Saturday, July 4, 2015

Contemplating Freedom

The first stirrings of this piece began as I considered a response to a Facebook post, which queried how or if Native Americans celebrate July 4th. As the first people of this land, as the host people around whom colonial society grew like an invasive species – all but choking out our traditional societies, cultures, and very existence – it would be understandable if we took a big pass on this holiday, but most of us don’t. We wish each other love and happiness; we enjoy one another’s company as we celebrate and eat a range of foods from hot dogs to frybread. We also honour our ancestors and the Indigenous and non-Indigenous warriors that have served this country in the military. In fact according to the US Dept. of Defense, Native Americans represent the highest per-capita commitment of any ethnic population to defend the United States with their military service.

While that truth may seem hard to wrap our heads around, given the devastation visited upon Indigenous North American cultures by colonialism – warriorhood is a powerful ethic in Indigenous societies. The strong tradition of warriors as leaders places the draw to military service into cultural context.

When Native American people gather for Pow Wow, the American flag is honoured, as well as armed forces flags and the flags of tribal nations. The colors are carried by veterans, and placed ceremonially during Grand Entry to open the event in a good way. Veterans are respected and given places and roles of honor – as the gathered community offers up honour songs and dances of gratitude.  

So yes, we do celebrate Independence and Freedom, on July 4th, and many other days. Personally, I hold in tension the reality of genocide and oppression that is woven into the founding of this nation, and the reality that Indigenous people continue to stand to defend the nation that tried to eradicate our ancestors. 

As I reflect on personal independence and freedom – I feel the need to delve beyond the glitter of my star spangled Facebook feed. This holiday can be so mired in parades and traditions like the “oohs and ahs” at the fireworks extravaganza and “please pass the potato salad” (or the frybread) at the picnic - that we don’t talk about deep issues. Yes, the fourth of July is a national holiday, but I think it is one where discerning and exploring what freedom and independence means to us on a personal level – is in order.

I ponder deep thoughts in these small hours of Independence Day. I told many things in tension. Celebrations of love and equality juxtaposed with racial terrorism and profound denial of its causes that are so deeply rooted in the history of this land. I see marriage equality as a good thing, but just because two men or two women can marry each other if they desire that – in no way means that true equality exists across the queer community.

While the same-sex couple are joyously saying their long-awaited vows – somewhere across town, a transgender woman is killed as she waits for the bus, and the shelter turns away queer youth because they lack the capacity to give every person who needs one – a meal and a bed without judgment.

As I consider my independence, I frame that as being free from the control of others over my actions and choices, giving me the freedom to self regulate my life, and exercise the many freedoms I am fortunate to have; I name a few here, there are many, many more
  • I have the freedom, and the luxury to chose from the many healthy foods in our cabinets and fridge, to prepare my meals, while others subsist on highly processed nutritionally abysmal “foods” – because they are the only choices they have.
  • I am free, to pray the day in with tobacco in my hand, and to watch the sun set as I pray the day out – offering prayers in the way of my ancestors. I have the freedom to enter the sweatlodge with my elders, and to dance my prayers in full regalia in solidarity and fellowship with other indigenous people.
  • I also have the freedom to worship at my church, to lead or attend Bible study without concern for my personal safety – while believers of other faiths or races practice their faith, knowing that they may be doing so at great personal risk.
  • I am free to seek medical treatment when the need arises – while many others face the hard choice of seeking care, or feeding their families – million live in this reality
  • If I have the inclination and resources, I am may travel when, where, and in the company of whomever I please – while others have strict limits placed on their mobility, and access to the people that they love – placed upon them by life circumstance, and multilayered systems of oppression.
  • I have the freedom to be out, to live an open and authentic life as a queer identified Two Spirit person, while others must live in stealth to keep their jobs, their homes, and their lives.
With all of these things held preciously, I close and hope that this provides an opportunity for others to explore personal freedoms and contemplate independence on a personal level – I offer this prayer:

Great Spirit, Mother-Father God, Divine and Holy Love, look upon us, your children that we may face the winds, and walk the good road. Help us seek to be in right relationship with one another and be responsive when the world cries out. May we have deep gratitude for our freedoms and hold as Sacred, the freedoms of others so that we may never disrespect them. Free us from small-mindedness, bless us with a deep capacity for Light and Love. Awake in us wisdom, courage, and understanding. Equip us to walk this Earth as relatives to all that live within your creation ~ and to see your face in one another's faces.

~ Aho