By Lolly Bee.
I exist at the intersection of the Native American community and a “western spiritual seeker” sometimes referred to as the “new age” community. The majority but not all of this sub culture are white presenting people with European ancestors. At Standing Rock there was much interaction and lessons among and between the cultures. There was a lot of pain involved with this growth because addressing identity politics in a system based on power is challenging. All of us have aspects of who we are that are oppressed and some that are privileged. Whether it’s gender, class, race or culture, we do not live in a society where we are all equal or the same.
Today in the United States we live in a colonized, white supremacist patriarchy which was built on the back of slavery of African people and genocide of Indigenous people. The southern border created a separation among the Native people who have lived on the land now separated as “Usa” or “Mexico”.
European culture was forced onto this land and the already existing culture of millions was deemed “savage and uncivilized”. As if massacring the people then forcing them off of their homeland wasn’t enough, they were then systematically stolen and indoctrinated into Christian European culture through boarding schools, the last of which closed in 1996. The motto was “kill the Indian, save the man” and Native children were horrifically abused and forbidden for expressing anything to do with their traditions. Thousands died or were adopted into non native families and it had the intended impact of profoundly wounding the culture. Native spiritual ceremonies were Illegal until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. People were imprisoned for practicing ceremonies such as the sweat lodge or Sundance.
Today there is a resurgence of interest in “spirituality” more specifically a seeking of reconnection to the divinity of the planet we live on. Due to the influence of monotheistic religions, many European indigenous teachings about connecting to the earth were lost. As many move away from the church, there has been increased curiosity in the wisdom maintained by the indigenous people of the world about other ways to pray with the earth.
The teachings and rituals were protected and often hidden from the imperialists and missionaries, often at great cost and sacrifice. As many awaken to the reality of the distortion modern society has preached, and the damage inflicted on the planet due to a disconnection from the awareness that this very earth is a sacred, conscious presence, many are wanting to learn from Native cultures.
Overall, this is a positive development for the sake of humanity and the earth we depend on. However the process of re-establishing a respectful relationship between descendants of people who tried to destroy the other’s ancestors, requires a holistic awareness of the sensitive dynamics.
Colonization is not finished in the sense of a powerful group extracting and infecting the valuable resources of another people, still often the characters are Euro descendants taking from Indigenous peoples. Standing Rock was an invitation for those who believe in the divine protection of water and land, to come together in solidarity for a common cause. It was healing to be in a place which centered and deferred to Native leadership and culture. It was heartening and inspiring that so many came together from different backgrounds for a common cause.
This did not make us all the same. This did not mean that Indigenous culture is available to be co-opted or performed by non-natives. The line between being an Ally or an Offender can be hard to see unless you learn to put on informed glasses. The difference between honoring a culture and appropriating it is essential to address in order to unite and not further divide people. Often times pure intentions can result in unknown offenses, because you can’t know what you don’t know. For certain aspects of Native cultures to be incorporated into a non-natives lifestyle, without any commitment to addressing the pain or inequality carried by people from that identity, is offensive appropriation and essentially further theft.
The only way to learn how to do better is to listen. The only way to heal the atrocities of the past, is to dismantle privilege from the inside out. The only way to begin to see what you are blind to, is to believe the feedback people give you about what they notice are the problems. It is to be willing and able to acknowledge when you make a mistake, and instead of getting defensive or offensive, sit with the lesson and stick around as an ally long enough to do better for the community you intend to respect.
There is so much to be said on this topic, and I apologize for my recent silence. As a bridge builder I am reminded that I have an obligation to speak out to both sides when I notice clashing. I can use my voice as an in between person who overlaps circles which don’t always connect, to inform and support when I observe conflicting expressions of cultures. This topic is loaded with pain on all sides and the only way to work through it is to have humility and patience. This is not about any individuals it is about cultures, it is about history and where we are today in a global context. The work is how we can move forward in a way which we all feel is together, honoring the different pieces of the puzzle we each are responsible for. May we all do the self reflection and societal education needed so that we can confront the ailments of the world today in a way which honors and includes our diversity as a human race.