Mission Statement:

Dedicated to Bringing Transparency to NPS Management Actions and Decisions

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Comment is Censured and Censored by the Manzanar Committee*

On August 4th 2013 I posted a short comment to a the following Manzanar Committee blog:

As the Committee posting was an enthusiastic "three-cheers" for the NPS, I could not resist offering advice to the Committee about being too over-enthusiastic about the NPS, especially in light of the numerous cases of abuse of human and employee rights that I have documented over the last 10 years.  My comment may have been posted briefly, but was quickly removed—no surprise there.  What was surprising, however, was the manner in which my comment was dismissed (copied from the Manzanar Committee bog site listed above on September 5th 2013): 

Chad Montreaux says:
From the moderator: This comment has been deleted.
The author has made some very serious allegations against National Park Service staff at Manzanar National Historic Site, Tule Lake, and at other NPS locations/offices, but has ignored requests to provide verifiable evidence to support his claims.
Without verifiable evidence, the allegations are baseless hearsay, and highly inflammatory. Because of that, they are not appropriate for publication on our blog.
The Manzanar Committee took no position on the claims made by the author.

The main problem is that I was never contacted by the “moderator” for the information that she claims I refused to supply.  I certainly could not “ignore requests" I did not receive.  Of course, I had to post a response to the Manzanar Committee comment.  I did that on September 5th 2013.  Because I suspect this response will also be censured and censored, I will post that response below for your edification:

Dear Moderator:

Thank you for reading and publishing my comment, however brief that consideration may have been.  My intention in not providing “verifiable evidence” for the allegations in my comment was to protect my sources, many of whom are rightfully terrified by the tyrannical power NPS management wields over their lives.  (This is not unlike the tyrannical power the WRA and US government held over people of Japanese ancestry during WWII.)

The intent in my comment was to be “inflammatory” in the best sense of the word: provocative, incendiary, rousing, fomenting, seditious, subversive, and mutinous.  When a dogmatic, unjust paradigm dominates a culture it is the duty of every thinking citizen to become an unyielding source of “inflammatory” criticism of that injustice.  If I am not mistaken, you own organization was created by a group of such “inflammatory” speakers and thinkers who challenged the paradigms of the day with provocative, incendiary, and subversive concepts such as: the forced removal and false incarceration of Japanese Americans was unconstitutional, unjustified, and  policies which were derived from racist origins.  This was clearly an “inflammatory” statement for the majority of Americans throughout a significant portion of the 20th century.   Unfortunately, an embarrassing percentage of Americans continue to hold  to this racist paradigm well into the 21st century.   I am a great advocate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who also made “inflammatory” statements, such as the words I try to live by, written from the Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”   For me, there is nothing more uniquely American than our right as citizens to push forward “inflammatory” ideas to challenge injustice and abuse of power.

I was also a bit confused by your statement that my “allegations are baseless hearsay.”  What confuses me is that the foundation of this statement lies on the suggestion that I “ ignored requests to provide verifiable evidence to support [my] claims.”  You see, I find this statement from your moderator “hearsay,” because I never received any request to provide verifiable evidence to support my claims.  This type of circular reasoning discredits me for something I did not do.  Does not this type of practice sound suspiciously similar to Earl Warren’s preemptive actions against all people of Japanese ancestry in California based on the absurd reasoning that lack of any evidence of sabotage and espionage by the Japanese Americans was proof that they were planning to implement such actions in the immediate future?  I am doubled confused, because I thought we, as a nation, had evolved beyond these types of circular, groundless convictions.  

I would also caution you and your organization against making arguments to dismiss “hearsay” evidence.  All of the evidence that the people of Japanese ancestry experienced emotional and psychological injury and distress as a result of the removal and internment experience is, in fact, “hearsay.”  There are neither verifiable evidence for nor physical scars of such injuries.  It is indeed unfortunate that we live in a society where victims of abuse and hostility are additionally fraught with the burden of “proof” of their injuries while the perpetrators of such injustice can hide their actions behind such legalities as claims of “hearsay.”  This type of injustice is epidemic within the National Park Service (NPS) wherein all conflicts between Management and employees are resolved based on veracity quotients fabricated by multiplying the GS level of the person positing her version of the incident. (Please see the reference to that claim provided below.)

If your lack of requesting the verifiable information upon which I based my comment to your blog was an oversight,  please allow me to provide you with the some of that requested information now:

1) If you would like to know more about NPS anti-union activities, particularly at Manzanar, please contact:

Laborers Local 220 representative Douglass Kessler:   estellack@aol.com

2) For the evidence of the general malaise within the NPS caused by dysfunctional and abusive managers, please look to Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey http://www.fedview.opm.gov  (since 2004, the NPS has hovered in the bottom-most rankings for Employee Satisfaction results).  The National Parks Traveler http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2011/11/national-park-service-falls-best-places-work-rankings9091 does a fair job of outlining the generalities of the NPS data.  To fully comprehend how damning the survey results are to the policies and actions of the predatory NPS management, however, I will refer you to the data website for the survey, which will require from you a certain familiarity with spreadsheet files to obtain the NPS results http://www.fedview.opm.gov/2012FILES/FEVS2012_PRDF_CSV.zip

I would also be pleased to refer you to the NPS commissioned report: “National Park Service Employees Opinions About Factors Contributing To Workplace Satisfaction Research Findings conducted on behalf of the Center for Park Management by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. December 22, 2008,”  but alas, I cannot find it on line.  I have seen this report and how damning it is to NPS management.  I would suspect that the report has been buried.  Please take time to seek this report out; if I find it I will send you a link and/or post a PDF on my blog site.  

3) For additional information about the dysfunction and criminal misuse of power by NPS managers, all the way to the top of the agency, I would like to refer you to Paul Berkowitz and his break-thru book, The Case of the Indian Trader.  I would also suggest that you contact him directly, as I have, for a deeper understanding as to how all of the accountability programs within the NPS have been co-opted by management to protect hostile, abusive, and criminal managers from staff  “allegations [that] are baseless hearsay, and highly inflammatory.“  (I love your rhetoric here—I have been shown numerous copies of “confidential” NPS findings for grievance against management, which were dismissed using the exact same verbiage.  Your “moderator” does not work for the NPS; does she?)   I would also refer you to Paul Berkowitz and his book for more information on the “inflammatory” statement I make above about the manipulation of information by NPS managers to protect dysfunctional management. 

I can provide many more verifications for my claims.  In the interest of brevity, however, I will end here and make that additional information available to you and your readers on my blog. 

Chad Montreaux
Newell, CA

*On September 6, 2013, I noticed that the Manzanar Committee had posted the comment I sent to their blog on September 5th.  I clearly underestimated the integrity of the Manzanar Committee and would like to formally apologize to that fine organization for my mistaken assessment.  I do, however, disagree with the moderator's comment to my current post.  I furthermore would state, for the record, that NPS management policies that are hostile to social justice and the rights issues of their employees (at Manzanar NHS, of all places!) are "excessively-germane" to any discussion of the success or failure of NPS involvement as stewards at Sites of Conscience.  Because the Manzanar Committee provides such effective advocacy for human rights, equality, and social justice, I will remove myself from this discussion at this time.  I sincerely wish the Manzanar Committee the greatest success in their mission.     

Sunday, August 25, 2013

America's Worst Idea

America's Worst Idea 

Dear Reader:

This is a rather old-school blog.  You will not find anything flashy or eye-catching here. My attempt with this blog is to shed light on the issues of social and human justice that we all struggle with.  I worked for the National Parks Service (NPS) for ten years and was completely invested in concept of the National Parks as "America's Best Idea," a concept so effectively promulgated by Ken Burn's beautiful documentary.   After 9 years of faithful and outstanding service, I found myslef at odds with my vindictive and abusive supervisor.  Naively believing that the NPS was indeed the honorable, moral, and sincere organization the Ken Burn's described, I attempted to first address the issues with supervisor to the superintendent of my park.  When that failed, I brought my concerns to the attention of the regional NPS office.

Long story short-- I was forced out of the NPS by the combined might of my supervisor, superintendent, and the regional NPS office.  NPS management is one of the most corrupt systems in the US federal government.  I sincerely believe that the concept of National Parks is truly "America's Best Idea."  Placing such national treasures in the hands of a predatory and abusive bureaucracy like NPS management is a really, really bad idea.  Placing the an agency like the NPS in the position of stewards over sites of conscience and social justice is morally wrong and counter-productive.  NPS management lacks the honor, dignity, and integrity to represent the highest ideals of American democracy.  Placing critical historic sites of injustices in the hands of the NPS is in itself an injustice and is "America's Worst Idea."  

Maybe we cannot change all the injustice in the world.   I believe that we can begin a new age of accountability and transparency if we have the courage to bring light to the injustices that bureaucracies try to hide with levels of secrecy and "confidentiality." But we need to start somewhere.  I say, let's start with the NPS.  Let us speak about what has been forbidden.  Would not it be something if we could transform this high-profile agency into a standard for honor and integrity?

Chad Montreaux
Newell, CA

Victimized Twice 4 of 4

Victimized Twice:
Part 4 of 4:  Healing and the Failure of the NPS at Sites of Consciousness

At the 2009 Tule Lake Pilgrimage, more than 60 years later, that conflict between Japanese American victims of the forced removal and illegal incarceration who developed Stockholm syndrome symptoms, and those of the Japanese American community who refused to buy into the government denigration and fought for their human and civil rights would flare up into heated arguments.  I was shocked when I realized the implications this argument.  This bias for the veterans and against the resisters and protestors was still alive and well in the JACL, in the Japanese American community, AND in the NPS interpretation of the Japanese American stories.  In all the NPS interpretation materials, the Japanese American World War II veterans and their exploits were always given much more standing, type, and dialogue than the resisters and protestors.  Even here at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage, being a protestor or a resister was still (in 2009) looked at as an embarrassment rather than as a courageous person risking persecution to exercise the highest American ideal:  the right to oppose unjust and unconstitutional laws, policies, and policy makers.   Instead of being recognized as heroes of the story of the illegal imprisonment in their own right, the resisters and protestors still carry the 60+ year stigma of being “disloyal” and “trouble makers.”  It is not a coincidence that this is the very same rhetoric that the American government and the WRA branded this segment of the Japanese American population with back in the 1940s.  The majority of the Japanese Americans who were victimized by the injustices and illegalities of the forced removal and false incarceration were also victimized by the Stockholm syndrome.  These Stockholm syndrome victims identified and sympathized with the racist rhetoric of their captors (the American Government) and the cost of this capitulation was the “irrational” judgment against themselves and their own best interests as outlined above. 

The first step in the path to healing and recovering from trauma and victimization is to recognize the source of the trauma and victimization.  Those members of the Japanese American community, who were victimized by the Stockholm syndrome while the American Government held them hostage in concentration camps, were literally twice-victimized.  The denial of the human and citizen rights for the Japanese Americans held hostage in the concentration camps during World War II created a situation where these Stockholm syndrome victims accepted the “lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.”  By “identifying” with the captors and abusers (the racist elements of the American Government) the victims (the Stockholm syndrome victims in the concentration camps) believed their captors would accept them.  To heal from this abuse and victimization, these Stockholm victims must first recognize that they were victims of this type of abuse.  Part of this recognition is to re-frame the Tule Lake, Kibei, and dissident stories into narratives that are as heroic as the stories of those who fought in the 442nd and 100th Battalion for the Americans in World War II.  This could go a long way to healing the long-standing schism within the Japanese American community. 

Do not look to the National Park Service (NPS) stewards of the America’s Concentration Camps for leadership in this matter.  The agency is to inflated with its own agenda for power to ever acknowledge that its sister organization, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) acted in the role of kidnappers and captors.   For the National Park Service and the American government the “model minority” paradigm perfectly suits the reasoning they need to justify the injustices and mistreatment of a segment of American citizens.  Go to Manzanar National Historic Site and you will see in the interpretive materials and hear from the brainwashed NPS interpreters a “balanced” story about internment.  The crux of this “balanced” story is that Ralph Merritt and the other WRA employees were well-intentioned heroes and kind overseers who made life in the camps pleasant.  You will neither find or hear anything about the intergenerational injury and damaged caused by an entire segment of American citizens being kidnapped and held hostage by the American government and the WRA overseers.  To apply the model of kidnappers and captors to the American Government and the WRA in the 1940’s would require the NPS to examine its own dignity, honor, and motivations and require this agency to reframe its mission for sites of conscience.  This is something the good-ole-boy, authoritarian NPS is incapable of doing. 

Chad Montreaux
Newell, CA

Victimized Twice 3 of 4

Victimized Twice:

Part 3 of 4:  Tule Lake; Stockholm Syndrome

Many of the workshops in the 2009 Tule Lake Pilgrimage were highly emotional and very informative, not just about what had happened during the forced removal and illegal incarceration nearly seventy years before, but as to how these traumas were still affecting people, families, and communities today.  During one break-out session, I sat and listened to several elderly Japanese Americans tell their stories.  Suddenly two middle-aged Japanese Americans were yelling at each other.  One of the gentlemen was a leader in the Japanese American Citizen League (JACL) and the other was from a family whose members had been out-spoken draft-resisters during the incarceration.  Yes, the Japanese American soldiers who served with valor during WWII while their families were in concentration camps deserved lauding and recognition.  And these soldiers’ actions provided numerous examples of how and why Japanese American were “full-fledged” American.  But the point is, this is America-- where people are innocent until proved guilty.  In 1942, the federal government declared all Japanese Americans guilty of being unworthy of American citizenship with no other evidence than a racist distaste for the Japanese.  It took as much courage to fight for the rights of yourself and your family in a concentration camp as it did to fight in the battlefield.  There is nothing more American than the right to protest, dissent, and practice civil disobedience when faced with institutionalized injustices.

Why did the JACL and other hyper-loyal elements of the Japanese American community buy into the federal government racist bullshit? There is a very disturbing undertone here that no one has ever had the courage to look at.  I suspect that the position taken by the JACL and by many people who went through the American concentration camp experience (and even for some of those watching the trauma from outside) can only be describe as the result of Stockholm syndrome victimization.  The Stockholm syndrome plays a key component of this narrative and deserves a closer look: 

From Wikipedia-
Stockholm syndrome, or capture–bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. The FBI Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly 27% of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.

Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they no longer become a threat.

Inferred in the definition above, but not clearly stated in the concept is that the Stockholm syndrome produces a degree of self-hatred on the part of the victim.  This self-hatred is very clear in some of the absurd stands the JACL took in the 1940’s (like suggesting Japanese Americans should be allowed to take the role of suicide troops for the American military).  This stance clearly shows an “identification” of the victims (the Japanese Americans) with their “captors” (the racist-elements of the American government). This “identification” reflects and reiterates position the federal government posited at that time by describing Japanese Americans as not quite qualified for American citizenship by nature of their ethnic origin.  Let’s not mince words here or buy-into the US government rhetoric.  One-hundred and ten thousand people of Japanese ancestry, both American citizens and resident aliens were institutionally victimized, abused, and held hostage by the US federal government during WWII.  Nowhere was this crime more egregious than at Tule Lake.

Chad Montreaux
Newell, CA

Monday, August 19, 2013

Victimized Twice 2 of 4

Victimized Twice:
The Stockholm Syndrome, Kibei, and the Model Minority in America’s Concentration Camps
Part 2 of 4:  American Citizen Rights; Kibei; “No-win” Scenario

What about the second choice, the choice to exercise your right as an American citizen to protest and resist illegal and unjust actions?  In the early 1940’s, this option for the Japanese Americans was inverted and used to create a “no-win” proposition.  If a person of Japanese ancestry were to question the illegal forced removal and incarceration predicated on the preposterous grounds of ethnic origin, the act of raising this question became irrefutable “proof” of disloyalty.  Adding absurdity-to-absurdity, hyper-loyal elements of the Japanese American community, including the JACL, would adopt and implement this “no-win” strategy by mimicking the rhetoric of racism.   These hyper-loyal elements insisted that the only way to for Japanese Americans to prove loyalty would be to not oppose injustices being heaped upon them and by passively complying with the insults and injustices of incarceration.

The US government devised a plan to use the above construct that would evolve into William Peterson’s framework for the “model minority.”  This plan was to divide the people of Japanese ancestry into two groups and pit them against each other.  The “loyal” factions (the “model minority”) would remain compliant and submissively in the concentration camps and the “disloyal” elements (the resisters) would be ferreted-out (with the help of FBI collaborators in the camps), discredited, and again be forcibly removed to, and isolated at the “Tule Lake Segregation Center.”  This was the strategy that Mike Masaoka and the JACL accepted and adopted. This segregation methodology tore the Japanese American community asunder and created factions that have remained un-reconciled to this day.

Tule Lake concentration camp still carries a stigma among the Japanese Americans today.  Many members of the Japanese American community bought into the government propaganda, or worse yet, they embraced the paradigms of loyal and disloyal. Many people in the Japanese American community today still think in terms of the people in “Tule Lake Segregation Center” (aka Concentration Camp) as trouble makers, disloyal, and as an embarrassment to the quiet and compliant “model minority” image of Japanese Americans.  The reasons for people being at Tule Lake were as varied as the people incarcerated there themselves.  As part of the segregation process, the vocal elements within the Japanese American community had been radicalized by the abuses of political power that had deprived them of their civil and human rights.  The dreaded Kibei element (the American born, American citizens who received part of their education in Japan) were feared and marginalized by both the US Government and the hyper-loyal Japanese Americans. The surviving documentation of Kibei meetings, however, illustrates that the Kibei were: 1) well-educated, 2) openly discussing American ideals and justice, and 3) outraged about the violations of civil and human rights that they and their families were experiencing at the hands of the very same government dedicated to human and civil rights.  In the best sense, the Kibei were being upstanding examples of American ideals. 

Sending children to be educated overseas, was in the 1930’s even much more expensive than it is to day.  The Kibei represented the wealthier and better educated elements of the Japanese American community.  As militaristic Japan and Nazi Germany of the 1930’s discovered, the best way to control people and deprive them of their rights is to discredit, marginalize, and imprison the intellectual community first so as to set an example of the dangers of questioning the power structure.  This was exactly what the US government did with the Japanese communities on the West Coast and later in the concentration camps.  Initially the US government marginalized and criminalized the intellectual components of the people of Japanese Ancestry by arresting all the Issei leaders on the West Coast immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Later the same government silenced and discredited the Kibei in the camps by blaming them for all distention and conflict.  The US government was highly successful in this action because six decades later, “Kibei” is still a dirty word within a significant portion of the Japanese American community. Within the interviews archived at Manzanar National Historic Site, the frequency in which all the troubles, problems, and issues within the concentration camps were blamed on the Kibei element is very disturbing. 

Chad Montreaux
Newell, CA

Victimized Twice 1 of 4

Victimized Twice:
The Stockholm Syndrome, Kibei, and the Model Minority in America’s Concentration Camps
Part 1 of 4:  Self-hatred; Model Minority; Proving Loyalty

Soon after the United State entered World War II in 1941, all American citizens of Japanese ancestry were classified as 4-C (aliens) for military service and disqualified from service. This was a classic, egregious example of racial profiling.  In 1943, the federal government reversed this decision and ultimately began drafting young Japanese American citizens from the concentration camps they and their families had been falsely imprisoned in.  What were the choices for these Japanese American fighting-age men living in American concentration camps in 1943?  Two simple choices coexisted: 1) go fight for the country that wronged you; or 2) stand up for your rights as an American citizen, protest the injustice of the illegal forced removal and incarceration, and resist military service until justice was done.  Which course of action was the true “American” choice?  This simple question drove an enduring schism into the Japanese American community.  I would personally witness this schism at the 2009 Tule Lake Pilgrimage, more than 60 years after the decisions had been made.

The first choice, to willingly go fight for the American military to prove your loyalty was the choice embraced by the hyper-loyal factions of the Japanese American community including the Japanese American Citizen League (JACL).  JACL president Mike Masaru Masaoka who preached safely from Salt Lake City, an area removed and insulated from direct insult and injustice of forced removal and illegal incarceration, vehemently promoted this course of action.  Mike Masaoka advocated for the creation of Japanese American suicide troops who would spearhead attacks for the (white) American army.  Mike felt that this dedication to die for America would, beyond any doubt, prove the loyalty of all Japanese Americans.  There are so many elements wrong with this type of thinking, not the least of which is the self-hatred and self-loathing inherent in the concept.  This first option, to fight to prove you were an American, tacitly acknowledged and concurred the racist judgment against and illegal actions toward the Japanese Americans.

This first choice created the specter of the “model minority.”  The term “model minority” was coined in 1966 by William Petersen in his essay called "Success Story: Japanese American Style."  The down-side to this success is the requirement for a “model minority” group to remain deaf, dumb, and blind to institutional injustices heaped upon them.  The “model minority” paradigm required quiet and obedient compliance of the minority with whatever is asked of them by the racist elements of the people who govern them.  The reward for the “model minority” is assimilation.  The costs for Japanese Americans in adopting the “model minority” paradigm is two-fold: 1) the acceptance that their ethnic differences are not up to standards for inclusion in American society, and 2) a festering injury of self-loathing.     

Chad Montreaux
Newell, CA

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Informal Interpretation Sites of Conscience 4

Informal Interpretation at Sites of Conscience 
            Part 4 of 4:  The National Park Service-- Falling Short of the Challenge

By including Sites of Conscience into the National Park Service system, the NPS has created a mission mandate for social integrity and social leadership.  This mandate is implicit in the directives of the NPS Director’s Orders, which define the key components of informal interpretation for Site of Conscience as facilitating opportunities for visitors to make emotional and intellectual connections with the site and in prescribing that the interaction with visitors should be based on the visitor’s needs.  This mandate places interpreters into the intense emotional situations associated with Sites of Conscience on a daily basis.  These stressful emotional environments have the same potential of affecting the health and welfare of both visitors and staff as do the fumaroles and geysers of Yellowstone.  Yet, to date, the NPS has no system in place to monitor how these highly emotional interactions are affecting either visitors or staff.*  The Critical Incident Debrief may provide a good model for assessing the emotional effects and stresses on the staff at Sites of Conscience.  Yet because these emotional stresses may be cumulative, it would be important to have regularly scheduled debriefs (as with base-line hearing testing for staff working in noisy environments) rather than wait for the damage to manifest.

As interpreters at Sites of Conscience, we are in uncharted territory.  We have become the explorers of the social landscape created by these sites.  It is up to us to define, refine, and clarify our mission.  It is up to us to find effective and sustainable ways for visitors to make emotional and intellectual connections with the injustices represented by our sites without putting coworkers and ourselves at emotional risk.  It is up to us, through our informal interpretation to initiate a process for the visitors that may lead to healing, if they choose to do so. 

Chad Montreaux
Newell, CA

The author originally wrote this in 2011 when he was still idealistic and naive enough to believe that NPS had the honor, integrity, and dignity to operate Sites of Conscience.  From a 2013 perspective, the NPS most certainly does not posess any of these attributes.  Read the other postings on this blog if you have need of more information on the criminal dysfucntion of the NPS.

*The NPS does offer a free Employee Assistant Program (EAP) to help staff through emotional and psychological difficulties.  This program, however, is confidential and is forbidden by statue from communicating with the NPS.  The EAP counselors can neither provide “monitoring” information back to the NPS as to how the working environment is affecting the staff nor can EAP make recommendations to management as to improving the emotional health and welfare within the working environment. 

The EAP program and all leadership, team building, and employee training programs in the NPS exist so that NPS management can detract attention away from their own abusive and incompetent actions and to enable management to psychologically rape NPS employees.  Stay tuned to the blog for in-depth  details of this process. 

Informal Interpretation Sites of Conscience 3

Informal Interpretation at Sites of Conscience 
            Part 3 of 4:  The Pitfalls of Belief System and Forgiveness 

People attracted to positions as interpreters at Sites of Conscience usually possess strong personal convictions about justice and injustice in addition to a passion for human rights.  Specifically, interpreters tend to have an emotional connection to the primary injustices associated with the designation of the site.  These personal beliefs can manifest as the third pitfall for interpreters.  The challenge for informal interpretation at Sites of Conscience is for the interpreter not to allow personal convictions and emotional needs to impair the visitors’ need to make their own emotional and intellectual connections with the site. 

Cultural norms and paradigms change over time.  Sites of Conscience can function as a spearhead for change.  Sites of Conscience elucidate injustices that were historically justified, institutionalized, and/or concealed. It is crucial to the mission of these sites to present the full range of impacts of these injustices on the groups affected by the injustices.  It is also crucial to the mission of Site of Conscience to illuminate the fallacies inherent in the enactment and rationalization of the injustice.  Bringing injustices to light and presenting the falsehoods of the reasoning that created the injustice are the tools that lead to changing cultural paradigms and can help heal people and nations.  Strong convictions about human rights can lead to demonizing the perpetrators of the injustice.  Interpreters at Sites of Conscience must find the balance between providing critique for the motivations and rationalizations of injustices without criticizing and marginalizing the perpetrators of the injustice.  Sites of Consciousness do not exist to punish people who perpetrated the injustice.  Interpreters at these sites must strive to avoid the pitfall of judging the past and of criticizing those people today who still find it difficult to accept that their culture is changing and who may be personally experiencing the paroxysms associated with shifting paradigms.   

Forgiveness presents the final pitfall for interpreters at Sites of Conscience.  Although forgiveness may play a prominent role in the process of healing, it is not a requisite requirement for the process.  The capacity of a visitor to a Site of Conscience to forgive the systems, institutions, and persons that perpetrated an injustice is predicated the unique, emotional and psychological composition of the individual.  In many cases, forgiveness may be antithetical to justice and to holding persons, systems, and institutions accountable for their actions and policies.  As Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said in 2010, “Forgiveness cannot happen in a vacuum.  There cannot be real forgiveness without justice.”  Indeed, many of the Sites of Conscience would not exist today if victims of the injustice simply forgave the policies, persons, and institutions that perpetrated the injustice.  It was the demand for justice from these victims that led to an acknowledgement of the injustice and started the processes to bring social awareness to these injustices.  For an interpreter at a Site of Consciousness, it is important to remember that forgiveness is an individual and personal choice.

Chad Montreaux
Newell, CA

Informal Interpretation Sites of Conscience 2

Informal Interpretation at Sites of Conscience 
            Part 2 of 4:  The Pitfalls of Empathy and Emotional Comfort 

Misconstruing empathy creates a pitfall for interpretation at a Site of Conscience.  Empathy is not “understanding.”  Telling an injured person who is experiencing emotional pain that you “understand” the injury and their emotional response to that injury can create distance from rather than connection to the injured person. Telling a person who is injured that you “understand” their injury (based on an assumed common or similar experience) is patronizing and can result in antagonizing and marginalizing the injured party.  The concept that empathy and understanding are synonymous results from an erroneous belief that all humans are essential the same and react to stimulus and situations in common ways.  Implicit in this erroneous belief is the assumption that there is universal access to “understanding” the complex mechanism of how a particular injury affects another individual.  This assumption also implies that you have complete knowledge of the other person’s life history and how the psychological impact of that life affects their emotional responses.

As an interpreter at a Site of Consciousness, empathy can be effectively described as the emotional recognition that another person is experiencing pain.  The appropriate intellectual component of empathy for an interpreter at a Site of Consciousness is to recognize that visitors experiencing trauma and pain may be cognitively impaired by that injury and not responsive to rational and logical reasoning.  The second pitfall of empathy involves exceeding the point where the interpreter has such a strong empathetic reaction and identification with the visitor’s pain and injury that the interpreter also becomes cognitively impaired. 

An interpreter at a Site of Conscience is also a human being with unique emotional needs and subject to emotional responses as a result of the injustice and injury interpreted at the site as well as interactions with visitors.  It is human nature that, when confronted with sources of pain, especially recurrent sources of pain, people tend to create mechanisms for coping with that pain.  However useful these mechanisms may be for emotional well-being, coping mechanisms used by interpreters at Sites of Conscience may inadvertently be detrimental to the visitor’s experience and become the second pitfall for the interpreter.  If visitors are attempting to express the pain and injury that has arisen as a result of the intellectual and emotional connection to the site and the interpreter manages his/her own level of emotional comfort (with the subject matter and/or the visitors’ emotional response) by redirecting the interaction, “changing the subject,” or “downplaying” the injury by comparing it to other historical events, then the needs of the visitors to make their own emotional and intellectual connections with the site may be impaired and, subsequently, the mission for the site is compromised.

Chad Montreaux
Newell, CA

Informal Interpretation Sites of Conscience 1

Informal Interpretation at Sites of Conscience 
            Part 1 of 4:  The National Park Service Mandate 

National Park Service Director’s Orders
6.  Personal and Non-Personal Services
             6.1 Personal Services
Personal services are those in which staffs... facilitate opportunities for emotional and intellectual connections between the resources and the visitors.

By their nature, Sites of Conscience are rife with emotion and create emotional dichotomies.   The National Park Service (NPS) mandate (see above) for these sites is to provide a venue where visitors can experience and confront these potentially volatile emotions.   Sites of Conscience exist as recognition of a historical event wherein one group of people inflicted an injustice on another group of people. Historically, the perpetrators of the injustice created an institutionalized system of rationalizations and intellectual exemptions to justify their actions and defend their belief systems.  The victims of the injustice received and often continue to carry the emotional injury and trauma as a result of that injustice.  The designation of a Site of Conscience carries an implicit recognition that: 1) an injury and trauma was created from the perpetrated act; and 2) the perpetrated act was an injustice.  This dual recognition usually represents a de facto judgment against, and reversal of, the institutionalized belief system that created the injustice.  Too many visitors, this reversal of institutional beliefs is a greater affront than the initial injustice.  Sites of Conscience are sites of contention.  The diametrically opposed perspectives implicit in Sites of Conscience create unique challenges for evaluating visitor’s needs and facilitating opportunities to create NPS mandated emotional and intellectual connections to the site. 

All visitors to Sites of Conscience experience a degree of injury, whether that injury results from the trauma of the injustice, empathy for the victims of the injustice, guilt over perceived culpability in perpetrating the injustice, or the emotional injury and trauma that results from questioning and accusing the motivations and actions of an institutionalized belief system that the visitor may still be part of.  With a mandate to facilitate an emotional connection with the site, it is critical for the staff at Sites of Conscience to realize that the nature of this connection will most likely be an injury. Director’s Order  #6  Section 6.1.2 further clarifies the role of informal interpretation:
“[a]n informal visitor contact is an encounter between a visitor and an interpreter in which the objectives are defined by the visitor’s needs.”  
If the commonality of the visitors to a Site of Conscience is an emotional injury, then the common “need” of the visitor is for healing.  

Healing emotional injury and trauma requires a complex, cyclical process involving:  1) recognizing the emotional response; 2) acknowledging that the response is rooted in emotional injury and trauma; 3) understanding the origins of that injury.  Sites of Conscience provide the venue and informal interpretation can provide the facilitation for healing.  Most visitors to Sites of Conscience have already acknowledged that they have an emotional response to the event.  It is, in fact, this emotional response that draws these visitors to the site in the first place. The physical visit to the site establishes the connection between emotional injury and cause.  The interpretive materials and interactions at the site provide the intellectual understanding of how and why the injury happened.  The role of informal interpretation at Sites of Conscience is to facilitate this process.  A first visit a Site of Conscience may be emotionally overwhelming for a visitor attempting to understand the source of their injury.  Subsequent visits continue to provide an emotional response, each one slightly different and with new understanding and awareness.  Each subsequent visit provides the visitor with the opportunity to touch and verify that the injury was and continues to be real and to bring new awareness into the source of the injury.  This is the cyclical nature of healing.

There are several pitfalls for the interpreter at a Site of Conscience that may interfere with visitors’ making the emotional and intellectual connections with the site that they need to work through their individual processes of healing.  These pitfalls include: empathy, level of emotional comfort, personal belief systems, and forgiveness. 

Chad Montreaux
Newell, CA