Protectors not Protesters: Indigenous Voice Lost in Translation by Colonialism

Misty Perkins

We are in a time of great change. People all over the world are raising their voices for causes in defense of the earth. Thanks to the internet and social media, these causes are actually gaining momentum. As attention is drawn away from the media circus of the political and entertainment worlds, and directed increasingly to the environmental crises we find all over the earth, it seems the indigenous voice in America is finally being heard. One such movement is #NoDAPL taking place at Standing Rock, where despite the use of the English language, a critical mistranslation is threatening to undermine the intended message, and inevitably of the end goal. In order to understand this current situation, we must begin by examining the past, and hopefully, learning something from it.

Indigenous people are those who preceded the advent of colonialism on each continent. Their nations exist in small specks across the earth in hard-to-reach regions, on the outskirts of great cities, and a great many trapped in between two worlds living on reservations and reserves as third world countries existing almost independently within today’s first world nations. All these indigenous peoples are varying and diverse, yet with a common thread they are bound together as one. This thread is the tradition of living with the earth, the culture of holding nature as sacred, as well as their individual histories of brutality and violence met at the hands of colonialists in the name of civilizations expanse that discontinued the many indigenous lifestyles in as many areas.

Most people just don’t understand why today’s water protectors don’t like being labeled as “protestors” because they are confused about the concept of protecting the earth. This is a direct result of using the English language to convey their message, it is in essence “the real world” vs. “the sacred earth.” In the real world, we are taught from birth thru schooling that the earth is a natural resource to be managed or property to be owned thru the system. This is in opposition to the indigenous concept of the sacred earth which can never be owned, where we relate to the earth as our relative and honor that connection by way of life and in ceremonies. Thanks to the brutal assimilation of the native America thru things like boarding schools and the denial of religious freedoms, most natives use English as their first language, however there seems to still be a lingering language barrier called mistranslation. For words are not just names and definitions, but hold entire concepts behind them and depending on the translation of words between languages, the message can often be altered or misconstrued.

One word that seems perpetually lost in translation is “ours.” When most people hear indigenous peoples say “ours,” they associate it with a claim of possession and their minds autocorrect the word to “theirs”. Because the Dakota access pipeline is trespassing Native waterways and reservation boundaries as guaranteed by treaties, and they will be the first to suffer when the pipe breaks should it be put into active use, they assume Natives are saying that they are defending “their” land and people or specific reservation. Which both is, and isn’t the case. The underlying issue here is that they do not mean to protect this land for themselves because they view it as their property alone. Quite the opposite is true. They mean “ours” as in all human beings, all living beings including the water and earth itself. As in collective commonwealth and human rights to access clean water. They mean that the waters and the land are part of a living network in which we have the right to defend if threatened, because it cannot defend itself and we depend on it for our very existence as a species. They mean “ours” as in our childrens’ generations which literally and figuratively are our future on this earth. They maintain that they are protecting the land and waters against its very destruction for ALL OF US, for ALL life.

While most people dismiss this concept of a living earth, the simple fact is that we cannot live without the earth and the delicate balance within its infrastructures (tributaries, aquafers…) and its living network (every living soul including man and animals and water life and even important microbes and, of course the water itself, from molecule to ocean). Most Americans believe that we, in dominating technologic age, with our advanced society can seemingly do without clean natural aquifers, clean air and non-toxic food; that we can continue to recycle and drink our own sewage with no repercussions, their belief being that water is not living and is simply compounds of basic chemistry. However, this concept has been challenged with the works of Dr. Masuru Emoto, whose many experiments have repeatedly shown water can not only respond and react to received information in forms like music, vibration, words, and even pictures; Has the ability to hold and spread this information in a way only a conscious being could, sharing the information it picks up with our body’s as we drink it. Considering the earth and human beings have a chemical composition of 50-65% water, it would be advantageous to our species to do what our ancestors did, and honor our water by the way we live with it.

It is not only the waters which are living beings deserving of our protection and reverence, but it also the trees which are like the lungs of mother earth, as it is a well known fact that they produce our oxygen and purify the air we breath. Whole forests have also been shown to have the ability to communicate and react with not only each other but humans themselves. See, all this earth, not just in the general indigenous views, is inherently sacred; and proof of this can be found in the patterns and the cycles in which life expresses itself. All you have to do is translate what you are seeing and hearing, and break free from the mental prison and patterns that prevent us from seeing Nature’s truth.

When this earth was colonized, one country and continent at a time, the indigenous lifestyle was wiped out as best as the system could manage. Assimilation into the colonialist mindset infected our way of thinking just as it did our way of life and language. And now that we can see this way of life cannot continue if we as a species wish to evolve on this earth, we must begin by decolonizing our minds first. By changing the concepts we hold as truth, the earth is not a part of a corporate entity, property of the military industrial complex and no amount of money in the world can give you rights to own the earth because it is a living being. No government has the right to privatize our waters and destroy whole ecosystems and peoples in the name of profits and control over resources. These concepts only exist because we allow it in our minds as reality first, we cannot dismantle the system until we take back the earth, we can not survive our own advancement on this earth without water.

Water is life, protect it. Earth is our mother, defend her. Not as protestors bound by the systems rules and definitions with only the right to say “no” while they destroy and take anyway, but by actually protecting the earth at the site of intended desecration, by joining Standing Rock or any other ceremony of prayer and protect what is ours, not by participating in the system but by breaking it. That is our purpose here as human beings, as indigenous peoples on this planet we have an obligation to protect the earth, to end the oil industry and end the raping of our mother earth.

We are in a time of great change, and that comes with great choices. It is time. Decolonize, and embrace the earth as your own mother. #NoDAPL

Misty Perkins, enrolled Northern Arapaho, is a graduate of Scappoose High. She and three siblings were raised by her father. Jubel Perkins Sr. (Kickapoo Nation), dedicated his life to being of service to the Native community in the area.

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