I was born and raised in Rochester, NY, in the town of Irondequoit on Lake Ontario. As part of our local history lessons in school, I learned about the Seneca people, one of the six nations comprising the Iroquois Confederacy, who once thrived on that land. Field trips to the Rochester Museum and Ganondagon taught us about their matriarchal society, use of natural medicines, and the mutually beneficial relationship of the three sisters – squash, beans, and corn. One of the lessons that stuck with me the most, was when they described how after a successful deer hunt, in which they only killed what they needed, they gave thanks and used every bit of the animal, right down to the sinew off the bone for things like bows or lacrosse nets. There was reverence in this act, and there was no waste, it was all part of a sacred cycle.
I was only in elementary school, but there was something about this that struck a deep knowing cord in my being – this is how we are supposed to be with this world. Seeing this other way of being, the grief that I felt when I saw rusted appliances discarded in the woods and trash in the streams while on my childhood adventures, was validated. It showed me that there were people who knew how to be in harmony with the earth, and that I wasn’t merely “over-sensitive” when I questioned why people threw things “away” (which really just meant out of their sight, because there is no “away”) without a second thought.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I began to learn about the horrors of colonialism and the devastation that we brought on the native people of this land –and that we continue to inflict to this day.
It is for these two reasons, my deep respect for and connection to Native American wisdom, and the desire to put an end to the centuries of abuse and injustice, that I have been involved in the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline and now the DAPL.
The interesting thing is, I realized that I had to apply the wisdom of the sacred cycle to my activism as well, in order to make it sustainable. I am a very goal oriented person so I approached my activism in a linear fashion. Beginning with outrage, grief or guilt, and then channeling it by joining groups and taking part in successive actions to help reach those goals. However, I quickly learned that activism is not a straight trajectory. There are often setbacks and being fueled by these emotions can lead to burnout.
I had to learn to focus on gratitude and act from a place of love. In doing so, my energy shifts and it is easier to find an approach that is consistent with my mission. If I want to be in harmony with the earth, it doesn’t make sense for me to participate in actions that create discord. The Water Protectors at Standing Rock bravely exemplified this alignment of values in their prayerful, nonviolent approach to protesting the pipeline.
In order to not experience burnout, I have to connect with the earth and the divine to fortify my soul. Many times, when I am out walking my dog, mulling over intricacies of an issue in my head, I look up and see a red-tailed hawk soaring through the air, reminding me to take a bird’s eye view and widen my perspective. Or there are days when I feel like what I want to accomplish is impossible, and then I notice a plant defiantly bursting through a crack in the sidewalk, reminding me to be persistent. I have also found meditation to be a calming, steadying force which helps me connect to my intuition and remember our oneness. Restored by these experiences, I am ready to get back to work and find the ways that I can best be of service in the world.
This cycle of gratitude, meditation, and action is often a daily practice for me and I have discovered that in trying to help heal the earth, I have also healed parts of myself. Not that I am always able to stop myself, but I am at least better able to recognize when I am reacting based on my ego and needing to be right, rather than responding with compassion. I have more patience and am better able to handle uncertainty, as my attachment to results has lessened while my faith and trust in the divine has strengthened.
On Friday, I am answering the call of The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Native Nations, to be an ally and peacefully march with them in Washington DC, to protect their homelands, environment and future generations. I am going because I know that this is my generation’s chance to start to right an unfathomable amount of wrongs. I am going to thank the native people for their enduring and prophetic wisdom, and like the veterans, to apologize for the atrocities that they have endured. I am going because I think it is insane and disgraceful to run toxic shale oil through fresh drinking water and sacred burial grounds, especially when the question is not if the pipeline will leak, but when. I am going because what is currently happening to their treaty land is an example of all that is wrong in our society, the exploitation of vulnerable people and the earth for profit, and I want to be there to be in solidarity with people who know – and who have always known – that we need to be in harmony with the earth and all our relations.