Reflecting on Water Protectors

Posoh Mawaw New Weyak!

I’ve been primarily reading “To Be A Water Protector” by Winona Laduke this week. While her book outlines a timeline of the uprising of water protectors, she also poses questions to consider. Because of that, I’ve been awfully pensive as of late.

Here are the ideas that have been on my mind this week:

1. How do we be good ancestors? What does a good ancestor look like? Are we what our ancestors wanted us to be?

I’m constantly stuck feeling like a bad descendant and not knowing if I’ll be a good ancestor. I feel like that I am not enough; that my ancestors endured so much and here I am drinking iced coffee and complaining about the weather. While it may be true that my inconveniences can be trivial, I know that reconnecting won’t happen overnight. I often feel guilty for not knowing not having regalia and not knowing how to dance traditionally. I’m often just a spectator at powwows. Furthermore, I can barely speak my ancestral tongue. Even though I’m currently taking a Menominee language class, but I have a long way until fluency. How can my ancestors be proud of me when I barely know my culture?

The irony is that I’m wearing a t-shirt that says “My ancestors are always cheering me on”. In reality, I know my ancestors are and always will be in my corner; rooting for me.

In the past year or so, I’ve been really reflecting on the idea that I’m going to be an ancestor someday- what a harrowing thought! I try to live by this saying “Leave it better than you found it.”I’ve realized that I cannot fix everything, but I can make things a little better. I have to focus on the idea that I’m doing all that I can, otherwise, my mind will fill with existential dread. I’ll leave this section with a quote that resonated with me and, strangely, calmed me: “If you’re working on something that you plan on finishing in your lifetime, you are not thinking big enough.”

2. How often do non-natives think about us?

Winona LaDuke writes:

There is this magical made-up times in the United States betweem so-called Columbus Day (or Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the enlightened) and Thanksgiving, where white Americans think about Native People. That’s sort of our window. Honestly. Now, let me tell you the truth; I think about white people every day … every day. How often do white Americans think of Native people? Rarely.

This quote really hit me. I’m just gonna leave this here for you, dear reader, to ponder.

3. Environmentalism is nothing without indigenous teachings

This is a fact that I have known for quite some time, but it’s only become more clear while reading this book. Here is another quote that I wasn’t aware of (but didn’t surprise me):

Remember, on a worldwide scale, Indigenous Peoples represent about 4% of the world’s people, but we live with 80% of the world’s biodiversity.

We are the original caretakers of the planet. We have the knowledge to heal the planet and it’s only right that the land is returned to us. I believe that no one can truly call themselves an environmentalist if they don’t cite or acknowledge indigenous teachings. It’s time we view mother earth as a sentient being who has tried to care for our ancestors and us. It should be a reciprocal relationship in that we care for the earth and we take care of her.

Amplify indigenous environmentalists. Listen to water protectors. Stop pipelines. Protect Mother Earth.

To Be A Water Protector has been validating and inspiring read for me. I remember when Standing Rock was happening – I was a sophomore in high school. I remember hearing about it from my native peers and I did nothing. I watched the news and that’s it. I have a hard forgiving my 15-year-old self for not being more proactive in assisting in such a tremendous and impactful movement. While I rooted for all my brothers and sisters there fighting the good fight, I sat home and did my homework. Since reading about Standing Rock from the perspective of those who attended, I am determined to never turn a blind eye. I want to be a water protector or help them in any way that I can.

Maec Waewaenen for reading!