Category Archives: Peace & Justice

Turkey Stock Spirituality


November 27, 2014

James, a neighbor from down the road, and I visited over coffee last Tuesday at the Cougar Den. I watched a young man walk in, his Resistol worn and dirty, the Carhartt wore in but not tattered, and his boot and jeans muddy below the knee. I wondered if he had been feeding or at the stockyard when James brought me out of my trance saying he had been putting up squash before he left the house. Belinda and I haven’t thought about squash for two weeks. During the first hard frosts, we put up as much squash as we had time for. But when a cold snap froze the remaining garden squash to the core (photo), we figured we turn it into good roughage for the cattle and goats. So, when James said he was still putting up squash, he had my attention.

Sure enough, his squash had frozen same as ours during those eight-degree mornings. However, instead of figuring it all was going for cattle and goat feed, he gathered what he thought he had time put up and stuffed it into the haystack—to insulate and keep frozen. Ever since, when he has the time, he canned and froze squash.

I believe James’ work needs attention. James raises a good size garden each year with the intent of providing a fair portion of the family’s food come summer, fall, winter, and a bit of the spring. When ones work is producing food for family consumption, conserving that food is important. Who cares the squash froze? Considering the work that went into raising squash, it makes sense to conserve it well. Continue reading

The Warming Fire


November 19, 2014 (Updated)

Each year American Indian Heritage Month arrives and each year I find the writing I make public, hard. When temperatures just outside the farmhouse window linger in the single digits, I prefer to write of warm ideas, considerations, actions, and seasons. I believe it is my good fortune is to live on the reservation. From land to people to wind, community stories give warmth in the days of cold.

Yet, as a white guy on the reservation, I also find I have a responsibility to speak to the injustices non-white skin folk experience in my adopted landscape. Thus, when American Indian Heritage comes along and many of my American Indian sisters and brothers are paying attention to and writing about American Indian accomplishments, I question the white structure whose very makeup requires society to create American Indian Heritage in the first place. In questioning that structure, I step on toes, mostly white toes, but some toes of color and Indian toes too. Little question stepped on toes hurt and being one whose theology is a call for hurt to end, makes writing this time of year hard. Realistically there are only a handful of folk who read what I say and I know I could let the writing go and few would know the difference. However, I believe it irresponsible and disrespectful to live in my landscape, enjoy its created gifts and not question or comment about the denigration American Indians experience from non-Indians, past and current—that it seems is more hurtful than stepped on toes. Continue reading

Beefing Up Justice


November 02, 2014

Two questions often asked: “Do you have cows? And, do you raise your beef from babies?” My answer: “No, I don’t have cows. And, no I don’t raise our steers from babies.” Inevitably the next question is, “Why?”

Good question. “Why,” teases out a little more information that often gets to the core of what the original question hoped for. The “why” answer is, Belinda and I buy, raise, and sell our calves because of our sense of justice.

Our neighbors work cow-calf ranches/farms. A cow-calf ranch is one that has a number of cows which are kept year-round. These cows are breed to a bull(s) who, often, is also kept year-round. Calves are born in the spring (some ranches also have calves in the fall). They are raised on mamma’s milk throughout the spring and summer. Come late summer calves begin eating range or pasture grass alongside mamma. Early fall sees the calves weaned from their mothers. Then in late fall the calves are taken to the auction house and sold. That is where we come in.

Each fall we visit our neighbors looking for calves to bring to the farm. Our favorite way of having calves come to the farm is to say to our neighbor, “We’ll take the two black claves and the baldy. Whatever price you get at the sale yard, we’ll give you the same.” Continue reading

Sacred Cows


March 31, 2014

As March closes out, I am thinking about the days leading into March. We’d had a fair amount of snow. It was nothing like the snow of our neighbors across the American landscape, but for the farm, plenty enough.

Low temperatures and snow come hand in hand and like the snow, it has been plenty cold enough. Cold weather though calls for more feed, which of course, means more work. More work, however, isn’t all that bad. Each winter we fence the hay fields, turn the cattle out, and let them forage open range. The hay fields provide plenty of feed all winter long. So, when the bottom drops out of the thermometer, and we begin feeding hay cut from last summer’s hay fields, life is just fine. And after all, we figure a little extra food enhances the physical and spiritual wellbeing of cattle.

Though we’re a long way from the ideal, society is slowly beginning to grasp the physical wellbeing of their food animal matters. However, when it comes to thinking about a food animal’s spiritual wellbeing, society remains out on the back forty. Our current blindness around animal spirituality has not always been the case. Christians at one time, e.g., Thomas Aquinas and Francis Assisi, believed the Creator imbued plants and animals with soul. That is crazy talk though today. Sure, we might allow for an animal soul possibility when we have Annabelle the cat or Hank the dog put-to-sleep—due to our deep sense of loss, but the idea of our food having soul? Well, you’re hard pressed to find that on anyone’s Top Ten List.

There are a number of reasons why animals have lost their soul. The industrialization of society, the exile of rural people to urban centers, and the mechanization of food have all led to separating people from their food animals. And unlike plants where most anyone can have a little garden, it’s a bit difficult to raise a meat cow in the suburban back yard. Yet, there are two big reasons for animal soullessness: enhanced business profits and low consumer meat cost. The latter is the ring-in-the-human community nose. Attaining absurdly low meat prices at the local market has become so important; folk would rather not question the possibility of their pound of burger or bag of chicken breasts ever having a soul if it means paying a single dime more. Continue reading

Steady Snow, Steady Homes


September 29, 2013

Last Tuesday was known for an open blue sky, warm low-50’s, and visibility way down river.  It’s been snowing ever since.  At first snow was heavy and wet.  Then with a temperature drop the snow turned light, steady, and on/off.  This has resulted in a white-green landscape with bare gravel roads throughout the village.

Good weather last Tuesday also allowed our second team to arrive.  With eleven folk on the ground, home repair has been as steady as snow.  This has resulted in the team, the first and second now is acting and working as one, finishing four of five homes.  The fifth, with a Sunday half-day of work, is now roughly half finished.

Not bad considering the weather has not allowed a flight since Tuesday to bring materials for the homes or food for the team.  It has only taken a bit of scrounging for materials and a bit of bartering for food to repair buildings and feed folk—it ain’t as bad as it sounds.

Tomorrow is a day of funeral.  One homeowner passed since we arrived and finished home repairs.  What that calls for, from us, I am not sure.  A few of us sat in the community hall last night, eating moose soup, and trying to learn a regional card game.  What I found, again (this seems to be the norm of my life), is three weeks in any community isn’t enough time to learn how to flip a card, say “hi,” or have a clue as to what to expect in a Athabaskin-Koyukon, village of Hughes,  funeral service.  But ya gotta make a guess to figure out some type of timeline to complete work before it is time to leave, right?  So, figuring on tomorrow being somewhat like a funeral day back home, I’m figuring an all-day affair.  Therefore, it is good to have gotten in a half-day of work so there is time to be present tomorrow.

© David B. Bell 2013



September 20, 2013

Hughes, Alaska sidles up to the Koyukuk River.  The granite river contrasts early snow white overlaying sloping aspen yellows and spruce green.

After three days in Hughes, the last twenty-four hours has walked the landscape from late fall to early winter.  The change in season, though I expect we will again experience fall, matches the change in attitude.

One acquires a different outlook when landing in a landscape where the next village is a hundred miles up-river and the closest hospital is a couple hundred miles, by plane.  Thoughts continue to shift as you become aware that ninety-five percent of traffic is ATV four-wheelers (during the non-snow season) and the remainder walkers.  There is a bit more movement when a good part of your community heads up or down river due to the opening of moose season—It has been a good bit of time since many of our families have lived a subsistence lifestyle.  I imagine if we pull up those memories, we grasp the value of putting a moose in the freezer before winter snow.

A few days in the bush (Bush is a local word, one that is not mine, but one which gives a fair description of outsider isolation and insider home.) isn’t much, but enough to recognize the first steps toward a change in viewpoint.  I think most of us who arrived in this landscape where people come and go by plane (Something about this statement is outsider—as if those places of coming and going to, that matter, are those only assessable by plane.  Locals move up and down river to hunt, to fish, and to visit other Athabaskin-Koyukun villages just fine.), came with a sense of adventure and wonderment.  Yet as one walks this place, this strip of land called Hughes, and listen to folk for whom this landscape is home and for whom this landscape is normal, the adventure slips and wonderment deepens.  What does that mean, well I’m not sure, it’s only been three days.  I’ll give that a bit more thought.

© David B. Bell 2013

Autumn on the Koyukuk


September 14, 2013

Late fall.  Not often does mid-September come along—the autumnal equinox still a good week away, and the trees and shrubs are fully expressing their gold’s and red’s and giving some serious thought to dropping their leaves altogether, and I get to watch.  Really, it has only happened once before.

Four years ago the spring breakup sent ice chunks, the size of houses down the Yukon River.  Nothing new, the ice breaks up every spring on Alaskan rivers.  That year though, ice got wedged downriver from Eagle, Alaska.  The wedging caused a dam.  The dam backed up the Yukon raising it well over thirty feet, which in turn flooded the community of Eagle.  That year, Katherine and I joined other folk from the lower 48 rebuilding and repairing homes in Eagle and other similarly flooded communities along the Yukon.  When we arrived, a tree here and there sported a few leaves of color.  Three weeks later, days had lost an hour and three quarter of day light, every deciduous tree had moved from green to yellow, orange, gold, and red, and those trees who sported the leaves of color weeks before were now bare.  For Katherine and I, that was a first.  Now we are about to watch it again.

Disciples Volunteering is one many Faith-based groups asked to return to the Alaskan Yukon.  Like before, last May’s ice didn’t flow well, bunched up, and flooded a number of communities.  A message came a month ago that Galena needed a crew to help repair community buildings and homes.  I had haying to get done and Katherine had a dissertation to complete, so when folk left on Labor Day we were sitting on a tractor and in front of a computer.

Then a call came saying a remote Alaskan native village on the Koyukuk River had been damaged as well, no repair work had been done and there were no available volunteers.  FEMA asked Josh Baird of Disciples Volunteering if he might pull together one more crew who might be able to handle the stress of flying into community—that makes Eagle look like a city, and complete repairs.  A few days later, sitting in the back seat of a three seat Cessna, I watched the landscape change from green to bright colors as a FEMA housing representative, the pilot, and I flew from Fairbanks to Hughes.

Bounded by the Koyukuk River to the north and a ridge to the south, I walked through Hughes a few hours later.  There isn’t a whole lot of folk in Hughes to begin with and there were a lot fewer that day, after all, moose hunting season had just opened.  Continue reading

A Time To Talk


August 1, 2013
The following is a note penned by Bill Running Wolf after the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly.

Osiyo Ditsadanvtli a le Ditsadalvi,

This past week  in Orlando, Florida resolution GA-1324 Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice was brought before the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The purpose of the resolution was to encourage the members of the denomination to begin the process of examining how the Doctrine of Discovery has helped frame the theology and polity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) both historically and in the contemporary church. Within the past four years only [ a few] other denominations and the World Council of Churches have addressed this vital issue and repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. The Rev. David Bell states “The Christian Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine) is a body of work beginning in the 15th century with a series of papal bulls and theological statements justifying the Age of Discovery and the colonization, conquest, subjugation of lands and peoples around the world. During the next 500 years, religio-political empires fashioned edicts, court decisions, treaties, and laws enhancing discovery efforts.” Today most Christian denominations and congregations actively and passively continue to treat Native Americans as second class and seek to fully assimilate Native Peoples into mainline Christian culture.

Last Wednesday, July 17, the General Assembly passed this resolution with a unanimous vote. This was an enormous step towards bringing the Native Voice into mainline Christianity and putting an end to over 500 years of religious abuse, oppression and exploitation. While there is still much to be done in order to bring the denomination to the place of repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery there is now great hope of that day arriving. This would not have been possible without the work of Rev. David Bell and his wife Belinda of White Swan, Washington as well as the support team who put the resolution together and the churches in the Northwest Region who sponsored it.

The next step proceeds now with the Christian Church (Diciples of Christ) committee that was formed at the General Assembly. It’s members include many volunteers from across the country and with the Rev. David Bell to help guide the journey. The Rev. Dr. Bill McCutchen and I currently represent the Native Voice Continue reading

When Justice Is On The Back Forty, Is It Justice?


July 29, 2013

When you’re baling at 3am on a Sunday morning and when everything is going right—no breakdowns, no mis-ties, no plug-ups—one has time to think.  With half a moon lighting the morning sky and casting shadows off the hay windrows, I recalled Wednesday’s conversation.  With a dozen folk sitting in the garden, the Reverend Karyn Dix led us in a conversation about the United States women’s prison system.  Having spent years as a chaplain at Oregon State’s Coffee Creek Women’s Prison, Karyn asked us to consider what the modern prison system means to society in general and people of faith in particular.  As bales dropped off the back of the baler one comment kept coming to mind.

Today, much of the United States prison system is no longer a public institution—In other words, today’s prison system is no longer built, organized, and operated by us-the government.  Instead, we have handed over our responsibility of paying attention to those outside of society to private business.  This reality puts an interesting kink in a system we might think of as just.  When prisons are private and ran as businesses, justice is likely to be shuffled off to the back forty while the profit motive entices owners and stockholders to want prisons full inmates, want existing inmates to stay as long as possible, and want to enhance the incoming flow of inmates.  In other words, crime pays for private prison owners and stockholders.  That being the case, should we be surprised private prisons lobby our legislators for harsher sentences, mandatory minimums, and new laws?

Which leads me to Wednesday’s comment.  “California, like other states has a good number of private prisons.  Oregon’s constitution, though, is written in such a manner that it does not allow for private prisons.  That may not have been what the writers had in mind when writing the constitution, but that is the result.  Isn’t it interesting, therefore, that the recidivism rate in California is roughly ninety-seven (97) percent, while in Oregon, where there is no profit incentive to keep inmates in prison, the recidivism rate is around thirty-seven (37) percent?”  Kind of sounds like that when prisons are set up to make a profit, society becomes okay with enhancing retributive justice while weakening the restorative justice which would allow our sisters and brothers to rejoin us as community.  What do you think?

© David B. Bell 2013