Nansemond Nation in Virginia

2016 Nansemond Nation powwow in southern Virginia

My June spirituality column for Sojourners reflects on my money practices. One practice I’m working to incorporate into my life is paying Native organizations an “entrance fee” when I enter their sovereign territory. This is part of what community economics leader Chuck Matthei called my “social mortgage” (or reparations) to offset my unearned economic privilege. I do this because I’m a Christian.

When I traveled from D.C. to Norfolk, Va, a few weeks ago to celebrate Rev. Dr. Yvonne V. Delk’s birthday and new anointing to ministry, I did a little research on the Indigenous community there: the Nansemond Indian Nation. I made a modest $25 donation. It took about 3 minutes.

I got a note back: “Thank you so much for visiting Norfolk and for remembering us. Your support is greatly appreciated and a wonderful reminder that there are visitors who care about our ancestors and tradition. We wish you and your family blessings and hope that you will visit us again soon!”

This practice provides me with a chance to learn a little bit more about the people whose homeland I’m entering:

Nansemond, are the indigenous people of the Nansemond River, a 20-mile long tributary of the James River in Virginia. Our tribe was part of the Tsenacomoco (or Powhatan paramount chiefdom) which was a coalition of approximately 30 Algonquian Indian tribes distributed throughout the northern, southern, and western lands surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. Our people lived in settlements on both sides of the Nansemond River where we fished (with the name “Nansemond” meaning “fishing point”), harvested oysters, hunted, and farmed in fertile soil. …

The nation recently received federal recognition through the “Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017,” signed into law by President Donald Trump in January 2018, The bill granted federal recognition to six Indian tribes in Virginia, including the Nansemonds. This allows the tribe to have legal standing with the U.S. government and access to educational scholarships, health care services, and other benefits. This federal recognition took generations of pressure, conviction, and organizing from tribal members.

Video: The Real Homeland Security Defends Pennsylvania Watersheds

On Jan, 20,2016, people from Pennsylvania were forced to break into a “business as usual” meeting of representatives from fossil fuel corporations and state government in order to defend their land and advance the goals of the Paris Climate Conference to keep fossil fuels in the ground and enact an immediate transition to renewable energy.

As Christian activist Nathan Sooy of Dillsburg, PA, says in this video, “When civil discourse is finally closed off or ignored it leaves only the option for uncivil discourse.”

This is a 10 minute video of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Pipeline Task Force meeting the People’s Task Force for the Protection of Pennsylvania (EDGE, BXE, and Pennsylvania fractivists) in Harrisburg, Pa. The industry had their time to talk at the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force meetings. This video tells the people’s story, featuring public comment from Pennsylvania residents and public health advocates that were dismissed, silenced, and ignored after sacrificing to be at every meeting.

Seven people were arrested. None of them were the government or corporate representatives.

Book Release: Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry

BuffalocoverIt’s always so humbling to hold in one’s hands the print edition of a book you’ve helped birth – even in just a small way.

Today I received copies of Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, edited by Steve Heinrichs. As I hold the finished work in my hands, it still smells like fresh ink. And the amazing cover art by Jonathan Erickson (Nak’azdli, Carrier-Sekani) of the Buffalo carrying with her the life and bones of the Salmon pushed me to tears. It’s so beautiful.

Steve contacted me more than a year ago asking if I’d write a poetic response to Randy Woodley’s brilliant essay “Early Dialogue in the Community of Creation.” I was honored, but really had no idea what a watershed book I was being invited into. (See the Table of Contents.) I contributed adapted sections of my unpublished poetry manuscript Saarinen’s Arch and Steve was kind enough to include them.

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry  is a book that deeply engages the question: How can North Americans come to terms with the lamentable clash between Indigenous and settler cultures, spiritualities, and attitudes toward creation?

Buffalo Shout offers up alternative histories, radical theologies, and subversive memories that can unsettle our souls and work toward reconciliation. It showcases a variety of voices–both traditional and Christian, Native and non-Native.

Many of the Native writers are theologians and scholars affiliated with the 10-year-old  North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), which was formed “in response to the inability of the Christian evangelical church to include Native North Americans in a manner that affirmed who their Creator has shaped them to be.”

NAIITS has just signed an agreement with George Fox University, where Randy Woodley teaches indigenous studies, to deliver theological education for Native North Americans and other indigenous people using a curriculum developed by NAIITS. Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry will likely be a primary textbook for this new joint venture.

Here’s an excerpt from Steve Heinrich’s introduction:

…[The prophet] Jonah is not a white Mennonite settler like me, but stands among and with the colonized. He’s a word-swinging Lakota warrior (think Vine Deloria Jr.), a Sto:lo poet of colonial deconstruction (think Lee Maracle), a shouting buffalo, a weeping salmon, coming out from the shadows of the rez and urban occupied territories to confront the privileged powerful. This Jonah speaks unsettling truths, not to save the empire, but to stop its rapacious ways in defense of all relations, including us settlers.

This is what the book in your hands is about. It’s a Jonah text, perhaps as scandalous, implausible, and necessary as that old anti-imperial myth. A bunch of Jonahs and several settler-ally friends have come together to speak a word to, against, and for the dominant settler-colonial culture in North America. Some employ sharp rhetoric akin to that of the disgruntled prophet; others speak in more hopeful terms. They certainly don’t agree on everything. But they all do sound (with maybe one or two exceptions) a common warning: the controlling culture is violently sick, devastating people and lands. The need is urgent: repent, resist, do something.”

You can order Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry here.

Jesus Bees and Street Honey

I love bees. I took a semester of bee-keeping when I was studying biology at the University of California, Davis. It was always a great adventure to ride my bike out to the veterinary medicine school where there was a “study hive.” I would spend hours tracking particular bees in the large glass-walled hive. For extra credit in that course, I wrote a collection of “bee poems” to submit with my research.

Someday, I’ll take up the renegade art of urban beekeeping and sell street honey in the inner city. (It’s actually illegal to keep bees inside the District of Columbia.) Read  here for more on the joys of backyard beekeeping.

Bees also have a time-honored place in Christian history. There are several mentions of bees in the Bible. And they are considered to have attributes of Jesus due to their honey and sting. According to an interesting article by Croatian vet students about animal symbolism in Christian art:

Honey symbolizes gentleness and charity, and sting symbolizes justice. Furthermore, bees are of the symbols of resurrection. Three winter months during which it does not come out from the bee-hive remind us of three days after Christ’s death when his body was invisible, then appeared again and was resurrected. The organisation of life in the bees community, with perfectly defined interrelations and relation to the queen-bee, became almost the ideal of Christian virtues. On the other hand, bees and bee hive symbolise eloquence, and are presented with the three known holy orators called “Doctores melliflui” (scholars sweet as honey). They are: St. Ambrosius, St. Bernard of Clariveaux, and St. John Chrysostom.

There’s also a fascinating bible study out there somewhere on Judges 14 where a hive of bees in the carcass of the lion distracts Sampson as he is on his way to “take” his enemy wife. Tell me what you find. The Hebrew word for bee is: devorah. It’s etymologically related to the words for “speaking” and “choosing a direction.” It’s associated with prophecy.

Of course, most folks have heard that bees are under attack from climate change and mono-crop agriculture. So eat your honey, plant native wildflowers, don’t use pesticides, and love your bees..