Universities are the place in which Western societies educate their youth, create knowledge, and pass on social values. I wonder why that doesn’t happen here:
It used to. This is an old Nimîipuu village site. Increasingly now, the model of the university is replacing other social structures with a particular kind of knowledge arranged in branches of learning, organized in faculties, such “Arts”, which might include “Theatre” or “Germanic Studies” and “Science”, which might include “Biology” and “Physics”. The image below is not physics, or biology, or theatre or Germanic studies, and it’s not art, and it’s not science:
It’s three horses of the Deadman Band of the Secwepemc Nation in a field of weeds. The only indigenous plant there is the sagebrush, and it’s a weed, too. What is it, then? History? Reality? The world? There’s no name for it, because it’s not part of the scheme, nor is this …Chopping my Beetle-Killed Pines into Firewood
These are the things that a university might study, but the categories in which they would be studied do not rise from them. This system creates a particular type of technical knowledge. There are assumptions behind that choice, which is problematic in the grasslands of the Northwest, my country.
The eastern rim of the North West. The other rim is the Pacific.
Notice the image above: it is not science, not art, not theology, and yet study of the place illustrated above, in Western culture, requires the application of training in at least one of those fields, which will create knowledge, within the hierarchical system of one of those fields. You can’t escape it. Even my photograph belongs to one of those systems: technical science. If it could be called “art”, then it would be a consequence of a human creating a bodily space within that technical field. This humanization is what humans do. It’s very urbane social behaviour, which universities attempt to train in particular directions for particular ends, yet let’s not forget that there is a Yellowstone, and there is a grassland, and none of the fields of organized study say very much about it as it is, or interface with it except through the hierarchical systems of their disciplines. Why is that? Is it something to do with the act recorded in the image below, in which a grassland hill, again in Yellowstone, is turned into a particular social space by placing a cairn of stones at its crest?
It changes the hill, for sure, yet before that change any human perception of that hill was also a perception of human space. Even the pine below, at the Norris Geyser Field deeper into Yellowstone, is a perception of human bodily space, despite its great foreignness to what has come to be called “human”.That means that that tree is human, but not necessarily socialized; its pine-ness, its foreigness, its mystery, is, in this conception, as much human as is, say, this …
… and this …
… and even this …
That is all self evident. The system of thought dominant at today’s universities would point out its irrelevence: it’s just observation. It hasn’t been organized. Well, that’s speaking from within the paradigm. From outside it, this linkage, this extension of the human beyond the human body and its structured, cognitive social expressions also expands the range of human experience to include the earth, and to respect the importance it has in human affairs. That bear is not important because it is a creature representing diversity, or because is integrated into an ecosystem, or because it is beautiful. Those are all expressions of minds culturally divided into categories. That bear is us. It is, of course, a bear — not because it’s also a bear, or because there are two ways of looking at it, but because We and Bear are the same thing and different. Sure, it’s a paradox, but paradoxes are real. Similarly, the following three images from Big Bar Lake capture light from the same being:
Yes, they’re taken at the same place, with the same apparatus, by the same person, on the same day, but beyond that commonality, those three things are also the wealth of difference within the beings and objects within the images, and that difference adds up to unity: not as 1+1+1 sequence, but opening out of each other all at the same time. It is not the job of universities to teach this process, but here’s the thing: this unity is the conception of land of this country’s indigenous peoples. Dismissing it is the same as dismissing them. It is profoundly disrespectful. So’s this, actually:
That’s an image of Yellow Jacket and Wasp, above the Clearwater (Kooskookie) River at Lapwai. There’s a highway pullout so you can admire this ancient Nimíipuu story of a yellow jacket and an ant fighting and refusing to stop until Itseyéyeh, the Trickster (aka Coyote) turned them into stone. It has been afforded some respect, for which I am grateful, but what’s not respectful is that this story is presented as a belief, and the rocks as eroded basalt. No, respect allows them to be both: not to be studied, or analyzed, but to be entered into in all their dimensions at once.
There’s a second silence here: the old village site now at Lapwai, five miles up the valley, and fifty years ago at the Spalding Mission, a mile up the river, was actually here, but is now buried under that highway, and the parking lot you stand on to view this story from the beginning of the world. Until these things, story and understanding arrived at by science, are one, our universities are not a part this land. This hill in the Snake River could easily be the focal point of a school of Social Work.
The walls of the Canyon are far back. Above them are the Camas Prairie. The centre of women’s power. Under dominant contemporary culture, and the systems of its schools of learning, it is “nature”. This silencing and silencing through abstraction has a long history.
Just a glimpse from the road today, without a marker that this was the winter village of the Sinkuse people for many thousands of years, or that here, beneath these cliffs, was the ancient road from the north of the world to the south, which had been there since the glaciers melted and the vast river that cut this channel had flowed to sea. It was also the old Hudson’s Bay Company Road, and the road 10,000 genocidal miners took to the gold fields at Fountain, on the Fraser River, shooting Syilx people as they went. If this was Europe, the road would be celebrated and honoured. It is likely older than the Silk Road, after all. Here, it has been “returned to nature”, although “nature” is one of the classification terms of university science and doesn’t exist in the world. This is a form of racism. Racism is not just a social problem, not for people who live as the land. This is one face of racism, or at the least profound disrespect:
This the Camas Prairie. This is the food basket of the Nimíipuu, before it was wrested from them through manipulating their treaty, plowed, and sown into wheat. The one good thing, is that the people are no longer in the cross hairs of rifles, although road signs have taken their place, as a kind of symbolic reminder of the power inherent in the scene. One way of eliminating camas was to remove the people, but another was just to plow it under. In order for all that to be possible, people were categorized, along with their ways of viewing their land, on racial terms: the Skoeilpi, the Palu’us, the Syilx, the Smlqmx, the Sinkuse, the Kittitas, the Nimíipuu, the Wanapum, the Klickitas, and all the other peoples of the grass, became “Indians”. The people who had been there for decades trading with them, who were the sons of native women (usually Cree or Iroquois) and Quebec or Louisiana Canadians, and who married local Cayuse, Couer d’Alene or Umatilla women, and raised families with them, were suddenly politicized as Canadians (a bad thing, when the land had just been whisked away from Britain by illegal settlement), and racialized as métis. Their futures were limitted by these categories, while the newcomers, a collection of Americans, Brits, Scots, Germans, Finns, Norwegians, Poles, Bohemians, French, Danes, Italians and many others, became “Americans” and “Whites” due to the categories allotted to them by what was, at that time in the United States, a slave culture. Black people were blacks and Chinese were Chinese and both suffered the categorization that came with that. Chinese and Indians were particularly vulnerable to torture and murder, for sport. I’ll spare you the horrible details. The land, though, and this is my point today, suffered segregation and dehumanization along with the people. After all, it was the people. White, Brown, Black, or Red, as they were called, it didn’t matter, each one of these designations removed people from the land that was there and which was there to experience in its wholeness. It was all consciously done, by followers of a Methodist Christian system, who believed that the path to God was through American-style civil works: land ownership, work within approved social norms, courts, a system of government and education, military obedience, and so on: only that way could a body be purified of nature and made ready to receive the graceful inhabitation of God. Beauty, or a belief in the physical world and its spiritual presence, were strictly scoffed at as being womanly and weak. I have the texts here. I won’t burden you with them, except to point out that following the belief system that broke the connection between people and earth here, the following was not considered a right point for spiritual contemplation or illumination:
This would have been:
A shack like the one below was more than sufficient to remove a piece of land from indigenous inhabitation and transform it into private property. Now that the land serves no purpose but to be weedsprayed in the spring so nothing will grow there at all, it does not revert to indigenous use. It remains forever alienated.
Take a look at it. It was originally meant to be a Syilx Reserve, but that got manipulated. Look at it again. That’s much like this image below of a bunch of men hauling red listed sturgeon off of the isotope-poisoned bottom of the Columbia River in the shadow of two military grade plutonium reactors at Hanford while the Yakama grasslands, removed from the Yakama people dishonourably in the Yakama War, fill the air with smoke. Then the men drop the poor ancient fish down again and then haul it back up. This is called sport.
This is the replacement for living as land. This madness is nature. Take a look. That’s what she looks like. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like this, and universities don’t have to play this game. Here’s one that doesn’t:
n’awqen” ~ En’owkin
The word En’owkin is an Okanagan conceptual metaphor which describes a process of clarification, conflict resolution and group commitment. With a focus on coming to the best solutions possible through respectful dialogue, literally through consensus.
The En’owkin is a dynamic institution, which puts into practice the principles of self-determination and the validation of cultural aspirations and identity.
This institution is in Penticton, British Columbia, in the Syilx Illahie. It could as well be in the land forms below, in the midst of the village complexes at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers in Idaho. Under a hierarchal scientific system, they became “cliffs” and “basalt columns” and “part of the Columbia Basin flood basalts”. They were once as much story as wasp and ant at Lapwai. The fear of the “other” remains latent. I walked out there in June of this year, on a day of 105 degree Fahrenheit heat, a woman called out to me by a boat in the river, about where I took this image the next day, “Aren’t you afraid of snakes?” Why would I be afraid of snakes? I grew up with rattlers, for god’s sake, and that river trail was no place for rattlers, and they knew it and I knew it, too.
I long for universities, beyond the En’owkin Centre, that actually live in this place, and rights these divisions, brings ancient knowledge, and the languages that support it, forward, and build a right relationship with the earth through alignments of structure and logic that come from the process of the grasslands themselves. I long for a university that does not ultimately discredit the very information contained in an image like this…
…by describing it as beauty, an historical artifact, or abstracting it as “a human projection” without also embedding it in the earth, or one which describes the information contained in this image…
… as a rock onto which ignorant people projected comforting stories. This is the centre of the world! I find it profoundly disrespectful that the centre of knowledge of greater than 12,000 years is dismissed by a system a couple hundred years old. Look at it. This is the cut up remains of a monster that swallowed all the Nimíipuu people at the beginning of time. The people came from here. It is described in university culture as a volcanic plug, onto which a people have projected their creation story as a social act. Well, no wonder, that’s the society that dominates today, but, you know, the En’owkin Centre doesn’t play this game. The students come because they need that program, because it is anchored in their lives, and because it is embedded in their land and culture. It doesn’t work against those, to embed them into a system of abstractions anchored elsewhere and which are ultimately placeless and, placeless, ultimately destructive of the earth. It doesn’t matter how you apologize for it or how much good you do within your discipline. At some point, it must touch the world and abandon all it knows for all it can be. Many scientists and artists work to that end, but they do so against the system that is always biasing them against it. You can’t get to the earth by going away from it.
You can’t keep yourself alive in the broadest sense without keeping the earth alive in that sense, too.It’s a paradox, but paradoxes are real. It’s time to stop teaching racialized knowledge. It is time for brilliant university educated people to stop attempting to solve vital environmental problems solely with the tools that created them, as if you could just go further and further and further into technology and come out into unity at the other end. Unity is not something to observe, dissect, analyze or critique to excess. It is something to embody. In the world of Charles Marie Pandosy, Oblate Missionary to the Yakama during and before the Yakima War: “We have to love them enough.”