Thursday, December 15, 2005

Conversation with Barry Moses On Reclaiming Indigeneity

A few days back i got an email from Barry who had read my Blog. We began a conversation that is still continuing.

With his permission, i give you a piece of it .

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hey barry,

back and forth.

On 12/14/05, Barry Moses wrote:

Hello Tad,

I have to say, it's interesting to make this connection with you at this time in my life. Several years ago I served on a "Culture and Communities Board" at Whitworth College. The college pulled together a standing committee of ethnic minorities (myself included) to advise the college on issues related to race and discrimination. Truthfully, I believe the college struggles in this area. It is predominantly white, middle class, and sponsored by the Presbyterian Church of America. The folks at Whitworth are wonderful human beings. They're open and willing to learn, but they are somewhat limited in their perspective (generally). To their credit, they recognize that about themselves and they're working to change.

Well, as I served on the board, I occasionally spoke at faculty meetings and panel discussions. The reception was always welcoming, affirming, and warm, but one thing troubled me. Time and again I encountered Euro-Americans (White People) who seemed to feel they had to apologize to me personally, as if I were Father Confessor and had power to absolve the sins of their ancestors. I never knew how to respond. Should I tell them everything's okay? What happens if they perceive me as clearing their conscience? Are they then free to return to ignorance without guilt? And what if I tell them it's not okay? What then? Am I then to blame for reverse discrimination? Will they start accusing me of being a flaming liberal, hell-bent on beating down the White man? These individuals were obviously sincere, but I felt horrible hearing their confessions. I often thought if they truly wronged someone in their lives an account of race, or some other characteristic, then they should make amends with that person, and perhaps some Higher Power, but not me.

TAD: hmm. yes, i felt this too at one point. the desire to be accepted by a person of colour and ESPECIALLY a native. that was the coup de grace. ha. what i noticed was that as i dug into my roots, the need for approval from indigenous people lessened dramatically. i had my own roots. i didn't feel so strong a need to lean, you know. i remember one event where i introduced myself in Gaelic for the first time. It was a youth environmental meeting. after the circle two native activists came up to me - amazed. they'd never heard a white person do that - speak in their indigenous language and honour their ancestors. "that was so powerful," one kept repeating.

ironically, i needed it less and got it more.

what finding my indigenous roots is showing me is that the same thing happened to MY ancestors as happened to other indigenous people's around the world. our liberation as indigenous people's is bound up together. not that i see myself as an indigenous person but . . . the survival of the indigenous mind is a common fate. the same trouble is hurting us all. it's the same disease in different forms.

this is the shift i think most white folks never make - from solitarity (being on their own) to charity (supporting those oppressed) and then from charity to solidarity. we expressed our understanding of this principle for the Youth Jams in this way .. . .

7) SOLIDARITY: The Jams are based in the knowing that the grassroots civil society needs to come together across the lines that have divided us in the past. Those lines have divided those who have privilege (economic, racial, gender etc) from those who do not. As these two groups come together, we believe that there is a vital distinction to be made. This is the distinction between charity and solidarity. Charity was once defined as love in action. Sadly, at its worst, modern charity says, "Let's go help those people, over there, with their problems.” This can be incredibly condescending. This is not to downplay the important role charitable acts and giving play in the world. Charity is vital, but it is not enough. Charity, by itself, can disown our own connection with and responsibility for the problem. It may justify the privileges that come at the expense of others. Charity is made complete when it is grounded in solidarity. Solidarity is not an action you can take, it is a stand you can embody. It is grounded in partnership. While charity may help those on trial by the system, solidarity may put the system on trial. It not only gives resources, but it actively works to change the very systems that put resources into the hands of some at the expense of others. Solidarity is borne of knowing that we are all connected and so the choice of 'us' versus 'them' is a false one. We choose to serve one another because we know that to serve others is to serve ourselves. What harms anyone harms everyone. No one is truly free until everyone is free. Solidarity says, "I refuse to benefit unfairly from a system that is harming others." It knows that the quality of life gained by privilege over others is a pale shadow of the quality of life gained by a world shaped by, for and of the highest dreams of us all.

BARRY: In all fairness, I think this situation reveals a deeper dynamic playing out in race relations these days. On the one hand, there are a lot of people from the dominant group who still refuse to acknowledge race issues. Minority advocates would like these people to make some kind of sincere acknowledgment, but very often that comes out as "white guilt."

I've been searching for ways to engage discussion without invoking issues of guilt and without invalidating any people or culture. Identifying indigenous people across cultures often serves that purpose. Rather than attacking "White People" and idealizing Native peoples, we can look at forces in society that cause us to lose our common instinct to care for one another.

TAD: a beautiful thought. i like that. i sit with the same questions - how to help white people see the truth in such a way that they become powerful allies instead of guilt ridden white folks. how do we not only heal them of racism - but of their whiteness? the white privilege is out of anyONE person's control. that's deeply institutional. but can we help white people cure themselves of their white culture (by definition: patriarchal, hierarchical, capitalist and racist etc)?

if so they must know what the cost of holding on is - the holding on must become unbearable. and what the possibilities are for letting go - these possibilities must become irresistible.

Here's a quote someone just sent me from the new book by Alice Walker - "Now is the Time to Open your Heart." I think it's very powerful ...

"'The more powerful the powerful appear the more invisible they become...This used to work differently than now. In the old days it was said that the powerful merged with the divine and the divine was all that one saw. But now the powerful have merged with the shadow, and when you encounter them they are really hard to see...'What is the medicine for this invisibility that white men have?' Armando looked for a long time in the direction of the river, and yet his gaze seemed to hover just above it, at the edge of the trees. ' In my opinion,' he said, after a while, 'the only medicine that cures invisibility among the powerful is tears.'"

BARRY: In fact, one could argue that the social ills we all lament come from the kinds of stratified societies created by power and wealth. The Aztecs and Mayans, for example, began to show all the same signs of racial and political oppression evident in "white" societies.

TAD: yes. this is why "race" is a the biggest red herring. all cultures have wrestled with this.

"Given the ubiquity of this cultures destructiveness as well as its technological capacity, there has never been a more important time to ask Ruth Benedict's question: why are some cultures "good" and others not?

Benedict found that good cultures, which she began to call "secure," or "low aggression," or "high synergy cultures," could not be differentiated from "surly and nasty" cultures on the basis of race, geography, climate, size, wealth, poverty, complexity, matrilineality, patrilineality, house size, the absence or presence of polygamy, and so on. More research revealed to her one simple and commonsensical rule separating aggressive from nonaggressive cultures, a rule that has so far evaded implementation by our culture: the social forms and institutions of nonaggressive cultures positively reinforced acts that benefit the group as a whole while negatively reinforcing acts [and eliminating goals] that harm members of the group.

The social forms of aggressive cultures, on the other hand, reward actions emphasize individual gain, even or especially when that gain harms others in the community. A primary and sometimes all-consuming goal of members of these cultures is to come out ahead in their "dog eat dog" world.

Another way to put this is that social arrangements of non-aggressive cultures eliminate the polarity between selfishness and altruism by making the two identical... it all comes down to how culture handles wealth. If a culture manages it through what Benedict called a "siphon system," whereby wealth is constantly siphoned from rich the poor, the society as a whole and its members as individuals will be, for obvious reasons, secure. They will not need to hoard wealth. Since this generosity is manifested not only monetarily only been all aspects of life, they will also not need to act out of their nonexistent insecurities another way.

On the other hand, if a culture uses a "funnel system," in which those who accumulate wealth are esteemed, the result is that "the advantage of one individual becomes a victory over another, and the majority who are not victorious must shift as they can." For reasons that should again be obvious, such social forms foster insecurity and aggression, both personal and cultural."

Derrick Jensen, A Language Older Than Words - p, 212-213

BARRY: Anyway, this is still a work in progress. I don't feel I have any definite answers for anyone. In fact, whenever I speak publicly these days, I usually share a few personal experiences and then ask people to simply look inward for biases. If everyone looked inward first, we would have less room for judgment and accusation.

TAD: that's a good thought. any work that puts us back in touch with our hearts and helps us return to inner wisdom vs. outer authority is decolonization work. wholeness. healing. this is what we need. our indigenous minds.


Barry G. Moses

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Scots' Crisis in Confidence - Carol Craig

Here are ten of the most important messages from The Scots' Crisis of Confidence. They are stated briefly here and are supported with a variety of types evidence in the book.

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1. Self-confidence increasingly matters in the modern world. The fact that the Scots collectively and individually lack confidence has enormous implications for economic growth, enterprise, physical and mental health, creativity, personal relationships and parenting skills. It also has a deleterious affect on Scotland's political culture and contributes to a widespread `cannae do' attitude.

2. Scotland's relationship with England (i.e. being the junior partner in an incorporating union) has no doubt contributed to the confidence gap but it is not the main cause. Self-confidence is kept in check in Scotland by the way the Scots themselves see the world. This means that political independence or fiscal autonomy may help build Scottish confidence but it is not on its own the answer to Scotland's confidence problem.

3. Over the years the Scots have fretted about the vulnerability of Scottishness and Scottish identity. Hundreds of books have been written in the continual quest to understand what Scottishness means. But the problem of Scottishness needs to be stood on its head - Scotland is not suffering from too little Scottish culture and a weak Scottish identity but from the fact that Scottish culture is far too limiting and prescriptive. Being Scottish comes with a fairly narrow set of attitudes about how a `true Scot' should behave and what he or she should think and this stunts individuality, creativity and enterprise. Many Scots fear challenging these prevailing ideas in case they are criticised, denounced or ostracised.

4. So what are the inhibiting beliefs, attitudes and general mindset which lead to conformity? Many arise from Scotland's Calvinist past and have been reinforced in modern times by Labour movement values. They are so much part of the culture they affect everyone living here (including Catholics and atheists) and include some of the following:

A strong tendency to see the world in strict either/or terms, particularly worthless/damned; good/bad; right/wrong.

A tendency to treat a person's mistakes or miscalculations as the result of deliberate bad faith rather than an error. This means that if anyone makes a mistake or does something judged to be wrong then they are personally accountable for it and no excuses or extenuating circumstances are permitted in defence. It also means that people's motives for action are often viewed as suspect. This is a viewpoint which leads to cynicism and blame and is one of the reasons why Scots feel overly fearful of making mistakes.

An overriding tendency to believe that criticism (and blame) are helpful and lead to improvement. This means that appreciation tends to get squeezed out and the importance of motivation downplayed or forgotten about altogether.

A prevailing belief that it is wrong to think highly of yourself and that you should just see yourself as the same as others. Americans share this strong belief in equality but in their culture it leads to the view that if we are all born equal then everyone is special whereas in Scotland the notion that we are all equal leads to the idea that no-one is special.

A strong injunction to `know your place' and not get above your station. This exhortation comes from Scotland's egalitarian values but paradoxically, in a society where people do not set out in life equal all it does is reinforce class (and gender) inequality.

A sense of everyone's fate being bound up with others. This clearly can have positive aspects but in a critical judgmental climate it can heighten people's fear of doing anything different for fear of being criticised or cast out. It also leads to an inadequate sense of privacy and boundaries. In England there is a prevailing notion of what people choose to do in their own life is their business (an Englishman's home is his castle) but in Scotland it is common for people to believe that they may have to account to others for their actions (e.g. where they live, how they spend money, educate their children etc.) or even for what they think. This, and the previous points, all contribute to the common Scots' fear of drawing attention to yourself.

A strong Utopian tendency in Scottish public life where people commonly believe that we must all build the New Jerusalem - a perfectly fair, just society where money does not matter. This tendency to Utopian dreams leads to panacea politics (e.g. a Scottish Parliament will solve Scotland's problems) and completely unrealistic expectations. When they are not fulfilled extreme negativity sets in (what hopeless, terrible people we are). Another contrast with America is that whereas the American dream is a dream for individuals to create their own life, the Scottish dream is a dream of collective redemption for Scotland.

5. Paradoxically, alongside this pressure to conform and not stand out in Scotland there is another pressure - to prove your worth. And coupled with the strong sense of mission and purpose and a highly developed worth ethic, it has led to some very fine Scottish achievements. However, over the years many of these have only been realised by Scots once they have gone abroad and freed themselves from the constraints of Scottish culture. Many of these achievements have also been in areas which the Scottish value system has deemed acceptable - e.g. education, health, missionary work, law etc. Obviously there will always be individual Scots with such drive, ambition and flair that they will not obey the pressure to conform and will do their own thing. But sadly in today's Scotland, such Scots are in the distinct minority.

6. Another paradox is that Scotland is a country which should be vibrant, outward looking and inventive. Unlike the English who have always had the reputation for being a deeply conservative and inward looking people who venerate tradition and what they know from experience, the Scots were once internationally renowned as energetic, speculative and inventive people. If we could lift the dead-hand of some of Scotland's restrictive values, some of this old vibrancy may bounce back.

7. The Scots are so proud of their egalitarian values that they deny the reality of modern-day Scotland. Scotland is a society which is deeply divided by class and wealth. Any outsider will tell you that Scottish society is very hierarchical and there is a distinct pecking order. Racism and bigotry are also ugly features of modern Scotland. If Scotland is to become more dynamic it must begin to face up to these problems. It must also start genuinely valuing diversity and seeing difference as something to be welcomed rather than something to be curtailed. Again one of the underlying problems here is that there is too tight and restrictive a notion of what it means to be Scottish.

8. Scottish culture is extremely masculine in character. Even the emotional, tender side of Scottish culture is the preserve of Robert Burns and the Burns cult - not women. Over the centuries Scottish women's contribution to society at large has not only been neglected, but also their lives have been particularly restricted and shaped by tight notions of `respectability'. Since women account for over fifty per cent of the population this pressure on women to conform has led to a great restriction on Scottish potential.

9. If Scotland is to tackle some of the cultural barriers to the development of real self-confidence then it will need to change some crucial aspects of children's experience at school (particularly secondary school). But we shall not even get to first base in beginning to devise the type of changes needed unless we start to improve the terms of our debates and how we interact with one another. For example, to improve the prevailing atmosphere in Scotland we must stop seeing the world in stark black and white (good and bad) terms; we must stop demonising people who think differently from us; and we must learn the art of appreciation and stop criticising and blaming so much. We must also develop a more pragmatic approach to problems and resist the temptation to reason continually from first principles.

10. Scotland was once a vibrant entrepreneurial economy. However, the masses' experience of urbanisation and work in the 19th century was so awful that even business leaders lost faith in the system's ability to deliver a reasonable standard of living for the majority and they turned to the state to provide solutions. Scotland's dependency culture was thus born. Despite this previous experience, Scotland needs to become much more positive about enterprise rather than project the country as a good site for inward investment.

Tradition vs. Modernity

Decolonization and Development

Makarand Paranjape

STUDENT: Thank you. But can we go back to decolonization?

TEACHER: I said that the enemy within prevents decolonization. It wants to continue with its slavish ways, either blindly following tradition or chasing an illusory modernity.

There is a similar split in the social self. A small section of an elite fringe gets totally Westernized. This fringe becomes a kind of comprador faction within our society. It collaborates with the exploitative world system.

STUDENT: How do we dismantle older, traditional tyrannies?

TEACHER: By a two-pronged strategy: first, by redefining tradition and drawing inspiration from it to fight its abuse, as all social reformers from Rammohan Roy to Gandhi did. Secondly, to repudiate certain aspects of tradition altogether, as lower caste reformers such as Jyotiba Phule and Ambedkar did, when they rejected Brahminism and Hinduism. In both cases, we can also judiciously apply several liberal and humanistic correctives— drawn from moderity—to tradition, thereby challenging and revitalizing it. Of course, there are some who think that tradition, modified, is entirely self-sufficient; on the other hand, there are those, like our Marxists, who think that modernity is entirely self-sufficient.

Yes. It seems to me that the enemy within has accepted a largely Occidental version of what the world should be like. They have accepted the Enlightenment and its totalizing project of changing the world. They have accepted History and the idea of a linear progression for human kind. They have accepted scientific materialism. They have, in a word, accepted modernity

STUDENT: Do you mean to say that we should revert to some premodern. Hindu view of the world, the so-called spiritual goal of culture? What about the oppressive aspects of our tradition?

TEACHER: Let us not make the mistake of thinking that we can automatically reoccupy some ideal space from the past from which we are today divorced. Such an idea may serve as a cementing factor, imbued with tremendous emotional appeal to a beleaguered culture—and the best example of this is perhaps Iran—but it is still a chimera both theoretically and practically.4

To question modernity does not make one a die-hard obscurantist, revivalist, or traditionalist. I mentioned earlier that one must he equally critical of tradition as one is of modernity.

I would agree with Ashis Nandy when he says that the debate today is between the critical traditionalists and the critical modernists.' However, I am not very sure how critical our Indian modernists are.

Perhaps, I should rephrase Nandy: the struggle is between those who are critical and those who are not—whether traditionalist or modernist.

STUDENT: But where does this take us as far as the issue of decolonization is concerned? Don't you think that decolonization implies a conflict between the West and India, and therefore that's where we must turn our attention?

TEACHER: Yes. But we have tried to see that this fight is not so simple and clear-cut as it seems. The West must be defined. Those aspects of it which are inimical must be resisted. At the same time we have seen how our own response is by no means uniform, how much we ourselves contribute to our continued domination, and how little we have actually done towards our own decolonization.

Healing the Western Mind: The Work of Apela Colorado

Orinda: Reaching back to temper modern life

Rick DelVecchio, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, October 14, 2005

Those of us who grow up in Western culture learn we're supposed to be better off for science having cast aside magic as civilization emerged from the pagan darkness. But what if we're wrong? What if we left parts of ourselves -- the most vital parts -- behind in the shadows and we're driving ourselves crazy trying to find them again?

Apela Colorado thinks those are the make-or-break questions of life in the 21st century, and she's devoting her career as a teacher to helping people face them. She believes she has pioneered a system that shows people how to become stronger, more content, more loving and more creative by bridging the split between their Western and tribal sides.

Colorado, who calls her method Indigenous Mind, is an American Indian who lives in Maui but resides in Orinda while teaching classes at the Oakland campus of Naropa University as well as private training sessions and workshops. Colleagues say it's a groundbreaking approach to enriching modern life by recovering the forgotten -- or suppressed -- wisdom of prehistory.

IM's ambitions are large: to explore the knowledge of timeless, fundamental connections among people, their ancestors and the natural world with an objective rigor usually thought of as better suited to fact-based Western knowledge.

The term for this realm is shamanic knowledge. But, according to Colorado and others doing similar work, it's hardly necessary to be a shaman to qualify.

She says that anyone can venture where shamans go through research, writing and dialogue. Combined with a deeper awareness of one's body, mind and ancestry, this knowledge can be put to use in any given Western role, she says.

She and other supporters of the system stress its practicality, saying it doesn't encourage dropping out but helps people do better in their jobs and relationships because it embraces more of reality than the Western view does.

The theory behind IM is that although shamanic knowledge may be judged esoteric by Western rules, it's really the handiest, most basic information that's ever been collected. The theory says that unless the Western tradition honors its debt to the old ways, it won't be able to provide all we demand of it and we'll be left feeling let down or anxious.

"It's like waking up in some kind of nightmare trying to bring these two parts of ourselves together," Colorado, a quiet, slender woman with her long, straight graying hair tied back, said during a recent interview in Oakland.

"I think that's what's in front of humanity," said Colorado, whose intensive course of study attracts 7 to 10 students a semester. "The next doorway to our survival as a species is going to be whether or not we remember what we left behind on the trail -- this lucid way of living and linking it with this fast-paced, analytical, aggressive and really creative, Western way of knowing."

Brian Bates, a psychology professor at the University of Sussex (England) who met Colorado when he was teaching a popular course on shamanic consciousness, said, "She's the original and world leader in trying to bring together indigenous and modern, Western perspectives."

"Apela," said Steven Donovan, a Sausalito entrepreneur and consultant who was president of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur from 1985 to 1993, "has pretty much created this field. She's created an ancient way and put it into the modern world with language appropriate to the academic setting.

"What's clear to me is there are incredible spiritual and psychological technologies that we're totally oblivious to," he said. "You can live IM."

Colorado's students, most of whom take her classes while holding down full-time jobs, dive centuries deep into their family and tribal histories and present their work in a comprehensive, multimedia report. They spend much time on Maui, absorbing what tribal elders have to say about nature, dreams and the stars. They read and write a lot but balance their left-brain activities with art work.

The students who choose Indigenous Mind as the focus of their master's work at Naropa -- where classes generally emphasize Eastern philosophy with a Western professional application -- explore the impact that the separation of Western and indigenous ways has had on their lives.

In the case of students from cultures that were colonized by the West, sadness and anger often arise. But students aren't allowed to cast blame and must look critically at themselves, too.

One of the prerequisites is to write a "shadow paper," a kind of resume of the soul in which students write down aspects of their personal and family histories that make them uncomfortable.

"You have to be willing to get past the feel-good stuff," student Linda Joslin said. "You have to be very disciplined in this program."

Through Colorado's method, Venus Herbito, 31, of Oakland found her way through her feelings about the history of colonialism in her native Philippines. She communicated her newfound learning in part by performing a native dance of blessing for her family.

She said an uncle who was born in the Philippines -- a World War II veteran and a patriotic American -- felt that seeing his niece affirm the beauty of his native culture helped him to get in touch with his roots for the first time.

"It feels good," Herbito said, "to have the Western mind disintegrate."

A recent meeting in Colorado's classroom in Oakland began prayerfully, with the instructor burning sweet grass and wafting the aromatic smoke to the north, south, east and west. Her voice barely above a whisper, she invoked the Great Spirit.

The ideas of "sun" and "son" emerged in the conversation. The thought in the room was that although power and light are essential, too much hurts.

"You can't get to the son," Colorado said, "except through the mother."

"The world's major religions all talk about light but if you have too much sunlight, what happens? You get sunburned; you get skin cancer; you dry up; you burn up; you ignite," she said. "We need the shadow as well as we need the light. We need the comfort of the darkness and the unity. "

Colorado grew up in a community of Oneida Indians in the rural Midwest, the daughter of a poor but nature-savvy logger who worked behind a dray horse as his father had done. She lived in a house with no running water, but her connection to the land of her ancestors was so intense that she wept for it after she moved to the city.

"My whole life's work is about recovering that," she said.

She went to Harvard University and Brandeis University to study community organizing and social work and, after graduating from Brandeis in 1982 with a doctorate in social policy, got a job helping the Aleutian people in Alaska meet their basic needs. She chopped wood, gutted fish and learned ancient tribal ways.

"I got to experience what it was like for the mind and nature to be one," she said.

She also saw what it was like for a tribal people to have the two parts cut. The newly built Trans-Alaska Pipeline traumatized the Aleuts and the natives "couldn't figure what the hell was happening to them," she said.

Later, working among native people in Canada, she saw how powerful the native will could be when the people still held onto their land and community. She gave this spirit the name Indigenous Mind and decided she wanted to teach it -- with the help of Western scientists and tribal elders worldwide.

She went on to create the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network in 1989 and at the same time traveled thousands of years back into her own ancestry as she developed her unusual teaching materials.

She knew that her ancestors emerged in the Southwest and migrated up the Mississippi, leaving behind petroglyphs and effigy mounds. She believed that the creators of these Neocene records and others like them around the world still had something to say to the logical Western mind about nature and survival.

"If I asked you to prepare a set of facts that was going to be crucial to your children 10,000 years from now, how would you do it?" Colorado asked. "The old people thought about that.

"The whole of sense was really different then," she said. "For native people living in a really cultural way, it's still different around the world. It encompasses what you know as linear time, but that's only a part of it."

The goal for both traditions is useful knowledge. For example, today Colorado is working with colleagues in the Northwest on a tsunami research project that puts indigenous knowledge and science together in hopes of a practical result.

"I'm looking at the record of tsunamis that are on petroglyphs in the Northwest and we're combining them with what Western science knows about tsunamis," she said, adding that the work may help to decode how indigenous people were able to predict killer waves by noting subtle signs in nature.

"What we're discovering, and what Apela's trying to recover, is to go back through centuries of colonialism and centuries of exploitation to what was there at the beginning," said Jim Garrison, president of San Francisco-based Wisdom University. "And what we're discovering," he said, "is what was there at the beginning is so far in advance of where we are now that we basically cut off our nose in spite of our face.

"We would have learned the one essential fact that's necessary for human survival, and that is that the world, humanity and the plant and animal kingdom are all one."

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Thoughts from a Young Gael in Cape Breton

I have young friend in Cape Breton. We have been conversing for a few months. That person wanted to remain anonymous but graciously agreed to let me post some of our conversation. This person gives me hope. I think it will you too.

* * *

TAD: I’ve been mulling this for the past while and i was wondering your thoughts on it. i think people already working on Gaelic issues don't need a rationale but, in reality, many of those who haven't learned it and thinks it's dumb or useless DO need a rationale. It needs to make sense - after all, English is, let's be honest, more useful in the modern world in almost every conceivable sense.

So, why bother? What’s your sense?

FRIEND: There is simply too much pop culture in today's world. We need some real culture to make us feel real. To awaken the real person within us, the people with advertisements shoved in their mouths.

A surrounding of material things (as one may easily observe over the Christmas holidays) can really make one feel empty. This common and present life is not worth it. It's not worth the speediness of a microwave popcorn, because you probably feel empty when you're done anyway.

We owe respect to the language, ourselves and our ancestors.

It's been living for so long, now on life support and it's not too late to revive it. Our society is so lazy these days. Instant gratification is what it’s all about (i.e. microwave popcorn). We don't even know ourselves because we're bombarded by so many outside layers of impurities (for lack of a better word, not in the Christian sense either).

Doing something like learning Gaelic can help us learn about where we came from, in turn learning the possibilities of where we might go. It can give us meaningful direction. It can teach you what persistence is about.

What a reward, to be able to communicate in words that were once so foreign to the sound of your ear. To be able to communicate with elders in their native tongue about what life was like in 1930. Really connecting. Really feeling.

Why bother?

Because that is our culture. Because that is where we descended from. In a way, it is just reviving a part of us that's been buried. Realizing our potential.

TAD: What is the language about for you personally?

For me personally, the language is the life I am dreaming of. It is my great-grandmother's native language. She is still living. It is the language she once spoke with her (late) husband.

It was spoken for 4 generations back on the North Shore (of CB) in her family before the 5th generation came from Scotland. It was spoken more than English by her daughter when she was 5. Now, she communicates in only the harsh tones of English but understands Gaelic as well.

On my mother’s side, her (late) parents spoke Gaelic in the house, however, I was not fortunate enough to hear much of it. And about 4 generations back in her family as well, they spoke Gaelic on the Shore before arriving fom Scotland. I don't think I could be more Scottish. Although there is a bit of French in there as well.

Gaelic once surrounded the place where my parents grew up, the place where I consistently try to figure out a way to sustain myself there, happily and healthily. A place I go whenever I can and travel the road back home in tears if I am alone.

Gaelic is associated with a better life. Yes there was stress then, the stress of surviving the winter on what food you had preserved. But not the stress of having to purchase too many Christmas gifts in Wal-Marts long line up. Not the stress that seeps into your skin from the monitor of your computer . Not the stress associated with cancer, now prevalent because of our lazy, money making, chemicalized ways.

Gaelic is about community. One I don't have in my city apartment, because I am never home to exist it in. I am working. 40 hours a week. More than my European neighbors. I attempt to take vacation days, but I can't play catch up after a deadline has passed.

Gaelic is also frustration. It's sadness. It's death. It's family members whom I dearly miss and don't know if I'll see again?

Gaelic is hard work, fishing and farming, living off the land. Not the man.
It's stubborn Scottish people, people that I love.

TAD: Where would you like to see things go?

I would like to see us revert (in some ways) back to the way things were, on the shore of Cape Breton 70 years ago. I don't want to have a TV. I don't want money to be success. I want a large family on a farm and for people to fish and I want other people to want that two, so we can live off each other. I want people to see what's really important in life and see the transparency of money.

I just don't want us to forget our culture, so many of us have Gaels in our families. I don't want us to be brain washed (any more than we are) into pop culture and forget who we are, so influenced by outside distractions that we become lost and don't even know who we are. We know what our favorite TV show is, we know where we like to shop, and we know how to get to work in the morning, but we don't know who we are. We don't know how to listen to our selves because they are so buried. They are crammed deep inside ourselves and until we change, until we shift out perspectives is continues to get harder and harder to find our true selves.

I don't want to depend on technology for my everyday life. But it's all I've known in this life. Maybe I couldn't adapt? Maybe I wouldn't be creative enough. I don't think this world will be in existence in 1,000 years or even 500. I want us to appreciate and protect out earth.

TAD: Where do you see yourself in all of this?

FRIEND: I'm really looking at things from a personal level right now, and after that Island wide. The province of NS didn't really enter my head to be honest. I then look at Ireland and Scotland to preserve their Gaels.

At this point in my learning journey and in my life, I just want to be conversational in Gaelic so I can speak with my family members like my great-grandmother in her native tongue while she is still here. She would be so happy to know that when she leaves the North Shore, they won't say goodbye to the last Gaelic speaking resident.

I feel as though before I do too much for Islanders I need to understand the language myself. I need to learn. I need to meet people and find out their goals and how we can work together to achieve a common goal.

I'm so sick of problems in Cape Breton and everyone complaining (it's a history) but no one stepping up and tackling the problem with determination and conviction. It just needs to happen before I go crazy. North America is fucked.

After I become conversational, in a year or two, I want to go bigger. Eventually I would love to see Gaelic be prevalent in our culture. I would love to hear Gaelic conversations on the street, but that will take at least 10-15 years I think. Maybe Gaelic shows on CBC is a start. I would like to see more opportunities for youth and young kids to become involved - activities, sports, arts and camps. I would like to see it an option to take Gaelic in school rather than French. I would like to do conferences and speech's on why it is important to bring this culture back into our lives. We need to explain it to people and rid them of their ignorance.

Where do I see myself in all this? In the front on the blockade. I can't just sit around and wait for others to do something if I want to see change. (That's why I'm doing this youth thing) I know i need to take charge. I know I need to convince people and inspire then to help me. I need back up. I need an amount of control anyway.

What's exciting? Today, not a lot. The world gets me down sometimes. But most days I'm so excited to bring the language back.

Getting people to even listen when you tell them not to litter is like screaming at the top of your lungs for help but no one can hear a sound. Telling people that the way they feel is determined by what they eat is like jumping up and down on a crowded street - people judge you as crazy. People get me discouraged. Or maybe I should just say many North Americans get be discouraged. I think they are going to kill my world and go down with an ignorant and unsuspecting smile on their faces as they eat their fast food and watch the satellite dishes.

Not everyone is the same. There are so many organizations out there doing wonderful things. But money always seems to dominate.

TAD: Why do you think we should be working so hard to reclaim it? Who gives a shit, you know?

FRIEND: I think this just ties in with my first answer. If we don't work hard, if we put it on hold and attempt to save a language half ass with only 100 native speakers left in Cape Breton , it's quite possible that we will fail. Fail not to learn the language eventually ourselves, in our own home, but fail to recreate it successfully within communities. We will fail to bring awareness to its importance. We will fail to muster up the inspiration we would with more passion and commitment (of working hard). People these days are allowed to be amazed, inspired and in awe of others who work hard and against the gain to obtain a goal, because it is so rare. We can teach through living.

We want mass quantities of Gaelic speakers, and that doesn't come from working easy. I've been thinking so much about how I can escape everyday life, it's conveniences, chemicals greed and money. I'm not going to change the whole world and make everyone in the dark see light on these issues.

But I can inspire individuals. I can change the minds of open hearted people. I can teach people to be open hearted as one teacher did to me. I know I can affect people, cause I have been affected by people.

I can teach through example. I can teach from living my life as best I see fit. I can be the first person on the north shore to build a cob house, from the earth, with the help of friends.

Although I am so rare according to so many people who call me, just the exception to every other 19 year old, I am not the only one. Although in this failed industry town I live in, I stand out like a Muslim at mass, there are other young people here, as times change, waiting to be directed, driven and inspired to take life into their own hands. Not the hands of any corporation or 9-5 job.

We also owe it to future generations. If we don't learn it, they might be forced to through old tapes and videos.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Decolonization for White People - Jason Kierkey

Jason Kirkey is a practitioner of druidic spirituality and Celtic shamanism rooted in the primal traditions of Ireland. He is a writer, poet, photographer, and a life-long student of the spirits of nature. Currently a student at Naropa University (Boulder, Colorado), he is working towards an Interdisciplinary degree blending traditional Celtic wisdom and ecopsychology. He is faculty at Avalon College of Druidry, where he teaches a course on Irish wisdom. He is currently working on his first book.

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I think that the question of how to reconnect with indigenous roots is a particularly important one that us "white settlers" start asking ourselves.

I also think you're correct in wondering what the dangers might be to that.

One of the apparent dangers seems to me to be cultural appropriation, such as we are seeing with people overly identifying with Native American traditions, and adopting them in inappropriate ways that are fundamentally degrading to the culture itself. Yet, I feel that by reclaiming our ancestral traditions (such as the Celtic), we are taking a huge step in healing many of the ancestral wounds that have been dealt over the years. It also holds the potential to start a more authentic dialogue with the original inhabitants of places such as North America, South America, and Australia -- which would go along way in healing some of the wounds that our ! people have dealt to their people.

I think your Work is actually quite similar to mine in several areas. The program I am doing at Naropa is Interdisciplinary Studies. I'm weaving insights from the Irish druidic traditions into Eco-psychology. A large part of that is starting to form around a cultural psychology, to address the wounds of the people. I think that until those wounds are addressed, there will continue to be an avoidance(particular in the lands of the Diaspora) of the original cultural traditions (which I feel are fundamentally eco-psychological).

I would agree with you that one can misappropriate their own culture. I think we've even seen it happening with the Celtic culture. One has only to browse through the "New Age" section of a bookstore to find a variety of books on "Celtic spirituality" many of which seem to have less to do with any sense of an authentic Celtic tradition than they do with the marketing of! culture and ancestry. So I'm definitely inclined to agree with you there. Of course when we deal with issues of cultural appropriation I also think that it is important not to go too far and cut down all cultural exchanges and dialogues -- especially between an exiled people and their ancestral traditions.

I find your Four Types of Celts idea to be interesting, and it raises several important issues. I have heard some people make statements along the lines of, "The Celts are a dead cultural group". I always found this to be quite upsetting, because it shows how blind some of us are to the actuality of a living Celtic tradition; which us "Individual Celts" seek to practice, emulate, or reconstruct. Very rarely, as you pointed out, is there a desire to participate.

However it is clear that all of us with interest in reclaiming our cultural heritage can't pack up and go back to the places our ancestors came from and just be "accept! ed back into the tribe". First of all we wouldn't all fit in these lands...

A rather brief survey of Celtic history will show that the Celts were and are a wandering, spreading, people (certainly not always by choice). I see the Diaspora as another expression of this wandering and exile; forced to leave to escape oppression or poverty. And as unrooted as some of us may feel from these source cultures, we are also undoubtedly people of these new lands, whether North America, South America, Australia, etc. I think this raises some important questions of how one embraces and participates in their ancestral culture, while also maintaining their exile from that culture by the very fact that they're homes are foreign lands.

Especially when those traditions are so intimately woven with the landscapes in which they formed and emerged. I think this has always been something the Celtic people have had to contemplate, and perhaps why the culture has stayed so oriented to the Otherworld -- in a sense weaving a cultural element and tradition of exile in, to make sense of the predicament.

So I think you're piece raises questions about how to successfully navigate being both Celtic and Other, and how to pay homage and respect to our struggling brothers and sisters in the traditional lands. I think there is a desperate need for dialogue in that area.

I also find it intriguing how it seems that those of us in the "exiled lands" seem so oriented to the more ancient expressions of the Celtic culture; the druidic, pagan, shamanic aspects of the traditions - ultimately an attempt to bring what was lost or obscured in the past back into a modern context and relevancy. I by no means think this is a bad thing, but I do think it says something important about those two groups -- just not sure what it says! ;)

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Learn more about Jason at:

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Are White People Indigenous? - Lewis Cardinal

Lewis Cardinal is the University of Alberta, Native Student Services Coordinator

He conducted his PhD research in traditional indigenous governance systems. He'd like to use that knowledge to build the aboriginal community on campus and empower native students to stay in school.

"Traditional societies don't utilize hierarchical systems," says Cardinal. "The centre of what we do is human based; it requires consensus which is based on compromise and co-operation."

Cardinal is convinced that by returning to a human-based value system, the campus aboriginal community will grow and prosper. "The number one reason for native student dropout rates is user-friendliness. They just don't feel like they belong. Our biggest recruitment tool is happy, healthy students who tell their families and friends there's good people here who will do good things for you and with you."

He says a council, comprised of the Native Student Services staff members, deals with everything from strategic direction to programming and budgetary issues. They sit in a traditional circle built on the foundations of nurturing, caring, respect and honesty. "There are natural leaders in every community, so how do you stop domination? Sitting in a circle means everyone is equal, and everyone's opinion is important."

According to Cardinal, the traditional model is working. "It's successful because when everyone has the chance to speak, real community needs come forward. We're now addressing issues of native student housing, scholarships and bursaries, peer support, and even creating talking circles so students can deal with problems in their studies from writing to math."

This fall, Native Student Services will mark its 25th anniversary on campus. First established as the Office of the Advisor on Indian Affairs, Cardinal says the office has come a long way in the past quarter century. "We come from a long legacy of disrespect, but now we're bringing back humanistic values to what we do. In many cases, this is the first time many in our aboriginal community have experienced traditional native culture. But now, there's an upsurge in aboriginal interest in our own culture. We're reclaiming who we are."

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"I will attempt to answer only one or two thought pieces at a time. So please continue to write to me with one or two questions and I'll to my best to respond immediately. Your query is a considerable one and one that as several facets that much be placed into context with each other.

However, to answer your first question, yes, White people were at one time "Indigenous" and practiced a life that sought balance and respect for Earth and others. Some (Europeans) still have a value system shaped by those older Indigenous traditions. All people share that common ground. Even when we analyse our collective human mythologies, as did Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth, Hero of a Thousand Faces) et al., you will see that the golden thread that joins us together is quite surprising we do shared common ground as human beings. Of course, human beings being faulty and all, those deals sometimes remain ideals. Overall, an Indigenous perspective does usually lead to a greater sense of equality and balance than a hierarchical framework.

In other words, all humans are Indigenous, however many have left the foundations or framework of their Indigenous worldviews and have accepted, adopted, or assimilated to the dominance model of a hierarchical worldview.

And it is very interesting that through out the last 2000 years to see and study how our "religions" have been coerced or co-opted to endorse a hierarchical structure upon its people. As well, how science is also used to promote that concept as well.

Another facet to your query must recognize that "Colour" like "White" or "Red" or "Black", etc., is a hierarchical construct. Colour coding is a form of separation and categorization that shows little respect to anyone and supports an "us and them" mentality, which further supports the concept of a binary opposition. People are not naturally opposed to other people, we have only been taught that way: negative behaviour is taught. We have to be careful, in my mind anyway, that we focus on cultural foundations and worldviews and not the colour of skin. Geneticists know that Race is a scientific indeterminate.

As well, I would add that "Blood Quantum" is a political game and be careful with the concept of "Authenticity", as it also falls into those identity games.

Lewis Cardinal

Are White Folks Indigenous? - The Word According to Levana Saxon

Levana Saxon is a dear old friend of mine. We worked together at YES! ( and became "powerful catalysts for each other's growth" (how's that for a reframe). She has worked in the U.N. , worked on the EarthCharter, was a founding member of the Indingeous and Non-Indigenous Youth Alliance ( Her thinking on issues of privilege and indigeneity have always been incredibly lucid and valuable to me.

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“As a white person in search of roots, I think the decolonization process is about grabbing on to the tools of your ancestors to deconstruct your present instead of using the feeble tools white mainstream dominant culture, I think.

Here are some notes and questions I wrote a long time ago on Decolonization:

This word invokes different things for different people. Originally it described the process of European colonizing forces physically leaving various countries in Africa. When they left however, they didn’t fully take their colonization with them. That would be impossible. They left the landscape, the culture and people’s identities forever changed. Decolonization, or a full removal of colonization is impossible. But what do we call the process of attempting to restore pre-colonial cultures, identities. languages, landscapes then?

Regardless of whether or not it has a name, how do we do it?

For cultures who were first invaded by Europeans or their descendants in the last 100 years or even 500 years, it becomes apparent that there is still a homeland or pre-colonial identity to recapture as an act of resistance to colonial forces. But what about people who have been completely (or appear to be completely) cut off from their ancestral culture. Is there value in restoring something? For white people, who for the most part have been totally cut off from their pre-colonial cultures, and who descend from colonizers and benefit from it, what kind of restoration is called for?

Here's some responses to your questions

are white people indigenous?

I think people can simultaneously have both white and indigenous identities- or exist somewhere in between (or inside of) the locations of whiteness and indigeneity. Although, this depends entirely on your definition of indigeneity. By UN, international standards, the word indigenous is used to talk about a people that are currently in land struggle, or have already been displaced (in the last 500 years, not 4,000) I think. From this definition, no, white people are not, nor could they ever claim to be indigenous (except for groups like the Sami, and bi-racial or multi-ethnic European/ Indigenous people.

if not can white people reclaim their authentic indigeneity?

I don't think that there is such a thing as authenticity. If there were, who would decide what was truly authentic? Often the word authenticity is used to invoke an essentialized and simplistic view of someone or some culture.

I think white people can explore both their white identity and the parts of themselves that herald from some pre-colonial culture. As inheritors of a dominant, relatively new and relatively 'stupid' culture that stems from legacies of European indigenous cultures, colonization and capitalism- white people could claim our cultural entirety - the whole thing- and become more whole in the process. The whole thing includes the pre-colonized cultures as well as fuedalism, colonization, privilege and capitalism. Why do white people hang out so much in their kitchens instead of the living rooms etc.? Could it be that because for thousands of years, the hearth was the center of community?

if there is a process of authentic decolonization - what are your

thoughts on what that process looks like?

Claiming wholeness - for white people deconstructing privilege, entitlement etc. learning to take cues from cultures that are still connected to sustainable human interactions and land based practices -without appropriating or borrowing from cultures that our not ours. I think, but I still have huge questions, that this means learning from our own ancestral cultures, which you seem to be doing brilliantly, or working from intuition, listening to the Earth herself for cues.

how can white people deal with issues of race, class and gender in a way that allows them to stay in touch with their inner power while letting go of and acknowledging their outer power? how can they move through the guilt as beautifully and powerfully as possible into solidarity?

I think the main thing here- which I talked about in my paper attached below, is that people could start from a whole perspective of their identity and culture- that whiteness (and its intersections with class, gender, etc) is a part of who we are which gives us enormous amounts of unearned privilege that we have enormous blinders to- but that we are also human beings- by destroying whiteness we are not destroying ourselves.

I think the metaphor of the mummy is useful.

Whiteness is like mummy wraps. We are terrified to unravel them because we assume that their is nothing underneath - our position in society is so much determined by our mummy wraps, we don't know that we have any other value. So many times I've witnessed white people start to unravel in spite of the total terror of what they might find, usually discovering that underneath is a humble and beautiful human being.

As long as white supremacy exists, we can't toss our wraps off of course (the moment we do, they are thrown back on by other people's perceptions, and systemic, institutionalized privilege)- but it is the constant working to unravel and nurturing what is underneath- at the same time not being self-absorbed or narcissistic about it, that is the journey and the work.

I think, more than anything, it’s about visibilizing our whiteness, and really looking long and hard at it. It’s about letting all the feelings come up-and then taking action to end white supremacy, in spite of the sometimes debilitating feelings. I believe that it is through action, and not gazing at our white navels, we find our whole selves. The 'how can' part of your question is huge - I recently saw a funny article outlining a 12 step program for white people (like AA, but I guess for those of us addicted to our position) in LiP magazine- maybe you can find it on the web.

It recommended having a sponsor, seeking support, and like alcoholism you have to be diligent about your work- you get lazy, take a sip of that entitlement-and you have to start all over.

The coolest anti-racism training I ever did used Augusto Boal's theatre of the oppressed techniques. The most memorable was "Cop in the Head" where people were asked to animate the voices that they had in their heads that kept them up at the expense of people they had power over (after looking at the voices that people had that kept them down to the benefit of their oppressors).

much love,

levana saxon

Are White Folks Indigenous? - The Word According To Loren Finkelstein

Loren was, for many years a hard-core grassroots activist for justice. At the age of 16, Loren began her organizing career campaigning with the Public Interest Research Group to strengthen the National Clean Water Act. In 1997, Loren was hired as Program Director of Free the Planet!, a national network of high school and college students taking action to protect the environment. In her three years on staff, she helped run seven national environmental campaigns, published a monthly newsletter, and organized and facilitated conferences and trainings. She then became a co-founder of Freedom Rising, a collective of artists and grassroots organizers working to stop corporate globalization and to bring about global liberation. Phew!

We lost touch a few years ago, but I had heard that she was taking more yoga classes and then, going even deeper into it. To my surprise, a year ago, she entered the Indigenous Knowledge Program at Naropa University - and was delving deeply into her Jewish.

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“It feels to me that the work of reclaiming my indigenous mind is about bridge's about looking back and knowing my own history, learning the rituals and spirituality that guided my ancestors in a different way of life...and linking that to modern culture and technology that may feel void of spirituality and yet, hidden within has a lesson or some gift that can be honored.

knowing the whole story of how my ancestors lived in indigenous way, had it taken away from them through war and mass anti-semitism, and then, one day, began to perpetrate that same violence on other cultures...knowing and honoring this whole story is what makes me a whole person.

choosing to find my own story has helped me to step away from my clinging to a new age mentality...a sense of spirituality without depth or history.

it has taken me away from clinging to traditions and indigenous wisdom that are not my own as i slowly recognize that my own ancestors held rituals and practices that have real power as just takes more seeking out to find them. now as i look at other traditions i see them, at least in part, in relation to my own. i can experience them with respect, and a deeper knowing of their intent and power because of their similarity to the beliefs and practices of my own ancestors.

I’m currently working on a paper on just this process...the recovery of my indigenous mind, an understanding of the colonization of my ancestors, and the way in which we have perpetrated colonization on others, thus continuing this cycle. Recognizing this cycle means that I am in a position to choose to step outside of it.

Chris Crass talks about our responsibility towards social justice in the context of reclaiming our indigenous mind. I am in a place of recreating what social justice is to me. Where i am heading is different than what I’ve done in the past. Once, social justice was about pointing out the worst parts of this culture and protesting loudly. Now i am focused on quietly offering something different...stepping outside of the cycle.

My work seems to be around guiding others thru this process of learning their whole story and about recreating ritual and connection to this world. It’s an unfolding process but an important one even when it feels smaller than work I’ve done in the past on a grand scale.”

You can read more about her own journey at: