Holiday Reflection

tnews is reporting this economic crisis as shaking down from the upper echelons of corporate power, but I feel it rumbling up through our foundations, souls of displaced indigenous warriors and runaway slaves, a spiritual reckoning that can't be bought out, smoothed over.

By Adrienne Maree Brown Oct 14, 2008

A country tells so much about itself through it’s national holidays. The stories from the heart of the country are evidenced in those celebrations. Yesterday, on most calendars, is Columbus Day in the U.S. Some calendars call it Indigenous People’s Day. I have echoes of how I celebrated this day as a child in Department of Defense schools. Dressed up for the occasion, I often joined the other non white kids to play a little Indian with my hair in braids, sometimes called Pocahontas. The day was taught, as many American myths are, as "history": In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, then he had an awesome picnic with the Indians, who subsequently started scalping white people in caravans of wagons while screaming, and now we’re here! I’d like to say I intuited that something was wrong with the story, but memory says I bought it all. I wasn’t exactly patriotic, but there were good guys and bad guys, and at that point white people were usually the good guys. I had some scarring middle school experiences with race in a small Georgia town, and my heart began to attempt the reconciliation of the violence and racism I’d experienced at the hands and mouths of white kids with the identity of whiteness I’d seen modeled by my mom. That reconciliation is still in progress and I am writing much more on that specifically so stay posted. But about that time, I had a teacher shift the whole frame, tell me about imperialism and manifest destiny, about how unfunny the mistake of Columbus was, about the shady dealings and violence and smallpox and ultimately the attempt to erase the "savage" spirit wherever it existed in the world. This came as a one-two punch, with a huge breakdown of slavery, which had been fairly glossed over up to this point, oversimplified. I learned of Northerners having slaves, and the economic factors in ending slavery. I was as devastated by all of this as I had been when I learned of the Holocaust in Germany, where I spent most of my life growing up. In Germany, I’d felt a specific and curious fear…these people had killed Jews and Gypsies and anyone else they didn’t like, gathered them up and gassed them and burned them? I would stare little old Germans down, but in the town center where the Neo-Nazi kids would gather and harrass us, I ran. Learning about the genocide of Indigenous people and the enslavement of my ancestors clicked something open for me. The past was not that long ago, and those who thrived in this modern society were in fact still benefiting from those injustices. I realized that given the right political conditions, I and the ones I love could become the prey, the workforce, the "over" in an overpopulation scenario, the other when difference creates fear. It has happened before, it is happening now. Living in New York during 9/11 and in the U.S. since then I have watched the continuing practice of creating others – Arabs, immigrants – and gathering them, disappearing them. So I went through the beginning of my real politicization. With these new eyes I could see the efforts of imperialism everywhere, I used the word too much in trying to piece it all together. In history I saw a long a painful story of the human need to conquer, torture, control and eradicate each other. I actually couldn’t find a point in history without slavery and suffering. The impact of having had personal experiences of being treated horrifically for the race and gender I was born to, combined with this politicization, uttered a hopelessness into my spirit that I wrestle with to this day. It also opened up a new field of interest: redemption. How had societies ended their murderous moments? The answer was usually that economics forced a new reality, and that any moral imperative was often an afterthought. There were stories of good people, abolitionists, resisters – but rarely were those people ever in power. More often than not we make a big to-do about changing the wording, the policies even, turn it into an official holiday, and then find new and innovative ways to continue the human practice of enslavement and genocide through militarization and prisons and preemptive wars. Nowadays I don’t use these terms often because they often equate an oversimplified analysis, when each of the ideas is so vast and unresolved. We need new words, but only if they come with new realities. Today we live in a country with a public identity of being post-slavery, post-Holocaust, post-genocide in a world that is beginning to see us much more clearly. With the U.S. prison system and constantly growing militarization in our schools and communities; the walls and checkpoints we’re funding and building on our border with Mexico, and in other parts of the world such as Israel; the violence in places such as Darfur and Tibet, which we enable in our economic partners by continuing to shake on business deal no matter how bloody their hands get; the ongoing tragedies in Afghanistan, Iraq; the reality of global climate change creating unlivable circumstances for largely poor and non-white communities worldwide; its hard to see that anything has changed or could get better. The difference is that we have access to the history, and we have up to the minute news of what is happening. And we have economic moments that expose our drifting morality. On this Columbus Day, the American economy is crashing down all around us. The new imperialists of the global marketplace – where the dirtiest work can be done in a suit and tie – have overextended their reach. The foundation of our nation was such a bloody bad business, the truth never acknowledged, the history books never updated, the damage never reconciled. tnews is reporting this economic crisis as shaking down from the upper echelons of corporate power, but I feel it rumbling up through our foundations, souls of displaced indigenous warriors and runaway slaves, a spiritual reckoning that can’t be bought out, smoothed over. I have learned to call it Indigenous People’s Day, and for me it is a day of mourning and reflection on the impacts of imperialism on indigenous people everywhere: for those cut off from their land, those moved off of it, those murdered on it, those whose resources are siphoned away or violently taken until their land is unlivable, those moved elsewhere, those schooled that they are inferior, those whose culture is taken away intentionally, those who see the values and survival knowledge of their ancestors pulled away in tidal waves of vacuous consumer culture, and those who have tried to put down roots in a new land and now find their homes worth nothing. It’s time to meditate on a new story, a new future, a world in which indigenous knowledge is valued in the development of policy, in which smaller sustainable communities rise up out of the failure of the impossible dream-destiny of superpower. That failure is economic, and moral – evidenced in all the ways we are not providing life, liberty and an opportunity to each person here. We must do so much better. I am honored to support the work of the Indigenous People’s Project at Ruckus, and see real resistance and vision firsthand up on the Klamath, at the Tar Sands, in Alaska, in New Mexico and Arizona and South Dakota; and I ask you to join me in that support. I am one of many who are shifting the myths of yesterday towards the visions of a tomorrow where we go beyond survival towards spiritual, moral and economic evolution.