Reverberations

Our readings this morning, taken side by side, even as they were written 122 years apart, and the most recent sixty-five years ago, are a sobering testimony to the erasure of one people in favor of another. In her book, “As Long As Grass Grows – The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock,” Dina Gilio-Whitaker sheds new light on the concept of environmental justice, tying life to land and connecting culture and heritage to location, making the argument for a people of a place.

Our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, sees Indigenous culture as something in need of change given its difference from his own and that of early colonists. This notion of ‘my different way as being the better,’ the more preferable way, this doctrine of discovery, is precisely what settler colonialism is grounded in. To lessen; reduce those we encounter, the inhabitants of lands we pursue, is necessary in order to justify the taking of those lands. To remove an individual’s and a people’s value; their worth and dignity to put it in Unitarian Universalist terms, is a tool in making it okay to take from them that which is the very essence of their existence.

The Hopi elder, Dan Katchongva, speaks of prophecies long since shared with his people that suggest the coming of those whose spiritual connections were weaker than their desires for what pleases them, that their arrival was inevitable; and that in giving up one’s land, one is also giving up their life. He makes the connection for us to this idea that a people cannot simply be removed to another location and pick up where they left off; that they are part and parcel with their environment. Let’s unpack this a bit.

It is clear now that Indigenous people have inhabited these lands we call the United States for thousands and thousands of years. They made a life over time in connection to specific environments and the fruits thereof, passed down from generation to generation. They developed a sense of harmony, of give and take, with where they were. Their culture evolved out of these connections to foods and resources, climate and seasons. Gilio-Whitaker suggests that these roots in certain geographical regions over this vast expanse of time created an adaptation of body to place, ensuring cultural longevity and physical vitality. To colonize in the imposing of a reservation system disrupted access to that which guaranteed life and the continuation of health and wholeness for body and spirit. It is the equivalent of cultural genocide. Her text is rich and deep, replete with example upon example and I commend it to you.

For Jackson it was simply a matter of removing, relocating to make space for what we as a new nation wanted – land rich in resources, room for growth. “Let’s just pick you all up and put you back down over here. You go on with whatever kind of life you insist on living.” No thought to the practical matter that this life has been cultivated over centuries, that this wilderness we had discovered was actually nurtured into existence by a people so skilled in noticing how it all really works and in the reinforcement and augmentation of these natural earth systems in an effort to create a lasting oneness with their surroundings.


And we did this – we being mostly white European settlers – time and again as we saw potential even in the places we had removed Indigenous peoples to, breaking our promises, taking back still other lands that now provided some asset previously unknown to us, or begrudging Indigenous people the right to use the resources of the land we placed them upon in order to survive.

Environmental justice in this context returns people to place, reawakens the connection to land, to water once diverted, to foods that provide vital nutritional value unlike the starchy, fatty diet hence imposed with all the consequent health concerns. It centers these life sustaining forces, and the respect accorded the natural world in relationships of reciprocity. It recognizes the right to a clean, safe, and sustainable environment and guarantees protection from environmental degradation. Our settler colonialism is apparent in all the ways minorities and marginalized peoples are given less say in what happens to the environments in which they have been forced to live.

And so this colonialist methodology reverberates over time. It is in our roots as a nation and hard to shake. We have learned to disrespect Indigenous and direct ties to land through our western US socialization, according to adrienne maree brown in her “Emergent Strategy – Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.” As I think about present day ‘reverberations’ I am reminded of a fairly recent story on a local news magazine show about gentrification in Boston’s Chinatown. According to reports from last winter, eighty percent of Chinatown residents are faced with housing insecurity due to unaffordable rents brought about by the buying up of old properties, their refurbishing and resale or rental at rates raised to the equivalent of half or more of one’s income. “This is a human rights crisis,” according to Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Associate Professor at MIT. “The most vulnerable residents in our cities bear the brunt of displacement, and we need to move to a more people-centered approach to urban development,” he says. This area has long been the heart of the Chinese community in the region. People are forced to leave their proximity to persons, to culture, to food and livelihood – to that which is endemic to their survival, while those with power and wealth move in, take over and make it less and less possible for this established community to continue. Do you see a pattern here? Do you hear the echo from our past? Reverberation.

And here on Cape Cod, this land of the Wampanoag for what is likely 12,000 years or more, the saga continues. It was only last March when Jesse Little Doe Baird, Vice-chairwoman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe received a call from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to let her know that the Secretary of the Interior had issued an order terminating the Tribe’s ability to govern themselves, strip the Tribe of their reservation lands, and more or less terminate them as a recognized people. This action no doubt tied to political concerns and connections related to casinos and supporters and such, but in effect, again, erasing a people from existence. A people we are reminded who 400 years ago this season met some of the first settlers to this land from European nations. A people who endeavored to live peaceably with these strangers in their midst, to share their knowledge of the land and its ways. Her plea to us as Unitarian Universalists was to contact congress and to ask that this action be stalled. Our representatives here from the Cape proposed legislation to rectify this situation and a recent check of government websites indicates that it has been approved in the House and awaits approval in


And we did this – we being mostly white European settlers – time and again as we saw potential even in the places we had removed Indigenous peoples to, breaking our promises, taking back still other lands that now provided some asset previously unknown to us, or begrudging Indigenous people the right to use the resources of the land we placed them upon in order to survive.

Environmental justice in this context returns people to place, reawakens the connection to land, to water once diverted, to foods that provide vital nutritional value unlike the starchy, fatty diet hence imposed with all the consequent health concerns. It centers these life sustaining forces, and the respect accorded the natural world in relationships of reciprocity. It recognizes the right to a clean, safe, and sustainable environment and guarantees protection from environmental degradation. Our settler colonialism is apparent in all the ways minorities and marginalized peoples are given less say in what happens to the environments in which they have been forced to live.

And so this colonialist methodology reverberates over time. It is in our roots as a nation and hard to shake. We have learned to disrespect Indigenous and direct ties to land through our western US socialization, according to adrienne maree brown in her “Emergent Strategy – Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.” As I think about present day ‘reverberations’ I am reminded of a fairly recent story on a local news magazine show about gentrification in Boston’s Chinatown. According to reports from last winter, eighty percent of Chinatown residents are faced with housing insecurity due to unaffordable rents brought about by the buying up of old properties, their refurbishing and resale or rental at rates raised to the equivalent of half or more of one’s income. “This is a human rights crisis,” according to Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Associate Professor at MIT. “The most vulnerable residents in our cities bear the brunt of displacement, and we need to move to a more people-centered approach to urban development,” he says. This area has long been the heart of the Chinese community in the region. People are forced to leave their proximity to persons, to culture, to food and livelihood – to that which is endemic to their survival, while those with power and wealth move in, take over and make it less and less possible for this established community to continue. Do you see a pattern here? Do you hear the echo from our past? Reverberation.

And here on Cape Cod, this land of the Wampanoag for what is likely 12,000 years or more, the saga continues. It was only last March when Jesse Little Doe Baird, Vice-chairwoman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe received a call from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to let her know that the Secretary of the Interior had issued an order terminating the Tribe’s ability to govern themselves, strip the Tribe of their reservation lands, and more or less terminate them as a recognized people. This action no doubt tied to political concerns and connections related to casinos and supporters and such, but in effect, again, erasing a people from existence. A people we are reminded who 400 years ago this season met some of the first settlers to this land from European nations. A people who endeavored to live peaceably with these strangers in their midst, to share their knowledge of the land and its ways. Her plea to us as Unitarian Universalists was to contact congress and to ask that this action be stalled. Our representatives here from the Cape proposed legislation to rectify this situation and a recent check of government websites indicates that it has been approved in the House and awaits approval in



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