Because it’s all still happening

I am both surprised and not surprised at how many white friends and acquaintances have avoided seeing the acclaimed movie, Killers of the Flower Moon.  They report some variation of— “I don’t want to watch the violence, it makes me too uncomfortable…”  And I encourage them with some variation of—“Maybe it’s our turn to be uncomfortable, to witness the real history we are standing in. Maybe we need to educate ourselves so we can have a different conversation, because it’s all still happening.”

Image from movie poster and trailer posted on-line.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a culture-shifting piece of work; like Apocalypse Now changed the view of the Vietnam War, and Schindler’s List, presented the Holocaust in one agonizing unraveling story, or Going After Private Ryan showed ordinary men rising to extraordinary sacrifice. Each of these films is violent, message-driven, ambiguous in outcome, heroic and villainous: classics.

Years ago, I went to see Shindler’s List on a Christmas Day when I had no other plans and was hanging out with Jewish friends. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and then went to a late matinee. Three hours later we emerged in total silence to walk past a long line of mostly Jewish people waiting to get in. They looked in our faces and saw that we were stunned and mourning. We looked at their faces and saw their determination to endure being shown the horrors of their ancestral story. Out of the silence, people began to recite the Kaddish—prayer for the dead. As the lobby echoed with this ancient lament, I learned that we can experience one another’s difficult stories as an act of spiritual allyship.

It was in that spirit of willingness to know something I did not want to know, and to reckon with my relationship to this history, that I watched Killers of the Flower Moon. First in the total submersion of a darkened theater, and again with several friends on a large screen TV on an afternoon when we could stop and take a breath, sit outside a few minutes, talk with one another, and then go back to finish the tale.

Whidbey sunset– nature watches over us.

You may be carrying enough trauma or sorrow that seeing this movie is not appropriate. Please take care of yourself first and foremost.  I have found my dives into the interviews, now archived all over the internet, to be as interesting as the film. Lily Gladstone, who portrayed Mollie Burkhart, the Osage wife of Leo DiCaprio’s character, has beautifully centered the Native narrative and elucidated Native issues for a white audience.

Tantoo Cardinal, who plays the mother of Mollie and her sisters, said, “I grew up in Northern Alberta among the tar sands. I know what happens when the oil industry doesn’t want to be messed with. And I know the greed that has overcome this world until this land, North America, belongs basically to business. I’m delighted people are being educated about what my ancestors lived through—and we live through it now. …People think the movie is hard, but it’s gentle compared to the actual experience of colonialism and genocide and the abuse our cultures have gone through.”

Image from Native Hope website.

Interestingly, May 5th (Cinco de Mayo), also links Holocaust Remembrance Day and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Day. Of these three, MMIW,or MMIP(oeple) is perhaps the least known, but through organizations like NativeHope.org  we can educate our-white-selves to the realities of Indigenous suffering and honor the persistent vulnerability and resilience of Indigenous communities. Murder is the #3 cause of death for Indigenous women

One story that touches close to my heart is the hit-and-run death of Mika Westwolf who was killed alongside Montana Highway 93 on the Flathead Reservation, walking home late at night on March 31, 2023. I have connection to her extended family and have been brought deeper into their story. What it takes for Indigenous families to get justice is a courageous capacity to channel their outrage, and expose their private grief to media attention.

When Popular Information ran the story, and Amy Goodman picked it up for Democracy Now, the death of this young woman and the tragedies of many Native families came to white-eyes attention. The woman who hit her has the last name White, and her little children are named Aryan and Nation. The combination of vehicular homicide, white supremacy, and hate-crime brought the FBI into the case.

It is Mika’s story that opened my heart to this issue. It is the courage of her mother, her grandmother, her extended family and the devastation of those who loved her that makes me determined to stand alongside their spiritual fierceness. Knowing is the source of acting. Caring is the source of reckoning.

Image from MikaMatters.com website

Crises of injustice tumble into each other. I see ever more clearly that when we do not address the hard work of restitution, violence rolls from one generation to the next, from one group of people to the next. If I start listing all our crises, it’s overwhelming. Desperate immigrants seeking safer places, college campuses roiling with protest and police, wars grunting on in horror. Today, I am holding the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People in my heart… because I can, because I am willing to stand alongside their pain. Today I have a candle lit for Mika, because Mika Matters.

Perhaps this is not where you are called to put your heart… but I hope you will put it somewhere in the sorrows and needs of the world. And if you are the one who is suffering, that you will reach out and ask for what you need. May we continue to grow, to look out for each other, to bear witness when we cannot fix and to fix what we can, because it’s all still happening.

Thank you for reading these words and sitting in this story with me. Thank you for letting Mika come to the edge of your heart, even for a few moments.

Please scroll down these comments–especially to the one from Kim, part of Mika’s family. Think of Mika’s mother, one week before Mother’s Day, giving two speeches about MMIW, one at the University of Montana, Missoula. There is wisdom in the circle as we listen to one another.

 

Lily Gladstone’s next movie is Fancy Dance about a family dealing with the disappearance of Lily’s character’s sister. It starts streaming on Apple+ in late June.

 

 

31 replies
  1. Glenda "GG" Goodrich
    Glenda "GG" Goodrich says:

    Thank you for this heart-stirring reminder Christina. This inspires me to show up to what feels true and righteous.

    Reply
  2. Sue Reynolds
    Sue Reynolds says:

    Thank you, Christina. I will watch the film now, and will forward your message to my group of friends that were discussing these issues last Thursday. Rich territory. And our big question is what is right action. Thank you.
    Sue

    Reply
  3. Karl Olsen
    Karl Olsen says:

    Dear, dear, Christina. Thank you for this post. It is indeed surprising and unsurprising that we white folk are often unwilling to engage with the traumas in which many of our ancestors played such a central role. Sometimes, as you say, the situations currently at hand seem overwhelming, and at times, they are. So we may step back and engage in self-care. But it is so important to heed the voice when we are called back into relationship with it all–such as your post today–and return our attention and our companionship to that road of healing. I read an article about Interior Secretary Deb Haaland today, first Native person in the role of cabinet secretary. She observes that the reason she’s in that position is “It’s like I’m here because the ancestors felt it was necessary.” All of our ancestors call us to be present and engage. Thanks for your consistent call to relationship, restitution, reconciliation that creates hope for all of our futures.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Wow, Karl, thank you for the Haaland quote. She did a beautiful piece on MMIW around the Mika story. And I hate that it takes a violent death like this to bring this story to life.

      Reply
  4. Patricia Houston
    Patricia Houston says:

    This is beautiful Christina and so important at this time in our history and our lives. I will pass it on to others who will make a difference and have opportunities to say “what about this?, it is time now for this conversation to happen”. Thank you for always opening our hearts and minds to ways in which we can step up, speak to truth and hopefully make a difference.

    Reply
  5. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    Thank you for these words, Christina. I love your warm heart, your compassionate soul, and your brilliant writer’s mind. Thank you for sharing yourself and theses stories with the world.

    Reply
  6. Deb Lund
    Deb Lund says:

    I loved the movie, and I appreciate the background information you included here. Being someone who does avoid some movies (I often say, “I’m too impressionable for this one), I must say that this didn’t fit that category for me. It’s powerful, true, and done well. There’s nothing in there that’s just for sensationalism. It’s a must-see film. The interview I watched afterwards furthered my appreciation for all the careful research, interactions, and thoughtfulness that went into all their decisions. Please don’t miss it, and please nudge others! Thank you, Christina.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Yes, I find many of the background interviews very meaningful, healpful (I think I’ll leave that typo–it should be a word!) and deepening my understanding. And yes, read the book.

      Reply
  7. Mary Ann Woodruff
    Mary Ann Woodruff says:

    Dear Christina,
    Mary and I saw the movie when it first came to a cinema near us. It is still haunting my thoughts, and I echo your concern about persons who say they don’t want to see it for the violence. Two of my nieces just visited and we were dumbfounded by their reluctance to see this movie–two youngish women who very publicly fight discrimination of LBGT persons at every turn. My heart joins yours. Thanks for your writing. Love you!

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      I do not know what is “right”–only that everything is connected. Thanks for being you.

      Reply
  8. Sharon Faulds
    Sharon Faulds says:

    Thank you Christina for the reminder to keep learning and supporting the stories of Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island. Canada has made some strides forward yet we have a long way to go. June is Indigenous History Month in Canada so to at least watch this movie is a start for anyone wanting to learn more. I love the quote from Tantoo Cardinal about ” People think the movie is hard but it is gentle compared to the actual experience of colonization and genocide and the abuse our cultures have gone through” During COVID I had the honour of sitting in Council with Jesse Thistle one of Canada’s now many Indigenous authors. The group had read his memoir about his journey growing up as a Metis living on the streets, being in jail to becoming a professor at York University in Toronto and an advocate for a systems approach for helping people get off the streets. Since then he became a new father and wrote a book of poetry and one of his poems talks about not hearing his name for months when he lived on the streets which makes my heart ache. He also talked a lot about how we are relationship with everything in world from the smallest speck of sand to the biggest things in our world. Change is happening slowly however the voice of Indigenous peoples can be seen and heard in the arts beyond their cultural crafts. Killers of the Flower Moon is one example. When I go to my local book store there used to be 4 or 5 authors books on the shelves and now there is a whole section. There has been a shift towards Indigenous people on reservations being given back their rights to self governance. Yet we still have a long road ahead before Indigenous peoples are equal partners in the fabric of society. Thank you and wishing a wonderful spring.

    Reply
  9. Paul Morris
    Paul Morris says:

    Thank you Christina for bringing Mika to the light . . .
    Please keep pushing awareness of MMIR
    Mika Matters

    Reply
  10. Julie Mae Pigott
    Julie Mae Pigott says:

    Beautiful post Christina. I, too, went to see Killers of the Flower Moon, because I felt an urgent call to watch, learn, grieve and witness the atrocities of murder, rape, manipulation, violence, lies and greed. Ben warned me, saying he thought it might be too violent for me. But I, too, likened it Apocalypse Now and Schindler’s List. To choose watching this and other similar movies, is choosing to take a stand in solidarity. Thank you for your call, to us all, to keep waking up and standing up in respect and love.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you, Julie, for going… and for understanding why and doing it as an act of service.

      Reply
  11. Marianne Abel-Lipschutz
    Marianne Abel-Lipschutz says:

    Thanks for raising up the complexity of these people and these concerns we all share, Christina.
    Similar patterns exist for women in Central America. A remarkable and compelling recent book details the anguish well. “Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice,” by Cristina Rivera Garza. Blessings on your journeys.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Yes, and thank you for bringing in the global nature of MMWI. Blessings to all the sisters.

      Reply
  12. Kim Paul
    Kim Paul says:

    Thank you Christina, Mika Matters every minute of every day, every breath and every tear. Her immeasurable love for her Momma and family and extended family and frens, her respect and laughter, her beautiful ukelele playing self…her smile and her poems, her ability to chow down (!) and always remain so lean and healthy…she lived and valued her family so so so so much, loving her parents and grandparents and great gramma and aunties and cousins and inseparable Sister Mya Fren, her pets…she loved being outside, in the woods, on the river, on her late night runs w Mya and Lauren and Rayah and Jorian to the store for icecream for gramma…craziness at silverwood and long movie days and nights…she loved her Momma and family so much…its over a year and this woman doesnt show up to court and NO WARRANTS…the prosecutor who is supposed to be Mika’s advocate counsels the judge that “she must have a good reason for not being here” while young Indigenous men are lined up shackled at ankles and wrists FOR STEALING A POWER TOOL AND A BELT BUCKLE AND LOOKING AT UP TO 30 YEARS…the person whose children are named aryan and nation, the non-Native person who murdered Mika (who was innocently walking home late at night) still has never spent a single night in jail…still walks free while all who loved Mika never get to laugh again at her silliness or cook her another meal or look across the room at her beauty…this is real and happening now and no matter how much we cry foul, nothing is being done…now the judge has granted her the ability to change court venues…why? Because her shattered mother and grandparents and cousins and aunties and frens dare show up to the court jn red Mika Matter tshirts? Because we dare sit quietly, broken in our respective griefs, experiencing ON TOP OF THE HEINOUS MURDER OF OUR INNOCENT NEAR CHILD, the devaluation of her life by affording the killer every freedom and exception she asks for…

    i for one have not and cannot watch killers of the flower moon, nor have i been able to read the book my uncle sent me from Oklahoma because we live this every day…we’ve been living it our entire lives…there have been thousands before Mika…hundreds right at home in what is now called montana, in just the past few years…uninvestigated or uncharged or uncaring or devalued or so wrapped in their hate or racism that even in 2024, we remain without the most minimal respect as a fellow human being, precious in Creator’s sight yet disparately and consistently dehumanized and demoralized and devalued ….murdered and left to die in the side if the road…alone…while our killers (if white) walk free w little or no justice ever…Mika’s killer us only looking at 20 years while those young men in their orange suits in the lake county jail are looking at thirty for stealing to feed an addiction brought in by the abject hopelessness we endure repeatedly, with every breath and every tear…where is our justice…where is our liberty…where are our rights to fair and speedy trials…why in 2024 are we still being treated like animals…because our skin has more pigment? Because they walk on land that was ours for the past 20,000 years and live some deep generational guilt that drives them to treat us as if we are not precious, unique, exquisite, stellar, intelligent, feeling humans…

    how do we continue to walk and breathe and exist in our gratefulness…w the weight and depth and breadth of such a great loss of innocent pure beauty that was and is Mika…please…if you are reading this, go to mikamatters.com and read her story…fight for us beyond watching a movie…write the president, write montana senators and representatives, reach out to the networks and ask them why gabby patito was plastered across every network and news story for months and our Mika’s story is not… WHY IS NOBODY DOING ANYTHING? THIS WOMANS CHILDREN ARE NAMED ARYAN AND NATION AND SHE SET OUT TO KILL AND NDN AND SHE KILLED OUR MIKA JOSEPHINE HEAVY RUNNER WEST WOLF whom she did not know nor had ever seen before in her life…WHY IS SHE NOT BEING CHARGED W A HATE CRIME…MIKA MATTERS and every other murdered FIRST PEOPLE OF THIS LAND MATTER…please don’t read this and do nothing…this is why this continues…we do not have anyone to fight our battles….we have no naacp…we have beautiful humans like Christina sharing Mika’s name and a bit of the atrocity we are living…but its a year later and we are shattered we are broken we are in need of hope, our voices have not been enough since …well…since our great grandparents and grandparents and parents time and still, now…pls help us in any way you can…Mika deserves better and her family deserves better and all the families of the murdered and missing Indigenous fellow valuable humans deserve better…pls use your voice…if not now….when?…we continue to suffer and die without justice because few have cared enough to do anything about it…please go to mikamatters.com and learn of ways to make your voice count 🙏🏽

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you, Kim, for bleeding your words onto this page. Into this circle where I know many are capable of listening to you, sitting with your pain, and hopefully, rising to act in our lives to the full extent of our capacities and influence. I bow in humility before your courageous words, and honor the pain it takes to put your lived experience and deep heart wounds out there for the white-eye. May we be worthy readers.

      Dear blog readers, To write this message is a donation to the rest of us. This is sacred outrage. These words are raw grief. This message calls white readers to become allies and co-activists. To break free, to do justice, to heal the wounds of the land and its peoples, both the oppressed and the oppressor must have their hands on the chain. We are all shackled to racism and injustice. Several years ago, in a zoom call about racism, a young woman of color said, “I will know we are getting there when I see white people genuinely grieving all they have missed by not knowing me… not knowing who I am, who we are, the gifts we have stood in our brown skins offering and offering despite white rejection. Generations of rejection, invisibility, disregard, hatred and fear… Those tears, that grief, is what I am waiting for.”
      Missing. Murdered. Indigenous. Women. Children. People.

      Reply
  13. Carissa Heavy Runner
    Carissa Heavy Runner says:

    Christina, thank you for sharing my daughters story and our journey to get Justice for Mika Westwolf. It hasn’t been an easy road at all, we shouldn’t have to create this kind of awareness when we lose a part of our family, but it is necessary and has become our reality as indigenous people in todays world. I will do whatever I can and if given an opportunity to speak I will take advantage of that chance because I have found my voice and being a voice for my daughter when she can’t speak for herself. I use my voice and put myself out there for those that are scared to use their voice or aren’t sure how to go about using their voice. I just try to make the other side empathize with what if this was their child, how hard and far would you fight for Justice for them when you feel the world is against you already? Could you do what I have done? There’s so many times I wanted to quit but I fought these thoughts and feelings and pushed through and it’s ok to take care of myself mentally and emotionally. I let the teachings and voice of my daughter guide me to lead with kindness and forgiveness and love. She was one of my greatest teachers still to this day. I was and am thankful to have been gifted this incredible human being and have helped raised her to a young woman. It truly does take a village. She was loved by many.

    We are still 4 months away from the trial hearings and I will continue to keep my daughters name out there and doing events so that she is not forgotten. I wont quit trying to help others as well in this situation and help give them guidance in any way I can or support others MMIW awareness events. We need to care and support each other. We are stronger together and louder when united. I appreciate any help by sharing my daughters story, following Mika matters on Facebook and instagram and sharing anything regarding her case, and also visit the website http://www.mikamatters.com to watch for upcoming events and updates on the trial. When it comes to trial I need all the support I can get from anyone that cares. We have #Mikamatters shirts for sale and funding goes to future legal fees and supplies for events we set up our Mika matters table. You can reach out to me over the website.
    Thank you for taking the time to read Christina’s blog and share it with others so the education and awareness that the Mika matters movement is mainly focused on education to show that Mika’s life mattered, Native lives matter, and everyone’s life matters. They are/were someone’s child, sibling, cousin, grandchild, etc.
    Thank you Christina and Kim for your words, they mean so much to my family and me.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      There are many needs in the Indigenous community and Carissa is working to bring more than her own loss to light. On the http://www.mikamatters.com website there is a list of Loved Ones Lost. She is also incurring expenses from travel,maintaining the educational website, and speaking engagements around Montana. If you have media leads or social networking to offer, please do. Also she is happy for donations to support her fierce efforts. Via PayPal, Venmo, or Facebook pay. Carissa Heavy Runner @Crishr12 is her PayPal account. All support is welcome. Kind thoughts and love.

      Reply
  14. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    I admit I haven’t seen this movie yet, but you certainly have my attention with the story. Thank you for another opening. I’ll continue to read and search for understanding. To tell you the truth, there is so much that makes such little sense anymore. I am grateful for your focus and unwavering beam of light.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you… many of us trying to be beams of light in these times… and light is a tricky thing, how it can be bent and shadowed and dance in the sky. Keep your eye on the Natural world, Bonnie Rae, that is where sense lies waiting our decoding and where understanding may emerge.

      Reply

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