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:

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*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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Alternate History: Refusal 4

The next day, the students came into the well-appointed classroom, with its big windows and its new desks and its variously computerized boards and screens, and I sat there and said nothing.

I refused to teach them and my colleagues refused to teach them and the people who worked in the offices refused to explain anything to them or process their paperwork or even help them withdraw, and the custodians refused to empty the garbage cans and the groundskeepers refused to shovel the snow, and the people who ordinarily cooked for them refused to cook for them and turned the delivery trucks away, or unloaded them and then gave the food directly to their own and their neighbors’ families.

I lost my job and I went home, frightened, sick to my stomach, with less to lose–less status, less money, less safety–and free to do more, or do differently. They all did, we all did.

(There’s another version of this story where I was the only one to refuse, but I like this version better.)

*

I actually feel like teaching is one of the areas where I can be useful, but I could be wrong about that. The founders of the institution that employs me made some of their money by buying and selling human beings (which they have acknowledged) and they built it on land stolen from the Narragansett Tribe (which, as far as I know, the institution has not acknowledged).

The proposed “track straightening” of the Amtrak Northeast Corridor would pass through Narragansett tribal land and sacred sites, and members of the tribe have voiced their opposition to it. (It would also damage or destroy forests and wetlands, both of which can help Rhode Island weather climate change.) You can see the environmental impact statement here, and via email you can tell Amtrak/NEC Future not to build this track: info AT necfuture DOT com. They are supposedly taking comments until January 31st.

You can also call the office of Senator Jack Reed, who is in favor of building the new track, at (401) 943-3100, and tell him why you’re opposed to building it. I’ll post some words later today that you can use, if you want.

Alternate Histories: 5/16, 4/4

5/16/14

[These two were a couple.]

HER: I feel like I grew up in the age of environmental anxiety. Food security is a huge thing. These bugs don’t die as much over winter–there are so many bugs on potatoes and cucumbers. It only takes like 5 degrees.

 

Are you a farmer, or a gardener?

 

I grow things in small little pots. We had a farm in Philadelphia, but we moved up here because we figured in 20 years it’s going to be colder up here. We don’t own a car–I feel like we lose a lot socially but that’s the one big thing we do. No matter what you do, the weather’s gonna pick anybody. It’s not going to spare the communities that do the most. Everybody’s worried but nobody’s pissed off. I think because we’re not desperate enough, we’re still comfortable. And we’re the largest source of the reason it’s happening. It’s still a question up in the air in the media–they say one out of four Americans don’t believe in climate change instead of saying three out of four do … I don’t think we have the infrastructure for what new world might happen. So much relies on fossil fuels and electricity. Clean water, sewage — if people have a plan, they’re not making it transparent to the layperson. It’s a big spiral.

HIM: The state of RI and the city are super into subsidizing cars, parking garages; they have these half-baked plans for a bike lane combined with a bus lane, I call it the leper lane for people who aren’t in a car. These half-baked people–they drive to work every day and they’re making policy. And the oceans are gonna acidify and kill everything.

You laugh when you say that, like it’s a joke, but do you believe it? Or what?

 

I believe it. I go between it’s so bad I don’t even know if I can do anything about this, and trying to put enough blinders on to do what I can. Insects and parasites moving but trees can’t move fast enough, so whole forests are just dying. We’re just done, can’t breathe. When I’m optimistic I hope people will be forced to change their ways, but when I’m pessimistic I think people with money will just keep going and people without money will be the ones who have the problems, maybe die. It isn’t like all humanity dies or nobody dies. It’ll be the end of the world for people who can’t get food. I sort of think the world will move on, but I don’t know if people will.

*

4/4/15

The world is a world of difference.

Later that year, L and L, in love, read about Cyzenis albicans, a fly brought in by humans to eat the larvae of the winter moth–also brought in by humans–that turned the leaves of trees in Blackstone Park and Swan Point Cemetery to skeletons. Hope is like a worm in the heart. How can it possibly learn to live without destroying the heart?

L got a vasectomy. L thought, where else can we undo ourselves, or where can we do more? How far down do you go: the root hair, the microbe, the genome? Do you pull your hand away or do you keep it there, putting pressure on the wound you made? Together they made out the deed that transferred ownership of their house to the Narragansett Tribe.

L and L, getting older now, stole signs from the highway department, and some tarps with bright green grass blades printed on them from a construction site. The lanes they blocked off, one on each side of the highway, looked very official.

L and L died. The saplings began to open up the pavement. The wiry grasses rooted, and the tough lichens clung on.

The great-grandchildren of the people who lived in that house don’t sleep much at night. That’s when they bring the larva to the surface of the trees and pack them up for the bug-protein maker. When you kill someone, even by accident, you have to take on some of their responsibilities. Their piss fuels generators and bacteria transform their shit to fertilizer. They grow pennyroyal in small little pots, to keep the fleas off, and their eyes open widely in the dark. Through the hot days, slung in the shade of the trees, they sleep in hammocks of mosquito net, except in storms.