Taking root among the stars

Taking root among the stars

One of my kids recommended the book Fables and Spells by adrienne maree brown (Black). Her lower-case name keeps crossing my social media feed and I have several of her books but I did not have this one. When my kid recommends a book tho, I buy it. Sometimes I even read it. He's never been wrong. I decided to read brown's book because after a shameful council meeting that saw the silencing of Palestinian activists, I needed some solace. I needed to believe that another world was in fact possible. Around the same time No Spiritual Surrender: Indigenous Anarchy in Defense of the Sacred by Klee Benally (Diné) landed in my mailbox thanks to Detritus books and a friend who was close to Benally before his passing. What a loss, not just to his friends and those who cared about him but to the work in general. If you are grieving, please be kind with yourself. He is worth grieving.

So I started alternating these books, reading from one one day, and then the other the next day. It wasn't just that I couldn't decide which one to stick with, I was interested in what happened when I put these two books together. They both write about emergent strategy, about world building in ways that may confront insitutions of power but don't expect anything but resistance from those institutions. And both see that confrontation as limited, which it is. I mean. The best that we can expect from them is a kinder and more inclusive settler colonialism. It's a form of harm reduction which is not bad, harm reduction is important because people really are dying and we should be grasping at whatever straws will stem that tide. But unlike harm reduction, some of us refuse to accept that the current system is inevitable and that the best we can do is mitigate harm. It's a limited metaphor. They always are.

I want an end to settler colonialism.

Why is that unreasonable? It hasn't been around forever. It hasn't even been around for 500 years. Not fully.

Do you know what gave me hope a few years ago? A podcast about the fall of the Roman empire. I love history, and I found this podcast about the fall of the Roman empire and started listening to it and one day it dawned on me. Rome fell. The mfing Roman empire fell. That must have been a real shock to everyone involved. Perhaps not everyone. Just like not everyone is shocked by the real time collapse of the US empire taking place right now. Octavia Butler's Parables are prophetic, but in the sense of accurately reading the times and speaking truth into those times, not like fortune telling. And the fall of the Roman empire wasn't universally bad either. For people far from the metropole it probably had little impact at all. And of course for those who weren't part of the patrician class it probably felt more like freedom than tragedy.

Back to brown and Benally. In one of her short stories, brown reflects on Butler's Parables and her struggle with sequels after Parable of the Talents. She develops the earthseed religion, describes a world gone completely sideways, and has the heroine taking her religion to space because it is our destiny to take root among the stars. I've struggled with this too as an Ojibwe person who is rooted here in this world. What is Butler on about? Why is she relying on this Astrotopia vision of leaving earth behind as a solution? It did make a kind of sense, that people so displanted and repeatedly uprooted may try to find belonging in a new world, but according to brown, who is well versed in all things Octavia Butler, no world that she imagined was as perfect as this one.

Turns out we're already among the stars.

Time to take root.

While Indigenous peoples can say that the whole Earth and existence is sacred because there is a spiritual relationship with creation, we can also identify specific locations or areas (mountains, waterways, burials, features, etc.) that are places of spiritual distinction.
Benally, p40

At some point we were all connected to the earth, we had that relationship. It's present in the Hebrew texts, some of which became the Old Testament. Re-imagined as a precursor and cautionary tale to exist largely as a foil for the New Testament. There is a rootedness in Benally's Diné teachings and my own Ojibwe beliefs that is familiar if you read the Hebrew texts from a Jewish perspective. A deep connection to place that recognizes both the sacredness of creation itself as well as specific locations or areas where something remarkable happened. Somehow the Christians have disconnected themselves from it, become unmoored and rootless, their home above the stars rather than on an earth among the stars.

Brown says something else that connects with this. In a short story about Martians the beings are talking about humans and they say:

Have you ever noticed that they get it when they look at us, theoretical us, but not when they look at themselves?
You mean because they call us Martians?
Yes, they know if we existed, we would have to be of this planet. but they don't call themselves Earthlings. They don't know where they belong.

brown, p 132

A friend of mine calls herself an Earthling. Usually I dismiss that kind of identifier as fey new-agey babblespeak but for my friend it is real. The countries of her parents no longer exist, having been absorbed or fractured, and so she sees herself as an Earthling. For her it is a statement of belonging and solidarity, a rootedness that I don't hear in anyone else using that term which drives her environmental and social justice work. With the exception of my friend, brown's Martians are right. She'd know of course, the colonizers did that to her ancestors and mine too.

When they got here, they named the continent after one of their own and then named us after it because they knew that we were of this place. Which is an interesting sleight of hand because they didn't ask us what we called this place. Even in Canada, where they misunderstood a word for villange, they came up with their own name, then they named us after that invention.

And while they eventually did something similar for themselves, there was a strange disconnection to it that allowed them to name things in this place New France or New England. You can't be of a place when you spend all your time re-placing it with knock off versions of places you don't want to be anymore. They didn't want to be French or English, but they didn't really want to be of this place either. And for all that they would eventually name themselves after this place, replacing us as Americans and relegating us to Native Americans (or Canadians), they aren't really of this place are they.

How could they be when the only holy land they recognize is currently being bombed back to the stone age. They don't even hold their own holy land sacred, we shouldn't be surprised that they dismiss ours.

The same kid who recommended brown's book to me also offered me a way to think about settler colonialism that I have found really helpful. It disconnects us from our histories and connects us only to the state (or church) itself. That's what Benally and brown are both on about, the connection here, to this place. The rootedness of not only our histories as people but also our spiritual histories. The spiritualities of adrienne maree brown and Klee Benally are rooted deeply in place, connected to rivers and mountains not as metaphors or spiritual experiences but as relatives.

The desire to be "a part of the sacredness" is a fucked up anthropological colonial New Age desire. Fetishist authopsies of Indigenous desacrilization fill bookshelves, museums, auction houses, trading posts - and bank accounts. If you came here for such a validating performance I am happy to disappoint you.
Klee Benally, p 9

Over and over in my workshops I dissuade people from trying to indigenize themselves or their workplaces or their practices. Stop it. Stop trying to draw us until colonial spaces as if that will transform them. All it does is transform us, and not for the better. Benally also talks about the ways that we participate in this ourselves, he reflects on his own participation in this saying

"the more I perform at art galleries, exhibits, museums, and various stages throughout the world the more something kept wearing thin. Just beneath the surface: fetishists, anthropologists, and the curious tourists extracted our "authenticity" ... our cultures only accepted when we are contained, consumable, and when we embrace the covert and overt violences of settler existence.

pp 20, 62

We need to take root, here on this planet among the stars, in a way that does not displace all beings, spiritually or physically. Where relations are reciprocal rather than extractive. Where our roots sink down into the medicines that show up for us and we are truly of this this place. I'm going to leave you with some words by adrienne maree brown, one of her spells for grief and ending. From "first the unbearable (learning of egypt):

i know all of the harm intertwines at the root
i know the medicine has to go deeper down
to the core of existence
to the cord between us and god
to the fault lines between us
that make us think: i can be without you

adrienne maree brown, p 49
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Hey everyone!

Part of my work is in building transnational solidarities, extending beyond our silos to think globally about how colonial violence impacts us all, and one of the things that I have done is curate a panel that includes Cree, Mayan, Palestinian, and settler researchers and activists all doing work around criminalized victims and gendered violence. We're going to NAISA! Which is very exciting but also very expensive because it's in Norway. With travel and hotel we estimate that it's going to cost about $3500CAD for each of us to get there, and while three of my friends are connected to universities, universities are not as forthcoming with these travel funds as they used to be. And because it's in Norway we're going to connect with Sámi activists on this topic as well, bring them onto the panel. Going to conferences is one way that we can build those relationships with others who are there, the panels are only half of it. All those hallway conversations and relationships that build outside of conference spaces are so valuable.

If you want to help me get there you can e-transfer or paypal to patty.krawec@gmail.com and designate it "NAISA FUNDING." You can also upgrade to paid, which will give you access to paid posts as they come up as well as those that are archived. Promoting these essays also helps and it doesn't cost you a thing because the more they get promoted the more paid subscribers I wind up getting. So just promoting them helps more than you might think.

And if you want me to zoom into your book club or other group to talk about any of these esssays I'm happy to do it for a minimum donation to the NAISA fund. Let's go to Sápmi !

NAISA 2024 Bådåddjo June 6-8. Stylized reindeer antlers in red and blue on the left.