Sage Against the Machine

On March 10, 2017, a Native Nations march was held in Washington D.C. and stood as a symbol of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and their continued battled against the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was a meaningful march for Indigenous communities everywhere as the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation is a shared experience throughout our history.

Around noon on the 10th, staff and officials of the United States Army Corp of Engineers crowded the windows of their Washington D.C office, curious as to the crowds of people holding signs that say “Resist.”

Commonplace signs in a lot of demonstrations since Election Night of President 45. What’s not common is the site of gathering and it might be hard to understand its significance.

Unless you’re one of us.

The U.S Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) is the government agency largely behind the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project that threatens the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s way of life. Not to mention environmental concern (poisoned water) but this is an egregious affront to the tribe’s sovereignty. For the sake of fossil fuels, and ultimately, money - the USACE pushed through the final easement under the Trump Administration that will allow for the pipeline to continue, despite the objection of the Sioux.

The hurt and the anger behind this is well founded and felt among Indigenous nations across Turtle Island (what we refer to the land as per the creation story). For instance, the Seneca Nation is not that far removed from the effects its own battle with USACE. I’m roughly a generation or two removed from those whose houses were bulldozed per an order from USACE to allow the Kinzua Dam project to completion.

The Seneca Allegany Reservation was split in two, destroyed communities, and was another example of the United State Government violating treaties (in this case, the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794). I’ve seen our elders in fits of tears recollecting these times - something that never happens without my joining them. That hurt is palpable in a room.

Between the stories I’ve heard and the accounts I’ve read, this was an example of domestic terrorism that led to crowds of refugees after hundreds of years of failed attempts of genocide.

So from my perspective, being in Washington D.C for the Native Nations March - and starting it in the face of the USACE - was extremely powerful. Because despite their best efforts, we are still here.

I marched alongside beautiful Indigenous men, women, and two-spirits from all over Turtle Island. Our different regalias, ways of singing, and motivations on display for the world to see. Sage burned in the streets and with the smoke, my spirit were lifted.

When traditional drumming is happening, I can feel it in my chest. When the children witness their relations doing what we do best - surviving and thriving - my heart swells to levels I didn’t know possible.

To see thousands of us doing all these things in the capital of the United States of Stolen Land -- it was a supremely powerful event for me.

The more I become in tune with my roots, something I’ve actively started seeking in just the last year, the more I see the building blocks of genocidal policies that shape how Indigenous communities are seen today - and see what our communities are robbed of daily. The way in which my family and ancestors were allowed to be was largely influenced by American policies such as termination and assimilation policies. (Termination and assimilation. Sit in that for a second. Those words in any context set me off.)

And to be among thousands of us that come from the same roots. To be among those who’d know exactly what I’m talking about likely without having to explain settler colonialism. Among those who fight for equality while simultaneously wanting to fight for sovereignty.

I am extremely far from being a traditionalist. I am a product of my surroundings as much as of my heritage and inheritance. I don’t know if embracing that is the right way, but it is my way (for now). What I know is that a lot of what we acknowledged and honored on Friday is in my heart and part of the motivation that keeps me strong.

The resilience and determination of those before me - those who survived removal, beatings for speaking the language, and did not allow for extinction - keep me focused. When I say “My Existence is my Resistance,” I do not mean it lightly for that is the antithesis of genocidal policy.

On Friday, as our Native people gathered to rise, we all acknowledged that we all embody our ancestors. We embrace our Indigenous spirits.

And to have that affirmation, especially in the company of my sisters (& my mother and father in spirit), I feel more strongly than ever that I am where I need to be.

I’m eager to live, think and feel with this mighty Indigenous spirit.

My people are a beautiful people.

It’s a good day to be Indigenous.