Dear Indigenous Family,
Times like these can seem overwhelming. I remember going to bed on November 8, 2016, feeling more desperation and fear than I have ever known. I think it’s important for you to know that such apprehension is unusual for me. But on the night of the presidential election, I knew what many had not considered: Our tribal sovereignty is now at risk. With all three branches of government in Republican hands, our federally-recognized status as sovereign governments can be terminated and our tribal nations can be dissolved without intervention. Of course, Congress has full and complete authority to limit, modify, or eliminate tribal rights, and has done just that numerous times since the Constitution was ratified in 1788. But now, we are on the cusp of facing new eras of the old federal Indian policies of removal, allotment, and termination.
Consequently, I woke three different times to violently throw up, then to sob uncontrollably, and finally, to fervently pray. The next morning, I recognized what I was really feeling—a sense of powerlessness over a future of incomprehensible suffering and injustice. I felt that my life’s work had been for nothing. That everything that I believed in—truth, justice, and faith—were of little consequence in the face of powerful, greedy, and individualistic systems. I felt that no matter how much we sacrificed, fought, or resisted, people in power could come and take whatever they wanted and we could do absolutely nothing about it.
And that taste of powerlessness was beyond repulsive to me. So much so that my spirit woke me three times to reject it. In the act of vomiting, my body literally manifested my refusal of powerlessness and its representation in my life. Each time I instinctively cried out to my ancestors, sharing my sorrow and shame for humanity. Then, each time before falling back to sleep, I prayed to Ohfvnkv (the Creator) for comfort, wisdom, and strength for humanity.
As I reflect on that night, my heart beats strong again. I am not powerless. Each day, I remind myself of who I am and what my ancestors went through and overcame. Over half of my people died as a result of being forcibly removed from Alabama and relocated to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Yet, here I am—an activist, professor, writer, wife, mother, friend, and dog lover. Our hope for future generations has always sustained us. You are not powerless. Your family has similar stories of oppression, and now your life is a living legacy to all those who sacrificed for you.
Powerlessness evolves into bitterness and bitterness evolves into hopelessness. Therefore, it is good to remember that indigenous peoples do not know what it is like to be powerless because we have always been hopeful. Think about it. Our ancestors taught us that we are the original peoples of this continent. Our ancestors taught us to care for one another, honor those who came before, prepare for those who come after, and to protect our homelands, no matter who claims them. They taught us this because they had hope for our future. We need no recognition from another government to practice our ways, maintain our cultures, and protect the earth. Even as our communities were attacked in the name of civilization, our ancestors sang songs of hope. Even as our homelands were being destroyed, exploited, and claimed in the name of progress, our ancestors prayed prayers of peace.
Yes, it will be painful and difficult to resist injustice in the very near future, but we must do so just the same. We cannot give into feelings of powerlessness, because that would mean that we feel hopeless. And without hope, we are lost. We must never forget who we are. Without hope, it becomes too easy to stop thinking about or caring for others. We must always honor our connections to one another and all of creation. Without hope, it becomes too easy to stop acting in the best interests of the community. We must always prioritize the greater good. Without hope, it becomes too easy to stop resisting the injustice of colonialism and capitalism that manifests as racism, patriarchy, bigotry, and xenophobia. We must always resist these and any other systems of oppression. Without hope, we stop loving each other and, worst of all, we stop loving ourselves. We must never stop loving all of creation. To love in the face of hate is no small thing. It is the greatest act of resistance we can practice. Our ancestors taught us that. And in their honor, we will sing songs of hope and pray prayers of peace.
In solidarity and with love to all my relations,
Dwanna L. Robertson, Ph.D. (Mvskoke)