In July, the other Sister Occupy traveled with me from Merced to Fresno to attend the marvelous (and tragic) annual picnic that celebrates the lives and honors the passing of those who died homeless. The event was honored by Native American music, and the drumming poured over us like medicine.
Who is the other Sister Occupy? She is a recent addition to OPDA UPRO (Order for the Perpetual Disruption of America Until Progressive Reforms Occur; www.facebook/OpdaUpro) and being half Ojibwe, she introduced me to the elder of the music-making tribe and his daughter. It was that chance meeting that led to a series of discussions that brought the sisters an invitation to a sacred gathering of Native American tribes, a gathering that would include tribes from all over California, from Mexico, from Canada. Several weeks after the memorial event in Fresno, the two sisters headed to the campgrounds.
It was there with the natives that the white-bread sisters of OPDA UPRO learned about activism. It was there that we listened to first-hand testimonials of the atrocities and genocides of the First Nation people. There we learned about wars waged and won against the American government. And as we listened, we realized that if we want to know about activism, if we want to know about social progress and change, if we want to know how to fight the constant oppression caused by White-man ethics and White-man values, then we have to begin by consulting with our First Nation brothers and sisters.
Native Americans are the original, authentic activists of this land. So why aren’t they coming out in groves to support Occupy? The question itself declares a lack of understanding of our First Nation brothers. If we did better understand them, we would ask, why aren’t we going to them? Evangelism is not their way. Of course, there are many fierce supporters of the Occupy movement within the tribes, but perhaps the vast majority, born with resistance and revolution in their veins, are wondering when we are going to come to them.
During our stay on the mountaintop, we had the privilege of listening to the words of the wise tribal elders. One elevated tribal elder give an inspiring and passionate speech to the young people, a summary of which would sound like this: “We know White-man universities are frightening, cold, unspiritual places. We know their schools treat our young people with contempt. But to be a warrior for your tribe today, we need you to go out there and get educated.
“The new warriors are those who go to White-man schools, those who become doctors and lawyers and professionals and don’t lose their souls in the process. Our warriors are those who get that education and return to us to use their knowledge for the betterment of their people. We know it is difficult, but it is the kind of warriors we need today. We will stand by you; we will give you all the spiritual and moral support you need if you go, because we know it is a warrior’s job.”
As I listened to the speech, I was struck by how many young people from the Occupy movement have asked me to please explain the purpose of getting an education, with no working class to join. And I have to explain to them that we need to unplug from the White-man trap and build our own infrastructure and serve ourselves, a prospect best served by educated folks.
The Occupy movement is in its infancy and must take its clues from those who have gone before us. There is so much we can learn from our Native American brothers, as their connection to the land goes back to the beginning, and that connection to the land remains fundamental to their traditions today.
My advice to my fellow occupiers this anniversary month? Go tribal. Reach out to our First Nation people; they are our First Activists and they know things we should know. Their successes are not counted by material wealth, their men are spiritual (meaning they don’t leave all the family spiritual heavy lifting to the women) and they live by a code that their very survival and ability to flourish is based on. If the resistance movement wants to grow and thrive, we should know what they know.
Sister Occupy (Christine Meeusen) lives in Merced and is active in the Merced Occupy movement. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.