I spent the better half of the night worked up both in gratitude for where I was sleeping — in an over-the-water boathouse on a quiet lake with loons singing and the moon out the window through pines — and in agony and confusion hearing about another Residential School mass-grave discovery. I went to bed after a perfect sunset and rose to a magnificent sunrise. Usually inspired and hopeful, today my heart still feels heavy.
“How is this real” to “how many more” to “who could do this” to “how does this evil exist?”
I know some of the answers to those questions, but it shocks me nonetheless. In a Native American studies class I took at UW-Madison, I first learned a more accurate story of Treaty Rights violations and atrocities suffered by the indigenous people of America and right here on the land I hold so sacred. Wisconsinites, do you know about the Walleye Wars? Have you seen the Residential School “unmarked graves” that exist right in our state? Do you know there are corners of our country where humans on reservations do not have access to clean water? Indian Removal Act, Black Hawk War, Trail of Tears - like wtf?
The more I learn about the way indigenous people have been and still are treated breaks me. But here I am, on stolen land. I know that no one “owns” this land - we are here as passers by. Why do we take and forcibly oust? Where do these beliefs stem from? Why this culture of control? Why the need to overtake another? What are we so afraid of? Why are differences perceived as threats to the unconscious mind?
I go deeper, still. Race, religion, sexuality, gender, politics. My head swirls. My heart aches. It’s enough to make you resent the present moment in history, but that’s not productive either. This is all coming to surface for a reason - I hate that it exists to learn about. I hate that lives have been at stake.
Since I was itty, I connected with Native American culture in a way that I couldn’t understand. I was told that I had a sliver of Native American in my ancestry - and I clung to that with hope that maybe I had a connection with nature beyond plain sight. And while that 1% of “unknown" in my DNA analysis may hold that, it may not. It’s irrelevant to the connection though, and I know I am bonded to and by something else. In the last few years as I’ve tuned more closely into the rhythms of nature and spent time getting to know indigenous culture, I realized some keys to that connection were in respect for and reverence of the magic of nature. The desire to be close to it, living with it, letting the plants and critters and elements COME ALIVE and offer their medicine to me. The recognition that we are not separate from it - we are it, too.
Last year I shared a message similar to the one here on the 4th of July. In reading it, it still feels the same in my heart, but there has been considerable change since last year. I’ve gone further. My soul trusts that my role here matters in so many realms - my 34 yo, white, cis, het privileged human body experience sees how my role here matters, too. Some of you will read and feel things you’re not familiar with when you read this. That’s the goal. Some of you may be done with me after reading this - that’s a risk in the name of progress in what I believe in, and you somewhere deep inside, might too: LIBERTY & JUSTICE FOR ALL. Like, actually all. Like, everyone.
I’ve read and talked and listened and put myself in the shoes of humans of all colors, shapes, sizes, orientations, faiths, etc. I’ve voiced solidarity and donated and learned and labored over these themes. Nothing changes the fact that we all deserve to be valued. We all truly do have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That’s the America I believe in and love and believe is worth fighting for..
So, it’s supposed to be a beautiful weekend. A perfect 4th of July. The sun is out against blue skies and the flags are flying proudly — I'm still not in the mood for celebrating.
Make no mistake, as I’ve said above, I love this country. I can’t deny that. And I’m not ignoring or downplaying the sacrifices made (we thank you) to those who serve or have served our country, and I'm not downplaying the experiences of each human who has lived on and who is living on this land. Our vast experiences and differences are what supposedly make this melting pot the magical place it was envisioned as. The way that I interpret all the original documents is that individualism matters and that individuation is important. It’s our magic as the souls we came here to be. The right to true independence and self-sovereignty, and how that should not be harmful to a collective if we’re “doing this right.” In fact, that approach should support the collective, strengthen communities when we celebrate and are supported in our vast, wild, beautiful differences and roots and experiences.
On this holiday weekend, one that I am spending on land originally inhabited by the Ojibwe (Chippewa or Anishinaabe) & Sioux, I am taking time to recognize where I am individually and where we are collectively in terms of FREEDOM.
What’s so interesting, and perhaps why this is so glaringly intense for me, is my connection to Freedom. I’ve been working with a mentor over the last year, Ke’oni Hanalei, who has been guiding me through the process of emotional intelligence & maturity through the lens and intelligence of Pua’aehuehu or Ancient Hawaiian Fern Medicine. Over many activities and sacred conversations and deep work, we arrive at various names for types of souls within us. The first soul, the ‘Unihipili is the feminine center, the root/sacral, the subconscious. She is the home of safety. In ceremony, when I learned her name was FREEDOM, it all made sense — I feel safest in the arms of freedom.
So, perhaps it’s my projection that freedom means safety. And yes, I do believe that emotional freedom is something you must grant yourself moment by moment assuming your life is not in danger, but when I see those who do not also have literal freedom, my soul aches. If they are not literally safe or free, how do I really settle into my enjoyment of literal and emotional safety and freedom?
Last 4th, I spent the morning discussing with my family, reading Frederick Douglass' “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” address, and getting the scoop about the actual history of celebrating this holiday — there’s a hell of a lot more left out of my history education, I’m finding. I was reading “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” (which I think I’ll read on a loop for the rest of my life because it’s so perfect) and soaking in all of the magic of “Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry.”
I’ve since supported businesses owned by and enjoyed books on topics (beyond culture and race) authored by Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC - if this label is not correct, please share with me your perspective on how to correct it). I am forever grateful for my widening perspective and overall enriched life due to these humans.
And I hate that many of these humans do not feel as safe and free as I do.
When I dip into the water, watch the fireworks across the lakes, and feel full of love for this physical place I call home and the country that houses me, I will also be fully present to the fact that this year also feels really different for me. And in fact, we’re not as free as I have previously presumed. This year we’re skipping the parade. This year I’m sure we’ll be reading and talking. I’ll be crying. I’ll feel mixed emotions of pride, hopefulness and sorrow, misunderstanding.
Because are we truly able to call ourselves free when we know there are so many in this country that are not? I don't think so. Can I ignore that the actions of many have taken away or refused to recognize the liberties of others? Our personal freedom and our collective freedom hinges on our belief that it's possible and our willingness to work towards it on all levels. No one is excused from the conversation. This extends to all the topics that we’ve looked at in the last year - race, gender expression, sexual orientation, criminal history, mental health. All humans. All Americans. All lovable. All worthy.
If you’re like me and missed a significant education on the topic, now is the time to take a few moments out of your celebrations and then make a plan for your ongoing re-education - to recognize this “freedom” that was/is at the cost of so many. And I beg you, please do not turn away and dismiss this as someone else’s problem. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. We are here to learn so as to not repeat the past.
As my friend (astrologer, Michigander) Maisie so perfectly phrased: “There is beauty and growth in the AND. You can have a joyous Independence Day bbq with your family AND acknowledge the indigenous land you’re on. It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves on the injustices of the past so they do not repeat themselves. Decolonization needs to happen on sooo many levels and bringing awareness to, and holding space for the indigenous land you inhabit is a great way to start."
If you want to go deeper with this, and please do, I encourage you to ask yourself:
Honor, acknowledge, and support your experience of this so that you can honor, acknowledge, and support the experiences of others that may look different.
A FEW RESOURCES & IDEAS
Start with knowing and learning about the humans who lived where you do.
Learn about the Walleye War.
A way to pay Black folks — and discover some really awesome humans along the way.
Donate to buy bikes for Inuit located in Puvirnituq, Qc.
Diversify your feed. I have a ton of awesome accounts I'm happy to share. Email me who/what you'd like to connect with.
My mentor Ke’oni and Hawaiian Fern Medicine.