A Letter of Apology to Indigenous Participants at the #WomensMarch
Thank you for sharing your experience as part of an Indigenous women’s delegation at the Women’s March in D.C. this weekend. I understand that you needed to make your Twitter profile private after the overwhelming response to your tweets.
Though I hestitated to make this letter public, I feel I must jump into this fray because otherwise my silence feels like complicity with what went wrong for you and many other women of color at the marches. I write this letter in the hopes that women like me will take a moment to hear your words and reflect together.
I want to start by acknowledging that I’ve been the beneficiary of privilege my entire life. Nothing that I can do now will ever make up for a system that has prioritized my safety over yours and a culture that gives me the benefit of the doubt at every step because of the way I look.
Your message caused me to immediately reflect on the way that I’ve been treated by native communities throughout Turtle Island where I have often been the only person of European descent in a crowd. Whether it was walking through a remote Yu’pik village in Alaska, attending a pow wow in Chicago or praying at Standing Rock, I was never made to feel uncomfortable. I never felt people stare or had pictures taken of me without my consent. It pains me to know that basic tenets of human respect and decency were not extended to you in a space where you should have felt welcome.
I fully understand if you or any other women of color aren’t interested in reading this because you’re too busy literally defending your lives and holding together the fabric of your families and communities. As a person of European descent, I will never fully understand your day-to-day struggle and the courage and resilience it takes to show up in spaces like the Women’s March.
I know that it is not and should not be your burden to have to explain yourself or take time to listen to apologies while you’re still suffering the consequences of 500+ years of brutal oppression.
I write this letter tonight, while my one-year-old son sleeps, because when I decided to stand up and march on Saturday, I made a choice to stand up not only for women of European descent, but for all women, for Mother Earth and for the feminine on this planet. I recognize that in order to stand up for all that I love, I must step into a circle where difficult conversations need to be had. I must be willing to stretch my understandings, examine my assumptions and listen to people with a different perspective than mine.
I don’t mean to excuse any behavior but I think it’s worth mentioning that one of the core problems that I see is a lack of proper education on the part of American and Western culture about how to show up respectfully in a multi-cultural environment.
Growing up in Illinois, I never learned in school about the original caretakers of the land I was living on. I wasn’t taught to ask permission of elders before engaging in ceremony or pausing before I take water, soil or herbs from the land. I wasn’t taught that what we call “resources” are actually relatives who hold the web of life in delicate balance.
I do think that many of the “white women” who stared at you during the march were incredibly curious and awestruck by the beauty and power that you carry. They feel something when they see you that they don’t understand and that they long for. They are longing for their own ancestral roots. They are longing for their connection to Mother Earth.
When those women were confused by your “water is life” chants, it’s because many of them don’t know one of the simplest teachings: that women are in deep relationship with water and what harms women, harms water and vice versa. They don’t see the connections that you know are true between the land being fracked and the women being trafficked. They don’t realize that the water protectors at Standing Rock are not only fighting for the health of millions of people, they are actively resisting a genocide that is happening right now.
There is a spiritual hunger present. It is a sickness borne of being orphaned by a culture that told us we live in a world of dead matter in which individual enrichment is the highest goal. It’s an illusion that makes some of us think we can mine gold out of mountains without consequences and take a photo in order to capture a piece of someone’s power for ourselves.
All of which is not your fault and not your mistake to fix. It’s on us, people of European descent, to decolonize our minds and hearts and learn about the real history of the United States. It’s up to us to call each other out and receive feedback that may be painful. It’s in our power to learn about our own roots. It’s our duty to seek out Indigenous voices, read Indigenous authors and support Indigenous-run businesses. It’s our responsibility to move forward with deep humility, ask permission often and listen as much as possible.
Many of us women of European descent may have been educated at the best universities but we are still in preschool when it comes to understanding our relationship and responsibilities to our relatives. Mistakes will be made and I certainly have made my fair share of them. I know we can do better. We must do better. The stakes are too high to remain divided.
We certainly have a long way to go and there is a lot to mend, maybe more than can be addressed in our lifetime. I can only speak for myself when I say, “I’m sorry” for the pain that has been caused. I pray that women from different backgrounds can be honest with each other, extend compassion and continue to open each other’s eyes, ears and hearts so that we can unite in service to life.
In the meantime, I will be working hard to follow the thread of my own German, Irish, Scottish, Norweigan and Swedish ancestry so that one day, I can join a gathering so rooted in my own heritage and connected to earth-honoring ways of living that I won’t need to stare at my native sisters but instead join them honorably in the fight for our future generations.