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Surving Our Lessons - An Ojibwe Woman’s Perspective

January 14, 2021 | 2 min read

Surving Our Lessons - An Ojibwe Woman’s Perspective

Image: "Sunday Afternoon on Turtle Island",  L. Thunder Voice Eagle

Originally appeared in the Yellow Springs News

Surviving Our Lessons

By Dawn Knickerbocker, Anishinaabe/White Earth Nation

I find political strength through spiritual strength. Each day I take time to gather and burn medicines and raise sacred smoke for prayers of gratitude—gratitude for everything, even the conflicts, for they are our teachers.

The recent events in Washington DC along with the looming inauguration forecasts of violence have me thinking about this land. I think about our history and our Native nations, the old republics—the hundreds of names of tribes and cultures that are now clumped into broad sweeping categories that lose all complexity or nuance for the sake of colonized convenience: Native American, American Indian, First Nations, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, etc. I think about the far too many bands and nations who were split, scattered, and/or forced away from their original seats of power. I think of the Taino, the Powhatan Confederacy, the Wampanoag, the grand Aztec, Olmec, and Mayan empires, and the list goes on. No matter where we find ourselves today, we are on Native land. Our ancestors did their best to advise the infant United States to avoid self-destruction.  

We as Indigenous people have observed glaciers come and go, species born and died, Nations rise and fall here on our homeland, and our unity remains intact. I have been asked about the Native influence in the creation of the United States as if it were our crowning achievement. It is not. In a thousand years from now, our stories will not be about creating the United States; they will be about surviving them.

When I was a child, I was given a lesson that I will share with you.  Five generations from now, our people will begin to return to the original teachings and knowledge of this land. Languages will return, along with the beating of the drum, the medicines, the foods, the connections. But this time, we will not be alone. It is said that there will be new people who will begin to understand and move in this direction—for their own survival depends upon it. This knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge that has been put into action.

The call of action for today is to understand what we are being taught- and to work to survive our lessons, to work in solidarity with Black and Brown people.

For you today, I raise sacred smoke for those of you who are troubled, confused, afraid, or alone in this time of isolation. I raise up smoke for the sorrow and grief that we feel collectively. I take these feelings into my body. For those who work for the people, for healing, and for spiritual evolution of our common humanity and planet, I also raise sacred smoke. Deeply felt, in gratitude for our teachers, and in unity with other beings.

Meet The Author: Dawn Knickerbocker
Dawn Knickerbocker (Anishinaabe, White Earth Nation) is the newest addition to the Native Americans in Philanthropy staff and recently joined us as our new Project Assistant. Dawn brings her experience in philanthropy and in supporting Native communities. She holds a B.A. in organizational management and completed graduate work in social impact and human rights practice.  You can read more about her here on the blog or on her page.


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