“Turn and face the work”

It’s been a few weeks since I attended the 10th Annual Vine Deloria Jr. Indigenous Studies Symposium. I initially started a blog post, but thought I might let the words and spirit of that time settle into my soul a little more before I started writing.

There were so many gems from that experience of “Indigenuity” but I want to begin with this phrase spoken by Cheryl Crazy-Bull. It’s time to “turn and face the work”, she said. I have many things to write about and I’m going to try to be as clear and honest as possible. I hope, more than anything, to “be useful”.

First, I want to say that I consider it a blessing to have been on Lummi Nation land and to have been present in this moment in time with all the wonderful people who were there. From the elders, to the youth, and everyone in between, it was great to see and hear from people who are doing good work with good people. They fed me well, both physically and spiritually. It was good to be surrounded by good friends, both old and new.

I write with two main objectives: to understand and to educate. To write from a place of wanting to understand means that I must always approach any subject with an intense and authentic curiosity. Even if I think I know about something, I have to remind myself that I don’t know what I don’t know. It is critical to have ‘beginner’s mind’. My intent to educate is in no way meant to insinuate that my words have credence or authority. Instead, by pursuing first the intent of writing to understand, I hope that I can model a practice of listening to understand.

Two of the main themes that are of interest to me are: the need for an active land ethic and cultural identity. I had planned to write about both, but I am going to leave identity for another day. I don’t feel like I have the authority or facility to write cleanly about such a hot topic.

I recently wrote a bit about defining what kind of an activist I might be. Specifically, I’m interested in activism that is aimed at restoring our relationship to the land. Dr. Daniel Wildcat said it best when he said “It’s time to get ready for some really hard work”. I’ve said before, we don’t need to keep talking about creating a land ethic. We’ve been talking about it for a very long time, and several versions of a land ethic already exist. To boot, they are scalable, relevant, place-based and effective. These land ethics exist in traditional ecological knowledges, or Native sciences, if you like. So, why aren’t they more frequently utilized, or at least consulted?  I think there are any number of answers to that question, and some of those answers are excruciatingly painful to discuss. I wonder, sometimes, if getting bogged down in arguing about the painful history (or outright ignoring it) is what keeps us {‘us’, empirically} from turning into the work, and putting our words into action to restore our relationship to the land.

During the symposium, Dr. Wildcat posited an intriguing idea about how we might begin to turn and face the hard work that is ahead of us. Beginning with the premise that the law is a contract between strangers, he asked, what would sovereignty/self-determination look like if we no longer lived among strangers? (paraphrased from crude and hastily written notes) What would our communities look like if we decided that we no longer lived among strangers?

He went on to discuss the idea that sovereignty involves taking responsibility, acting responsibly. At this idea, I called to mind Walter Echo-Hawk’s assertion that we have an inalienable right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment including healthy relatives, clean air, clean water and accessible, healthy foods. Yes, we have that right, but along with that right comes responsibility. I have always stated that one can not claim to have an inalienable right without also recognizing the inalienable responsibility attached to that claimed right. This is one of my teachings.

Hearing Dr. Wildcat present this idea of  inalienable human responsibility gave me hope that the conversations about how to re-balance and re-establish our relationship to the land might be beginning to stabilize on ground that is more common.

I have written too much, and still have more to write. There were so many amazing speakers at the symposium, all who have touched my spirit in powerful ways. I will end on this story that Dr. Wildcat presented in one of his presentations that weekend.

The topic had come around to activism. He recounted a story where Vine Deloria, Jr. had been approached by a very passionate young man, ready to take arms against certain agencies in an attempt to actively effect change. The young man had asked Vine whether or not he advocated for this particular approach. Vine, according to Dr. Wildcat, relayed a story about how the Sioux reacted when their ponies were stolen. He said that the Sioux didn’t stand on the ridge above the Crow camp holding signs and singing chants about how they wanted their horses back. They just developed a strategy and crept into the Crow camp at night and stole their ponies back.

Here’s to stealing the ponies.

Go take a look at Standing on Sacred Ground and learn what you can about already established land ethics. Like, generations’ old land ethics. We don’t need to invent something new. They already exist and they worked for millennium. Also, give a listen to one of my inspirations, Dr. Robin Wall-Kimmerer Reclaiming the Honorable Harvest. And for good measure, go take a listen to Dr. Wildcat presenting. 7 Things We Must Do

Apegish wii-zhawenimik Manidoo
(I hope you are blessed by the Creator)

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Twylia (the 'i' is silent)

~ I am Anishinaabe-kwe with Scottish heritage and Sami DNA. I speak on the behalf of no one but myself. My ancestors inform and guide me. My voice is but one of many who are calling for change. We have much work to do to create a good space for the real human beings who are waiting to be born.

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