These slightly edited remarks were given at the National Day of Mourning rally on Nov. 28, 2019, in Plymouth, Mass. The event was organized by United American Indians of New England (UAINE).
Thank you Mahtowin [Munro] and Moonanum [James] and UAINE for bringing us back here for the 50th National Day of Mourning. This is the scene of the opening of the settler crimes against all our relations — Indigenous peoples and all the life of this land.
And from the start, it’s all tied together. Those settlers were afraid of the beautiful, mighty forests they found here. Eighty percent of Mother Earth’s plants and animals are native to forests, but the settlers hated the forests. [Thomas] Jefferson and Ben Franklin wrote a lot about it. Franklin wrote in 1763 that “cleared land absorbs more heat and melts snow quicker.” And we’re supposed to believe he was a genius?
By the early 1800s, settlers clear-cut a 100-mile swath from what’s now Maine to Georgia, with one-third to three-fourths of the trees killed for abuse and plunder, and they damaged the soil. Now you need forests for clean air and fresh water.
We all support the struggles against the pipelines — the “black snakes” [fossil fuel pipelines] crossing the land. We hear less about some of the many other local struggles, many led by Indigenous women, across Turtle Island and the Land of the Condor, and still less about the third continent that settler colonialism has raked and pillaged, which is Africa.
Make no mistake: When you hear bad words from the U.S. and Europe about Zimbabwe, it’s because their people took the land back. When we hear about Africa, we need to keep our decolonial eyes and ears open!
Here, across Turtle Island, there are hard fights to take down the dams on the rivers to save the salmon. Stopping the Keystone XL is tied to stopping the tar sands oil and the tankers going out from the Northwest Coast that are killing the remaining orcas.
We all saw the mother orca last year mourning her dead baby, carrying the dead baby for weeks telling settlers to stop! And we hear about the Amazon burning because of [Brazilian President] Bolsonaro and the settler cattle ranchers.
What we don’t hear much about are the western reservations that are on forest lands. Forestry scientists have observed that the Native foresters in the West do better work than they can do with only one-third the funding. This is because on those reservations, the elders teach the people to care for all our relations. Native foresters work to keep whole ecosystems healthy, not just the plots between the borders assigned by the U.S. government.
So those reservations have some needed jobs that way, but they are also sustaining the fish and wildlife, growing food and medicinal plants, keeping the air clean and maintaining their own nation’s traditional practices that way.
We all suffer from eco-grief! Where are the birds? We want to save all life on Mother Earth — the biosphere. We want the wolves back! We want the orcas and the birds, the bats and the frogs!
Cuba kicked the settlers out
But I’m here to carry a message of hope. This summer I got to visit a biosphere in Cuba, where after hundreds of years of Spanish and American settler colonialism, they threw it off. We heard from the Commission on Race and Relations in Cuba, and the Afro-Cuban scholars actually said to us, “We kicked the settlers out!”
And the Cubans have created biospheres renewing Indigenous ecosystems. In the Sierra del Rosario Mountains in western Cuba, they reforested what had been literally stripped naked. It’s beautiful again now; 7 million Indigenous trees are there, clean water, clean air. And when they were doing that, the original plants, the medicinal and food plants, and the animals all came back!
It was the best day of my life to go there and see what they have accomplished. We do have hope! If little Cuba can do that, while suffering still under the criminal U.S. blockade, we know that we have hope in our fight against settler-colonial capitalism and its global destruction of Mother Earth.
And we will keep fighting and speaking the truth until we win reparations for Native people and African-American people who have suffered destruction and death, until all Indigenous lands are returned, and all the black snake pipelines removed from Mother Earth!