I first heard of the horrific attacks on First Nations people by the Canadian government from Clyde Hall, a Shoshone elder. I had seen a few things on Facebook but I did not understand the potential to strip Canadian First Nations people of their sovereignty until Clyde laid it out in plain English. As he explained in detail the implications of the law that was on its way to passing in Canada, the danger of this legislation began to sink into my body. If this legislation passes, the Canadian government will cease to recognize First Nations treaty rights. The potential of which is that Canadian First Nations could lose the rights to their land, among other things. Furthermore, ceasing to recognize the treaty rights of the First Nations is a move towards an erasure of indigenous identity and an another attempt at genocide. If this legislation passes in Canada, it's just a matter of time before this kind of legislation comes to the United States.
Native people across North America have been organizing a peaceful movement of resistance called “Idle No More”. A lot of my friends have been asking me, what is this movement about? Idle No More was founded by First Nations women and has gained significant momentum through the leadership of Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskit First Nation, who has been on a hunger strike since December 11, 2012. Her demand is that the Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov David Johnston meet with First Nations leaders to discuss treaty rights. The resistance is spreading like wildfire and I recently had the honor of joining with hundreds of First Nations people and their allies in Oakland for a Round Dance in solidarity with Chief Spence and Idle No More.
As a descendent of colonizers of this land, I have often struggled with the knowledge that my ancestors played a role in the genocidal attacks on first nations people of this land. As a descendent of settlers and a person with white skin privilege, what is my place in First Nations struggles for liberation? As a non-Native Pagan who feels deeply connected with the land, how do I honor that connection? How do I honor the spirits of the land who howl along the wind, crying out for healing? How can we as non-native people who love this earth be supportive of the movement in a way that does not reproduce systems of inequality and the generations of colonization that runs through our blood?
I struggle regularly with these questions. I do not propose to have the answers. But, in this time of great change as waves of resistance spread across the land, I would like to share with you some things that I have have learned through the resistance that I have have been honored to be a part of over the years.
- We must learn to follow the leadership of first nations people. This is a movement led by First Nations people. Those who are most directly impacted by decisions made by people in power must be leading this movement. Part of how colonization and white supremacy works is by instilling in white people the belief that their opinions and voices are more important than others. Too often, I have seen white people get involved with justice struggles led by people of color and quickly begin speaking loudly and often in meetings and decision making processes. Part of being an ally is learning how to be a follower. This is not our movement to lead, this is a movement in which we are to follow. This is not to say that our voices are not important or that we should be silent. Just check yourself as you get involved and keep checking yourself. We must be humble, connect with the earth, and listen to our brothers and sisters.
- We must not seek to imitate or colonize indigenous spiritual traditions. This is hard. As pagans, most of us come from blood lineages that are no longer connected with the earth based spiritual traditions of our ancestors. Because of this, the “culture vulture” can emerge and give birth to “Native American Shamanic” trainings led by non-native people disconnected from any tribe, elder, or actual lineage. We must enter into support of this movement with consciousness that we are guests in ceremony. Just because you have danced a round dance in the streets with first nations elders does not give you the right to bring a round dance back to your coven or community. Our Pagan traditions have roots, reasons, and a context. If someone came to a spiral dance ritual organized by your community, and then returned to their Christian congregation to do a spiral dance and then did it backwards while singing “Onward Christian Soldier”, you would likely be pretty upset. Respect the traditions and respect that you are a guest.
- Respect the people, respect their ways. Don't assume that just because you are in ceremony that you are in a similar context to your Pagan context. Native traditions vary widely from tribe to tribe. Many of the Idle No More actions are being held in a ceremonial context. Often in a ceremonial context there is protocol and different people have different roles. Look around and notice how people are interacting with one another. Are people holding hands and hugging or are they more generally less physically interactive? Are people making eye contact with one another? How are people interacting with elders? Try to respect the culture and follow along with the way people are interacting.
- Don't make assumptions about someone's spiritual orientation. Don't assume that a ceremony seeming to contain Pagan elements means that the people you are working with are Pagan. Many First Nations people identify as Christian or with other religious traditions. There is a long history of Native American people taking Christianity and transforming it into a tradition that is relevant in their cultural context. This has been a fundamental element of resistance for many First Nations people. So no Christian bashing. That's a good agreement to hold in any multi-cultural or interfaith context. Just because Christianity has been an oppressive force in your life as a Pagan does not mean that it can not be a force of liberation for others. Respect the way others have found divinity. We all hold a piece of the truth.
- We must be compassionate and humble. Solidarity is not easy. Racism and colonization thrives on the pride of those in positions of power. We are going to stumble. We are going to make mistakes. We have been raised in a racist world and even with the best intentions we are inevitably going to act in ways that reflect the racist context in which we were raised. Unlearning generations of colonization can not happen overnight! We must be compassionate with ourselves and with each other. Don't hesitate to name racist behavior when you see it and please be compassionate when you speak about it. Focus on the action that the person did, not the character of the person.
- Consider committing to this movement for the long haul. The healing of this land is deeply connected with the liberation of the descendents of the ancestors of this land. As Pagans, if we are to be in a good way with the land, we must be in a good way with the ancestors and the spirits of the land. Colonization is the voice that tells us that one life is worth more than another. Colonization is the weapon that drove our ancestors away from right relationship with the earth and each other. Coming into right relationship with each other is critical for the healing of the earth. And one of the best ways we can return to right relationship is through the long slow work of relationship building.So much is at stake in this moment. This latest land grab at Native land is connected with attempts to develop the Tar Sands Keystone XL Pipeline. If you care about the earth, if you care about stopping the tar sands, if you care about leaving earth that our children and our children’s children can live in, please get involved with Idle No More and support the leadership of First Nations people in this movement to protect our sacred mother earth.
Please Note: I wrote a slightly different version of this piece that speaks to a larger audience of Non-Pagan people. This version has been published on several blogs. Please click on the links below to read the other versions.
Tikkun: To mend, repair and Transform the World