29 November 2009

Day One: Project Niitaowahsin

III ) llllllllll Project Niitaowahsin (28Nov09)

I’m very excited. Piipiiaakii and I have decided to commit to a change in our relationship to food, and everything else we put into our bodies (solid, liquid, or gas). It’s the next logical development in the trajectory our life has taken, particularly in terms of being true to Iiyaohkiimiipaitapiiyssin.

Ksisskstaki Amopistaan, the Beaver Bundle, is a living reminder of the social contract we’re responsible for upholding in relation to our environment and its diverse inhabitants. There’s a reason why this most ancient and dynamic of bundles originated at Paahtomahksikimi, the place now known as Lower Saint Mary’s Lake. This body of water sits directly below Divide Mountain, from which flow the headwaters of three of the largest river systems in North America - the Saskatchewan, Missouri, and Columbia. Paahtomahksikimi itself is the physical connection point between the Upper Saskatchewan and Missouri drainage basins, the two geographic lodges that comprise kitawahsinnoon, What Feeds Us, Blackfoot Territory. The treaty that occurred here between human beings and other animals, culminating in the transfer of Ksisskstaki Amopistaan, clarified our role relative to the wider eco-social environment of the two watersheds. The animals agreed to help us benefit from their greater experience by teaching us how to live adaptively within this local system, while we in turn agreed to coexist with them in a manner respectful of our dependence on the vitality of their communities.

We human beings, all of us living in kitawahsinnoon, are no longer fulfilling our end of the treaty that brought Ksisskstaki Amopistaan into being. Most of us blame this circumstance on historical developments of the last century, but it began long before that. Something happened a long time ago in Europe, something so terrible that its origin has been mostly repressed from social memory, and is now simply referred to as the Dark Ages. Whatever sparked this era, it seems to have involved an organized and militarily-enforced shift in spiritual practice and engaged knowledge, directing people away from anything anchored in their connection to local ecosystems, and toward a conceptual disengagement-with and perception of ascendancy-over nature. This movement left a huge European population disoriented, and a significant number of these lost people sought escape in other parts of the world. Eventually, some of these drifters came to kitawahsinnoon and, with the only tools they were then aware of, began recapitulating the same history they or their ancestors had fled. These colonizers leveraged incredible violence, coercion and cruelty against niitsitapi who adhered to a way of life bound by an understanding of ainna’kootsiiyo’p – respectful coexistence among all species sharing the upper Missouri and Saskatchewan watersheds.

Perhaps the most devastating blow delivered by the colonizers, in their attempts to mould this “new” and “wild” territory and its constituents into a more familiar likeness, was their purposeful extermination of the bison. Hardly more than a century ago, iinii comprised the largest herd of land mammals the world has ever known. But once the decision was made to eliminate them, it took just a couple decades to accomplish. The diverse grassland once populated by this herd has now been biologically neutered. Large tracts have been stripped of indigenous plants and animals, and either sown with monoculture crops, or repopulated with domestic animals that feed a global trade network and an exploding rise in human populations unparalleled in the history of our species. We who have been made dependent on this economy have all but lost our applied sense of connection to place. Most of us have forgotten that territorial lines were once defined in terms of watershed ecosystems, and that we have responsibilities within these drainage basins - not as “caretakers” of the land, but as managers of our own behaviours relative to those we co-inhabit these places with, and on whose lives ours REALLY depend. The effects of similar homogenization and memory loss worldwide have been tremendous, and today we are collectively coming to grips with the fact that our actions have lead us headlong toward a major ecological crisis that could very well bring our existence here to an end, every bit as rapidly as we brought the bison to theirs.

The question is, are we willing to do anything about this? Will we take responsibility to slow-down our procreation, detach ourselves from a dependence on global trade, and reconnect with our eco-social roles relevant to local watersheds? Will we reorganize ourselves politically? Will we start making decisions and manage our use of technologies based on long-term sustainability? Will we respond to this impending ecological crisis at all, or are we just going to talk about it until the death arrives?

Through aatsimoyihkaan, we call upon Naato’si, Ko’komiki’somm, Iipisowahsi, miiksi Sspommitapiiksi, Ksaahkomitapiiksi, Soyiitapiiksi, ki Naatoyiitapiiksi. We speak to them as if we’re deserving of the alliances we have with them, as if we are living up to our responsibilities as best we can, given our circumstances. But we are not. There is much more we can do to make amends with them and to manage our behaviours. We choose not to, and for this reason I feel hypocritical. At some point, we need to ask ourselves - as individuals, and families, and communities - what are we willing to do? When do we begin changing our negligent lifestyle, and how rapidly can we implement that change?

Piipiiaakii and I have discussed this, and we are ready and eager to begin. What we’ve decided to do is change our relationship to food, everything we put in our bodies. We are giving ourselves one year to adjust our diet to where we are consuming only those substances that originate in the Old Man River watershed. This is our home, our bodies, and our life. We have been complicit participants in the global trade network too long now, at the expense of our health and our responsibilities. We need to better attend to the relationships inherent in Iiyaohkiimiipaitapiiyssin, and we need to do our part to help bring about the change necessary in order that our grandchildren can enjoy this life and place as we have. I intend to document our journey here.