Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Other Nation--Imperialism marches on

This essay is a bit long, but I really hope folks will read it carefully and thoughtfully, and give me feedback. Especially my friends from other cultures (Canadian, ethnic, religious, etc.).
I've been having an interesting e-mail conversation with a near-by farmer, relative to our separate-but-similar work to prevent the industrial development of a piece of land that lies between our two farms.

In a recent installment, I explained my position of determination never to "cash in":

"My" land AS A FARM is my only "safety net." When I get the houses paid off and all the parcels merged into a thriving, sustainable farm, I will always have food, water, shelter, and access to various energy sources (firewood, solar, wind). I don't trust that other types of safety net will endure, or that [developed] land will always have cash value [or people always have cash]. Probably more true for my grandchildren than for me. But it's not about just MY grandchildren, it's about whoever wants to grow food in the future.

All my resources go into my land, I have no other "safety net". But even if I had "invested" that money, it would never be enough for a decent retirement even if the economy stays good. I'm not whining, because I know I'm actually WAY better prepared than most people, who have utterly no safety net and never will. And many people's investment "safety net" will collapse if the economy is bad or infrastructure disrupted. Personally, I'm convinced that my land will eventually have more cash value as farm land than for any other purpose...esp. when everyone else sell theirs out to development.

I truly would rather die of cancer than sell out my land. I'm going to die anyhow, why murder the land as well? I just need to find a way to prevent others from murdering it in short sighted greed once I am no longer around to protect it.

My friend's response triggered some deep thoughts in me, observations that I feel led to share more broadly.

While expressing deep respect for my integrity in sticking to my ideals, he also characterized the above words/ideas as "extreme", "Quixotic", "intemperate rhetoric".

And then he shared stories of his family selling out one piece of land and buying another, more remote parcel, time and again, as they kept fleeing an ever-encroaching city.

And then he shared stories of personally watching "indigenous" people he knew in southeast Asia sell out their ancestral land to become golf courses, and move to the big cities to be assimilated.

And then I take my bathroom break at Haskell Indian Nations University Cultural Center and Museum, and walk silently past the displays witnessing my ancestors'--YOUR ancestors', most likely--appalling, brutal, deceitful programs to displace and assimilate this continent's "indigenous" peoples in the 1800s and early 1900s. [As an aside, I prefer the terminology I learned in Canada to what's considered "politically correct" around here: "First Nations" makes it clear who was here first without implying that some immigrants are somehow "more native" than other, later immigrants. We humans are all relative newcomers to this continent.]

And I realize that the imperialism that we rebelled against in the Revolutionary War is still alive and well, and WE are its victims.

This land I "own" was originally home only to the beasts of the fields and the birds of the air. It belonged to itself, to its creator, to its Community of Life.

Then people migrated here--from Northern Asia, according to the preponderance of evidence given to my by my culture. These were the First Nations. As soon as they arrived, it became "their" land, even though they didn't record titles and deeds. It was "theirs" enough for various subgroups to dispute rights to use various areas according to their laws and customs, for their own economic gain.

Then others--those from whom I'm predominantly descended, though I carry some "First Nation" genes as well--arrived. We could call us the Second Nations. We ran the First Nations folk off (or killed or assimilated them), and said the land was ours to use according to our laws and customs, for our own economic gain. In some cases, we paid for the land: Nothing close to what we purchasers knew its real value was in our economic system, and certainly nothing close to what it's worth now. We developed a system of deeds and titles to keep track of who owned what.

And for a long time, we who held title to our land could use it as we saw fit. We raised our houses and barns, raised our families, raised our food, raised our heat source and transportation...until the insidious coming of another Nation, Other Nations that arose from within, disguised as ourselves. Now, the Other Nations say our land is theirs to use according to their laws and customs, for their economic gain.

[I would call them, by logical extension, "Third Nation", but that sounds too much like Third World which is pretty much the exact opposite of the Other Nations.]

The Other Nations are Nations not of people, but of "powers and principalities". They are the governments and corporations that run roughshod over individual title-holding landowners. Agencies that have no title to my land, but can somehow dictate how it is used because they have somehow stealthily acquired power over ALL land, and increasingly over the very genetic material of the things that grow there. It is no longer our own. Our Second Nations titles and deeds are no longer good for much. There are easements that aren't even publically recorded, remember?

And now the Other Nations are inexorably expelling us Second Nation title-holders from our lands. In most cases, it is a simple matter to simply buy us out. The Other Nations thrive on assimilation, and have the media as an incredibly powerful, pervasive tool. It is so simple to brainwash us with a new set of values, commercial by infomercial by pop-up window. So easy to convince us that "resistance is futile"--"economic growth is good", "it's inevitable that it will be developed", "you can't stand in the way of progress", etc. The message is simple: "give up your land without a fight, and we'll let you name whatever we make of it, so that it will be a legacy for your grandchildren. Because you're going to have to give it up no matter what. Join us now, and we'll make you happy with $$$$$, because $$$$$ CAN buy happiness. Hold out a little? Wait and see? You might get more, you might get less, we might just take it."

Many non-land owners and land owners alike will be surprised and perplexed by the above assertion. I hear their puzzlement all the time when I talk to folks about the issues I face with my land.

"What do you mean, you can't camp (or run a business or put up a sign) on your own land?"

"Why can't you just build (or repair or store) what you want to?"

"How could they keep you from having sheep (or a composting toilet or chickens or more than 2 housemates)?"

And dozens of other outraged questions.

To our Founding Fathers, it was so self-evident that we could do these things that had always been done, that they neglected to include them in the Bill of Rights. So we have the right to bear arms, but not the right to camp, keep chickens or hang laundry on a clothesline. We have to pay for a license to hunt or fish, but not to buy a gun.

Though they are outraged over the particulars, these questioners don't really integrate those particulars into the corresponding big picture, to realize that we cannot truly own our land any more. And it's especially sad because so many of these people are still dedicating their lives to owning their own land, imagining that once they have scrimped and saved the purchase price they will be free to do as they wish, safe in their private property. That's one of the insidious ways of the Other Nation: it continues to promote our dedication to a dream--the American Dream of home ownership, whether it's a townhouse or "Ten Acres Enough"--which it has silently devoured from the inside out, leaving only the hollow shell. And it uses our simpleminded focus on that dream to cheat us of our birthright. "With the money you earn from selling us this land, you can buy twice as much a little further down the road."

The catch is, we are running out of environmentally appropriate land "further down the road." And so I choose to stand my ground here, literally, on this piece of property I hold title to. Someone has got to draw the line somewhere, sooner or later. Why not here, now, me?

It's no easy task. And honestly, I would not do it if this were not truly one of the finest pieces of agricultural land in the world. I have bought the Biblical field in which a treasure of great value lies buried, and I know it...that's why I bought it and continue to defend it.

At one and the same time, I realize that though I continue to pour my earnings into paying off the mortgages on several of the parcels, it is "my" land only in the eyes of the Second Nation. Physically, spiritually, it can only truly belong to Earth and Diety and the Community of Life--essentially, it belongs most truly to itself. I imagine the First Nations would concede this as true even as they assigned traditional rights to its use by certain parties. The Other Nations believe it is their land, to do with as best suits their economic goals.

I really harbor no illusions that I actually have very many rights to my land. My goal is to try to acheive some sort of creative tension with the Other Nations, where I get to keep title to my land AND to use it as I choose, in return for playing by their rules while going through their channels to change their rules.

It's just a different kind of selling out...hopefully, I won't have to move down the road.

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