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.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.