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Eco-Warriorism: Indigenous Wisdom with Dan Harrison and Jessie Teasley

On Wednesday, November 25th esteemed guests, Pastor Dan Harrison of the Choctaw nation and Kung Fu Grand Master Jessie Teasley of the Lakota nation led the Global Viewpoints Forum in a discussion of “Eco-Warriorism: Indigenous Wisdom”. Mr. Harrison kicked off the forum by emphasizing the importance of listening to the indigenous experience, using the timely example of Thanksgiving. As taught in American schools, the U.S. government-sanctioned Thanksgiving narrative is one of unity, togetherness, gratitude, and shared community between the Wampanoag indigenous people and the European Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.

However, as Mr. Harrison points out, that when we listen to indigenous wisdom and historical experience, we will understand Thanksgiving as a  mythology, an untrue depiction of the indigenous-immigrant relationship at that time; a narrative that removes the need to advocate for justice, and omits the voices and agency of Native Americans. For instance, although the Pilgrims are often pictured as the first Americans, of those at the feast, it was actually the Wampanoag who were the original Americans. And while pictures of Thanksgiving often promote the idea of a peaceful past, there was an incredible amount of aggression and violence on the part of the European settlers.

Mr. Jessie highlighted that it is precisely this extreme aggression of the white male Greco-roman rape culture which arrived hundreds of years ago, that continues to plague the ecology, land, waters cultures of indigenous people today. Albeit in a more silent, insidious manner, through the quiet policies that all for the sell-off of indigenous lands, and in a more recent public example, the attempt to construct an oil pipeline running across the Missouri River through the Lakota reservation at Standing Rock, rather than through other white-dominated areas of Bismark, North Dakota. 

After an informative presentation, the floor was open for questions and answers. The guest speakers initiated a discussion by asking participants to consider who are the indigenous voices where they live, and what are their interests? In the engaging conversation, participants touched upon their experience with tribes in their local area, and tribal languages. Steve Gomez, who worked for many years with the Oglala Sioux tribe, for instance, highlighted the terrible struggles of the tribe, but also the hope that power might be found in tribes coming together to promote common interests. Conversations that the Oglala face today, i.e. the selling off of tribal lands to white cattle ranchers who have no personal or professional interests in the reservation community, were compared and contrasted with earlier such policies like the Dawes initiative of the 1800s which sought to break up communal land ownership. 

The guest speakers concluded with the suggestion that the best way forward is engage these communities from the ground-up, to learn their histories and needs (something that the Global Youth Village has been doing for years). Youth who are also interested in getting involved were encouraged to become active in social media efforts to stop harmful policies like the pipeline project.