By Tara Houska
Throughout this work for our children's futures, a deeply problematic thread continues to weave itself into the conversation. I recognize that many are only now waking up to the notion of including impacted communities when advocating for protection of land and resources. I recognize that many are unfamiliar with indigenous rights and struggles, that our complexity and trauma are unfamiliar. I recognize that the colonial narrative has done its very best to ensure indigenous peoples are almost entirely erased from social consciousness.
Too often, I see indigenous rights treated as a talking point. Too often, I face those who would speak over indigenous peoples, who believe they can advocate for our rights better than we can. Too often, I hear non-Native NGOs and allies decrying the "aggression" and "intimidating behavior" of indigenous peoples. I've heard suggestions that these "aggressive" Natives should be cast aside as outside agitators. Outside agitators. Let that sit for a moment. "Stolen land" isn't a catchphrase on a t-shirt, it is a reality Native people live each and every day. "Indigenous" isn't a word on a piece of paper or a colorful photo op of Natives in regalia, it is who we are.
The survival of Mother Earth unites us all as human beings. We fight alongside each other for the generations to come. I have so many incredible comrades, allies, accomplices, and friends who do this work for the future.
The perspective of an indigenous person may not be understood, but it must be respected. When we do this work, indigenous peoples are often entering into spaces that haven't had open doors or positive connotations. When we tell our truth, it isn't just a story full of statistics and personal anecdotes in an easy to digest format. It is real and it fucking hurts. So many times I feel like screaming instead of calmly explaining how tar sands would wipe out wild rice beds and the heart of Anishinaabe culture.
When we interact with state and federal governments, our relationship and history is far different than most. Fort Snelling, Fort Yates -- these names mean something. We carry our ancestors with us, they fought so we could live. It isn't just a nice piece of land, a pretty lake, a pristine wetland. It is where thousands of generations of our relatives lived, loved, fought, died, and endured for us to be here today. It is where cultural ways of being and teachings emerged and survived for thousands of years, to be learned by the new generations today.
So when you grow frustrated by the "angry" Natives or don't understand why we are so upset or why we can't just take it somewhere else, remember that these systems were not created by us. Remember that these systems are built on oppression, on genocide, on slavery, and are fundamentally flawed. Remember that indigenous peoples have been left out of the conversation and it is only because of our resilience and connection to the land that we are now in this place. Remember that 80% of the world's remaining biodiversity is in indigenous hands for a reason. Remember that a poverty-stricken, largely forgotten demographic led one of the most significant resistance movements in decades, and that we have carried this resistance all over Turtle Island and the world. Remember whose land you are on. Remember what is at stake.
With love and respect,