Care of the Environment and Indigenous Liberation Intertwined

Dearest Marcie1 and all my Indigenous buddies,

She:kon sewakwekon.2

I have been involved for some time now with the Idle No More3 solidarity movement here in northern California (USA). My partner, Paul, and I have been to flash mob4 round dances, prayer circles, and water blessings and many other gatherings and demonstrations. Members of my Indigenous mothers’ and grandmothers’ circle support an urban garden, where young people are sharing seeds and learning to plant, and a center that is teaching restorative justice in schools and communities. We have been involved in actions in Washington, D.C.,5 and locally to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline,6 to stop the poisoning of our community by the local refinery, and to support our Indigenous sisters and brothers both in Canada and across the Americas. 

I have thought of this as Native liberation work—as part of what I do as a Native woman in the world. It feels like an extension of what I learned from my Mohawk7 elders in the Ohen:ton Kahriwatekwhen (Thanksgiving Address), in which we greet, thank, and send love to all parts of creation before and after anything we do. 

One of my beloved allies, who is active in environmental work, told me that he saw what I was doing as “care of the environment.” Interestingly, I had never thought of it that way. At some point in a Co-Counseling session, I could see that Native liberation (and all human liberation) is about loving, protecting, and nurturing this beautiful iethi’nistenha ohontsia (mother earth). I think that care-of-the-environment work has to support Indigenous liberation, as the two are completely intertwined.

The more I know about the devastation of our earth on so many levels, which is often directly connected to Native oppression, the more overwhelmed, outraged, and discouraged I feel. It is simply horrifying to face what is going on.8 However, the more I see the Indigenous leadership all over the world, and the courageous stands that human beings everywhere are taking, the more hopeful I get. From that place of hope, I can discharge hard and begin to think. And I think that the more that the environmental movement can be aware of, acknowledge, and back9 the Indigenous leadership across the globe to protect the earth, the better this work will go for all of humanity.  

I have been moved by and found so much contradiction10 in working with our Idle No More solidarity affinity group—which is mostly Native and led by Natives but also includes allies whom we have invited to join us. Being part of a group that is praying and drumming and dancing, and also reaching for others, educating people, building big puppets, and painting signs together, is powerful. The relationships we are building have deep roots. We get to care openly and try things, have fun, and enjoy each other. There is a deep sense of love in this work—here and all over the world. 

In this group we all have limits—because of work, children, health constraints, various struggles—and so we take turns. We can each be a part of the group without it exhausting any of us. We are ending the genocide on our planet in a way in which everyone gets to participate. We stay aware of each person’s abilities and limits and go at a pace that works. This is so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. 

There seems to be a huge contradiction to despair for all the people who show up.11 Seeing young people rapping and drumming, and people of all ages holding out a vision of a different world, saying no to the destruction and yes to life and connection, is healing at a deep level. At all the events, from the smaller spontaneous round dances to the recent huge anti-GMO12 demonstration, people are laughing, crying, and reaching for others. I see lives changing as people connect and do things together toward a big vision. 

Being personally involved in Idle No More solidarity and then hearing about humans all over the world taking action—old women chaining themselves to pipeline equipment, young people walking 1,600 miles across Canada to bring a message to Harper,13 a small Mohawk community building a community garden for teaching language and going back to traditional foods, ranchers allying themselves with local Native tribes against the pipeline—pulls my attention way out and helps me discharge hard from a place of contradiction. It helps me face the reality of what is happening to our planet without getting lost in feeling powerless. 

I can see that a big part of reality is this: powerful, creative action coming out of love for life is happening at every moment. People are taking a stand14 for clean water and nourishing local food, for economic and social justice, for sovereignty at all levels, for connection with, caring for, and thoughtfulness toward all our relations and the planet.

Alison Ehara-Brown 
Richmond, California, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion
list for leaders of Native Americans 

1 Marcie Rendon, the International Liberation Reference Person for Native Americans
2 “She:kon sewakwekon” means hello everyone, in theMohawk language.
3 Idle No More is an ongoing protest movement for Indigenous sovereignty and protection of the environment. It was started by four women in Canada in Indigenous territories—three Indigenous women and one woman of European heritage—and has spread quickly through Aboriginal communities throughout the world. 
4 A “flash mob” is a group of people summoned (usually by e-mail or text message) to a designated location, at a specified time, to perform some action.
5 Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States.
6 The Keystone XL Pipeline is a pipeline that, if built, would transport oil from Canada and the northern United States to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico in southeastern Texas (USA). Because it would contribute to global warming and create a number of other environmental hazards, and would cross many sovereign Indigenous communities and particularly impact Native lands, many people have been working to stop it.
7 The Mohawk people originated in what is now called the Mohawk Valley in New York State, USA, and hunted and fished all over the eastern woodlands. While some still live in the Mohawk Valley, many policies of genocide in different periods made others leave the valley for territories in Canada.
8 “Going on” means happening.
9 “Back” means support.
10 Contradiction to distress
11 “Show up” means participate.
12 A “GMO” (genetically modified organism) is an  organism whose genetic material has been altered by genetic engineering.
13 Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada
14 “Taking a stand” means taking a firm position.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00