Stories as Weapons of Resurgence & a 2nd Grade Classrooms Act of Solidarity & Support for Elsipogtog First Nation

Our youth must always be free, discussing and exchanging ideas concerned with what is happening throughout the entire world.” – Che Guevara

My second grade students cannot tell you stories about the disorienting, frightening, and utterly devastating aftermath of bombs being dropped in their neighborhoods. They cannot tell you about the sudden disappearance or massacre of entire families. But they can tell you story after story about the sound of a gun being fired in the middle of the night. They can tell you what happens when a bullet is shot through your window and lodges itself in the wall. My second grade students can tell you about the fear they have of being caught in gang crossfire when playing in their neighborhood. They can tell you about the time their dad was sent back to Mexico. They can tell you why they have to live with grandma while their mom or dad works to get clean from drugs. They can tell you how to hang your food in plastic bags on ropes to keep it away from mice and cockroaches. They can tell you about the times they had to run a power cord from the neighbor’s house into their house because they had no electricity.

Every day twenty-one students come to my class and each seven-year-old life is filled with truly powerful stories, heartbreakingly sad stories, and laugh out loud, hilarious stories. Some of their stories may be common and occur in other parts of the world with some variation.

Dad and mom pack up the kids. They want a better life for their children. They move to a new country or to the city. They leave their extended family behind. They struggle to learn English. Dad has to work more than one job so the family can afford a place to live and food. The kids are told that the way to succeed is to learn English and get good grades in school. Mom and dad do all they can to provide a better future for their children encouraging them to assimilate, to be American even in the face of the oppressive and dehumanizing laws of the Western Empire. They do not ever return to their place, their village or their clan. Their human spirits are broken, reshaped, and their ability to question and think for themselves is reduced generation after generation until all memories and dreams no longer exist, wiping away their true identity.

As an Indigenous educator how do I begin to keep the fires of genuine optimism, kindness and what is pure in children lit and safe from the force of imperialism? How do I fuel the fire so the ability to think, create, heal, empower, connect and act is fierce and burns hot?  I don’t want to feed my students the same doctrine I consumed; it only made me uninformed, unimaginative, accepting of the Empire and a consumer of what I was told to consume – dominant ideologies. How do I help my students cling to their stories and their storytellers so that one day they too have the foundation to take a stand, to question and to not just demand the change of the system but destroy the system?

Indigenous grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers and sisters organize to protect the land and water in Canada and the United States and across the globe everyday. They have attended teach-ins and lectures, organized and attended rallies and events. They have made multiple posts to Facebook and Tweeted the heck out of Twitter with news of actions, and injustices, in hopes of educating others, bringing global awareness to the struggle of Indigenous Nations and to build solidarity. They are living life as activist. They are activist in their own way. They are living, breathing, transforming, educating, and standing everyday acts of resurgence. They are on the front lines exposed to tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, police batons, police K-9’s, racist trolls, hate, and vile contempt.

I have sat feeling helpless as I’ve watched the struggle at Elsipogtog First Nation unfold. I felt helpless because I was so close yet so far away as grandmothers and grandfathers protested the theft of Diné water and later as Navajo communities organized & continue to organize to save sacred sites. I felt helpless while a Cherokee man’s biological daughter was stolen from him. I’ve felt helpless as Native brothers and sisters stood their ground against white supremacist in North Dakota.

Multiple events in the daily lives of my Indigenous brothers and sisters and I did nothing to show my solidarity. I failed to stand with them. I failed to take ACTION. I am angry. I feel a mix of immense rage and an overwhelming sense of pride as I see the grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, women, men, children willing to sacrifice their lives for their land, water, and ways of being because I know as a Diné woman I need to be making those same sacrifices. I need to stop feeling sorry for myself and quit making excuses. I need to get off my a$$ and put to good use the skills and opportunities I have and ACT, as a Diné woman should, with dignity, honor, strength and wisdom.

As an Indigenous woman, mother and educator I am in a unique position to fuel the fire of resurgence for generations to come. Some of the ways I am trying to serve my students is by expecting them to not be so complacent and unconditionally accepting of the conditions of their own existence. We are constantly talking about the importance of knowing yourself, where you come from and what stories your place holds for you. I share with them stories about the importance of protecting the natural world and the importance of assuming more responsibility in the classroom, in their families and in their communities. I share stories with them. I integrate stories of major issues such as poverty, human rights, and the environment across the curriculum. It helps that my students are asking questions befitting an adult perspective of what is presently occurring in the news, politically, socially, economically and environmentally. I know I have the intellectual capacity to explain to my students with complete honesty the current state of affairs in terms they can understand.

One such story I shared was that of the Mi’kmaq warriors of Elsipogtog and their current stand against destruction of their homeland. The discussion has been ongoing for several weeks, as I have kept up with current affairs through Warrior Publications consistent blog post on the resistance of the Elsipogtog anti-fracking struggle.

What moved me to act with my students was a piece I read written by Dr. Taiaiake Alfred titled – What Does the Land Mean to Us? and the quote he used at the beginning of the piece –

A Warrior is the one who can use words so that everyone knows they are part of the same family. A Warrior says what is in the people’s hearts, talks about what the land means to them, brings them together to fight for it. – Bighorse, Diné

I read Dr. Alfred’s words and wanted to know what connections my students have to the land. We had already spent several weeks discussing struggles occurring for land and water- Belo Monte Dam, Defending the Rivers of the Amazon , Umatilla, Utah Tar Sands Resistance, Tavaputs Plateau, Elsipogtog Frack Off via MsNativeWarrior, Navajo Nation & struggle with Uranium Mining, etc.

So after the discussions we used a Circle Map (Thinking Maps) to brainstorm ideas on – What the land means to us. I asked each student the question and they had to respond in a complete sentence what the land meant to them and record one word onto the circle map. We went around the room as each student responded, explained their reasoning and recorded their word. The next several days we discussed the ways in which people are standing to protect the land and water and actions that we could take. We discussed what it means to stand in solidarity and we discussed the sacrifices that people are making to protect the land and water. I then asked each of my students to draw what the land means to them, write about it and also send words of gratitude to those standing to protect land and water.

As an Indigenous woman, mother, sister, auntie and educator I am at the frontlines fighting for the survival of real stories. Everyday I look down the barrel of the Empires compassion killing, dream killing, hope killing and love killing educational system that advocates and implements imperial policies. I want my second grade students to know that they can help shape the future- and that there is no action too small to show solidarity and stand against corporatist and governments that oppress those at the margins. As an Indigenous woman, mother and educator I want to arm my students with the ability to take constructive action. I want them to be armed with the knowledge that there are other ways of knowing. I want them to know that their words and their stories are powerful weapons of resurgence and are very much apart of who they are. I want them to know there is no time for feeling helpless or sorry for yourself. We have to act.

What the Land Means to Me

What the Land Means to Me

Take a look at my students’ drawings and words of thanks to Elsipogtog First Nation here ->  WhatTheLandMeansToMe_My2ndGradeClass

Student Work

Student Work

Sample2

Student Work

Scholarship worthy of your time and read:

Preparing teachers of young children to be social justice-oriented educators by Celia Oyler

Indigenizing the academy: Insurgent education and the roles of Indigenous intellectuals by Jeff Corntassel

Contesting the curriculum in the schooling of indigenous children in Australia and the USA: from Eurocentrism to culturally powerful pedagogies by Anne Hickling-Hudson & Robert Ahlquist

Early Childhood Eduction Programs For Indigenous  Children In Canada, Australia and New Zealand: An historical review by Larry Prochner

Indigenous Struggle for Transformation of Education and Schooling by Graham Hingangaroa Smith

Indigenous Knowledge and Pedagogy in First Nations Education: A Literature Review with Recommendations

Excuse me: who are the first peoples of Canada? A historical analysis of Aboriginal education in Canada then and now by Erica Neegan

Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Alaska Native Ways of Knowing by Ray Barnhardt

Understanding the Earth Systems of Malawi: Ecological Sustainability, Culture, and Place-Based Education by George E. Glasson, Jeffrey A. Frykholm, Ndalapa A. Mhango, & Absalom D. Phiri

A Study on the Role of Native Culture in the Teaching Experiences of American Indian Educational Professionals by

Power and Place: Indian Education in America by Vine Deloria, Jr. and Daniel R. Wildcat

Power and Place: Indian Education in America

Power and Place: Indian Education in America

With love and deep respect,

-J

Joyce 12/2013

Joyce 12/2013

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I Was Born Between the Four Sacred Mountains of the Navajo Nation…

I was born between the four sacred mountains of the Navajo Nation. When I give thanks, I am forever grateful for being born Diné. There is no one on this earth that can take that from me. Like my ancestors, like my grandmothers before me I will die a Navajo woman. They will RECOGNIZE me and for that I am FOREVER thankful. The earth between the four sacred mountains is my life. It is where I get my strength and ability to live. From a young age I was taught to respect the land and care for it, always. I was taught to live by our Navajo ways and those Navajo ways are higher than any other law. The Navajo way of being for me has always been and is the natural way of being, a natural law. As I get older I better understand the environmental impacts of development on my homeland, and the health impacts on/in my body. With this understanding and knowledge I have come to realize it is my responsibility as a Navajo woman to engage and protect my place, my homeland and my family. As a Navajo woman I am responsible for not only my children but my entire family, my clan, my community, the land, the water, and our ways of being. As an act of resurgence I am learning of the struggles being fought on the ground by Navajos (daily) to reclaim, regenerate our relationships with the land and with each other. I am positioning myself to be better acquainted with the knowledge and needs of my community.  I have begun to make the critical reconnections  to intimately know the needs of my community and of the land and water. I am taking the steps needed to stay tied to my family, my clan, my community so tha I am present, truly present.  So that I am on the land, on Dinétah until the end of my life.  So lest we forget these Navajo struggles & sacrifices (There are many more. I will update this post as time permits):

Addressing Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation (Photo Courtesy of http://www.epa.gov/region09/superfund/navajo-nation/contaminated-water.html )

Addressing Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation (Photo Courtesy of http://www.epa.gov/region09/superfund/navajo-nation/contaminated-water.html )

Studying the effects of Uranium on the Navajo People - Photo courtesy of Four Corners Free Press http://fourcornersfreepress.com/?p=978

Studying the effects of Uranium on the Navajo People – Photo courtesy of Four Corners Free Press – http://fourcornersfreepress.com/?p=978

URANIUM MINING AND CONTAMINATION OF OUR HOMELANDS

There are Navajo families that continue to lack piped water and must haul their own water from other sources, most of which are unregulated wells. Many of the water sources have been significantly compromised by chemical, bacteriological and uranium contamination. The contamination of our water sources has been an issue for decades. There have been unprecedented instances of death, cancer, birth defects, and other health related problems due to decades of hap hazard mining (Addressing Uranium Contamination http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/mmd/marp/Documents/MK023ER_20081212_Marquez_NNELC-Acoma-Comments-AttachmentE-UExposureSummary.pdf  also see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222290/ ) Even after the mining boom of 1948 the Navajo people live on as Indigenous people of Dinétah. We continue live by the stories told by our ancestors. We continue to obey the signs shown to us by the land and stories given to us by the land. Navajo like many other Indigenous people have a legacy of resistance. We continue to survive attempts at annihilation and just as the Niłchʼi Diyin  (holy wind) we are a people that is ALIVE and we will prevail even after the celebrations of the colonial government.

Snowbowl pipeline desecration.

Snowbowl pipeline desecration. Photo courtesy of www.indigenousaction.org

San Francisco Peaks

San Francisco Peaks

DESECRATION OF SACRED SITES

As Navajo people our relationship to land is intimately reflected in the countless stories and majestic landscape of Dinétah. The land itself can summarize our long and rich experience. It is wholly capable of expressing a viewpoint, emphasizing relationable (family & community) cohesion and offers wisdom. The colonial mindset of some of our very own tribal leaders and that of the colonial government is one which continues to attempt to dismember the land from the Navajo people. Their hope is that our seperation from our homeland will result in a breakdown of spiritual values and Navajo ways of being. However, despite political, social, economic and environmental catastrophes the land and our ways of being continue to survive.

Tsoodził (Mt. Taylor) is facing threat of uranium mining by companies such as Roca Honda Resources.

Dook’o’oosłííd (San Francisco Peaks)
 is being desecrated by Arizona Snowbowl’s expansion and treated
sewage snowmaking.

Dibé Ntsaa (Mount Hesperus)
 is threatened by Wildcat Mine which is planning to mine gold, silver, and tellurium.

Dził ná’oodiłii (Huerfano Mesa)
 faces oil and gas drilling including fracking.

Ch’óol’í’í (Governador Knob)
 faces oil and gas drilling including fracking.

Dinétah
: Holy Lands, place of Diné emergence into this world and where, today, multitudes of oil and gas wells extract fossil fuels from the land.

Dził yíjiin (Black Mesa)
 has been desecrated by Peabody since 1960s. Wells and springs have run dry due to mining related pumping of the N Aquifer.

Ch’óóshgai (Chuska Mountains)
 survived more than a century of unsustainable forestry practices, and near deforestation that resulted in the disappearing of springs, medicinal herbs and erosion. It is still in need
of reforestation.

Tsé’naa Na’ní’áhí (Rainbow Bridge )
 Prayer offering sites have been covered by the waters of Lake Powell.

Bidaa (Grand Canyon Confluence)
 is threatened by the Grand Canyon Escalade which plans on building a large scale resort where the Little Colorado & Colorado
rivers meet.
The Colorado River and San Juan River have faced toxic contamination and over use.

(Navajo names of sacred sites and the way in which they are being threatened courtesy of Indigenous Action Media – http://www.indigenousaction.org/nnact/ )

HWÉÉLDI (THE NAVAJO LONG WALK)

Hwééldi (Navajo Long Walk) - Navajo concentration camp called Bosque Redondo 1863-1868

Hwééldi (Navajo Long Walk) – Navajo concentration camp called Bosque Redondo 1863-1868

Hwééldi (Navajo Long Walk) - Bosque Redondo (Fort Sumner)

Hwééldi (Navajo Long Walk) – Bosque Redondo (Fort Sumner)

Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee provides accounts of the ruthlessness, greed and murderous policies of the United States at Bosque Redondo.

During the autumn, Navahos who had escaped from the Bosque Redondo began returning to their homeland with frightening accounts of what was happening to the people there. It was a wretched land, they said. The soldiers prodded them with bayonets and herded them into adobe-walled compounds where the soldier chiefs were always counting them and putting numbers down in little books. The soldier chiefs promised them clothing and blankets and better food, but their promises were never kept. All the cottonwood and mesquite had been cut down, so that only roots were left for firewood. To shelter themselves from rain and sun they had to dig holes in the sandy ground, and cover and line them with mats of woven grass. They lived like prairie dogs in burrows. With a few tools the soldiers gave them they broke the soil of the Pecos bottomlands and planted grain, but floods and droughts and insects killed the crops, and now everyone was on half-rations. Crowded together as they were, disease had begun to take a toll of the weaker ones. It was a bad place, and although escape was difficult and dangerous under the watchful eyes of the soldiers, many were risking their lives to get away.

And no advocate of Manifest Destiny ever phrased his support of that philosophy more unctuously than he: “The exodus of this whole people from the land of their fathers is not only an interesting but a touching sight. They have fought us gallantly for years on years; they have defended their mountains and their stupendous canyons with a heroism which any people might be proud to emulate; but when, at length, they found it was their destiny, too, as it had been that of their brethren, tribe after tribe, away back toward the rising of the sun, to give way to the insatiable progress of our race, they threw down their arms, and, as brave men entitled to our admiration and respect, have come to us with confidence in our magnanimity, and feeling that we are too powerful and too just a people to repay that confidence with meanness or neglect—feeling that having sacrificed to us their beautiful country, their homes, the associations of their lives, the scenes rendered classic in their traditions, we will not dole out to them a miser’s pittance in return for what they know to be and what we know to be a princely realm.”

When the Bosque’s grain crops failed again in the autumn of 1865, the Army issued the Navahos meal, flour, and bacon which had been condemned as unfit for soldiers to eat. Deaths began to rise again, and so did the number of attempted escapes.

Listening and Yearning for My Homeland

A dear friend sent this to me today. Little do they know just how much I needed it.

A dear friend sent this picture of Tse’ Bit’ ai’ (Shiprock) to me today. A picture snapped to capture the beauty of my home right after the rain. Little did they know just how much I needed it.

Farming, herding, walking, running through the valleys and mountains of the Navajo Nation, one can smell, hear, feel, and see the life and endless possibility of Dinétah. The wind, the life breath of the land that lies between the four sacred mountains maintains the connection between the Navajo people, no matter where we reside and our ancestral home.

Dinétah has always been a source of strength and pride during my struggle with violence in the form of rape, physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, reproductive control, murder, and the trauma of history. As a Diné woman I am surround by countless Diné women who have their own stories of colonial cruelties and internalized abuse. Each of these women’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual survival in spite of severe trauma is testament to the courage, power and inner strength of us all. It is from the struggles of my ancestors that I learn the importance of going back to the beginning in order to go forward in a healthy way. There will always be a time when you HAVE to “GO BACK.”  The acknowledgement of past trauma and heartache is integral to my personal and collective recovery. It allows me the opportunity to lay the foundation for a healthy future by learning from my personal traumas of the past and from the history of trauma suffered by my ancestors. It is my responsibility as a Diné woman to understand the historic and systemic nature of my wounds. I have to learn how to think for myself and not rely on others to think for me. I have to hold tight to who I am. Who I am is – Diné, Navajo ceremony, land, what I write, the words I speak, the kindness I carry in my heart, the love I give, the way in which I care for my children, the way in which I honor my community, the way in which I honor my family, and the everyday acts that allow me to be able to maintain hózhó.

I allowed my hardships to disconnect me from my true self. I allowed my hardships to disconnect me from my ancestors. I have to “go back” to go forward. I have to “go back” to RECLAIM my traditions. I have to “go back” to RESTORE  & REBUILD my RELATIONSHIPS. I have to “go back” to REBUILD who I am. I have to “go back” to have the strength to RESIST. I have to “go back” to RESURGE to LIVE and ACT! There is no other way to heal but to un-become what I am as a result of denial, avoidance, repression, and the impact of colonialism. My RECOVERY is painful and will continue to be for some time BUT it is healing, it is my RESTORATION.

With love and deep respect,

– J