Ojibway/Metis Introduction – Standing on the Soil at Home
This is my Ojibway/Métis Two-Spirit introduction and declaration. I never felt called to go to Standing Rock. I have had enough violations, violence, racism, discrimination, bullying, and hate in my life that I didn’t need to voluntarily subject myself to further torture. I did not receive “likes” or hundreds of comments for enduring workplace discrimination on numerous occasions nor did I gain internet “followers” who saw my documentation of the horrors of racism and taking action against this injustice. The reason I mention standing up for myself and taking action is because where is everyone in everyday life supporting Indigenous people right where you live? Everyone felt the need to run off to Standing Rock. It is bad everywhere – racism is right out your front door and on every inch of this land. Taking action against a racially hostile work environment deserves equal treatment from so called “allies.” Additionally, the violence of heteropatriarchal settler colonialism oppression is still here and this means we live in a racist world. I have a right to my serenity and peace given the oppression I have faced and struggles I have overcome. Do you see why I didn’t want to go out to Standing Rock?
Please note that this piece doesn’t represent Red Circle Consulting, Waub Ajijaak Press, or any of the organizations that I’ve consulted with or currently work with. This piece represents Ojibway/Metis Two-Spirit self-determination and sharing my voice based in reporting live from Anishinaabe Aki. Additionally, I work with Honor the Earth and they had a main presence at Standing Rock. I was indirectly but directly involved in the work there but mostly behind the scenes. This is frontline work that should be validated and is just as equally important labor.
Environmental Racism Since 1492
There are currently at least 532 superfund sites in Indian Country. A sacred site that my tribe – the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, which was battled for 11 years is being mined beneath. This site is Migizi Wa Sin – Eagle Rock. We have no access to this sacred site as it is gated with a barbed wire fence. This didn’t garner international attention and probably never will. Yet, people and some distant relatives from my tribe camped out, resisted, and were arrested. Migizi Wa Sin is one battle of many that was fought and lost because or resource colonization, environmental violence, and environmental racism. Therefore, environmental racism has existed since 1492. Environmental racism is the reservation or reserve system. Environmental violence is the availability of alcohol, drugs, and toxic foods on our lands and within reservation boundaries. Environmental violence also includes: reproductive injustice, sterilization of our women, mining, pipelines, toxic buildings, and discrimination towards Two-Spirits.
Racism and Assault in Everyday Life
Most non-Native people were shocked at the level of militarized violence at Standing Rock. I'm not minimizing the oppression, pain, trauma, collective trauma, or colonial state sanctioned militarized violence that happened there. However I wasn’t shocked because every turn you make in the world as a Native person can mean you will face discrimination, racism, hate, and violence. The majority culture didn’t absolve itself of its sins by showing up for a week, 3 weeks, or 3 months at Standing Rock. Action needs to be taken every day and where you live.
Native people are still invisible. Our issues are still ignored. The root cause of the many issues we face are not addressed. One can’t live traditionally and harvest wild rice when land has been divided up by the Dawes Act. If we want to ice fish we can only do so in locations where we will not experience racism. We are not allowed into certain areas, cities, or towns because we will never be allowed into a certain income bracket. Sometimes we are heckled by just walking down the street or shopping in a grocery store. The colonial creation of poverty is racism. How much alcohol is piped into tribal communities? How do we stop this form of environmental violence and racism? There are many questions to be raised and discussions to be had. Walls need to be broken and bridges need to be built. This always needs to be Indigenous led by and for our people.
Plains Indians are Only the Real Indians
The world became obsessed with Standing Rock. The world didn’t become obsessed with Eagle Rock – Migizi Wa Sin, Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Neskantaga First Nation, systemic racism in Thunder Bay or Winnipeg, Ontario, etc. It became obsessed with the Plains tribe. As an Ojibway/Métis I see this obsession with other Native groups who are often viewed as the “real Indians.” Here in the Great Lakes our ancestry has been mixing for a long time hence my Ojibway/Métis identity and heritage. We are still real Indians despite the bogus blood quantum standard set up to prove being Indian, which the US government created for annihilation purposes. I believe the reason Standing Rock gained so much attention is because the majority culture has lumped "Plains Indians," into a group and therefore this social construction of the "real Indian" exists. Hence the obsession and widespread cultural appropriation with the "Plains Indians" headdress. The majority culture has been fetishizing, romanticizing, and appropriating "Plains Indians" for a long time. Would this movement in Standing Rock had been as large if the tribe was a less well known tribe? Probably not!
My personal belief is that there is no reason to trust any celebrity who showed up at Standing Rock. They are not amplifying our voices as Native people. They are amplifying their voices. They have never lived on a reservation, or lived the life of a Native person, nor can the ever speak for us. Frankly, I will not give them any power or allow them to speak for me. They aren’t doing anything radical then going home to their plush home and existence. Posting on anti-social media with hashtags doesn’t make you radical. Actions in everyday life make you radical. I believe they need to stay far away from Indigenous led movements and let us lead!
The Money Trail
Meanwhile there are many water issues and continuous states of emergencies in many First Nations and Native communities across Turtle Island. I encourage everyone to read about Neskantaga First Nation. Not minimizing oppression or the militarized violence that took place at Standing Rock but it is not the only place where all action is needed. So where are all the donations going? Can anyone answer this? Millions of dollars were donated but we don’t know where it is going. How can we trust that the money is being spent for what it has been raised for? In searching on gofundme.com for “Standing Rock,” 6,069 results come up. Some of these results include money raised for: compost toilets, wood stoves, yurts, solar trailers, tattoos, and general winter supplies. Another fundraising website called YouCaring.com had 392 results for Standing Rock. There were fundraisers for things such as: Support the Traditional Elders of Standing Rock or Water is Life: Two-Spirit Warriors & Water Protectors. Specifically I commend fundraisers for elders and Two-Spirits. However, where is all this money actually going for everything else?
The Standing Rock Obsession
I had nearly a dozen people ask me, “are you going to Standing Rock?” I am not a mainstream person and I believe this movement was hijacked by mainstream people, big green NGO’s, and celebrities. Many “activists,” are pretty darn mainstream in how they live by ingesting alcohol, drugs, television, etc. I don’t identify as an activist but a “community worker” in a world where we have “non-community.” I am glad visibility was brought to Native people but I felt it was brought in a fetishized way, yet again.
No I didn’t want to live in a tipi. I am Ojibway and my ancestors lived in a traditional birch bark house called the wiigwam. This became all people focused on. From the moment this movement took a more mainstream approach, which it did once the big green’s showed up, I knew that I didn’t want to be there. Some other Native folks called the camp, “sacred stone colony.” Yes being colonized by white people thinking that they are helping the Indians. Not interested in your white liberalism and fetishization of me, my family, relatives, or ancestors. This obsession took a colonial turn and I knew it wasn’t for me. I decided to stay at home in Anishinaabe Aki and hold it down on the land and water here. Praying and doing work in your home territory is just as important. Warriors need to stay and pray! This is everyday resistance!
Moving Beyond the Typical “Frontlines,” Definition
Many people have felt called to go to Standing Rock from many Indigenous nations across Turtle Island and the world. Many warriors were called by the ancestors to go to Standing Rock. This is a very respectable and resilient action. However as a Two-Spirit I have questioned my safety even in a space that could be designated safe for me hence the Two-Spirit camp at Standing Rock. I don’t mean safety as in violence but safety as in how I live my life. That I would be required to wear a skirt when this is a colonial concept. Men and men identifying people also wore skirts traditionally. I would constantly have to demand space for myself and this gets exhausting. Additionally, as an introvert how would I manage being at a camp with people who I couldn’t necessarily trust? I don’t thrive on being around people because as an introvert they drain me.
There has been a direct and violent attacks towards warriors and I am not minimizing their efforts, heart, or soul because this is state sanctioned oppression that our Indigenous warriors seek to challenge. There are frontlines at Standing Rock and there are frontlines in daily life. We get caught up in what “frontlines,” work means and we need to expand our definition. For some the frontlines are making it through a day, surviving colonial imposed economic poverty, surviving racism, healing themselves, addiction recovery, mentoring a youth to rise above oppression, or taking care of an abandoned elder. Defining “warrior,” as someone always at the “frontlines,” is bogus and closed minded. Warriors for our people are everywhere. A warrior is a single mom living in poverty who loves their child with so much love. A warrior is someone in recovery and taking it, yes, one day at a time. A warrior is someone who stands up against racism in the workplace. A warrior is someone who survives community ostracizing and being an outcast. A warrior is someone who has no one to call when in a time of trouble but makes it through the day, week, month, years, or their life. A warrior is someone who never knows true love or never has a partner but continues living in the world. A warrior is someone who has no family, networks, resources, or a place to truly call home. A warrior is the prisoner. A warrior is the silenced never given a space to share their voice. Remember us!
Since the resistance camps at Standing Rock were supposed to be a sober space I’m wondering how many people there chose recovery from their addictions? This is more than fighting the black snake. It is about fighting the illness which has been internalized. This illness could be addiction in any form: alcoholism, marijuana, pharmaceuticals, sexual, social media, etc. This illness could be eating toxic foods. This illness could be accepting a toxic masculine mindset to plague your life. This illness could be violence towards the self or others. This illness is the illness of patriarchy, rape culture, the sexualization of the female body, and sexual violence towards any gender or gender identity. There is certainly a lot to heal in our world. We all have a lot of work to do. No one person carries this burden on their shoulders alone.
Healing justice is difficult work because it goes unnoticed in a very boisterous, narcissistic, and “selfie” world. Does anyone talk on the phone anymore? Since the dawn of 140 characters and accumulating “followers,” I have found that people rarely respond to emails or don’t like to talk on the phone. Being that I am Generation X, I’m not down with this at all. We can’t heal by just being on a screen of our “smartphone,” or “liking” radical Indigenous statuses. Really folks, how does this make change but stroke egos? We have to do this work out in the world. But do it and don’t boast about it. Humble yourself in the eyes of the Creator. Seriously social media is not deprogramming either for those that think they are so “radical.” It is a tool of mind and social control to keep you all hooked. It is another addiction similar to TV and shortening your attention span and ability to think for long periods of time. How many of you out there can sit down and read a book for hours on end? Probably just a few of you.
Closed Reservations and White Liberal Saviors
Not all reservations have open doors and in fact the door is shut tight to outsiders. Every white liberal in the world can now say that they have been to Standing Rock and on a “reservation.” This is all Native land! I have lived on a reservation for 6 years and traveled to my tribal community since I was a kid. Going to a reservation better not become to latest “mission,” trip. Oh wait those already happen. Take your mission trips to cul-de-sacs of suburbia and do work in your own perfectly plotted community.
The action in Standing Rock doesn’t mean that all other communities will be open. In fact, we are very closed and sometimes to our own people. It is absolutely obnoxious that this has happened and stating “we are all one” is actually very violent and colonial. We are not all one and we need to honor the deep pain of generation trauma, current invisibility, current injustices, and that we are survivors of genocide that has never been acknowledged in the colonial United States. Some hippie-dippie walks into Standing Rock for the “experience,” and to feel good. Uh-uh, no way, and go away. I am not looking to feel good all the time but to be real and do the work that needs to be done in our Anishinaabe communities. Our lives as Native people should never be an “experience” for non-Native people. Unfortunately the level of exotification and festishization is deeply prevalent coming from the majority culture.
What You Can Do to Take Action and Actually Support Indigenous People Everyday!
- Stop using the term “ally.” It is obnoxious and insulting. Klee Benally (Diné) has a really great zine on “Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex.” Read this!
- Listen to Indigenous voices: storytellers, writers, poets, public speakers, intellectuals, and academics.
- Deconstruct Native stereotypes in your local community such as in mascots in high schools, colleges, and other forms of discrimination and racism that are right outside your front door.
- Think of the many ways you can amplify Indigenous voices through supporting Indigenous made films, reading books by Indigenous authors, purchasing music, attending powwows, artists markets, and craft fairs.
- Know what treaty land you are on as well as the traditional name of the place you reside in. For instance, Manistee, Michigan – Naaminitigong, which means “the land beneath the trees.” Naaminitigong is in the 1836 Treaty Territory.
- Understand what Two-Spirit means based on the tribe in the area you reside. This is not a pan-Indian definition. Know what Two-Spirit means and how you can support amplifying Two-Spirit people, their voices, and their stories in your area.
- Form an Indigenous-settler support group in your high school, college, or community. Truly do the work, show up, be challenged, and grow far beyond your comfort zone.
- Decolonize organizing. Let Native people lead in movements and organizing. Particularly give voice to women, LGBTQ-Two-Spirited people, youth, elders, and the disabled. So often Native people are tokenized but never truly given leadership roles or space to speak. We desperately need to change this.
- Don’t fetishize us and know that with our own communities nothing is perfect. There is internalized patriarchy, internalized sexism, internalized homophobia, nepotism in tribal governments, and overall toxic lateral violence. If you are to work with us and support us you need to know that lateral violence is an unfortunate social colonial illness that plagues most of our communities.
- Celebrate daily personal victories for Indigenous people such as “one day at a time,” SOBRIETY! HEALING! RECOVERY!
Returning & Amplifying Our Work in Our Home Territories
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe asked folks in January to pack up and go home from all camps as well as not build any new resistance camps without the consent of the tribe. I feel this is a good move and believe we all need to do work in our home territories. While this was the largest gathering of Indigenous people on Turtle Island since colonization, it is not the only gathering. I know there will be other gatherings, actions, and forms of resistance. Perhaps the next gathering or action will be larger and create an even deeper and meaningful impact for generations to come? There are gatherings, actions, and forms of resistance daily. We need to grow and amplify our work by and for our people. I respect and love our various Indigenous prophecies across Turtle Island but we have to commit to this work in order for it to be a reality. This is the union – blue collar worker raised, practical Midwestern, and Michigander in me speaking. This war has always been taking place since the colonization and erasure of our people starting in 1492. This has always been a disgrace from the naming and occupation of lands to states, counties, and cities. For Native people our eyes have always been open and now the rest of the world is seeing through our lens. Think about your every action and intention. What can be done at home? Take a look at other Indigenous led environmental struggles you can support right in your own backyard. Remember environmental justice is not just about land defending and water protection. It is about healing our people, sobriety, wellbriety, and recovery. So let’s all get behind love water not alcohol too, eh?
What can you do to heal relationships in your life? To heal yourself and your family. To bring healing to your tribal community. What can you do to give voice to those who need it the most? What are some ways you can decolonize on a day to day basis? Think of other ways to amplify this work, healing, and bring justice in your home territories.
Reporter's notebook: Standing Rock is not the new Woodstock
Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits [Part 1], Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, & Part 6
Standing Rock to the World: 10 Indigenous and Environmental Struggles You Can Support in 2017
Video: Aamjiwnaang Water Project