Tribal Tales: MDA and the Groundwater Game

I used to work at a groundwater program for several years.  Many people were hired under a federal grant to work on this program developed by (Michigan State University Extension) MSU extension.  We were required to educate the public about groundwater contamination and resource protection issues.  A simple pamphlet was developed by MSU Extension we supposedly could creatively expand upon. We were also required to find a willing and eager audience in order to read this pamphlet and fill out the forms.  Easier said than done.  MSU and the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA), our administrators, wanted numbers.

Our bosses were never very clear about the ‘numbers’ but the statisticians loved them. Maybe they needed them for bigger grants, to impress the Feds, or some other such agenda.  We never found out.

I found this job right after college and was happy to get my foot in the door.  And as a single mom with a young son this program also provided free daycare.  Something that I couldn’t afford with my teeny tiny paycheck.  But I had my foot in the door and I was soon to find out that I was going to get it slammed.  So I began my long career of foot in the door.

I finally hit on the perfect numbers idea.  I would take my program to the schools!  How cool was that!  I had a captive audience and the teachers were happy to get a break for a day.  Now the kids could take all the info home and fill out the forms that MDA wanted.  And they were learning about groundwater and how to protect it. 

            “No no no.” MDA said.  “This program is for adults.  Homeowners.  The homeowner needs to fill it out.”

            “The kids get this as homework. They can do it with their parents if they want. Extra credit or however the teacher wants to do it.” I said.

            “No no no.” MDA said.  “This program is for adults.  Homeowners.  The homeowner needs to fill it out.”

            “Did they teach you that in bureaucracy school?” I asked.

            “What?” MDA said.

            “How to sound like a repetitive robot.  An automaton.”

            MDA frowned. “You aren’t very funny.”

            “You told us to be creative.” I added.

            MDA frowned.  “You aren’t very funny.”

After a year of this I found out that there was an opportunity to work with the Tribes throughout Michigan. Tired of office politics I was happy to get the tribal placement.  North we will go! We headed off to Traverse City, where I would be stationed.

            I was a little curious. 

            “What is supposed to be happening with my new job?” I asked.

            “Mmm.  Well, this is new territory for Extension and MDA.  We’ve never worked with the Tribes before.”

            “What is supposed to be happening with my new job?” Now I was sounding like the bureaucrat.

            “You will find out.” MDA faded into the shadows.

So there it was.  They pimped me out like a Monsanto sprout.  They gave me no background.  No nothing.  Here I was a white person with no knowledge of Native American customs, concerns, problems, etc., throughout Michigan. But I was ever so eager and plus I had my foot in the door.

I landed on the rez.  The first thing I discovered that a lot of Native Americans were whiter than I was.  Interesting, I thought.  And ever tired of the authoritarian patriarchal society that I never seemed to fit into on the heels of that thought I had another:  Maybe someone can adopt me.

A part of me was hoping that I could connect my son back with his Native heritage seeing his biological father was sorely ripped from his.  And there was that bizarre problem that his Metis grandma, Fern Patrick, had died mysteriously.  I wondered about that.  She apparently owned a hotel, Bower’s Harbor Inn, on the Old Mission Peninsula with her husband and had died while swimming. A strong swimmer, my son’s biological dad had said.

The program fell flat.  People listened to me politely and sometimes not while I did my song and dance.

So I had time to study. I found out more about Native American problems and government than most Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)  people.  Damn, I thought.  I could spend the rest of my grant time studying.  They should have told me about this…

MDA then requested my presence.  Well, demanded it really. An audience of thirty or so of seasoned bureau/techno crat/cats waited.  They grilled me, tried to shame me, for I had such great numbers before.  How could this happen?  I said: No one wants your program.  They did not like that answer.

Back in the day I could fry eggs.  Now I can use seasoning. 

It’s complicated. 

Back in the day I was naïve enough not to understand how people get used.  How I was pimped out like a Monsanto spout. Layers and layers of usage and complicated issuance of a mainstream agreed upon USA history.  It’s flavorless.  A history that is not factually correct concerning Native Americans and many other issues. But useful.  To the powers that be. 

I used to believe that being nice to the powers that be could guarantee my resilience. My acceptance to them and of them could further my aim of protecting the environment.  Being so nice to their spice…

But their spice proved too powerful and I no longer could eat their poison.  They wanted more of me than of simply being obsequious.  How silly! They wanted my soul. 

It was a long time ago; now I can cook much more complicated dishes.  And I no longer use a cookbook issued from the powers that be.