Friday, July 24

land acknowledgements are not enough

when I wrote this post about how differently temporary some things are, I wasn't thinking about colonial ruin and the violent displacement of Native peoples.

my relative ignorance about that violent displacement is something to blame on my undeniably privileged upbringing.

when I wrote that 2013 post, I was moreso thinking about the fact that because humans and our vehicles move around at such a (one might say violent) pace, birds and squirrels must get out of our way or risk getting squashed.

this makes a pretty awkward, and in some ways even terrible, metaphor, I know. it's at least something to start thinking with, and hopefully move beyond.

I wrote in that post that "places themselves... they seem to always be there. to always have been there. but even here wasn't quite how it is now, once upon a time. this town and all the other collections of civilized life had to start somewhere. the static only seems static as a backdrop for all the movement and life and craziness. relatively."

this way of phrasing the seemingly "always there" nature of my world-- this way of looking at things-- it erases so much. not intentionally, of course, but it does-- similarly to how the movements of humans and all their stuff so easily overlooks, disregards, and damages the natural world, erasing what it is and might have been-- selfishly reshaping it all into roads and buildings and infrastructure.

there is that troubling metaphor again though, where it's 'humans' who erase and reshape, actively, and always nature' that is erased or reshaped, passively.

that's too simple, too vague, and if I follow that metaphor through, it's offensive in equating Native people with silent, inert, passive nature. so let me say it better. for one thing, Native people aren't gone. despite countless instances of rhetorical erasure and systematic disenfranchisement, they're still here living and working and making. these people have not been completely erased in reality, but we so often erase them from how we think about our country, its land, its history, its future. and that kind of thinking should stop.

for another thing, 'nature' (whatever we really mean by such a monolithic term) isn't truly so inert or passive--not even the rocks or dirt underneath all our feet and roads and infrastructure--and we shouldn't reduce the powerful grandeur of nature to a mere backdrop on top of which we can do whatever we want without consequences. the non-human all around pushes back in unexpected ways. we're all connected.

it would be nice if we all recognized the connections and acted accordingly. unfortunately it's way too easy, especially when wrapped up in a bubble of comfortable privilege, to erase the connections that feel too inconvenient to think about. too easy to assume that we've earned all the comfort we have, and that others deserve whatever discomfort they are facing. but the truth is that we haven't, not totally, and even if we can say we have, would that make it okay for our comfort to come at the expense of so many others? I hope not.

I was prompted via this Michigan League for Public Policy challenge to revisit this map that shows roughly the boundaries of various Native tribes' lands. they have a note on the site about publicly acknowledging whose traditional territories you stand on, as I have heard conference speakers do at the beginnings of their talks many times. I want to read more about this and think about how to follow suit in a meaningful way.

where we live now, in the middle of Arizona, happens to be right next door to a bunch of land that belongs--traditionally and officially--to the Yavapai tribe. fourteen hundred acres or so, reserved for the Yavapai tribe by the US government in multiple stages starting in 1935.

on some of that land, there are department stores and pet stores and a movie theatre and a sushi place, I recently learned. there is also the stereotypical casino resort, high on a hill overlooking this majestic desert valley.

and the name Yavapai is everywhere. the county is named for this tribe, and by extension the local community college and various streets and districts and businesses and services, too. but do all the things named Yavapai really count as acknowledgement of the people whose land this was and is? do those street signs and advertisements with the word Yavapai on them help prevent anyone from erasing actual Yavapai people from how we see the land, its history, or its future?

{image of the Yavapai tribal flag, borrowed from Wikimedia }

I'm definitely not going to solve all the problems and injustices caused by centuries of colonial horribleness in this blogpost. mainly I wanted to write this to reflect on past ignorance and to make a record (for future me and for whoever happens to read my musings here) of how I'm trying to process my own role within a system of colonial, racist horribleness.

there is plenty I still don't understand and possibly never will. for some of my ignorance, I have no excuse. for smaller fractions of my ignorance, there are plenty of flimsy excuses. so much of this precedes me, and I didn't choose to be born and raised in this system of privileging people who look like me at the expense of people who don't. most of the stories I was told as a child had white explorers, mountain men, and pioneers as the heroes. Native people were most of the time mythical villains, if they featured in those stories at all.

none of this excuses me from learning about this now and figuring out what to do about it now. there has already been so much violence done over this land. physical and rhetorical damage. intentional and unintentional damage. I can't necessarily undo it, but I can start learning enough to undo my own ignorance and stop myself from participating in any more of it.

the very least I can do is work on telling different stories. stories that don't erase (or worse, vilify) these fellow humans. I'm not totally sure yet what that looks like, but I think it starts with seeking out those kinds of stories. rich, complex, beautiful, human stories. local stories, hopefully. and seeking out stories is easy enough these days; two seconds of googling has given me half a dozen lists of "awesome/great/best indigenous podcasts" to listen to:

so that's what I'm going to try to do next. more listening, less separating myself from the stories and perspectives of my fellow humans. it might not feel like much and it might not make any kind of huge obvious difference. but those are flimsy excuses for not trying to do something, anyway.

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