Dina Gilio-Whitaker, As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock, Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 2019. 212 pp. $25.95. ISBN: 9780807073780.
Lynne Davis, Jeffrey S. Denis, and Raven Sinclair, eds., Pathways of Settler Decolonization, Routledge, New York, 2019. 126 pp. $140.00. ISBN: 9781138389816.
It’s all about the land.
It’s still going on.
Two new texts, As Long as Grass Grows and Pathways of Settler Decolonization, explore the ever-present structure of settler colonialism, its overarching goal—to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands—and its prime method—the erasure of Indigenous peoples. Both texts address the integral connections between environmental and Indigenous justice, why these pursuits require a decolonization framework, and how settler allies might practically center the Indigenous-led, anti-colonial project in collective action and personal ways of being.
For many, it’s long been apparent that Indigenous peoples are on the bloody colonial frontlines, combatting the capitalist-industrial machine of our First World “throw-away culture.” We know that Original-Nations-made-poor endure relentless corporate pressure to collude and “sell-out” to state-induced “partnerships.” We know that so many, nevertheless, stand up in courageous, nonviolent resistance to protect homelands and homewaters—miraculously so.
Yet what’s now becoming more apparent in this age of eco-crisis is that a majority of settlers are being catapulted into challenges that are eerily similar to that of First Peoples. Indians and cowboys are now fighting for the survival of our one planet (Gilio-Whitaker). The challenge, then, is for a good many within that 99 percent to form integral alliances that mobilize the masses/the power/the moral authority/the Spirit(s) so that we can create new AND “traditional” economies that both honor “the commons” and decolonize it—miraculously so.
As Long as Grass Grows and Pathways of Settler Decolonization are substantive, courageous, and well-written texts that point communities of peace and conscience toward radical reconciliation with the land and all peoples (human and more-than-human). Clan mothers, water protectors, community organizers, and prophetic pastors/laity will find them encouraging, provocative, and rich conversation partners. The following is my attempt to respond to these readings in a personal, intentional way.
I live by the muddy and phosphorus-rich waters
of the Assiniboine, here in Treaty 1.
Called “traditional,” these are the unceded lands of many nations—
Anishinaabe and Nehiyawak, Dakota, Nakota,
and the Red River Métis.
Millennia old prairie lands, long lived with Indigenous law
and jurisdiction, only recently came under the occupying power
of the province of Manitoba and the state of Canada.
The water I drink—it’s from a sweet large body, four walking days away,
stewarded by Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, a community
physically displaced four generations ago to make room for Settler wellbeing.
The energy that powers my computer, my iphone and my TV—
that’s from Cree Nation waterscapes. Manitoba Hydro
damned and dispossessed their homes, for Settlers said,
“Let there be light,” and
there was light.
Yet here, where prairie grass breaks through concrete mass,
where gumbo cries and cracks through city
highways, alleys, and streets,
native peoples also resist and resist
and resist—as they’ve always done.
For as long as grass grows, as long as sun shines,
there will always be some (not all, but so, so
many) Indigenous peoples who will love their
nations, their neighbors,
their enemies, by defending
In this city, on this Friday night, in the racially capitalized and beautiful
North End, Strawberry Heart Protectors gather to share
stories of resistance from all across the Great White North.
Teenagers teaching us from the frontlines.
200 km to the north, in Wanipigow,
there’s Camp Morning Star.
Indigenous resistance to fracking.
100 km south, on the Medicine Line,
there’s Spirit of Buffalo Camp.
Indigenous resistance to the Line 3 pipeline expansion.
300 km east, in Grassy Narrows, the Clan Mothers and
youth are still fighting generations-strong resistance
for their forests, for their watershed,
for their right to heal from mercury poisoning.
And to the west.
Do we dare go?
Mass deforestation, babel-like tar sands projects, and so
many near-sighted cowboys who care about Indigenous “reconciliation”
(but only when First Nations want to join their
donkey pump dreams. And some do).
Indigenous resistance is hard. But it is there.
We lift hands to the Tiny House Warriors,
the Unist’oten’, the Tsleil-Waututh, to Chief Phillip Stewart and
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson.
And now, more than ever, settlers are rising up
behind and alongside. Presently, youth around
the world (mostly non-Indigenous) are striking from
school and mobilizing teachers, parents, aunties,
and grandfathers for this planet that groans for the
revealing of true human being, and resurrection.
And these leading children, they know
that we need an economic revolution that honors
Indigenous knowledges, Indigenous sovereignty,
Indigenous treaties, Indigenous inherent rights,
Indigenous agency, Indigenous co-humanity.
“Environmental justice must acknowledge the
political existence of Native nations and be capable of explicitly
respecting principles of Indigenous nationhood
Our lives depend on it.
The nations are our best hope, best example, and
best teachers in this urgent fight
to protect ecosystems and stay below
“We are all on the reservation now.”
Our common enemies are corporate power and
compliant states. What happened to the Indians
is now happening to everybody not in the
“Welcome to the TRIBE.”
So how do we gain control of the commons and decolonize it?
How do we become accountable to Indigenous laws, worldviews, and political structures?
“The alternative to extractivism,” says Anishinaabe kwe, Leanne Simpson, “is responsibility, relationship, and deep reciprocity.”
“In its most robust sense, the subversion of settler colonialism”
and the capitalism and environmental destruction that comes with it, means “the repatriation of Indigenous land and life.”1
It sounds radical, far-fetched, impossible.
Who are we to seek such a path?
Yet if you listen to the cries of “Mni Wiconi!”—the water
and life protectors in South Dakota and
Minnesota, in Burnaby, Brazil, Kenya, and Kurdistan—
if we listen to the declarations of millions of Gretas & Munadiahs
and the wild yet truly civilized gumbo of the Red River colony,
we can also hear the elders and knowledge keepers in our
own community call out.
1977. Mennonites in the United States and Canada resolve to embrace
a stewardship that honors Indigenous lands and Indigenous rights.
We call “for a moratorium on the construction of the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline pending a just settlement of Native land claims . . .
and a full consideration of the protection of the particularly fragile environment.”
10 years later. Mennonites craft “A New Covenant” with
ecumenical witnesses, calling the powers to recognize Indigenous rights to “self-determination” and “an adequate land-base.” It’s a Jubilee vision.
These are our treaties.
And they’re ongoing.
Most recently, 2018. Mennonite World Conference, moved by land defenders, by sisters and brothers in Panama, pens a declaration in solidarity with Indigenous peoples!
We will “follow Jesus’s example to respond to
the cries of Indigenous peoples worldwide.”
And then this . . . read it slowly, and recall the
blood of martyrs. “This response is not concerned only
With the caring for people suffering within unjust structures . . .”
But also—“includes efforts to disarm the structures of oppression,”
so that all of creation might rejoice.
It is all about the land.
It’s still going on.
We need to believe them—
those suffering, the Indigenous, the young, the poor,
the extinct, the earth. We need to re-orient and join
We have everything we need.
We have a chance. Together.
It’s about survival.
It’s all about the land.
It’s still going on.
But for how long?
Steve Heinrichs is Director of Indigenous-Settler Relations for Mennonite Church Canada and lives in Treaty 1, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 1–40.