Whealthy Human Villages
“We’re very cold, and they took the stove away from us.
It’s way below zero and we’re freezing.
A lot of people have died.”
Letter from a Dakota prisoner of war, 1862-63
How do you destroy a community? Take away its stoves. Destroy the collective fires, the hearths, the places where people gather, cook, eat and dream together. Kill the leaders, and let the rest die off or suffer from contagious illnesses and starvation. This is how European colonialism was conducted across much of North America. And it is how my home state of Minnesota was founded.
Here is just a tiny slice of that history, focusing on the Dakota, one of the two major tribal communities in Minnesota (the Ojibwe being the other). On December 26, 1862, four years after Minnesota officially became a state, thirty eight Dakota warriors were publicly executed in the city of Mankato. Over that winter, at least 1600 Dakota men, women and children were imprisoned in an internment camp on Pike Island, near the U.S. military base Fort Snelling. By April of 1863, the U.S. Congress had broken all treaties with the Dakota, and declared all previous Dakota land in Minnesota property of the U.S. government. While the majority of Dakotas were soon expelled from Minnesota, others resisted removal. Through resilience and perseverance they redeveloped tribal communities, and have kept traditional cultural practices and language alive to this day.
Last fall, the Occupy Wall St. movement swept the nation. In response to corporate greed, and the invasion of globalized capitalism into nearly every facet of our lives, hundreds of thousands of Americans filled city parks, plazas, and other public spaces, demanding radical change. I arrived at the People’s Plaza in downtown Minneapolis on the first day of our encampment, October 7th, and have been part of the Occupy movement in some manner or another ever since.
In response to invites from members of the local Native community to collaborate, as well as what we felt was a lack of emphasis in Occupy Minneapolis on environmental issues, an offshoot group was formed in December 2011. The Whealthy Human Village is a multifaceted project that focuses on eco-centric life practices, food justice, indigenous rights, and healing arts. Underlying all of its work, really, is the thread of interconnectedness. Recognizing that we are not separate from each other, all living beings, and the history that shaped the places we live in, the Whealthy Human Village team is dedicated to redeveloping community, and helping people uncover or recover their connections to each other and the planet.
Buddhist environmental activist and teacher Joanna Macy speaks of the time we live in as both the “Great Unraveling” and the “Great Turning.” Many of the old systems and ways of thought are falling apart, bringing with them an enormous amount of suffering and difficulties. At the same time, new forms and ways of being together are sprouting up everywhere, attempting to heal the past, while simultaneously inspiring a brighter future by experimenting with it today. In many ways, Occupy Wall St. is one of the catalysts working to accelerate the unraveling, while groups like the Whealthy Human Village are dreaming up visions of the “turning,” or awakening, and then trying to make them realities.
Amongst our projects is a partnership with a local non-profit, the Women’s Environmental Institute. As part of WEI’s Community Food Project, “a USDA funded project for cross-cultural/cross-neighborhood sharing of traditional cultural agricultural skills and knowledge, “the Whealthy Human Village is growing vegetables and herbs for low income and homeless Native Americans in Minneapolis. Recognizing the continued need to address high rates of diabetes and other chronic illnesses in the local Native population, as well as their strong desire for cultural revitalization and preservation, members of the Village team are also partnering this summer with local Native organizations to offer classes on medicine plant identification and basic gardening skills.
While the Whealthy Human Village is really just in its early stages, we have already planted many seeds of collaboration and reconnection. Our multicultural, multiracial team seeks to inspire cross-cultural collaborations across the Twin Cities (St. Paul and Minneapolis) dedicated to envisioning and creating a new food system built on eco-centric values and approaches. We want our work to, among other things, provide an alternative model to the current mainstream: a dependence on a corporate-driven food system that is poisoning the people and destroying the Earth.
It’s important to note that Minneapolis is the home of Cargill, General Mills, Pillsbury, and several other large corporate food and agribusiness groups, all of which were built and continue to operate on land stolen from our Native peoples. Locally, the companies listed above produce much of the chemically enhanced, nutritionally deficient foods that fill our grocery store shelves, and whose consumption is leading to the very health issues we are trying to address. Globally, the practices of companies like these have damaged locations all over the planet, and have negatively altered not only much of the world’s food system, but also our very understanding of what food is.
During this year’s May Day festival at Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis, I led a plant meditation to kick off a day of teach-ins and discussions sponsored by the Whealthy Human Village. Inside of the ger (or yurt) structure that was hand built by one of our members, I had participants visualize their favorite plants, become one with them, and then experience each stage of the life cycle, from seed to death. To truly awaken from the nightmares global capitalism and its attendant systems have brought us, each of us must recognize that our destinies are not separate from even the lowliest weed. And from that awareness, we must work to break down oppressive conditions and institutions, while simultaneously building the just and eco-centric villages of our dreams.
We can’t keep letting the experiences of our ancestors go to waste. Their suffering, and production of suffering, will continue to be ours, until enough of us come together to create the transformation teachers like Joanna Macy speak of. The seeds are already sprouting; may they come to maturity all around us, and within each of us.
Nathan G. Thompson is an activist, writer, and lover of the Earth from St. Paul, Minnesota. A long time member of Clouds in Water Zen Center, he received the dharma name Tokugo (Devotion to Enlightenment) in 2008. He is the author of the spiritual and social justice blog Dangerous Harvests, and has written articles for a variety of online and print publications, including a regular column at the webzine Life as a Human.