I’m still vacillating between outraged anger and paralysis these days. If I stay remain awake and pay any attention at all to our world then it is so easy to feel incredulous about what’s happened with the presidency in our country. Traumatized about what we’re doing to Mother Earth. And heartbroken that we can’t seem to treat all people with dignity and stop killing each other.
I embrace the former emotion in order to get over the latter. One of the gifts of anger is to mobilize energy and lend clarity about what must be protected.
If you could boil down most everything that has gripped my peace of mind for the past few months or years – okay, decades, if I’m honest – to one word or concept it would be COLONIZATION. (More on this here and here.)
I know, I know. It’s old news, right? Most every continent on this planet has been stolen from someone else. Does the fact that it’s old news keep us immune? It does not. It’s still ruling our lives.
All of our lives.
The loss of the natural human rights of many in favor of social and economic power for a few has run amok in our world. After many generations it has jumped the metaphorical line from being done for the benefit of individuals and oligarchies to benefitting entire corrupt social systems and global conglomerates. More than a simple abuse of power, true colonization has infected our governments, our schools, our healthcare, our legal system, our voting system – it is a plague on most every aspect of our lives now.
If we fall asleep and let them, corrupt social mega-institutions will strip us of the personal power to live our lives, take care of our bodies, live where we want to, even educate our children according to our own beliefs and wishes.
I hope that as human beings, we are better than this.
The act of exploitation or of appropriating what we want from another can be metaphorical or actual, personal or racial. And of course there are degrees. At it’s worst whole cultures are annihilated, like they were on the plains of North America in our infancy as a country. This is a heinous part of our history that most people simply aren’t mindful of in white America, nor are we really teaching the truth of it to our children.
While at Standing Rock I realized very quickly that the movement was about far more than a pipeline and protecting the earth. It was impossible to sit in prayer to protect the water and Pachamama (Mother Earth) without empathically experiencing the trauma of my Native hosts at Oceti Sakowin camp.
An American veteran said it succinctly in a forgiveness ceremony the first week I was there:
We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain…we took still more land and then we took your children…and then we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you…We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways…
We all know that this is the history in our country, right? How many Americans realize that today the atmosphere in these areas is in many ways unchanged. Animosity, an “us versus them” feeling is still in the air.
A vague yet compassionate understanding since childhood of the atrocities of Manifest Destiny simply did not prepare me to stand arm in arm with people who still live its effects every day. The effects of intergenerational trauma are a way of life for some families still dealing with alcoholism and drug abuse, poverty, and loss of identity. The outlawing of their spiritual practices wasn’t repealed until the 1970’s. Their sacred Black Hills are now a white man’s tourist destination. A few hours to the west is another reservation, and the poorest county in the United States. Drive a mile off some of these reservations and you’ll find “No Indians” signs taped to convenience store doors.
This trauma, although supposedly ancient history (it is not) is palpable on the Standing Rock reservation. These are the descendants of Sitting Bull. So their prayerful resistance to the wanton endangerment of natural resources, destruction of burial grounds, and continually broken treaties warrant paramilitary response, not negotiation or diplomacy, right? Not when the mighty dollar and the governor’s fat cat political donors are at stake.
It was a shock to my system to realize this and see it for myself up close.
I watched in horror on February 23, two days after returning home from my second trip to support the camps, as one of the last violent encounters with law enforcement unfolded on Facebook Live. Violence at the hands of militarized police wasn’t new. Yet this last horrific act happened on a road I had stood on 48 hours before. And it was a personal attack on one targeted human being who was doing nothing wrong.
The day before the camps at Standing Rock were forced to close, Comanche activist Eric Poemoceah from Oklahoma was chased down, tackled, punched and kicked. His pelvis was broken because he dared to stand in front of a line of militarized police in riot gear and ask them to think about their children, to have a heart and to put down their badges.
“I know you have to do your job but do you have to do it for oil?” he asked. “Won’t you put down your badge and stand with us?”
One of the officers suddenly snapped and several of them gave chase. Fifteen officers chased down one unarmed civilian who dared to try compassionate verbal exchange rather than simply giving up.
Their answer heard on live video as he writhed on the ground screaming?
“You’ve been disrespecting this whole area. You’ve been disrespecting our state and us, for six months. Knock it off.”
They then began taking selfies with him as he lay bound and moaning helplessly.
How many mainstream newscasts reported on this heinous act of aggression? Not one. ABC News, the only media outlet allowed through blockades that day in order for the governor to show off his “clearing” of the camps showed a short clip highlighting the number arrested.
And in true colonized healthcare fashion when he was finally allowed medical treatment hours and hours later he was told his hip, which he suspected was broken was “probably just bruised” by a doctor with ties to the sheriff’s department.
It took three trips and another medical center to get a real diagnosis for the intense pain that prevented him from walking. A broken pelvis required weeks in a wheelchair.
It’s. Not. Over.
So get ready. You’re going to be hearing a lot more in the coming years around the words colonization and decolonizing. Not from me. It’s everywhere. It’s in the air.
It’s an evil whose time is up.
Read up on it. Resist it. Throw it out of your life one small step at a time.
Photo, main :: From Wright & Evans, Historical and Descriptive Account of the Caricatures of James Gillray.
Photo, center :: Rob Wilson Photography