As Thanksgiving approaches I continue to think and write about what a good opportunity this is to work on decolonizing ourselves and those around us. (see blog post Teachable Moment)
I’m sharing some of my stories because I think storytelling is a way to start conversations about things people tend to have strong feelings about. Instead of a confrontation between opposing sides, focusing on a story helps guide the discussion and hopefully keeps it from getting too personal.
These stories are not about the Thanksgiving holiday, but about building bridges between Native and non-native people. Thanksgiving is often the only time many White people think about Native Americans, even if in very inaccurate ways. That’s why I hope many of us might find occasions to work to correct misconceptions this Thanksgiving.
I am especially cognizant of this now that I have Native friends, and have seen some of the ways trauma moves from generation to generation.
I’ve been praying and thinking about what I have learned about White settlers and Native peoples. How I came to think of fossil fuel pipelines as black snakes the Lakota prophecy warns us about. The image is more powerful to me, as a visual person, than pages of text. Thinking of pipelines as living things changes how I feel about fossil fuels. I feel the personal danger represented by snakes that I don’t feel, as much, when I think of pipelines. OK, yes, I am afraid of snakes.
There is an ancient Lakota prophecy about a black snake that would slither across the land, desecrating the sacred sites and poisoning the water before destroying the Earth.
For many Indigenous people gathered near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, that snake has a name — the Dakota Access pipeline.
“There was a prophecy saying that there is a black snake above ground. And what do we see? We see black highways across the nation,” said Dave Archambault, chairman of the reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota. “There’s also a prophecy that when that black snake goes underground, it’s going to be devastating to the Earth.”
That belief is why hundreds of people have gathered since April to pray in camps along the Missouri River.“‘We must kill the black snake’: Prophecy and prayer motivate Standing Rock movement, Indigenous leaders say effort to oppose Dakota Access pipeline rooted in power of prayer” by Karen Pauls, CBC News, Dec 11, 2016
It was by working to try to stop the Keystone XL, and then the Dakota Access pipeline that I was finally able to begin to make friends with some Native people.
The first experiences were coming together in Indianapolis as water protectors supporting the water protectors at Standing Rock and elsewhere. At these gatherings I learned what it means to be a water protector instead of a protester.
As water protectors, prayer was an important part of our gatherings in Indianapolis. One time we gathered on the Indiana State Capitol grounds just to give thanks and pray together. The photos and video below, including me speaking about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance, were from that occasion.
One of the most effective ways to fight the black snakes has been divestment, that is pressuring banks and investors to stop funding fossil fuel projects. There is the recent announcement that the European Investment Bank will no longer finance fossil fuel projects.
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Investment Bank said on Thursday it would stop funding fossil fuel projects at the end of 2021, a landmark decision that potentially deals a blow to billions of dollars of gas projects in the pipeline.European Investment Bank to cease funding fossil fuel projects by end-2021, Jonas Ekblom, Reuters, Nov 14, 2019
The bank’s new energy lending policy, which it said was approved with “overwhelming” support, will bar most fossil fuel projects, including traditional use of natural gas.
“This is an important first step – this is not the last step,” EIB vice president, Andrew McDowell told reporters in a call.
Under the new policy, energy projects applying for EIB funding will need to show they can produce one kilowatt hour of energy while emitting less than 250 grams of carbon dioxide, a move which bans traditional gas-burning power plants.
Divestment has been successful in making a number of banks change their policies related to fossil fuel projects. This slideshow includes photos from several different divestment actions. One is when we went to the local Morgan Stanley offices to ask them to stop funding fossil fuel projects. We had a very pleasant conversation with the branch manager. Another day those of us working against the Dakota Access pipeline (#NODAPL) went to the downtown Indianapolis branches of the CHASE bank, and PNC bank. At each bank we stood outside with our signs, in silence, as those who had accounts went into the banks to close them. That day $110,000 was withdrawn.
Another divestment adventure is when Ed Fallon, Bold Iowa, organized a van trip to Minneapolis the day before the Super Bowl was played there in 2018. We rallied in front of USBank headquarters downtown. The Super Bowl was played in the USBank Stadium the next day.
I hope there might be occasions at your family gatherings to make a little progress in decolonizing, without causing a food fight, or worse. Many people think what happened in the past doesn’t involve them, they have no responsibility. But if there is one thing I have learned, it is that trauma is handed down from generation to generation. I have seen how Native friends continue to suffer from past traumas.
There is another reason I was led to search for ways to make friends and learn from Native people. The white, dominant culture based on an ever growing economy has gotten us into the environmental catastrophes we are seeing, and will increasingly see. I believe our only hope is to return to native, sacred, earth centered ways. This is the reason I hope you will consider ways to build bridges with Native peoples.