Breathe, and learn your history. | Vanessa W. Lynch, @drvonskillet
I don’t remember the first time I heard the term, “decolonization” but I remember the first time it stuck in my mind, the first time it made complete sense to me. It was in 2013 at the Lakota Elders Truth Tour in New York City and elders had come to deliver the official Lakota Oyate Complaint of Genocide to the United Nations, and had screened and shared copies of the documentary Red Cry. We were given the responsibility to spread this message. Chanupa Gluha Mani and a sister named Naomi talked boisterously and at length, asking us why we were there. Naomi asked for a definition of the word, and then in the absence of an answer, gave us hers.
“Decolonization is the repatriation of indigenous land and indigenous culture.” There was something else, but I forgot. But as she was speaking I felt like I had finally found language to describe what it was that I’ve been trying for so long to understand in the work that I was doing. The whole system seemed more connected now.
The repatriation of indigenous land and indigenous culture.
It means that we put indigenous culture first.
It means that before anything at all, we stop and recognize whose occupied land we are currently standing on and honor those people. It means we take a serious look at our lifestyles and how complicit they may be in the ongoing acts of colonization – physical, material, emotional and spiritual. And it means that we work to right the incredible wrongs of colonization. It means balance.
I have this idea about what this crazy system is, this western imperialist, white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist, violent zombie cycle era that we are living in. This is my understanding.
A while back, everyone was indigenous. Everyone had a land that they belonged to with ecosystems that dictated and motivated their lifestyles, meaning their culture, what gods they worshipped, what language they spoke, what materials they had available for clothes, what kind of festivals they held and what kind of medicine they held.
Based on the point of earth they were living on, their diet, their music, their seasons were. Whatever kind of animals, plants, bodies of water, deserts, mountains, trees that they shared space with, they took the time to understand. For survival. From here we have religions, most of which are pagan, earth based, native to a specific area, give gratitude for natural surroundings.
The way of life is fairly communal. People share. Whoever has more gives to whoever has less. If you read Black Elk Speaks you will recall that the warriors who brought home more meat on the plains were regarded as great, and it was their honor to share this extra food with elders, perhaps with no children, who didn’t have someone readily there to go hunting for them.
And so hierarchy wasn’t such a serious idea, because life is a circle. No top, no bottom, no beginning, no end, it’s just there.
Today when someone is depressed or anxious or speaking in many voices we say that they are suffering from a mental illness and psychiatrists prescribe them pills, synthetic herbs and minerals to regulate the chemicals their body is producing so that they fall on a spectrum of present day humanity that can be more easily digested, a more acceptable, more ‘normal’ state of existence.
I would like to propose an idea.
I guess as a sort of safety check I have to preface this idea with some sort of disclaimer, so allow me to share that first. This is not to de-legitimize the validity of different mental states of being. Each person has a right and responsibility to deal with their own mental health however they feel helps them go out into the world each day. When that includes medication and therapy – whatever that includes – that is a personal choice for safety and survival and that is an individual choice to make.
The idea I would like to propose is that this this drones instead of schools, militarized police instead of hospitals, prisons instead of farms, working 60 hours a week to make enough money to pay taxes to continue experimenting on prisoners and sending state of the art technology to Israel – this is mental illness.
If the state of mind is such that people are going to work until they have enough money to survive and relax and smile and enjoy time with family, and until that time, until “success” they will work to death to make enough money to buy genetically modified foods and uranium tainted bottled water instead of pausing, taking a deep breath, and fighting like hell to change the twisted cycle they’ve been forced into – then their priorities are confused. Then they are living in a delusion, separated from the reality of their situation, because their situation is simply too difficult to accept. Based on their perception, which, by the way, is heavily influenced by a never ending stimuli of television, radio, billboard, commercial, airport, music, labelled advertisements that are paid for by the handful of people that are oppressing them, they start to tell themselves a lie, which is that they just have to keep working, and they will make it. They will reach some kind of Kim Kardashian plateau where everyday is sunshine and swimming pools and gilded doors and mansions and swimming pools and everyone in the world who dislikes them is just jealous. There’s enough money to feed all of their family and friends and they can travel anywhere they want to, at any time. The best is available at your fingertips.
Either this, or sink into a deep depression, or rage, or bitterness. Often the latter option ends with drug addiction or alcoholism which leads to domestic violence which leads to jails which leads to less income which leads to children growing up in the same cycle all over again.
The problem, as I see it, is that people don’t have the tools to identify those feelings of total rage or helplessness, or don’t have the tools to feel empowered to change their personal situation. This is also helped by the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps, dog – eat – dog – race the ladder to the top” delusions of idealism.
Many may have heard of Unbuntu. Simply translated, it means, “I am because you are”. People who still have some connection to our culture or history recognize that the idea of individualism as funny, or crazy. We are nothing without each other.
I have another quote, this one by Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the pan African leader who encouraged black families to move from the US back to Africa and to spend money within their own communities to increase the overall wealth. He said, “A people disconnected from the knowledge and culture of their history is like a tree without roots.”
A tree without roots.
A tree without roots is a sad thing, lying on the ground waiting for the hungry termites to devour it. To me, this means that if we don’t know our history we are lost. Sitting ducks, as they say. We cannot learn from the mistakes of our elders, nor can we celebrate in their successes, and where does that leave us in history?
Floating, drifting individuals who are always out to re-invent the wheel. Out to discover and struggle and fail and get back up and fight and love without context. Out to speak with no poetry. What a sad existence.
This brings me back to this idea of mental illness.
So in my mind, it helps when I break it down this way.
Indigenous lifestyle – people live in harmony with their environment, the most respected people are grandmothers who are holders of knowledge, culture, wisdom, medicine, language, recipes, people share.
Capitalist lifestyle – the most respected show dominance over rather than harmony with, the strongest (strength, being determined by success, or by how many others have had to be trampled over to get to a position of power) and most respected are men, people are suspicious and selfish.
To me, it seems like it’s all very simple. It seems like the mental illness that is capitalism because it has showed so much force, is widely regarded as the normal state of being. People who step outside of that reality or show resistance to it, must be stopped, and are labeled as terrorist, crazy, freak, primitive, thug, illegal.
In my simple break down there’s a really easy patter to understand what happened. Folks are living communally, migrating freely, ceremonies take place to mark the seasons, festivals to honor Godesses of rivers and gods of harvest.
Various people begin to build empires. Across the continents, this happens. But something else happens too. Someone’s greed or ego or envy or jealousy or some toxic mix of all of these things, gets the better of them. I like to imagine this person as a skinny white man, pacing around his home, talking to himself. Spending time in isolation while he reasons why he should have more than a normal days food – to save it for the future – why he should have more power – he deserves it – why he should have a bigger space and locks on HIS possessions – he earned them – until his delusion, shaped by the perception of his isolation and the original mental illness (greed/envy) he starts to take things that don’t belong to him. He somehow garners support. He somehow – I’m sure it was violent – determines that he has power. He’s strong, actually, can’t nobody tell him shit.
He deserves it.
I want to step back for a minute and talk about the pineal gland. I’m not sure if folks know about the pineal gland, but in recent times it has come back into some of the consciousness of our youth in conversation and study and I’m so glad of this. The pineal gland is a small pinecone shaped thing at the base of the brain where the spinal court and skull meet.
The first time I was taught about the pineal gland I was told a story by a powerful woman with locks as we sat outside sharing tobacco while passing white men asked if they could touch our hair.
She told me this:
In the United States, for years when bodies were autopsied after war surgeons and doctors located the pineal gland, it was continually calcified. They assumed that it was something humans no longer needed and had simply evolved out of. After the civil war when they began autopsying some of the black soldiers doctors were perplexed.
The pineal gland was fully functioning.
They didn’t really know what to think, she told me, but others had since realized. The pineal gland, many people believe, connects us to spirituality.
White people’s isn’t functioning anymore.”
She told me this years ago and since then I’ve had much time to reflect on the pineal gland.
Could it be that due to some kind of malnutrition based on their lifestyle, some of these people coming from places like England and Spain simply didn’t have the physical capability that people of Africa, South America, Asia, the Caribbean islands had? That their pineal gland was calcified, causing some sort of disconnect from the spirituality that the rest of the world was still open to, and this caused the mental disconnect that gave them the false impression that a patriarchal, dominating, paper based economy was the way to move forward with their conquests?
If this is the case then their vision, after the Moors brought their medicine, magic, soap, basic truths about time and astrology and math and cooking to Europe, of stubborn total earth domination makes some kind of sense. They don’t see it.
There is simply not the ability to.
That the enslavement and genocide of people who had respected and lived in harmony with environments for centuries was simply collateral to making more money? If this is the case then the mindset will never stop until the illness is understood and treated. Because if you have a trillion dollars but your water is full of uranium and everyone is dying the solution isn’t to dig up more uranium to fund a probe to mars to colonize other planets in the galaxy and begin the cycle all over again. The solution is to remove those suffering from a long, deep rooted mental illness from their positions of power and work to restore balance.
The work then is simply resistance.
I like to think about the word transformation, and what that means. To me it is important for many reasons. It is impossible to undo all of the damage that has been done by colonization. It is impossible to burn down all the cities and factories. The solution is not to go back, but to go forward.
What does that look like?
It looks like decolonization. It looks like the repatriation of indigenous way and indigenous land. It looks like a world where Black Lives Matter, there are no reservations or prisons or detainment camps, and the concept of territory is different. There are no borders. Seeds are regarded with as much care as iPhones and art is more important than fairy tale conquest history. Schools are not like prisons – people spend more time re-connecting with the natural world, which is really all we have.
We are in constant communication with our ancestors, and our grandmothers have more respect than our soldiers.
Return of the Matriarchs.