Yesterday, the Freedom School (a committee from the Intercultural Resource Center) hosted a teach-in titled: “Learning to Move one year later, Interpreting the Idle No More Movement and Indigenous Narratives in North America” at Columbia University. Jarrett Martineau, Cree/Dene digital media producer & hip-hop artist from Frog Lake First Nation, Alberta, Canada, and Tristin Moone, Diné Columbia University student born for the Diné Nation preparing for genetic studies and Indigenous sovereignty research and application, facilitated the teach-in along with members of Freedom School.
The meeting started with a brainstorm on what Native Activism meant to the attendees. Words like solidarity, peace, decolonization, territory, among others, appeared on the white board. Each word represented what each person believed in their personal definition of Native Activism and how each word counterattacked the existing colonial structures that put Natives, African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities to a disadvantage in the United States in the 21st Century.
So, how do we de-colonize colonial institutions and organize a strong Native leadership?
Jarrett introduced the Idle No More Movement. Idle No More started with four lawyers who wanted to create a conversation among themselves about how Natives needed to take an active measure in defending their lands, protecting their culture and language, and demanding respect and recognition from Canadian and American governments. The lawyers started a hashtag Idle No More just for themselves, but then it became a large-scale movement by Native youth, people, and elders who used #IdleNoMore to create a strong online presence in the social media.
“Idle No More calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution, to honour
Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water.”
However, strong Native leadership can be misguided sometimes. Some people believed it had to do with the lack of Native support for specific causes like lobbying. Others think Natives need to be better organized. One person in the audience said, “We need to take action now instead of dialoguing about this in the first place.” At the end of the day, we realized Native leadership can also become a victim of colonial structures in political platforms.
Tristin shared an important perspective. She said it had to do with the art of science and genetics. Since 1492, colonizers always wanted to know more and write about what they know. They simultaneously explored, studied, and killed life forms like plants, animals, people, and nature to gain knowledge in their books. What about sterilizing our Native women? What about enslaving our horses as a transportation mean in New York City? What about knocking down the trees and mining the Earth? “THIS is not supposed to happen,” Tristin said.
Colonizers always wanted to know more, write more. They labeled us according to their research findings. They called us “Indians” and then “Mixed,” “Metis,” “Mestizos,” “Latinos,” and much more. They told us who can or cannot be Indian according to blood quantum. They created the “Other” in the racial pyramid and placed us at the bottom of the pyramid. See how this works? See how “Latinos” do not feel connected to their Indigenous culture because we do not even see ourselves as Indigenous in the first place? See how “Metis” and “Mixed” people feel uncomfortable identifying as one or the other because they have been stigmatized by the research? Because identifying with the dominant culture is favorable, right? Again THIS is not supposed to happen.
Everything is a hierarchy in this society. Even to the point where animals and plants are not on an equal playing field with humans. This hierarchy, the language, the scientific approach, and other institutions add to the existing colonial structures that keep putting Natives, African American, Latinos, and other minorities to a disadvantage.
I shared this news with my elders. My grandmother says that nothing was more than the other.
The plant, the fish, the bird, the mountain, the river, the air, the fire, the people, the sun, the moon, the wind, and the stars all played an equal role in the interconnected world of Pachamama, Mother Earth. “You never know if that plant could be your great-grandmother,” my grandma would say to the young ones when they intend to stomp it.
It’s not a question about who is right or wrong. It’s about how we can work together to guarantee the survival of our people, which includes all races, nations, and living beings. It’s about guaranteeing life on this planet for many generations to come.