Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reclaiming the Faithkeepers

“As long-term participants in the national liberation struggle of American Indians, we have been forced into knowing the nature of colonialism very well. Along with you, we understand that the colonization we experience finds its origin in the matrix of European culture. But, apparently unlike you, we also understand that in order for Europe to do what it has done to us -- in fact for Europe to become “Europe” at all -- it first had to do the same thing to all of you. In other words, to become a colonizing culture, Europe had first to colonize itself. To the extent that this is true, I find it fair to say that if our struggle must be explicitly anticolonial in its form, content, and aspirations, yours must be even more so. You have, after all, been colonized far longer than we, and therefore much more completely. In fact, your colonization has by now been consolidated to such an extent that --with certain notable exceptions, like the Irish and Euskadi (Basque) nationalists -- you no longer even see yourselves as having been colonized ... You seem to feel that you are either completely disconnected from your own heritage of having been conquered or colonized, or that you can or should disconnect yourselves from it as a means of destroying that which oppresses you. I believe, on the other hand, that your internalization of this self-hating outlook is exactly what your oppressors want most to see you do ... You must set yourselves to reclaiming your own indigenous past. You must come to know it in its own terms -- the terms of its internal values and understandings, and the way these were applied to living in this world -- not the terms imposed upon it by the order which set out to destroy it. You must learn to put your knowledge of this heritage to use as a lens through which you can clarify your present circumstance, to “know where you are”, so to speak ... Orient your struggle toward regaining what it is that has been taken from you rather than presuming a unique ability to invent it all anew ... [Restore] your understanding of who you are, where you come from, what it is that has been done to you to take you to the place in which you now find yourselves ... You, no less than we, have models in your own traditions upon which to base your alternatives to the social, political, and economic structures now imposed upon you. It is your responsibility to put yourselves in direct communication with these traditions, just as it is our responsibility to remain in contact with ours ... You say that the knowledge we speak of was taken from you too long ago, at the time of Charlemagne, more than a thousand years ago. Because of this, you say, the gulf of time separating then from now is too great ; that what was taken then is now lost and gone. We know better. We know, and so do you, that right into the 1700s your ‘European’ colonizers were still busily burning ‘witches’ at the stake. We know, and you know too, that these women were the leaders of your own indigenous cultures. The span of time separating you from a still-flourishing practice of your native ways is thus not so great as you would have us--and yourselves---believe. It’s been 200 years, no more. And we also know that there are still those among your people who retain the knowledge of your past, knowledge handed down from one generation to the next, century after century. We can give you directions to some of them if you like, but we think you know they are there. You can begin to draw appropriate lessons and instruction from these faithkeepers, if you want to.” --- Ward Churchill, From A Native Son


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