Posted by on Aug 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

Fighting the Good Fight

By: Renee Holt
As a result of colonial encroachment onto their homelands, being indigenous today means engaging in a struggle to reclaim and regenerate one’s relational, place-based existence by challenging the ongoing, destructive forces of colonization

. – Jeff Corntassel

With the most recent battle the Last Real Indians are standing up and fighting for the purchase of Pe’Sla, the birth place for the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people, non-Natives are forced to reckon with Indigenous people. Depending on what region of Indian country one is located, sacred sites such as the Pe’Sla are relevant to our existence and as Indigenous people. We are required to stand and speak up for lands our ancestors fought for. Precious lands that are Indigenous in origin, and foods that are culturally relevant to our People, regardless of what part of Indian country we come from, are threatened daily and necessitate a unified circle of people, prayers, and action to make a difference in the lives of our future generations.

Whether one lives on or off the Rez, one will discover some Indigenous sites can be found in close proximity to a National Park Service. Although not all Indigenous sites are on government land, there are private land sales occurring everyday that require Indigenous resurgence. Historically, when we look back at what Manifest Destiny by allowing the pillage of pristine Indigenous lands, we can see the devastation and effects of “biological conquest and a form of ecological imperialism,” as stated by Devon G. Peña recently for Indian Country Today Media. The precious lands and places that we call home are being threatened and unless we stand up and fight the way our ancestors did, there is a great chance they may not be around for future generations. Granted we may not ride on horses to get to these locations, we no longer live in Indigenous homes, and to further substantiate the colonization that has occurred we use a colonized language as a means to communicate our wants and needs. The truth of this reality for our community is that it does not mean we stop fighting the good fight, nor do we forget what our ancestors fought for.

Although some of these precious lands that we hold in high regard are located on pockets of privatized lands, Indigenous lands are also held in trust on reserves and have names like “No Tell’em Ridge” where a guaranteed harvest is promised and “permission” can be tricky. On the flip side of that note, in developed areas for the obvious reasons of encroachment, there are places like near my hometown of Lapwai, Idaho, located on the Nez Perce reservation, where a significant pillage of Indigenous land related to farming and cattle ranching has annihilated Indigenous roots.

As told by a Nimiipuu elder, who is no longer with us in and one who took me out on my first root gathering trek, “this place used to have roots all over this hill, but after the farmers brought cows, they stopped growing here.” As a result, Nimiipuu people are limited to where we can gather due to the sale and resale of Indigenous land. When this occurs, it becomes important for Indigenous people to unite and share our grievances but also our plight for resurgence.

If we don’t speak up, who will?

Regardless of what Nation we come from, we are spiritual and pray for everything- from the harvesting of our Indigenous foods seasonally, to the naming of children, health, happiness, wellness, peace, co-existence, and fortitude. We do these things because it was the ways of our ancestors. In addition to this prayerful life way, we were taught to share our foods in hospitality to display our generosity.

For the Interior Columbia Plateau people, huckleberries are used culturally in our Root feasts, ceremonies, and served on special occasions. Used for trading as a highly valuable food, cimiitx in Nimiipuutimpt’ki has its own kind of Indigenous economic value. With shorter growing seasons and yields of harvest effected by “ecocide,” they are not as abundant as they used to be and anytime huckleberries are shared, whether served in freshly made huckleberry pancakes, to canned jam, or served in my favorite, as a pie, it is like hitting the jackpot! When we talk about huckleberries it’s the real deal and no joke because we don’t share our huckleberries with just anyone!

Recently while on a gathering trek into a local gathering site, I was told by a non-Native camper who jokingly disclosed that his family was out gathering and if he told me where they found huckleberries, he’d “have to kill me.” Although in jest, I didn’t laugh out loud, instead I smiled and left the campsite thinking of my ancestors who gathered in that area for centuries before his ancestors’ arrival. As I drove off and made my way up to “Huckleberry Heaven,” I was certain the difference between my ancestors and his could be found in the manner of which that statement was actually a truth.

Indigenous ancestors throughout Indian country fought to protect their livelihoods at all costs, and often times it involved death. If we were indeed living in historic times, I doubt he would have made it to “Huckleberry Heaven.” As I drove up the ridge I saw National Park Service signs and was reminded of the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery and the Nez Perce ancestor Wet’ku’wees who saved them. What if she had stated, “if I told you where you could find food and water, I’d have to kill you,” how would our history be different?

I am certain the extinction and sales of Indigenous gathering sites and land would have been prolonged and we would probably still have to contend with colonization. Whether it is related to protesting the harvesting of Indigenous foods using non Indigenous methods or sales of lands that are significant to Indigenous people, we must continue fighting the good fight and be diligent about reading the fine print and understanding our treaty rights.

Although the value and worth of Indigenous foods such as the huckleberry, and the sale of Pe’Sla where the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota were created into existence are priceless beyond measure, according to our natural laws and universe, they are indeed more than a natural resource or a monument to visit for recreation. Precious lands are relevant to our existence and where spiritual balance is restored.

The notion of Indigenous gathering for subsistence living and spiritual treks in today’s modern society is questionable to non-Natives because they have nothing to compare it to. When looking back at what our ancestors lived and died fighting for relative to our spirituality linked to land, the modern world we live in is convenient with grocery stores that have made subsistent living easy. Church for some people is in a building. Don’t get me wrong, I shop at Safeway; however, I won’t find cemiitx, nor will I find qe’qeet, wi’wiim, khouse, or cawiitx in the produce section to name a few. Besides that, sometimes church is under the great blue sky.

As diligent as I try to be about gathering, during this years gathering season, I was disappointed to learn there wasn’t an abundant huckleberry harvest in an area where my family has gathered for generations. I had to make two separate treks which was a free for all. While looking for huckleberries, I had to contend with non-Natives and hope that I would find enough for my son Tee’wis Ilp Ilp’s name giving this fall.

As a community, we are aware that Indigenous lands have been encroached upon and there are indeed non-Native citizens in this world who have befriended and joined the plight of Indigenous people. However, we must also stand and speak up for ourselves to protect our Indigenous life ways. In my case, as a member of the Nimiipuu community (and for the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people) encroachment should not deter us from fighting to gather, pray, and protect living an Indigenous way of life.

I digress. In closing, would like to share I found

Practicing Sustainable Self Determination Indigenous Approaches to Cultural Restoration and Revitalization

by Jeff Corntassel (Cherokee Nation) and Cheryl Bryce (Songhees Lekwungen), a helpful scholarly piece for reading more about the importance of why we as Indigenous people must continue to fight the good fight when it comes to placed based cultural existence. Our ancestors did so with us in mind and so should we, for our future generations.