Wherein I wonder about a sentence, learn a lot, and end up with more questions.

The first hymn in church yesterday was titled “Great Spirit God” (one of two translations of Wakantanka Taku Nitawa in our hymnal). The music note said the tune is Lacquiparle, “Native American melody (Dakota) Adapt. Joseph R. Renville, 1842.” This hymnal has a short background note for each hymn. This one said:

“Recollecting the accounts told by his grandfather and others, Sidney Byrd stated: ‘This hymn was sung by thirty-eight Dakota Indian prisoners of war as they went to the gallows at Mankato, Minnesota, on December 26, 1862, in the largest mass execution in American history.”

That caught my attention! The minister’s introduction mentioned theNative American provenance but not the scene of people singing it while they were being hanged.

When I got home, I looked it up. The note is a pointer to the 1862 Sioux uprising, one of the hundreds of battles in the three-hundred year war of the conquest of North America by Europeans.  From the point of view of many native people, especially Dakotas, those executed were martyred freedom fighters, while from the point of view of European and Euro-American settlers they were murderers who brutalized innocent and peaceful settlers. From what I read, it seems likely that the men really were singing as they were marched to their hanging with linen bags over their heads, but what they were singing and what it meant is less clear. Continue reading “footnote”

if the university is a body, what organ is athletics?

In the wake of athletics scandals, general budget cuts, and a new athletic director, questions of how athletics fits into the University in general are high on the agenda these days. Yesterday there was a forum with the outgoing Athletic Director, Dick Baddour, and several other people involved in athletics, to discuss the role of athletics. (I couldn’t go because we had a faculty meeting at the same time.) In the Daily Tar Heel story about the meeting, Faculty Athletics Committee chair Steve Reznick is quoted as saying:

Athletics is part of our body. You can’t just remove the pancreas.

Now, the corporeal metaphor is interesting enough on its own, but the choice of pancreas is really creative. It does turn out that pancreatectomy has a very poor prognosis, probably because the pancreas’s contribution to the body is made up of many different roles. Here’s my imagination of the upcoming game next Friday. I can hear Jones Angell now, the new voice of the Heels, aboard the USS Carl Vinson: 26 seconds to go in the second half, Carolina behind 78-75, Marshall with the ball, President Obama on his feet but fearing the worst. Angell has the call:

Marshall gets the inbound pass and crosses the timeline. Marshall takes it inside, fakes the dish to Zeller, then kicks it back out to Henson for the three at the buzzer. The game goes into overtime, all thanks to a sensational play by Kendall Marshall. That kid is all pancreas!

And so, dear readers: if your university is a body, what organ is athletics?

gwen lister, courageous journalist, steps down

In 1985, in the midst of the Apartheid occupation, an incredibly courageous journalist, Gwen Lister, founded The Namibian, an independent, populist newspaper. It became one of very, very few independent papers to take up the cause of The People after independence. I worked for The Namibian in 1991-1992 as it was making the transition from fighting for national independence to being fiercely independent itself. Gwen stepped down as editor earlier this month, handing over the reins to protege Tangeni Amupadhi and fulfilling a long-term goal of letting the paper survive past her leadership. CNN did a great special on Gwen’s life work:

Congratulations, Gwen, on a brave and amazing career at The Namibian.