Detroit organizer Charity Hicks on why a movement led by the "marginalized of the marginalized" can reset our relationship to each other and the Earth.
by Charity Hicks
A procession into the anti-fracking and land defence encampment at
Rexton, New Brunswick near Elsipogtog First Nation on October 7.
This is an exert from a longer interview conducted with Charity Hicks by Martin Lukacs in Detroit, Michigan, in the summer of 2013.
When Idle No More broke out in December, 2012, in Detroit we said "wow". Indigenous peoples are just blossoming.
When you have leadership coming from the marginalized of the marginalized, the interlocking pressure of race and class and ethnic and gender hierarchies are shattered. Such women in leadership, those who have been subjected to wounds and trauma, represent a caring and concern. It's a beautiful place to be in, because as Idle No More idles no more, they're waking up and repairing relationships.
The first relationship you repair is the self to the self. So women that see themselves as the leadership, memory keepers and healers.
The second relationship of self to other selves. And here they're representing not just a returning but also a kind of reclaiming of the authenticity and relevancy of women, in the public space, in popular dialogue.
And the third relationship is of self to the earth. What's our relationship with our lakes and our streams and our waters and our food system and our ways of knowing? Everything about human beings and our culture are ways of being, but they're also ways of knowing. How do we know a tree, how do we know a plant, how do we know the fish are running at any particular time? It's because of memory, and women represent memory, the ancient memory flowering in the moment, being transmitted to future generations.
So Idle No More is profoundly restorative. It's what Canada needs. It's what the world needs. It's re-Indigenization.
But it's not just a movement, it's also a lived experience. Normally, when you're marginalized and you've been traumatized, you have normalized that. It becomes a part of your cognitive process. So to step into the public space and to really affirm your narrative is a huge risk. It's a profound leap from the margins, moving out from below the radar, and affirming a lived experience that we'd never heard, that we'd never known. So sometimes the biggest pushback comes from you. Sometimes you doubt your own voice; you doubt your own agency; you doubt even your own lived experience. To hold that, and to push back on it, is an empowering thing.
It's like the nervousness you feel when you know your people have been victimized, genocide has been wrought against your people, and here you are, with your mouth open. And you're somewhere beating a drum, or you're in public space, and you're like, this is what it is.
Indigenous peoples have been, just like African people, under twenty-five generations of root-shock. We relegated Indigenous peoples to the margins, placed them on reservations, treated them like children. And in that root-shock is pain, is profound depression, is hurt. And how you normally live with it is you drink, you self-medicate it.
In Indigenous communities, just like in African communities, there's this spectrum of reaction. Some of it is highly resilient and quiet and forever like embers, constantly on the burn. Some of it is non-resilient and extremely destructive. And you see all of that, the full spectrum in communities, in urban America. And what is beautiful about women, and authentic, is that in their standing, in their agency, in their voice, is the memory of all of our mothers, nurturance, re-connection. They're not only healing themselves, they're healing the most depressed parts of their communities.
Indigenous peoples are the ancestral memory of this place, they're the relationship translators of every piece of ecology in North America and all over the world. That memory, that voice, that leadership is what we need right now. Where-ever in the world Indigenous peoples are, to affirm themselves from positions of the margins, to take leadership and be authentic, rooted, and relevant, is so important.
It's a repairing on multiple levels. We're going to affirm ourselves, we're going to affirm our relations, and we're going to bring our values, our principles, our wisdom, our myth, our healing to the public space.
So Istanbul blows up, Tunis blows up, Cairo blows up, all of these public movements where people are en masse, a multitude. But it's the Indigenous multitude that is the most potent. Worldwide, there's like a movement of Indigenous peoples to reaffirm our humanity. It's saying: everything is not a dollar bill or currency, everything is not a consumer transaction. Wherever you are, on a reservation or not, the land is valuable. There's no hierarchy on the earth. There are ecosystems, and these exchanges, and they're all beautiful.
For people who are trying to re-Indigenize, and trying to question the social, political, economic order, Idle No More is like a harbinger.
That's not an easy thing to carry. Normally, if you're already marginalized, you have double and triple the amount of weight on you. So I'm very moved by Idle No More. I'm touched. I see it as a wonderful space to be in. It's healthy for us in this moment of economic and environmental crisis. It's beautiful to witness it, to hear drumming, to see round-dances, to hear the voice of women speaking traditional knowledge and memory and living a culture that speaks another language, that speaks of another way of being. We've gotten so far away from our roots.
As the oldest cultures that are place-based and rooted in ecosystem-based knowledge and exchange and reciprocity, that wisdom is like a roadmap. I'm not saying everything is with Indigenous people, but when we're all immigrants and all transplants and all in rootstock, they represent a way of knowing and being in place that we've lost. We pave over the environment to create roads so we can drive, we live in houses instead of in temporary structures, we heat them, we pool them, we place-make them on a human scale, but we never fully, unless we're camping, live in an ecological environment that challenges us to adapt and to be resilient.
So a lot of the abuse on the earth, on the fisheries, on the animals, on crops, on air and water quality, is going to have to be rethought on the basis of the question: what is our relationship to place?
The answer will not come from the elites. The international financial institutions and the United Nations are talking about carbon markets. But everything cannot be commodified. We're pimping the earth, we're externalizing the abuse, we're establishing markets so we can game nature. And the question from Indigenous communities is: "is that right?"
Why should the ecology “service” us? The arrogance, the narcissistic personality complex of humans to even craft a term like "ecological services"! That is just shocking. And we think we get to be the arrogant earth stewards of it all? We engineer water-ways, we are cloud brightening and geo-engineering. Excuse you, jet stream, you're not enough, we're going to value-add on you. Excuse you, mountain range, we're just going to blow you up.
So there's this profound question of integrity and ethics and principles and values afoot. Imagine that. Do you get to make money and abuse ecosystems at the same time? Some are now offering us the "rights of mother earth," led by Bolivia, from the south of the south. That helps us understand that we are a part of creation. We are part of energy exchanges. We're all feasting from the sun's energy. We're all living and breathing and dying in ecology.
To me, the earth is going to win in the end, because nothing trumps nature. Not even us and our arrogance. We're going to find out real quick what passing 400 ppm in the upper atmosphere of methane and carbon means. We're going to discover, particularly in our agricultural systems, on every continent, what climate shift means.
We're going to be billions of people in eco-adaptation strategies. And I don't know if we're all going to make it to those islands of elite eco-resiliency and 1% hoarding. But we're all going to be in trouble.
Now is the time when the women have to rise up. Now is the time when the drum has to be sounded. Now is the time to ask what do your mothers and fathers of generations of old have to say, about us being human and our relationship to everything.
Charity Hicks is the policy fellow for Eat 4 Health Detroit and the policy coordinator of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council. She is a writer, researcher, healer, artist, grower, organizer, cross-pollinator and sits on the board of several local and regional social and environmental justice organizations.