Friday, November 8, 2013

How I Met Award Winning Author, Gerald Hausman

By Ramon Shiloh

As a society, our love for books has always been regarded as a condition of hope, wonder and an escape from everyday life. It’s a positive reinforcement of educating one’s self, but it really lets us silently fade into a vast perspective as we flip each page, entwined in the author’s universe.

My fascination with books started with Syd Hoff’s “Danny and the Dinosaur.” At age six, reading was always a wonderful lesson, but his illustrations were a particularly harmonious distraction. As Danny rode along with a dinosaur for the day, I enjoyed the fact that two friends could independently walk the streets, traveling through neighborhoods, eating ice cream along the way, catching a sporting event, goofing around at the playground. That blew my mind. Danny seemed like a kid who got things done, and I envied that. Now that I think about it, I was a bit jealous of Danny.

Many say that Dr. Seuss was the best. For me, he was more of an acid trip with words that went on and on and on. I loved Seuss’s books, don’t get me wrong, but my childhood was geared to a simpler time. The 1970s, in my community, was an innocent time for me, and “Danny and the Dinosaur” spoke to me about neighborhood relationships and the value of friendship. That tale rendered me speechless. It had managed to pull me in like no other children’s book had ever done.

I lived in a creative household and was whisked away from farm country to various cities as my mother looked for work, so it was easy to connect with Hoff’s tale of traveling from one place to the next. By age 10, my “Danny and the Dinosaur” book was tattered beyond belief from being carted around through my many travels. But I began to become disenchanted with the story as I lost my sense of community. Soon, I abandoned the idea of following Danny’s life as my guide, and the once treasured story found a place amongst the long-forgotten tales hidden in our garage. See, my mother was a book hoarder. From outdated encyclopedias and back issues of National Geographic to cookbooks, Native American perspectives and worldview lifestyles, our garage was a sea of literary chaos.

Finally, at 13, we found a little home that we stayed in for a while. It felt nice, not trekking to another town every three years.  It was then that I discovered, on one lazy afternoon, Gerald Hausman’s tale, “The Boy with the Sun Tree Bow,” in the mix of Mom’s old books. As I recall, it was a flimsy little paperback, but it grabbed my attention for some reason. I think it made sense because of the title. The book was about a boy. I was a boy. It made sense, right?

As I opened the book, the story began like a poem:

“In the beginning,
the sea was a true blue eye.
With the sun in the center by day,
and the moon in the corner by night.
Bright fishes swam in and out of the sun.
Dark turtles crossed over the moon and all was well in the world.”

But everything changed when Hausman introduced boy. With a quick-witted approach, his words stung my imagination. Boy was a mischievous adventurer with only one goal in mind: “To shoot out the sun and the moon with a single arrow.” What?!

This type of reading material was foreign to me. It was as if I had discovered violence in a beautiful way. But this was scarier; a boy taking out the sun and the moon with a single arrow?! I couldn’t wrap my head around this idea, even though I had done my share of hurtful things, as most little boys do. I’ve squished creepy crawlers, trapped rats, dashed salt on slugs and snails. I spent many youthful years zapping trails of ants with my trusty magnifying glass. I carried sticks just to slash roses off their stems when walking from school. Ah, those were the days.

But in this tale, I felt my rebellious side was being called out. Hausman weaves a scary reality: Boy walks through life chopping down Elm, Pine, Cherry, Maple, Beech, Hickory, Oak and Ash to carve his perfect bow and arrow with the intention of shooting out the sun and the moon in one flick. In doing so, boy annihilates swaths of grand forests in search of two perfect trees – the sun tree and the moon tree.

Obviously, I found boy to be the worst kid EVER! I was angry, and I must have looked bummed out in front of my mother that afternoon. She asked me some questions, and I recall saying that this book made me feel bad. She took the book out of my hand and asked why I wanted to read this story. Like all children in the face of a simple question, I responded, “I dunno.”

She told me that she had found this book at a garage sale one afternoon and realized it had a lesson in it. She felt compelled to share its message with her students, who were troubled in different ways. Mom was an educator and activist in California. Her goal in life was teaching truth in history, and she made sizable impacts in the Native American community. She had a cool way of making complex issues seem simple to everyone around her.

“The Boy with the Sun Tree Bow” ends on a very tragic note. Boy finally reaches his goal, only to discover too late the true consequence of his actions. His fate was sealed along with every natural habitat by his own doing. What a sad reality. This scarred me. It woke me up, and I found myself questioning my intentions for the first time. I was that boy for a moment and never again.

Finding My Own Dinosaur

There was a dark period in my life. My mother died at 58. I was 21 and my little brother only 18. My older brother was married with my nephew in tow. The three of us took part in separating our mother’s things. Our older brother had a house, big enough to hold many of her belongings. But with my younger brother striking out on his own, blindly moving to Seattle, combined with my couch-surfing lifestyle, a storage facility was necessary.

At 23, I had many educators who tried their very best to help me emotionally. Many who knew my mother offered money, jobs and their homes. My father was a distant memory. I dropped out of college and followed in my mother’s footsteps to become a storyteller and artist. It didn’t really pay the bills, but it made me happy and that was most important. I lived a nomadic lifestyle with no rules. It felt weird seeing old friends become successes seemingly overnight. When running into them, the incessant questions about my personal life were awkward: “So, what do you do Ramon?” “I’m a storyteller.” “So you’re a bullshitter? Hahaha!!” “Um, yeah.”
On occasion, I would find myself going back to Mom’s storage unit. Rifling through these old memories gave me the strength to sort out many questions and answers. And like magic, the one memory that had me teary-eyed, fell with a number of other books, laid out by my feet. I shook my head as I stared down at Gerald Hausman’s tale, “The Boy with the Sun Tree Bow.”

During 20 years of journeys, I’ve carried Hausman’s story. With every encounter, I was always told his story is so relevant to today. The scary part about this tale is it’s true.

In 2005, I was called in to be a storytelling consultant for an animation project in the University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering Department. In its infancy stage, the students were developing an animated short based on a passage through a Native American perspective. The process wasn’t as simple as checking out Native books and drawing out the story. For one, the rule of engagement with any tribal nation is to ask permission for the use of their story. For as long as I can remember, I was always told never to describe a story without the blessing of the nation involved. Plus you might not be able to share that story in a particular season or timeframe, which may cause harm to the fabric of their belief system.

Still, I decided to share Gerald Hausman’s tale with the students. I don’t know why I did it, and there was a part of me that was angry that I let go of this precious story. But everyone was so floored by the colorful elements that they wanted to start animating it right then. I was concerned about licensing and copyright issues since they planned to share it commercially after producing it for their film final. With the project on hold until we could secure permission, I volunteered to make contact with my childhood idol – if he was even still alive.

After letting my nerves get the best of me for days, I finally sat down and typed out an email, which I sent through his website. Within hours, he responded. I was floored when I read his simple note, “I think I knew your mother. Call me.”

The connection with Gerald was instantaneous. We talked for hours about the world of storytelling, about “The Boy with the Sun Tree Bow,” about my childhood and about my mother. Afterward, I put my whole heart into the animation project, guiding the students through their work. What a surreal moment in my life and very rewarding. For Gerald and I, this experience cemented our friendship forever.

From then on, we both talked about working on a project. There was a particular story Gerald had in mind. It began with a simple word, “Listener.” It was going to be a graphic novel, but then we decided to create an all-ages book. This grabbed the attention of World Wisdom/Wisdom Tales Press, eventually becoming a 4 and up read re-titled as “The Otter, The Spotted Frog and The Great Flood.

Despite working so closely together during the past eight years, in November 2013, I’ll be meeting Gerald for the first time in person as we embark on our East Coast Book Tour in Florida. He and I will get to spend a whole month playing, talking, learning and teaching kids to enjoy reading.

I would never say this to Gerald Hausman’s face, but I think I found my Dinosaur.

Ramon Shiloh  

Additional appearances with Ramon Shiloh and Gerald Hausman include:
November 13, Storytelling at the Pine Island Public Library, Bokeelia, FL 
November 10, Young at Art Children’s Museum, Fort Lauderdale, FL
November 16, Calusa Trail Museum, Pineland, FL
November 21-24, Miami Book Fair International, Storytelling Tent

Additional information about Gerald Hausman:
Gerald Hausman’s bestseller “How Chipmunk Got Tiny Feet” has already reached over 1 million copies in foreign and American editions. Gerald’s native stories have been used on the History Channel, NPR, Pacifica Broadcasting and Christian Science Monitor Radio. His picture book “Three Little Birds” (cowritten with Cedella Marley and illustrated by Mariah Fox) has been adapted into a musical for children, which has already put on performances in several cities, including New York City.

The University of Washington Graduate Film School made an animated short film of his book “The Boy with the Sun Tree Bow.” During this time, Gerald became close friends with artist Ramon Shiloh, who was the Native arts consultant for the film project. For the next six years, they worked together on “The Otter, the Spotted Frog & the Great Flood,” an ecological prophecy and picture book from the Creek people. The project was published by Wisdom Tales in October 2013.

Praise for Gerald’s anthologies includes The New York Times Book Review for “Tunkashila: From the Birth of Turtle Island to the Blood of Wounded Knee,” which stated, “An eloquent tribute to the first great storytellers of America.” The same review goes on to extol Hausman’s style, noting that it is “richly lyrical; his language creates a swirling, lustrous world in which his characters come triumphantly to life.”

Gerald has received awards and honors from the American Folklore Society, the American Bookseller, Children’s Protective Services, Bank Street College of Education, the National Council of Social Studies, the International Reading Association, Parent’s Choice, The Ministry of Education of Jamaica, The New York Public Library, CCBC Choices/Best of the Year and the Junior Library Guild.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sad Truth of a Mural Artist's Fight against the Seattle Public School System (PART 1)

By Ramon Shiloh

North Seattle, Washington- On April 16-18, 2013, the Wilson-Pacific School held their Seattle Clear Sky 3rd annual Native Youth Conference. Keynote speakers,  storytellers, musicians, teachers and artists will offer three days of indigenous knowledge, education and culture in an effort to foster unconditional support for all children in need of guidance, direction and creative freedom. This year’s theme, “The Good Road of Life,” acknowledges the strengths and achievements of our city’s youth.

As the home of the American Indian Heritage Middle College High School, the event at the Wilson-Pacific campus in North Seattle also serves as the perfect rally point to inform the community about Seattle Public Schools’ decision to demolish the historic building. What is at stake is the loss of a 40-year-old legacy of tribal continuity, athleticism, indigenous-based higher learning and the destruction of works by Native American mural artist Andrew Morrison.

Native Education has Little or No Support from Seattle School Board

Prior to the proposed $695 million dollar Capital Levy (Proposition 2), which passed in February 2013, the Native American community has been calling for justice. While supposedly aiming to improve the educational future of our children, this Seattle Public Schools levy actually threatens Native American academic support services by cutting the Indian Heritage Program at Wilson-Pacific.

With just nine months in as Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, Jose Banda has determined that making moderate structural improvements to the aging building is not a worthwhile investment. Additionally, the school board members argue that since there are fewer Native American children in attendance, the building should be demolished to make way for a newer facility that suits the demands of the 21st century. To Banda, the decision may appear to be a viable upgrade, but to North Seattle residents and community supporters it desecrates the values of Wilson-Pacific and American Indian heritage. 

On July 3,  2012, newly appointed as Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, Jose Banda found himself at his first board meeting at the Seattle Public Schools John Stanford Center. While there, he was confronted by parents and teachers, including the Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth Council, who were ready to speak their concerns about the Capitol Levy issue and the Indian Heritage program at Wilson-Pacific. Banda addressed his first agenda item in the meeting: Demolition of the Wilson-Pacific building and relocation of the students, teachers and staff to the Middle College High School at Northgate Mall, which resides above the Express Store (a transient center) near Macy’s.

According to the Seattle Public Schools website, "Banda, who has served as Anaheim City Schools Superintendent for the past four years, was chosen following a national search for a superintendent who exhibited the desired characteristics and traits defined by the community, including: a visionary, inspirational leader; an instructional leader who has a proven track record; a knowledgeable manager and an effective communicator.”

But many parents weren't pleased with Banda’s discourse. What really sat negatively with people was that he never met with any affiliates of Wilson-Pacific nor did he visit the site for himself. “The fact that not one public school official approached me or called me or emailed me or consulted any other’s about this building to decide if demolishing should happen says everything about the mentality they’re in,” says local mural artist Andrew Morrison. “Jose Banda has never volunteered at the Indian Heritage Program, his children never grew up in Seattle Public Schools, he never knew Bob Eaglestaff and so, in no way shape or form, can any public official say that Jose Banda’s in harmony with our customs! That goes with a number of others who are in tandem with his beliefs.”

Not Feeling Defeated

Chris Jackins, co-chair of Seattle Committee to Save Schools, is a Ballard resident who has seen this scenario play out too many times. Jackins, who graduated from Ballard High School in the 1990's, remembers how he and a few fellow students found themselves on the frontlines to save their high school from being demolished after Seattle Public Schools passed a $6.9 million levy to fix it up. In time, the district had cost overruns in other projects and the monies never made it back to facilitate improvements at Ballard High School. The school board claimed that it was too old and unsafe and needed to be taken down.

Despite gathering more than 1,000 signatures, with constant appearances to school board meetings and an outpouring of community support, the school was torn down. “This tear-down made a big impression on a lot of people,” Jackins said. “A woman I went to kindergarten with went to Ballard High and her grandmother was the first graduating class, walking the same stairs her grandmother had. When she was aware of this, she was saddened and said, ‘No, they’re not going to tear down the building!’ and of course, it happened.”

Jackins believes the school district should really invest in people where they’re at and go from there. "My objection isn't necessarily that you can’t run a school that’s large and make it work. My feeling is that when you open these huge schools, it’s very deliberate and a cheaper way to run the school by closing other nearby schools and moving them into that one,” Jackins says. “So when the district entertains the thought, they’re doing a wonderful thing for all people and going back to a neighborhood system. Well, they’re not. They've now displaced thousands who are unprepared to meet the demands of a different school philosophy, and in the end, they will radically change the performance of how children learn and how school teachers teach.”

When asked what big impacts would get in the way to stop a demolition from taking place, Jackins replied, “Money seems to be the driving force behind the Indian Heritage issue. But I don’t believe these awful things need to happen. They certainly have all the intentions to bulldoze it all. But until it happens … to be honest, the school district doesn't always win.”

Sarah Sense-Wilson, an Oglala Sioux who was born and raised in Seattle, started her journey at Indian Heritage in 1995-96 as a basketball coach and has since filled up her time in other capacities at the school. Coordinator for the Clear Sky Youth Council, she was elected Chairwoman for the Urban Native Education Alliance (UNEA), an organization that empowers and bridges cultural and traditional knowledge with support services for urban Native youth.

“All of us at Indian Heritage have been opposed to this scheduled demolition from the beginning. If you look at the dark hours of our country and the ongoing plight of our people, we recognize historically in being a marginalized population where this issue is a continued attack from our past. I see this as an act of cultural genocide,” says Wilson, speaking with both pride in her work and frustration about the issue at hand. “To not gather and help our future generations come up from our program will disrupt the cultural continuity of these children and our peoples.”

Native Artist Fights to Save His Murals from Those Wanting to Erase His Name

The demolition will also destroy the historic murals of local Native artist, Andrew Morrison (Haida/Apache). Murals are a significant part of many cultures around the globe, but their power is of particular importance to individuals whose ancestors experienced that visual statement.  Since 2001, Morrison's murals, which grace the American Indian Heritage Middle College High School/Wilson Pacific campus, have paid homage to communities past, present and future of the Pacific Northwest. Considered an important community resource, Morrison's murals highlight iconic figures, such as Chief Joseph and Chief Seattle, as well as depict important events that have affected the Native community in Seattle.

Morrison is a board member of Urban Native Education Alliance. His murals and a collection of artistic works have been featured at universities, powwows and festivals, ranging from Alaska to the Southwest. Morrison has acquired an abundance of awards and commissions during his 18-year professional career, but more significantly, he has captured the hearts of his peers and elders, who in turn champion his work.

“The reason I have lasted this long creatively is community support – the art community, and more in the Native community,” Morrison explains with gratitude. “The community says my murals touch their lives and make them feel at ease and calm. Some people look at my artwork and say when they wake up in the morning that it makes their day a little brighter.”

When Morrison completed the Mural of Chief Seattle in 2002, King 5’s Evening Magazine featured an interest piece on his life and artistry. On the following day of the unveiling, one public official who elevated the spirits at Wilson-Pacific was Mayor Greg Nickels. “That was the one time I ever met him and he was so inspired, respectful and very sincere about my work,” Morrison recalls. “It was great. He stuck around for an hour; he wasn't rushed and congratulated me. The mural in height was 25-feet tall and Nickels spoke from a sincere place by saying, 'Thank you for doing the largest commemoration of our founding forefather and namesake.’ He stood there during the unveiling and spoke from the heart about Chief Seattle. It was the greatest day of my life.” 

Now, with Seattle Public Schools' scheduled demolition, Morrison is fighting to save his life's work, which has transformed the community of North Seattle into one of the most visited destinations in the Pacific Northwest. On February 25th, 2013, the cover of the Seattle Times featured Morrison poised in front of his mural of Chief Joseph with the blaring headline, "Beloved Native American Murals at Wilson-Pacific May Disappear." 

Morrison takes issue with how Seattle Public Schools is working with him and the Wilson-Pacific community to identify ways to preserve the murals if the school is replaced. It isn't uncommon for works of art to be taken down or rerouted for public display. In fact, with a healthy intention of community involvement, with the artists approval in tow, the transition can benefit many. What's disturbing Morrison is that he is now facing scrutiny from Seattle Public School officials of a unanimous decision to have all of his murals digitally reproduced and relocated without his consent. 

"The reason I've excluded myself from public officials who I thought had the best interests on this issue in the last six months is because they've blatantly lied to my face about the preservation of my murals," Morrison explains. "Where they're now going, is through an avenue of slander and defamation of character, and all of a sudden I look like a disgruntled artist. First of all, to digitally reproduce my work is a joke! And the February article everyone has read makes it seem like I'm eliminating myself from protecting my work, when they have bullied me out of protecting my work." 

In the end, North Seattle residents and those who are involved with the American Indian Heritage Middle College High School program at Wilson-Pacific are bracing for radical changes in the months to come. “The hook, line and sinker of this story coming out and my voice being heard is that the district and Seattle Public Schools officials who have wrecked the fabric of our community underestimate me, my knowledge and my common sense and my subject matter,” Morrison says. “Believing that squatters are in the parking lot and thinking the place is vacant, believing that the Indians left, believing that there’s no kids there anymore, believing I’m a primitive person, believing that I have this rebel nature, believing I’m this vindictive angry person, when they have ignited the wick for us to panic. And out of all of this madness, not once have I spun out of control and showed them any hostility or disrespect. I am an artist. I let my work speak for itself.”

© 2013 Ramon Shiloh 


For more information on the issues and affairs of Indian Heritage Program at Wilson-Pacific, click on the links below