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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
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Decolonizing our Minds and Hearts
Wendy Sanford is currently serving as presiding clerk of Friends Meeting at Cambridge in Massachusetts. Vision Lines: Native American Decolonizing Literature, poems and prose pieces by Deidra Suwanee Dees. Available for $12.95 + $2 s&h from TA Publications, PO Box 22583, Minneapolis, MN 55422.
As a blond, blue-eyed, slender woman of Protestant European descent, I have worried little about assimilation in my life. I belong to a group in US society to which others struggle to assimilate -- or struggle not to.
And yet One afternoon a few years ago my lover Polly walked down our Cambridge sidewalk beside me in her recently cropped hair, her jean jacket and jaunty, boyish cap. Suddenly, she looked more butch than I felt I could bear. Before I knew it, I had recoiled, pulling at least a foot from her side, nearly stepping out into the street to get away. Even I, then, have known the pull of assimilation, how internalized self-hatred makes you recoil from yourself or from someone you love.
In the poetry and prose of a Native American woman who knows this territory well, I have found both a telling critique of the dynamics of assimilation, as well as resources for healing.
Dees feels the pull of assimilation from outside herself, as in "Waters of Assimilation": "assimilation flows over/ my soul carrying/ shiny attractive things/ appealing pieces of/ glitter --/ european clothing /religion /language/ capitalism/currency should i go with it/ or should i fight against it?" In "Labeled," she evokes the origins of the internalized oppression that can move a person to try to fit in:
Assimilation also threatens from within, as she expresses in this excerpt from the poem "Inferior Epistemologies:" [We]
trying our damnedest
In "Adopting the Weapons of the Oppressor," she shows that a whole people can take in the poison:
our enemy no longer white --
Finally, in "Assssimilation," Dees names a dilemma she wrestles with as an academic:
just finished writing
oak trees reverberated,
Resources for survival abound in this short
chapbook. Expressing righteous anger is one. This excerpt from
"Brownskin Babies of Manifest Destiny" is sharp with
Incisive social critique is another resource for survival, as in this excerpt from "Find another earth": " nasa space ships --/ rich white boys' toys;/ if they find/ another earth,/ they'll do to them what/ they did to us"
In the long poem "I want to ride a fast horse: Theoretical Reconstruction of American History," Dees's social critique is bracing, dazzling. Here is a section that feels especially relevant post-Katrina:
I want to ride a fast horse
The wisdom of the Muscogee elders is another resource to which Dees turns for survival. Here, Mrs. Roberta McGee Sells lifts up Muscogee values that stand in stark contrast to those of the dominant culture: "When a white family put someone out, then they would come to the Indians and Indians wouldn't turn them out. The Indians would always take them and treat them like good people I know several whites that our people took care of You're going have to face all of that one day -- how you treat people" (from the prose piece "The Colonized Helps the Colonizer").
A final resource, and one that Dees sinks back into for sustenance when she returns home from years spent acquiring a Masters degree and (in 2006) a Doctorate in Education, is the beauty of the natural world: " I watched the gods of nature dance before the stars just like they danced before my grandmothers a thousand years before."
Suwanee Dees has returned to her home and her nation, bringing tools she has gathered in academia. She is preparing for leadership if called. I recommend her chapbook to all.