The Linchpin

1 – War versus Peace

2 – Humans versus Natural World – Sustainability

3 – Growth versus Distribution

4 – Diversity versus Commonality

These four areas, Professor Ahmed Samatar argued yesterday to me and my Live It! colleagues, constitute all realms of great human issues.  In this epoch of global citizenship, where “intensive and extensive encounters between the immediate and the distant [create] multiple contradictions that are pregnant with opportunities and dangers” (Samatar’s description), our actions will consistently take root in at least one of these four zones of tension.

He urged us to reflect and think critically about our roles with these issues as we embark on our projects. It might seem excessively elementary to begin a lecture by reminding us that action is subject to thinking.  I for one consider myself much more pragmatic than many of the theory-obsessed academics in this collegiate sphere.  But I did learn a new word: praxis, the process by which a theory, lesson or skill is embodied, enacted or realized.

So what theory do we realize? First, let me note I root my theories in ideals.  Yesterday I realized my ideals root themselves into the four realms of conflict mentioned above. This summer’s work, Dakota Birthright, will focus primarily on Zone 3, growth versus distribution. It will also dig into sustainability – cultural, environmental and economic (note ‘growth versus distribution’) – and reflect on the state of these Dakota communities since their periods of war with the U.S. government. And as I have mentioned in my previous posts, we will also explore issues of diversity versus commonality.

Some of my peers will work to improve education in Cambodia. One student will produce a video to improve access to the college application process. Another will research the struggles of migrant farm workers and advocate for basic standards of respect for health, dignity and working wages on the farms in California and ultimately around the world.  Me?  I’m leading a canoe trip to bring exiled individuals back to their homeland and reconnect them with a cultural heritage that’s continually diluted, both on reservations and in the urban cityscape.  This geographic and cultural exile that the Dakota live with today is a manifestation of ‘zones of exclusion.’ Professor Samatar argued (and it’s hard to disagree) these zones are examples of tension between mainstream culture and economics and struggle to maintain identity and individuality. (I have spent time in some Dakota reservations in Minnesota, but they have issues far different from those facing Santee and Crow Creek, which are virtually isolated and have no sparkling Casino to attract revenue to their communities.).

So when I visit this summer and find myself in the poorest place in North America (aside from Chiapas and Oaxaca, which are indigenous as well), I wonder if I will encounter the same “global citizen” identity I am supposed to bear.  I doubt that most people I meet on Dakota Birthright will have an identity that supercedes (or even complements) their immediate, local identity of the “invaded, exploited and forgotten.”  And that is the linchpin of colonialism: when the oppressed perpetuate the victimized identity. Like the liquor stores they build in the ghetto, certain elements continue the trajectory of a colonization and subjugation.  It’s my hope that the canoe trip can start to build the bridge between “us” and “them,” to welcome these people back to their own lands and start to reverse the legacy of exile.