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Bearing Witness to Tar Sands Resistance: Dispatch #3

“I’m so happy”, she said as she was telling her story of why she decided to join the compassionate earth walk “we said this walk will be interfaith, intergenerational and intercultural and we succeeded. look at our diversity.” In a group full of white folks of many privileges, she looks at me- poor brown queer womyn of desi diaspora.

I squirm
visibly uncomfortable,
invisibly alone.
I was her check mark.

she turns to the white man to the right of her, a man married to a first nations womyn, a man who now practices indigenous spirituality, and says “you’re just about native, you can fill that part.”

he responds, “i’m still trying to get that one through to those people.”

my body tenses to rock, my eyes break into water.

it’s been about 24 hours since we left the healing walk, a walk where we got to see, hear and engage in the struggle of first nation people, and already my fears of privilege, tokenization and appropriation have been materialized about a dozen times.

we all saw the the destruction caused by the tar sands and more broadly capitalism and the ever persisting colonialism to the first nations people of the Athabasca. we heard the stories of sickness, of separation, of fear, of trauma across the many different indigenous bands present. we experienced some of the tremendous community power and determination of the people; we saw how much it all, their livelihoods, family and earth, mattered so much to them, as it would for us. so how, after experiencing all of that could one dare dilute the totality of a people to one fragment of their experience? how could one have the audacity to say that a WHITE CIS MAN of PRIVILEGE is pretty much like an indigenous person because he has fetishized and appropriated a peoples’ tradition?

there are no excuses.
none.

and I get it, whiteness has been conditioned into privilege by the same systems that have taken ours away. but really, what will it take for whiteness to not appropriate and fragment the complicated hystories, identities and struggles of oppressed people?

reading about our hystories hasn’t been enough, meeting, learning and “studying” our people haven’t been enough, taking antiracist trainings haven’t been enough, organizing with our communities hasn’t been enough, meditating, monkhood and finding awakening haven’t been enough.*

will nothing short of a revolution into a new system ever be enough? a system where we have transformed the social relations so that power based on race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, citizenship are no longer based on how valuable or invaluable one can be to profit. a system where we have enough and are enough. a system where we are conditioned to feel our interconnectedness rather than our separation.

everything else until then is a stepping stone.

*i foresee people, white people in particular, getting heated about this. in advance, this is not an attack against you as a person but whiteness as institutional, imperial and capitalist power.

(top: yesterday’s photo from the oil tank farms in hardisty, alberta- the largest oil storage facility in western canada. one of the main hubs for the pipelines)

On behalf of Buddhist Peace Fellowship and thanks to support from readers like you, photographer and writer aneeta mitha is traveling for nine days to Alberta, Canada to join the indigenous-led Tar Sands Healing Walk, Buddhist-led Compassionate Earth Walk, and other organizing to stop tar sands extraction and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

See all of her dispatches here, and all of her Turning Wheel Media posts here.

Want to support more Buddhists participating in the fight against climate change and environmental racism?  Donate to BPF or join us with a year-long membership. Gratitude!

Comments (2)

  • Bryab Wagner

    Hi.
    Just a thought.
    Or so.
    History.
    Odd isn’t it?
    Mine, yours, and the world.
    It tells me this. As long as there is a pyramid shaped power structure there will always be exploitation. It has been this way for thousands of years. Since the first person man or woman took charge of others.
    If you spend time in Cambodia, Africa, Mexico, or Alaska you can see cultures that are not technological exploiting each other.
    Oil and oil companies are like any pyramid. So were the sugar, weapons, and slave companies that build the new world before the idea of capitalism rang in the world.
    I am happy for people who are “engaged” and active in trying to change the for good. I hear them say at least we are doing something.
    Yes you are.
    The problem?
    We need to “do” something that will change the entire course so we don’t go on putting band aids on the open wounds of the past and present.
    What do we need to change?
    Greed and power.
    The internal workings. The approval of an individuals accumulation and drive for power ( being at the top of the pyramid) and greed. ( the need to possess more and more material, intellectual, emotional, and social resources )
    We are currently trying to resolve issues without going to the source. I have heard all the arguments.
    And.
    Still stand firm. In the moment we stand on our new past and are in our future. What needs to change to make this and equitable place where we have food, water, shelter, and a future? Well it’s not going to be an oil company, or politics, or Wallmart.
    It’s going to be the internal workings of greed and power. Lets change that. Without that we may have a chance.
    In Loving Kindness.
    Bryan

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