• Seema

pay attention to what you can do for others


I recently learned that a Tlingit elder I interviewed for this project passed away. He was my sixth interviewee and I appreciated everything he shared. He Zoomed with me from his phone as he sat in his car parked outside of the Costco in his rural part of the country. He was going to get a new computer that day in August 2021 when we spoke.


He educated me on the Doctrine of Discovery and the Treaty of Cession. He told me that as he grew up in his village of 100 people, his parents told him, “You have to help the people. Pay attention to what you can do for people.” He became an attorney. He said, “Thirty years of law practice -- I never made any money. Most of the work I did for free. It was designed to help.” He continued, “To me, when we get rid of racism that’s where we’ll start heading. We’ll be helping each other develop.”


He said that anyone can play a role in getting rid of racism, but it requires rethinking how you relate to others and your environment.


His people historically traded up and down the coast. He said there’s always a need for trade. He looked at the Costco and said, “Costco is a good example… There’s a big difference between Costco and Walmart. Huge difference. Treat their employees different. They [Costco] do make a lot of profit but at the same time they don’t mind sharing their profits with their employees. People who like to maximize their rate of return and not care about whether their employees can survive, those companies whose employees have to get public assistance, that’s the thinking that needs to change.”


He shared with me the ways he helps. At 74 years old, he and his neighbor go out and cut wood, bring it to the village and give it to people who need firewood. “It helps me physically,” he shared. “I don’t go to the gym… I get a lot of emotional and physical benefit from doing things like that. A week ago, I finished helping someone build a carport. I had never built one. She’s a carpenter. She hired another carpenter. So, I went and volunteered and did all the grunt work so I could learn how to build a carport because I want to build one myself. I used muscles I haven’t used in a while.” There were emotional, physical, educational and spiritual benefits of the help he provided.


Some of his parting thoughts were, “The result of racism is the oppression of people, the suppression of people. The idea that we are all here to help each other will result in a lot less racism. Ask ourselves, “How can I help another individual?” not, “What can I take from them?” Eliminating racism means eliminating class culture.”

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