Yesterday morning I watched Aaron Huey’s TED talk on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Lakota Sioux. To me, the most important thing that he said was:
In these few words, Aaron voices the transformation needed here in Turtle Island – a shift from the patronizing, controlling approach to First Nations politics, land and culture – to one of respect. Canada needs to get out of the business of Aboriginal nations. It’s not up to us how a Mohawk or Ojibway or Haida community decides to use its land or organize its community. It’s long past time for us to get out of their business and start listening instead of dictating. I believe our future depends on it, because resource extraction in the form of mining, drilling for oil, forestry, etc is destroying our ecosystems. Maybe Aboriginal people will treat the land the same way. But if past experience is any indication, I believe things would be different. I also think that our colonial relationship with Native peoples is stunting our growth as Canadians, and undermining our humanity.
I recognize that ending our colonial relationships with Indigenous nations does not mean that First Nations become closed societies that don’t need or require relationships with other societies. It’s just long past time for use to get out of the way.
Thank you, Aaron Huey for saying it so well.
These techniques include navigating by the stars, the rising and setting of the sun, as well as the ocean swells. This voyage is a culmination of many journeys using these techniques, dismissing once and for all the European skeptics who thought that it was impossible for Polynesians to travel so far without technologies like those of the European explorers.
What strikes me about this story is that is shows how a people use their own bodies – their eyes, ears, sense of balance, memory, ability to communicate amongst each other – to navigate the vast oceans of the earth. They do it independent of any navigation technologies. This independence and freedom that comes from relying on your own body and mind for orientation is very inspiring.
It is always an overstatement to say anything about all of western culture, but there is a tendency in westerners to privilege the intellect over the body, and thought over feeling. We are encouraged to ignore the signals that our bodies and feelings send us in order to work longer, or perform better in whatever it is we do. We push away signals of physical and emotional distress because we don’t think we are permitted to have distress. We must not be normal to feel such things.
There is a strong tendency to try and solve problems by thinking about them and by collecting and analyzing information. The internet makes this tendency very easy to follow, since it offers up vast reams of information on almost any subject, albeit without the context of experience, and very often with crucial elements missing.
Perhaps westerners actually create problems by trying to solve them; by perceiving something as a problem that must be solved when it is not; when it is actually a state of being: a message from the body or the emotions, signalling a need to change directions, or to attend to changes around us. It’s as if we don’t understand the language our bodies and feelings speak, and sometimes become very disturbed by the intensity of the signals we receive.
We think our bodies and feelings should behave and be orderly. We expect that by following a logical path we will reach the destination we predicted with our brain, even though we have ignored input from our body and our feelings.
These Hawaiian wayfarers are different. They find the path they need to take by feeling with all their senses – they feel in their bodies the swells of the ocean against the sides of the canoe, they see with their eyes the stars and sun in the sky above, feel with their skin and smell with their noses and hear with their ears the winds, the birds and the life of the seas. And they remember with their minds everything they have learned from their teachers and from their experiences. They apply full intelligence to wayfaring.
I am a wayfarer, and each day, in order to navigate successfully, I pay attention to the signals I receive: the weather – is it hot or cold, is there wind, rain, sun, snow? The light in the sky is fall coming closer? The mood of my family, the speed of the bus I take to work, the pace of activity at the office, how tired I feel, how alert, whether there is any anxiety, or sadness, if there is a feeling of joy that needs to take a walk outside under the green trees, if there is pain anywhere in my body, or a burst of energy needing release. I see a news article about a child who has been killed, or a mother who’s been run over by a dump truck during a bike race—then suddenly a feeling of intense fear! What if it happens to my child, or to me? And in the shopping centre, – bright pieces of jewellery, sweets, clothes, gadgets, noise, people everywhere. Each day I navigate the physical, the emotional and the intellectual. To succeed and not be blindsided, I need all my senses, and every emotion – a full intelligence that flows through the body and the heart.
This week’s word is Onkwehón:we: “the original people” (oon-gway-hoon-way). It refers to First Nations people, but I also once heard elder June Delisle from Kahnawake refer to it as meaning “real human beings.”
In any case, the dispute about who is allowed to live in Kahnawake definitely errs on the side of Onkwehón:we as meaning “First Nations people,” since only they are allowed to live in that community. And it raises the question of who is a “real human being” as well.
There would perhaps be no controversy about who is allowed to be a member of the Mohawk nation if it were not for the federal government’s divide-and-conquer blood quantum policy. which basically means that if an Onkwehón:we person has less than a certain “quantum” of Aboriginal “blood,” that person loses their status, and is no longer be considered a member of their band.
The Iroquois Confederacy’s great success in the past was partly based on its policy of adopting peoples from every nation and integrating them into the nations of the Confederacy. The blood quantum policy, band councils and the reserve system broke down this tradition and ended it as a strategy for expanding the Confederacy’s numbers, as well as its geographical, military and political reach.
Fast forward to the present day and we have a community of 6,500 Mohawks, where the majority of the membership support the band council’s policy of removing all non-Native people from the community:
Kahnawake eviction controversy gets personal
I would like appeal to the better nature in us all and say that Onkwehón:we refers to all of us, and that we are all real human beings, regardless of the federal government’s racist policies, and despite the sad state of affairs in Kahnawake.
It has often been said that we have the most in common with our enemies. This is, in many ways, true of Israelis and Palestinians. They occupy the same part of the world, have similar desires for nationhood, identity, safety and freedom, and even follow religions that are very similar. With a few changes, this angry letter from an Israeli could have been written by a Palestinian:
“But I will not apologise for surviving. For surviving missiles intended to kill me. The fact they didn’t kill me doesn’t mean they weren’t sent with the intention to murder. I will not apologise for living and surviving thanks to being prepared because we have a culture that celebrates our lives and cherishes them…I will not apologise for having a business, a home, a family and friends here who want normal lives and to live in peace with our neighbors. I will not apologise for existing and I want nothing more than to co-exist quietly with neighbors who accept me here.”
This week’s word is ocean = kanientara’kehkó:wa. I have chosen this word in part because I could not find the Mohawk word for whale. If you know it, please share!
I have just returned from spending time on Grand Manan Island, which is in the Bay of Fundy in the Atlantic Ocean. While there I saw two different species of whales – the minke whale, and the finback. I also experienced incredible tides and walked several beaches, including one that has a fresh water stream that runs into the ocean. We saw seals, a harbour porpoise, shearwaters, black winged gulls, puffins and many other species of birds. While on the Elsie Menola whale watching yacht, we stopped three times to remove helium balloons from the ocean waters. They float out to sea and then land on the surface of the sea, where they sit, looking like nothing so much as jelly fish. Whales will sometimes eat them and die. Paul Watson, founder and captain of the Sea Shepherd also defends whales (a lot more aggressively than the Elsie Menola). Two other boats used by Watson’s organization, the Farley Mowat and Robert Hunter, have been granted a registry and flag by the Iroquois Confederacy, after the Canadian government revoked the Canadian registry of the Farley Mowat at the demand of the Japanese government. I suppose I can’t find the world for “whale” because Mohawks don’t usually live near the ocean! But the Haudensaunee are helping to defend whales in their own way. Anyway, that’s the word of the week. Hope your summer is going well.
On the way to the sleep lab one night.