Day 2: Indigenous Food Ways: How Do We Move From Repression to Recognition?

For the Food Solutions New England 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge; prompt here, along with a list of things to look at and read.

The hills, beaches, forests and cities that I am most often within are on Narragansett, Nahaganset,* Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation, and Nipmuc land**. They were the site of King Philip’s War, one of the most brutal wars of conquest in the early days of European colonization, and I just encountered a newly gathered map of histories of that war that looks amazing. It’s called Our Beloved Kin: Remapping a New History of King Philip’s War, and I want to spend some time with it.

The Narragansett Tribe has a Food Sovereignty Initiative that looks pretty cool, too. This is from their website:

Picture

*The Narragansett are federally recognized, the Nahaganset are not and do not wish to be . The link gives a little more background, but this is a source of conflict between/among their members that it’s not my place to say any more about.

**Knowledge of whose ancestors lived here before Europeans arrived, and who lives here now, has been slowly sifting into my consciousness for a few years, as I said in the first day’s challenge—but even now, really, I just know about the names, not the lives, relationships and ways of thinking and feeling that go with them. Genuine relationship-building is slow and requires desire on all sides. I have been honored to work with and/or alongside some people who are Indigenous to the place where I live (as well as some people who are Indigenous to other places and live here now too) on various efforts where the same things matter to us or overlap, including this one, and have tried to learn by watching and listening.

Something useful that I think these daily challenges are making me think of: what are the ways that I can challenge myself—that is, learn—without placing an inappropriate demand or burden on someone else? If there’s a choice between my learning being demanding for someone, the displacement/enslavement/murder/exploitation of whose ancestors has benefited me, and me learning another way (even if that way is secondhand), I’m going to lean toward the latter. But possibly my avoidance is also a form of ass coverage/not wanting to be told no?

If I think about how I feel about this, I think I mostly feel…foolish? Gullible? Why on earth didn’t I put it together before, the various histories and silences? Actually the word for what I’m looking for is shame—I have something, but it’s wrong that I have it, and it’s more work for the people I have wronged to tell me how to make it right. But I think the good twin of shame is humility, the willingness to be small and listen, to be exposed, to learn from mistakes, to have foolishness be a necessary condition of learning and right action.

 

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/24/17

Weather: Hot and bright

Number of people: 4 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 3

Peanuts references: 1

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous years: 1, a very special one

Photos taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.25

 

Observations:

Occasionally, I got sprinkled or plopped on by leftover raindrops from the sycamore whose shade I sit in.

In the park, this season, it’s mainly masculine-presenting people who’ve come up to me.

This was the first Saturday stint this season, and the Kennedy Plaza crowds are definitely thinner.

Because it came up today, I might as well say unequivocally that I think Burnside Park should be for everyone, and that people who are homeless temporarily or more-or-less permanently should be able to be there.

 

Some conversations:

My biggest fear is a dead ocean. I understand that the ocean is vital to life, it’s the womb of life, and a lot of important things happen there that affect life on the surface. I do imagine it, but I don’t really do anything [when I think about it] other than try to think about something else. … To me that’s a nightmare, every living thing in the oceans, dead. I try to inform as many people as possible, because sitting around and doing nothing is something I can’t do. I adore fish … I believe that it is best for humans and sharks to not have interactions,but they’re very important to their ecosystems, just like grizzly bears are important to their ecosystems. I believe that God put us in the world to be caretakers of the Earth, not dominators.

*

Whatever you think about it, whether it’s cyclical or whether it’s man-made, and in my opinion it’s a mix of both–I was talking to a guy down on Narragansett Beach, he’s Native American and he’s lived here his whole life, he’s 72 years old. And he was telling me that on all the way on the right side of the beach, past Chair 1, that used to be sunbathing territory. Now it’s one and a half feet deep at high tide. It hits the seawall. Even at high tide there used to be 50 feet of beach there.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 8/24/16

Weather: Hot and bright with occasional breezes. Remembered to bring water this time.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 2 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $3.90

 

Observations:

Kind of a sparse day–there were quite a few people at the market, but a lot of them were listening to/watching a Michael Jackson impersonator who was very energetic but also weirdly heteronormative/toxically-masculine in his patter, like jokes about how if he came home doing the Michael Jackson voice his wife would kick him out of the house.

What one interlocutor called, in slight fingerquotes, the “paralysis of the left”, was a big theme today, what with one thing and another.

There was also someone painting faces, and watching kids run around showing off their face paint was pretty great.

 

Some conversations:

[These two were friends, and came up together.]

Person 1: I was just in Ecuador. [One of the people I was there with] grew up in an indigenous community there, and the oil companies have gone in and done pretty terrible things there … They seem to have kind of taken a divide and conquer approach: they give motors [for working boats] to some groups but not to others. Or they install drills, they hire indigenous people to do the work, and people are psyched about it, because they get money–and then they get involved in the money economy, and when the drills start to go dry there’s no more work, and they haven’t been keeping up with their agricultural work. And that’s the oil that we [U.S. people] use. I’m uncomfortable with how complacent I become in this: the problem seemed so intractable when I was there, but it’s easy to come back to Providence and ignore it, to travel to places and do things that leave a big carbon footprint and are contingent upon this exploitation.

Is this something you’ve talked about with people since you’ve been back?

It’s not something I’ve talked about. I’ve had some conversations with comrades, but I feel defeated–Chevron’s still gonna exist, Texaco’s gonna exist. There was just one successful class action, but the oil companies haven’t paid up … It feels so big and so intractable. Even though [the person she was working with] knows how to build solar panels or knows how to negotiate, none of that works! The government [of Ecuador] has screwed over people while giving them some concessions. Government corruption is part of the problem, but the government is who has the most money and potential to change things.

What do you do when you feel this anxiety and this frustration?

When I was really little–7, 8, 9–I remember waking up crying and my mom came in and asked me what was wrong, I was reading a lot of National Geographic and they were just starting to talk about climate change, global warming, and they were like, “Oh, hurricanes, oh, sea level rise,” and I was terrified that a hurricane would kill me and my family. Very me-centered. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to compartmentalize the anxiety and not feel it as intensely, and kind of move about my days without being overwhelmed by crippling anxiety, but my ability to shut it down concerns me. I wish there was like a “CONSEQUENCES” button I could press when I got in my car, like “this is the impact of you driving.” It’s hard to feel the impact of our choices on a gut level without the immediacy of knowing the consequences–and I don’t, I don’t know the consequences, I don’t know what the world is gonna be like.

Person 2: I think people also have a distrust of their own agency in the political system. On an individual level, we feel helpless. I’ve been thinking about the political education I received, or didn’t receive–I was never taught about local government, or even really national government, or government in other countries, in a way that was like, “What is my role and relationship to this government if something’s hurting me or hurting my community?” I don’t know many kids or even adults who think like that, who think in terms of participatory democracy.

Person 1: If we were to really think about systems to organize people in different ways politically, anarchist non-hierarchical modeling–but if I say, “I don’t know if it’s possible,” I sound like people who don’t want to think in these transformative ways about our political system. It’s impossible to ignore the extent of of environmental destruction and also social inequality that’s so tied up in how capitalism works best. But I don’t know where I should sit on the spectrum of people buying into a system that might be uncomfortable and difficult to wrap our heads around because it hasn’t been done in the U.S.

Person 2: What if the norm for who plays roles in current systems changes? I was talking to a friend who’s an economist, and asking her to explain what she does, and she was like, “What people should know is that it’s not about money. I study it because when you when you have that knowledge, it gives you a seat at the table where not a lot of people who believe what I believe are sitting.” Maybe it’s not that the systems don’t work but that the people in a lot of these authoritative spots have been the same people for a long time.

Person 1: I feel like the ideals [of this country/participatory democracy] are noble and worth fighting for, I’m just not sure the tools are sharp enough. If we really want international environmental organization to go forward, why has diplomacy been replaced by U.S. military force? Is that how we want to be welcoming people to the table? If there are things that nobody should really have, how do we even start those conversations?

This is really provisional and I think would only work if you were talking to another person, not a government or something, but I think you could ask, “What would have to change about the world in order for you to be willing to make these changes, or give this thing up? And how does that world sound to you?”

That sounds like some of the same language people use to talk about getting over addiction, like what I ask myself about some of my own habits and what I ask my friends who are struggling with addictions. What is the world in which we no longer feel the need for these behaviors? With environmental issues, capitalism has fed the crisis, it depends on inequality and on people living in shitty conditions. But I think anarchism alienates a lot of people. What political systems can people imagine, and imagine themselves participating in?

*

I’m anxious about inter-organizational and interpersonal relationships related to campaigning against the National Grid LNG plant in the Port of Providence. We’ve got people who are focused on outcome, who just want something to happen, and we’ve got people who are focused on process, who are trying to put in place a system of organizing the right way so that we have that even if we don’t make anything happen this time. I guess it’s what they call the “paralysis of the left”.

From how you’re talking about it, you’re more of a process person.

Yeah, I guess so, but I’ve put myself in a position where I’m surrounded by outcome people.

What do you do when you feel the stress and the frustration?

I bought a bike. And I joined a friend with a quahogging boat–we’re going out maybe this weekend, definitely next week. And I have kids. Sometimes that adds to your anxiety, sometimes it distracts from it.

Do your kids know what you do?

They’re pretty little. My son knows. My daughter–she was with me when we marched against the Burrillville power plant, but I think for her it was more like, “Oh, there’s a dinosaur float.” You’d have to break it down so simply that it wouldn’t be effective. I also run a business, so I take time out of that to do this work, and it’s not like I begrudge the time but when it becomes more complicated, it takes more time than I planned. And it’s tough to get anything done when you’re arguing about it.

 

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/29/16

Weather: Hot, but okay in the shade, even breezy and cool there at times.

Number of people: 13 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1, indirectly (see below)

People known to me, and I to them, from previous sessions:1

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.07, plus one Hershey’s Miniature Special Dark with Peanuts

 

Observations:

Sunday was Brown University’s graduation day, so there were a lot of families walking by carrying commencement programs. Almost none of these stopped, though.

I know people smoke weed in the park, but this is the first day I’ve actually been able to smell it, pretty strongly.

Lots of stories today that I and my interlocutors didn’t frame in the specific context of counseling, but that were great; I did note them after the fact but wasn’t able to get the specific wording, so I haven’t posted them here.

Today I spoke with someone whose spouse was translating for them, and it was definitely not an ideal setup–for example, if their spouse had been the source of their anxiety, they couldn’t have talked about it. It made me appreciate my students who have become medical interpreters.

In future, if someone who wants to talk to me is using a cane, I will offer them the stool I use to sit on.

 

Some conversations:

I think people make their own anxiety. I think people over-worry.

Do you have ways that you keep yourself from worrying?

I always put a check mark, like, “That’s gonna get taken care of.” I do it in my mind and I just keep moving forward from that. I don’t look back, I just keep going … When you have a plan, you worry less. Anxiety’s a disgusting disease, but some people do cause it themselves. They don’t want to focus on other things … They haven’t learned coping skills.

How did you learn yours?

Through treatment. The advice that I have, I learned from somebody else. I took it in.

*

[These two are friends who came up together]

Person 1: It’s hot out, it’s the first time it’s all of a sudden felt so hot. I spent the night at my parents’ house, and it was too hot to sleep without the air conditioner, so I went and got it from the attic at one in the morning…I meant to put it on in power-save mode, but it stayed on all night and it made the room freezing. Even the measures we take to control our own temperature control us. You can’t escape from the air, it’s the medium we all travel through. You can go to places, you can plan your life, like “I’m going to move to Alaska,” but there’s only so many things you can do to get away from the heat. In winter you can add more clothes to get warmer, but in summer there’s only so much you can take off.

Person 2: Unless you rip your own skin off.

[To Person 2] Do you have any anxieties of your own?

Person 2: Mostly what we’re doing to the animals kinda worries me a shit-ton. It’s like we’re invaders here on earth. We’re messing everything up for the animals that live here, and its their space, everything that’s happening with global warming and with the atmosphere. Everything, like their behavior’s falling apart and not enough people are worrying about it.

 

Person 1: I’ve been TA-ing again this year at [MIDDLE SCHOOL], and we just did a lesson about ecology, talking about bees as a keystone species, pollinating food–not just the food chain but a giant food web. And I’m worrying again about colony collapse disorder–there’s only 60%, 70% of the bees there were in the ’50s and ’60s*, and it’s because of these giant mass farming techniques, where they move the hives around. Whole colonies are dissipating because they don’t have a sense of place. We’re so used to transporting things, but what else is collapsing because it has no sense of home? How much of a solution is moving to a place when your climate gets destroyed?

 

I feel like a lot of talk about “environmentalism” or whatever focuses on not doing things, but I wanted to ask you guys to think about, how can we actively give back to the systems that we depend on, or nourish them? Like that sense of place?

 

Person 1: I want to go back to the not-doing-things: I went to temple for the first time in a while with my friend, and the rabbi [was talking about] Shabbat and relating it to a sabbatical–you rest, you give the land a rest and let it lie fallow. But it’s been corrupted by the weekend and the professional sabbatical, where you’re supposed to be more productive during your vacations, answering emails at night. Taking an actual rest, not doing anything, productivity in stopping.

 

*Doctor’s Note: I haven’t fact-checked this.

 

*

 

A man with a cane, who gets impatient with me: I can’t really understand him, except “My life. It sucks.”

 

 

*

 

 

I’ve just been diagnosed with COPD, and I’m really feeling it. I need to quit smoking but I don’t see it happening. There’s no cure for it. It’s like I’ve been given a time clock–I haven’t looked that far into it so I don’t know [how long I have].

 

*

 

 

I’m part of an advisory [committee? didn’t catch the word] for the EPA. It’s challenging. How to keep folks safe in their environments, especially indigenous communities, with the contamination in tribal territories and burial sites. We’re trying to … decrease a war from happening between civil society and the government, to work toward world peace collectively, by using tribal healing mechanisms, but we need help from the EPA and from state and federal agencies, and building relationships is challenging. But I think the government is ready as well. They see the stats and they see how their budgets will be affected, so we try to show them how it won’t be, but there’s gonna have to be some give and take.

 

 

 

 

Reparation Thursday

Happy Thanksgiving, also known as Reparation Thursday! If you are a  descendant of the Europeans who settled the place now known as the U.S., and you don’t have a farm to give back this year, here are some smaller options.

Especially if you live near it, you can donate to the Tomaquag Museum, or a museum of Native art, history and culture in your area. I’ll even look one up for you if you leave your region in the comments!

You could donate to the American Indian College Fund and help someone who wants to go to college go to college.

You could support language restoration, preservation and revitalization efforts, like ‘Aha Pūnana Leo, the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, Liicugtukut Alutiiq, the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival, the Euchee/Yuchi Language Project, or another in your area/region (this is just a small sample–search for the bolded phrase above + the name of a tribe or nation in your area). Not all of these sites have links for donation, but if they don’t and especially if they’re in your region, it’s worth writing to them and see if they can accept donations from individuals.

You could help fund indigenous activism that is also explicitly ecological activism, like the Indigenous Environmental Network, or other projects that work toward sustaining Native peoples and cultures, like Running Strong, or projects that seek justice for Native peoples and cultures, like the Lakota People’s Law Project. Again, these are starting points; there are plenty more, and it’s good to look for something associated with the people whose land you’re living on.

This, is, pretty literally, the least you can do.

Leave other ideas in the comments! Or if there’s a problem you know of with any of these organizations, let me know about that too–I cross-checked where I could, but have no direct experience with most of them.

Today is a good day to give back.

 

Alternate Histories: 10/14, 11/25

10/14/15

When my son was seven, he heard there was an asteroid heading toward the Earth and he could not sleep. So we talked about it, and he read about it a lot, and he learned about it. In high school he took an environmental science class and it was back to the not sleeping. And that’s what he’s doing in college right now, and I say, “I’m sorry this is the planet my generation is leaving you.” … I think the wrong people are worried about it. My effort to do all this is nothing. The people who are causing this, the construction industry, the hospital industry–they’re not worried.

 

11/25/15

Now W is twenty-five; he has a job with the state foresters. Now he is thirty-three, training deer hunters and guerilla protectors of the state’s forests in the Arcadia Management Area. Now he is six, learning the deep names of the plants and landforms from his grandmother and aunties. Now he is thirty-five and the seedlings he and his cousins planted have reached hip height and then succumbed to an illness that drifted up from the south. Now he is seven, staying up all night, reading books about craters and trajectories and blast radii and impact sites; the flashlight they keep handy for when National Grid turns the power off is like a bright heavenly body that should not be there, and his mother comes in to sit with him. Now he is forty, leaning off a ladder to help his other cousins encrust a disused coal plant with solar cells and vine grafts. Now he is fifty-nine and chewing culen, which drifted up from the south, to manage his diabetes. Now he is twenty-one, dancing in honor of his history, in the presence of his future.

There is no construction industry anymore; there are people who build things, and people who advise them on building things, old people who squat beside heaps of excavated earth or lean on a piece of reclaimed lumber or roll up, nudging the controls of their balloon-tired power chairs with their chins, or are carried on the back of a stalwart grandchild. There is no hospital industry anymore; there is, sort of, a pharmaceutical industry, since some medicines and medical supplies are best made at a factory scale, but people care for each other’s bodies and minds on a case-by-case basis. They are tender, vulgar, exhausted; they don’t see death as anybody’s failure. Every year, the time comes to send some of them on their way. It doesn’t matter which year it is.

 

 

 

Alternate Histories: 6/13, 6/23

6/13/15

I remember in 1978 Louise and I were discussing, and I said, It’s justice, we gotta work on justice, and she said No, we gotta work on the planet. She said, If there’s no planet, what’s the goddamn point? Well, I went and worked in the justice system, in prisons, tried to clean things up a bit. I did good work, but now I think she was right. I’ll die before it’s dead. I’ve got about 15 years, I think. But it’s just getting more and more dead. My generation lives with it all the time–I don’t know about this generation, I don’t know how they see it. I can’t bear to see the trees being cut down. I can’t watch anything about the Amazon. It distresses me.

*

6/23/15

The next day, JL stood at his kitchen counter holding a framed picture of Louise in the same hand as one of her armbands, which he had kept, and asked for her help in thinking about the Amazon rainforest. He had never felt so foolish except in retrospect. Pointlessness, the fear of it, settled on him like a damp blanket. Thinking about it, his mind jeered at him, what good is thinking about it going to do? He felt the edges of the picture frame, the canvas seam of the armband. He turned his mind heavily toward the picture in his mind: a burnt brown stubble, ankle-high, bordering a tall green haze.

JL realized that he didn’t know what the Amazon was made of. Words like “canopy” and “understory” seeped into his thoughts: where did they come from? He did know enough to know that once he separated it into its parts, he would need to reassemble those parts again in order to know it, that a forest lives in relationships, in root-nodes, in flights and deaths. What good will knowing it do? sneered his mind. He blotted it out with green.

A week later, his head stuffed full of dams and farms and villages and cities, watersheds and weather patterns, symbionts and food webs and the sense that what almost overloaded his mind with green and brown and flashes of bright color was the tiniest, most inadequate scrap, JL quit his job. He signed his house over to the Narragansett tribe and cashed in his small 401K for his travels. He folded scratch paper together to make a book with fifteen pages.

In the first year, he stayed with a friend’s cousin and wept daily outside the Nike offices in the Flatiron building, picturing Mato Grosso forest cleared for cattle grazing. A small crowd gathered. The Humans of New York guy took pictures. But JL didn’t know about any of this. He was a statue with tears streaming down.

He used the second and third years to make his way toward the Vale Mining and BNDES offices in Rio de Janeiro. Sometimes people walked with him, and wept with him outside a Whole Foods or a lumberyard, a maquila or a superfarm. He worked on learning Portuguese on trains and buses, when he didn’t fall fast asleep with a skyline of brown stumps etching his inner eyelids. He lost his fifteen-page book back in northern Texas.

In the fourth year, he reached Rio. Someone said (in Portuguese), You’re the crying guy. Have you seen this? and handed him a phone with a cracked screen. As he slowly thumbed downward, puzzling out the sentences about weepers slowly seeping into corporate headquarters in San Francisco, in Houston, in Orlando, standing there eerily, like the walking dead, with ashes on their faces into which their tears carved rivulets, making it nearly impossible for the people who worked there to get anything done.

In the fifth year, while police and national guard forces were occupied with the weepers, Aweti, Kayapo and Wauja people sugared the gas tanks of building equipment, sent disabling lines of code to project computers, accepted donations of all the company food supplies from Belo Monte dam construction workers who were on their side. We turned around and it was gone, the men said, shrugging. No, we really couldn’t say what happened. We didn’t see it, but you know, we can’t work without anything to eat.

In the sixth year, JL was too sick to travel any more. Three families in Belem took turns taking care of him. A line of weepers moved southeastward to Bolivia, carefully picking up their trash as they went and occasionally, burying someone who died of hunger or snakebite or a bullet fired by a cop from a passing armored car. They learned from each other how to move well in the forest. They made lines and rings of human protection around the trees.

In the seventh year, JL died, worn out by hard travel and stress and grief. In China, people who couldn’t themselves go out to the shale gas fields in Sichuan Province to be weepers themselves tended old people and children, kept up farms and gardens, substitute-taught for third-grade classes, even stepped into factory shifts hoping devoutly that the shift bosses wouldn’t notice. Some didn’t; some did, but let it go.

In the eight year, microbes and beetles ate and digested and excreted JL’s coffin and body, and tree seedlings began to sprout undisturbed. Some died off, infected by blights and rusts, or eaten by tapirs and cows running loose after the people raising them had pulled up stakes and either joined the weepers or left the country in disgust. The cows and the tapirs were wary of one another but came to be companionable.

In the ninth year, the BNDES, unable to recoup its investments in Belo Monte and without the help of outside loans, collapsed in on itself. The weepers of Rio wiped their faces clean of ashes and took in many of the bank’s former employees, giving them a chance to let their old lives go. Some made the transition; one or two took their own lives; a few became violent and the young people of Rio drove them out of the city, where most died.

In the tenth, eleventh and twelfth years, small and very patient coalitions of forest families and their city cousins established indigenous settlements and mixed teaching settlements in and around Altamira, Fortaleza and Mujui dos Campos. Some of these thrived, others dissolved; cholera gutted one, one had to move because a spring dried up, one was washed away because it didn’t account for extreme flooding when a drought broke in three successive superstorms; a leading Matipu family lost patience and returned to their home. Babies were born, fevers cured, parasites adjusted to.

In the thirteenth year, weepers in Kuala Lumpur successfully shut down a logging company there, but this news didn’t reach Brazil and Bolivia until the fourteenth year, and spread only slowly, because many phone companies went under after BNDES and its affiliates collapsed, and people relied more and more on highly localized cell networks and runners.

In the fifteenth year, pacu and their food and their predators were thriving in the river, terra preta was forming again in some of the clearings, and in others, seedlings were bristling like hair.