Seven Generations for Standing Rock
by JONI SARAH WHITE
To some who watch the struggle at Standing Rock led by its Native guardians there is a fundamental disconnect . . . indeed misunderstanding . . . about what they are doing and why. To sisters and brothers in harm’s way in North Dakota it’s more than the defense of land that is sacred today . . . or was yesterday . . . but ensuring it remains no less so for each generation to come. Like endless time before, tomorrow knows no bounds. Like resistance today, their children and children’s children, carry that duty tomorrow.
Each Indian Nation has its own sacred covenant with their maker . . . a sacred trust that binds their existence and spirit with those that have come before and those yet to travel . . . a journey sculpted by that trust. It is a bridge for today that connects all that has been with all that is yet to be; a duty to act here and now to preserve and protect what was and what will be. Without it, for Native people there can be no tomorrow.
Among my People it is called Seven Generations.
To the Kanien’kehá:ka of the Haudenosaunee, Seven Generations is not simply an abstract legend that shades the contours of our lives, but for us an obligation as a People that transcends the narrow confines of here and now. For all our family at Standing Rock, it is a living sacred trust, a marriage to the land that has been our strength for time immemorial and will remain so for generations to come.
Our elders have long understood and passed to us the connection between those that have come and those to travel in their wake.
“In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the past and present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”
The struggle at Standing Rock finds its power in tradition, but its strength and purpose in the here and now. Native people are much more than mere talisman created to give symbol and comfort to others. We have unique traditions and beliefs, ways that chart our course. Though at times we invite others to walk with us, it is not to lead the way.
Our communities are much more than mere building blocks and store-fronts; they are tribal and national territories where we battle daily to endure . . . to maintain our culture, dignity and universal right to self-determination.
Ours is a struggle that has not been easy . . . often it’s been one wrought with pain and peril. Though, at times, we’ve lost much . . . it has never been our vision or our way. We know who we are. We have not and will not surrender our self-respect and future to those who seek to seal or purchase it.
From coast to coast in ways little every day we struggle to ford the river of time. Survival is much more than convenience . . . it is the knowledge that when the winds of change seek to dampen our spirit and silence our voice, we must refuse and we do.
In dedication to my family at Standing Rock, I lend this voice.
On this day:
The poverty of our minds
bailed to surface by the
brilliance of survivals shine
rhythm washed bones
mark tempo with the cross stitch of stars
And fools chant chorus of no holds to bar
This is our homeless and sovereign time
Brothers in arms
no more a crime
Each held to the clones and the drones
that now code our spine
Behold the Spirit of
King and Queen
This new democratic monarchy
Feast upon the beauty
Set eyes ahead for remedy
forget not family,
we are free
to be and see
One human destiny
Where titans doze towards legacy
in victory we will be found
As misplaced sage rings for embrace
A healing song woven round
for the earth they break
in the hunger to take and take
Cry Her shadow, a whisper, a trace
Each moment etched upon her face
This is the magic that writes us down
To gently right our crooked crown
Worldly hustle and ebb
Torn and tarred
For all to know
Old glory and grace
To give and grow
Seven Generations is a river and we, my friends and family, are in the midst of its current. We the People will continue to insure its waters are defended, clean and pure.
Water is Life: With Solidarity for Standing Rock
by JONI SARAH WHITE
(Originally published in Counterpunch Nov.4, 2016)
I am Kanien’kehá:ka . . . born of the Haudenosaunee, “People of the Flint” . . . of the Iroquois Confederacy.
I am a Mohawk, born in Akwesasne upon the land and the water where the “Partridge Drums” . . . . where the St. Lawrence River rubs-up against two foreign States. We are the protectors of the “Eastern Door” . . . a nation that has refused defeat or surrender to those who challenge our duty to safeguard sacred land and the water which defines it.
Though many aim to weaken our resolve . . . some to silence our voice . . . we endure as guardians, Warriors of Land & Water. An existential understanding, ours is an obligation born of pre-colonial tradition that flourished well before the arrival of those who snatched the United States and Canada from our land. We exist as the Original People of this continent in full harmony with the other Nations of this Our Mother Earth. Historically and contemporary. . . most recent at Oka . . . the Mohawk Nation stood firm and declared to the world that not one inch more would be lost to the pursuit of those who see life as but a test of how much can be taken in the empty chase of greed masquerading in the name of well being and need.
At Standing Rock, my sisters and brothers today make the same stand. Gathering in one mind, together with the knowledge that “Water is Life” and in this truth we are one human nation. In their name, in their honor, in their strength in all kind, I dedicate this work. It comes from mother earth. We all do.
Our Water in each form is sacred . . . without it we cannot exist.
the specific rhythm
of a poet
Close to grace
given to cumulus clouding of frenzy
Perhaps she is as subtle as a late night bloomer
A desert cacti
A winged bird of prey
Feeding on the smallest of creatures
Nesting in the hearts of men
She is of the earth
It can be said
It is the silk of sky she wears best
Riding the rainbows of the moon
The most delicate of hues washing her shadows
All the shades of white to marble her weightless flight
The whirlpool of her
High noon July Sky
A northern river
Wide and deep as frozen yesterday
Our Water is Life,
She paints the horizon
We set sail
The four winds gathering nations
backward the motion of time
a feast of all memory
essential and sublime
Joni Sarah White is a Mohawk from Akwesasne who’s paintings and sculptures have appeared throughout the world. A graduate of Dartmouth College and recipient of fellowships from both Hedgebrook and Chautauqua Institution. Additional work of hers can be seen at www.wethepeople.gallery