During a recent workshop the question was asked as to why does it seem that there is so much jealousy and greed occurring in our nations and communities. The person asking recounted how when they were little there seemed to be much more sharing and cooperation amongst families and over time this seems to have gotten loss.
This question sparked an excellent discussion about how not only has our world been transformed by the invasion but us as well. What emerged was an examination of what life must have been like before the invasion.
The Ojibwe have a word – biimadiziiwin – which translates to mean “the good way of life”. And so too does every other indigenous civilization have similar words. These words or phrases generally arise from a people’s Creation Story which quite often describes the abundance created to support our lives. I’ve heard from several elders from different ways of life a similar recounting that the First People were told that everything they needed for a good life was here. All that was asked of us was to be mindful and grateful for these gifts that were made available to us.
The idea that these gifts were “made available” to us is what makes our sense of economy and consumerism different from that of the West. In the Creation Stories that I’ve heard there is a common theme in which each of the Beings that cohabitate Mother Earth with us indicated if they were prepared to support us pitiful two-leggeds.
They quite clearly said that they were prepared to sacrifice themselves so that we could survive and in return they established certain rules that govern the relationship between us and them. That’s why we have hunting, fishing and gathering seasons. These are the times that those Beings set as to when they would be ready to make their sacrifice.
In honor of this sacrifice we hold certain ceremonies at certain times to prepare ourselves to conduct whatever activity is authorized at that time. As we harvest we have other ceremonies and protocols in place that actually govern our economic practices and insure that everyone has what they need to have a good life.
When the invasion arrived and slowly swept across this vast land each of us began to experience increasing loss of access to the great abundance. The people who arrived here possessed a belief about their ability to exercise “ownership” over all aspects of Life.
In the earliest days this expression of ownership was established through trading posts. Unknown to us, each of these trading posts actually had a market area. At times the Europeans had wars with each other over these market areas as each tried to stake and expand their economic interests in our territories.
The ones who arrived here to be permanent settlers also established economic zones in which they believed they had obtained ownership of all Life within that zone. It was and is easy for them to do this because they come from a belief in which they’re told that their god gave them “dominion” over the world.
With perceived ownership comes the ability to restrict access to the abundance within the perceived economic zone. There are plenty of stories about Indigenous folks and settlers getting into a fight because the settlers now believed they owned an area that had long been a hunting or fishing or gathering ground for our people.
Suddenly, we came to know and experience the loss of access to the abundance promised to us by Creation.
As the invasion swept across Turtle Island our loss of access became more and more acute. Our economies were transformed from abundance based to scarcity based. Many of our peoples participated in the new trade system to be able to provide for their families. For many their only possibility for survival was completely dependent on the settlers.
One of the ironies in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” ideology is the promoting of the notion that this is a land of great abundance and possible wealth. And so many people get all excited about this without thinking or seeing how access to this abundance and wealth is severely restricted.
Access is restricted by “ownership” of the abundance. I recently heard on NPR that all of the fish within the territorial waters of the U.S. are owned by someone or something because the U.S. grant licenses to exclusive fishing territories.
As Spring moves across the land there are federal workers up in the Rockies measuring the snow mass to be able to estimate how much water will be flowing and available to auction to states, tribes, municipalities, etc.
Walk into any Walmart and you can watch the everyday struggle to gain access to the abundance within their walls. Again, that access is restricted based on the amount of disposable income each customer has at the time they walk in. Every day you can watch the battles between children and their parents over the purchase of a toy or a game. Time and again the children are the losers because the adult does not have enough ability to access the abundance.
Children are the first victims of the loss of access because they are totally dependent on the ability of their parents to gain access to provide for them. Our ancestors understood this and passed on to us the Seventh Generation Mandate.
Ownership and access are the two most insidious forms of colonization we have experienced. Our first taste of this was having to deal with the new trade economy that came to our lands. As the settlers gained control over our lands and lives they passed laws and policies to enforce this loss as well as to break up the communal nature of our economies. In the U.S. this takes the form of the Dawes Act and the creation of individual land ownership. It also takes form through their efforts to force many of our civilizations to become Western style agriculturalists.
The infestation of this ideology is near complete. So many of us don’t think twice about “owning” or controlling access. As we’ve been told by the settlers, “that’s just human nature”. No it’s not. It is learned behavior.
So too are greed and jealousy. The external political, economic and social systems that have been imposed on us teach this every day. A child sits in their yard and watches the children across the street play with toys they can only wish they had because their household doesn’t have the means of access or the ability to achieve ownership.
The Western mythology teaches that if you work hard enough you can have access and ownership. All the while ignoring the fundamental reality that all of this is occurring within a hierarchal system of increasing wealth flowing to less and less people who have the most access and ownership.
As Indigenous civilizations we have an option. We can blindly keep on participating in this craziness, or, we can achieve a deep understanding of our systems work and focus our efforts on re-achieving the good life that Creation gave to us.
This won’t be easy because we are completely surrounded by the other way. But I’ve seen a transformation occur when we use our separateness and the enclave nature of our territories to our advantage. Increasingly I see examples across Indian country of families and communities making a conscious choice and I applaud and encourage them to keep on growing.
Mike Myers is the founder and CEO of Network for Native Futures, a Native non-profit that works with Indigenous nations, communities and organizations internationally. The network’s mission is to support sustainable development and nation re-building through providing of technical assistance, training and consulting.