Kicking Off More Than Surviving

Kicking off More Than Surviving brings up a lot of feelings for me. While fighting back the sensation that there will never be enough time to know all the things I need and want to know, I also feel the excitement of poking around and investigating what I can know. 

This project emerged as an expression of my complicated relationship with history. I’ve always prided myself with knowing exactly where I come from —The Wampanoag Nation. This “knowing” is embodied. There are many different ways to understand where you come from—what traditions your community/your family hold (the songs, the foods, the stories), the land you are connected to (the smell and shape of the trees, sound of the water), and then there is the other way—the facts, dates, historic events….data. So much of my culture that is empowering and has shaped my Indigenous identity is not held in data. The data always meant pain. The year our land was illegally incorporated, the year we went into war, the names of distant lands we were sent off to as slaves. I once had a history student demand upon finding out that I am Indigenous, “Do you know your history! You HAVE to know your history!” He said it with the assumption that I must know it because it is my responsibility to educate others. He said it without ever considering that he ought to know this history as well. As a non-Indigenous person I found it to be intrusive and oppressive—so many reactions arose in me: Who are you to demand that I know a history that has been intentionally erased from sight, yet you don’t acknowledge that erasure or the pain it carries? Who are you to demand that I know a history that you are surely only defining as data, or want me to translate for you into data? When I tried to share some small bit of our culture to shift him away from the fixation on data, he spoke over me… because that’s not the history he meant. 

This project is a kind of making peace and bringing together what I understand to be my people’s history and what I see the outside world insists is my people’s history. It’s bringing two sides together—the sensation of my belonging to a long line of self-determined people who know where they are from and what it means to be respectfully part of a larger world brought together with the data that somehow makes us real to the outside world. It’s also for members of my own community who may not have had the opportunity to touch on these pieces of our past. There’s no shame in this—intentionally oppressed communities have so much weight as it is to simply continue.  I chose to focus on our activism, because I believe such data points will contain the essence of what I’ve known to be true through my own understanding and experience of my culture—we are a loving people and we move with intention even through pain. 

This week has been an interesting balance of considering the practical pieces of producing a project like More Than Surviving, and having the tremendous feeling that comes when you are about to start a great wandering—one that you know will bring you even closer to your home. In truth, the practical pieces will be a great aid in keeping the full rush of information from overwhelming me, as I know I will discover a great many new things about myself and my ancestors in this process. I am extraordinarily thankful for Estefany, Elizabeth and Zelda who have come together to help build this, I know through them I will also learn so much about what is possible and gain even more balance by understanding their perspectives.