012 Healing Turtle Island


It’s not quite 48 hours since the third Healing Turtle Island ceremony was concluded. I woke this morning from a dream in which I urgently needed to call my mom. It was so compelling, the need to call mom, that it woke me up. Mom died ten years ago and I do occasionally have moments where I forget, still, or at least I have the experience of ‘now is the moment when I would have called Mom,’ as was our habit for the last several years of her life. But I usually remember right away that I can’t call her like that anymore. So the dream was striking. I guess that it is the beginning of the work in my DNA, as Sherri Mitchell put it, these changes that will unfold in us over the next six months or so.

As a white person, being invited to attend these ceremonies, it’s astonishing. There’s so many things that are happening there and most of it is, or the central layer, I guess, of what is happening is the Ceremony that these indigenous elders are having among themselves, preparing themselves, healing themselves, connecting to each other and the work of this moment of climate threat, this time in which all peoples, regardless of heritage or status, need to do the work to heal ourselves from our respective trajectories and come together so that the planet, mother earth, survives in a way capable of sustaining life: our own lives, and most importantly the lives of future generations–of humans and all the other species on the planet.

So it’s pretty big and ambitious and probably at some level to the non-indigenous mind, it feels impossible or unrealistic or, I don’t know, superstitious, but the experience of spending five days in a fully realized gift economy, a completely alternative time-space to the way we have been indoctrinated to survive on the basis of speed and a financial system that favors wealth and accumulation and competition that forces other people into positions of suffering, to have the experience of the alternative is surprising. And maybe it won’t change things for every white participant who attends, but it seems inevitable that some seed, some sense of possibility that deviates from what we are used to would get planted and have the chance to grow.

We were pretty explicitly called upon to do that work individually and as an ethnic group, as white people in the system that exists, to turn to each other among ourselves and to turn back toward our ancestors and really dig deep into … I mean, you could call it history, the genealogy of how our unique indigenous cultures from a millennium or two ago were stripped from us. We were separated from the knowledge of being one type of organism existing synergistically with all the other organisms on the planet and drawn into this–addiction is what Sherri called it–an addiction to movement, to motion.

And I’ve thought of it as an addiction to speed, but the relationship, right, between speed and movement is the ability to go so far and go so fast that we’re always in a hurry. We’re always operating under the momentum, the impulse of machinery in the industrial assembly line, to being consumers and being drawn, whatever level of class we’re at, being drawn precipitously into the urgent emergent need of my paycheck, my house payment, my car payment, my need to buy groceries or pay the rent or cope with an unexpected medical bill. We’re all under that pressure, and if we’re a part of that wealthy percent that doesn’t feel financial stress, they’re still under the daily stress of the fear that if things change, whatever it is that makes them comfortable, will be taken away or lost.

It just seems likely to me that white people experience that in a different way or more acutely than peoples who have been systemically oppressed in the system because those peoples have had to figure out how to cope with that stress, and of course it has consequences on their health and wellbeing in chronic ways. It is white folk who have not felt generally those daily threats to survival being now faced with a potential collapse of all the cushions and pillars and buffers in the system that have allowed us to have comfortable, essentially physically soft lives. To be facing that brings up a lot of anxiety and depression and fear and makes us susceptible to hurrying and going for quick fixes and finding any palliative method that will ease the advent of discomfort or the pain that we’re terrified is coming our way.

I know I’m generalizing, and maybe projecting. But I don’t think I’m far off. I think that there is evidence and symptoms are all around us, so Sherri’s call to do the work of our own trauma healing, to recognize the wounds that we have carried intergenerationally, the original wounds of separation that fed flight, migration of our forebears whose primary identities may have been more national than indigenous when they arrived here on Turtle Island, the North American and South American, Central American continent, and would have fed the violence that we then perpetrated on others, repeating the violence that had been done to us or that we witnessed happening to others like us and fled.

That’s deep trauma, which has been masked and covered up by a couple of centuries of being the beneficiaries of that violence, of having been lifted up because of an external characteristic, our white skin, that was manipulated into a position of privilege, superiority, not because of any essential actual better qualities within us, but because it served the savagery, the white savagery that’s been so carefully honed by the system, by white people who designed the system to be specific.

So there’s a lot of work to be done around whiteness itself and separating whiteness as an invented, cultivated, carefully crafted basis for an identity that has been abbreviated as the only source of identity for folks who’ve had everything else stripped from them. So white people today in the United States have no other basis, typically, generally. There are strands of course, of heritage and tradition that have filtered through, but by and large, the expectation and the basis of how we understand ourselves is linked and fused with capitalism, industrialization, all the new ways of technology.

And we’re being manipulated and yanked around on the basis of our deep familiarity with things being fast and having our emotions manipulated and being unable to slow down enough to gain perspective, because slowing down means allowing the horror and our fears to come forward, to be looked at and felt and processed. So we have to create spaces and times to do that. And only by doing that can we come to a place where we will be competent enough to renegotiate agreements with indigenous people and other peoples of the global majority who have suffered and are trying to heal from the generations of suffering that has been visited upon them and they’ve gone through.

And I will tell you that I am on 91 crossing the Connecticut River, and a bald eagle just flew to my left.

Recorded on July 17, 2019
Location: Interstate 91 driving north from Connecticut to Massachusetts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *