"If you leave here and you decide to do nothing, you are complicit in the actions of those who came before you, who helped you get to this place; your ancestors whoever they may be."
- Gregg Deal
husband, father, artist, and member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe
Tribal attorney and Couchiching First Nation citizen Tara Houska (@zhaabowekwe) talks about The Standing Rock resistance and how education is vital to fighting against injustice. She explains that centuries of oppression have led to the circumstances Indigenous Peoples are still battling today. Education is a critical part of getting justice because everyone needs to know what is at risk when Indigenous Peoples' Sovereignty is not respected. There are hundreds of unique First Nations and Indigenous Peoples across the globe, and all of these Sovereign Peoples have ancestral lands that must be returned. Until ancestral lands are returned to their respective First Nations and Indigenous Peoples, environmental injustice, social injustice, and genocide will continue. Around the world, ecological injustice negatively impacts Indigenous and First Nations Peoples first and worse than any other group of people.
Learn more about Indigenous Climate Action and get involved. If you have representatives, ask them if they are respecting their treaties with First Nations and Indigenous Peoples. Learn about climate change and educate the people around you. Keep educating yourself and stay involved.
Gregg Deal (@greggdeal), a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute, is an artist and activist who resists and protests the ways people attempt to paint Indigenous Peoples into boxes that rely on historical falsehoods and racist stereotypes. His contemporary art and performance art comments on history, Indigenous Identity, decolonization, and racism.
Deal's speech may be shocking, but it's incredibly important to know the truth about history, about the present, and your positionality in relation to the people around you.
Deal said, "You're all responsible for that information. Stories are to be carried; stories are to be held; stories are to be revered, what are you going to do with that information?"
He asks, "Are you making spaces for Indigenous People in your home and in your workplace? Are you creating inclusion in those places? Are you realizing that as you walk these lands that there are people who walk these lands before you? These are sacred and important things and that Indigenous People are still here and that we matter, and we will always matter because this is the land of our inheritance. This is the land that the Creator gave us. So what are you going to do with that information?"
to the person with money stuffed in their ears,
To the person who seeks oil,
To the person who does not learn,
What is it about your eyes that makes it impossible for you to see me?
What is it about your ears that makes it impossible for you to hear me?
Do you think that your ears matter more than the sound of our hearts?
Do you think that your mind is the only fertile ground in the world?
Do you not see how our tears and our blood and our sweat and the work of our backs is straining against the walls you built to keep us in our small boxes, in our pine boxes, in our coffins? You want us to die, don't you? That is the goal. That has always been the goal. That is why you claw your way into our sacred spaces and demand more and demand more and demand more. Stop asking for our stories if you won't listen. I'm tired of tossing and turning in the groaning belly of a beast called memory so you can tell me that my story makes you feel grateful for the life you've built on top of my peoples' bones. I'm tired of seeing my story reflected in your soulless eyes. All you see is money.
While reading Shapes of Native Non-fiction, I encountered the writing of Toni Jensen, Alicia Elliot, Adrienne Keene, and Sasha LaPointe. In "A Mind Spread Out on the Ground," Alicia Elliot writes, "Things that were stolen once can be stolen back." Often, non-Indigenous people discuss decolonization as a metaphor: a euphemism for policy change. Policy change and charity do not do enough to restore the things that were stolen by men and women who came to take and take and take. The land that was stolen must be returned.
In "Women in the Fracklands: On Water, Land, Bodies, and Standing Rock," Toni Jensen writes, "Indigenous women are almost three times more likely than other women to be harassed, to be raped, to be sexually assaulted, to be called a that there." Colonization doesn't stop with the theft of land; it extracts everything it can get its claws into. Colonization treats people like resources to be taken, used, and thrown away. As a survivor, these stories help me understand that what has happened to me is not so much a series of personal tragedies but a series of instances of systemic violence that affect many people. Seeing that there is work being done to uncover how sexual violence is one of the many forms of settler-colonial violence gives me hope that something can be done to stop it. As long as First Nations and Indigenous Peoples' lands are occupied, there will be sexual violence against Indigenous Women by non-Indigenous people because settler-colonialism uses sexual violence to disrupt, injure, and oppress communities.
Read the following essays in Shapes of Native Non-Fiction edited by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton
Adrienne Keene "To The Man Who Gave Me Cancer"
Alicia Elliot, "A Mind Spread Out On The Ground"
Toni Jensen "Women in the Fracklands: On Water, Land, Bodies, and Standing Rock"
Sasha LaPointe "Blood Running"
Writing about things stolen is never easy, and I am grateful to Toni Jensen, Alicia Elliot, Adrienne Keene, and Sasha LaPointe for the labor that went into crafting the essays in Shapes of Native Nonfiction. The traumas I have experienced, and that my ancestors experienced, are very different from those of Indigenous Peoples' and I do not want to conflate those different experiences; but, I do want to stand in solidarity with other survivors and say, "yes, this is how colonization continues to rob us, and this is how patriarchy functions."
I share my thoughts, impressions, and ideas as an act of solidarity -- I have heard the call, I am beginning to understand the pain, and I am hoping that the more we talk about these issues, the more light will come to bear on the violence happening every day.
For more information about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women read Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls