One of the most difficult aspects of doing social justice work of any kind is maintaining a sense of optimism about the world we live in. I struggle with it all the time; as a person of Native descent I know all too much about my family’s history and the larger history of American and European colonization. I agonize about climate change, nuclear contamination, and the catastrophe that is neoliberal fundamentalism. I worry about the world my son is inheriting and wonder how long the earth’s environment will be fit for human habitation.
It sounds dramatic, I know, but these are dramatic times we live in. As a person of mixed heritage, far from the home of my Native ancestors (on the Colville reservation), my concerns are compounded by my absorption in the dominant culture, having grown up in an urban environment where there are scant traces of indigenous life. Indigeneity is always erased from the landscape in a settler society, save for a few place names or historical markers. This is especially true in densely populated areas. Unless you know the history of a region and you go out of your way to connect with the indigenous folks of the area (and they are always there whether you see them or not), you will be seduced into thinking there are no Indians left.
In a settler society questions of identity are inextricably bound to all other social justice issues. It always comes down to who was displaced in order for the town or city you live in to exist. What does it mean to be Colville and live in Southern California? How do I live with the cognitive dissonance that comes from driving a car while knowing that fossil fuels are the primary harbingers of global warming, and contributing to the destruction of other indigenous peoples in the world? These and a thousand other questions fog my mind daily in my quest to try to live a conscious, as balanced a life as possible.
As bleak as things may seem, I strive to bring light into my own little corner of the world. I try to create beauty in what small ways I can, and work to make a difference, to the degree that is possible. I pray in my own ways, giving thanks to the earth and the ocean for the life that sustains me. I remember that being indigenous is a frame of mind–a window onto the world–that honors life in all its forms, regardless of where I live or who my friends are. Because after all, we are all related.
The library is dedicated to the memory of Secwepemc Chief George Manuel (1921-1989), to the nations of the Fourth World and to the elders and generations to come.access here