Let’s Think While We Wait
Lately I’ve seen a few references to this time of waiting as “the great pause” and it seems like a fitting label. We humans don’t handle multiple uncertainties well at the best of times and this is definitely not that. I’ve been finding guidance and clarity from reading Tribal news reports and commentaries. Written by people who have survived centuries of colonialist attacks and rampant racism, these writings hold wisdom that mainstream North American culture has lost or more likely never had in the first place. Reading an account of ways in which women’s traditions around healing were still helpful, I found myself teary eyed, wishing I had any kind of cultural tradition of healing to follow.
When I think about what I was taught about American traditions, it’s clear that our insistence on individuality won out over being a people. We were never a people, never united, never sharing a truthful cultural identity. Things are changing though; around here, there’s increasing acknowledgment that we white folks are, hello, living on someone else’s land. There was a popular story among early white settlers on this island that native people never lived here. All the settlements were dismissed as fish camps, cleared away to make room for saw mills and shipyards and farms. Now we are learning that we are living on land that was cared for by the Suquamish people for thousands of years. Thousands.
Lovers Of The Land
Here’s what the tribal website says:
“‘Suquamish’ translates to “people of the clear saltwater” in Southern Lushootseed, the language of the Suquamish People. D’suq’wub, meaning “place of the clear salt water,” has been home to the Suquamish people since time immemorial. It is the ancient place on Agate Passage, the site of Old-Man-House village, the winter home of Chief Seattle and the heart of the Suquamish People. It is here — past, present, and future — that the Suquamish People live on the land of their ancestors and of their great-grandchildren.”
Who among us can say anything similar? You are blessed if you can claim anything remotely like such a lineage, such a relationship of people and place. Last week, Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman wrote this:
“Many have called the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic unprecedented. For the Suquamish Tribe, the original inhabitants of this land, this is not new. Since first contact in 1792, we faced waves of destructive diseases that killed thousands of our people. Our ancestors survived, though, strengthened by cultural beliefs that center on protecting the environment, honoring elders, and planning with future generations in mind.
“Many in Kitsap share these values, and our common purpose has helped create a resilient community that is able to meet the threat posed by today’s pandemic…. During this pause for social isolation, we should reflect on the things we most value. As we rebuild, we should do so in a way that protects our waters and sea life, and invests in the well-being of our youth and elders. We should consider the impacts of everything we do on the next seven generations.”
Reflecting On Clear Water
One thing I’ve been reflecting about is the way pollution is clearing up in rivers and lakes that are no longer watery highways. The skies are clearing over cities where cars are parked, streets are empty, and business is not as usual. It’s so often claimed that we simply can’t afford to change our ways in order to halt climate change, but apparently when it’s a matter of life or death, we can. Water is clear, skies are clear, air is clean, and humans have stopped our ceaseless restless race to grab and snatch. In this clearing process we can see that our beloved earth, like the human body, has an astonishing ability to rebalance; earth’s systems tend towards regaining health naturally unless overburdened by disease or damage. If we stop actively destroying our planet, it can heal, the oceans can heal, the forests can heal, the soil can heal.
Obviously we CAN stop, because we just did. But now what? It’s my deepest hope that we don’t try to return to business as usual, and I’m pretty sure that will prove impossible anyway. Instead, we seriously need to find new ways to live and work. Today I was moved to tears (yes, again) to learn that the governors of Washington, Oregon and California announced a Western States Pact, a plan to carefully restart our shared economies, putting the health and wellbeing of all our people first. The plan is based on science-based information, in vivid contrast to the amorphous national strategies of confusion, confustication and bebotherment.
Becoming A People
I am hopeful that this collaborative effort is a step towards becoming a people, rather than a nation. Like many aging hippies, I cherish the high dream of a country where everyone matters, where health and wellbeing is at least as important as the GNP, and where productivity is redefined to eliminate destructive and extractive industries. Changing human nature is difficult, slow work, yet in many ways we are accelerating the process even as the entrenched old guard dig in and fight back as hard as they can. More people are literate today than at any previous time in history. Fewer people live in poverty than ever before. When we are watching, we can see signs of progress even in totalitarian countries; maybe few and far between, but any sign at all is a miracle.
One positive effect of the pandemic that has the human world shut down is that we are seeing each other as people. We weep for New York as we weep for Italy and Iran. We cheer for China and Japan when it looks like the virus has been slowed or even possibly stopped and groan when flareups recur. We celebrate Germany and New Zealand, places where quick action and cooperative response have changed the story. It seems to take a disaster for us to recognize our common humanity but now that we have a Really Big One to share, I believe most of us are starting to see ourselves and each other as one people. Whatever it takes, it’s worth it.