Taku Skan Skan – sacred movement, energy, something sacred moving.
Can they ever know what is sacred? Can we help them remember what is sacred? Taku Wakhan
Makhoche kin le Wakhan thanka unk’upe lo’. Tunkasila gave us this land.
To speak to a people and explain to them what is sacred, how do we do that? How do we explain what is sacred to those who have lost that understanding? They may have long ago had an understanding of what is sacred – how do we help them remember?
Many in the general public have demonstrated a short memory span – failing to remember their own family legacies, ceremonies, and their own connections to land and water. How do we explain that which is so profoundly important to Nations, to people and corporations which have commodified the very blood of the earth? Yet we see around the world, people are waking up, to protect the land and water – standing up against corporations and bought out governments.
Part of this difficulty in communication, includes the very basic paucity of meaning and what can be conveyed by the English language when it comes to such an abstract profound word as – sacred. Looking up the definition of what is meant by “sacred” (the closest word I can think of) in English, in the Merriam Dictionary, this is what I find: “worthy of religious worship: very holy, relating to religion; highly valued and important; deserving great respect”. For many people, it is difficult to understand another culture which holds as nonviable and in high esteem – places, items, or animals – as separate from an idea such as religion. Our Lakota and indigenous ways of life are not religions. We don’t knock on doors and recruit more members. We don’t try and “save” people. We simply live, keep trying, pray, treat others with respect, feed those that are hungry, care for those that are weaker, and take care of what we have been given. These concepts have become foreign and strange. Our language, Lakota, provides an understanding to consider places as sacred. These places often hold unknown power – by their nature they are mysterious, powerful, and healing. These places allow us to connect to the spiritual – to a higher power. “Sacred” – can seem out of place in this current “modern”, McConsumerism society. Yet we are the generation that has this responsibility to keep what was given to us, what our elders negotiated for, and fought and died to save for us. Without these connections, ceremonies, ways, language, and land-base – we have lost the battles they fought.
To continue to try and understand; to try and make connection; to help others become allies, we must acknowledge patterns. Forgetting what is sacred…
Is everything for sale?
Every day we see evidence of the world as seen through the eyes of the media and military industrialized complex – wherein everything is seen as “for sale” and marketable, with no other inherent value other than a price tag.
When this “modern” society can look at their elders, women, and children who are asking for the protection of land and water and spray them in the face with pepper spray, such as occurred at Elsipogtog– it is sanctioning disrespect of those held in the highest esteem by most Indigenous Nations and human beings in general.
The water is sacred, yet this society can choose short term money over the healing and sustaining water that gives us life – the water that fills our bodies, our very lungs before we are born – that we swim in before we enter the world. Mni. Water. Water is the very blood of Inyan, the spirit of creation.
There are beliefs in our ways – that there is a power in water that heals – if we offer tobacco to water, and pray; the very atoms of water are changed by our prayers, and we are changed; the water may heal us – That which is sacred.
The Japanese have a belief and saying – “8 million Gods” – everything has a spirit. Yet Fukushima is still happening, spreading radiation throughout the ocean and air, the result of a dirty corporation and a contaminated government. We are all related, we are all connected.
The military industrialized complex chooses to sell oil, minerals, and thereby energy and power over preserving water for everyone – that which is sacred.
Large shopping warehouses which pay low wages (walmart) and parking garages are chosen over sacred places. These places have a connection with the stars, the universe, the spiritual, with other planes that we cannot yet understand. Our disruption of our planet and the resulting ramifications will be felt for generations to come – losses that are unknown. In a time when our scientists are just now discovering and discussing worm holes and black holes – when our ancestors aligned our ceremonies and sacred sites with the stars, the milky way (the road to the spirit world), and the movements of the galaxy – what is yet to be discovered? How can we be so arrogant? Are we destroying connections and doors that transcend our current “knowing”?
As more countries and cultures become contaminated with the military industrialized complex, and come to mimic the United States of America, Great Britain, and Canada – such as India, Japan, and China, we are seeing more sacred places destroyed. These countries are choosing and will choose to destroy sacred spaces for profit, for compliance, for uniformity and comfort, to annihilate any disruption to the machine of production and demand. Tibet is a thorn in the side of China simply by existing, simply by containing most of the areas’ water and having sacred sites under which may contain minerals that China is intent on mining. It has to be said how closely this current genocide taking place in Tibet is similar to so many other scenarios where genocide has and is taking place in order for a people and Nation to be exploited for their lands’ resources. We must see that the same tactics are being used by transnational corporations across the world – the same propaganda machine, the use of militarized police, and the same intent to exploit natural resources by any means necessary is taking place now in Canada at the hands of Prime Minister Harper.
The Idle No More movement was developed and took life as partially as a result of these practices which have disrespected and contaminated the living spaces of First Nations peoples in Canada. PM Harper and the Canadian government changed the Navigable Water Protection Act and threatened the basic tenets of the Treaties in order to allow more corporate exploitation of natural resources and fossil fuels. As a result of this, the founders of Idle No More developed the vision of INM. The INM movement found support and spread across Turtle Island and around the world – ringing true for Indigenous people and Nations around the world, to Australia, New Zealand, Hawai’i, Africa, Palestine, Romania, Sweden, Germany, and Egypt. People have acknowledged the truth of the INM movement across the world – the “vision of protecting water, air, land, and all creation for future generations.”
If the ceremonies and traditional ways are forgotten, then the traditional peoples’ connections to the land will be forgotten – then WE will no longer fight when the earth is mined, dammed, drilled, fracked, in-situ mined and symbolically and physically raped. The same genocidal practices and policies have occurred and been attempted with numerous First Nations, yet specifically, among the Lakota people and the Black Hills (for gold, timber, and now uranium); the Dine’ (Coal and water); the Arara and Juruna people are two of more than 25 different Nations fighting against the construction of the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River (tributary of the Amazon River) in Brazil; and the Kichwa People of Sarayaku people taking their case to the Inter-American Court, an international Human Rights court, to protect their lands and waters against oil production in the Amazon of Ecuador.
On September 13, 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This Declaration states, Indigenous Peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision making institutions. Article 19 of the Declaration outlines, “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.” Governments and corporations continue to disrespect the very essence of human rights and the United Nations. Those who ask these governments such as the US and Canada to follow their own laws and treaty obligations are delineated as “terrorists” and uncooperative “radicals”.
Currently there are many fights taking place around the world for what is sacred, for sacred places/sites, for the land and for water: most recently making international news, the struggle of #Elsipogtog, the Mic’maq and Manatee people to fight against fracking oil production on their lands in the New Brunswick Canada area. The Hopi and Dine’ fight against the Snowbowl Ski Resort which makes snow with wastewater (recycled sewer water) on a mountain held sacred by 13 tribal Nations, called Dook’o’oosííd in Dine’; and the Blackfeet Nation and Chief Mountain fight against fractured mining of oil and natural gas which would contaminate the nearby Twin Lakes and Heart River.
The tribal Nations in North Dakota including the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota, Spirit Lake Dakota, Standing Rock Lakota, the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara, and the Turtle Mountain Ojibwa have teamed up to oppose the development of electric power transmission lines across Killdeer Mountain, a place where many Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, and Dakota young men have prayed, to seek a “vision” or to give thanks. The Killdeer Mountain area is also of cultural significance as it is the place where on July 28, 1864, US General Sully and more than 2000 soldiers attacked a peaceful camp of Lakota/Dakota families who were hunting and preparing for the next winter. This attack was in revenge of the 1862 “Lower Sioux Uprising.” The soldiers destroyed all tipis, food supplies, buffalo robes and tons of buffalo meat. More than 150 Lakotas/Dakotas were killed, many unable to be buried in the following days – their bones left in the earth. The North Dakota Industrial Commission approved more than 50 oil wells in the Killdeer Mountain area, despite the fact that many burial sites are unknown and have not yet been located. The latest insult to this important place of prayer and memorial to those who fought to live, is that Basin Electric has petitioned to install a transmission line and substation across this very mountain. Basin Electric proposes to build the line and substation over two years starting in 2014. Our graves – our bones are still being disrespected today. (Killdeer Mountain and Battlefield Site, Thunder Butte, Missouri River, Lake Sakakawea are listed as “extraordinary places” and per the draft amendment to NDAC of section 43-02-03-16; would require any plans to drill or frack in these areas to develop plans to mitigate any impacts to these areas, yet would still allow drilling and fracking. Please see NDIC website for more information: http://www.nd.gov/ndic/ Please submit comments regarding this policy change by 5pm on February 25, 2013 by 5pm.
The Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara are also waging a grassroots effort to preserve the sacred place of Thunder Butte despite the development of a fracking wastewater pit and a nearby refinery. The Thunder Butte Refinery is currently being constructed. The refinery will sit on a 476 acre site and will reportedly employ 100 people and refine 20,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude into diesel and other petroleum products. In this effort the grassroots leaders are working for preservation of water, land, sacred sites, and historically significant sites DESPITE their own tribally elected leaders and Bureau of Indian Affairs officials. This situation and experience is not unique to the colonial industrial divide and conquer tactics. How would you feel if your sacred place became a symbol of a refinery and the fossil fuels that are currently being fracked, drilled, and flared into our air and contaminating water – the lifeblood of our children? When your sacred place becomes a symbol of what is hurting us, and it is promoted by your tribally elected official wearing a headdress. Isn’t that ironic? The people of MHA lands have stood up and spoken for the land and water.
Places of prayer disrespected – that which is sacred.
There is also this concept amongst those who disturb the earth, that what they do is temporary. When I recently showed a photo of a waste pit next to Thunder Butte in North Dakota, a sacred site, to a government official, he stated, “Well, that is temporary.” The concept of disrespecting a place of prayer, dumping trash or waste there, removing it, then everything is “all better” – is simplistic and concrete in thought. The idea that the area of the tarsands in Canada will be returned to its former state of being is ridiculous. Chemically, biologically, and ecologically it is not possible. Everything we do has an effect. To not recognize this, is to be evolutionarily-delayed and philosophically-hobbled.
When we teach people to respect other cultures, respect humanity, respect earth, respect the sacred – more than the dollar bill, they can heal from this wound they have which allows them to disturb sacred places, to foul the water, to contaminate the land, or to hurt other beings. People need connections to the land. Many don’t have that. How can they respect something when they learn “it is just a rock”. For Lakota children who grow up with their traditions, many learn that the rock has a spirit, from the rock came water. These beliefs and connections influence how we as children and adults live in and treat the world around us.
Sacred – a place of sanctity, to be venerated – a spiritual place – to be preserved for future generations.
The irony is, it is not only other countries and cultures that will and are becoming part of the military industrialized complex for profit at any cost – unfortunately, this system has developed a new band of capitalists who will sell what is within the earth their ancestors bled for, our own tribal Nations have learned the games of buying, selling, trading fossil fuels – they know the worth of fossil fuels to the current systems in power. The short term gains in cash made by some tribal governments are thought by elected officials in some communities to outweigh the risks on the environment, the water, the negative effects on sacred places, and the increase in crime and traffic in our communities.
As Indigenous communities, we must realize the effects colonialism has had on us. We have to look into our own communities and be the solutions to our current reality – heal our families, speak our languages, continue our ceremonies, travel to our sacred places and pray there, work towards sustainable living, and develop Sovereign Nation economies which are not dependent on the destruction of our sacred places, lifeways, water, and land. Who are our heroes? We must be our own heroes and live up to the ideals of the heroes we have, the heroes we want to be. We must throw off the identities the colonialist system gave us, that which was beat into us, indoctrinated into our great-grandparents and grandparents, and that have become part of our unconscious psyche that our Indigenous ways of knowing are “less than”. The world is changing now – our ways are part of it – humanity is realizing that we cannot stay on this path of destruction.
We must continue in an honest way, to see what poisons they have handed us. No longer is it the smallpox blankets and kegs of whiskey of yesteryear; now they hand us promises. Promises of fortune, fatness, and economic endless riches – we know there is a catch.
We see you. Your ancestors see you. The coming generations see you.
The oil, fracking wastewater, benzene genie cannot be put back into the holy water bottle. The nonviable sacred places cannot be rebuilt; they cannot be realigned with the universe for your great-grandchildren to pray for rain and wellness in the generations to come. Protect the Sacred