Frisian Liberation

Bûter, brea en griene tsiis; wa’t dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries. (Butter, rye bread, and green cheese; whoever is not able to say that correctly is not a sincere Frisian.) This saying was used at the borders to protect Frisians and their land.

In July 2016, Marcie Rendon, the International Liberation Reference Person for Native Americans, came to Fryslân to lead a workshop on Frisian liberation. Ten of us worked on our history, language, oppression and internalized oppression, survival, assimilation, and more.


I recently visited a museum where I found information about the history of my people. To my surprise, a display showed a tent, hunters, and tools from fourteen thousand years ago. It looked similar to what I had seen in photos of Native Americans. According to the written information, before my people settled, they were hunting and traveling throughout the northwest of Europe.

Frisians did not write down their history. The existing information was written by the oppressors and therefore “justifies” their dominance. It says that Frisians were savages who were better off adopting the oppressors’ religion, language, and culture—as if the oppressors were more civilized and human. As we now know, oppressors are always confused from having themselves been harshly oppressed and disconnected from their Native roots.

Fryslân (originally called Frisia) once included all of Denmark, parts of Germany, all of Belgium, and the north of France. The entire Netherlands used to be Fryslân. At present Frisian people live only in a small area in the north of the Netherlands and in northern Germany (Ost-Friesland). Because of pressure to assimilate, those of us who stayed on Frisian land struggle to hold on to our identity.

Frisians are divided from each other in many ways. We are set up to disagree with each other about our history. We often hold back from sharing what we think, as harsh criticism almost always comes our way if we do share it. Discussions about “the correct version” make us feel like our own enemies. (It feels like a huge risk to share these thoughts in this article.) Internalized oppression has an impact on our RC Community. The early discouragement connected to Frisian oppression can block our minds and make it seem like assimilation is our only option.

One of us commented, “Frisians are white and therefore oppressors. Some Frisians worked on slave boats and contributed to slavery. Isn’t it important to take responsibility here?” Marcie reminded us that Natives do get confused, that some did collaborate with the oppressor, and that our (early and recent) history was written in favor of the oppressor. The colonizers spread information that sounded logical and fair but actually was meant to divide and rule. The oppressors’ religion was used to install fear, make us feel bad, and prevent rebellion and revolts. (The underlying goal of colonizers is always to make Natives lose connection with their humanness and with all of life, so that they will agree to work as cheap labor without protesting.) Frisians resisted being converted to Christianity for as long as they could. They were the last in Europe to be converted.

Until World War II, most Frisians lived in extreme poverty. My father’s family was poor. For periods of time they had only one warm meal a week, and thirteen people lived in a five-by-five-meter house. Many Frisians tried to escape the oppression and poverty by emigrating.

Before World War II, only assimilated upper-class and middle-class Frisians could share in the profits made by colonialism. After 1950, poor and working-class Frisians, ninety-plus percent of the population, were able to attain higher incomes and get more living space.


Marcie talked about two kinds of genocide. One kind is getting rid of Native people by killing them so the oppressor can take their land. I had always thought of that as genocide. However, a lot of the world’s people experience genocide in additional ways. The oppressors also do the following:

  • Destroy, deny, and hide Native history
  • Take away Native languages
  • Make worthless everything Natives value
  • Claim for their own the inventions and discoveries of Native people (for example, Frisians invented dikes but are never given credit for this)
  • Change or replace Native education (we teach by storytelling), rituals, and religion
  • Take away Native children and destroy family structures


There are three ways to respond to life-threatening situations: fight, flee, or freeze. Frisians freeze—and it shows. An early survival tactic was to go quiet and wait until the intruders left.

Two thousand years ago the Roman Empire tried to occupy Frisia. The Romans wrote reports saying they were unable subordinate the Frisians as they had other peoples. Later occupations, in the last five hundred years, brought Frisians nearer to disappearing. Those who refused to give up their identity and collude with the European oppressors were isolated and divided—but they held on to their pride and maintained their heritage.

In World War II, Frisian resistance was active and organized. Almost everyone has relatives who kept people in hiding. And of course the war made life more stressful. I have a stress-related illness that I attribute in part to the war.

Frisians were not expected to lead themselves but to be led by their oppressors. They were not allowed to support Frisian leaders because those leaders were seen as rebellious and dangerous. I struggle as a leader with the effects of this. My muscles often feel cramped and tight. Marcie asked me to feel my body and feet while discharging. Paying attention to my body in sessions has been helpful.

I often call myself a “deep Frisian” [someone in a deep freeze], so I don’t have to hide my identity and so everyone can laugh. The insight of “frozen Frisians” helps us understand the depth of the internalized messages. It is astonishing how long distress stays with and affects oppressed peoples. For us, it has been thousands of years.


I’ve been told that the Frisian language is the root of all Germanic languages—that is, of English, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and German. People in the Netherlands aren’t usually aware of this. According to Wikipedia, the root of the Germanic languages is Anglo-Frisian; I wonder if English “superiority” has something to do with their saying that.

Marcie asked, “What was your native language like before the intruders came?” Words like guilt and forgiveness are in the Christian Bible. Were they in our language before that? We do not know. What we do know is that speaking our native language helps us be more real than we can be in any non-native language.

We do not use our language to talk much about love, connection, and commitment. But once we make a connection or commitment, it is forever. If I need help, I can call on any Frisian I’ve even once been connected with, and that person will help me if she or he can—always. We let go of people if our lives take a different direction, but it never means the connection has ended.


Marcie asked us have a session on Frisian liberation once a week for at least a year. She also asked those of us whose first language is Frisian to go to cultural events and decide to keep speaking our first language and then do sessions about it.

My people are seen as rude and stubborn if they speak their native language, even if only one Dutch speaker is present. After the workshop I went to a birthday party and sat next to a person who had lived in Fryslân for thirty years. She understood the Frisian language perfectly but had never spoken it. In our conversation she spoke Dutch, and I kept speaking in Frisian. My mind kept struggling with the automatism [unconscious, involuntary habit] of having to assimilate. After about twenty minutes I felt exhausted and spoke Dutch with her. Later I had huge sessions about it. A lot of rage came out—about the energy it takes to always have to switch languages. Continuing to speak Frisian for as long as I could was a powerful way to reclaim my connection to the roots of my people.

Marcie suggested that Frisians who were raised with the Dutch language go to events and keep speaking Dutch and then discharge any grief they feel about the loss of their language.


The following are some possible directions for sessions:

“I am connected with this land and these people; we depend on each other and on all the life on this land. The survival of my people in balance with all life is more important than one person alone.”

“I will trust all of you with all of my life.”

“I will never give up on my people.”


Our culture and language have come more to life in the last twenty years (thanks to music and the electronic media), which shows that we continue to fight for our Native identity. It is also hopeful that everywhere I go in the world, I see the offspring of the Frisian black and white cows. A statue of such a cow in my hometown we call “us mem” (our mother). Frisian horses almost went extinct, but during the last fifty years they have resurged and are loved all over the world. You may have seen one of these horses as the black stallion of Zorro [a fictional hero]. Recently I watched a series of documentaries about Frisian horses. I cried watching it and had big sessions later on how these horses were described as tall, elegant, wild, and dangerous—as well as gentle, cooperative, and intelligent. It was as if this description was of us, the people, too.


In the beginning of human life on this planet, every human was Native and figured out how to survive in intelligent ways. Natives on all continents are now fighting for all of life. At the same time, for many of them “the water has risen to their lips” [they have nearly been overcome by environmental and other disasters]. We need to create space for Native people to be more visible. This is an important liberation step for all of us. But it can be hard to do if our Native connection was stolen from us or if leaving Native land was the only way we could survive. It is important to have sessions on these things and start reclaiming the connection. This can be an effective way to end greed, give up being in control, and bring Native liberation more into the center of RC. Native peoples worldwide still know how to live in balance with each other and the land. Their voices are key to all our work on sustaining all life.

Wytske Visser

Ljouwert, Fryslân

(Present Time 186, January 2017)

Last modified: 2017-04-06 23:15:31+00