My e-mail has been full of dire messages from politicians and others, all warning of imminent disaster should something fail to happen. Usually the something is my giving them money. My Twitter account is filled with real life urgent situations facing Indigenous people, and others, around the world. Sadly, the latter concerns are not even on the radar of the former. It’s a conundrum.
We are in the midst of a great extinction. Animals, plants, languages, cultures, and peoples are disappearing from the Planet. Indigenous people are especially vulnerable as they face displacement from homelands, environmental collapse, forced assimilation, and genocide. Indigenous people tend to live in the last areas no one else wanted, places now known to be rich in increasingly rare resources. Yesterday’s gold rush is today’s oil boom. It’s heartbreaking. Again.
I’ve been reading Kim Anderson’s Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. In the first few chapters she speaks eloquently to the challenges of being of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry, and the difficulty of knowing with certainty one’s origins in a world where tribes and peoples have, for hundreds of years, been under duress, where hiding and passing are methods of survival, and where assimilation is, after genocide, the weapon of choice.
I have one bumper sticker on my car. The sticker reads, “We’re Still Here,” and refers to Polio survivance. I like the sticker for its larger references to survival against the odds, and for its pointing to the harsh underbelly of so much materialist culture. Back in the 90’s Bill Moyers interviewed Bill T. Jones about Jone’s dance piece Still Here. That interview, a discussion of illness, death, racism, suffering, and the transcendental function of the arts, remains one of tv’s finest hours. If you missed it, I encourage you to take a look. (A word of warning: I showed it to an undergraduate Expressive Therapies class a few weeks ago. Some students found it very disturbing, while others described it as profoundly moving.) By the way, Bill T is still here!
One of the persistent challenges of blogging is finding balance between hope and despair. (Despair is an ever-present option, fed in our culture by a flood of disparaging projections and remarks.) How are we to speak of the unspeakable while holding open the possibility of change? Can we share stories of renewal even as we acknowledge the tidal wave of destruction? How do we hold moments of brilliance, generosity, and healing close, nurturing their embers, even in present deluge of destruction?
An aside: Today is recycling day. Refugees and others of limited means walk by, looking in the recycling for returnable bottles, making a meager living five or ten cents a bottle. Folks on the street often put out returnables, rather than taking them at the grocery. This is a simple act of generosity and resistance, a meager transfer of wealth, accomplished without fanfare and with as little shaming as possible. It is an acknowledgement that those who glean, although invisible to many, are still here.
Every now and again someone asks me about resistance, pointing out that many religions preach radical acceptance as opposed to resistance. Somehow they forget that even the Tibetan people resist the crushing dominance of the invader. I am reminded that Milton Erikson, a remarkable family therapist, many times noted that resistance in psychotherapy is a natural response to condescension and other boundary violations!
We Indigenous people, around the world, hold close our cultures, teaching the next generation our values, worldviews, and identities, and integrating what we find of value in the knowledges and practices of other peoples. This stance supports lively, creative, evolving cultures, actively resisting the assimilist strategies of dominant ideologies, especially their insistence we are only legitimate if we remain frozen in time, unchanging. In doing so, like our friend, Bridget, who generously distributes milkweed and Hopi tobacco seeds to all who ask, we nurture hope for the future. (Bridget’s life is ceremony!)
Jennie and I are grateful our lives are shared with many others who are “still here”: the survivors of abuse, marginalization, neglect, poverty, disability, or genocide. These folks are not broken. Rather, they are resourceful, aware, and awake to the pain of the world. They are committed to healing, community, creativity, and resistance to all that dehumanizes and degrades the world. They know that life is ceremony, a gift to be held softly, with gratitude, and shared with those who will nurture and embrace difference. Against the odds, they are still here.