Category: environment

Care for the Water, Care for the Women

I was back at the state capitol today. Sometimes I wonder if I should maybe just avoid that building. It seems every time I go there something makes me cry.

Today, I was there to join with hundreds of other to remember and honor all the missing and murdered Indigeneous women. As of 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 cases of missing Native American women and girls. I am terrified to considered how much the numbers have grown since then. Indigenous women and girls are ten times as likely to be murdered as all other ethnicities. More than half of Native women and girls experience sexual violence. According to the Center for Disease Control murder is the third leading cause of death among Indigenous women.

Today, we sat and listened to the stories of survivors and to stories of the families and friends of those who didn’t survive. I found myself in tears and thinking about some of the little girls I got to know during my time in Minnesota. In particular, I found myself thinking about two little girls who are now both just coming to that stage of life of entering womanhood. I remember that time being confusing and hard enough with body changes, the discovery of sexuality, and noticing the cute guy at school. These girls live in a different world and I could only cry as I can’t protect them on my own.

Why is it this way we wonder? Well, all I can come down to is that it’s about power. These little girls, these women are too powerful. If they are allowed to keep their power, the forces of evil would be crushed. Rape is a tool to control and break down not only the individual, but the whole community. If the women are controlled with the force of violence and fear, the children are controlled. If the women and the children are controlled, the men are broken. Nothing works anymore. The community struggles to merely survive when the women are no longer safe.

Who profits when the community struggles? Big oil, mining companies, all the corporations who make money off of Indigenous people’s lands and waters. That’s why we see the numbers of women disappearing and being murdered going up when the mining companies and oil pipelines come in. It’s control. It’s breaking down the community and tearing out the heart.

So, what do we do? Listen to the women and the girls. Honor them and respect them. Don’t allow for this injustice to continue. Remember that these women, they are the keepers of the water. Respect the water and you will respect the women. The two are not separate. Care for the water. Care for the women. I can’t protect those little girls on my own, but together we can. Each action, every day keep remembering. Care for the water. Care for the women. Respect the water. Respect the women.

Save A Walleye, An Ongoing Lie

It was in 1974 that two brothers went fishing. Mike and Fred Tribble, two Anishanabe men from the La Court Oreille reservation in Wisconsin had called the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to inform them of the fishing trip and then went out on Chief Lake, crossed the imaginary reservation line, cut a hole in the ice, and speared a fish off the reservation.

This small action would lead to more than decade in the courts resulting in the historic Voigt decision which acknowledged the Chippewa’s (name used for Anishanabe in legal records) right to 1) harvest fish, game, and plants off-reservation on public lands (and on private lands if proven necessary to provide a modest living); 2) use both traditional and modern methods in the hunting and gathering; and 3) barter or sell the harvest.

The decision took the hood off a long simmering Klan-like hatred in the Northwoods. The boat landings were filled with protesters like those in the photo above. Still, despite threats to their lives the Anishanabe stood strong and fished. Over four years, a Witness for Nonviolence made of allies from around the state grew to stand a peaceful guard along the landings.

Over time, the protestors drew their Klan hood back over their being and things quieted. Many who weren’t Anishanabe started to believe that the struggle was over, that it had become safe again. That wasn’t the reality. Whether the protests are small and quiet, not magnified by the media or loud and in the light of the cameras, they are there and they are threatening.

Just yesterday I learned of a family who were out spearfishing and attacked by white men. The men threw things and harassed the family with racial slurs and threats and one of the white men pulled down his pants exposing himself to the children who were fishing with their father and other family. This is nothing new. Some fishers can tell stories of being shot at every year. Yet they continue because they are Anishanabe and they must be who they are.

When will we learn? The Anishanabe have hunted, fished, and gathered here since the great spirit guided them to this place. Their harvest is miniscule in comparison to that of those who sports fish and the tribes work hard to care for the environment and replenish the fishing stock. This isn’t an issue about fish. This is Wisconsin’s version of the Klan and it is simply wrong and needs to stop.

Want to really save a walleye? Support Native spear fishers and keep the racist freaks off the water.

Speaking to the Water

I came across an interesting character in science today, or some would say pseudoscience. I was listening to a meditation video my friend Ivan was doing and he mentioned studies that were done back in 1990’s by a Dr. Masaru Emoto. Emoto believed that water could be structurally changed by the way that it was treated. He had people actually speak kindly or cruelly to the water and then would freeze it with the idea that the ice crystals of the water that was treated cruelly would look different, more “ugly.”

There were multiple problems with Emoto’s studies and few scientists considered them to be scientifically viable, but the idea does make me wonder. Afterall, most ideas are foolish until they are accepted.

There are many cultures who have spoken to the water over thousands of years. They’ve prayed to her. They’ve thanked her for the gifts she’s given. They’ve watched her, paid attention to her messages, planned their lives based on the things she’s told them and she treated generations of people well.

These days not many listen to her. Not many speak to the water with kindness. Most of us, in reality, use her and abuse her. What happen then? Well, it seems the storms are growing while she is dying and we’re losing our food, our drink, and our way. I wonder what would happen if we spoke to the water with kindness?

Changing and Staying the Same: The Struggle Goes On

November 22nd, 2014
It’s been a long time.  A lot has changed and some things have stayed the same.  I suppose it’s time to write again.

When I last wrote on this blog I lived in Madison, Wisconsin.  I was in the middle of the progressive haven in the midst of the crushing regime of the man considered by many to be the worst governor in Wisconsin history, and I was tired of being an activist and organizer.  I was taking a break and mostly just being a pessimist and trying to get through a diagnosis of epilepsy.

I had to get away.  After months of searching I came across a position with the Toxic Taters Coalition in northern Minnesota.  I had been looking at Minnesota, but I hadn’t thought I’d move so far north.  Still, I was drawn to this group with the name that made me laugh.  I got the job and suddenly I found myself living less than an hour from Fargo.  Who would have ever thought I’d go to North Dakota when I need to go to a city?

I find myself organizing again and enjoying it again.  My work is bringing together Native and non-Native people in a fight to cut the use pesticides by RD Offutt, the largest potato producer in the world.  The work is growing by the day.  I love to see people who aren’t daunted by the idea of taking on a huge corporation.  They’re just doing what they need to do to keep living, quite literally.

My growth here is in bringing together people across the divides and understanding who I am.  I’ve worked with Native people for a long time, but until now I’ve always lived far away.  Now, my office is on the White Earth reservation and my home is about 13 miles away from the reservation boundary.  The racial divides are clear.

Generations of genocide have destroyed so much of the family/ community structure and created such a sense of despair.  I have met some very strong people who are working so hard to rebuild and foster the seeds.  There’s a lot to do.  I ask myself what role I play.  I am not Native.  I can’t be that nor do I want to.  I have my own history.  I do think I have a role as an ally to act as a bridge connecting people who otherwise do not meet and understand each other.  It is a role that requires both delicacy and strength and a lot of figuring out.

Which brings me back to Madison.  It was just a few weeks ago that the one who has been considered the worst governor in Wisconsin history won again and people started talking about leaving and moving to Minnesota or other more progressive places.   Yes, Minnesota’s government is currently more liberal than Wisconsin, that’s true.  I will give you that.  But,  I wonder, to what degree does it matter?   I’m working with people right now who are fighting for the air they breathe.  They’ve watched the insects, birds, and frogs die away.  They all know someone who is sick or they are sick themselves because of the pesticides.  The other night I went to a meeting and learned about elders heating their homes with their kitchen stoves.  I’ve heard many stories already of families struggling with addiction in their midst.   I wish my home state could have gotten rid of Walker.  I hope to god he doesn’t get any further in politics.  But, someone else in the governor’s office isn’t the answer.  I wish it were that easy.

Those are my thoughts for the moment.  I hope now that the winter is upon us that I might take up this writing assignment more consistently again.  I look forward to developing my thoughts through it and to reading yours.

peace,
amy

The Community Table

August 29th, 2013

I get to work often with groups who want to bring others to the table, wherever that table might be and whatever the people around that table might be doing. Usually the folks they want at the table are different from them in some notable way. They’re often younger. Maybe they have a smaller income. Many times the people with the table have pale skin and the people they’d like at the table have some shade of brown skin.

Increasingly, I’m challenged by that idea of bringing people to the table. I see a couple problems with it. First, it presumes that the people being invited don’t already have their own table that is just as good that you’ve just never seen. Secondly, it keeps the host in the host role. There’s no marriage of equals here. One person/group owns the table. The other is a guest.

We live in a world filled with unhealthy power dynamics around class, race and ethnicity, age, gender, and the list goes on. If we want our organizations and our organizing to not be a reflection of the sickness of the world, we have to do something different.

Step away from the table. Meet the people that you want to work with on shared turf. What are your shared needs and concerns? Know that you may be turned away for a myriad of reasons. Some of those reasons will have to do with your personal actions and some with all the stories of histories of oppression. Show respect. Show a willingness to learn. Show a willingness to fall and get back up again. Know that it will take a long time, maybe forever to build a trust.

Get a new table, one that isn’t yours or theirs, but instead that you fashioned together out of shared dreams. Know that this table will look different than your old one. Maybe it will be stronger and maybe it will be a little off balance. Who knows? It will be larger and have many carvings of great stories hard and beautiful.

How do you step away from your table? Here’s just a couple quick pointers that I’ve found helpful over the years:
1. Diversity of whatever sort isn’t a side issue. It is THE ISSUE. Being welcoming, supportive, and representative of all people that you want to be together at the table has to be central to everything you do.
2. Look at whatever you are working on from many angles. Why might others care about this same thing? Why do you care about it? What do you share with others?
3. Keep looking at yourself and your own actions. We are all products of history. We all need to hold ourselves accountable to act in ways the future can be proud of
4. We are all learners, teachers, and leaders. Allow yourself to be each of these with everyone.
5. Be there. When you are called to be supportive to those you want to work with and who are struggling in whatever way do so in whatever way you are able.

That’s a short clip, no where near the whole story. But, maybe there’s something there to consider. Mull it over and share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What Is Strong? Holding Together

July 14, 2013

There’s some trouble going on in Northern Wisconsin. I’d say it all started when Gogebic Taconite showed up and tried to start mining, but it didn’t. It started generations ago when we forgot that we all come from around the same fire.

This latest round involved some direct action advocates who took action against the Gogebic crew and did some minor damage. They were apprehended and charged. Now folks are left to figure out how to move ahead. Some people supported the action and some didn’t and trust has been lost. Now, how is trust rebuilt? Wish I knew. If I knew I just tell folks what to do. They might try it. It might work. It might not work. They might be thankful. They might tell me what I’m full of.

Here’s what I do remember though. I remember a day many years ago standing out in the cold in a cemetery in Northern Wisconsin. My friend Walt’s body was being laid in ground. He was a veteran so the men were out there with the guns to do the salute. I had already committed to a life as a pacifist and to a belief in the use of direct action. I knew war was wrong. I knew violence was wrong. I knew direct action was right. I knew I would always stand for what was right no matter what.

There was a man there that day who without a word made me question all I knew about violence and nonviolence and direct action. He was standing to my left. When the gun salute went off I looked in his direction. He had the sadness in his eyes and that far away look that seems to see into another world. He was both a million miles away and right there with his cousin who was being laid in the ground at the same time. There was a power there that I did not know until that moment.

It was in that moment that I really understood something that only knew in my mind before. Now, I knew it deeper. That man who was standing next to me was Andy Gokee. He, like Walt and many of the other folks standing there that day had stood many times to protect treaty rights, the right to live as Native peoples according to the beliefs handed down to them for generations. One of the ways that they did that was through the spearfishing struggle of the 1980’s. When I heard those gunshots in that cemetery that day I understood in a different way that the folks I stood there with had their lives threatened. They’d been followed. They’d been shot at. They knew that their families could be killed because they were Indians or because they stood with Native people.

Today I had another of those experiences. I got a message from a Black woman that I know. She had gotten stopped by the cops in the Madison area because she looked “suspicious.” She was interrogated for half an hour for nothing, nothing other than driving while Black.

I don’t claim to know much. I know the stories go much deeper than I will ever know. What I understand is that sometimes there is a power much stronger than words that speaks to us all. There are powerful spirits among us and there are those who walk in fear as well.

It is alright to be afraid. In fact sometimes it may be the wisest thing to be. Fear can increase your consciousness of what is around you, give you the tools with which to act. To deny that fear is generally nothing more than lying and cockiness. Be afraid and keep walking through that fear. Learn the stories, listen deeply, and walk through the fear wisely. Acting for the sake of acting brings nothing. Acting with heart and spirit and mind in tune, brings justice and healing and change.