Is Healing Politicization Possible?

Tongue Point, Olympic Peninsula. Photo by Mickki Garrity
Tongue Point, Olympic Peninsula. Photo by Mickki Garrity

Many times now I have started to write a post about the current state of politics in the world. Whether the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, or the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, or the way the COVID-19 pandemic has been hijacked for political aims, or the ongoing attacks on the rights of LGBTQIA people, or the inaction on climate change, or the serious gun obsession in this country that leaves too many children dead. Even when I begin to form a coherent thought on these topics, another event grabs our attention, leaving no time to process what has come before. I am by no means a troglodyte, but I wonder at how our digital media consumption is fueling this experience. Have lots of things happened quickly at other times, and the pace of information has just been slower? Or is the pace of information also accelerating catastrophic events? How do I make sense of my anxieties about the world with the evidence that life has been improving?

By many objective measures, the quality of life for most people in the colonized world continues to steadily increase. (Here’s one interesting look at the changes in child mortality rates and how we can interpret the data). But it’s also true that we live in a society whose existence is predicated on a story of “progress” and a Euro-Western view of what constitutes “civilization.” Because the dominant culture is the source of so-called recorded history, we are comparing the “betterment” of a society with itself, with little perspective on the myriad of civilizations that existed before colonization. I strive to be careful of this when the conversation turns to “but we have it better than anyone ever has.” Colonization has been a shit show for much of the world, and finally to now have an improved quality of life for the survivors of colonization is not a reason to celebrate its existence.

That being said, the evidence points to my life today being measurably healthier, less dangerous, and filled with economic and social opportunities not afforded my recent foremothers. I have greater access to and connection with my Potawatomi community and culture than my mother did – in many ways, we are stronger than we’ve been in a long time. Despite this, I am constantly worried about the state of the world and what it will mean for the life of my daughter. In contemplating the decision to have children, I considered what I will say to her about climate change and the ecological disasters she has inherited. And to be honest, I still don’t know. Perhaps this is because we’re all still living through this experience, without a cohesive story or plan for what’s happening and what we’re going to do about it. And this may be where the issue of politicization comes into play. It isn’t merely that we have different ideas of how we should be living together, we have different perspectives on the very nature of reality. Unfortunately, these differences are not based on the natural spectrum of diversity within the human species, but on the manipulation of information to retain political (and therefore monetary) power.

One of the things which both Indigenous science and Western science have in common is the pursuit of knowledge gained by observing reality. There are important differences in how those observations take place and the underlying belief systems which inform those observations. Nonetheless, both systems of knowledge value the role of perceiving reality in fulfilling our potential as humans. If, for example, all contemporary humans understood that the climate is changing in ways detrimental to humans (let alone the more-than-human world), we could focus our attention and debate on how we will respond to the threats of climate change. Instead, we’ve squandered decades in political quibbling over the nature of the reality of climate change. And I’m certain there are people experiencing the last seven years of record-breaking temperatures who still refuse to believe in the reality in front of us. What could we have done if we worked together in commonality rather than waste more precious time?

So what are the steps to healing this politicization and the lack of shared perspective on reality? And how do we raise our children to be compassionate, healthy humans in the face of human-made problems that will affect them negatively?

Mickki Garrity (Bodewadmi) is an enrolled in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a Cobell Scholar, a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, and is pursuing a BS in Native environmental science at Northwest Indian College.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in Displaced Native or any other opinion columns published by the Tribal College Journal (TCJ) do not necessarily reflect the mission of TCJ or the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

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