“How Do We Know?”
Issue #10, March 2020

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Lise Weil, Kristin Flyntz, Krista Hiser, Karen Malpede, Nancy Windheart, Kate Tirion, Hilary Giovale, Sara Wright

Editorial

Manulani Aluli Meyer

Ho’oulu: Our Time of Becoming (Foreword)

Lise Weil

Interview with Manulani Aluli Meyer (Video)

Dorothy Dinnerstein
with Karen Malpede, Naomi Miller and Sarah Karl

Sentience and Survival

Patricia Spears Jones

Flame

Lee Maracle

Nobody Home

Nancy Windheart

Aspen Ways of Knowing

Gillian Goslinga

Interview with Kate Tirion of the Deep Dirt Institute

Leonore Wilson

The Fire That Nearly Took Us

Hilary Giovale

The Blood Knows

Sara Wright

AfterWord: “Born Again”
Richard Powers’ The Overstory

Lee Maracle

Nobody Home

Editor’s note: This essay first appeared in Trivia: A Journal of Ideas # 16/17 (of which I was editor)i in Fall of 1990. When I came across it again a couple of years ago I couldn’t help feeling it needed to be republished, and this issue of Dark Matter seemed just the right place. Lee agreed and has edited it down for online publication.

Solitude is only punishment if you wish not to see.

Theory is not well understood in North America. I have a hard time discussing theory with white North Americans. In this paper I discuss my perception of theory, and its significance to women. Theory for the Sto:lo requires passion, spirit and heart—emotions—to be realized. It takes courage to formulate theory. “Looking is such hard work.” (J. Ismail)

Native people conjure theory without appropriating others. When we discover a new way of looking at the world we cite it and add it to our thinking. We do not substitute other views for our views. New ideas enrich, broaden and make our world-view clearer, but our inner being does not change. When we use an idea, it is the same for us as using a hammer, we do not claim invention of the hammer.

When you appropriate a social tool for making the world better, you supplant self-realization with someone else’s thinking. It invites hypocrisy as a way of conduct because you do not own it. Appropriation of thought is the mother of a juvenile arrogance. Theory, to be theory, must be mature and well… When you appropriate thought you negate its origin and your own origins in the process, but only temporarily: sooner or later the real inner self must surface and push aside and distort the appropriated thought.


I.

Writing which addresses the root assumptions… the very ground on which we’re standing…” from Trivia: A Journal of Ideas brochure.

Thought arises from a sacred place.

Addressing the root assumptions presumes we have individually imagined how the world is and imagined how we would like it to be and then worked out an intervention which could change the world. Precious few white North Americans have sat in total solitude and theorized their relationship to women of color in general and Native women in particular. Few feminists have imagined how they are in relation to us. Fewer still have discussed this with women of color.

Challenging assumptions presumes that individuals have unravelled the lies within themselves and sought out their own private truth.

We have betrayed ourselves. The color of this betrayal has been white. We have had our humanity traded for a portion of the few privileges white men/women enjoy. The difference between privileged women of color and white women is that some white women have a place at the North American banquet table and women of color huddle about at a scrap table.

The individual has to decide that the organization of dining must be altered. There ought not to be a banquet table for the few at all. “Moving Over” is a temporary measure prior to eliminating wasteful feasting. It is not itself a solution. When I sit at the table next to you we can discuss how dining should be organized.


II.

“Writing which addresses the root assumptions, the very ground on which we’re standing.”

Why “WE”?

There is no WE in the formulation of theory. First, because we have discussed theory enough. The theoretical assumptions of animals, human or otherwise presumed non-existent. Indigenous people are seen as lacking theory. The question must be reformed.

A woman who wants to be equal to men has no ambition. The industrial revolution culminated in the erasure of women and those not white or human. This is our subjective condition. We struggle to formulate theory, strategy and tactics which will change the former but not the latter, i.e., we form discourses and strategies around becoming equal to men, but do not challenge the sense of race/class or anthro-centric raison d’etre that shapes men’s thinking and conditions their position. Men study and articulate history; thus, we must study and articulate herstory. It does not occur to us that the HE is still left in the story and that making up a new story full of SHE is not going to change the world. The hierarchy is held intact.

Silencing women is connected to silencing of the animal and plant world and dismissing their significance to creation. Animals become tools of survival like stone, not worthy of consideration. Mao Tes-tung says: “They say that man is the highest form of animal. Who elected him to this position?”

Men placed themselves at the top of a ladder and declared all else inferior. Witness: God at the head of the table, the angel Gabriel on his left, Jesus on his right, the angels next, then regular spirits; with animals, stones and plants absent. The structures of the spirit world and physical world look the same.

When subjectivity gets in the way of objectivity problems occur. Objectivity is the ability to understand your place in relationship to all creation and clarify your subjective relationship with creation: to move from the thoughtless “I” to the significant “I” whose conduct is determined by the self in solidarity with and responsible to creation. It is the self along with your entire lineage, in ceremony, determining the direction of your life and the future lives of your lineage. In the Sto:lo world view everyone eats. Theory makes sure this happens.

Objectivity to the European male scholar is the negation of subjectivity. My passions are complex, get rid of them; people are rebelling, get rid of them; this worker is not doing a good job, get rid of her. Women are emotional, get rid of emotionality. To negate the self and the conduct of the rest of the world through this process is to examine something apart from the heart and spirit—even trees weep. Spirit moves you.

To negate the subjective is to negate the heart’s command of self and reduce humanity to a void. Who does it serve? It serves the hierarchical imperialist world of the few men in whose interest such thinking is perpetuated: “I know women should be independent and free, but I prefer women who are not… Human history can be divided into the following categories or stages: barbarism, savagery, feudalism and capitalist civilization” (Marx). The hierarchy of imperialism is maintained, race/sex/class, in just such a manner. Result: the genius of the world is negated. Intelligence is inaccessible to the very men who seek to be intelligent.

The desire to maintain hierarchy is behind this definition of objectivity. Desire and its relationship to need separates us from the animal world. Animals are very clear; their needs and desires match up. People need egalitarian human social organization, but they want to maintain power relations over others. The desire to be on top stupefies patriarchal objectivity.

To be truly objective about the world, you must hang on to your entire physical, spiritual, passionate, emotional being, and discover the extent and limitations of your particular sense of solidarity with creation. Desire must be transformed into social desire in the process of discovering solidarity. When white academicians discuss objectivity they cling desperately to their personal subjective desires in their unaltered hierarchical content: maintain, maintain the status quo. This is the opposite of what the world needs. We need to transform the subjectivity impeding the realization of solidarity, with people, stone, flora, fauna and earth—pro-creative objectivity.


III.

In the beginning the world did not exist in its physical form. Only spiritual form existed: the sacred being of things which embraced all that was hidden: emotion, thought and spiritual motive. Passions accelerated, became distorted and brought physical transformation of all things with its consequences. The sacred took on the unsacred physical presence of life and death.

In our sacred being consequences did not have to be considered. In our physical being they achieved great significance. Every culture throughout the world has a saying for this resultant of the transformation from the sacred to the physical: “whatever you throw out will come back to you.” Every people has literature centered on the truth of this maxim; every action delivers consequences. Women are the formulators of this oft-times tragically ignored basic theoretical premise. The price of men erasing women limits their theoretical framework. Denied access to theory is the result. Finally we become antagonized and the solidarity is blocked.

There is no solidarity or WE until the self is reconciled to creation. Think about it. Mechanical thought gathers. Trends and behavior patterns arise, models are shaped. Because the hidden forms of being are not accounted for solidarity fails to last. Hierarchy resurfaces.

E.g. A group of well-meaning white folks gather, form a coalition and decide that “earth day” celebrations ought to be organized to enlighten the masses to new interaction with the environment. Consensus is the “model” upon which all decisions should be made. Debate over non-essential decisions results in blocking decision-making because no one has gotten rid of the mercenary persona; “me first” gets in the way of community. The group decides consensus does not work! The best the group can come up with is a day-long entertaining line-up of speakers, performers, etc. who sing songs and tell the audience what they know about the disastrous consequences interacting with the environment in the old ways –no new directions.

From mechanical thought we move to mechanical movement: all of it alienated. Action-reaction without transformation. Stasis. Humans are meant to move physically, sensually, passionately, thoughtfully. Consensus is a way of being connected to complete thought. Transformation is a process of moving from the sacred to the physical. It is not mechanical.

Simple calculation requires no ceremony. It is reserved for such things as shopping, food consumption, and transport to and from work, etc. All of which can be done without much thought. The wielding of consensus as a value, the transformation of social relationships cannot be calculated in the same manner. To speak outside the sacred or significant is to speak from a non-existent being. How can a nonexistent being speak of anything?

Thought is not separate from bodily function, health, philosophy, condition, etc. From conception to the present, the body comes to a myriad of forms of knowledge: physical, psychical, sensual, perceptual, and experiential. No two individuals’ experience is exactly the same: there are an infinite number of pathways to the center of the circle. The understanding of the self is partial thought. In our lineage is housed infinite memory—the sum total of our ancestral knowledge. To connect these two, concatenate both personal and lineage knowledge and re-evaluate your relationship to creation is for us thought in its complete form. This is complete thought and it is the mother of theory and theoretical perception. It is passionate, sensual, emotional, analytical, directional, and spiritual and lineage-connected. Most of all, somebody has to be home to think.

Europeans have as their basic premise a concept of a decentralized “I” in which the self is absolved of responsibility and then absented in the presentation of thought. Objectivity is sought through irresponsible speculation about others and presented in absentia—like an absentee landlord. Nobody home here. Thus abstraction from reality is arrived at, instead of communion with reality. Models are formed around the abstractions and because the individual is not centered in the model, is not responsible for its crafting or its consequences, no one need own the model if it fails. A single human being speaks not from sacred self, but from a position of a self outside being. The person determines what is good for everyone else and their lineage. No particular person in mind, not even herself—astonishing! Small wonder the hitherto European theories and models lack humanity and success.


IV.

When Native people say “I,” we mean the significant “I,” the I who in communion with lineage (and whose lineage seeks solidarity with the outside world—which includes flora, fauna et al.) has arrived at something, some thought which may be useful to the persons they are addressing. When I say I am a theorist I mean I have come to grips with my self, in solitude and in solidarity with the entire earth in the context of my lineage, past present and future. I am careful in my consideration of that lineage. I am careful of creation.

When Europeans say “I think” they mean they have calculated a number of significant (sic!) facts, outside of their subjective selves and without solidarity in mind—decentered, compartmentalized, and self-important rather than significant.

Theory is formulated as though the world does not matter. There is a consequence for this behavior, I leave you to imagine what it is.

The result for me has been 500 years of head-banging, mind-bending frustration. A whole literature of humor has arisen among Native people based on the colossal stupidity of the white man and the way he doesn’t think. I have become aware that what separates us is not just language; even when we are speaking English we are not talking the same language. This negation of the self, and avoidance of responsibility for the self allows Northamericans to speak of things like “development” and mean strip-mining, “Indians” when they mean us, “women” when they mean white women, “full regalia” when they mean formal Indigenous evening attire, “gossip” when they mean feminine sociology, “sociology” when they mean white male studies, “elders” when they mean indigenous doctors of philosophy, ad nauseam. The very tragic part of this is that they themselves do not see that they don’t understand the meaning of the words they use. They use “we” when they mean no one.

It allows them to dispassionately watch a people die. TURN AROUND: revolution is personal. It allows North Americans to focus on the we of the fight without ever having to struggle with the I of it. It allows women to discourse on feminism without considering men, the condition of their separateness, and the condition of their unification. It allows women to transplant themselves into white male dominions without considering anyone’s right to this dominion. It allows white women to discuss feminism without working out in solitude the nature of their interaction with each other as a people, a cultural formation with a story to write. It allows some women to create theory on behalf of all women without considering the nature of thought, solidarity, or being. European women cannot determine their solidarity with other women from outside their culture or race. Instead white women everywhere are wondering what women of color think, what Native women think, without being able to imagine the nature of solidarity between different cultures from their own personal cultural perspective.

It is the beginning of your great humbling retreat. In coming to grips with your complete self you will come to me, not to a blank sheet of paper in which you want me to write your answers. But you must cease to discuss WE until there is first an I who is prepared to take responsibility for her sacred self in communion with the world in its entirety. My basic theoretical premise arises out of my sense of being: the farther backward in time I go, the more grandmothers I have, the farther forward I go the more grandchildren—I am obligated to them both. When I retreat to my sacred self I carry this lineage with me to the original being which had no physical form. I discover the sense of story of these beings, their relationship to other lineages, and in so doing define my sense of solidarity. I am also the partner of a Mohawk man who understands his lineage: through our union I have come to a new perception of the world and an understanding of Europeans and their inability to grasp theory. When I say through this union, I do not mean as a result of his influence, but rather because of genuine solidarity.

In my mind, there is no feminist separatism, lesbian separatism, Native separatism. The world is not dichotomized in my imagination. The dichotomy that forms our common condition is harmful and so in my sacred moment of thought I imagine how the world is in its dichotomy and how it is to become a world in its concatenation, its oneness, its universality and I imagine a personal strategy for contributing to this great leveling of life, this great communion of all things. This dichotomy is perpetuated and cherished only by those who operate from a decentralized I, who have not discovered lineage, sacred self, or solidarity with earth, flora, fauna, stone and animals. At times, retreating to the self is necessary, not as a theoretical premise, but as a means to discover solidarity and interaction with the outside world.ii

When I discuss HIS story, I am aware that it is just another way of saying story—a white male framing of story. I am not without ambitions. I am not interested in dressing the system of patriarchal imperialism in more acceptable feminine or Native clothes. I want an end to it all. In the process of turning this mess around, I wish to remain significant. My significance is not separate from or different from that of any other woman, man, stone, flora or fauna. I wish this significance, the sacredness of being, to be universal.


Lee Maracle

Lee Maracle is the author of a number of critically acclaimed literary works and co-editor of a number of anthologies including the award-winning My Home As I Remember. She is a member of the Sto:lo nation. In 2009, Maracle received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from St. Thomas University. Maracle recently received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the premier’s award for excellence in the arts. Her latest works are: Celia’s song [novel], Memory Serves and other Words [creative non-fiction] and Talking to the Diaspora [poetry].

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