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Little Thunders— Opening up

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As our world begins to open up, and people are leaving the safety of their homes, I’m observing the tendencies to return to the term “normal.” This includes travel, shopping, eating out and visiting relatives. I ask myself — has there ever been “normal?” In my own perspective, there have always been waves of coming in and going out. A reverence for the care of the community and the care for our planet, our land and our waters, is an Indigenous way of being.

In our quest to emerge, we may forget the Indigenous knowledge. Our Native communities have so many ways to care for one another and to be patient, always listening. We have a kin system that cannot be easily explained in the English language. In our languages, we’ve always had ways to describe our relationship with each other, whether that is our kin who are binary or non-binary, gendered or not gendered. Our stories talk about belonging, and being in relationships like the waves on the ocean — sometimes rough and steep, and other times smooth as glass. This is where you will find important teachings.

I despise the myth I was taught in public school classrooms growing up: that Indigenous knowledge is ignorant, wild, savage; and that our Indigenous understanding of each other was primitive or socially backward. This is far from the truth. Our current Western understandings and ideology are filled with assumptions that will keep people’s wellbeing — especially in times of crisis — from advancing into a place of peace and regeneration.

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We are absolutely in a time of crisis. We may be opening up, going back out, but this is not a normal thing to do. What we need is to recognize the cultural insanity of this time that we are in, and if we do, then we can grieve for what has been lost. We can want connection and belonging — which is what we really seek. We can collectively breathe in deeply, knowing that there is something better, more connected and more Indigenous.

Indigenous knowledge really refers to the skills, understandings and philosophies that have been developed by the people of the land: many, many tens of thousands of years of rich knowledge. These long-standing relationships with place and practice help the people understand the rhythms of life, ritual and spirituality. Sometimes it is even referred to as Indigenous science because it includes oral histories that help us learn and remember lessons. The “normal” that was pre-pandemic did not accept a way to “come to know” and take time, to act slowly and out of generosity.

There is hardly any Indigenous culture surviving that does not struggle to preserve its traditional language and knowledge against the overwhelming forces of colonization. The work of our time is to create a culture of belonging that values Black and Brown and cultured wisdom, a community that values diversity, our innate and beautiful differences, and at the same time gives us a deep root of who we are and the nature of our relationship to the land.

This is where ceremony comes in. There are some lessons that we do not write. They are meant to be experienced, intact, and in their complete forms, which are proclaimed by ceremony. This is where we can open up, in accepting that we must experience each other and be grateful and cautious with the preciousness of each life. I implore you, my village, to take your time and emerge with intent for a better world.

*The writer belongs to the Anishinaabe people from White Earth Nation and is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe from the Ottertail Pillager Band of Indians.

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