Sunday, July 10, 2016

Laramie Restaurant Review: Roxie's on Grand

As a newly divorced, thirty-something, male, I've had a few revelations of late. Chief among them is the fact that, for what little cooking my ex-wife actually did, I now find myself in dire straits to procure sustenance for myself on a semi-regular basis. 

As a result, I find myself flying solo, eating out more, and sampling the local fare. Honestly, not a bad outcome given that I've lived here for three years and never eaten here. 

So, naturally, it occurred to me that rather than sitting awkwardly alone, I could pass the time by providing dining tips to others (Plus, it looks less awkward to be alone and typing feverishly on one's phone, than it does to simply be alone amidst a sea of couples and families). Talk about reliving high school prom. 

But I digress. 

On this Sunday brunch, I found myself nary a block from my apartment building, having lunch at Roxie's on Grand (http://roxiesongrand.com/)



The staff on this visit was harried due to the lunch rush, but they were perfunctory, professional, and efficient, which is exactly what I want as a single man dining alone. No chit chat. Just give me my food. And leave me to it. 

I ordered a mimosa and one of the brunch salad options - Roxie's own "Black and Bleu" salad which consists of sirloin strips, blue cheese, hard boiled egg, tomatoes, and bleu cheese dressing. The salad paired really well with the mimosa. A lite Summer's lunch for a wam day. 

The mimosa was unremarkable. A bit too little champagne, and a bit too much orange juice. But it seemed to offset the taste of bleu cheese which is normally too pungent for me. 

In the Roxie's configuration, however, it all worked together really well. The salad ingredients paired extremely well with the mimosa. None too overbearing. With just a hint of bleu cheese to keep the bites interesting. 

It was enough to make me think that "brunch" should be a thing. 


On the other hand, the sirloin strips, I ordered cooked medium well. Having been around lawyers, and an ex out for blood, the thought of anything rare leaves me nauseous. 

But they were a drop over cooked. Not really the fault of the staff, but perhaps the stove was running a bit warm today. It was all eminently edible of course, and I quickly gobbled it all down. 

I polished brunch off with an O'Dell's IPA - a beer with just enough citrus to keep things lite, and I left feeling sated. Mostly, I no longer gave a damn that I was eating alone. 

Overall, the damage was $32.25. I happily left a 20% tip, and returned to my place for an afternoon of Call of Duty. 

Day one of procuring sustenance = success. Expensive but...  #winning

Monday, May 16, 2016

Graduation Miracles

This past Friday, the University of Wyoming's American Indian Studies Program celebrated the graduation of seven American Indian students from college.

The ceremony was fairly pro forma. Held at the Laramie Hilton Ballroom, flanked by family and friends, each student selected a faculty member to speak on their behalf. Each faculty member shared personal anecdotes about the student, along with a brief biography that the student had put together. It was a nice evening, but far from unique among the many graduation observances across the Nation.  
I think what made the ceremony portion special, though, were the events that followed a faculty member's remarks: every graduating student was presented with a Pendleton Blanket, long the gold-standard for gift exchange among American Indian communities. Once the ceremony was over, the invited drum group played a closing song, and an invited elder fanned each student with the incense of burning cedar (a process otherwise known as cedaring in Indian Country).

It was a pan-Indian ceremony to be sure, but one that reflected the diversity of backgrounds and tribal affiliations of the Native students who call UW home.

As the evening carried on, there were plenty of laughs and smiles, along with the inevitable tears of pride from families. But as we discussed the achievements of each graduate, it became easy to take their accomplishments for granted. After all, that's what we do when we celebrate graduates. We celebrate their accomplishments - even if it's merely finishing the arduous task of a university education itself. No small feat, but it's expected. As a society, it's what we do.

Naturally, as I listened to the accolades, the mindset that "of course, students will amass a number of accomplishments" was never far from my estimation. And yet, now that a couple of days have passed, it's clear to me that this is so very far from the truth.

The article is a bit cold on the wires now, but according to Dr. Dean Chavers, Director of Catching the Dream (Ph.D, Stanford University), the accomplishments we witnessed on Friday night were actually quite rare:
Only 17 percent of Indian students go on to college from high school. And since 50 percent of these high school students drop out before graduation, only 8.5 percent of Indian students enter college. This compares to 70 percent nationally. Thus Indian enrollment in college is only 12 percent of non-Indian enrollment. And 82 percent of these Indian college students drop out before they graduate from college; they never earn a degree. For every Indian college graduate per unit of population, there are 30 non-Indian graduates. And the gap has been getting larger over the past 40 years, not smaller. 
Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/06/16/myth-indian-scholarships-and-native-dropout-epidemic-118525
Based on this assessment, a whopping 6.97% of American Indians will actually earn a college degree. Set aside the adversity of losing a family member in the midst of college, and set aside the rigors and stress of student competition at the highest levels of college debate (personal disadvantages that two of our students had to overcome), what we witnessed and celebrated on Friday night was the rare graduation of a group of American Indians.

Far from falling victim of the statistics of Dr. Chavers, our UW graduates joined that narrow 6.97% of their American Indian peers and earned a college degree. Regardless of their GPAs and resumes, upon graduation, our seven students entered a meaningful elite - for who is better positioned to do more, to continue to compete, and to utilize the skills that they have learned to the direct benefit of their communities, than the Native students graduating from college?

Indeed, perhaps, among no other ethnic group in America is a college degree so important as it is to Native Americans.

And so, as our Native graduates move from hither to yon, I wish you all well. Thank you for the years you've shared with me. Thank you for the perseverance that you demonstrated, however fraught the circumstances may have been. And thank you for allowing me to witness as close to a miracle as we still have in this modern era - the celebration of your collegiate accomplishments.

And most of all, thank you for the things you will accomplish. May your journal, henceforth, be blank.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Art of Making Strategic Decisions

In class this week, we walked through a few of the main arguments that set the theoretical framework for building effective tribal governments (See Rebuilding Native Nations).

According to the authors', one of the key elements for building effective tribal governments is for tribal leaders to engage in strategic decision making. The whole section reminded me a bit of the biblical adjuration, Where there is no vision, the people perish. I think that passage is actually talking about prophetic visions, but divorcing a quote from context has never stopped me before.  

Regardless, the point is the same. In order to run an effective government, organization, institute, non-profit, etc., there has to be some vision toward which the entity aspires. For tribes, some of the questions include, What kind of society do we want to create? What's our primary objective? What values guide our decision making? Where do we want to be in ten years? How do we get there from here? How do our values inform our policies? And, fundamentally, What do we want? 

While the text applies these considerations, quite correctly, to tribes, the potential applications ofsuch analyses are actually much broader.  In fact, they even lie at the heart of the U.S. Presidential Election:
  • What kind of country do we want? 
  • Would we shut the borders of the United States to Muslims seeking entry? 
  • Would we seriously consider deporting 11+ million illegal immigrants? 
  • Why are we afraid to categorize people who are here illegally as illegals?
  • But, is deportation the best use of our rather finite National resources? 
  • Are we content with a criminal justice systems that disproportionately affects blacks? 
  • Are we content with a nation where top officials can flaunt their violation of our strictest national security laws? 
  • What kind of person would we like to see on the Supreme Court? 
  • How can we provide health care in such a way that we maximize the Liberty interests of citizens, while delivering the best possible service?? etc...
The point is simply that the questions besetting tribes are no different than the kinds of questions that we face as a Nation. The only difference is that tribes must ask such questions not as free peoples exercising their right to self-government, but as wards under the guardianship of an external government that has assumed the authority to nullify their decisions with the stroke of a pen (See Congressional Plenary Power). 

And so the question remains for tribal governments, When will the moment in time be right to challenge the legal presumption that Congress has absolute authority over American Indian tribal nations

Granted, the time isn't now. But when the time comes, what is the strategy for throwing off the yoke of Washington in order to truly allow tribes to engage in their own exeperiment in government by the consent of the governed?  And make no mistake, consent is key here. Any exercise of tribal self-determination must begin with the will and consent of Indian peoples. 

Even so, what's the plan? What would that form of sovereignty look like? 

Lots of questions to explore and it's only week one. Onward...

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Blog Reboot, and Today's Tribal Governments

Today marks an interesting shift for Pax Plena. After years of personal blogging and sharing my thoughts on everything from political questions to parenting, I've decided to use this platform as a way to share more of my thoughts on my research and teaching interests. Naturally, I reserve the right to share whatever I like, but I hope to use the site as a way to test new ideas, and hopefully bring a bit of what I do in American Indian Studies to those interested. 


So, consider this an effort to reboot the blog, and take things in a new direction. 

Toward that end, I'm teaching a course on Tribal Governments this semester (AIST 4100). The enrollment is relatively small with only seven intrepid students eager to take on the complexities of America's fourth form of government. 

This is my third year to teach this course, and it has long puzzled me why a class with obvious relevance to a rural state like Wyoming would generate such little student interest. It could be that students are busy and have to prioritize their course load - an understandable outcome given the reality of the semester schedule and the respective demands of various majors across campus. But I suspect the lack of interest has more to do with the subject matter than it does with any scheduling conflicts.

Part of the problem is that the notion of tribes as governments is something relatively foreign to many students. For starters, the governmental authority of tribal governments finds its genesis in a source of law that falls outside the bounds of the U.S. Constitution. The phrase we use in Indian law is that the governing authority of tribes is 'extra-Constitutional,' or one derived not from the efforts of our Founding Fathers, lo so many years ago. Such is the case because tribes pre-dated the U.S. Constitution by centuries, and in their drafting, the Founding Fathers simply did not incorporate tribes into the Constitutional framework.   

So right away, from the very first day of the class, there is a disconnect to overcome. It's certainly not an insurmountable barrier. But there's a degree of difficulty in introducing a new form of government within the U.S. after years of civics courses have engrained in a student's mind that federalism consists of federal, state, and local governments to the exclusion of all others. 

And yet, it's fascinating course to teach as an instructor. If there's an area of governance where there is still ample room for innovation, development, and creative problem solving, then the work being done among American Indian tribal governments has to be among the most interesting around. My experience has been that students tend to appreciate this point toward the end of the semester - but at the beginning it's still a distant concept.

By the end of the semester we will have explored four theme areas: 
  • Tribes as Governments. Here, we explore the nuts and bolts of what tribes can do. Some things will be obvious - tribes can levy taxes, create their own codes and bodies of law, etc. Other things might be surprising to students, like the idea that tribes can issue license plates, or own businesses.
  • Tribes and Other Governments. This theme evaluates the contours of the relationships between tribal governments and the other governmental entities within the American federalist system. Primarily, it addresses questions of jurisdiction. For example, students might be interested to know that in most states, the state government has no jurisdiction over Indian reservations/lands. This may sound find, until students realize the problems this can create in terms of criminal law, given sparse federal law enforcement resources across much of the American west. 
  • Tribes and Development. For many students, this is the most interesting aspect of the course. Unlike mainstream, American governance, where a strong political current actually perceives government as an obstacle to economic progress (a view I'm not unsympathetic toward), when it comes to tribal governance, tribal nations uniformly play a large role in promoting economic progress and development. Often times, a tribal government will find itself in the role of a business owner. Such an action by government in the mainstream context would be rare, and mostly anathema to significant segments of the population. 
  • Critical Analysis. The final theme that I true to imbue in the minds of students is the notion of critical analysis - and the particular challenge of maintaining critical thought when it comes to our overview of tribal governments. While I consider myself an advocate of tribal sovereignty, I believe that it's equally important for students to understand that tribes are fallible entities indeed. Not every tribe governs well. Not every tribe abides by the rule of law. And not every tribe ensures that its citizens are entitled to equal protection under the laws of the tribal nation. So, while the students will be learning about what tribes can and can't do, what their relationships are like with over governmental entities, and the impressive innovations that can result from tribal/state/corporate/federal partnership, I also want them to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism throughout the semester, and to consider tough questions that, honestly, may not have an answer.
Functionally, the course has always gone well. It certainly isn't a required course by any means, so the students who sign up tend to have some interest in the class, which in turn makes my job a lot easier. Suppose we will know more on this score in a few weeks time, but I'm happy to have the students I met on Monday on board. 

For now, I'll leave it here, but don't be surprised if additional comments and questions from the class make their way into this space. Truth is, I've missed blogging - so, it's nice to have a way to incorporate my academic interests into our now 11 year old conversation here at Pax Plena. 

More to come...

Friday, May 29, 2015

Homeward Bound


Earlier this afternoon,some of our class was keen to ride the cable cars to the top of a local mountain here in Wellington. Hungry, and dreading the 12+ hour trek home, I opted for the only place in New Zealand where a man can eat for less than $10. McDonalds isn't the healthiest option, but the burger was fine, and the view of the city below was not unwelcome.

Strange to think that the trip is winding down already. In fact, just this morning two members of our group left for an extension of their travel abroad, off to destinations in Australia. One other member of the class left for Laramie yesterday.

Soon, the rest of us will board a plane here in Wellington for a brief jaunt to Auckland, where we'll connect to LAX and eventually to Denver, and to home.

I suppose with every trip there's a bit of wistfulness for the memories made. Over a year ago, when my family and I left New Zealand for Oklahoma, I wasn't sure that I would ever return. And yet, just over a year later, here I am with a fresh set of experiences that were only enhanced by the students and my colleague on the trip.

It's a bit cliché, but like to think that farewell isn't good bye. If the relationships developed here are any indication, a visit to New Zealand or hosting visitors from New Zealand in the near future isn't only possible but perhaps quite likely. International travel, something that was once quite alien to my life experience, now seems to be a part of the natural order of things. Sometimes it's a lot for this kid from Cotton County, OK to absorb.

At any rate, I'm quite pleased to be leaving for home. I have a wife and son that I've missed very much, and plenty of Call of Duty left to play now that classes are over - not to mention the academic research and writing that I need to do as well.

But in the meantime, I'll keep a special place in my heart for Aotearoa - the land where my son learned to walk, and the first place our newly minted family called home.

Until next time, farewell, Friends.
© Pax Plena
Maira Gall