buildings, now has covered all ground-level windows and glass doors with plywood, most businesses are closed and most of the time very few people are walking around.

For these six months we have not traveled anywhere outside Minneapolis and nearby western suburbs except for two trips to a nearby town: one for our granddaughter’s high school  graduation party and the other for a walk with our son and his family. Thus, we have a great desire to see other places, and this week we plan to  drive to the North Shore of Minnesota for two nights to see the beautiful fall colors of the trees.

We are grateful that we and our family have not caught the virus and are healthy and hope that that will continue. We worry about our sons and their families here and in Ecuador and relatives in Nebraska and elsewhere and pray that they stay healthy.

Last Friday Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, died. For many years she has been an inspiring voice against gender and other discrimination. Last night I watched “RBG,” a moving documentary film about her by CNN Films. The film reminded me of what a wonderful human being she was and how we all will miss her.

Then we have to return to reading about the horrible words and actions of President Donald Trump, who immediately said that this week he will nominate a woman to replace Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of that body, who has said he will lead the effort to have the Senate confirm the nomination as soon as possible and maybe even before the November 3rd presidential election. Many people, including me, fear that the nominee will be very conservative and a threat to undo many of the principles that Ruth Bader Ginsburg struggled for. I, therefore, sent some money to a group supporting Amy McGrath, who is McConnell’s opponent in this year’s election.

Another example of Trump’s insensitive and harmful remarks happened on his visit to Minnesota last Friday when he “extolled at length the battle prowess of” Confederate General Robert E. Lee to audiences that contained descendants of Minnesota men who were members of the Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment that played a vital role for the Union, many of whom were killed in the Civil War.[3]

This morning I attended a very moving virtual worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. The Scripture for the day was Samuel 3: 1-10 and Luke 2: 41-52 as the foundation for the sermon “Learning to Listen/Listening to Learn” by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen. [4]

A new moving voice in the service was Joe Davis, a poet and Artist in Residence at the church, who previously said, “ I am a poet because I struggle desperately to express my soul’s deepest longings each and everyday—yet I never shy away from the fight.” He “grew up in a non-denominational Pentecostal church in North Dakota, where his parents were active members. In college at Minot State, Joe began to go on spring break service trips with the campus ministry. The campus pastor, who happened to be Lutheran, encouraged Joe to become a peer minister. Her mentoring helped him grow in faith and as a leader, and the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] became an important part of his life.” Now he “feels ‘a little bit of both ‘Lutheran and Pentecostal’ while also being “a strong believer in ecumenicalism—the unity of Christians across denominational lines.”[5]

This worship service was previewed early last week at a ZOOM conversation about aging in the Covid pandemic. Rev. Hart-Andersen said that spirituality should be addressed holistically and intentionally by focusing on your heart (writing hand-written letters or emails to your family and friends); your soul (developing and following a discipline for praying); your mind (reading); your body (exercising); and your love (serving, praying, advocating, writing and volunteering). Afterwards I told Tim that the activities for the “mind” should be reading, reflecting, studying or researching, writing about these activities and then sharing the writing with others. This is what I strive to do on most subjects of posts to this blog.

On today’s beautiful sunny 70-degree afternoon in Minneapolis my wife and I went for an enjoyable walk up Kenwood Parkway from the Walker Art Center Garden to the north end of Kenwood Park and returning on Mt. Curve Avenue to the western side of the Walker to Kenwood Parkway.

Tomorrow morning I will be having coffee with three friends from our condo building in our entertainment center, a practice I started several weeks ago. We have enjoyable conversations and, I think, all of us welcome this opportunity to have social interaction in this age of social distancing.

Another item on my ongoing agenda is preparing for the October 12th meeting of my men’s book group from Westminster Church. I will be leading the upcoming meeting to discuss the novel, “The Last Trial,” by Scott Turow. Most of our meetings this year have been by ZOOM although last month five of us met in the outdoor patio of one of our members; the other five members could not make the meeting. Reading and discussing books with other men is another important way to have needed social interaction.

These are the thoughts of one day of a human being’s living through the pandemic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. I am managing to stay healthy in mind and body despite worries about the coronavirus and the headaches caused by Trump and fears over his supporters somehow damaging or disrupting the November 3rd election.

======================================

[1] Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (Sept. 20, 2020); World Health Organization, WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard.

[2] Bream, Minnesota pianist Nachito Herrera on surviving COVID-19: ‘This it the worst thing I’ve had in 54 years of my life, StarTribune (Sept.5, 2020); Nachito Herrera Concert at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 7, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (∆an. 13, 2015)

[3] Van Ooy & Smith, Trump’s praise of Robert E. Lee gets pushback from Minnesotans proud of state’s role at Gettysburg, StarTribune (Sept. 19, 2020).

[4] The video of this service is  available in the church’s Archive of services, and a future blog post will examine details of the service.

[5] Joe Davis Poet, joedavispoetry.com; Parent, Poet in Residence at Redeemer Lutheran Church, zionbuffalo.org (March 2014).

Reactions to Louise Erdrich’s Novel, “The Night Watchman”

After a rave review of Louise Erdrich’s new novel “The Night Watchman,” from Luis Alberto Urrea,[1] I was interested in learning more about federal efforts in the 1950s to terminate the legal status of Indians and, therefore, bought and started reading the book.[2]

Immediately, however, I had difficulty. The Table of Contents has a list of  over 100 unnumbered separate sections or scenes, not called chapters, with cursory titles whose significance or meaning becomes clear only after you had read the “chapters.” Moreover, these sections or “chapters” were not  placed into separate titled groups to help the reader. Over the entire list is a heading “September 1953” although it becomes apparent that not everything in all of those sections happens that month. In addition, the Reading Guide by the publisher was not very helpful, in my opinion.

Another difficulty was the large number of characters, many of whom are referred to by their Indian names sometimes and by other names on other occasions. And there is no separate listing of the characters with their different names and relationships with one another that would have helped the reader.

Reading some of the first “chapters” revealed that they are mostly about different facets of life on the reservation of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. This prompted the thought that Erdrich should have broken this book into two books; the first containing these stories and the second the battle over the legislation in Congress in 1953-54. As these reflections suggest, I was interested in the latter, not the former although the previously mentioned Urrea review emphasized the former.

Rather than giving up on the book, however, I re-read Erdrich’s explanations of the book in the “Author’s Note” at the beginning and the “Afterword and Acknowledgements” at the end. I then did some basic research about the federal efforts in 1953-54 to change the legal status of Indian tribes. Next I returned  to the chapter about the congressional hearing about the Concurrent Resolution (# 83 “Termination of Federal Contracts & Promises with Indian Tribes”) and working backwards scanned the previous “chapters” to see whether and how, if at all, this congressional effort had been discussed. I was amazed to discover that there were many such references, often cryptic, usually involving the Night Watchman (Thomas), all the way back to the fourth “chapter”  (“The Watcher”).

This analysis made me remember that in 1953-54 there were no internet and 24-7 television news programs and think that one of the stories the novel apparently was telling was that even though Congress adopted the Resolution on August 1, 1953, it was not until  the next month (September 1953) that limited information about the Resolution was only gradually discovered by the Night Watchman and eventually prompting him and a committee of the Turtle Mountain Band to organize and mount a (successful) campaign against the applicability of the Resolution to their Band. In the meantime, other members of that Band were engaging in normal events in their lives and implicitly demonstrating the Band was not ready for such termination. However, I confess that I was not interested in these tales.

Here then is my examination of Erdrich’s explanations of the novel, my basic research about the termination issue and the references to that issue in the earlier “chapters” of the book, all causing my re-evaluation of the book.

Erdrich’s Explanation of the Novel

Erdrich’s beginning “Author’s Note” tells us that on August 1,1953, the U.S. Congress “announced ” [adopted] House Concurrent Resolution 108, which would “abrogate nation-to-nation treaties, which had been made with American Indian Nations for ‘as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow,’” for “the eventual termination of all tribes, and the immediate termination of five tribes, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.” That Band  then was chaired by Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau (the night watchman, Thomas Wazhashk, in the novel), who led the Band’s opposition to such termination. The only other parts of the novel that are factual, Erdrich says, are the Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant and U.S. Senator Arthur V. Watkins, who was a “relentless pursuer of Native dispossession and the man who interrogated my grandfather.”

Erdrich’s “Afterword and Acknowledgments” says that the mid-1950s were “a time when Jim Crow reigned and American Indians were at the nadir of power—our traditional religions outlawed, our land base continually and illegally seized (even as now) by resource extraction companies, our languages weakened by government boarding schools.[3] Our officials were also answerable to assimilationist government officials: as an example, just look at the ‘advisory committee ‘ in my grandfather’s designation. He and his fellow tribal members had almost no authority. Their purpose was to advise the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], but they seized any opportunity to represent their people. The 1950s were a time when the scraps of land and the rights guaranteed by treaty were easy pickings. With the postwar housing boom, the fabulous Klamath and Menominee forests were especially coveted. It is no coincidence that those tribes were among the first five slated for termination.”

Erdrich also informs the reader that she now possesses her grandfather’s letters from 1953-54 that are “packed with remarkable, funny, stereotype-breaking episodes of reservation life” and reveal a man “of deeply humane intelligence as well as a profoundly religious patriot and family man.” The letters also reveal his “anxieties” as chairman of the advisory committee and his understanding that the Concurrent Resolution was “a new front in the Indian Wars” and “about the worst thing for Indians to come down the pike.” Yet the Turtle Mountain Band “was the first to mount a fierce defense and prevail. They altered the trajectory of termination and challenged the juggernaut of the federal push to sever legal, sacred, and immutable promises made in nation-to-nation treaties.” (Emphasis added.)

“In all, 113 tribal nations suffered the disaster of termination; 1.4 million areas of tribal land was lost. Wealth flowed to private corporations, while many people in terminated tribes died early, in poverty. Not one tribe profited. By the end, 78 tribal nations, including the Menominee. . . regained federal recognition; 10 gained state but not federal recognition; 31 tribes are landless; 24 are considered extinct.” Senator Arthur V. Watkins was indeed a pompous racist.” Erdrich also refers to Ada Deer’s Making a Difference: My Fight for Native Rights and Social Justice (Univocal. Press 2019) as “great reading on this subject.”[4]

Although the Afterword says “the Turtle Mountain Band was the first to mount a fierce defense and prevail,” neither that Afterword nor the novel  itself says when and how the Band prevailed. After the last words of the novel’s last chapter, separated only by three dots, however, Erdrich as the author states, “The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa was not terminated.” But there were no specifics as to how or when it happened or the title or text of the bill or other measure that made it happen. This important fact, in my opinion, should have been included in the Afterword with more details. Even better, in my opinion, would have been a concluding chapter of the novel that discussed the victory and some kind of celebration by the Band.

“In 1970, Richard Nixon addressed Congress and called for an end to this policy. Five years later, a new era of self-determination for Native people began.”

Research About the Federal Effort To End Status of Indian Tribes[5]

I had not previously known about this congressional action and wanted to know more. Therefore, before reading the novel, I did some basic Internet research and came up with the following.

According to Wikipedia, “On 1 August 1953, the US Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 108 which called for the immediate termination of the FlatheadKlamathMenomineePotawatomi, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa, as well as all tribes in the states of CaliforniaNew YorkFlorida, and Texas. Termination of a tribe meant the immediate withdrawal of all federal aid, services, and protection, as well as the end of reservations. Though termination legislation was introduced (Legislation 4. S. 2748, H.R. 7316. 83rd Congress), termination of Federal Supervision over Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians), was not implemented. In 1954, at the Congressional hearings for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, tribal Chairman Patrick Gourneau and a delegation testified at a hearing that the tribe was not financially prepared, had high unemployment and poverty, suffered from low education levels, and termination would be devastating to the tribe. Based on their testimony, the Chippewa were dropped from the tribes to be terminated.” (Emphasis added.)

Wikipedia further states, This Resolution “declared it to be the sense of Congress that it should be policy of the United States to abolish federal supervision over American Indian tribes as soon as possible and to subject the Indians to the same laws, privileges, and responsibilities as other U.S. citizens. This includes an end to reservations and tribal sovereignty, integrating Native Americans into mainstream American society.”

Wikipedia also says, “The consequence of HCR-108 was the beginning of an era of termination policy, in which the federally recognized status of many Native American tribes was revoked, ending the government responsibility to tribe members and withdrawing legal protection to territory, culture, and religion.”

Finally, Wikipedia states, “HCR-108 was passed concurrently with Public Law 280, which granted state jurisdiction over civil and criminal offenses committed by or upon Native Americans in Indian Territory in the states of CaliforniaMinnesotaWisconsinOregon, and Nebraska, all of which have large Indigenous populations.” [6]

The New York Times, which is online searchable for 1953-54 (and earlier), revealed the following additional tidbits of information relevant to the novel: [7]

  • The “Bulova Watch Company and the Simpson Electric Company had jointly established a modern industrial plant at Rolla, N.D,.near the Turtle Mountain Reservation that successfully used the Indians’ “manual dexterity and adaptability” developed through beadwork to produce jewels for watches. However, Peru Farver, Superintendent of the Reservation, believes “every effort [should be] made to move as many Indians as possible toward the industrial centers, rather than attempt to bring industry to them.” Farver also “thinks too much money has been channeled into guardianship of these Indians who have a high percentage of white blood and . . . are well able to look out for themselves.” More help, he thought, should be provided to the estimated 250 older “full-blooded” Indians of the 4,500 members of the Turtle Mountain tribe. (Emphasis added.) (These statements by Farver, perhaps in a written report to the Congress, is not mentioned in the novel, but the reference to Indians with white blood suggests the basis for the questioning at the March 1, 1954 congressional hearing of the Turtle Mountain people about how much white blood they had, which is mentioned in the novel.)
  • In September 1953, at the direction of President Eisenhower, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Glenn L. Emmons, spent the following two months visiting 10 Indian tribes to obtain their views on the proposed termination and discovered that some bitterly opposed the proposal, some favored it and yet others were divided. (Presumably this included a visit to the Turtle Mountain Band, but there was no mention of this in the novel.)
  • On January 30, 1954, it was announced that joint sessions of the Senate and House Indian Affairs Subcommittees would  hold joint sessions during the last of February and the first half of March to consider 10 Administration bills to end federal administration  of roughly 66,000 Indians. The hearing about the bill concerning the Turtle Mountain Chippewas of North Dakota would be held on March 1. According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Glenn L. Emmons, these bills “resulted from ‘a rising tide of sentiment that the Indians of the United States are entitled to exactly the same rights and privileges as the rest of us’ in general public opinion as well as in Congress.” Yet the Commissioner also said that it was “impossible to apply the same yardstick “ to all the tribes.
  • On March 25, 1954, the Association of American Indian Affairs warned that “ homeless poverty” was in store for thousands of American Indians if these bills were enacted. The bills “would destroy tribal governments and nullify rights assured by treaties” and are “ill-advised, untimely and off-target.” They are “no answer . . . to the poverty of the Turtle Mountain Chippewas of North Dakota.” (No mention of this was made in the novel.)
  • These charges were repeated at the Association’s annual meeting on May 5, 1954. Its president, Oliver LaFarge, said the tribes picked for “termination” included some of the most advanced and some of the most backward. “Even if the tribes concerned were ready for such deprivations, as most of them are not, the bills as drawn up are ill-conceived and objectionable. Commissioner Emmons, who was present, said that education, health and economic opportunity were his primary goals and was trying to persuade legislators “to set termination daters far enough in advance so the tribes would be ready to go on their own.” (No mention of this was made in the novel.)

Another source, “The History and Culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa,” says the 1953 congressional decision to terminate the Turtle Mountain Band was based upon reports by  the BIA Superintendent [Peru Farver] that the Tribe members “have always been resourceful.” In 1954, however, “the Turtle Mountain Band raised funds locally to send a delegation to Washington. Tribal Chairperson Patrick Gourneau testified that the Turtle Mountain people were unprepared economically, still living in poverty, and that such a move [termination] would be devastating. Following the testimony of the Turtle Mountain group, the subcommittee decided that the Turtle Mountain Band was not economically self-sufficient, and was dropped from the list.” This decision recognized “that the Chippewa were still poverty-stricken, occupied an extremely limited land base, suffered from low education levels and high unemployment.”[8] (No mention of these reports by the Superintendent was made in the novel.)

The major congressional proponent of the termination of special status for the Indians was U.S. Senator (Rep., UT) Arthur Vivian Watkins (1888-1973). “He equated such action with the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves during the Civil War and asserted that it was backed by the following tenets: (1)To eliminate laws that treated Native Americans as different from other Americans; (2) To dismantle the BIA giving responsibility for their affairs to the tribes themselves, or if necessary transferring some of its duties to other federal and state agencies; (3) To end federal supervision of individual Indians; and (4) To cease federal guardianship responsibilities for Indian tribes and their resources.”

By the time Watkins lost his bid for re-election in 1958, these Indian policies he had pursued “ were proving to have disastrous effects on Native peoples. Tribes were cut off from services for education, health care, housing, sanitation and utility sources, and related resources. Termination directly caused decay within the tribe including poverty, alcoholism, high suicide rates, low educational achievement, disintegration of the family, poor housing, high dropout rates from school, disproportionate numbers in penal institutions, increased infant mortality, decreased life expectancy, and loss of identity. In addition, the era of conformity was moving into the Sixties and its calls for social change and a growing sensitivity to minority rights.”[9]

In 1960 President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Watkins to the Indians Claims Commission, becoming its chairman and subsequently its chief commissioner.

All of this research made me want to search for, and examine, the actual congressional materials from 1953-54 about the “termination” campaign, but such an effort is impossible now due to the “shelter in place” pandemic policies in the U.S.

The Novel’s Early References to the Termination Issue

My previously mentioned analysis of the novel started with the “chapter” that clearly focuses on the Concurrent Resolution (# 83 “Termination of Federal Contracts and Promises Made with Certain Tribes of Indians”) and then skimming prior chapters to see if they mentioned the Resolution in any way. I was surprised to discover that there were many such references, often cryptic, usually involving the Night Watchman (Thomas) all the way back to the fourth “chapter”   (“The Watcher”). Here are those references:

“Chapter”

Number

“Chapter”

Title

Reference
      4 The Watcher !. Thomas wrote to North Dakota Republican Senator Milton R. Young and to newspaper columnist Bob Cory requesting meetings. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Young

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Young

2. At the Jewel Bearing Plant, Thomas read newsletters and other tribes’ newsletters about the passage of “a bill that indicated Congress was fed up with Indians. Again. No hint of strategy. Or panic, but that would come.”

     5 Three Men Moses Montrose (tribal judge) gives Thomas a copy of the bill “that was supposed to emancipate Indians,” but Moses said, “I read it all. They mean to drop us.” (Thomas had not yet seen the bill.).Eddy Mink asked Thomas if he knew about the emancipation. Thomas said yes, but it wasn’t emancipation. Eddy thought it was good idea because then he could sell his 20 acres. He did not care that he would not have a school, clinic, farm agent or government commodities. Thomas:, what about old people who want to keep their land?
     9 Juggie’s Boy Thomas told a Tribesman, “I’m fighting something out of Washington. I don’t know what. But it’s bad.”
    11    Pukkons Thomas tells Biboon (Thomas’ father) government has new plan to take away treaties for all Indians. Dad: Get together with other tribes to oppose.
    13    The Iron Thomas had been trying to understand the papers Moses gave him, to define the unbelievable intent couched in innocuous dry language. The intent was to unmake, unrecognize, erase Indians –all of us invisible and as if we never were here. When the government remembered the Indians, they always tried to solve Indians by getting rid of us. He had no word from the government. He read about it in Minot Daily News. He finally had confirmation that the Turtle Mountain Band was targeted by the U.S. Congress for emancipation. Freed from being Indians, from their land, the treaties that were promised to last forever. The tribal chairman job had turned into a struggle to remain a problem.
    16        A  Bill The Bill: “To provide for the termination of Federal supervision over the property of the Turtle Mountain Band . . in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, and the individual members thereof; for assistance in the orderly relocation of such Indians in areas of greater economic opportunity.” Its author said it was about emancipation, freedom, equality, success. Real purpose was extermination. Another tribal chairman said the author of bill was Arthur V. Watkins, “the most powerful man in Congress” and a Mormon, who wants to change Indians to white.
     17    Who? Thomas thought Indians will be destroyed by “a collection of tedious words.”
     19   2d Who? Thomas: The termination bill. Watkins believed it was for the best. Open the gates of heaven. How could Indians hold themselves apart?
    23 The Old                    Muskrat Biboon (father) tells Thomas: Band got land by forming a delegation and submitting petition. Thomas to take idea to council. Others need to understand contributions of Indians. We are just getting started on our own feet. Have no money for hospitals. Advisory committee met. Thomas suggested petition with signatures and call it The Termination bill.
    26 Louis Pipestone Louis getting signatures on petition.
    30 The Average Woman & Empty Tank Louis getting signatures on petition. Thomas has Juggie preparing tribal newsletter.
    31 The Missionaries Two young Mormons ask Thomas & Noko if they wonder why Indians as ancient people are on this land. Do you want to read Book of Mormon? Thomas asks about Watkins and is told he wrote book about shepherd who learns he is part of secret society. “It was revealed to Joseph Smith that Indians are people of the house of Jacob & children of Lehi.” They gave him a book.
     32 The Beginning Thomas says we need Biboon for Washington fight.
     34 Wild Rooster Driving to Fargo for meeting with BIA to register opposition to Termination Bill.
     35 Arthur V. Watkins Born in 1886 when UT was still territory. Baptized by father (same name), who wrote to Joseph Smith, “We have filed on land on the reservation for us a home” when Ute people & reservation were relieved of 13.8 million acres of land guaranteed by executive orders of Presidents Lincoln & Arthur. Smith & early Mormons tried to murder all Indians in the way. The son was elected to state office & later U.S. Senate. In termination hearing,  he was said to “convey an air of rectitude that was almost terrifying” and “howled in his reedy voice.” He “decided to use the power of his office to finish what the prophet started. He didn’t have to get his hands bloody.”
      38 Metal Blinds 10/19/53 Fargo meeting with BIA officials . Thomas, 45 tribe members & their attorney, John Hail. Thomas: “We are here to discuss the purpose of Concurrent Resolution, which will terminate all federal recognition and support of the [BIA] Turtle Mountain Agency.” The BIA attorney John Cooper read each section of the law. “Disposition of federally owned property to such Indians may be discontinued as no longer necessary—cause such lands to be sold and deposit the proceeds of sale—trust relationship to the affairs of the Band and its members has terminated.” Indians attempting to understand white man reading from sheaf of papers. Thomas asked for comments from other Indians. BIA: it means no “more Indian service for the Turtle Mountains. You will now be equal with whites as far as the government is concerned.” Joyce: This is not equal. Our rights go down. Government is backing out of its agreement. You left us on land too small in size and most cannot be farmed. Government should give more land back, not kick us off the leftovers.” BIA: “you will be relocated to areas of equal opportunity.” Juggie Blue: “We don’t want to leave our homes. We are poor, but even poor people can love their land.. You do not need money to love your home.” Cooper re-read the bill. All 47 Indians voted against the bill. Thomas is told that Millie did research about the Band, maybe that would be useful.
      39    X =? Barnes, the white math teacher & boxing coach talks to Thomas about the Fargo meeting. Barnes thought the bill was good idea; to be regular Americans. Thomas: we cannot be regular Americans. Got right to vote in 1924. We pay taxes, but not on our land.
     41 The Star Powwow Thomas writes to Senator Milton Young & 2 congressmen. Setting up meeting with American Legion to be against bill.
     45 Hay Stack Thomas asks Barnes to set up boxing card to raise money for delegation to go to Washington. We will have a tribal scholar.
     48 Letter to U MN Thomas writes to Millie Cloud at UM for assistance against bill.
     49 The Chippewa Scholar Millie Cloud (the tribal scholar) reads Thomas’ letter at UM.
     53 Battler Royale Thomas worries about testifying in Congress. Reads Mormon books.
     56 The Promotion Thomas explains Bill to Patrice’s Mother.
     59 Good News, Bad News Good news: poor enough to keep & improve status quo; county & state do not want us; sheltered by roofs; we have schools, cure found for TB; we have this report.

Bad news: we are poor; they don’t like us; 97% of roofs by tar paper; many illiterate; many parents died & kids grew up in boarding schools; we have this report.

     64 Two Months Hearing in 2 months (March). Advisory Comm. had to prepare to save tribe. Thomas is scared.
     70 Runner Thomas about to get a county commissioner to write letter of objection. Not sufficient tax base on reservation to care for roads and schools.
    72 The Spirit Duplicator Millie’s report about conditions of tribe printed. To be sent to local & state officials, newspapers, radio announcers. Juggie says erroneous past count of Indians caused reduction of townships form 20 to 2. Mistaken census survey had convinced Congress that Turtle Mountain was prosperous.
     73 Prayer for 1954 Thomas writes to ND’s US Senators Milton R. Young and William “Wild Bill” Langer, the latter favoring termination.
     77 The Lamanites Thomas reads Book of Mormon. Studies text of bill. Writes to Joe Garry, president of National Congress of American Indians for more info on Watkins, who had refused to appropriate funds to relieve Navajo. Book of Mormon explained why he wanted Indians to disappear. Mormons believed they had been divinely gifted of all the land they wanted; Indians were not white and thus had no right to live on the land. Treaties meant nothing.
     79 The Committee Committee was Thomas, Juggie & Millie. Millie worried she could not testify. Moses and Louis don’t want to go. Louis got county & State officials to sign letter of support.
    81 The Journey Train to Mpls/Washington. Thomas read his testimony.
    83 Termination of Federal Contracts & Promises with Indian Tribes March 2-3, 1954 Joint Hearing, Subcommittees of US Congress. Senator Young: ND could not take over; government should fund job-training program on reservation. Thomas: Reservation could not sustain itself without support. Watkins: Indians did not want to farm & leased land to whites. Thomas, I farm. Relocation is ill timed with many difficulties. Watkins: You have to solve most of your problems. Government can’t legislate morality, character or fine virtues. Thomas: I farm & is guard at Plant. Thomas: women at Plant are paid 75 to 90 cents/hr; I take home $38.25/week.  Millie describes her report. Thomas went to Watkins office and thanked him.
     84 The Way Home Thomas recalls every Indian who testified was asked about their degree of Indian blood, and no one knew.[10] (For this reader, these questions were prompted by the previously mentioned prior year’s reports by the Reservation Superintendent that mentioned many of the Turtle Mountain Band had white blood and thus were ready for independence, but this was not mentioned by the novel.) Patrice: Watkins was supercilious with coin-purse mouth, full of sanctimony.
Untitled P.S. by Erdrich Turtle Mountain Band was not terminated.  (However, there was no citation to the name of the bill or other measure that did this or the date on which it happened or the debate (if any) and vote on the measure.)

Conclusion

I am glad that my initial frustrations with this novel did not cause me to abandon the book. The additional efforts at understanding the book and more importantly the congressional efforts to breach U.S. treaties with tribes were rewarded. I also must confess that the stories about the lives of the Indians should make the reader appreciate the courage and imitative of Thomas and the others who went to Washington, D.C. to testify before a congressional committee. I hope this post will encourage others to read the novel and learn about this lamentable facet of U.S. history.[11]

This post has focused on my learning about important aspects of U.S. Native American history after I had retired from practicing law in 2001. I also had learned about another aspect of Native American culture in 1978-79 when as the attorney for the Minneapolis School Board, I sought (unsuccessfully) to persuade the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to modify its school desegregation order to allow the School Board to continue to allow Native American children to attend a new school close to their homes in the Southeast part of the city. That effort also involved the only appeal (also unsuccessful) by the School Board in the many years of that desegregation case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.[12]

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[1] Urrea, a Mexican-American, is a distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a writer of fiction and nonfiction. I have enjoyed his novels, Into the Beautiful North and The House of Broken Angels. He also is an entertaining speaker as evidenced by his lecture—”Universal Border: From Tijuana to the World”—at the 2013 San Miguel Writers’ Conference, which I attended. Another positive review of “The Night Watchman” appeared in the Wall Street Journal: Winkler, Louise Erdrich Retells the Story of Her Grandfather and the Chippewa, W.S.J. (Feb. 28, 2020).

[2] The Night Watchman, HarperCollins Publishers (2020); Reading Guide, The Night Watchman; Urrea, Fighting to Save Their Tribe From Termination, N.Y. Times Book Review (Mar. 29, 2020).

[3] Another Erdrich novel, LaRose, involves adults who were “traumatized from their compulsory time spent as students at Indian boarding schools, where students were stripped of their cultural history and forced to assimilate into Western traditions.”   (HaperColllins Publishers, La Rose (2016); LaRose (novel), Wikipedia;.Broida, ‘LaRose’ by Louise Erdrich: brilliant, subtle exploration of tragic histories, Philadelphia Inquirer (May 20, 2016). It also should be mentioned that there is a moving permanent exhibit, “Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories” at Phoenix’s Heard Museum, which I have visited and highly recommend.

[4] Because of Erdrich’s reference to this book, I bought it and discovered that it said nothing about the Turtle Mountain Band’s struggle in 1953-54 against termination. Ada Deer, who was a member of the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin, instead has a long discussion of that tribe’s struggle over termination. Subsequently in 1993-97 she was head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

[5] Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Wikipedia; Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa IndiansTurtle Mountain Chippewa Heritage CenterHouse concurrent resolutions 108, Wikipedia; Arthur Vivian Watkins, Wikipedia. In order to flesh out this research would require at least examining the Congressional Record for the 83rd Congress ((1/3/53—1/3/55), which is impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic. I would appreciate suggestions on other potential sources on this specific topic.

[6] The resulting complex legal problem of determining jurisdiction (federal or Native American courts) was the subject of another Erdrich novel, The Round House, which was awarded the 2012 National Book Prize for fiction. It concerns the violent rape of a Native woman by a white man on the border of an Indian reservation in North Dakota in 1988. (See The Round House (novel), Wikipedia; ; Personal reflections on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, dwkcommentariese.com Dec. 10, 2012);  Jurisdictional Black Hole for Certain Violent Crimes by Non-Indian Men Against Indian Women on Indian Reservations, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 13, 2013).

[7] Forest to Factory Easy for Indians, N.Y. Times (Aug. 5, 1953); Congress To Get Ten Indian Bills, N.Y. Times (Jan. 31, 1954); Indian Bills Opposed, N.Y. Times (Mar. 26, 1954); Indian Trust Bill Put Under Attack, N.Y. Times (May 6, 1954).

[8] N.D. Dep’t Public Instruction, The History and Culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa at 20-21 (1997).

[9] On August 5, 1954, Vice President Ricard Nixon appointed Senator Watkins to chair a bi-partisan committee to review and determine whether censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy was warranted. Its work led to the Senate’s voting, 67 to 22, to condemn McCarthy for (a) his refusal to appear before a Senate subcommittee to answer questions about his personal character and obstruction of its work and (b) his charging three members of a committee of “deliberate deception” and “fraud” and stating to the press that a Senate special session was a “lynch-party.” This blog has published many posts about the preceding Army-McCarty Hearings of 1954 and the role played by Joseph Welch, the attorney for the Army in those hearings. (See posts listed in the “U.S. History, 1918-2017” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States( HISTORY).

[10] These questions about each Indian’s white-blood were undoubtedly prompted by the previously mentioned comments by Peru Farver, Superintendent of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, about “too much money having been channeled into guardianship of these Indians who have a high percentage of white blood and . . . are well able to look out for themselves.”

[11] Yet another horrible part of the history of U.S. treatment of Native Americans was the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey’s contemporaneous public demand that “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State;“ and the December 26, 1862, execution by hanging of 38 Dakota men in the town square of Mankato, Minnesota, which is still the largest mass execution on U.S. soil in U.S. history. (Emphasis added.)  (See posts listed in the “U.S. History, 1776-1917” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States (HISTORY).

[12] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minneapolis Public School Desegregation/Integration Litigation, 1978-1983 (Sept. 9, 2012); The Impact of the Minneapolis Public Schools Desegregation/Integration Litigation on Native American Children (Sept. 11. 2012); Comment, Larry Leventhal’s Participation in Minneapolis Public Schools’ Desegregation Case (Jan. 19, 2017).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 14): Reading and Writing  

This Pandemic Journal is a means of recording how this blogger is living through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Its entries cover a wide range of  topics: reflections on the pandemic’s development; reflections on politicians’’ policies and statements about the pandemic; reactions to analyses of the pandemic by journalists; personal things to do.

I spend a lot of time keeping up on the news by reading the hard-copy of the local newspaper (StarTribune) and other news sources online (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Diario de Cuba, Granma (from Cuba), New York Review of Books, HuffPost, Politico, Atlantic, CNN, State Department, and others from time to time.

So far at least, I have not had time to read books. An exception is Louise Erdrich’s new novel “The Night Watchman.” Surprisingly I had difficulties with the book that has resulted in a lengthy essay about the book that soon will be added as a regular post.

 

One of Saint Oscar Romero’s Final Conversations

Carolyn Forché, an American poet and author, [1] then 27-29 years old, lived in El Salvador, January 1978—March 1980. Her memoir recounts her amazing sojourn in this country, which then was on the precipice of a brutal civil war.[2]

As an admirer of Monseñor (now Saint) Oscar Romero, I was especially interested in her accounts of seeing him on four occasions and conversing with him on the last of these.[3]

Mass in the Cathedral

Forché first saw Romero while he was celebrating mass in the then unfinished Cathedral of San Salvador, the capital of the country. He was “in his white vestments before a spray of microphones, giving a homily with a litany of names of those disappeared or found dead that week, some of whom were in coffins lined up at the altar, with windows cut into the lids to reveal their faces, except the mutilated. “ (Pp. 193-94)

“In shafts of sunlit dust sent from the louvers of the two bell towers we stood shoulder to shoulder; women in scarves or mantillas, men holding their straw hats, children sitting along the altar rail as the homily was broadcast to thousands of radios throughout the country, to machine shops, bodegas, to pickup trucks, and the battery-operated radios in the villages. When his homily giving guidance and counsel came to an end, Monseñor walked toward the coffins with an aspergillum [liturgical implement], sprinkling holy water on the dead, and then he walked through the congregation, and we parted to make a path for him, the water sprinkling down on our bowed heads, as it had on the coffins.” (Pp. 193-94.)

Upon later reflection, “I would understand that here the dead and the living were together, and those who stood alive before him, he was blessing in advance.” (P. 194.)

Lunch at the Carmelite Convent

On another occasion Forché went for lunch with the Carmelite sisters at their convent where they operated the Hospital of Divine Providence for cancer patients. Monseñor Romero, who lived in a small casita on the hospital grounds, came late for lunch. Apologizing for his lateness, he said, “there were so many meetings this morning, so many problems to address, that he lost track of time.” Forché heard someone mentioning her name, and Monseñor nodded his head yes, glancing at me.” (Pp. 213-15.)

But the two of them did not have any conversation on this occasion although she later recalled hearing his voice from the convent kitchen, saying,“ We must hope without hoping. We must hope when we have no hope.”(P. 336.)

It should also be mentioned that the hospital’s small, modern chapel is where Romero was assassinated while celebrating mass on March 24, 1980. (P. 332.)

Another Mass at the Cathedral

Presumably in early 1980, Forché attended another mass at the Cathedral,  “hoping once again to receive Communion from Monseñor, to feel the raindrops from his aspergillum land on me. . . . I took photographs of him at the altar, speaking into what appeared to be a telephone held by an altar boy . . . .[To] the left of the altar is Father Ignacio Ellacuria, arms folded, not wearing his glasses, his eyes appearing to focus on Monsignor’s raised hand.” [4] (Pp. 311-13.)

After mass that day, Forché “noticed a man wearing sunglasses, who was, inexplicably, carrying an attaché case . . . He paused near one of the side altars as if offering a special prayer. The following day, a priest found an attaché case carrying seventy-two sticks of dynamite behind that side altar. It had been set to detonate during a funeral Mass for a civilian member of the junta, scheduled for that afternoon, but the detonator had apparently failed.” (P. 312.)

Conversation with Romero

On March 14, 1980, Forché and a Venezuelan journalist met with Romero in a community room at the Hospital of Divine Providence. Responding to questions from the journalist, Romero said finding a solution to the conflict had not been exhausted. “For if that were true, we would already be in the midst of a full civil war.” (P. 327.)

Another question prompted Romero to say, “My relation with the [guerrilla] organizations is one of a shepherd, a pastor with his people, knowing that a people has the right to organize itself and to defend its right of organization. And I also feel perfectly free to denounce those organizations when they abuse the power and turn in the direction of unnecessary violence. This is my role as pastor: to animate the just and the good and to denounce that which is not good.” (Pp. 327-28.)

Romero continued, “As I have told you, I do not have a political role in El Salvador, but rather a pastoral one. As a pastor, it is my duty to construct this Church, my community, the church. That is what I am responsible for. And this Church, as a people, illuminated by God, has a mission too among the people in general.” (P. 328.)

The journalist then asked about Monseñor’s own safety. The response, “ I have a great confidence in the protection of God. . . One does not need to feel fearful. We hear from Jesus Christ that one should not tempt God, but my pastoral duty obliges me to go out and be with the people, and I would not be a good pastor if I was hiding myself and giving testimonies of fear. I believe if death encounters us in the path of our duty, that then is the moment in which we die in the way that God wills.” (P. 328.)

After the journalist left. Forché and her friend Leonel, who also was there, discussed with Romero a meeting she had had with a Salvadoran official who was going to defect. Romero then told Leonel that “It is for the best” that Forché leave the next day (March 15), and Leonel agreed. (Pp. 328-29.)

Forché, however, did not want to leave and said to Romero, “But Monseñor, forgive me but it is so much more dangerous for you.” He replied, “My child, my place is with my people, and now your place is with yours.”  Romero added that he wanted her to “speak about the sufferings of the poor, the repression, and the injustice,. . .[to] say what I had seen.” He “assured me that the time would come for me to speak, and that I must prepare myself and I could do that best through prayer.” (P. 329.)

Forché left El Salvador the next day (March 15), and Romero was assassinated on March 24. (P. 332.)

Conclusion

On April 26, 2019, before I had read her book, I heard Forché speak about it at a “Literary Witnesses” meeting at Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church.

I asked her whether she had any comments on the impact on Romero of the March 12, 1977, murder of his friend and fellow priest, Rutilio Grande, and the opinion, often expressed, that this death converted or transformed Romero to be more outspoken against the human rights abuses of the Salvadoran government. (Pp. 28-29.)

In response, Forché said that Grande was murdered just before she arrived in the country, but based upon what she heard about Romero and her conversation with Romero, noted above, she disputed any contention that Romero was converted or transformed by that murder. He always expressed solidarity with the people and spoke out against repression.

For anyone interested in El Salvador, this well-written book is highly recommended.

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[1] Carolyn Forché , Poetry Fnd; Carolyn Forché, Wikipedia.

[2] Forché, What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Penguin Press;  New York; 2019); Goldman, A Young Poet, a Mysterious Stranger and an El Salvador on the Brink of War, N.Y. Times Book Review (April 20, 2019); Meyer, How to Write Poetry About Conflict. The Atlantic (Mar. 25, 2019).

[3] This blog has published many posts about Romero, his life and death, his continuing inspiration for many people throughout the world, including this blogger as well as various legal proceedings regarding his assassination. See the posts listed in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwk commentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[4] Father Ellacuria at the time was Professor and Rector of the Jesuit University of Central America (UCA) as well as a Jesuit priest, philosopher and theologian On November 16, 1989, he was was one of the six Jesuit priests who were murdered near their apartments at UCA. This blog has published many posts about these priests, their brutal murders and various legal proceedings regarding that horrible crime. See the posts listed in ”The Jesuit Priests” section of List of Posts to dwk commentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

 

The Many Skills of an Orchestra’s Music Director

A recent attendance of a rehearsal of the Minnesota Orchestra highlighted for this amateur music-lover the many skills required of an accomplished music director of  a major symphony orchestra. The Minnesota Orchestra’s Osmo Vanskä is such a music director [1] Below is his photograph while conducting.

First, he or she needs to have a thorough knowledge of the wealth of orchestral works in order to help plan an orchestra’s season.

Second, for a specific concert, the music director needs to be intimately familiar with the works on that concert’s program and retrieve or develop how he or she will interpret and conduct each piece, including facial and body movements.

Third, he or she must be able to communicate verbally (in English, for the Minnesota Orchestra) what he wants from each section of the Orchestra. This should be done with all humility and graciousness. At the rehearsal I attended, Vanskä said,”Thank you,” to the Orchestra at the completion of the rehearsal of one of the pieces for the upcoming concerts.

Fourth, at the performance of the pieces at a concert, he or she must be able to have a “stage presence” and bring all of this together for the audience’s enjoyment. When I have attended this orchestra’s concerts, I always have been amazed at Vanskä’s ability by facial and arm gestures and, I assume, by facial expressions I cannot see from the audience, to lead the orchestra in marvelous performances.

The work I heard for 75 minutes of the rehearsal was Tapiola (19 minutes concert performance time) by Jean Sibelius. This is a tone poem capturing the beauty, mystery and magic of the Scandinavian forest and portraying Tapio, the animating forest spirit mentioned throughout the Kalevala, a Finnish epic poem. In the score Sibelius added this preface: “Widespread they stand, the Northland’s dusky forests, Ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams; Within them dwells the forest’s mighty God, And wood-sprites in the gloom weave magic secrets.” [2]

It must be mentioned that Finnish-born Vanskä is“renowned internationally for his compelling interpretations of the standard, contemporary and Nordic repertoires and  has led the Orchestra on five major European tours, as well as an August 2018 visit to London’s BBC Proms, and on historic tours to Cuba in 2015 and South Africa in 2018.  In addition, he has led the Orchestra in its award-winning recordings of the complete Sibelius and Beethoven symphonies and the upcoming completion of the recording of the 10 symphonies of Mahler.

As someone who has been on three church mission trips to Cuba and is a close follower and commentator on the U.S. pursuit of normalizing relations with Cuba under President Obama and the unfortunate retreat from those policies by the Trump Administration, I especially was thrilled by the Orchestra’s trip to the island in 2015. [3]   I similarly was thrilled by the Orchestra’s trip to South Africa in 2018, especially after I had seen and heard Mandela at a special program in London’s Westminster Hall in 2001 and by also having visited Cape Town and Robben Island.[4]

Vanskä started his professional musical career as a clarinetist. I fondly recall his beautiful performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto at a benefit concert for displaced Syrians that was organized by some of the Orchestra’s musicians.[5]

In December 2018, the Orchestra announced that Vanskä, now 65 years old,  will leave the Orchestra when his current contract expires in 2022. He said, “I feel at this moment, more than ever in my life, that the Minnesota Orchestra is my own orchestra. And that’s a great feeling. What we have achieved, especially since the lockout, is something very special.”[6]

I join the many Orchestra listeners and patrons in saying he will be sorely missed and difficult to replace.

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[1] Suggestions of other skills of music directors are invited from those who know more about orchestras.

[2] Minn. Orchestra, Program (April 25-27, 2019).

[3] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBAMinnesota Orchestra To Go to Cuba (February 13, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba This Week! (May 11, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra’s Trip to Cuba Garners National Recognition (Dec. 17, 2016).

[4]  See List of Posts to dwcommentaries—Topical—South Africa & Mandela. See also these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota Orchestra Celebrates the Life of Nelson Mandela ((July 24, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra’s “Celebrating Mandela at 100” Concert (July 29, 2018); Inspirations for Minnesota Orchestra’s South African Tour (Aug. 14, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra’s Concert in South Africa (Cape Town), (Aug. 15, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra’s Other Activities in Cape Town, South Africa (Aug. 16, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Durban), (Aug. 18, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Pretoria), (Aug. 20, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Soweto), (Aug. 24, 2018); Minnesota Singer’s Celebration of Minnesota Orchestra’s Concert in Soweto, (Aug. 29, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Johannesburg), (Aug. 25, 2018). See also Celebrating the Rhodes Scholarships’ Centennial, (June 21,, 2003); Nelson Mandela Makes Connection with Cecil Rhodes (May 20, 2018). Minnesota Public Television  (tpt) has produced a television program about the Orchestra’s South African tour: Music for Mandela: Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa.The first showing of this program is May 5, 2019, 10:00 p.m. (CDT) on tpt’s Twin Cities station (Channel 2).

[5] Successful Benefit Concert for Displaced Syrians, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 7, 2016).

[6] Ross, Conductor Osmo Vanskä to exit Minnesota Orchestra when contract expires, StarTribune (Dec. 8, 2018).

 

Cuba Tightens Censorship of the Arts 

Shortly after Cuban President Miguel Díaz Canel took office in April of this year, he signed Decree 349 that bans the exhibition and sale of artworks and music shows not authorized by the state. Performing artists will need a government license. State inspectors will verify that artwork, exhibits and concerts comply with regulations on national symbols such as the Cuban flag. The decree also targets vulgarity, obscenity or sexually explicit lyrics in pop songs, singling out reggaeton music. The “abusive use” of electronic media or audio equipment can result in fines and the confiscation of equipment and studios Inspectors will be empowered to cancel shows and revoke licenses.[1]

This Decree is supposed to take effect at the end of this month (December 2018), after artists  protests and the government’ saying it would soften some of the decree’s provisions. However, no changes have been made so far and none are expected in the last days of this year.

Moreover, the government already is taking actions against some artists.

For example, Cuban painter Italo Expósito was fined $120 and his artist’s license was revoked for opening his house to an independent art festival. As a result, he will be banned from selling paintings and sculptures from his house and hosting young, deaf artists at workshops.

Authorities also have banned performers who have addressed subjects like racial discrimination and detained artists who have staged protests against the Decree.

A Cuban writer who is exiled in Spain, Ernesto Hernández Busto, said authorities will censor art as they see fit no matter what form the new decree takes. “Censorship existed, it exists now and will continue to exist. The purpose of the decree is to regulate a new world: private businesses, art galleries, people working from their homes. The alarm went off because it is a sector that is not under state control.”

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[1] Pérez, ‘Absolute Control’:Cuba Steps Up Artistic Censorship, W.S.J. (Dec. 25, 2018),

Minnesota Singer’s Celebration of Minnesota Orchestra’s Soweto Concert

Scott Chamberlain, a member of the Minnesota Chorale, in a MINNPOST article has celebrated the August 17 concert in Soweto’s Regina Mundi Church by a combined choir that included the Chorale accompanied by the Minnesota Orchestra. [1]

Before the concert, Scott’s Minnesota friend, Mariellen Jacobson, met Teresa, “a beautiful, 80-something” [South African] woman.. . . and learned that she was a parishioner of the church. She spoke passionately about the past, and what it was like living through those tumultuous times. In the student uprisings of 1976, some of the young schoolboys fled to the church to escape the police’s bullets and tear gas. The police followed them right into the church and fired live ammunition inside the sanctuary.” [Teresa said you could still see the bullet holes.] ‘Look up at the crucifix. You’ll see that Jesus has three fingers on his right hand and five fingers on his left hand. Yes, one of the bullets had hit the sculpture.’ “And there it was. This brought it home just how real these events were … this wasn’t something for the history book, but part of the life story of real people.”

Scott added that “Soweto was ready. Long before the concert got under way, a substantial crowd had arrived at the church’s gates, with an excited air of anticipation. Many had never been to a live classical concert before and jumped at a chance to hear how one sounded. Perhaps best of all, a large number of young children were on hand, as Minnesotan Jill Chamberlain discovered. Cousins Tebogo (age 11) and Keo (age 10) were brought by their mother/aunt Josephine. They were seated next to Jill, and once settled, they cheerfully drilled her about concert protocol, how the music would sound … and asked such important questions as what kind of restaurants there were in America and how Americans made their porridge.”

“All in all, excited concertgoers overwhelmed the ticket takers at the door, forcing the concert to start 20 minutes late.”

Scott continued, “the singers of the Minnesota Chorale, Gauteng Choristers and [the South African vocal group] 29:11[named after Jeremiah 29:11]  filled the aisles and belted out the South African national anthem. We were loud, but we were almost certainly drowned out by the 1,300 voices of audience who added their voices to ours. It was a moment of welcome, pride and shared exuberance.”

“The middle-aged [South African] woman next to me was wonderfully fun to sing with — she had a voice that would make any singing group proud. And best of all, she lost none of her exuberance when the orchestra followed up with the Star-Spangled Banner. She didn’t know the words, but effortlessly switched to ‘da-da-da,’ sung with an enormous grin. She loved it. I rarely get hugs handshakes from audience members during an actual performance, but this audience member was giving them out aplenty.”

When the South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye “boldly strode out to center stage in gorgeous traditional dress, [to sing with the Orchestra the South African composition for this very tour, Harmonia Ubuntu], the audience went absolutely crazy. I was so, so happy about the inclusion of this piece. It was good, and deserves wider performance. But more than that, it proudly demonstrated that this concert — and by extension, this entire tour — wasn’t about simply performing western art music at local audiences, but actually engaging audiences and performers alike in a shared musical exchange. It showed curiosity about other music  and a willingness to learn about it and embrace it. It showed respect.”

“And the audience absolutely loved it.”

At the conclusion of this piece, “Goitsemang and Osmo [Vänskä] were greeted with an ear-splitting roar that went way beyond appreciation … it showed love. And from that moment, the audience and musicians were one. We were in this together.”

The Orchestra and combined choir then performed the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (the Choral Symphony). As Chamberlain said, “it is famously one of the most athletic, brutal works to sing in the standard repertoire. But there it was. It was the perfect piece to sing at Regina Mundi — a musical celebration of our shared humanity and universal joy. And the combined voices of the Minnesota Chorale, Gauteng Choristers, and 29:11 made sure that Beethoven’s song of joy shook Heaven itself. . . . If the audience was fired up before, they were absolutely on fire at the end of the Beethoven.”

“And with that, the concert really got going. Next, Vänskä programmed . . . [four] South African songs that cranked up the excitement even further.”

Akhala Amaqhude Amabili is a setting of two Zulu folk songs, linked by a shared motive of a rooster call (Kikilikigi! in Zulu) to rouse up the community and get ready for the day. The audience loved it.”

The next piece by the combined choir [conducted by Xolani Mootane], an a cappella South African song, Bawo Tixo Somandla, “brought the house down. Back in the 1970s, the work was originally written as an anti-apartheid protest song, asking God the insistent question, ‘Father, God omnipotent, what have we done? Why do we kill each other like this?’. . . This was a work incredibly important to me — singing that song, while I could look around the church and literally see bullet holes left behind by paramilitary raids, was powerful beyond words. The audience had already started singing along when Xolani turned on the podium and gestured for the crowd to rise to their feet. They did so with a roar of voices and began dancing with us. It was a musical spectacle that will always, always stay with me, as we together turned that song into a cry for unity and an end to violence.”

The next song, Ruri (Truly) by Michael Mosoeu Moerane, was gentler, “but no less celebratory song . . .  celebrating God’s creation, where all things—even ferocious crocodiles — are part of a harmonious whole. It is a much-loved, South African favorite.”

“The roof was then blown off yet again with . . .[the final programmed South African song] Usilethela Uxolo, a festive song honoring Nelson Mandela based on a work by South African jazz legend Stompie Mavi. This time the audience needed no invitation — as soon as the chorus came in and started dancing on stage, the audience followed suit. It was wonderful, crazy, musical bedlam, with everyone onstage and offstage joining in the celebration. My God what a party! Seriously… World Cup soccer crowds are more reserved. The roar that filled that church when we were done about shook Regina Mundi off its foundation.”

For an encore, the Orchestra “launched into Shosholoza, a beloved standard that functions as a second national anthem for South Africa. The orchestra players set aside their instruments and belted out the first verse through their voices alone, to the rousing support of the audience. When the chorus came in, bedlam broke out all over again. Dancing! Singing! Bigger dancing, and bigger singing! When it was over we got the biggest roar of them all — and that’s saying something.”

When Chamberlain and the other Minnesota singers thought the concert had ended, some of the male singers in the Gauteng Choristers “started to belt out a song of their own. Soon, all the South African singers caught the tune, and in voices again geared to shake the earth and rattle the heavens, began singing and dancing us off the stage in a completely unscripted kind of exit music, to the continued cheers of the audience. It was remarkable. The orchestra members, in the process of putting their instruments away, stopped with wide-eyed amazement and dived for their cellphones to snap pictures.”

“We in the Chorale had no idea about what the words were, but hey … when we find ourselves in a midst of a musical after-party, we learn fast and join right in. Soon we were singing as well, slowly working our way off stage. But the singing didn’t stop. To our astonishment, our South African peers enveloped us and began marching with us outside the building, and around the church in a musical parade that lasted about 15 minutes. People on the outside rushed forward and joined in the song, reaching in through the fence to give us high fives as we danced across the grounds.”

Scott concluded, “I have never felt so much joy, so much pure, unadulterated joy. Music did that. Music brought us together, wiped out any petty distinctions among us, and for a moment made us one, wonderful family. The universal joy envisioned in Beethoven’s Ode to Joy became real — right there in Soweto.”

Thank you, Scott Chamberlain, for this enthralling and inspiring report.

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[1] Chamberlain, The Minnesota Orchestra’s Extraordinary Experience in Soweto, MINNPOST (Aug. 24, 2018). There also are great photographs of this concert in Ross, Embracing the soul of Soweto,as Minnesota Orchestra finds music is universal language, StarTribune (Aug. 24, 2018). A recording of the concert is available at MPRClassical FM radio. See also these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Nelson Mandela’s Connections with Soweto (Aug. 22, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Soweto) (Aug. 24, 2018).

 

Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Johannesburg)

On August 18 the Minnesota Orchestra played its fifth and last concert in South Africa before a capacity audience of 1,000 that included Dr. Makaziwe “Maki” Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter.

Here is an account of the concert and Orchestra members’ intersections with local musicians.[1]

The Concert

The concert opened with the playing of the South African and U.S. national anthems.  The Orchestra then played the following works:

  • Overture to the operetta Candide by Leonard Bernstein, who shares this year with Nelson Mandela as the centennial of their births.
  • Harmonia Ubuntu, by South African composer Ndodana-Breen with lyrics taken from Mandela’s writings and speeches and with South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye, as soloist.
  • Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (The Choral Symphony) with the combined Minnesota Chorale and South Africa’s Gauteng Choristers and soloists (Goitsemang Lehobye, soprano; Minette Du Toit-Pearce, mezzo-soprano; Siyabonga Maqungo, tenor; and Njabulo Madlala, bass-baritone).

Osmo Vänskä returned to the stage after a standing ovation, conducting the orchestra and choir in “Usilethela Uxolo.” He then turned the podium over to Xolani Mootane, who brought down the house with “Bawo Thixo Somandla.” Vänskä again returned to lead the ensemble in a final vocal performance of the unofficial national anthem, “Shosholoza.”

The concert was held in the Johannesburg City Hall, he home of many historical and political events throughout its more than 100-year history. Here are photograph of the Hall and of the Orchestra, both by Travis Anderson.

 

 

 

 

Minnesota-Local Interactions

At a post-concert farewell dinner, the Orchestra’s President and CEO, Kevin Smith, said this tour is, “by all accounts, the biggest project the orchestra has ever done. it’s hard to know where it goes from here, but I think the orchestra will continue to be more adventurous and extensive in how it works and with whom it works and where it goes.”

Roderick Cox, the Orchestra’s Associate Conductor, stayed the next day (Sunday) to conduct the African National Young Orchestra in in Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 after they had rehearsed the work the prior week with Orchestra musicians. According to Cox, his job is to “ take all this vibrant, passionate sound they’re giving and try to contain it and shape it for the music we’re doing, like Sibelius.” An aspiring local conductor, Chad Hendricks, age 27, commented  that seeing Cox, who is black, on the platform, “inspired a lot of kids.” For South Africans growing up in black and mixed-race communities, there aren’t a lot of opportunities, and there isn’t a lot of exposure to this kind of thing. A lot of the underprivileged kids that were here … they’re seeing someone they can relate to.”[2]

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[1] Minn. Orch., Minnesota Orchestra in Johannesburg (Aug. 18, 2018); Minn. Orch., Johannesburg/Aug 18.

[2] Ross, A young South African symphony takes its cue from the Minnesota  Orchestra, StarTribune (Aug. 23, 2018); Chamberlain, “Tour’ is inadequate to explain what’s happening between the Minnesota Orchestra and South African musicians, MinnPost (Aug. 17, 2018).

Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Soweto)

The centerpiece of the Minnesota Orchestra’s tour of South Africa was its August 17 concert in Soweto’s Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church. As shown in prior posts,the township and church played central roles in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, and Soweto was the home for Nelson Mandela before his imprisonment and the site for at least two of his speeches to the nation. [1]

The importance of this concert was emphasized by Bongani Ndodana-Breen, the South African composer of the piece for orchestra and soprano that was performed at all of the South African concerts. He said, “We have a history where culture was used by the apartheid regime to prove its cultural superiority over Africans. So one of the most enlightened things about this tour is that the orchestra is doing a concert in Soweto, the heartland of the resistance against apartheid. For them to go there is huge. It’s going to be very emotional.”

The Concert

Now we look at the concert itself, the highlights being the choral music provided by 50 members of the Minnesota Chorale and 50 members of Johannesburg’s Gauteng Choristers, the latter a group of talented youth from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. Below are photographs of the church and of the choirs that night.

 

 

 

 

The Orchestra opened with the South African national anthem, which was sung with full-throated enthusiasm by the audience of more than 1,000 people, most of whom were black and many lifelong Soweto residents and also included members of the South African Youth Orchestra who had rehearsed with the Minnesota Orchestra earlier in the week. The smaller number of U.S. attendees tried their best to match that joy with the U.S. national anthem.

First, the Orchestra played pieces from previous concerts on this tour—Sibelius’ En Saga and Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide.

Especially significant for the largely black South African audience was the performance of  Ndodana-Breen’s Harmonia Ubuntu with lyrics from the writings of Nelson Mandela and the singing by South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye.

Then the Orchestra and the combined choirs of Gauteng Choristers and the Minnesota Chorale performed the Final Movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (The Choral Symphony). All of the soloists were South African: –Goitsemang Lehobye, soprano; Minette Du Toit-Pearce, mezzo soprano; Siyabonga Maqungo,tenor; and Njabulo Madiala, bass-baritone.

Afterwards. David Mennicke, a tenor section leader for the Minnesota Chorale, said this performance of the Ninth Symphony was especially moving. “To sing it in this context with brothers and sisters from halfway across the world—that feeling, that sentiment, that idea of all humanity becoming brothers and sisters—we are actually . . . becoming that.”

The concert ended with the following three South African pieces for chorus and orchestra:

  • Akhala Amaqhude Amabili by J.S. Mzilikazi Khumalo (orchestrated by Peter Louis Van Dijk) is a combination of two Zulu folk “wake-up” songs in which the Zulu cock-crow call (Kikilikigi) admonishes the people to get up and start the day, an important signal for people who had no time-pieces.
  • Ruri (Truly) by Michael Mosoeu Moerane (arranged by Sue Cook) celebrates nature as evidence of divine benevolence.
  • Usilethela uxolo (Nelson Mandela) by Stompi Mavi (arranged by Gobingca George Mxadana and orchestrated by Jaakko Kuusisto). The text celebrates Mandela’s release from prison, and this song remained a popular tribute to Mandela throughout his life.

The last of these brought the audience to its feet, singing, stepping, clapping and shouting “U-Mandela.”

Interjected in these three songs was one for chorus alone: Bavo Thixo Somandla by Arnold Mxolisi Matyila (arranged by J. S. Mzilikazi Khumalo). In the 1980s this song was adopted by protesters against apartheid. Eventually it became one of South Africa’s most popular and familiar protest songs.[2] It too had the audience singing, clapping and dancing.

After encores, including “Shosholosa,” the unofficial South African national anthem, Orchestra members left the stage while many of the singers cried and hugged one another and the bass singers in the two groups started stepping and singing. Violinist Susie Park with tears streaming on her cheeks said the experience reminded her of music’s pure power. “It’s bigger than ourselves and our perspectives. We have to share it with the world. And that’s what we did here.”

Overlooking the concert was the church’s             stained-glass image of Nelson Mandela.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota and South African Musicians’ Interactions

On the Friday morning of the concert four of the Orchestra’s musicians gave solo and chamber music performances for students at Missourilaan Secondary School. The Minnesotans then attended a special event for their home-based nonprofit Books For Africa, which is donating 40,000 books to this community, some 12,000 of which for this school. Judge LaJune Lange, Minnesota’s Honorary South African Consul, said, “We want to partner with Missourilaan and make it a place of excellence,”

At Regina Mundi, immediately before the concert, Minnesota Orchestra musicians, dressed in their concert black, wandered through the crowd. They chatted with the early arrivals, showing and explaining their instruments to young members of the audience, as their adult companions listened in too.

The principal interactions were those of the Minnesota Chorale and the Gauteng Choristers. After all they had to sing together in languages that were unfamiliar to both groups (German in Beethoven’s symphony for the South Africans and African languages for the Minnesotans). That is why they started rehearsals on Monday for the Friday concert although the Minnesotans had sung the South African pieces at home in a July concert, Maya Tester, a Minnesota soprano, said that in South Africa their movements got looser, the dynamics bigger and the pronunciations more precise. There also was a generational difference: the South African singers were in their 20s and 30s while the Minnesotans were 20 to 30 years older.

Conclusion

This concert truly was an awe-inspiring highpoint of the Orchestra’s South African tour. I wish I had been there.

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[1] Minn. Orch., Minnesota Orchestra in Soweto (Aug. 17, 2018); Minn. Orch., Soweto/Aug 17; South African composer celebrates ‘Mandela’s message, StarTribune (July 20, 2018); Ross, Minnesota Singers join voices with South African choir: ‘It’s Magic All the Way,’ StarTribune (Aug 17, 2018); Kerr, Soweto crowd rapturously responds to Minnesota Orchestra, MPRnews (Aug. 17, 2018); Singers from two nations didn’t want it to end, StarTribune (Aug. 19, 2018); Ross, Soweto concert is an ode to joy in many languages, StarTribune (Aug. 20, 2018); Ross, Embracing the soul of Soweto as Minnesota Orchestra finds music is a universal language, StarTribune (Aug. 24, 2018).

[2] All of these four South African songs were performed by the Minnesota Orchestra in its July 20 concert at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall.  (Minnesota Orchestra’s “Celebrating Mandela at 100” Concert, dwkcommentaries.com (July 29, 2018).

 

 

 

 

Soweto South Africa’s Historical Significance

The Minnesota Orchestra held its fourth South African concert in the Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church in Soweto, a township with its name an English syllabic abbreviation of South Western Townships. Before we review the concert and related events, here is a brief summary of Soweto and Regina Mundi’s history followed by a separate post about Nelson Mandela’s connections with Soweto. [1]

Soweto’s Early History, 1886-1947

In 1886 an outcrop of gold was found in this area  In response 100,000 people of all races and nationalities flocked to the area. In 1887, the government decided that the large quantities of clay in the area were suitable for brickmaking, and many landless Dutch-speaking citizens settled there, built shacks for homes and started making bricks. Thus, the area became known as Brickfields. Soon other working poor, Coloureds (mixed race) and Africans joined them.

In the early 20th century it was lawful for people of color to own fixed property in the townships of Sophiatown, Alexandra and Gauteng (now parts of Soweto). As a result, there were many blacks who became landowners in these areas. In 1923 the parliament adopted the Natives (Urban Areas) Act to provide for improved conditions of residence for natives (Africans or blacks) in urban areas and to control their ingress into such areas. Pursuant to this legislation, the Johannesburg town council in 1927 formed a Native Affairs Department, which built over 10,000 houses and over 4,000 temporary single-room shelters or shacks for these people.

After World War II there was a huge housing shortage for blacks in Johannesburg. In response there were many squatters camps illegally established  and the government was forced to build emergency camps.  These became the worst slums of Johannesburg.

The Early Apartheid Era, 1948-1976

In 1948 the National Party won the general election and its government sought to establish apartheid to separate the country’s racial groups, but the Johannesburg City Council did not support the National Party and apartheid.

In the early 1950s  Parliament passed the Bantu Building Workers Act for blacks to be trained as building trade artisans and the Bantu Services Levy Act imposing a levy on employers of black workers to finance basic services in Black townships. Under this scheme the Johannesburg City Council built over 6,500 houses, the best of which were 5o feet by 100 feet on 30-year leases.

In 1963 the City Council decided to name all the townships south-west of the city center “Soweto.”

These developments did not please the National Party-controlled national government. In 1971 it adopted the Black Affairs Administration Act that created a central body to take over the powers and obligations of the Johannesburg City Council with respect to Soweto and appointed Manie Mulder to be in charge even though he had no experience with such matters. In May 1976, he said, “The broad masses of Soweto are perfectly content, perfectly happy. Black-White relationships are as healthy as can be. There is no danger whatsoever of a blow-up in Soweto.”

 The Soweto Uprising, 1976 and the Aftermath

On June 16, 1976, mass protests erupted in Soweto over the government’s policy of enforcing educations for blacks in Afrikaans, rather than their native languages. A march of 10,000 students from a high school to nearby Orlando Stadium was met with armed attacks by police, killing an estimated 700 students.

In 1983 the central government converted Soweto to an independent municipality with elected black councilors, but they were not provided the necessary funds to address housing and infrastructure problems, and the black counselors were seen as corrupt collaborators.

Resistance to the central government also was strengthened by the exclusion of blacks from the revised national legislature. There were educational and economic boycotts. Street committees were formed as alternatives to the state-imposed structures. In 1985 the African National Congress (ANC) issued a call to make South Africa ungovernable, and many activists left the country to train for guerilla resistance.

The Soweto Uprising and the aftermath had an enormous impact on the country and the world. It led to economic and cultural sanctions from abroad.

On June 19, 1976, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 392 that:

  • “strongly condemns” the Smith African Government for its use of “massive violence” and “killings against black Africans, including “school children and students and others opposing racial discrimination;”
  • “reaffirms that the policy of apartheid is a crime against the conscience and dignity of mankind and seriously disturbs international peace and security;”
  • “recognizes the legitimacy of the struggle of the South African people for the elimination of apartheid and racial discrimination;” and
  • “calls upon the South African government urgently to end violence against the African people, and take urgent steps to eliminate apartheid and racial discrimination.”

However, the resolution, in an obvious effort to secure backing from the U.S. and other Western delegations and achieve unanimity, did not call for punitive measures, and the U.S. delegate at the session while condemning apartheid said the resolution should not be understood as indicating the U.S. was prepared to support punitive measures.

The Role of Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church

Regina Mundi is the largest Roman Catholic church in South Africa. Set in Soweto, its current building was opened in 1962; its A-shaped roof covers a large interior that can hold as many as 2,000 people as shown in the photograph below.

During the Soweto Uprising, many students fled to this church. The police followed them inside and fired live ammunition. No one was killed although many were injured and the church itself was damaged, and today both the interior and exterior walls still have bullet holes.

After the state forbade public gatherings in Soweto, churches, and especially Regina Mundi, became places for political gatherings, and it became known as “the people’s church” or “the people’s cathedral.”

After the end of apartheid, from 1995 to 1998, several meetings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were held at this church, and in 1997 President Mandela established November 30 as “Regina Mundi Day” to honor the church.

The church now features the following significant works of art:

  • “The Madonna and Child of Soweto” (a/k/a “The Black Madonna”), as shown below, depicts a black Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus (also black) that was created in 1973 as part of a campaign to raise funds for the education of black South Africans.
  • A stained-glass window with an image of Nelson Mandela, as shown below and on the cover of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sommerfest Program just before its South African tour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soweto Today

The population today is estimated as roughly 1.3 million, who overwhelmingly are black and who speak all 11 of the country’s official languages.

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[1]  Soweto, Wikipedia; Soweto Uprising, Wikipedia; United Nations Security Council Resolution 392, Wikipedia;Telysch, Pretoria Regime Assailed at U.N., N.Y. Times (June 20, 1976); Regina Mundi Catholic Church (Soweto), Wikipedia); Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church.