“I have much to learn from the survivors. Those who were forcibly converted to patriarchal gods. Those who were burned at the stake. Those who were given blankets with smallpox. Those who were stolen from their homes and families and chained in the bellies of ships. Those who were pushed out of their lands and herded into camps. Those who were marched and dragged down trails of tears. Those who were stripped down, re-educated, and assimilated. Those who became beasts of burden. Those who were pitted against one another. Those who were put on trains, and again, herded into camps. Those who were gassed and burned. Those who were lynched. Those who were bombed. Those who were raped. Those who were beaten. Those who have been virtually destroyed yet continue to endure. Those who have been whipped, yet amazingly continue to thrive. Those who attempt to regain their ancestral knowledge. Those who raise healthy children. Those who burn down the suburbs. Those who reconnect with the earth. Those who remember. Those who survive. And, I have much to learn from myself. I have much to remember.
We were all indigenous to somewhere, someone, and somehow…and can become so again. The old ways are gone, but I am still going home, not necessarily where I started, but maybe somewhere I began.” ~ Unsettling America – Decolonization in Theory & Practice
Who am I? Where do I belong? What stays when I have shredded all the programming that comes from culture, parenting, schooling and centuries of conscious and unconscious colonization?
Do I or anyone else have a role, a purpose? What is true? Is there even a “Truth”?
If we are not “indigenous” of this land we inhabit, then what are we? Do we have to feel shame for our ancestors, for having moved from another place? Do we need to accept the blame for those who came before us and displaced, abused and destroyed other cultures?
Whose land is this we walk and do we (or anyone else) have the right to call it ours?
I once asked: how many decades does a plant, animal or bug needs to live in an ecosystem to be called “native”? When does it transition from “invasive” to “native”?
I wasn’t being difficult: as someone who was once a refugee and now a visible immigrant, I feel the same: I can’t go to my “original” and “native” place. It has changed so much, that I don’t recognize it, I have no friends left. And even there, I am a somewhat recent visitor: my ancestors ran away from poverty and hunger in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. But their presence in Latin America was possible because of the displacement, forced labour and destruction of thousands of indigenous peoples…however, I always identified myself with the gauchos: free and unruled mestizo and nomad men and women who lived in very independent ways in “nobody’s land” in Argentina.
Now, I work with peoples who come to Canada from faraway places. Thousands of them are fleeing war, failed globalization and capitalism promises, crowded and contaminated spaces that were once paradises, poverty and lack of opportunities, discrimination and sometimes, they are running away from certain death because of what they value or how they feel about themselves.
Dr Jeannette Armstrong, from Syilx Okanagan peoples wisely says, “Everything that has gone before this moment is as it is.” (Watch her humble but deeply inspiring TEDx presentation here).
I agree, the past is now gone, and this is valid both the social/cultural as well as at the individual/personal level. The things we needed to happen or be said and didn’t along with the things said and done to us that hurt and disconnected us, already happened. They are now gone. And the people who perpetuated those things (or missed to do what we needed or expected) were probably following the same programming (colonization of their minds) we are currently following: a programming sustained and rooted on deep disconnection from place and time, from what we call nature, from the “village” and the family, from the Spirit and for all that, from our own Selves.
Dr Gabor Mate, whose workshop I attended last week, said: “all is in our minds and our minds create the world. But before that happens, the world creates and shapes our minds”. It is not a woo-woo paradox, it is deeply profound: the world in which we were born, the world we didn’t create or understand or shape, first creates and shapes our minds. This process starts before we are born: from the stories and beliefs our families lived and shared. By age five we are already programmed and colonized: we have been observing our parents and elders and from all corners of the culture we are born in. We have interacted enough to develop defense and response mechanisms that will stay with us for the rest of our lives, if not revisited and examined. We have internalized the hierarchies and dynamics of who is who in this world and they will become values and beliefs, if not examined.
These ghosts from the past will continue with us and will shape the world around us: that is why we may react so differently to exactly the same event. Our reactions will come not from what we are experiencing now, but from our past.
Peoples have always moved: we moved out of Africa and spread through the world. We continued moving looking for food or new places to call home. And we “conquered” the entire world…at the expense of other beings, ecosystems and human groups.
Dr Jeannette Armstrong says that we are all indigenous from somewhere. There was a time and a place when each and all of us knew the land, the plants and the animals and we also knew we were home there. We had our own practices and myths, all of us.
But even beyond that time and place, we already belonged: because what we are today is rooted and deeply interdependent of all the other elements and beings. We wouldn’t exist without them and their ancestors.
Indigenization, says Dr Armstrong, is knowing the place and living in a harmonic way in it. Living without abusing and hurting, understanding the sacredness of it all, understanding our interdependence as part of this land and not its “owners” or even “stewards”.
Shame and blame don’t work, violence doesn’t work. We don’t need to “fight” anything, same as we don’t need to fight against our parents or teachers or the entire community who programmed us as we are or abused and neglected us, causing lasting trauma.
Feeling guilty or singled out because you are white or male or come from middle class won’t help the cause either. You couldn’t have chosen or earned those privileges. You may not even feel them as privileges at all!
Making the unconscious, conscious, bringing light to the shadows, both as individuals and as society is the only way forward.
Someone shared in a social media group that she/he was happy for all the anger that she/he finally saw in the world: that people were finally waking up and reacting…
The reaction was well funded: there are too many “feel good” groups and movements out there that perpetuate the disconnection, the privileges and the oppression. They focus on either the individual “salvation” (through New Age stuff that may include practices such as yoga, veganism and the like) or incorporate practices that due to their nature (expensive retreats and trainings, requirements of full participation, etc.) are disempowering and oppressive to those who are unable to afford the time or money they cost. Most of these “movements” are not surprisingly full of white, middle class people who like to navel-gaze a lot but rarely act in impactful ways.
But I’m not “happy”. I’ve seen (and lived) too many things in history from different places to know that anger and blaming only gets us to “us & them” and more of the same. These attitudes don’t look at the root of all evil in the world, they only cover them and perpetuate them with different actors.
Revolutions only turn the cake around. But it is the same cake. Us and them, victims and villains, the same psychological game of staying in the past and reacting from the past.
Are we ever going to learn?
Maybe, re-indigenization may be the answer. After all, we were all indigenous at some point.
We need to try, because the old ghosts haven’t work and will never work.