The Earth as a People

When celebrating the earth it is often easy to focus on the planet itself and forget the people that inhabit it. On April 11, 2018 I was so fortunate to bear witness as Cherríe Moraga spoke to students at Gustavus Adolphus College, changing my views on the world as through her transformative words our globe became more of a people and less of a place.

Unlike any other lecture I have attended, Moraga began her presentation by acknowledging the people who, by European standards of property and ownership, possessed the land where we sat in that very moment, listening to Moraga speak. While I have sat in many a history class learning about Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón, if you will) and Hernán Cortés and the terrible impacts of the various invasions and dominations that occurred in this sector of the globe, very rarely do I turn a head to the suffering that occurred closer to home—perhaps under my own two feet where I sat as Moranga spoke above me.

“As always, I want to begin by remembering whose land we are on here,” she looked over the crowd. “And I don’t know all the names, but I know a few names. I know the Ojibwe. I know the Dakota—and then there are a lot of names inside of there...I honor you. Any of you here too who those are your ancestors…I honor them and I honor you for carrying their line. And I give gratitude that somehow good things still manage to happen in the face of those first ruptures, those initial encounters where so much was stolen.”

These few short sentences changed the way I viewed the earth forever. It is much easier to abuse something which has no worth. And in a generation of technology—smartphones and computers and Facebook statuses, much of our attention is devoted to the man-made. Even in Minnesota, when the growing months are few and far between, my time is often spent in the indoors, and walks to class are centered on my phone, as I check homework assignments and the status updates of my friends. Meanwhile, a world exists around me, of blooming flowers and changing leaves of which I am unaware. A world which gives and grows and supports me, as it did for other people before Gustavus was on top of their hill and I was born onto their land.

“I get moved by the idea of history,” Moraga said. “It often gets hard to see yourself as part of history, so I always think that, when it happens, it’s just us. It’s all of us. And we intersect at different points in our life, but we’re making history together.”

While it is difficult to focus on what makes us uncomfortable, it is vital to learn the history of the land and the legacy of people rooted in our pasts. No matter where you are in the world, there is a line of people who nurtured the land you walk on. While remembering to care for something as constant as the ground under our feet can be difficult, challenge yourself to think of the people came before us and the people who will think us a history.

For more information, visit Cherríe Moranga’s website. For activities to learn about Minnesota Native Americans, go to Explore Minnesota.