ReWilding: The Untamed Masculine – Lover Earth
I will start by acknowledging the land that I am currently residing on while writing this article. I acknowledge that I am on the traditional unceded territory of the Songhees, W’Sanec, and Esquimalt nations. To acknowledge the land is indigenous protocol and an expression of honour, gratitude, and appreciation to the original peoples who have been living and walking on this land since time immemorial.
When I first started giving land acknowledgements, I had no idea what I was doing. A friend that attends a practice I facilitate called “Village Forum” had requested that we start adding an acknowledgement into our introduction, so we did. But at the time they were just words, I felt no real connection to them.
I was doing it because I had to. Sure, I would say the words, but what was the point?
I wasn’t even sure what land I was acknowledging, and what does it mean to “acknowledge the land” that we were gathering on? I live in Victoria, BC and as far as I knew it had been that way since the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading outpost here in the 1800s. That’s when it became a British colony, but I knew little about the people who had lived here before, only that they were named Coast Salish.
Thats what was true to me. That’s the history I knew.
To me, colonization was a historical event; something that happened hundreds of years ago. I thought that a land acknowledgement would reflect that notion. What I discovered is that land acknowledgements do not live in a past tense or historical context; colonialism is a current, ongoing process. Non-linear, one could say.
Welcome to MY ongoing story of decolonization.
Chapter 2 — Lover Earth
My land acknowledgements were very simple at the beginning. I would say the words, mention the Coast Salish territory, receive some signs of praise, feel chuffed that I was doing a good thing, and then we could move on to the rest of the practice. But it felt hollow, like I was reciting it only for the attention I would receive. Each word chosen with a goal in mind, saying what I knew people wanted, and they expected to hear. It felt like my years as a pick-up artist attempting to seduce a woman at a bar, yearning to feel the rush I would get from the validation of her desire.
The praise inflated my ego, but I felt like a fraud. I secretly hated doing the acknowledgements because of this, I felt completely out of integrity. I didn’t want to feel false in my words; instead I wanted to believe in what I was saying. I reached out to friends, researched online, and it frequently came back to respect for the land, the indigenous peoples, and the Earth herself.
I grew up in British Columbia and I felt like I loved the land, but truly did I? Maybe I wasn’t attempting to seduce a woman, but instead I was seducing the land. I was attempting to cajole “Lover Earth” in to believing that I cared about her with my land acknowledgements. I told her that I wanted to make a difference, but really what I wanted was extra approval from those attending Village Forum.
I learned that instead of seduction, the land needed to be respectfully courted as a potential lover. The difference being seduction has an “end goal”, while courtship is an ongoing process. Through the lens of animism, the Earth too is a person. How would I court her? I had to show her that I cared for her, that she meant something to me, and that I believed the words I was saying in front of everyone every two weeks. Walk the walk, if you’re going to talk the talk. I began to live my life like she was paying attention to my every action and word. As if she were listening, as if she was watching.
I started leaving out offerings for her like sage, honey, or food I had cooked for dinner. I spent more time consciously walking through her forests and admiring the complex beauty she had created. I talked to her, I wept for her, and with her permission I made love to/with her. Most importantly, I began to craft my land acknowledgements in a way that would raise awareness to the need for decolonization.
Decolonization of the land is mandatory, but also of ourselves. It takes an active understanding that you are, or have been colonized and thus are responding to life’s circumstances in ways that are limited, destructive, and externally controlled. Working towards decolonization requires us to consciously and critically assess how the cultural bomb of colonization has affected our minds and hearts.
Then and only then will we be positioned to step outside of the egoic “White Man” hero’s journey and take actions that reflect a rejection of the programming of self-hate with which we have been indoctrinated.
What is colonization?
If you aren’t aware of the history of global colonization I would highly suggest you use a little time to conduct some research before continuing reading this article. While I will dive in to some specifics, mainly around North America, the broad scope of the topic is simply too much to try to capture within this essay. It is absolutely everywhere.
Last month, while writing about human domestication I spoke of the patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism being tightly linked by husbandry. However, colonialism is not just a symptom of capitalism. Socialist and communist empires have also been settler empires and they too view natural resources as commodities to be exploited. The difference being that capitalism views them as personal gains and communism views it as for the good of all.
Generally speaking, there are two forms of colonialism: External colonialism and internal colonialism.
External colonialism is the expropriation of Indigenous worlds, animals, plants and human beings, extracting them in order to transport them to colonizers, who get marked as the first world. All things Native become recast as “natural resources.” This includes “historic” examples such as opium, spices, tea, sugar, and tobacco, even human beings. The extraction of which continues to fuel colonial efforts. Modern examples include diamonds, fish, water, oil, manual labourers, and essential minerals for high tech devices.
External colonialism often requires a subset of activities called military colonialism. This includes the creation of war fronts against enemies to be conquered, with the very recent example of the US war in Iraq. The US military still nicknames all enemy territory as “Indian Country.”. Yeah, real cute guys.
The other form of colonialism is internal colonialism. This refers to the bio-political and geopolitical management of people, land, flora and fauna within the domestic borders of a nation. This involves particular modes of control such as prisons, ghettos, minoritizing, economic class segregation, schools and policing to assure the supremacy of a nation and its “white elite”. Strategies of internal colonialism like segregation, surveillance, and criminalization are both structural and interpersonal.
While both of these forms are quite different, they are far from mutually exclusive.
O’ Canada, Our Home ON Native Land
In my country of birth, Canada, both external colonialism and internal colonialism are evident and overlapping in a form known as Settler Colonialism. In Canada, just like the United States, many indigenous peoples have been forced from their homelands on to reservations, indentured, and abducted into crown custody. Examples include, but are not limited to, oil extraction and transportation of oil across indigenous lands and children forced to attend Residential Schools. A settler colonial nation-state requires total appropriation of indigenous life and land, rather than the selective expropriation of profit-producing fragments.
In a recent address to the United Nations, current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had this to say:
“For indigenous peoples in Canada, the experience was mostly one of humiliation, neglect and abuse,” he said. “There are, today, children living on reserve in Canada who cannot safely drink, or bath in, or even play in the water that comes out of their taps. There are indigenous parents who say goodnight to their children, and have to cross their fingers in the hopes that their kids won’t run away, or take their own lives in the night. … And for far too many indigenous women, life in Canada includes threats of violence so frequent and severe that Amnesty International has called it ‘a human rights crisis.’ … That is the legacy of colonialism in Canada.”
Settler colonialism comes with the intention of making a new home and thus insists on settler sovereignty over all land, water, and air in their “new world” land. Land is what is most valuable of those three things because it becomes their new home and source of capital. The land is remade in to property and human relationships to the land are restricted to the relationship of the owner to his property. Settler colonialism is a structure, not an event, and the disruption and violence of the epistemic, ontological, and cosmological relationship to the land is reasserted each day of the occupation.
For settlers to make a place their home, indigenous peoples culture must be destroyed and erased — the first peoples made into ghosts, as though they were never there.
It’s important to note that settlers are not immigrants. Settler nations are not immigrant nations. Settlers are diverse, not just of white European descent, and include people of colour, even from other colonial contexts. Those who are displaced by external colonialism, as well as those racialized and minoritized by internal colonialism, still occupy and settle stolen indigenous land.
I’m Not A Racist, But…
Our culture in North America is riddled with systemic racism that has spread like a cancer to touch all aspects of our lives. Existing since our country Cananda’s inception, it is discreetly, and not-so discreetly woven in to the fabric of nearly all of our institutions. It is especially ingrained within the public school system where it’s passed down from one generation of student to the next. It’s often so normalized that until looking back through the lens of time and hindsight, you wouldn’t know that you were a racist. I certainly didn’t.
As a child I had very little exposure to people with skin colour different than mine. I grew up on a small Gulf Island off the southern BC coast called Gabriola Island. It is a quiet, peaceful place with a pre-dominantly white population of approximately 2000. My parents were pseudo hippies, free spirits that had adventured west from Ontario in the late 70s, early 80s and had made Vancouver Island their home.
I knew that other races were out there but my first had experiences of minorities was almost zero. I had ONE friend whose mother was from Hong Kong, and I believe that constituted the entirety of my exposure. It was more a conceptual understanding from watching Fresh Prince, Saved By The Bell, or Star Trek: The Next Generation. Thank you to pop-culture for being the only culture I ever really had.
It wasn’t until I began high school that I started to meet, and befriend people who were visibly different than me. Nanaimo has a fairly vibrant East Indian and South East Asian population but I would still describe Nanaimo as a “Redneck” town. My inner urban school was diverse and I made plenty of friends from plenty of different ethnic backgrounds. Despite that, there was still one group that was marginalized by us all, the Indigenous Peoples.
We told terrible jokes with offensive fake accents. Often they portrayed indigenous people as drunk, unintelligent, or dirty. I still remember them, but I will never speak them aloud. Even thinking of them right now gives me chills to recall how I told them proudly to my friends, knowing I would get a laugh. The shameful measures we will go to, to secure a sense of belonging within our peers circle.
The Bridge Game
There is a city on Vancouver Island, which is the subject of a game that we all played as teens on school trips and I’m sure it’s still played to this day. This game is called “the bridge game” and it goes like this: how many natives are on the bridge?
Anytime you drove through the city of Duncan you would play it. The game is played by guessing how many indigenous people you will see crossing the bridge as the bus, or your car travels over it. The city also carried the nickname of Drunken Duncan. Based on the racist assumption that indigenous people were always drunk, so they couldn’t drive, and that’s why they were walking. What I didn’t know at the time was that there would almost always be people walking across because the reserve land is located there, and HAD to cross the bridge to enter into town just a short walk away.
No one ever stopped us or corrected us from playing this game. Teachers, sports coaches, and parents all turned a blind eye while some even joined in. Looking back, it’s hard to understand how I didn’t realize the intense racism being played out, but at the time it was normal.
Recently I was having a conversation with my partner acknowledging where we have had and have personal bigotry in our lives. Mostly our discriminations stemmed from our own negative/oppressive experiences, or from the dominant culture convincing us to be fearful of “others”. Lets be honest here, for somebody to say they have no bigotry in their life either means A: they have been living under a rock or B: that they are lying to us and likely themselves. Acknowledging where life experience has consciously or subconsciously caused us to push certain things or peoples away, allows us to begin deconstructing that matrix and free our psyches from its clutches.
What would it mean to look our intolerance dead in the eye and say “No. I can do better.”?
I told my partner these stories and admitted that I felt uncomfortable around indigenous people. There was an uncomfortableness for me when a first-nations man would sit down beside me on the bus, or even when I would pass someone of indigenous descent on the street. I didn’t know where the feelings had come from, but they had been there for as long as I could remember.
I truly cannot recall any instance where an indigenous person has inflicted harm towards me. Despite the racist jokes and games of my childhood, I had had indigenous teammates and friends and knew them to be amazing humans.
These are just a few examples of the countless ways that systemic racism pervades our society. Perhaps my experience resonates with stories from your childhood. Looking back at memories like these, there is plenty of reason to understand the self-hate. But if they enable your self-hate and goes no further, you’re not doing anybody any favours. We need to do more than feel all the shame and guilt, and call it a political statement. To peoples of European descent, Self-hatred is the dominant narcissism of our times.
“Self-hatred is not very filling, it’s like a questionable Chinese food dinner. It doesn’t stick with you. It has consequence but it has no presence.” — Stephen Jenkinson
Children of Nowhere
Learn the fact that you have an ancestry that is deeply unappealing.
There is a fierce unwillingness to go deep and an inability to look in to our past. There’s a story we tell ourselves that we WERE colonizers, but now we aren’t. We aren’t from here, but we’re not from back there, so as such we are from nowhere. I don’t really feel connected to anywhere, or I feel connected to many different places. We claim the idea of being a “global citizen.” or “Actually, I’m nomadic like my ancestors. I’m a free spirit.” The shackles of wandering equating to a perception of freedom.
“The Law of Dreams is keep moving, the dead can’t catch you when you’re running” — Peter Behrens
I feel like I come from nowhere, and this may describe my feeling but it’s not reality. It’s quite obvious that I’m not originally from this land, but I’m also not from my ancestral homeland. Part of my family came over during the Irish famine and I feel fortunate to have a family that recorded some history after they landed. Most people only have a vague understanding, at best, of where that homeland is.
We came during a spontaneous mad migration that formed North America as we know it. The cover story is that it was people seeking religious freedom. We never saw the land to begin with; we projected our world onto it. Hence naming everything after places in the Old World. New York. New Jersey. New France. New Orleans. London. Halifax. We may have landed on the shores but we certainly never arrived. On a metta scale we still haven’t.
In conversation with friends, it is my experience that inevitably a question will be asked, “so where is your family from?” We grasp to find somewhere in the Old World to identify from, when we can’t identify with our place of birth.
What we saw when we landed on the shores was our ancestors that were not Christian, we never saw the first nation people to begin with. We projected. We saw our heathen ancestors looking back at us, which we were separate from, those that could never meet us in “Heaven.” Save them! Save ourselves!
Lost in the tomes of history is the fact that those ancestors, your ancestors, had been colonized as well. The Romans also had colonized Britain at one point. They also had their life way extinguished and the same could be said for the Norse, the Celts, the Romans, the Egyptians, etc. The victors write history, and you can’t forget what you don’t know. Once history shifted more into written form, verses one that was passed down through verbal stories, that is when the lines of truth started to blur. HIS-story, became the only story.
The Europeans had thousands of years to adjust. But it’s not just how recent the trauma was for First Nations people but how extreme. There was a drive by the colonists to not only take their land and resources, but also to invalidate their spiritual ways, culture, and family structures. Like passing on an intergenerational trauma but across races instead.
It has already happened to us, it can’t be undone. It’s a matter of how we accept the place we’re in and how we move forward. And some of that is the collective ‘how do we move forward’ but I believe the more important thing right now is for each person to be in the place they are and how they are. We can’t help but be who we are, and where; what we are suffering, and how.
You may be feeling bewildered right now, that’s okay. You’re Human, with an extensive history, it’s to be expected. That moment of bewilderment is a good thing, a necessary thing even. When you have this moment of realization that actions you have taken, conscious or unconscious, were part of perpetuating the problem, then there is a moment of “I don’t know what to do”. That empty space allows new responses to emerge so that we don’t reflexively enact solutions that are based on a delusion. This is the fertile ground of bewilderment. Where old stories can become compost to new growth, should we allow it.
As I began to write this essay the topic continued to expand. Although I endeavoured to be concise I could not contain it to one piece and attempt to do it justice. I have decided to split it in to two parts, with the second piece being released on the next New Moon, November 18th. Next time we will explore responsibility, resistance, appropriation, and decolonization.
Over the next four weeks please allow yourself to sit in the fires of your own uncomfortability and ask yourself some hard questions:
• Where does bigotry exist within me?
• In what ways do I perpetuate the problem?
• What would it look like to be claimed by a place?
• What will you offer to this threadbare experience?
Colonialism did not start with you, and it may not end with you. Please do not feel as though you have nothing to offer. Even being aware of the fact that colonization is in your DNA is a start.