When people ask how I came to engage in Indigenous solidarity work or why rematriation of Indigenous life and land is important to me, my historical answer has been: It’s just the thing I’ve always paid attention to. Some people can’t ignore anti-Black racism, some people can’t ignore climate change, I can’t ignore Indigenous sovereignty issues. This still begs the question though: Why? Why does this arena of solidarity hold my heart and attention? And, as a friend put it the other, day, what is my stake in this work?
Another layer of the answer became clear to me several years ago: The Jew in me knows what it means to be displaced, to be uprooted, to mourn the torn umbilical cord between me and the places where my grandmothers bled, gave birth and were buried. My Jewish soul feels that rupture from place. My Jewish soul feels compelled to help repair the harms that cause such ruptures – within my own people and among all peoples.
A third answer to this question is emerging – a layer for which I’ve not yet found all the words. My usual writing process feeds my perfectionism through seeking feedback on drafts, meticulously editing, and getting everything just right so that what I publish is a neat bundle. Tomorrow is the National Day of Mourning/Thanksgiving, and today I’m deviating from that process. This work is not complete, and it may read like a game of mental ping pong, but here is my offering right now. Sorry there are no images, but here is audio me reading this post in full.
Note: The following contains explicit references to sexual violence.
My body is made of earth body. The wet trickle through cracks in bedrock is the same as the water, blood, and lymph flowing through my veins. Mountains are my bones, giving me structure and support. Wind is the breath in my lungs and the whisperings of ancestors. These are not metaphors. These are not poetic, abstract descriptions of a cognitive belief in interconnectedness. These truths are engrained in my cellular memory and my everyday experience of the world. These truths are taught to me by Jewish traditions, by plants and herbs, by starlight and moon cycles, by my body itself.
A few years ago at a ceremony remembering the Great Falls Massacre of 1676 at Peskeompskut, or what is now called Turners Falls, Massachusetts, Doug Harris (Narragansett) said, “I’m forced to go back to the distinctions between a people whose existence is based on commodifying things, versus a people whose life is based on spiritual relations. For the Pocumtuck, the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, for the people of the Northeast, the earth is our mother. And you don’t buy and sell and trade the pieces of your mother’s body.”
Genital mutilation, rape, and other forms of sexual violence were commonplace tactics and outcomes of the colonial subjugation process. Additionally, a subtler form of sexual violence was encoded in the colonial-capitalist system: commodification of land. The settler mentality was essentially, “We will not rape the earth, we will just sell her. We will parcel her out, claim private dominion, and extract from her to meet our increasing needs.” I remember visiting an active mine in Colorado during a geology class in college. I watched an excavator, tires two stories high, rip through the flesh of the earth, crack into her insides, take what was deemed precious, and then literally throw the rest away. I felt ill. I felt my body being ripped apart inside. I felt violated.
I have been examining my dissociative tendencies lately, trying to better understand the ways in which, as a survivor of multiple forms of sexual violence, I have lived my life disconnected from my body. Dissociation is a process well-known to many trauma survivors through which we leave our physical bodies in order to make a horrific situation more bearable. Sometimes people have “paths” out of their bodies; for example when they feel the danger coming, they slip out through their shoulder or head. My dissociative patterns work differently, but they result in the same disconnect from my body, my anchor, my home. I’ve discovered explosive rage as I’ve come to realize how much of ME my perpetrators took. They took my joy, they took my confidence, they took my sense of safety, and they took my body. Instead of inhabiting my body, I’ve lived somewhere else for much of my life, and I’ve been a little lost.
When I worked with families and elders on the Dine rez who were resisting relocation by the federal government, I learned from Pauline Whitesinger that, “In our traditional tongue, there is no word for relocation. To relocate is to move away and disappear.” When I reflect on her words, I cannot help but think about dissociation. To move away and disappear…to where? When your ancestral homeland is you, is your body, is the medium through which you know yourself and the web of life you are part of, what happens when you become dis-associated from that place? You lose yourself, I think. You become dissociated.
Somewhere in the realm of unformed words I am becoming more and more clear that not only is there a deep relationship between colonization and sexual violence, but that this relationship is why I’ve never been able to ignore violations of Indigenous life and lands. I know that violation too well. I know what it means to lose sovereignty over my body, to lose my home. I would never wish this upon anyone, and I will do all that I can in my lifetime and beyond to repair whatever in humanity is so broken that people allow this kind of hurt to happen.
On this National Day of Mourning/Thanksgiving, I offer my prayers for the healing of all those who have been harmed by sexual violence and by colonization. I pray for power to be wielded towards embodied healing and reciprocity – towards rematriation.
A few resources:
- A short Indigenous legal perspective on rematriation by Steven Newcomb (Shawnee/Lenape), Executive Director of the Indigenous Law Institute
- For those in the Northeast, check out the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective in this Cultural Survival article or on Facebook
- “A Brief Guide for Things-taken Discussions with Friends and Family” by Albuquerque SURJ