I’m Dreaming About a World That Doesn’t Erase Indigenous Intelligence

By Matika Wilbur on Wednesday March 7th, 2018

The Dismantling of Oppression

It is important to understand that decolonization is a physical action and that since the creation of the United Nations, more than 80 countries have decolonized; which is to say, in over 80 nations, oppressive domination has been dismantled—colonial rule has left the building.

I try to imagine that kind of dismantling happening here in our homeland. I imagine a Handmaid’s Tale scenario where power is drastically overturned by Indigenous brethren. I see fire and destruction. I see the worst kind of Mad Max or zombie apocalypse that climaxes with 90 percent of our current population gone. The cost of this shift would be so devastating and tragic, it seems anti-American to even imagine it.

But the truth is it’s already been actualized; and it happened here—on this soil, to my people. For some, it was only four generations ago that more than 90 percent of our relatives experienced that kind of genocide.

Melba AppawaraMelba Appawara, of the Northern Ute Tribe, is grandma to many beautiful bear dancers.

Native America might always feel the grief from that loss because colonial disruption is still here and its violence permeates every aspect of American culture and politics. Every aspect of our lives suffers from this violent structure.

Sometimes I sit in modern spaces and try to imagine a ‘United States of Tribal Nations.’ I imagine that the music overhead would be by a well-known Native hip-hop artist, and I’d shake my head because it lacks the substance of my generation, but at least it would be relevant. I try to imagine what it would be like to grow up in a modern longhouse, surrounded by my closest friends and relatives at every meal. I wonder if our people would be less lonely.

Maybe I would have had the opportunity to know my own ‘coming of age’ ceremony, and at a very young age I’d have purpose and meaning instead of adolescent rage. Maybe we would be driving hydro-powered cars. Maybe corporations wouldn’t have human rights. Maybe ownership of land would look different. Maybe shoe stands would be at airports to clean my moccasins. There definitely wouldn’t be a blood quantum; we’d all belong. I imagine that 95 percent of the population would look like me.

Matika Wilbur, right, and her mother, NancyMatika Wilbur, right, and her mother, Nancy, from the Swinomish tribe.

Sinéad Talley, of the Karuk and Yurok tribe, says:

It’s taken a long time for me to get outside of the blood quantum construct of thinking. I’m low blood quantum, and my family was disconnected for a while before we came back to the river. It’s been a returning process. Learning more about history and the fact that blood quantum is a European concept and that’s not how Native people determined who was a community member and who was not helped. When it comes down to it, blood quantum doesn’t mean anything. It’s your connection to place, it’s your kinship ties and how involved you are in the community. It has a lot to do with a lot of things, but indigeneity doesn’t have to do with blood quantum. You can know that and you can feel that, but they’re two different things. For me it’s taken a long time to feel that.

I imagine walking into spaces where I’m not the only Indian. Maybe our people would be healthier. Maybe I wouldn’t have known alcoholism or trauma or abuse. Maybe there would still be a thousand variations of grasses on the prairie, and buffalo would still have space to roam. Maybe we would have intricate trading systems between the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Pomo, and Miccosukee. Maybe the fish wouldn’t be dying from agricultural runoff. Maybe our children would grow up with fathers.

Isabella and Alyssa Klain (Diné)Isabella and Alyssa Klain (Diné) stand united in resistance and rise together.

But these maybes aren’t enough.

So I focus on what I can do.

I become an Indigenous mental abolitionist.

And you can, too.

That begins by imagining that our Indigenous ancestors’ belief systems are worthy of saving. Michael Yellow Bird and Waziyatawin in For Indigenous Minds Only: A Decolonization Handbook say:

Only then will we be positioned to take action that reflects a rejection of the programming of self-hatred with which we have been indoctrinated. We will also learn to assess the claims of colonizer society regarding its justification for colonization and its sense of superiority. When we regain a belief in the wisdom and beauty of our traditional ways of being and reject the colonial lies that have inundated us, we will release the pent-up dreams of liberation and again realize the need for resistance to colonization.

Sinéad Talley (Karuk and Yurok)Sinéad Talley (Karuk and Yurok) recognises that indigeneity isn’t related to blood quantum.

I keep having these recurring dreams where I’m on a plane or train and all the people around me, Native and non-Native, are speaking different Indigenous languages. I hear Paiute, Lashootseed, Diné, Catawba, and they’re feeding their babies wild rice and smoked fish. I’m dreaming about a modern world that doesn’t erase its Indigenous intelligence, but rather embraces the rich complexity of Indigenous culture.

This can be actualized if we all bring our hearts and minds together. The land we walk on is Indian Land, whether it be suburban cul-de-sacs or city streets. Echoes of Indian existence are all around us. It’s up to us to listen.

we will not rest
hoping is not enough
our resilience shall prevail
together we rise
our ancestors always behind us

Wahatalihate (He Made it Warm) Daniel Clay Stevens (Oneida)Wahatalihate (He Made it Warm) Daniel Clay Stevens (Oneida) with a sacred deer.

All photos by Matika Wilbur for Project 562.

Words By Matika Wilbur

Originally posted on YES! Magazine, Powerful Actions, Practical Ideas




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7 Responses to I’m Dreaming About a World That Doesn’t Erase Indigenous Intelligence

  1. I wrote this for Trudeau and people who identify as – Below is my letter to Justin Trudeau as it relates to his comment: “Canada has a long and terrible history when it comes to indigenous peoples. We have consistently failed as a country to live up to the original spirit and intent of the treaties. We have not treated the indigenous peoples as partners and stewards of this land. We have marginalized and behaved in paternalistic, Colonialistic (is this even a word?) ways that has lacked respect of the First Peoples as stewards of the land. We have much to apologize for and much to work forward on together in respect.” Justin Trudeau

    First, I would like to educate you, Justin Trudeau, on three things.
    1. Canada is a country, it is merely a place; a chunk of land that wouldn’t have a name if someone hadn’t given it one. It doesn’t have a brain and it need not apologize.

    2. Canadians are the people who live in the provinces of the country of Canada. We are smart and we are diverse; the French language and maple syrup don’t define us as a country or Canadians.

    3. The Canadian government is merely an entity, NOT Canada in it’s entirety. The Canadian government is only the managing body of this chunk of land called Canada, mandated to manage on behalf of Canadian citizens.

    Justin Trudeau, when you say “Canada” has failed the First Peoples’, that “Canada” has a lot to work toward, you are misrepresenting our country and Canadians on the whole by placing blame and shame on ALL Canadian citizens.
    The majority of Canadian citizens had nothing to do with the decolonization, genocide or the treatment of Indigenous Peoples. Neither did we develop, write, implement or sign off on any treaties.

    “We” have NOT consistently failed as a “country” it is ‘YOUR’ government that has consistently failed – a government that makes independent decisions of ALL of the Canadian citizens that have supported it.

    Going forward, Justin, it would do you wise, when you attempt your syrupy, half-hearted apologies to please be conscious and place the blame where it truly belongs, within the government, NOT on your citizens shoulders (who sign all of your paycheques might I add).

    By encompassing all Canadian citizens in your antagonistic apologies it creates dissension, misunderstanding, racism and resentfulness within the collective consciousness of all Canadian citizens.

    It makes Canada and Canadian citizens appear dysfunctional and weak to International onlookers.

    My letter to the world? Canadian citizens and Canada as a country, do NOT accept the blame being placed upon us or, accept ownership of the wrongs of a government that has historically and consistently mismanaged its affairs and the Canadian citizens in “OUR” country.

    My letter to Canadian citizens?
    STOP! 🛑
    Stop! supporting a government that doesn’t support ALL of its’ citizens; a government that believes “IT” is Canada and projects blame onto us. “It” is not Canada, “WE” are. “Its’” job is to fairly manage and represent and it surely does not.

    Stop! voting and believing in a carrot that dangles in front of your face; commonly referred to as democracy or civic/social services and that “what your country can do for you” warrants your subservience, your blind-eye and the biting of your tongues.
    Stop! believing that voting is the one true way to democracy. Voting is a political constraint that is rigged and it always has been. It is a political mind game.
    Stop! Believing a representative democracy is better than a direct democracy and that a direct democracy is unattainable on a large scale.
    Do! your homework. The First Peoples of Canada have never operated on a voting system and survived quite nicely until the settlers arrived – Their politics consisted of communication and respect among all the communities and their citizens.
    Do! remember that we have a voice, that collectively it is strong, can be heard loud and clear and will evoke genuine change to create a country that overflows with abundance, respect, acceptance and pride.
    Do! realize that you, we, are all independent of the government.
    Do! realize there is a time for civil disobedience – like we’re seeing now over the pipeline. It is a peaceful and passive disobedience and it will prove fruitful – but it won’t be enough to evoke change in the entire country.
    Do! realize there’s also a time for civil unrest, for a citizen uprising, when we ALL stand peacefully, passively and strategically in togetherness, in solidarity, and demand a true democracy that works for “US” – for this chunk of land we ALL call home, despite any threats or revocations of a blameless and thoughtless government.
    Do! realize that in order for things to stay the same they have to change.

    When Canadian citizens finally stand and build a united front that is independent of the government or its current, corrupt voting system and demand our collective voice be heard, it is then and only then that we will realize a true democracy with a government who communicates with and offers its citizens as much support and respect as they want in return.
    DO! Take heed, learn from, stand with and mimic the actions of Canadian Indigenous Peoples – they are a team, they know how to make change because they know there is no gain with no self-sacrificing pain.
    Do! STANDUP! – “WE” are not weak! “WE” are not hopeless or helpless, but I would argue the government surely would be should we all open our eyes, raise our heads and our voices, dig in our heels and take action on one platform rather than whine and accomplish nothing on the many.

  2. Thank you – I dream this dream as well. My “blood quantum” is super low – maybe even non-existant but my blood is still red and my heart is yours. Indigenous people are the only hope we have left. Stay Strong ! Never give up !

  3. I Believe …Survival of the Planet depends on connecting to
    Indigenous Intelligence and Wisdom if we are to survive as a species.
    In just a short period of
    Five Hundred Years or so, the entire world with the spread
    of Colonisation and Western Materialism, Greed and
    Consumerism brought us all to a point of
    Near Future Extinction.
    Due to the damage and
    Imbalance this arrogant way of life… has created.

  4. Turtle Island spirit is made of the spirit of it’s first peoples. It’s soil is made up of the bones of our ancestors. It does not matter how much money or how many times it is sold, it will always be our people our peoples’ land. It was our people who dreamed this land into being , our love that created it. Upon our remembering the dream, it will be ours again.

  5. It is vital that all people living on this land recognise the wisdom and teachings of those who thrived here for thousands of years to join together in making all future choices based on this long held respect for all Creation.

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