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I Didn't Know To Ask

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Monday morning brought me the opportunity to spend time with a group of women who spoke a language I had never heard spoken before that day. A translator connected us and allowed me to speak about the work I do as an environmental activist at one of the largest superfund sites advocating for the cleanup that still may take lifetimes to be completed.

The Tulsa Global Alliance works with the US State Department International Visitor Leadership program to provide opportunities for area citizens to share cultural and social experiences and learn from and about cultures from around the world. It was this organization that arranged the meeting with the Roma Community mediators from Moldova.

I hadn't known much about Moldova before the invitation. But quickly studied the map and learned more about the country and the Roma who reside there. So when I talked about the forced removal our tribes experienced to get to Ottawa County, they totally identified since they have been shunned and moved all over the map for centuries. One explained they had their origins in India and now they are in a country next door to Ukraine! One of the only questions they asked me was what language did the tribes end up using. I had to reply English. The language of the people who had made us all move. They allowed me to understand that they value their language as a cultural treasure and have been denied the use through the centuries. I explained to them that tribal people feel the same way and many of our tribes are finding ways to bring back their once "lost" languages because we value knowing them too.

The hours we spent together passed too quickly and without knowing, another jaunt this week had another connection to their country. The Euchee Butterfly Farm held one of their tribal workshops and my calendar opened up enough to allow me to attend for a couple of hours. When I got home something drew me to imagine the Roma would have been connected to butterflies. And sure enough, there on their stamps and art work were depictions of butterflies. I didn't know to ask them why.

But the connection we have with butterflies can go deep. I remember a story Elizabeth Kübler-Ross told probably thirty years ago. She spoke on the NSU auditorium stage about the symbols she had seen on the walls of the death camps in Poland after World War II. The designs were etched by fingernails into the walls about 2 feet high. They were found not in one but in many of the concentration camps, the designs made by children who may not have known the transformational life span of the butterfly, but perhaps had imagined those beautiful winged beings as simply: free.

Do we all know our own lives are as fragile as the now endangered monarch? What we do to diminish them also diminishes our own lives here on earth. The eternal symbol of life renewed is in fact newly deemed "endangered" and the beauty and the mystery of the monarch's amazing migration may end in our lifetime forever.

No one ever got to ask those children why they etched those butterfly images into the walls of their prisons because their endangered lives ended too quickly.

My week ended with work on the Rain Garden LEAD is constructing at the Peoria Housing Authority to deal with excess rainwater and will provide not only beauty to the space surrounding their Community Garden, but will produce plants that can be harvested to enable tribal members to harvest materials for traditional baskets and will contain plants the migrating monarchs require for their annual migration.

The International Union of Conservation of Nature declared the monarch butterflies an endangered species recently. Their numbers have diminished extremely. Jane Breckinridge saw that coming and began to pull tribes into the effort to become the physical corridor for milkweed the butterflies will need for the 3,000 mile journey back to Mexico. We as a people understand migration and in our origin stories many of us made epic travels to new homes. We cannot ask our ancestors why they moved.

The founder of the Euchee Butterfly Farm convinced tribes to begin planting the food source for the Monarchs and I have been privileged to have land that is a source for some of those seeds. Seeing and walking down rows of orange Butterfly milkweed blooming was made more special when learning my land was the seed source.

Each of us can do what we can to help while we are able.

Don't say you didn't think to ask what you could do. Start asking. Start doing.

Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

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