Witnessing Indigenous People’s Day, Finding a Way to Participate

There is a growing movement to replace Columbus Day with a day—this day—honoring instead the first peoples of the land, their ways of life, wisdom stories, ceremonies, and histories.  Moving away from a celebration of “discovery” of an already well-populated land and its conquest and appropriation, towards an appreciation of the many cultures long embedded on the land, Native—as my Oxford Dictionary has it: “belonging naturally, from the very soil,”—is a shift in consciousness overdue and desperately needed. The dominant culture—the domineering culture—has lost its way. We need a new story, a new way that inspires and informs a way of living with more awareness, more care, more knowledge. This day is an opportunity and a reminder to recognize that there has always been a model of how to live well in this place if we would only pay it some attention.

In search of this wisdom, this better path, I turned to the work of Robin Wall Kimmerer. I have been slowly reading and pondering her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, dipping into its chapters and exploring its stories. I do not want to come to its end. I know I will read this book over and over, finding new messages and sinking her words deep into my heart and mind. This morning I added another dimension to my study of her work when I listened to her address a roomful of conferees at the Geography of Hope conference held in Point Reyes, California in 2015. Her posted message from that day resonates even more urgently today; we have even less time to lose!

I can only begin to tell the power of her message and her invitation to explore the “other intelligences” beyond the human who share this planet with us and to attempt to open myself to the wisdom of the plants and animals as she recommends. One thing she said—among many—that seized my attention was that we “already know” this ancient knowledge that the world is animate. The world is alive and communicating with us, ready to teach us the way. In a flash I understood that yes, we knew this as children. Then the world was enchanted; then we knew the trees and birds and wind and sun are as alive as we were. We can recover that knowledge and rebuild that relationship, reconnect in that vital way and begin again to live as if every being mattered, that there is no “us and them.” No “it” or “other” but as Robin states, all are kin. All.

This majestic Big-leaf maple tree, along with its twin now lost to demolition, was a place of magic for my children when they were very young. They could play under its embracing boughs for hours, making up stories and quietly absorbing its strong presence. I think of it now as an important “elder” in their lives, and still in mine.

As I’ve written before, I struggle to feel “native to this place” as an immigrant and as a novice to understanding Nature’s gifts in this moist and mossy land. My ancestors are from other far-away places and I can claim no deep roots to this soil. I feel an interloper in this quest. But Robin Kimmerer offers a way to honor this special day: through gratitude. We can begin to repay the debt by paying attention to what is here, the air we breathe, the ground we walk upon. We can plant ourselves here and tend the land. We can be grateful and full of wonder at the cedar trees and salmon and salal, the eagles and hummingbirds, the nuthatches and downy woodpeckers, flickers and tiny bush tits. Even as we partake, we can give back our reverence and regard as one of the family of beings.

It’s impossible to capture the entirety of this huge tree.
The weathered bark-skin, the mossy patches and small pockets between root systems created a world for imaginative play. When we eventually wandered home, everyone was calm and quiet. We had been with a great and ancient grandmother being.

You can find Robin’s keynote speech concerning Women and the Land here: https://www.humansandnature.org/videos#sb=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhQKdJHLDcw

3 thoughts on “Witnessing Indigenous People’s Day, Finding a Way to Participate

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