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« Patricia St. Onge (Haudenosaune) on Standing Together since Standing Rock »


Patricia is an expert on how cultural diversity differs greatly from cultural appropriation, a difference she explains in this podcast. She also explained it to Lee after he invited her to write the “Foreword” to his book, From Egos to Eden. As a result the chapter on Indigenous peoples (chapter 7) was entirely rewritten. 

All of Patricia’s consulting work is culturally based. It’s deeply rooted in the concept of Seven Generations. “We honor the generations who have come before us, are mindful of those yet to come, and recognize that the impact of the decisions we’re making now will last for seven generations.”
The following interview is excerpted from a conversation I had with Patricia, April, 2017, right after she had launched a module on Eco-Ministry at the Chaplaincy Institute, an interfaith seminary and community, in Berkeley, California. You can listen to the full conversation on The Common Good Podcast

You went to Standing Rock. What happened there for you and for the larger resistance to forces destroying Earth?

About 5-6 years ago I was adopted into the Cheyenne River Lakota community by Ladonna Thunderhawk and Mabelanne Eaglehunter. They came down to Oakland and did an adoption ceremony with me. Then we all went up to South Dakota and did a coming out celebration. In that celebration, the one coming out dances in the arena for the first time. Lakota Harden, whom I’ve known for 20 years, and who is now my niece because I’ve been adopted into the community, was the one who connected me with the others who made it possible for me to become a Cheyenne River Lakota. I became part of the extended family. Eagle Hunter was the man who went into ceremony to find my name.

Last year, my partner Wilson and I had been planning to go to South Dakota for a passing ceremony. That happened in Red Scaffold, SD. Then we continued up to Standing Rock. We were at the Sacred Stone Camp, not the Oceti Sakowin Camp. The experience was so powerful. We experienced the reclaiming of lifeways that sustain communities and cultures for centuries. The flame of resistance that has blazed since the arrival of Europeans on this continent flares up at times and then dies down. But it never goes out. Standing Rock is a recent, big flaming up.

What kinds of cooperation between peoples did you experience there?

Many non-Indian people came; also many urban Indians. The reclaiming of the lifeways was such a powerful experience that people just wanted to stay there. It was not a demonstration project as much as a lifting up of a way of life. We have had public policy in this country whose goal was to eliminate Indigenous People. Standing Rock is the latest in an incredibly durable legacy of resistance. At Standing Rock we lived into the tradition we know: the lifeways. Faithful ones have stayed connected to these lifeways. We stand on their shoulders for bringing forward the way of life and culture that in so many cases was forcibly removed from us. Beyond Standing Rock, there are a dozen other pipelines that I know of that are now passing through or butting up to Indidgeous lands. People are standing in these places to protect the air, the land, the water.

What kind of guidelines do you have for how we can stand together?

After the Women’s March, January, 2017, someone said “it’s time to follow the leadership of women-of-color.” Many want to. So we have people who come, but then they become uncomfortable and want to do it differentely. They believe they have a better way. This happened too at Standing Rock. And that’s the experience of Indigenous People working with others. 

I find that people are serious. Discoveries are deepening among non-Indians that their ways haven’t worked. They have resulted in capitalism and individualism. Peopel are more and more open to the idea that this Western thing may not be what we need right now.

What’s your projection going forward?

We have to do the math. Most Westerners are living in ways that can’t be sustained by one Mother. We continue to address people who live on less than $2 day, see them as poor, and immediately want to improve their plight. But we can’t turn them into us. It will destroy us all.

 Instead, we must be curious. We must ask questions like, “What would it take to live on $15/day? or $20?” If Europeans had come to this continenet with an ounce of curiosity they would have seen interconnecting roadways and currencies and culture—a great complex of societies living rather well. Instead they saw a virgin wilderness to extract from and take back to Europe. Most who came did not actually settle. We still think: “What can I get out of this situation?” But economic success has a particular look that is not connected to wellbring or love. 

And that’s how we get tarsands that create mounds separating Indigenous from their lands. So the ways we do business are reinforcing the values that destroyed the planet.

MLK said in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, we need a revolution of values. That’s so prophetic.

What reading would you suggest for all who want to cultivate curiosity?

I always recommend, Braided Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi). [Editor’s note: Link to an article in Indian Country News about an award received by this book.]

For our story, I suggest, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. (Editor’s note: Link to an interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on Indian Country News.)

John A. Powell, University of California, Berkeley, Professor of African-American and Ethnic Studies. Has videos on how the US was racialized.

The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy, by Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres. In this book, communities of color are the canaries. Society keeps putting masks on the canaries but, instead, we need to look at the mine (the whole eco-system). (Editor’s note: Link to an excerpt from The Nation)

What are your feelings going forward?

I have so much hope. My inter-racial kids are involved in the movement for black lives. The fire of resistance is growing in many places. The DACA kids. Idle No More is global indigenous. Part of SF Bay Chapter. Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty - to be in relationship with the whole of our ecosystem according to our original instructions

We are part of this ecosystem together and it’s really important to be in relationship with all of our relatives. To see all beings as sovereign. Behave differently. Also create structures that will reflect those values, not the values of the Industrial Culture.

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