From the Editor's Desk: Remembering identity across generations
Thursday, March 12 2015
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgThe weather, as is its nature this time of year, brings up memories of things past and the things without which, we continue to live.

The news from Rosebud is that we've lost another one of our elders. Marty Makes Room For Them was one of the tribe's singers and song keepers who composed the Oceti Sakowin Olowan (Seven Council Fires Song).

In school, we learned the Lakota Flag Song. It is still even referred to as the Lakota National Anthem. It was a song composed to mark our guardianship of this country that sprung up around us, when the American flag fell at the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn) and we assumed control of it, making it ours. It's still rendered at Lakota wacipi along with the Victory Song.
What I love about the Oceti Sakowin Olowan (and from my limited understanding of its meaning) is that it marks our return to defining ourselves as our own nation. It calls back to us as a people to take strength from our own reawakening, politically and spiritually. It reminds us that we are our own nation with our own culture, heritage, language and spirituality that – despite colonization's best efforts – has not died out but has grown and evolved over the centuries of oppression; and that we as a people will continue to do so, so long as we have breath to sing.

The last breaths my mother took were peaceful. At first, she labored after she was taken off the ventilator. As I began saying my goodbyes to her, I thanked her for being the mother that she was, all the lessons that she taught me and my family and all the knowledge she carried from her grandfathers' and grandmothers' generation, from her generation and to her children's, grandchildren's and great-grandchildren's generation.

The Lakota perspective on the Iroquois concept of Seven Generations is such: three generations before and three generations forward from us. That is how our knowledge, our culture and our way of life continues.

We are called to remember not just what we've lost, but what we've gained through the passing on of wisdom and tradition. When we apply those two things to our daily lives, we can see the line that binds us to our ancestors and ties us to our descendants and we feel that hope and promise passing onward.

But the promise from our ancestors doesn't come easily to those of us living through oppression and continued subjugation on a daily basis. The news from South Dakota is surely troubling to anyone with a conscience.

In Sisseton, the Damakota Youth Group is working to raise awareness of the mascot issue regarding the Sisseton high school team with the help of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media.

In Rapid City, work behind the scenes is ongoing to find an equitable solution to the incident involving Trace O'Connell and the children from American Horse School. Whether it involves intensive, community-based conversations, civil rights litigation or a boycott of the Lakota Nation Invitational by tribes in the state, the progress to remind those in the powerful majority that we are human beings is slow, but steady.

Minnesota tribes continue their fights for equity under the law. With the recent ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that the federal government cannot prosecute Ojibwe tribal citizens who fish and sell their catch off-reservation, based on the 1855 Treaty of Washington, gains are made for Minnesota tribes. Although the federal government cannot prosecute, it would seem that tribes are still empowered to enforce their own laws on such matters, again, a gain.

But we cannot become complacent, we must continue to uplift one another as Native people, as Indigenous people through the progress we make in our own communities. The youth of the Twin Cities Native community began that understanding through “The Art of Resistance” Community Art Night, hosted by NACDI, facilitated by talented artists and organizations like the Native Youth Alliance of Minnesota.

As Honor the Earth organizer Charlie Thayer (Lac Courte Oreilles) put it, “There is power in activism through art. Visual art plays an important role as it has the ability to stimulate and encourage a unifying perspective. When channeled as a vehicle, it carries issues of consciousness where it can be a catalyst for meaningful change.”

When we are able to see ourselves in the larger context, we understand the connections we have to the future as well as the past. Visual artist Cheyenne Randall (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), who is influenced by his late father, Robert Randall put it so, “There are times when I complete a piece and take a step back and feel a celestial collaboration with my father.”

These connections are essential to empowering one another across identities. Because when we forget the things that make us Indigenous people of this world, our shared values, our shared traditions, our elders' lessons and we embrace a way of life that encourages us to value profit and self-interest; that separates us from one another and from creation and we lose what makes us a culture worth continuing.

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