I want to write to you today of the things that I know. I can only speak of what I know. From where I sit, I see that the world around me may not continue as I know it, so the place where you walk and the way that you walk might be very different than the limits of my vision today. One certainty is that no matter the context, struggle seems to come from all sides. We are witnessing and sidestepping and circumventing the strong and violent spirits that have swept across and into the land, extracting and strangling and contaminating all of our relations; it seems that such energies will never stop digging, pushing, taking.
Many times as a young person I struggled. I tried to end my own life. Days of accumulated time were spent reliving the mistakes I’d made, berating myself, convincing myself of my own uselessness and dirtiness. I fed on consistent self-hatred and the powerlessness that came from many elements of genocidal assimilation. Pieces of my spirit had been taken away and replaced with foreign behaviors, thoughts, beliefs. At the time I did not know the powerlessness had a source, structure, or name—all I knew was that it would come to me that I should hate myself. I was a horrible person. Life would not get better. This was the way it was.
I could go on and on describing this. Streaks of memory and the raised skin of bleak scars document those times. That life feels distantly related to me now, not my absolute truth. Recalling the presence of that person feels like a trip to the boundaries of our planet, a thick force of pressure pushing my body to the edge of the troposphere where humans can no longer breathe.
But today, I breathe. For today I have survived. It may be unlikely in some respects, if you begin to trace the streams through which my blood, and perhaps your blood, flows and moves through time. The disruptions and threats to that flow are well documented in our interactions with powers that have invaded our homes, our stories, our generations. Being here today is a testimony, asserting the right to walk in the places of my ancestors, the ones who watched for the integrity of the land in a way that humans cannot do alone.
It may have been that I did not make it here, that we should not be here now, that the deaths we have experienced were more than metaphors. It is by and for those ancestors that I am still here, and write to you now, from this voice, from this concrete, from overgrown towers, from our dispossession manifest.
After all that has been enacted to destroy all that is Indigenous, this existence is a miracle. Your existence is a miracle. Please know that. Please know how valued you are. Please know yourself in a way other than what is written about you in some of the books and films and other materials you will encounter in the worlds that want to take from you but do not acknowledge the truth of you. Know that your words and your heart are stronger than even you can know yourself until you use them fully. Call upon your ancestors who will come to help you when you ask, and are present even when you don’t.
Understand that a long time ago your life occurred as a thought. You were thought of, you were seen—and all that you would need, all that you would become, all that you would suffer was poured into a single moment of birth. That moment became everything that you are now. You have everything you need to experience the fullness of human experience and you will never be without the guidance of those who dreamt you into life.
In the place where we come from, time does not sound like dollars and churning engines. Time exists more accurately as shared love that pours out of elders, grandparents, uncles, aunties—those who are human and those who are not. They remind us that the land is our ancestor, too. Because of the love that flourishes from this understanding, you will not be left alone.
Those who came before you put their memories into this Earth and thought of you as they made delicate steps and preparations, as they learned how to live. They stood up to the ones who only know how to destroy, the ones who only know how to hurt and bring more hurt into the world. They knew what you would encounter, because they encountered danger themselves, they knew this walk, all that we know and all that we become when we walk this trail of human existence.
And there are ways that it seems like you’ve been separated from your relatives: the life spirit of the waters, the food and medicine and berries that support your healing, all of our kin. From fur and scale to feather and branch, intertwined powers work together each day constantly renewing this life that you belong to. As you exist, so do they; there is no separation.
At times, it hurts to walk the Earth and pain becomes the only sound, the only sight, the only feeling that is real. It seems that pain is all there is, even when the sun brings a beginning that has not happened before and will never happen again in exactly the same way.
In this place sometimes things look different than how we remember them or think they should be. In this place we have entered a time when each of us are made to believe it is possible to walk alone. It is at this time when the ones with sharp, contorted thoughts are the strongest. At this time you can look at yourself and believe you did something wrong. You can look at yourself and believe that somehow you are deserving of punishment and blame. Those contorted thoughts are the energies that will try to take from you and pull you from the sanctity and protection of beauty and grace, which is the truth of who you are.
No matter the obstacle—no matter—you have a purpose. You have a light that cannot be extinguished until your purpose on this Earth is fulfilled. No assimilations can take this from you, no human cruelties can dilute your being. No one has seen, no one has had the best of you yet. Do not give up. As each dawn arrives, you walk in the light of new beginnings. Listen, hear the flowers as they sing for you. As you put one foot in front of the other and share gifts that only you can bring to life, you fulfill the vision of all the ones who came before and those who are quietly walking behind.
As for those of us who are already on this Earth, may we have something to offer. May we respect your dreams and wishes, and may we heal beyond our own trauma in order to be the support and nourishment that you need.
Your relative, K.L. Gansworth
Special thanks to Katherine Chung and Professor Steve Alsop whose work enabled my connection to this project.
“Shke” (new) photo by Kristi Leora Gansworth.
“Wabandizo” (to see oneself) photo by Kristi Leora Gansworth.