Have you been following the #IdleNoMore movement?
Well I use the word”movement” but what I really mean is “occupation” because that is what it is…indigenous people deeply occupying traditional lands and traditional languages, and being joined by settlers. It is another example of the active decolonization that has been going on largely unseen in indigenous communities for many years now. These efforts take all kinds of shapes and forms but they are almost always initiated by youth and Elders together. They are rarely led by traditional indigenous organizations or leaders.
The purpose of things like this is awakening. It is not that a few simple sounding demands need to be met (although the hunger strike of Chief Teresa Spence and the protest of federal legislation are providing a simple focus). The mainstream and the powers that be love to have a simple goal. They continually asked the Occupy movement to put out some demands. It is easier that way, both to respond to it and to fight it.
But Occupy and #IdleNoMore are not lobby efforts. They are prototypes of new ways of being. They are arenas for the practice of a new kind of conscious living. They are not fully fledged revolutionary moments in time that have a definite start and end. They are far more sophisticated than that; they wake people up.
#IdleNoMore has beautifully woken up settlers, and that is one of the things that makes it different. Most indigenous protests move along barely registering on the minds of non-indigenous Canadians. i’m willing to be that few readers of this blog (and you guys are in te know) have actually engaged with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process in Canada. It’s kind of absurd, that there is a major examination of the legacy of residential schools being worked over, that deeply important stories are being told and very few Canadians are there to hear them, let alone be a part of the compassion, forgiveness or reconciliation. Most days it feels like indigenous people in Canada are reconciling with a ghost.
That one-sided invisibility is largely why #IdleNoMore has sprung up this winter. Teresa Spence has been a target of powerful political interests for more than a year, when the housing crises in her community shed light on the appalling policies of the current federal government. And their response to her was to have her investigated and pilloried in the media for wasting money and not being a responsible leader, none of which was true. And now you have this absurd moment where a democratically elected leader is camped out near Parliament Hill, on a hunder strike to ask the Prime Minister to meet with her. And so far he won’t.
And so all across Canada people are engaging in round dances and bone games, organized flashmob style. Indigenous and settlers are celebrating the historic occupation of North America by it’s original peoples and while the dancing and the playing is going on, minds and hearts are being opened. This is the first time in my life when I have seen such broad based engagement between ordinary non-indigenous Canadians and their traditional hosts. So if you are non-indigenous, what can you do to play? A question many non-indigenous people are asking is how can I decolonize myself?
Well, beyond understanding the situation a bit, and helping to spread the word and stand as allies with Elders and youth, there are a few other things you can do. First of all, notice how you speak.
Yesterday I was having a conversation with my good friend Khelsilem, who has been involved in organizing not only some of the local #IdleNoMore activities around here, but who has alos been hosting the deeper conversation on what decolonization means. We were discussing this question of what settlers can do and we stumbled on a challenge. Khelsiliem is a language teacher and he was noting that in many indigenous languages there is really no possessive case. You can’t really say “That is my cup.” Instead you say something like “This is the cup I am using.” Also, concepts like want and desire are different too. ”I want that cup” is a strange ting to say in Squamish, while “I could use that cup” is more accurate.
You see that English spends a lot of time keeping nouns and verbs seperate (English scholars hate it when people “medal” at the Olympics or “texT” a message or “groundtruth” a concept) and as a result, English has a a lot of rules about how to possess things.
So one way to begin the process of decolonization is to notice how often you use the possessive in English and what it feels like to offer a different sentence construction. This gives some insight into what it is like to live in a way where, in the words of one of my Elders “I belong to everything” rather than a world where the world is full of “all my relations.” Shifting the mindset of possession, of what we belong to and what belongs to us, is a very interesting way to think about what is happening. As indigenous youth reclaim languages across Canada this is the mind shift they are going through as well. When the richness of indigenous language is plumbed, the mindset of belonging to everything sweeps over you and that is accompanied by gratitude, humility and delight.
This is one of the quiet, powerful effects of #IdleNoMore and you won’t find anyone talking about it on the talk shows or in the newspapers or on TV, but it is happening EVERYWHERE and it could be one piece of personal practice that happens to you too. While a Chief is hunger striking and a railway is being blocked,minds are changing and hearts are opening and relationships are being formed. This is the real work that is going on.