Not Just for Native People

Today about 160-200 people gathered in Augusta Maine, in solidarity with the Native Nations Rise with Standing Rock march in Washington.  Organizer Sherri Mitchell commented how important it was that non-Native peoples were showing up–both because for too many years Native people have been struggling without support from the white community, but also because these issues really affect all of us.  Issues like water to drink, on which depends everything else about our lives, or the problem of toxins in the land, like uranium mining and oil pipelines, which so often have first been situated on land where Indigenous people were living, but then spread everywhere.

People Gathering in Augusta.jpg

[People beginning to gather at the Augusta rally]

I think about how my activism on these issues is often perceived by (white) others as something I am doing “for” Indigenous peoples, or a “special interest.” Perhaps I am misperceiving it, but I get the impression that some see it as too “narrow.”  But Sherri gave voice to what feels true to me–that Indigenous issues are tied in to so many other issues that we are facing in this time, issues that will determine the future of our planet.

I tried to articulate this in my book, Finding Our Way Home.  So many of the issues we are facing are the result of disconnection from the land, from other people, from the spirit within and between all beings.  So many of the issues we face are a result of the original colonization and theft of this land from Indigenous nations.  There is such a pervasive overlay of denial around the true origins of our nation, that it is easy for me to feel tongue-tied just trying to speak or write about it.

After leaving the rally in Augusta, I went to see the movie “I Am Not Your Negro” (directed by Raoul Peck).  What a wake-up call from James Baldwin to white America–again, confronting the pervasive overlay of denial about racism in America.  Can’t we see that racism makes white people monsters!  Our country will rise or fall depending on healing the wounds of colonization and racism, and we can’t heal what we aren’t willing to acknowledge.  Or as James Baldwin said it so eloquently, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

I grew up in a bubble of “innocence.”  I remember when white people applauded the innocence of children who knew nothing about racism.  But “innocence” is not what we need to heal–we need to wake up, we need full vision, we need to face it.

Some of my colleagues in ministry speak of their congregations growing weary of our preaching about racism, such a downer.   I don’t know if my congregation has grown weary of my words about racism, or my work supporting Indigenous rights.  But here is what I want to say.  It doesn’t feel like a “downer” once it is acknowledged.  Yes, it can bring up tears and rage and regret.  But there is also a sense of relief that comes from experiencing what is really true.  There is a sense of solidarity.  Because it gets to the heart of what is wrong in white America, it gets to the root of what is wrong in all of America.

As I said, I don’t feel very articulate today, but I feel inspired by the rally, inspired by the movie, encouraged in the fog of the everyday illusions that comprise so much of our country, to #staywoke.



3 thoughts on “Not Just for Native People

  1. Thank you for this writing!

    We can find ways of turning around the “downer” syndrome all over the place. What the mainstream sees as just protest, often emanates from really tremendous and uplifting work in communities. Like the vegetable gardens in inner cities, the sacred way of being in the camps at Standing Rock – and the photo on the cover of the latest Bollard showing who is making up a local cooperative (!).

    And, I see the colonization, and the philosophy of being that permitted it, as THE key issue globally. Until we bring that dark and bloody history into awareness, and work our way through the human struggle of understanding how that awareness changes everything, we as beings will not find our way to peace and healing in our world.

    It is joyful work to have.

  2. Thanks for showing up, Myke. In the words of Old Testament scholar Ellen Davis:
    “I began to recognize that there was a huge gap between the kind of exquisite attention that the biblical writers are giving to the fragile land on which they live and the kind of obliviousness that characterizes our culture…in respect to our use of land. California and Israel are very comparable landscapes. They’re both fragile, both semi-arid.”

    This is from Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise. Then Krista asks, “So how do you step back from the Genesis language of subduing and especially “dominion” — what do you see that is not clear in the way we have translated and used this (KJV) text?” And Ellen replies:

    “The Hebrew word is a strong word, and I render it “exercise skilled mastery amongst the creatures.” The notion of skilled mastery suggests something like a craft, an art of being human, without taking away the fact that humans do, from the perspective of almost all the biblical writers — not every single one but almost all — humans occupy a very special place of power and privilege and responsibility in the world. But the condition for our exercise of skilled mastery is set by the prior blessing, in previous verses, of the creatures of sea and sky. They too are to be fruitful and multiply. So whatever it means for us to exercise skilled mastery, it cannot undo that prior blessing. I think that’s pretty convicting for us in the sixth great age of species extinction.”

    …later Krista says to Ellen, “Over the years as you’ve delved into this, you’ve worked and written together with Wendell Berry. You’ve written about the poetry of loss and care as “the poetry of creatures.” And Ellen replies:

    “A starting pooint for me in thinking about ourselves as creatures is the observation of Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, that ‘now the art of being creatures is almost a lost art.’ That notion that we need to learn, we need to be skilled, we need to be wise, in order to be the creatures. That, in face, we are creatures. We think of creatures as any who’s not human.” (pp 37-39)

    Colleen here: I love that you’re doing this and think Sherri is right in surmising that the survival of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island is intended for this moment. It’s for all of us to regain the art of being creatures. I’m grateful to you for listening and sharing. All love, CM

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