“We’re still here…”
With indigenous peoples in mind, this phrase conjures up visions of perseverance, of tenacity, of stubbornness. What drives communities that have undergone trauma or cataclysmic events on vast scales still adhere to one another, to resurrect traditional cultural values in the face of overwhelming suppression?
One of the first things this makes me think of is how survival itself becomes a political act. What does it mean when your very existence is contentious and must be advocated for and reaffirmed? What does it mean when systemic erasure and appropriation of your culture is so widespread as to be invisible? What does it mean to have your existence lodged in the past, part of pre-modernity, to have to fight to be recognized even as present? What does it mean when, like the Duwamish, you are undercut by others with whom you elsewise might claim alliance?
On one level, this brings to the fore questions of community and resistance. How does community function as a survival function? I think of the multiplicity of ways that communities are formed against colonialism: shared cultures, geographical proximity (often by force e.g. reservations), a common goal, a common enemy. Paradoxically, it would seem that the forces that shatter and splinter communities are the same forces that draw survivors together to construct new communities as mechanisms of healing. Are these communities are not solely formed in opposition but rather in solidarity with one another? Are they formed out of self-love more than hatred of the colonizer?
To me, this phase also has an edge of melancholia to it. It brings up the unfinished and on-going project not only of colonialism but of genocide. Two premises: Genocide is multifaceted and multivariate, existing on levels of persons, cultures, and rights. Genocide is not a discrete event but the continual rippling outward of trauma. Does genocide ever stop? How does one derail genocide? “We’re still here” but for how long?