After working for systemic change by way of alternative media and personal lifestyle choices these many years, this activist concludes that the “occupy” revolution is best cheered from a distance. While I wholeheartedly support, in theory, the horizontal, non-hierarchical consensus building process, and I know perfection is impossible, there’s something fundamentally important that is being ignored or dismissed.
I can’t help it, I cringe every time I hear the word “occupy.”
Maybe it’s because I’m friends with a native woman who was taken from her parents when she was a child, one of many thousands during what’s known as the 60’s sweep. Maybe it’s because I know a native man whose father recently suffered intense stress and trauma while trying to complete the documents necessary to get compensation from the government for abuse he experienced in the residential school system. I’ve definitely been transformed by the pow-wows and ceremonies I’ve witnessed both inside and outside traditional round houses, the smoke circling from the central fire through the hole in the roof while drummers drum and dancers, young and old, dressed in their traditional blankets and masks, recreate the stories of old.
I don’t know all the details of all their creation and survival stories, the intricate ceremonies that honour the land and all her creatures. I don’t speak their languages. I know that at the time of contact there were as many languages spoken in British Columbia as in Europe, and I know that the First Peoples of this land lived and survived and thrived on this land for hundreds of thousands of years before my blood ancestors arrived here with their colonialist ideas, their small-pox infected blankets, their genocidal intentions and policies. Thankfully they weren’t entirely successful and, although some 90% of the indigenous population was wiped out completely, some remain. And, amazingly, they’re often willing to share the wisdom of their culture even with those of us whose white faces must offer a constant reminder of that recent history.
So when I hear these otherwise incredible revolutionaries dismiss, without a second thought, concerns raised by indigenous people about the word “occupy,” I feel sorrow. I feel sorrow that I’m not able to fully embrace this revolution. I feel sorrow at the depths the colonialist thought has infiltrated peoples’ minds, so that they’re unable or unwilling to accept the alienation that a single word, propped atop their ideals, perpetuates.
I notice that some people with indigenous heritage have embraced the movement, even with its language of occupation. I wish I could do the same. Perhaps it’s my white skin that prevents me. I’ve worked hard to decolonize my brain and live a simple lifestyle with respect for all creatures. I’ve said for years that if we’re going to survive on this planet we’re going to need the wisdom of the ancients who understood the relationship between and among all creatures. It’s just not a revolution if indigenous voices aren’t respected.
It’s ironic, I suppose, that I will continue to defend my decision to life a vegan lifestyle while also defending indigenous culture which traditionally consumes various wild creatures. That’s a whole other discussion, one I’d prefer to have with women like Linda Fisher who “believes her American Indian ancestors would say it’s time to stop the suffering and the killing.”
It’s inspiring that some “occupy” movements have acknowledged the traditional land they’re occupying. Many people don’t even know the traditional names. Manhattan, where the Occupy Wall Street People are assembling, is on land known as Manna-Hata. In Vancouver, they’re on Coast Salish land. If they’re willing to acknowledge the land, which I think is the least we descendents of settlers can do, then they ought to also incorporate those traditional names into their movement. Occupy Wall Street would become Occupy Manna-Hata. In Vancouver it’d be Occupy Coast Salish.
There’s no doubt … it ain’t easy to achieve 100% agreement. And it ain’t easy to watch as a movement, which actually began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, then Europe and Israel, is being presented as the #occupy movement that all started in the grand old U S of A.
Turtle Island, as it’s traditionally known.
Emma Goldman said “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”
In Victoria, they’ve heard the native voice, and here we’re dancing.