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  • Writer's picturezhaawano

Teachings from the Tree of Life, part 14: About Polarization and the Medicine of Respect

Updated: Mar 30

Ziinzibaakwadooke Giizis (Maple Sugar Making Moon ) - March 30, 2023




Today there will be no aadizookewin, or storytelling. Instead, I want to share with you a thought that's been on my mind lately.

Let's call it a musing from the heart.

Indigenous cultures across Turtle Island are nowadays exposed to a dangerous trend. It is tempting to compare this trend to a monster, a modern wiindigoo that has nestled in our bones and slowly but surely is eating our insides out. Am I being over-dramatic? Hardly so. This monster, this cannibal specter that haunts social media and ravages our hearts and minds, is no joke, not something to take lightly - ever.

I call it the bleak wind of polarization.

Most call it lateral violence.

Some have described lateral violence as trying to 'feel powerful in a powerless situation.' Acts of lateral violence establish new hierarchies of power within colonized groups that mimic those of the colonizers.

Isabel Wilkerson argues in her book titled “Caste: The Origins of our Discontents” that the racial tensions in the United States are better explained through the lens of caste, not race—a 400-year-old hierarchy placing people with an European background at the top and African American people at the bottom. I think she is right. This Indigenous lateral violence that we face nowadays? The hysteric "Pretendian" hype, which is the most recent branch on the call-out culture tree?

It is just another hierarchical structure that humans seem to feel the need to create over and over again.

True, the era we live in is not the first and not the last time that Indigenous people face colonial disruption and physically, mentally, and spiritually undermining of their cultures from outside and from within. Indigenous societies have been facing serious challenges in maintaining their cultural heritage for many centuries. Indigenous cultures have been in serious jeopardy since Columbus landed. But this should never stop us from maintaining our traditions and heeding our ancestral teachings. The teaching of humility and mutual respect should, even today, always be central in addressing our own and addressing others whom we don't regard as our own. Heeding these teachings is essential in supporting and preserving the web of social relationships, which, in turn, is so crucial in the survival of us as a people.

It is the modern custom of calling others out in a very public and confrontational way on social media, often in a blatantly demanding, aggressive tone that is extremely harmful. Cruelty to others is nothing new, but online, technologically enhanced shaming is. Howling with the wolves has become the new norm. This may well be the biggest modern threat we face - apart from the ongoing land theft, the poisoning of the earth, sky, and waters, and the social deprivation and intergenerational traumas that have left deep traces of collective heartbreak and several types of abuse and disorders within our communities. It is very poor, toxic behavior learned from the colonizers, and it only leads to more division and confusion. It feeds the climate of suspicion and animosity that is already so rampant on social media and which seriously corrodes trust, self-worth, internal communication, and all the other good things we stand for and desperately try to protect.

People who use this conflictual approach, publicly denouncing and shaming ("exposing") those who don't have some sort of tribal affiliation written on their foreheads or carry cards to prove it - or worse, whose skin color is lighter than their own - think they, as champions of the truth, are rightfully protecting their cultural identity. What they don't seem to understand is that what they really do is create more conflict and more hatred and self-shame and, thus, seriously undermine the culture and values they so desperately try to preserve.

This call-out culture is the modern-day wiindigoo.

No. Your culture never taught you to polarize. It teaches you to walk and talk with dignity, no matter where your steps take you. It teaches the values of self-respect and respect for others, regardless of the color of their skin or eyes. Not addressing others whom you SUSPECT are harming (or stealing from) your culture in harassment, publicly ridiculing them, libeling them in ways that resemble the 17th century colonial witch-hunts. These things should be done in the proper context. It should be done in a context of addressing others (especially Elders!) according to the old-skool protocol of politeness, using respectful words, and respectfully speaking to a person, ASKING them in private instead of publicly DEMANDING an explanation, and engaging them in a circular conversation to reach the form of respectful communication our ancestors would have approved of.

You want to be a true Anishinaabe? You want to be a warrior who defends Anishinaabe culture and values? You want to stop the cultural theft? You want your people to heal from the traumas and self-hate caused by the colonizers? Then stop thinking and talking like them.

Step out of their polarizing mindset.

Start being a true human being. Be a true ogichidaaa good-hearted one. Live and act and breathe according to the most important Anishinaabe teachings of all: The teachings of humility and respect. Humility and respect are the core values of mino-bimaadiziwin. These teachings are the only real values we have left. A self-respectful attitude may repel those who are not of like mind, true. But it will also attract those who choose the same path and, hopefully, those who at first denounced or ridiculed you. There simply can be no healing without being humble and treating others with respect. You must think, feel, and breathe respect, within your home, your community, in public places, geget, on social media too. Respect is mashkiki, a medicine. Forget respect and you forget self-respect. Without this mashkiki our culture is doomed to go under and become a mere footnote in the history books of the colonizers.

Mii'iw. Miigwech gii bizindawiyeg.

That is all, thank you for listening.


Illustration: The Wiindigoo of Polarization ©2023 Zhaawano Giizhik

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