Friday, 23 December 2011

"Becoming Native to This Place" and "There is No Place Like Home"

Patricia has written very insightfully that indigenous communities have influenced and continue to influence non-indigenous communities in many ways. She says "indigenous people influenced what we are today, and they are still part of us and our society." This is very apparent to me when I have returned to my own home-coming for the holidays, with a chance to reflect on the importance of "place." Indigenous peoples are engaged in many debates and legal claims about their traditional homelands. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reflects the importance that "place", homelands, land, have to indigenous peoples.

Wes Jackson, a Kansas author, has written a book titled "Becoming Native to This Place." The book jacket introduction comments that "...even the best of the European settlers had a stronger eye for conquest than for justice. Natives were in the way--surplus peoples who must be literally displaced. Now, as ecologist Wes Jackson points out, descendants of those early beneficiaries of conquest find themselves the displaced persons... In a ringing cry for a changed relation to the land, Jackson urges modern Americans to become truly native to this place..."

Place becomes not only a physical location, but a way of living in and relating to that location, taking meaning as well as sustenance from it.

Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz understood this very well in her simple phrase, "There is no place like home."

I am home to Dorothy's fabled Kansas after nearly a year away. I am home in every way that the word can convey a variety of meanings. I know I am home when I can look out over the clean sweep of the western horizon and the starting edge of the Flint Hills-- one of the last Tallgrass Prairie ecosystems remaining in the world. As a child, I grew up galloping my horse bareback over the prairie, imagining the time not so long ago when it was home to indigenous peoples and bison, and not herds of meandering beef cattle. Indigenous influence and practices live on, though. Ranchers still practice the land management systems of indigenous peoples when they set the prairie alight in the spring, to encourage the growth of new rich green spring grass.

I know I am home because I can breathe deeply and not feel the empty echo of missing this place deeply inside of me. Chief Seattle is quoted as saying that "the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth." These words make more sense to me than ever as I revel in the simple pleasure of simply being back in this place, and understanding the importance of place to who and what a person, a community, a peoples are and to their identity. This land is now part of me, something I carry inside of me when I am away, and miss with physical pain. I belong to this land-- is this part of Wes Jackson's call for "becoming native to this place"?

Written by Sarah Sargent.

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