This time of year is a difficult one for many people, for many reasons. Situated between Indigenous Peoples’ Day (or Columbus Day, depending on your context) and Thanksgiving Day, we are faced in my country with even more constant reminders of our history. On the one hand, we are invited in my country to remember and celebrate the visit of a Genoese coloniser (who was not, despite many textbook zombie facts carrying on a legacy of anti-Catholic propaganda, trying to prove the roundness of the Earth) to the Taíno people on the island of Guanahaní as part of a Spanish convoy. This event lives on in the historical memories of many nations and peoples as pivotal in the life and legacy of settler colonialism and white supremacy.
On the other hand, we (that is, the ‘we’ that is imagined to be the descendents of white settlers) are invited to remember and celebrate that ‘first Thanksgiving meal,’ a romanticised event where, we are told, settlers and members of the Wampanoag nation existed in harmony before the Wampanoag people, along with the many other Native nations and confederations mysteriously and conveniently disappeared from this part of Turtle Island. This myth disconnects and displaces Indigenous and settler people here and now from our pasts, glossing over generations of trauma and resilience.
It seems darkly ironic to me, myself a white settler on Turtle Island, that on top of these two holidays that are especially difficult for Indigenous Americans, November is Native American Heritage Month.
As I look at the long and complex history that has led up to the ongoing Israeli occupation in Palestine and the current war in Gaza, I can’t not relate this horror and devastation to the horror and devastation in my own country and the ways in which conversations about land and access to land obfuscates the lived and embodied realities of the people who live and have lived on that land.
In her book Jerusalem, beloved, Di Brandt writes:
i didn’t want it to be like this, a nightmare in living
colour, all around us, violence built over this
beautiful, familiar landscape, like a temple, like
a church, soldiers on every corner, & i implicated
in it, a Canadian, North American, tourist, rich
enough to buy a plane ticket over the Atlantic,
innocent bystander, onlooker, nothing is innocent,
here, where even the stones are crying, look, look,
what is happening here. i didn’t want it to be like
where did they go, when the machines came to tear
down their houses, uproot the olive trees, so
carefully tended, for hundreds of years, where did
they go, the people of this village, that has no name
now, wringing their hands, wailing, holding their
children, tight, sobbing, this is how we build parks,
in Israel, how we build them in Canada, too, it’s how
we build them in Canada, too.
The land where I live (and have lived for the past two and a half years), with which I work, and from which I learn and eat is part of the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape, called Lenapehoking. I acknowledge the Lenni-Lenape as the original people of this land and their continuing relationship with their territory. In my acknowledgment of the continued presence of Lenape people in their homeland, I affirm the aspiration of the great Lenape Chief Tamanend, that there be harmony between the Indigenous people of this land and the descendants of the immigrants to this land, ‘as long as the rivers and creeks flow, and the sun, moon, and stars shine.’
Yet, as Dr. Hannah McGregor writes in A Sentimental Education, ‘What good is it for me to say so? While acknowledging territory, as an act of protocol, has become increasingly widespread in recent years, critics have pointed out how quickly this gesture becomes rote and emptied of meaning. As Vivek Shraya aptly puts it in her poem “Indian,”
i acknowledge i stole this
but i am keeping it… (2016, l. 12–13).’
The alternative, to not acknowledge land and the complex and varied histories and relationships we all have as Indigenous, settler, and/or diasporic settler of colour inhabitants of Turtle Island would be to not understand ourselves and our responsibilities to one another. I am challenged by McGregor’s questions: ‘What is my relationship to this land? How did I get here, and what am I doing with my presence?’
I am reminded every time I return to Leah Penniman’s book Farming While Black that organic, regenerative, and community-supported agriculture models were developed and practiced by Black and Indigenous farmers and agriculturalists long before my people appropriated and adopted them into our ways of farming—often with no mention of the heritage of these practices, or recognition of the people who shared their lifeways and foodways with us.
The lie of whiteness is that I come from nowhere and could place myself anywhere, that my life and work come from me alone and have nothing to do with anyone else—that my presence here is natural, with no connection to the histories of migration, genocide, enslavement, forced displacement, and settler logics of pollution and conservation on this land where I live. History becomes an interesting fantastical world I can visit when I choose, that doesn’t touch me or the people in my life and community. I move about the world unmarked and unremarked upon.
I want to be kind to my Indigenous neighbours. To do my own research rather than asking them to do it for me, to make recipes that honour ongoing Indigenous food traditions, to delve into my own history and better understand the generational inheritances I carry with me in my body—the wounds my people have undergone and the wounds we have inflicted. I want to be kind to the land where I live, to work alongside the more-than-human people in my community, as well as the human people in my community. I want to hold myself accountable and be open to invitations into better ways of being and doing when I fail. I want to continue being open, even as I miss the mark over and over—today and tomorrow and tomorrow and for the rest of my life.
This isn’t the end of the work or the whole of the work, but it is a beginning. It is a long and slow work, but it is good and necessary work. It is work that fumbles towards healing and repair and liberation for us all.
Jack Kamps (’16) has been paid to do many things, such as teach preschoolers, pastor youths, schlep things in warehouses, bake pastries, design curriculum, serve coffee, maintain gardens, and fix computers. Jack is currently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary—though they tend to spend more time working at a few local farms, plotting a future cheesecake business with their spouse, and listening to/talking about the latest Material Girls episode than doing their homework.