Whose Land Is It Anyway?

Whose Land Is It Anyway?

October 12th; Flying 'Tween the Canyons

flying ‘tween the canyons
seeking ancient foot trails trod
be one on the land

There is a Canadian White Paper I have been reading entitled, “Whose Land Is It Anyway? A Manual for Decolonization.” It is a marvelous read with lots of light from other suns than those which have commonly formed world view. For better understanding of the issues raised in the “Manual,” I sent the paper to a variety of people: Native American leaders, university professors, contractors, laborers and vowed Religious from four Native American cultures. I also sent it to Religious and politicians, teachers and Health Care workers, historians and authors etc. of European ancestry, asking them to help me understand what is written – from their perspective: beginnings of a dialogue to see reality better.

New Mexico is one of the States of the Union which has taken October 12th out of the European Colonial Past and has declared it Indigenous People’s Day – a day to be aware of and honor those who stood where we now stand. It articulates a fabulous question! A suggestion that is commonly made in this pursuit is to find one of the many maps or charts available on the internet to see what people, tribe or nation already occupied “this place” before plow and fence, “frontier villages” or National Roads, buffalo slaying railroads and fortified stockades, dams and carcinogenic mines, nuclear testing and cultural appropriation, pipelines and the Interstate highway system. What people, tribe and nations have disappeared by the onslaught of “progress?” I suspect most people of European or African, Latin American or Asian ancestry are not aware of who lived here before us, and often still live here, invisible among us – but, yes, before us!

I grew up in Chicago (shikaakwa, Checagou). I learned that Chicago was a Chief (Agapit Chicagou) of people who lived in the area. But I only learned recently “which people” he led: the Michigeama. (Spell check recognizes none of these!) I learned that Illinois is named for the people of the Illini (Illiniwek) Confederation of 12 tribes (the five-principal people: Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Peoria, and Tamaroa) who lived in the region. There were also the Blackfoot and tribes of the Anishinaabe Federation (the Ojibwe [AKA Chippewa], Odawa [or Ottawa], and Potawatomi). Where have they gone?

To begin to understand the reality of a people, we need to understand the history of our interface! Look into your own neighborhood. European explorers/invaders (a question of perspective) saw the lands as “uninhabited” and chose to inhabit them – displacing the residents. What treaties were made between the residents and the Spanish Crown, English Crown, French Crown or the United States Executive and Supreme Court? How have the treaties been (dis)respected?

If you are into “Who-Dun-It” novels, you will be enthralled – but this is not make-believe. It all happened. And, yes, it is part of what is called “Critical Race Theory.” One of my nieces posted recently on FaceBook: “Facts Are Facts! Got it? Facts!” (Probably better to go with Data than Facts.) Sometimes the “commonly held” Facts (not the same as “Alternative Facts,” though) need a good debunking. Be careful what you read! It might open your mind.

Navajo/Diné San Damiano Cross (Hogan Chapel in To’hatchi, New Mexico)

The tension between naming October 12th as Indigenous People’s Day or Columbus Day has sparked a National Debate! Great! One value of this is to influence our worldview as well! Let us turn our gaze to the bigger world beyond our own narcissism (USA! USA!). Dare to see with different lenses the much more than political issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (Really! Whose Land Is It?); the lost hegemony of the Kurds (their homeland divided by Europeans at the destruction of the Ottoman Empire – to Europe’s benefit -Think!); the Lozi in Central Africa (thank you England, Portugal and Germany); and the Tohono O’odham (whose traditional lands are split by a US-México Treaty and a metal barrier); not to forget the removal of Rohingya from their lands and persecution by peaceful Buddhists in Myanmar/Burma, and on and on and on. Remember Tibet? And what is going on in Amazonian rainforests? Whose Land Is It Anyway?

Maybe National Days are meant to raise questions about a selective, victors’ history of a mirth filled, turkey bedecked Thanksgiving Table, rather than glossing over the pain of how we got here!?

 – friar Charles McCarthy OFM Conv.