Nbi Ceremony at Niagara

niagara nbi

I’m trying to find the words to describe my recent experience at Niagara Falls. Blessing is kind of cliche.

Traveling for business, I hadn’t intended a visit because  – ya know, business travel. But a window of opportunity presented and it felt foolish to not visit.

I was completely taken back by how beautiful and powerful nbi is in that territory. Flying into the region, I began to realize that I would be walking the land of my ancestors -the Anishinaabe, Ojibwe, Chippewa people, whose DNA and blood I carry into this world. At the park, I felt completely at home. Even though I had forgotten my Nbi medicine necklace at the hotel, I made sure to take the time to sing the Nbi song (as taught to me by my niijii-kwe, Tina) to our relative and to try to re-establish the relationship.

I have recently been able to dive deeply into Greg Cajete’s “Native Science” and his words have helped me make huge strides in growth as Anishinaabe-kwe. I still have a ton to process but I feel compelled to write some thoughts before the 8th of August, which is when we go into some pretty powerful times, astrologically. I have been feeling a lot of difficult emotions around what is happening in the world right now. Because I have been able to find some solace and respite in unexpected places, and I’m grateful for the serendipitous nature of the universe, this post is my attempt to push forward the blessing (even though I know I have maybe 10 readers – love to you all!)

I write/talk a lot about reciprocal relationship with our more-than-human relatives, but I have been missing some very key points about this topic, which I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Reading Greg Cajete’s book helped me to be much clearer about this topic.

The first realization – the reciprocal relationship won’t be successfully healed until we acknowledge/become aware of the compact that real human beings have made with our more-than-human relatives.

What is a compact?  An agreement, a treaty, between sovereigns. The way I understand it, there is a compact between real human beings and our more-than-human-relatives –  an agreement whereby our more-than-human relatives will provide for us and we, the real human beings, will honor, respect and reciprocate that relationship in the best way possible. Our ancestors have promised to use ceremony to give thanks and to honor our relatives; they have promised that we will never take more than we need and we will not take without giving something back; they have promised these things, with the understanding and affirmation that the cycle of life requires sacrifice at some point in time. I fully acknowledge that I am Anishinaabe-kwe without formal teachings. I know my place and I also know that there is an innate and strong knowing which flows through my veins, comprises my cells and informs my understanding.

I now  realize that when I speak to my relatives using their Anishinaabe names, I am reminding both parties of this compact – the commitment that we have made to each other. In order for the reciprocal relationship to be meaningful and effective, I have to acknowledge this compact and accept my responsibility to honor and uphold my part, as Anishinaabe-kwe.

Making the time to pray and offer my thanks to Nbi, in this territory, is an experience I will never forget. No longer will I take for granted the chance to speak the words and to send the prayers. I am fully committed to my responsibility, with deep gratitude for all the love that our more-than-human relatives have showed to us. I humbly ask for my ancestors to show me the way to proper ceremony.

We owe such a deep debt to our more-than-human relatives. We must make sure that our human relatives who are ignorant and unaware of this debt are made aware – we can’t continue to take without giving something back. We have to stop being chronic takers.  At the very least, we owe a prayer every time we extract something. Every time we pull nbi into our lives, we must offer a prayer of gratitude and acknowledge our responsibility for creating a good life for nbi.

More to come. I have so much to share about this book. We have an opportunity to correct our bad behaviors and to make a good path for the real human beings who have yet to be born….we have work to do and hearts to change.

“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)

Developing a land ethic

My most recent research project focuses on Tribal management of federally held lands. Not just lands held in trust, but lands which are managed by a federal agency but considered sacred by Tribal people. As a result of the recent appropriation of lands held sacred by the San Carlos Apache, my worst fears about the agendas of politicians are confirmed. Not that this is new information in Indian country. I’m just catching up to the party.

In an effort to explore this issue, I have to acknowledge that the majority of Americans are woefully unaware of the political, legal, genocidal history of government interactions with American Indian Tribes.They THINK they know, but they don’t.

I know that place. I was there. I thought I knew the history and the extent of the damage we had done. I thought it was all ‘in the past’ and that the recovery process had begun. Then I started reading, studying, and listening which led to a lot of crying and soul-searching. Now, I can’t stand silent. I won’t stand silent. I will do what I can, with what I have, from where I’m at, to shine light on the atrocities still being committed.

I’m reading several books. Vine Deloria Jr’s Spirit and Reason. Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian. Robert A. Williams, Jr.s Savage Anxieties. Walter Echo-Hawk’s In the Light of Justice. To name a few. Daniel Wildcat’s Red Alert is also very informative.

What these men (interestingly) all seem to point to, either outright or subtly, is the need for a land ethic. This concept is where I think I will launch the dive. What would it mean to have a land ethic? Whose ethic would that be? Is it possible that we could agree on an ethic? Whose voices would be heard?

My fears are that money and power are so out of balance in the application of law and policy that the only voices that would be heard would be those of corporate entities. We are 5 years into Citizen’s United and there seems to be no will to change it anytime soon from a policy or legal viewpoint. Honestly, without the groundswell of average people making significant noise, policy makers aren’t going to stand up to their corporate patrons. There is a swelling, but it ebbs and flows. When it ebbs, the corporate patrons enact strategies that they have spent years perfecting and staging. Cynicism aside, it really means that we have to understand what the obstacles are, at every level.

In the spirit of hope, with a belief in the goodness of people, and a knowledge of the criticality of the task of developing a land ethic, let the work begin. My voice is just one. “Many hands make light work.”

Perhaps we begin by developing the idea of a land ethic, with the politics and the wolves ‘parked’ to the side until we are clear about what we want our forests, streams, lakes, seas and air to look like moving forward. That is, to not ignore the impact of the politics and corporate patrons, but to put them in the hallway while we set the dinner table. Who will be at the table initially? To my mind, Tribes are first on the list. Mostly because the lands we are talking about are critical to their daily lives, not only spiritually but practically.

I have a lot of work ahead of me. Not the least of which is maintaining focus, organization of thought and stamina. It’s not going to be pleasant, and I must work diligently to not become overly-cynical. But I know that I must follow through with this work.