A Journey to Today

This day means many different things to those of us living in this country called the United States. It is difficult to imagine anyone believes the stories of a gathering where white colonizers expressed their gratitude to the Native peoples. Most nonnative people today just look forward to the gatherings of family and sharing meals.

Much as most white people don’t want to think about the realities of the genocide of native peoples as their lands were stolen and colonized, and the history of the forced assimilation of their children into white culture, it is important for many reasons to tell the truth of this history. My friends are working hard to do so, and to show us a way to move forward together.

The truth is that real history has been whitewashed and that Thanksgiving perpetuates white supremacy and romanticized notions about Indigenous Peoples. To celebrate the current Thanksgiving mythology is to celebrate the theft of land through ethnic cleansing and enslavement. It is a lie that overlooks the genocide of Native American Indigenous Peoples and the enslavement of African Indigenous Peoples in order for settler-vigilantes and colonial militias to steal land and labor–the legacy of which is still felt today.


The main reason for my interest and years of study about Indigenous peoples is because of my deep, lifelong concern about the destruction of our environment from the profligate use of fossil fuels in our industrial, and post industrial society. Even as a teenager (1960’s) it was obvious that would not be sustainable, and led me to refuse to have a personal automobile for most of my life.

It was obvious to me that we would have to return to the subsistent lifestyles that continue to be practiced by Indigenous peoples. As Gord Hill wrote, “the First Peoples inhabited every region of the Americas, living within the diversity of the land and developing cultural lifeways dependent on the land.


Before the European colonization of the Americas, in that time of life scholars refer to as “Pre-history” or “Pre-Columbian”, the Western hemisphere was a densely populated land. A land with its own peoples and ways of life, as varied and diverse as any of the other lands in the world. In fact, it was not even called “America” by those peoples. If there was any reference to the land as a whole it was as Turtle Island, or Cuscatlan, or Abya-Yala. The First Peoples inhabited every region of the Americas, living within the diversity of the land and developing cultural lifeways dependent on the land. Their numbers approached 70–100 million peoples prior to the European colonization.*

Generally, the hundreds of different nations can be summarized within the various geographical regions they lived in. The commonality of cultures within these regions is in fact a natural development of people building lifeways dependent on the land. As well, there was extensive interaction and interrelation between the people in these regions, and they all knew each other as nations.

With a few exceptions, the First Nations were classless and communitarian societies, with strong matrilineal features. The political sphere of Indigenous life was not dominated by men, but was in many cases the responsibility of women. Elders held a position of importance and honour for their knowledge. There were no prisons, for the First Nations peoples had well developed methods of resolving community problems, and there was—from the accounts of elders—very little in anti-social crime. Community decisions were most frequently made by consensus and discussions amongst the people.

Hill, Gord. 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance. PM Press. Kindle Edition.

Trying to follow the leadings of the Spirit, my life took many paths along the way to this day. One of the most significant was to be blessed to have walked and camped along the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline through central Iowa, September 1-8, 2018. During this week of “suffering” together as we often walked through pouring rain, about 10 miles a day, our small group of about a dozen native and a dozen nonnative people shared our stories with each other. Began to know each other, with the beginnings of trust. Which was a remarkable thing considering the terrible history between these two cultures. Many stories, photos and videos of that First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March can be found here: https://firstnationfarmer.com/ It is a great joy that these friendships have deepened with time.

Now we come to this day. How can we begin to heal the trauma from the colonization of native lands, the genocide and the forced assimilation of native children? What do we do in response to rapidly evolving environmental chaos? How do we hasten the ongoing collapse of the capitalist system? As my friend Ronnie James writes:

“I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”

Ronnie James

Following is a diagram I’ve been working on for some time that incorporates what Ronnie is talking about.

Ronnie has been working on an answer to his question, “Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?” A large piece of the answer is Mutual Aid. Mutual Aid is a radically different approach to working for justice, and living together. Instead of the long used but ineffective model of “us” helping “them”, Mutual Aid defines itself. Mutual means we are all in this together. Aid means finding solutions that help all of us.

Ronnie has been working with Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA) or some form of it, for a long time. DMMA currently has three branches. One that helps with food insecurity with a weekly food giveaway. Another branch works with the houseless or those facing eviction. And the third branch is a bail fund, to support those arrested for advocating for justice and change. Ronnie has been mentoring me regarding DMMA. I’ve been blessed to be able to participate in the food giveaway effort.

Yesterday I wrote about an online event that will occur from 2-3 pm today, where Ronnie and other friends of mine will be talking about these ideas. https://atomic-temporary-82209146.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/25/truthsgiving-event-11-26-2020/

Register at http://bit.ly/Truthsgiving2020


This entry was posted in #NDAPL, decolonize, Des Moines Mutual Aid, First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, First Nations, Indigenous, Mutual Aid, Native Americans, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Journey to Today

  1. peterovisoke says:

    Good post Jeff! Unfortunately, the Truthsgiving event was limited to the first 100 people who showed up and I was unable to attend. Perhaps Great Plains Action Society will be able to provide a recording of this year’s Truthsgiving. I would like to watch it if they do. I’ve been reading the new book by Isabel Wilkerson- “Caste.” It is so powerful as an explanatory framework for how and why people in what is now called the “United States” are stratified into a pretty rigid caste system, which operates unconsciously. That is why so many “white” people don’t get it. The system works best when it is so embedded that it is below the surface, unacknowledged but yet controls everything and everyone. The police officer who murdered George Floyd was able to do so with impunity because that is the way our society has always been constructed, even before the “United States” was formalized as a “country.” One powerful quote in “Caste” is from a Nigerian playwright, who met Isabel Wilkerson at the British Library in London: “You know there are no black people in Africa,” she said. “Africans are not black,” she said. “They are Igbo and Yoruba, Ewe, Akan, Ndebele. They are not black. They are just themselves. They are humans on the land. That is how they see themselves and that is who they are.” “They don’t become black until they go to America or come to the U.K.” she said. “It is then that they become black.” This dramatic reframing of how human beings see themselves in societies outside of the racist, rigid caste-defined systems such as exists in the U.S. was revelatory for me. As somebody who has lived and worked in Africa on and off over the past thirty-five years I could understand what this Nigerian artist was expressing although I had not ever articulated it in that way to myself. I hope that many people read “Caste.” I also want to read her earlier book- “The Warmth of Other Suns,” about the Great Migration from the South to the North. Thanks again for your writing and for including powerful and important writing from Ronnie James and so many others.

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