Mending the Hoop

Dianna, Flannery, Health and Community Services,
and Mark Franco, Financial Aid, speak about health
needs of the local Indian community at a
Conversation on Diversity lecture. (photo BA)
Hello. Hetsum. Neto yet Yeltinas. I welcome you all to this place and to the time that we're going to share together.

Mark Franco

"The hoop on this campus is extremely damaged," said Mark Franco as he called upon the campus community for a greater understanding of American Indians. Franco, Financial Aid, Diana Flannery, Health and Community Services, and Caleen Sisk-Franco, Admissions, presented "Mending the Hoop: Meeting the Needs of Our Local Indian Community," as part of the Conversation on Diversity series. Franco and Sisk-Franco recently became Wintu ceremony keepers.

Before we can mend the hoop, we have to know it exists. The hoop is the circle that is all of our lives. Like a wedding ring is "a circle that doesn't end, that's what our hoop is like, because we're connected to everything and everybody," said Franco. "Indian people are just like you. If you make fun of us, we'll cry. If you hurt us, we'll either hurt you back or we'll be upset." The history of the relationship between the campus and the Indian community is filled with hurtful incidents: A professor insulted Indians on campus, calling them "born-again Indians" who had just discovered their ethnicity; elderly and young Indians attending a powwow on campus were assaulted; the Peace Tree was broken in 1992; Chico State has been slow to repatriate Indian remains and funerary items.

In the late 1980s, a Peace Tree was planted on campus. "That was part of our hoop. It connected us to you in a tangible way," said Franco. "It was a peace offering" that came after the assault. When it was broken in 1992, a condolence ceremony was held, and a new tree planted that thrives today.

Flannery gave advice and guidance for non-natives working with Indian communities. Almost 16,000 American Indians live within Chico State's service area. Students and researchers tend to go into Indian communities, conduct their research, and leave without benefiting the community, a situation that led to "a lot of discussion on tribal boards about forming policies about doing research in Indian communities," said Flannery.

In her drug and alcohol research, Flannery was faced with finding a way to do a "serious kind of work that doesn't pathologize people of color." In her tobacco research she was interested in both ceremonial tobacco use and chronic tobacco use, which raised the question of differentiating these uses "without hurting Indian culture."

Community needs assessment research too often focuses on defining problems rather than asking the community what their needs are. "People in the community know what their needs are," said Flannery. One difficulty in doing research in the local Wintu community is that Wintu is a dying language. The linguist currently helping with language preservation comes all the way from Munich, because so far there's no linguist from California. "People don't understand the situation of the American Indians," said Sisk-Franco. "American Indians comprise a vital community that needs support or it will disappear."

There are signs of mending. Mending is illustrated, for example, in the planting and growth of the Peace Tree, Four Winds, an alternative education program designed by local American Indians, Sisk-Franco said, is probably one of the most advanced educational systems in California for Indian people. Humboldt State has made arrangements to send student-teachers to work at Four Winds, and there is hope that similar arrangements can be made with Chico State and Butte College.

Flannery spoke of the deep and abiding pleasure of her relationships with Indian families and encouraged those in the audience to volunteer in the Indian community. With understanding and conscious work, the hoop will mend.


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