Believe What You Like But Know What You Must

People are free to be consumed with contemplating their existence, their origins, the origins of the universe, supreme beings, controllers of destiny or anything else. But solving "the Great Mystery" is neither a requirement of being Ohnkwe Ohnwe nor does it provide a path to righteousness. I maintain that spirituality does not require faith or the leaps that faith requires but rather awareness. If it helps to believe that "God has a plan" and we just must have faith that "He" knows what "He" is doing, then walk that path. My interest is in taking the mystery out of life by pointing to the obvious that is ignored everyday in the midst of fanatical ideology and the sometimes not too subtle influences of promoting beliefs over knowledge. I have said it before: “beliefs are what you are told, knowledge is what you experience”. I support a culture that prepares us to receive knowledge and to live a life with purpose. I am certainly not suggesting there is only one way to do that.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

We Are Not Alone

This is the unedited version of my column submitted for the October 23, 2013 issue of the Two Row Times

A few things need to be immediately taken away from the events of the past week. The first is that we are not alone.  The Mi’kmaq who are standing against fracking for natural gas in Elsipogtog do so not just with courage of their own convictions but also with support from places diverse in geography, culture and ethnicity.
Social media has made it much easier to reach across time and space connecting our Native relatives from the Mohawks to the Lakota but also to the Paiute, Ojibwe, Kumeyaay and hundreds of Native people familiar and unfamiliar to us all. We may not form an ever-ready unified military force at the drop of a hat but that is neither where our strength will ever be nor should ever be. Our strengths are in each of the territories or regions that we live. For some it is seizing the moment to take our own stand on a parallel issue that strengthens the fight for each. For many of us it is simply using whatever field of play that we find ourselves in to raise awareness, make a statement and build support.
As I wove the information on the raid at Elsipogtog into my previously arranged interviews in Albany, N.Y. on public radio and cable news, I was surprised at the interest that was piqued. And as I listened to public radio on my drive back across the state from Albany to Cattaraugus, I was moved by an interview with a local non-Native elected official in the area of the protest and raid who said, “God bless the First Nations.” This gentleman went on to describe how municipal leaders had voted almost unanimously for a moratorium against gas well exploration because of their concern over hydrofracking. He suggested that only the Native protesters were having success fighting this affront to land, water and the life of the region because his own federal government was working against the interests of the municipal governments. These local elected officials were standing with the Native protesters and quite literally so, as this man took a shot to the leg from one of the RCMP’s non-lethal weapons. While many enemies remain set against our fight for sovereignty, more and more non-Native activist are coming to the conclusion that Pamela Palmater once stated on my show, that we may be the last best hope for anyone interested in saving the planet.
Many of us hold some very specific iconic images from events of the past — the Warrior vs. soldier faceoff from Oka or Richard Nicolas standing rifle raised in his hand on a flipped over SQ van from the same conflict. But images these days come quicker than ever and travel the globe at lightning speed. There were immediate images from Elsipogtog of the conflict; among them some of the most compelling images of the last few decades. My good friend Gregg Deal may have helped immortalize one of them with his latest poster created for the “Honor the Treaties” project from the photo image of a woman holding an eagle feather kneeling in front of a line of heavily armed RCMP. Gregg, a Pyramid Lake Paiute, working from his home studio in the Washington D.C. area worked feverishly to get this new creation completed and posted on social media as soon as possible.

From Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal to the capitals of New York and the U.S. the work in various platforms of social activism have taken hold. As I sit here banging on my keyboard I see a picture show up on a Facebook post from Hollywood, California of actor Adam Sandler holding a sign that reads, “We Support Elsipogtog.” 
We don’t need to win everyone over but as more people from outside our Native communities come to realize they need us, we add both their support to us and our responsibility to them. We are not alone but in the words of Uncle Ben Parker “with great power comes great responsibility.”
There are still plenty of racist and condescending views held of our people. Those with solid control of the mainstream media are among them but social media gives us a fighting chance. If we play it right and refuse to let anyone hijack our message or misappropriate our power and responsibility we may yet see major shifts in policies.
The Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog have made us all proud. And I for one feel stronger than ever when fighting for our land, water, women and children.

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