Indigenous People’s Day.
The wind blows fiercely as the leaves tumble down the sidewalk. At the capitol, Indigeous people speak their truths, broadcast it in a livestream. Around them and us, Western Society throttles on slowly, its gears mucked up with Mother Nature, the pandemic slowly everything down.
Ilarion (Larry) Merculieff (Unangan Tunuu) and Libby Roderick writes in “Tunun Kayutukun: Words Have Power” essay, “For most people in modern societies, words are seen simply as vehicles for conveying information, expressing thoughts and feelings. Many non-Native people don’t view words as containing enormous power to which they need to give great care and thought.”
There is much truth to this. They continue: “By contrast, people in traditional Indigenous societies view words as entities that do carry power; hence, they must be chosen and used with the utmost care.” This is a lesson all of us can only understand through accountability, listening, unlearning, practice. We must be transparent with one another in these journeys; we must support one another in these journeys.
Meranda Roberts (Yerington Paiute/Chicana) shares in the webinar, “We are All on Native Land: a Conversation on Land Acknowledgements:” “If an organization (or person) wants to be transparent, they need to be ready for people to hold them accountable and not be worried about that so much.”
There is a fear of accountability within our justice movements. Part of that stems from a fear people have of feeling inadequate or not knowledgeable enough. But there is also that fear of losing power I think within this ‘fear’ of accountability. People in position of power often don’t want to be transparent or be held accountable as they would lose face, lose their power, and they would have to step down.
Part of our privilege is that power, and we must relinquish it to truly be in relationship with one another. That is scary for some, it is uncomfortable, but a necessary truth and a step we must take.
In order to dismantle colonialism imperalism, we need to sit with harsh and uncomfortable truths about the 500 year history of enslavement, genocide, torture, and family destruction.
For Indigenous people, family includes the environment. Nick Estes in his writings describes the Earth and all the creatures on it as relatives. “Indigenous resistance is not a one-time event. It continually asks: What proliferates in the absence of empire? Thus, it defines freedom not as the absence of settler colonialism, but as the amplified presence of Indigenous life and just relations with human and nonhuman relatives, and with the earth,” writes Nick Estes from Our History is Our Future.
How do we accomplish this?
By doing the hard work of unlearning colonialist imperialist white supremacist cisnormative heteronormative ableist patriarchal ideas. We need to dismantle the Western way of knowing things and examine how we may unconsciously or not perpetuate the oppression we wish to end.
This is all about accountability but also about commitment and intersectionality. About Committing to doing better, to learning, to understanding, to doing the work. To not expecting others to do it for you, but sitting with the hard uncomfortable and painful truths. Finding ways to navigate the generational trauma in healing ways. Uplifting the voices of the marginalized (never speak for them), and understanding that an ally or an accomplice is full of risks but also full of joys if we do the work, if we listen, and if we show up.
Showing up doesn’t always mean physically showing up. The intersection of Disability justice with Indigenous Rights is crucial as well as in our own justice movements — on how we are in relationship. Not all of us have the same abilities or gifts; we all have roles to play that may differ from the typical showing up in person in a protest.
“Disability justice allowed me to understand that me writing from my sickbed wasn’t me being weak or uncool or not a real writer but a time-honored crip creative practice,” writes Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha in Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice.
Intersectionality requires us to acknowledge that oppression is multi-layered. To show up and dismantle oppression, we need to see the intersecting identities and how liberation can be realized through each, how each overlap, how each are interdependent.
Indigenous disabled people exist. How do we uplift them? How do we examine ways of showing up that acknowledge their needs?
For me, as a disabled nonbinary person, I cannot show up in person most times; pain and sickness make it hard to walk and I am likely to faint and end up in the hospital. What can I do instead? I can write. I can share and uplift the voices of Indigenous people. I can do the work of unlearning the empire – reading books, writing essays like these, sharing resources created by Indigenous people. I can distill what I learn into digestible chunks. I can ask Indigenous people, especially disabled Indigenous people, what needs they have, and I can see which ones i can meet virtually, which ones are within my capacity to do. Little actions like these add up.
It isn’t much, but it is a way of showing up from my sickbed.
We must honor that way of showing up as much as physically showing up. For it too creates community, builds relationships. We cannot leave anyone behind.
That is part of the Indigenous worldview — it is relational.
I will quote in length from a transcript interview of Nick Estes, where he speaks about Indigenous worldview, particularly about relationships as it is crucial to understanding how relationships — the being in relation with one another — is more than just being in relationship with other human beings, but it is also being in relationship with animals, creatures of the Earth, and with the Earth itself.
“The attempt of Indigenous studies is, very much in the line with the thinking of African Marxist revolutionary Amílcar Cabral, to “return to the source.” He’s not saying return to a mystical Indigenous past. What he’s saying is to return to that path of social development that we were once on, to take our experience as colonized people as well as this non-capitalist, anti-colonial, anti-capitalist core of Indigenous history, combine them and use those tools to view our history. We live in a capitalist society and we can’t extricate ourselves from that, but at the same time we have remnants of a non-capitalist way of viewing the world. And it is grounded in our relationships.
This is a huge word in Indigenous studies right now—relationality—that I think has become mystified. We’re not the Na’vi of Avatar running around plugging our brains into trees trying to download data. I go back to the buffalo, because buffalo relations really represent the form of relationality that we had with animals. It wasn’t just this mystical kind of thing where we were communing with them outside of history. They represented a source of life for us in the sense that without the buffalo, we wouldn’t be the Lakota people, by mere fact that we wouldn’t have a food source.
Our relationship with the buffalo wasn’t just one-way; they weren’t just providing for us. We managed those herds; we cleared out the land for pasture. We would burn it, to clear the landscape to ensure the survival of the buffalo nations. That is a very material relationship. There is reverence in our stories and our songs [for the buffalo], but I think those cultural protocols were created to prevent us from over-exploitation and from throwing out of balance that relationship.
The same could be said with water. We didn’t use water for hydroelectricity. We had our own technologies, but it wasn’t the same in the sense of thinking of nature as a dead object that could be commodified. I don’t want to romanticize us as Indigenous people, but we did have a certain kind of relationship that wasn’t perfect but was an attempt to seek correct relations with the non-human world. I don’t think it’s the solution, but it’s a kernel of a larger solution to the current catastrophe that we’re facing with climate change. Indigenous people have a lot to say and an important role to play in how we address these issues.”Interview by Dissent Magazine on July 19, 2019
We must listen. We must build relationships in a healthy, healing, equitable, and sustaining way. We must unlearn, acknowledge, admit, and gladly engage in reparations for the harm of generations of genocide, theft, enslavement.
P.S. If you think you are one of the “good ones” and already an ally, think again. There is no such thing as “one of the good ones.” All of us must unlearn. All of us must dwell with uncomfortable truths, and all of us must rebuild new ways of understanding, liberating, and communing with each other. It is not enough to work with and have friends of a marginalized identity; one must continue the journey of unlearning, being an accomplice, finding new ways of building healthy relationships and communities of care with one another. To imagine and attempt to live out the liberated future we wish to see in each other.
All of our lives depend on it.
Share thoughts on this essay in the comments!
Thanks for reading.
We Are All on Native Land: A Conversation about Land Acknowledgement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZQldd3L0qw
Interview with Nick Estes: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/booked-indigenous-resistance-is-post-apocalyptic-with-nick-estes
Perspectives on Indigenous Issues: Essays on Science, Spirituality, Partnerships, and the Power of Words by Ilarion (Larry) Merculieff, Libby Roderick, Sharon (Shay) Sloan, Sumner Macleish, and Galina Vladi: https://www.amazon.com/Perspectives-Indigenous-Issues-Science-Spirituality/dp/069216930X
Care Work: Dreaming of Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha: https://www.akpress.org/carework.html