I have given up on the notion that I will ever get home.
In many ways, I have always been rootless. I was born in Evansville, IN, moved to Bedford, IN when I was 5, moved to Salt Lake City, UT when I was 11, and then enrolled at the University of Dayton in Ohio when I was 19. After college, I went to law school in Madison, WI and then took a job in Milwaukee. Now, I find myself in San Diego.
And, I just turned 27 in March.
For the longest time due to my moving around so much, I thought that achieving a sense of belonging was something akin to a spiritual cure-all. I thought if I could only find the right community, the right place to live, and then to live there long enough, I could ease the nagging feelings of being constantly out of place.
But, these would be merely superficial remedies for feeling homeless. Even if I found the perfect place to live, how could I feel at home when the world all around me is being destroyed?
This fact of fundamental rootlessness extends to all of us who have come to benefit from the occupation of this continent at the expense of Indigenous peoples and natural communities. Non-native people who feel entitled to call this continent “home” are either in a profound state of denial or ignorance.
Before I write on, I need to be clear that there are many peoples who arrived in North America in various types of chains. African slavery is the most obvious example. It is not for me to speak to the experience of peoples brought to North America in bondage. I think it is obvious, however, that this forced removal to an unfamiliar land presents it’s own spiritual and psychic obstacles in finding a place of belonging. I believe, as well, that members of traditionally dominated peoples can come to function as conquerors in their own right. We have only to look at the disasterous environmental policies of Barak Obama to see how this is true.
So, I direct my words to people of Western European descent. We are the people who occupy the highest tier of the social hierarchy and it has been our inability to construct a viable perspective in North America that contributes most to the destruction of the world. It was our arrival here that signaled the beginning of the end for this beautiful land that original peoples called Great Turtle Island.
The first step towards stopping the European murder of this land is for white people to understand that this land is not ours. This realization will, no doubt, come with spiritual and psychic ailments. But, deep down, we have always known this land was not ours. And, of course, we have long been suffering from a wide-array of spiritual and psychic ailments. If we were not suffering, how could we have allowed these staggering amounts of destruction?
It is time we realize this, bring this idea out into the open, reject our claims to being at home in North America, and start to work to return this land to it’s rightful owners both human and non-human.
In order to understand our fundamental homelessness, European settlers should turn to those whose home we occupy. Chief Luther Standing Bear of the Sioux diagnosed the alienation experienced by Europeans when he remarked:
“The white man does not understand America. He is too far removed from its formative processes. The roots of the tree of his life have not yet grasped the rock and soil. The white man is still troubled by primitive fears; he still has in his consciousness the perils of the frontier continent, some of its fastnesses not yet having yielded to his questioning footsteps and inquiring eyes. He shudders still with the memory of the loss of his forefathers upon its scorching deserts and forbidding mountaintops. The man from Europe is still a foreigner and an alien. And he still hates the man who questioned his oath across the continent.
But in the Indian the spirit of the land is still vested; it will be until other men are able to divine and meet its rhythm. Men must be born and reborn to belong. Their bodies must be formed of the dust of their forefathers’ bones.”
Standing Bear’s words reveals an avenue for Europeans to find a home in North America. Standing Bear suggests that calling a place home requires a large quantity of time. Time is important because only through its passage can a people learn to live in a truly mutual relationship with a land base. Standing Bear says that Europeans will need enough time for our bodies to be formed of the dust of our ancestor’s bones.
To put this another way, compare Kumeyaay claims to the land in so-called San Diego. The Kumeyaay lived here for 12,000 years before the arrival of Europeans without trashing the place, while Europeans have brought about a staggering pace of environmental degradation in the few hundred years since arriving here in force in the late 1700s.
Finding a home through the requisite passage of time is simply inaccessible to Europeans right now. We cannot claim a home here because we have not given the land enough time to teach us her ways.
When I consider that as a white man of Irish and German ancestry living on Kumeyaay land in what is now called San Diego – land that is only accessible to me due to centuries of on-going genocide – I feel a deep sense of spiritual disquiet. When I consider that as a human resident of a desert region living on land that is only accessible to me and most of my neighbors due to the theft of water and other resources from natural communities, this spiritual disquiet only grows.
In other words, when I allow myself to see the piles of Indigenous corpses, the countless species who have fallen into the longest night of extinction, and the rivers who may never again flow to the sea on which any place in North America I may call “home” was built on, I know that “getting home” is a luxury I must forsake until the destruction is rectified. Only when the destruction is rectified can European settlers begin to live in true relationship with the land. Living in relationship with the land is the most profound example of “being at home.”
As long as I focus on building a home somewhere, as long as I focus on holding down a job, signing a year-long lease, and developing a long-term romantic relationship, the longer I prevent myself from joining Indigenous peoples on the front lines to save what is left of the world. I know that my path is not the path for everyone. I am lucky to have material and emotional support from friends and family. But, ultimately it has been giving up on the possibility of ever truly being at home that has freed me to act in ways I never thought possible.
With no hopes of building a true home, I recently realized I had no excuse not to head up to the Unist’ot’en Camp on Wet’suwet’en land in so-called British Columbia to offer my body in the struggle against invasive pipelines indefinitely.
I plan on continuing to write about how giving up on home colors my experience. I will not have access to the internet, but I’ll take my notebooks and mail writing to the San Diego Free Press from the front lines. Stay tuned…
Special thanks to the San Diego Free Press where this essay first appeared.