Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reflections on Anti-Columbus Tour by Sakej Ward

Anti-Columbus Speaking Tour 2014

Speaking at UCLA

First, I want to acknowledge the land of the Tongva and Chumash people that I visited. I also wish to thank the organizers who put this tour together and a special thanks to Joaquin Cienfuegos for his hard work, time and dedication to making the tour happen. Another special thanks to a close brother and sister, Hawk and Centzi, who helped organize the tour, housed us, coordinated activities, drove us around, showed us the area and cooked awesome meals for us. They are also a great example of Indigenous parents who are setting the example by teaching cultural based dance, committing to ensure the safety and healthy upbringing of their children, maintaining active lifestyles and avoiding the pressures of joining a gang life, which starts at such a young age. Their dedication, generosity and hospitality would make their ancestors proud. 

The concept for the Anti-Columbus Speaking Tour followed the release of the video of the Mi'kmaq warrior tour. Suzanne Patles and Coady Stevens did a great job of speaking at Cheam Fist Nation, B.C. (as well as other places along their tour) where I had also presented on the purpose of the Indigenous warrior. Defining the warrior intrigued several people and groups who wanted to hear more about it so the tour was created.

The objective of the tour was to raise the awareness around the definition, purpose, role and responsibilities of a warrior in the southern California area. 

The method used to raise awareness around warriors and warrior societies was a two pronged approach. The first was to conduct talks (teachings) about warriors. Each teaching was modified to fit that particular audience. The teaching would lead to questions, answers and more discussion.
The second approach was for activists group seeking skill building activities. These engagements were designed around warrior skill development after the warrior teachings. It was decided that the two key skill sets would be survival techniques and knife fighting.

 Survival skills need to be interpreted as Indigenous cultural skills as they are skills that are needed to be out on the land and to live with the land. These are skills that have been appropriated by the colonizer and renamed "modern survival skills". It is important to take these skills back if we truly want to revive our land-based culture. 

Knife fighting was the second warrior skill set taught. In close combat the knife rules. It is more devastating than a pistol at hand to hand ranges. It is a form of fighting that is all but lost, so few practice this skill set anymore. That is unfortunate, as the knife is the most important tool in the bush. It provides us with the ability to construct shelter, make fire, water filters, fire walls, animal traps, hunting weapons, etc.  as well as provide us with a powerful means of self defense. Knife fighting skills are taught as "teachings of the knife". Warrior leaders understand an important aspect of knife training is it not only empowers us with skills of self defense but it reveals the character of the practitioner. We follow the saying "I can see your character in a single stroke." Knife fighting is a character building tool as it reveals to us that there is a path to self improvement to be followed. It reveals to us that there is an art form (the Warrior Arts) that allows us to see our character deficiencies and a way to put your mind in the right "place" to address this. It reveals that this particular warrior path to excellence of character is the pursuit of warrior hood.

Key events

The first event was to connect with a grass roots activists group called the Harmony Keepers. Warrior teachings were presented with the emphasis on defining the warrior through our histories and language, as opposed to the misrepresentation of new-age concepts of the Indigenous warrior.
The exercise of exploring the word for warrior in our languages from the east coast to the west coast and from the north to the south of all the Americas reminds us that we have forgotten who we are. We come from a warrior people with a proud warrior legacy. It points to a time when we have been disconnected from the role of warrior due to residential and boarding schools of the colonizer.

I also spoke of how problematic it is when another group or society defines what it means to be a warrior to us. An example of this is how the media portrays Indigenous warriors and the labelling technique that is used to de-legitimize warriors.

Then I spoke of where the role of warrior comes from and how it relates to our sacred responsibilities. 

Following the warrior teachings we began our warrior skill training. At this event I taught knife fighting and how it relates to character building for warriors. We enjoyed the training time so much we extended our engagement for over an hour, despite our tight timeline.

Introduction to knife fighting

The next event was gathering with local activists and pass on warrior skills and teachings. We spoke on the idea of warrior and what it means then we developed some warrior skills. We focused on survival skills. An interesting note to this is that Los Angeles, along with the rest of the south western US, is going through a severe water drought to the point it is almost a water crisis. Because of this, survival skills are on the forefront of the minds of many people there. We spent the time working on fire lighting skills as a method to purify contaminated water then went over methods of water collection and filtering. 

Our next event was to present Warrior Teachings to a men's circle at the Corazon del Pueblo. The host were very respectful and accommodating, a testament to their teachings. The turnout was high. The teaching was well received and the discussion was engaging and insightful. 

The fourth event was an extended class on knife fighting. We got to go deeper into the concept of Warrior virtues and the character building technique associated with knife training. We began by talking about the character brought out and needed in the use of the knife. Then we started working on individual strikes and angles of attack. I introduced some of the knife katas to the students. The katas play an important role in developing knife skills as well as integrating techniques of visualization, combat breathing, projecting the warrior spirit, focusing the mind, "placing" the mind in the blade, and finding character weaknesses.

Speaking at San Bernardino Valley College was the next event. I presented on "De-colonization and Warrior Societies". This talk was somewhat different than the Warrior Teachings that I was providing for activists. I spoke of de-colonization and Indigenous nation-building. Central to the project of Indigenous nation-building is the re-development of community and national institutions. Normally, when we think of nation-building we think of the ideas of re-building governance structures and practices and a lot less of re-building of social institutions that make up the foundations of that nation. By focusing on institution building that carry out the functions of that community/nation instead of just merely focusing on the governance aspect, we are talking about re-building nations from the center then out to the periphery instead of from the hierarchal approach of building nations from the top down.

Since our homelands are occupied by a colonizing force we have to talk about the importance of re-building legitimate institutions that will address resistance to colonization and provide political, social, economic, geographic and spiritual space so our people can re-build our culture and nations. That links us to the importance of re-building warrior societies as a cultural institution and a place of resistance to colonization.  

Speaking at San Bernardino Valley College

That night, at the next event, we taught an "Indigenous Women's Self Defense" class. It was great to pass on these skill sets. For some time, we in the warrior societies, have been trying to find a productive way to help our Indigenous sisters who are in constant threat of sexualized violence. We have spoken at public events on "Re-defining Masculinities" and "Re-thinking Indigenous Masculinity" as a way of raising awareness amongst men about the colonial worldview of patriarchy and misogyny but we wanted to do more practical work. Putting on an "Indigenous Women's Self Defense" class was the primer to see how well it would be accepted. 

In the class we covered understanding the nature of the threat to an Indigenous female, situational awareness and combat mindset. We then got into self defense from the point of view of a teenage girl who may not have the upper body strength or body weight to do many conventional martial arts techniques. We taught how to get out of common "grab" type situations. We then covered the fun portion of the class - how to get out of restraints and escape an abduction. It was great to see a 13 year old girl learn and demonstrate the skills to be able to get out of being restrained by zip ties (a common method of restraints for kidnappers) while tied behind her back. 

This is a course still under development but we are working to improve the skills that could help our Indigenous sisters protect themselves better.

I then presented at U.C.L.A. I presented the "De-colonization and Warrior Societies" talk but we had more time so I was able to get further into the idea of warrior development and how we approach the teachings from the holistic manner. 

There are over 300 skill sets we teach in warrior development but Warrior Teachings are not just about martial arts, battle skills, weapons training, that is just the physical side to the teachings. We teach about the four aspects of humans; the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Warrior teachings are used to develop each one of these aspects in a person. A complete warrior is one who has mastered his/her battle skills (the physical), has immersed him/herself in studies of Indigenous nations/culture/language/history and understand colonization as well as how to resist it (the mental), has attained a high level of self control/maturity/ and demonstrates good judgement (the emotional) and has exhibits a strong sense of character and morality associated with spiritual teachings (the spiritual).

The final event in our week long stay was teaching about leadership to activists. We spent the better portion of the evening going over the functions of a leader in an activists setting. How this contrasts with mainstream thinking of leadership which is grounded on hierarchal approaches to coercive leadership versus the persuasive approach to leadership that is important to volunteer-based organizations, especially in a role of resistance. I spoke of the need to set the example, inspire by action, persuade with word and character, and motivate through noble deeds.  I taught about the concepts of "Acts of honour" and the significance of leaders living their life to a higher moral standard than others around them.

Overall the tour was a great chance to speak about Indigenous warriors, warrior societies, Indigenous nation-building, culture building, cultural security, sacred responsibility, protecting our homelands, protecting Mother Earth and the next seven generations. The dialogue and skill development created an experience to facilitate relationships with key activists groups. It was such a good opportunity to visit old friends and cement old bonds. During the course of the tour so many new connections and new friends were made, of which I am grateful.

Many thanks to all who contributed and organized the tour.

All my relations,

Sakej and Family

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