“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)

the measure of truth….

i’m feeling a bit out of sorts today. forgive me for waxing foolishly sentimental. earlier, i saw a story about a victory in the Washington State legislature. exciting stuff. i realized i was experiencing equal parts excitement and cynicism. another story reveals the depth to which people  will go to destroy our planet and the people who so bravely fight for her. the duality and the polarity make for a pretty wild ride.

i constantly have to remind myself, social change doesn’t happen quickly….sometimes it takes decades or generations. it can be easy to lose faith in our fellow human beings. but change does come, as long as people continue to fight. change happens because truth wins out. now, some may argue with me about the meaning of truth. is it time for us to re-evaluate our measurement for truth?

here are some suggestions for new metrics: does your truth honor the soul of another being? does your truth rely on discernment or judgment? does your truth make space for the voices of others? does your truth abide in alignment with love? does your truth promote compassion and kindness?

i no longer believe that we can completely disregard that which another considers his/her truth. i believe we have had enough of that. however, if we re-evaluate the metric by which we measure truth, might we more easily be able to put aside all those who try to sell us a warped or disingenuous version of truth? i like to think of this as keeping the batteries fresh in our bullshit detectors. 🙂

today, i feel ‘off my path’ and unsure of my ‘best laid plans’ for being of service to the community. a serious case of the ‘impostor syndrome’ seems to have flared up along with whatever is flaring up in my head and ears. so, perhaps i am not really waxing foolishly sentimental, but am more guilty of wringing my hands and flapping my tongue out of turn.

i’ll end with this piece of truth as a better piece of meat to chew on than my ramblings.

“The problem with stereotyping is not so much a racial problem as it is a problem of limited knowledge and perspective.” Vine Deloria, Jr.

Singing ho’oponopono

Nanaandawi’iwe-nagamo vai maygwayyawk zhewitaganibi

Very poorly constructed sentence “she sings a healing song <to> forests <and> salt water”

 water_n forest in des moines

My Ojibwe is sooo bad, but practice makes perfect, and the elders say that speaking Ojibwe, even poorly, helps keep the spirit of the language alive. And that’s what is important for me to remember: that the spirit of the language is where the power lies.

The first photo on the left is a shot of zhewitaganibi at Alki. Nibi and zhewitaganibi are under constant attack due to the irresponsible actions of humans. The second photo on the right is a shot of an urban forest which is slated for destruction, probably by the end of the summer.

There are at least three places near where I live where I can see ‘progress’ destroying our natural environment. So I have started singing ho’oponopono to them. Ho’oponopono is a huna traditional healing and reconciliation song. It translates to “I’m sorry, please forgive me, I thank you and I love you”. I encourage you to research this healing methodology.

When I finished my walk the other day, I stopped and watched as an osprey maintained a stationary position in flight. Beautiful! Such control and grace! I wondered why s/he would be in that position, then very shortly I understood why, as three young osprey came flying into my view. It had already been an amazing time on the water, but to have the opportunity to view this moment, was an additional blessing. The dedication that our more-than-human relatives have to the preservation and nurturing of youth gave me so much to think on.

I am reviewing my values and beliefs. This is something that I like to do every couple of years. It helps keep me honest in my words, thoughts and deeds. Sometimes, reviewing and realigning is an easy task. At other times, it can be very soul-wrenching. Either way, it’s an integral component of helping to keep on my path and to burn out any hypocrisy. That’s the idea anyway.

I am thinking about what I love. About what is on the line if what I love is lost.

So when I talk about my value of loving my more-than-human relatives and the environment in which they live, I question how my actions align with that value. There are so many ways that I can acknowledge where my actions are out of alignment. From driving a fossil-fuel vehicle to sometimes using chemicals for cleaning all the way to not showing up for gatherings where activists make their voices heard.

I don’t consider myself to be an activist, although there are some people who do. I think a lot about Hazel Wolf and Eddie Vedder when I contemplate what it means to be an activist.

Hazel Wolf showed up. She wrote flyers. She organized and built communities. She spoke to everyone who would listen about matters for which she cared. She was well respected, very organized, highly motivated and very successful in many ways. She cared about the relationship. Not just with the people who were on her ‘side’ but also with people on the opposite ‘side’ of the issue. This lame summary of mine doesn’t really do her any justice. I encourage you to read Susan Starbuck’s book “Hazel Wolf: Fighting the Establishment”.

I don’t presume to know a lot about Eddie Vedder’s activism. I know that he does quite a bit behind the scenes. But he also writes songs and raises awareness. He uses his talent not only to entertain but also to inform. It seems to me that he has been interestingly quiet lately, but you know, it’s not like I have the inside track. As an activist, Eddie puts his money and his voice into action when it matters. As a person who lives with the phenomenon of fame, he seems to be very judicious in what he puts his hands on.

There are many other examples of activism I consider when I look for ways to further align my values and beliefs to the way I live my life. Each one has a lesson to teach me. I have learned what forms of activism appeal to me and what forms don’t. I’m not a fan of call-and-response activism and I’m not a fan of adversarial activism.

I define “call-and-response’ activism as a form of activism where people are called to a cause but the ‘leaders’ don’t open the organization up to the ideas and suggestions of those they call into the fold. They control the narrative, the goals, the actions and the response. Going so far as to even call out a manifesto, sentence by sentence, to which the convened crowd responds in a parroted fashion. I don’t like call-and-response activism because I believe that it devolves into group-think. Just so we are clear, it’s not the call and response itself I have concerns about. It’s the organizational methodology which shuts out the voices of others in the movement.

I define ‘adversarial activism’ as that form of activism where people are more committed to the fight than they are the mission. They spoil for the fight. They become so consumed with it that they forget the mission and create more adversaries than are necessary. The fight is an important part of the process. It just can’t be the only part of the process. At the end of the day, we still have to live in community and on the planet with those who we would consider our adversary.

So what kind of ‘activism’ would I engage in that would align with my values and beliefs? What would Hazel do? What would Eddie do? I’m still driving a fossil-fueled vehicle. I still use more plastic than I should. I still use chemicals to do some of cleaning.

Thank goodness for the teachers who show up for me in very unconventional ways. I sometimes forget that we. live in a world of duality and polarity. Where darkness and light are oppositional, but collaborative partners. Without darkness, how would we appreciate the light? We need the darkness, too. In darkness we rest and revive. Perhaps my lesson for now is to learn how to better understand the lesson of this duality and how I might perform some alchemy to brighten the contrast.

I have a lot of work to do still. Like learning to speak Ojibwe.

There is power in the spirit.

Presenting: random thoughts

Because that is how I roll.

Kidding aside, when I meditate, I am overtaken by ideas and thoughts that percolate out of my soul. Maybe they are random. Maybe not. I often don’t share them with others. They are rough and unrefined, meanderings from a time when I am contemplating what is possible. They appear to be random and inconsequential. Sometimes, though, I wonder what would happen if I were to share them with the world, no matter how random or infantile they may seem to be as intellectually viable thoughts.

Recently, it has occurred to me that I am a seed-planter. One of my purposes in this time and place is to plant seeds of thoughts and ideas, hoping that they land in fertile soil and can grow into their full potential. In that spirit, I offer these thoughts that have recently shown up in my consciousness. One is about education, which is very timely given that we are in graduation season. The other is about how we assign value, especially when we are trading – whether that is goods, ideas, emotions, bodily fluid, whatever. I/m curious about the process of how we assign value and what happens when there is a delta, a difference in value assignment between the trading parties?

Education. I think a lot about education. I love learning. I love seeing people learn. I love observing someone overcome a mental barrier and the proverbial light bulb pops off, and all of a sudden, they are in a completely new world. I love learning but I mostly despise how our education system works. To my mind, we have forsaken the beauty and the art of the learning process. We have sacrificed the subtle for the gross.

When I think of what I know about Indigenous models of education (which is very little, admittedly) I become hopeful for the glimmer of light and immense possibility I see in those processes. Not being a scholar of Indigenous education models, and only armed with bits and pieces of information that I have gleaned from numerous books, articles, etc, here is what I developed during meditation. Presented without editing. This is what I wrote.

An Indigenous model of education – is more continuous – there is a longer amount of time; time is a precious commodity in Indigenous communities of education. When teaching stories to the young, it wasn’t about whether or not a story could be repeated properly – it was about trusting that the energy behind the story could be conveyed properly – allowing for the story-teller to imbue his/her particular spiritual energy on the story. So, stories were told over and over, until the novice could begin to tell the story with the proper authority. Indigenous models of education would be more like a stream than a river. Why do we rush education? Why do we allow people to believe that once they have attained this or that level of education, they don’t need to learn any longer? Why do we look down on people whose learning styles are different and don’t fit the prescribed teaching methods of mainstream education? What is the cost to society when we reward people for stopping their learning process?

To summarize, somewhat, those thoughts: the teaching of a story was not about whether or not the student could properly tell the story in a certain amount of time, although there was some time associated with the process. The important piece was making sure that the student understood fully the story; all the joy, the pain, the wisdom. That the student could hand the wisdom captured in the story down to other generations was the point.

Trading. So, I was thinking about a land ethic. (Duh). And how we got here. We have developed this country to every boundary and consumed with abandon every good thing. If you are a reader, you know where I stand and I’m not going to engage the soapbox right now. I had been thinking about the ‘trades’ that took place with Native Nations. I say ‘had’ just to give you context for the next piece, but you should know that I’m ALWAYS thinking about how we got here, about our history and the actions that were taken by our ancestors. There are many ways to make corrections in this world. Thoughts and actions are both required. As is what comes from the heart. Presented with some editing.

When Native Nations traded their beads for land, it was a trade, in good faith. It was not ‘commerce’ because selling the land was not even a concept. The Europeans refused to see this as a component of the agreement. To their minds, a trade had been done, and they interpreted that their way. European mind-sets did not understand that a shell was not merely a shell, nor was a bead a mere trinket. The Native Nations understood what was involved in the creation of these gifts. The shell came from the Mother; was cared for and nurtured by nbi (the water). The shell was as important to the value of the land as the gold was to the Europeans. The “money” that Native Nations used in their trade was LIFE. You cannot have life without water, or sustenance, or land, or love. When we value gold or oil or paper above all other currencies – we cut off our connection to our relatives….we deplete our ability to value, appreciate, honor, ENJOY our existence as sovereign human beings.

In summary, what I have come away with since these thoughts came to me: to my mind, the value gap between the trading partners was huge. What are the repercussions of that deficit in value systems?

I have been sitting with these thoughts for the last couple of weeks. As I said, I’m always thinking about these things, but these particular lines of thought have persisted. As infantile as they are. Maybe someone out there can use them as a jumping off place to create a new paradigm of thought and interaction. Maybe someone who reads these words might find a way to create healing space and make corrections. Maybe it’s me, and I just don’t see how the seeds might mature. At any rate, may any seeds which lie here take root in fertile ground and grow into something beautiful, nourishing and loving.


“Gratitude is a radical act.” Dr. Robin Kimmerer

Boozhoo. I’m wiping tears from my eyes after having finished watching Dr. Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s presentation at the Bioneers conference last fall. Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass I have deep admiration for her work and her spirit. In her book, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants“, I found a kindred spirit. I cherish and honor that book for the many gifts it brings me: the affirmation of my values and inner knowings; the inspiration to keep speaking my ancestral language; the motivation to keep talking about a land ethic, even when my thoughts and words are dry and wilted. (Dry and wilted sometimes makes good kindling, but knowing when to set it afire takes wisdom).

When Dr. Kimmerer talks about the ‘honorable harvest’ in her presentation, I’m reminded of the values that I have lived by for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure if they were given to me by my elders, or if I came to the Earth with this wisdom as part of my DNA. It may be a little of both. In her presentation, she talks about the ethical protocols of an ‘honorable harvest’ and I see how these protocols can be applied in human interactions as well as those interactions with our ‘more-than-human’ relatives.

The elements of the protocol are: never take the first one, ask permission, listen for the answer, take only what you need, minimize harm, use everything that you take, be grateful, share what you’ve taken and reciprocate the gift.

I am thinking of how I am going to reinforce this protocol in my everyday interactions. How will that look, in reality, when I am speaking with a friend? Most of the protocols are easily transferred, but what will it mean to ‘not take the first one’? In Dr. Kimmerer’s example, you never take the first plant that you see. The wisdom behind that is that you always leave something in place. That means you also don’t take the last plant. I have some work to do here in how to apply this principle in my human interactions.

Dr. Kimmerer states “It’s not the land which is broken, but our relationship to the land.” I am convinced that we must do all we can to re-create a healthy relationship with our human relatives AND our more-than-human relatives. Further, I am convinced that we CAN re-create this relationship. I believe that the right people are here, in this moment in time to do this work. Along with the wisdom traditions that Walter Echo-Hawk described in his recent presentation, this “honorable harvest” protocol is one of the most powerful tools I have yet to find.

“Gratitude is a radical act”, she says, in this age where the line between defining what is a ‘need’ and what is a ‘want’ drives our consumerism. This makes me think of the sacred land of the San Carlos Apache in Oak Flats. There are too many examples where blind consumerism has convinced us that we ‘need’ to take everything, and that we can’t get what we ‘need’ without making a huge mess. Oak Flats is especially troubling to my heart. The government-to-government relationship and honorable agreements between nations to protect that land as sacred has completely been usurped. By chicanery and deception. It causes me grief on many levels. Bitterness seeps into my heart.

I recently unlocked a piece of inner wisdom that I hope I can train myself to use more often. Here’s the wisdom: when these situations arise (chicanery of Oak Flats), it is more powerful to see with kind eyes than a bitter heart, if the goal is for a correction to be made. Kind eyes that are fully open, mind you. We can be angry and upset about the situation, and we should allow those emotions to fully unfold. However, before we take up a fight, we must switch to kindness and settle our hearts into our innate wisdom about what is the honorable and ethical resolution. It is possible to be fierce and kind at the same time. We know what the honorable and ethical resolution is. It lives in us. Even those who are practicing chicanery.

I believe that learning to be kind AND fierce represents a critical paradigm shift in how we approach restoring justice in our communities. We are living in a time where we have a long history behind us of good works, done by good people, but the outcomes are not as great as we had expected. So, if we take a critical look at what has been done, in relation to where we are in this moment in time, what can we learn in order to effect greater outcomes? This is not a rhetorical question, and I don’t believe that one person has THE answer.

In order for us to answer these types of questions, there’s something I believe we need to contemplate further. We must not allow ourselves get side-tracked into making judgments or naming a single thing as the cause of all our grief. It’s not enough to point to greed as the root cause and stop there.  Yes, greed is involved, and it’s a powerful human component contributing to many of our griefs. But let us change our minds about calling greed the sole source. Let us also change our minds about how to overcome greed. Greed is but one of the components of the human psyche, my husband reminds me. When enough people are able to overcome their own greed, we will see our way to a more equitable experience. I’m going to quote one of my favorite tv shows now. #nerd “When everything seems to be lacking in integrity, you find it in yourself.” Henry, from Madam Secretary  We can’t afford to be disillusioned and bitter.

I encourage you to watch Dr. Kimmerer’s presentation, which is only 21 minutes long and a worthy investment of your time. She beautifully details each protocol and what that means. When you watch, think about how this protocol could be applied to interactions with your family, your friends, your colleagues. When it becomes part of our everyday interactions, I believe we will begin to see the world through a different lens. We will have begun to correct our mistakes and re-store our relationships.

I’m grateful for much. Not just things, not just people. I’m grateful for my breath, for my blood. I’m grateful for the wisdom that comes to me during my meditative drives in a car that consumes fossil fuel. I’m grateful for the horsetail growing in my yard, for I see it as a medicine. And the fire weed, I am grateful for the bunnies who have been constantly showing up for me over the last few weeks. I’m grateful for the joy and the teaching they bring. For me, gratitude is a radical act, but I also see it as the master key. Which I guess is what Dr. Kimmerer was pointing to, after all.


“Here’s to justice!”

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Walter Echo-Hawk speak at the Snoqualmie Casino. I have been working to process his thoughts, words and wisdom. I’m mostly interested in how his message contributes to the idea of a land ethic. My intent is to share his message with my audience, from a place of humility of heart and spirit. Not that I am anyone of any great importance, mind you. I have a voice, I have two hands, my Spirit is here on purpose, and if there is an opportunity to add to a knowledge base or create understanding, I will avail myself of that opportunity.

Mr. Echo-Hawk’s presentation was focused on his latest book, “In the Light of Justice”, where he digs into the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People. (UNDRIP) As a student of Tribal governance, from a public administration point of view, I was not extremely fond of UNDRIP. Like others I know, I doubted whether the document had been crafted in good faith. Who participated in creating this? What were their goals? Such questions I had about its veracity. I also doubted that this document, a creation of the United Nations, was enforceable in countries where legal precedent vociferously protects the sovereignty of the few while denying the sovereignty of others. I started to read “In the Light of Justice” a few months ago, but as you should know if you have read any of my posts, I momentarily lost my desire to read books about social justice. Hearing Echo-Hawk speak has renewed my interest and desire in applying actions AND words toward a movement for a just society.

Mr. Echo-Hawk engaged in some compelling arguments (as I guess a lawyer is keen to do) about the strength of UNDRIP as a powerful tool for sovereign nations and sovereign people. I will briefly review the notes that I took during this presentation. I am specifically encouraged by his ideas that the implementation of UNDRIP could be a especially effective in helping to redefine our relationship to the land and how we ethically approach resource development.

He stated, on multiple occasions, that he believes that sovereign nations are experiencing a historical moment in time, which he referred to as a jurisgenerative moment. We are finding ourselves in a time when social justice inequities are starting to become a societal norm. However, what is also happening is that more and more people are losing their appetite for those inequities. Many people seem to be asking themselves, what have we to show for over 40 years of civil rights activism? The same question applies to over 40 years of environmental activism? What have we to show? Clearly, we have more work to do. There can be no ‘resting on our laurels’ if we hope to continue as a healthy, well-balanced species living on planet Earth. Our children, their children and so on require us to continue to work.

The whole of UNDRIP is framed within the right to self-determination of Indigenous people. 150 nations, so far, have affirmed and endorsed the standards set forth in UNDRIP. Article 4 of the declaration specifically links self-governance as an aspect of self-determination. Self-governance is a human right. No law or policy crafted that violates human rights should be allowed to stand. Inherent human rights, according to Mr. Echo-Hawk, are the strongest legal right – inalienable, indefeasible, indivisible. He went on to posit that when human rights are viewed as a standard approach for implementing law and policy, UNDRIP has the potential to address and reset the darker side of federal Indian law.

Throughout his speech, I was taking as many notes as I could, trying to stay engaged with him as a speaker, but also capturing, by my own understanding, the words that he was sharing with the audience. Where he really got my attention was when he spoke of UNDRIP as a tool for developing what he called “an American land ethic”. Personally, I think that we should shy away from qualifying a land ethic as “American” and I have any number of reasons for that stance, but that’s a discussion for another day. For now, let’s simply accept that UNDRIP has the potential for helping define a land ethic as a foundation for a deeper conversation.

Having stated that, I realize that I’m already near 700 words on this post, and I’m keen on not boring whatever audience might be paying attention. There is a ton to say about a land ethic and how the UNDRIP can help in that social movement. Let’s be clear. Walter Echo-Hawk has called on all who care to view this as a social movement. It isn’t something that will be won overnight. We have 40 years of environmental/social justice activism behind us, but we clearly have more work to do. I’ll leave you with these words. I think they will be a great segue into my next blog post, and they should hopefully give you plenty to think about (and hopefully investigate further).

From “In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People”.

“Nations are naturally resistant to change, especially when it requires the government to stop doing things it has always done and entails new programs that may conflict with the interests of strong lobbying constituencies.” (Echo-Hawk, p. 221)

And here is what he said as part of his presentation, mostly paraphrased I believe.

‘Americans have a history of self-correcting and UNDRIP gives the framework for self-corrections of human rights violations based in law.’

When Mr. Echo-Hawk signed my book, he wrote “Here’s to justice”. Indeed.

putting away the books…for now

I’m not feeling well, so I may be able to, one day in the future, chalk this decision up to a momentary madness brought on by illness.

This morning, I put away my research books. I haven’t been able to gain any ground with my ‘research’ activities. I haven’t been able to develop a thesis or a compelling research question. All my ‘research’ so far has amounted to is half-assed reading of a bunch of books whose titles seem to fulfill the promise of helping me refine my research methodology, but whose content leave me wanting. Not that it’s the fault of the books. It is my own failing that I can’t decide who my audience is and I haven’t yet found my voice. So, I’m putting away the books. For now.

The recent earthquake that affected Tibet, Nepal and India also has me questioning the value of this proposed research project I have been mulling: a shared land ethic. Mother Nature ultimately has the last say. No matter what we do as humans, whether we work together with the principles and order of nature and our relatives, or we continue to work against them – she will always, ultimately, have the last say. I can not wrap my mind around the devastation, but my heart understands the deep loss humanity is facing.

We live in a world that is in constant change, even though we may not see it. The subtle and the gross are equally important aspects of a deep relationship with our relatives. If we can stop long enough to listen, see and feel the subtle, instead of ignoring it, we might be better prepared for when the subtle becomes the gross. We might find our way to a more reciprocal relationship with our relatives.

I have written before about taking the time to listen, see and feel. And yet, I have not walked my talk. This is one of the reasons I am putting away the books, for now. There is only so much that I will be able to do with only book knowledge. If I am going to find my voice, I must train myself to listen to the subtle.

I recently pulled out “Principles of Tsa’walk: An Indigenous Approach to Global Crisis” (Umeek – E. Richard Atleo) because a friend and I were discussing Indigenous psychology. Before I put it away this morning, I landed on some wisdom I think will help keep me on track while I pursue the wisdom of the subtle.

“The Nuu-chah-nulth word for ‘completed person’ may also be translated as ‘shaman.’ There are many kinds of completed persons, just as there are many accomplishments in many different fields. The major difference between training of the ancient Nuu-chah-nulth ‘completed people’ and the formal training of accomplished contemporary people is that the former integrated the physical and non-physical aspects of the person whereas the latter does not. Moreover, since the Nuu-chah-nulth view of reality is never fixed, frozen, or objectified, the phrase ‘completed person’ must be understood within the context of a dynamic reality.” (Atleo, p. 157-158)

I’m not a fan of the word shaman as it has been co-opted to mean something shallow. However, reclaiming the depth and wisdom of the word by viewing it through the lens of being a ‘completed person’ helps me to feel at peace with putting away my books. For now.

A trip to Supai: enrichment on many levels

This morning, I am utilizing symbology as a tool for processing all that took place on my trip to Supai. I still lack confidence that my words will do any justice to the spiritual and emotional impacts the trip has left on me. Heck, I’m not even sure that I have fully processed all that happened.

Our trip took place over Easter weekend, although that wasn’t intentionally planned. It is interesting to me that Easter for the last few years has involved meeting/being with Indigenous people. We flew into Vegas. Oh, my gosh…Vegas is so weird to me. On the flight in, I began diving into “Should Trees Have Standing” by Christopher Stone. This book is challenging in so many ways. I also read a couple of chapters of “Native Science” by Greg Cajete while down in the Village.

We were fortunate that our friend who invited us on the trip grew up in Supai, so we were able to see and be part of the community. The grace and generosity of her friends and relatives have left a lifelong impression on me. There are many things for me to put into perspective: being there at that time, meeting beautiful people, hearing all that could be heard (not just with my ears), seeing the beauty and life of this place, feeling peace and trying to understand the paradoxical experiences.

Returning home meant driving back to Vegas. It was evening when we finally started coming down into the valley, approaching that city in the desert. Some 40 miles out of town, you can already see the glow from the lights of Vegas. I couldn’t help thinking, “is this really why we let salmon and lamprey die?” What kind of land ethic is this? If we are going to harness the power of the river, shouldn’t we be wiser with how it is used?

Greg Cajete’s chapter “A Sense of Place” (chapter six) speaks very powerfully about the right relationship Indigenous peoples have developed with the earth. Interestingly enough, the words he used pointed me to a book I read for my undergrad studies: “Soulcraft” by Bill Plotkin. Such is the path of my research. <humor>

“The inner archetypes in a place formed the spiritually based ecological mind-set required to establish and maintain a correct and sustainable relationship with place.” (Cajete, p. 187)

He goes on to describe how the different Indigenous Nations developed the relationship to their land, and based on that relationship, they were able to avail themselves of the gifts of the land in responsible and sustainable ways. One amazing example was his discussion of the ways in which the various tribes of Pennsylvania were able to make use of the petroleum that seeped through to the surface for medicinal purposes, as well as helping to develop petroleum jelly for lubrication of tools.

I had never heard this before. I knew that the idea that Native Nations were somehow not technologically advanced was a barrier to understanding native science. I underestimated the lengths to which people have gone to de-legitimize and romanticize the true value and depth of the technological knowledge held by Native Nations. The Havasupai people are constantly having to adapt and change their relationship to the canyon. As recently as last year, a terrible flood swept through the village and caused a lot of destruction. However, it also changed the landscape in the canyon. What I heard on several occasions was “it wasn’t like this before the flood, and look how beautiful it is.” The water is life. The canyons are life. The rocks and the trees, all are relatives. It takes work, a maturity, a willingness to listen to ‘establish and maintain a correct and sustainable relationship with place,’ as Cajete says.

This idea of a land ethic is not new. It’s been ‘discussed’ for decades. We need to get serious about taking this to a new level. To my mind, that means giving space to Native science and letting the western paradigm of science (which has not served us well, in my opinion) to take a back seat to a Native understanding of our relationship to the land.

Nearly four years ago I was given a gift when I was accepted into the grad school program at The Evergreen State College. Nearly a year has passed since I graduated. I am always determined to not let that knowledge sit idle. As I was reading Cajete’s work, and tried to put all this into context, it dawned on me….we don’t need more words. We do need to begin to develop words that are actively engaged in relationship, that contribute to the ensoulment of our relationship to all our relations. It’s time to grow up, as a species, and have a mature, ethical relationship with our natural relatives. In the spirit of ‘not needing more words’, may my words land in a way that encourages others to become ‘entangled’ and ‘ensouled’ with our relations.

I am listening.

My social media feed was blowing up Sunday morning with posts about Gov. Inslee declaring a drought emergency for the State of Washington. There is also a petition, from my friends in the Blackfeet Nation, with a request to convince the Department of the Interior to keep the oil companies out of their territory and off their land. I went to a workshop the other night where the focus was how communities can restore self-government locally and regain decision making authority and power.

More books have arrived. More books are on their way. Scholarly articles are being identified and thoughts are swirling. All this is to say that I feel very pressured to get this research project going. Even though, on a good day, I’m usually able to only crank out one or two salient thoughts on the matter.

Food for thought: It’s not about land management as much as its about the ethics of managing lands. Ethic: (n) a set of moral principles, especially ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field or form of conduct. (adj) of or relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these.

Reading  “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz,  provides evidence of how Indigenous land management practices, which have been in place since time immemorial, were all but erased from our awareness and usurped by Eurocentric approaches to land management. The difference between the two being immense. One viewing the land as an extended member of the family, with whom you engage, collaborate and cooperate. The other viewing the land as a resource to be tamed, extracted, manipulated and then left degraded and unrestored in the wake of what some would have us believe is ‘civilized progress’. I’m only a couple of chapters into this book, but I’m sure that I will have many more realizations to ponder the more I read.

I’m currently trying to digest the work of James (Sakej) Youngblood Henderson’s article titled “The Context of the State of Nature” and how our frameworks, or the ways we have constructed our understanding of legal title and ‘ownership’ principles, have come to be. “Indigenous peoples must transform the false assumptions behind the state of nature and its social theories to begin their transformation to a postcolonial order. It is the key to our cognitive confinement. We must clearly understand the disadvantages of creating artificial societies from wrong assumptions.”

Additionally, the thoughts and ideas put forth by John T. Noonan, Jr. in “Narrowing the Nation’s Power” are going to push the limits of my cognitive abilities. It’s not that I will have a hard time believing that the Supreme Court has imposed it’s will in unjustified ways. I have somewhat of an understanding of federal Indian law came to be, after all. What I will have a hard time processing, I believe, is how we might be able to reverse these decisions that have led to an imbalance of power and a dysfunctional relationship to the land, our relative, our sustenance.

I’ve come to realize that the idea of a land ethic is not new. Nor is it something that is untested/untried. This pushes me to revise my approach to the research, perhaps focusing on the who’s/how’s/what’s of land management. Who is doing it? How is it being implemented? What kind of land ethics are being utilized? What’s the difference between a land ethic and a land management philosophy? Is a land ethic enforceable? Is a land ethic singular or is it pluralistic in it’s goals?

I have pulled all my research methodology texts off the shelf and stacked them on my desk. I have a lot of work ahead of me.

Being a serious person, and being serious about this research, I know that at some point the reading will have to stop and the questions will have to be refined. I know my voice isn’t the only one on this topic. I am listening to those other voices, not only the ones who are present in this modern time, but also the voices of my ancestors.

some words I’m contemplating – not my own

In support of the spirit from which I am beginning this journey.

“If you have hard truths to offer up to someone, make sure the voice is soft, the language beautiful, and protect the dignity of the other. When the storm clears, make sure you all see sunshine.” Lee Maracle in her essay “Decolonizing Native Women” as published in “Make A Beautiful Way”

Regarding a way to think of our relationship to the land:

“The promise of the spirit-to-spirit relationship with our mother, the Earth, and the waters, is that the plants, animals and all life are here to support us in achieving the good life. All that is required of us is to acknowledge those beings who surrendered their lives to us and to obey the laws we inherited from that which set all life into motion, the great mystery.” ibid

“We are of the Earth. The Earth is the source of life to be protected, not merely a resource to be exploited. Our ancestors remains lie within her. Water is her lifeblood. We are dependent upon her for our shelter and our sustenance. Our lifeways are the original ‘green economies.’ We have our place and our responsibilities within Creation’s sacred order.” “The Mystic Lake Declaration” presented at the Native Peoples Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop II: Indigenous Perspectives and Solutions. Published in “Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis”

Oh Hazel Wolf, environmentalist and activist:

“She experienced as a child what she later articulated as an environmentalist: there is no split between nature and culture. We humans cannot ‘save’ wilderness or the environment as if they were entities separate from us. There is no ‘intelligent’ human fundamentally distinct from other forms of life. We are part of nature, and it is us.” Susan Starbuck in her biography “Hazel Wolf: Fighting the Establishment”

“They talk about grassroots democracy – it never sprouts, it’s trampled. If people knew about caucuses, knew where they were, knew what was involved, this would be a different country. Decisions about who gets to run and what the party platforms are going to be would not be made in smoke-filled rooms – or rest rooms. But they are. The process is concealed from preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college, and graduate students – from the American people. The grassroots never gets above ground. But that’s where I stay, at the grassroots, working in organizations.” Ibid

“By watching Emily Haig [Chairwoman, Conservation Committee of the Seattle Audubon Society], I learned you have to make compromises in relation to people that you’re working with. You can’t be really mad at a person, way deep down. You can be angry at a situation, an abstraction, but not at a person. Anger is a consumer passion – it eats you up. Sometimes I’ve looked like I was mad at someone, but I was putting on an act for some purpose. Under the influence of Emily Haig, I developed a kind of quiet and factual way of giving testimony or participating in meetings, and I always add something funny.” ibid